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8 Productivity Hacks Used by Successful HR Leaders

October 7, 2020
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We’ve all hit the wall after a year of new challenges and added responsibilities. Whether you’re burned out, at a loss for time, or just shaking off the weekend, getting back on track isn’t easy. That’s why consulting firms, authors, and software providers have carved out a multibillion-dollar industry centered on productivity. But you don’t have to open your checkbook to get more out of the day. There are a few simple, cost-effective work habits that productive leaders swear by.

Feeling stuck? We asked HR leaders to share some of their favorite productivity hacks.

1. Daily “Scrum” Meetings

Software engineers are well acquainted with “scrum” meetings, a hallmark of the agile model of product delivery. In these short, 15-minute sessions, team members share their daily priorities, progress, and obstacles. Referring to them as simply scrums or daily “stand-ups,” HR leaders believed these meetings gave them structure and made it easier to prioritize tasks.

“We hold daily meetings, like a project team would hold a scrum. This keeps us connected on all things HR-related,” said Sara Whitman, Chief People Officer at Hot Paper Lantern. “We go over important to-dos, discuss how what we're doing is mapped to our business strategy, share what we're hearing outside of our agency from others and in HR, brainstorm, and just stay socially connected.”

2. Building Templates

While an HR career comes with its share of curveballs, that’s not to say parts of the job aren’t repetitive. For example, following up with job candidates or sending new-hire welcome packets are two administrative tasks that can easily take up much of your day. If an employee reaches out with a question that frequently comes up, you can save time by reusing past answers. HR leaders shared they had volumes of templated language for nearly every situation.

“Over the years, I’ve tried to avoid reinventing the wheel by creating templates that I can easily retrieve and refer to,” said Paul French, Managing Director at Intrinsic Search, a recruiting firm. “For example, instead of formulating a new list of questions every time I am interviewing a developer, I have a template I can simply pull out and conduct the interview. Tools like Google Drive make template creation and retrieval easy for me.”

3. The “Pomodoro Technique”

Time management has been a hot topic in business circles since, well, business. More recently, management experts — and some HR leaders in this story — have heaped praise on the “Pomodoro Technique,” an approach that mixes focus time with ample breaks. Francesco Cirillo, the time management model’s creator, specifically says professionals should:

  1. Decide on the task they want to accomplish.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work on that task.
  3. Take a five-minute break.
  4. Continue with four more 25-minute cycles, or until you finish the task.
  5. Take a 15-30 minute break when you finish the task.

“For many HR professionals, time is an enemy that we seem to be in a constant battle with,” Darrell Rosenstein, founder of The Rosenstein Group, a recruiting firm. “I dedicate 25 minutes of focused, timed attention to complete an important task after which I take a short break to meditate or take a walk around the block. It’s helped me manage deadlines, keep distractions at bay, prevent burnout, and enjoy a better work-life balance.” 

4. Working Outside

We spend almost 90% of our lives indoors. For those who don’t commute to work, that percentage is likely higher. But there’s ample evidence that occasionally working outside can improve engagement, memory retention, stress levels, and your physical health. While it sounds counterintuitive, HR leaders shared that working from home has allowed them to get more fresh air — helping them reap the professional benefits.

“I've changed my morning routine since going remote. I still meditate daily, but now I also make sure to work out and sit on my front lawn every morning to read or write a little,” Whitman said. “It has really helped me start the day fresh. If I can't get it in for the start of the day, I make sure I work outside as much as I can during the day. Thankfully my Wi-Fi allows me to do video and calls outside, so it's worked pretty well.”

5. Getting Enough Sleep

We all love and often need a strong cup of coffee to perk us up in the morning. Still, you can’t gloss over the importance of sleep, something that 43% of professionals aren’t getting enough of. Several HR leaders referred to the important role sleep played in their mental clarity and decisiveness.

“Most working professionals in the HR field view sleep as something that can be powered through and caffeinated over,” said Jagoda Wieczorek, HR Manager at ResumeLab. “The truth is, you can probably get away with a couple of sleep-deprived nights per month. But if you make it the norm, it’ll prevent you from being on top of your game. I recommend using the iPhone's built-in bedtime app that reminds you every night when it's time to sleep.”

6. Staying Connected

People teams are at their best when they can influence business strategy and make a positive impact on employees’ lives. Unfortunately, it’s hard to accomplish either when you’re siloed — and HR departments have a history of being viewed as insular for confidentiality reasons. You’ll want to break the stereotype by making a concerted effort to get involved in other parts of the business. One HR leader shared how she does just that.

“The best work habit that’s made me successful is staying in touch with our product and services teams, and the overall business goals. That means attending product training, checking out what questions our customers ask our support reps, and occasionally joining team meetings,” said Natalie Morgan, Director of HR at CareerPlug. “HR is the bridge between leadership and the frontlines. That means our habits need to continuously put us into connection with employees.”

7. Deep Focus Sessions

Have something you’ve been putting off for a while? A deep focus session or “Cave Day” might get you back on track. These facilitated, in-person or virtual sessions involve professionals coming together and committing to getting something done in a series of sprints. Participants surrender their phones (or in virtual sessions, disable them) and then simply...work. Call it the professional equivalent of study hall.

“I'm a huge supporter of Cave Day. This community of remote workers is incredibly helpful to me for the quiet, alone time I need to think and work on big projects, but with the accountability and motivation of others to keep me moving,” Whitman said. “It's also great external energy to hear what others are working on. It has given me some great ideas on things to incorporate in our internal meetings to give them energy and mix it up.”

8. Listening to Music

Research shows that certain kinds of music can boost your mood and productivity. If you have eclectic tastes, hopping between genres can enhance your ability to specific tasks — pop and dance music have been shown to improve data entry and proofreading, respectively. And if you’re in an office setting, wearing headphones can signal that you’re busy and would prefer not to be distracted.

“I like to listen to embarrassing music while I work, because it’s pop, and it’s fun, and it puts me in a good mood so I feel better dealing with people all day,” said Nelson Sherwin, HR Manager at PEO Compare. “I’m talking like, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Our general outlook is so very important, and I feel like my mood really improves when I have a good soundtrack going.”


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