Silence vs. Communication
A peek into our productiveness

February 7, 2012 - Comments

When you’re building software that aims to help people be more productive, you have to do a lot of research and test a bunch of different things. Which is exactly what we did. And we believe that sharing knowledge is one key factor for doing great work. That’s why we’d like to share some of our experiences, in the hope that you might gain some useful ideas or inspiration to improve your own productivity.

Did you ever wonder if the guys that build productivity software are actually productive themselves? You might have conjured up this picture in your head of the 6Wunderkinder office… a tranquil haven of efficiency – all tightly-scheduled meetings and power-coding sessions. Well, let me tell you – it’s not exactly like that!

Silence vs. Communication

Despite the importance of having time to simply get your head down and concentrate without being disturbed, we of course need time for face-to-face communication with each other. The trick is striking the right balance between the two.

We use daily morning team stand-ups to communicate what each of us has been up to and what our plans for the rest of the day are. Pros? We can address any “blockers” early on in the day, we know what everyone else in the team is working on, and we get to see everyone’s smiling faces :). Cons? It’s not always short and sweet, it can interrupt your train of thought if you’re busy working on something, and some of the things discussed won’t be relevant to everyone present. Find a compromise that works for you and your team – whether it be cutting it down to once or twice a week, or limiting everyone’s contribution to 30 seconds or less.

It’s safe to say that one of our favorite parts of the week is retrospective. Every Friday evening we squish the entire family in the lounge (which is a feat in itself when we’re all present) and take a look at what we’ve achieved during the week. This is the opportunity for some of the Wunderkinder to proudly present their work, and get everyone in the team up to speed on progress. We also discuss other important stuff here – how can we make the office more quiet? Would working from home make us more productive? Who drank all the beers?

Software company 37 Signals have hit the nail on the head with their mantra: “interruptions kill productivity“. And we believe they’re right – so we’ve adopted what we like to call “library noise level”. Nothing kills productivity faster than being distracted by noise or other interruptions. So with this in mind, we aim to dedicate our mornings to the ‘loud’ stuff – meetings, stand-ups, team discussions. Afternoons are reserved for ‘getting in the zone’ with a quiet, peaceful, library-like atmosphere. In reality we can’t always stick to these rules all of the time (the odd competitive ping pong game can sometimes be heard all over the office), but nevertheless the overall objective remains the same: to keep noise levels down as much as possible to help concentration.

We are currently trialling a “focus day” with the objective of maximizing productivity – one day a week where you can choose to work from wherever you want, however you want. Only you know how you truly operate best. Whether that means working naked in the bath or fully-clothed at your desk, the choice is yours!

Eating our own dog food

After testing several communication solutions, we finally settled on HipChat (a private IM network for companies). Think of it as our office… but online. This gives us the flexibility to communicate as much or as little as we want. You might not be able to stop someone from knocking on your door or calling you on the phone – but you can avoid being disturbed by incessant IM pings! Simply exit a chat room, or put up a Do Not Disturb status and you’re soon back on the peaceful path to productivity.

While it seems like we’ve tried and tested every tool under the sun, we’ve finally settled on a few apps that work for us. Firstly, you probably guessed it – Wunderkit and Wunderlist. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “eat your own dog food”. Well we do exactly that. Yum yum. We don’t just use them to help make improvements to the products themselves, we also use them because they were built with a real-life problem in mind (poor productivity) – and we feel they genuinely help us be more productive.

Sharing the knowledge

Despite employing all of the above, we’re far from perfect. Just like any other company, we have our unproductive days and there is always room for improvement. The fundamental thing is that we continually look for new ways to improve our levels of productivity. We test the waters with new ideas. We try to learn from others. It’s all about striking the balance between silence and communication!

Do you have any productivity secrets? We’re all ears. Hit the comments!

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