How To Be Proactive at Work on a Lean Agile Team
You probably have really productive, energetic friends who tell you that if you start your day by waking up and scrolling through social media, you immediately put yourself in a reactionary and comparative mindset. We know that if we start our day by doing something healthy mentally or physically, we are ready to conquer the day! and not let the day conquer you.
The same is true for being proactive at work. From the perspective of a project manager, my role is to be super proactive. So I’m here to guide you through blockers and help you clear a path to productivity.
We create digital products and maintain an innovation platform, so we see enough unplanned work as it is. I do occasionally feel the heat of reactionary work, but it’s not where I’d like to spend most of my time.
If you want to be proactive at work, here are my tips for making your day work for you so you can avoid getting worked by your day.
Wake up on the right side of the bed.
How do you wake up in the morning?
A solid morning routine with some physical movement, meditation or mindfulness, and a healthy breakfast or tea can ease you into your day on a calm and positive note. At Revelry, we have a strong emphasis on #wellness and work-life alliance.
It’s not always easy to do this. But putting in the effort first thing really pays off, especially as the week rolls on.
I used to defend my “I’m so not a morning person” mantra. The creative energy that I’d get in the evening hours boosted my argument. However, once summertime in Chicago rolled around, I knew I wanted to use those “I’m alive and alert!” evening moments for a social life, not #gymlife. This meant I had to switch to morning workouts.
Hey, the switch didn’t come easily. It requires easing in. I set my alarm for 30 mins earlier than I would normally. I also told myself I could only hit snooze ONCE, otherwise, I’ll stay in bed until the last minute (it’s soooo comfy). Now, I have a reliable, repeatable routine for each morning.
When I wake up, I immediately chug some water with lemon. This hydrates me and the lemon wakes me up. I write in my gratitude journal every morning as soon as my eyes open and again at night right before my eyes close. This helps me set a positive tone for my day.
I move straight into gym clothes without the friction of any other morning prep routines: primping, traveling, even brushing teeth! I do 30 minute workout videos, and I follow my workouts with some light stretching or meditation.
Don’t snooze your alarm right up until the standup hour. If you’re routinely doing standups in your pajamas, you’re not mentally ready to take on the day.
Don’t look at Slack on your personal time.
That morning routine is so important: protect your personal time.
Give your body a chance to circulate the blood. Let your brain wake up. Be mindful of you before you have to react to the rest. If you wake up and immediately check Slack, you’re already starting in reactionary mode. It’s impossible not to get sucked in.
I don’t look at Slack in the morning until I am ready to commit to reading messages for at least 10 minutes. A strong work-life alliance means I have to work to protect my personal time.
Plan your day.
What’s on the agenda?
I’ve seen some team members fall into a holding pattern in their workday. They anxiously await someone to make a request or tell them what to do. Has anyone assigned a ticket to me yet? Do I have any notifications? Anyone calling out a fire drill? (I’m looking at you, DevOps team.)
Before standups, be proactive. Write a to-do list, review your calendar for the day, and consider how you can manage your time to accomplish your biggest tasks around your commitments.
I actively scan the comments for ALL tickets on the board every day, whether I’m assigned or tagged in them or not. And I proactively book calls and write ticket acceptance criteria to get ahead of the team’s work.
Create a prioritized plan for the day so that you can make the most of your time.
Be intentional about your commute.
Make the most of the down time.
On my commute to work, I like to listen to a podcast or audio book that is both enjoyable and educational. Even when I work from home, it’s nice to have a routine to separate life from work time, before I even open my laptop or check Slack.
After I’ve performed all of my personal morning routines, by the time I open my laptop I’m ready for the day to bring it. And one bonus that morning workout brings is that if I do have to work late, I don’t have to drag myself to the gym at night. I can cook and unwind to recharge for the next day.
Stick to a process at work.
A process supports the best knowledge work.
We’re pretty much obsessed with our Lean Agile process at Revelry, and for good reason. Time and time again, the process has saved our work and our sanity. Our process clears much of the busy work out of the way for us.
This allows us to use our brains for problem solving. We’re better prepared to deal with anything unexpected that pops up. Since we are able to trust that the team is following the process, we don’t have to schedule unnecessary meetings or worry about who will do particular tasks.
Don’t make up your own process. If you’re working in a silo, then perhaps you need to evaluate why that is. Perhaps you don’t need to. If you know your weakness is scheduling, admit it to your PM and have them help you book ad hoc meetings.
Be prepared for calls.
Don’t be that person.
We aim to start all of our meetings on time, so I set a reminder for 1 minute before each call. I open Zoom, get my notes and tabs open, and I’m prepared for everyone else to join. Being prepared for the meeting is more than being on time, though. If you’re proactive at work, you’re paying attention, engaged, prepared, and asking questions in meetings as well. As a result, the meeting is more productive for everyone and you’ll feel good about it, too.
And if your meeting ends early, maybe you’ll have time to connect with your teammates and insert a little fun wow into your work day. If you’re lucky like I am, you’ll have time to chat with Colin about his latest Flora-Bama adventures. Insert :mullet: emoji.
Get laser-focused on unblocking.
In the event of fire, tend to the fire.
So say a production site went down, or a product owner needs something for a stakeholder demo. Yes, this is a reactionary moment in your work day. We train for these. It’s go time. But it’s ok, because your other proactive habits have created an environment where you are able to turn all attention on what’s urgent.
When your first priority is putting out a fire, do not try to start a new project or respond to any non-urgent comments. This will only distract you from the task at hand. The only other task you should be performing is unblocking other team members.
It’s SO easy to get distracted by Slack and think you are being helpful by jumping into conversations to offer facts or your opinion. But this is actually counterproductive. If you are needed on a firedrill — or you are blocking someone — focus on that until it’s over, and then move along to other communication or project work.
Rely on healthy habits.
We’re in this together.
When every day is “same same but different” as they say, it helps to rely on habits for staying on top of responsibilities. This way, we don’t slip into feeling reactive and stressed out with our workloads.
And when things do get hectic, take some deep breaths, ask questions, and communicate with your team. We’re all in this together, and we all do our best work when we feel our best and can tackle the day together!
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