In the fast-paced world of professional services, efficiency is key to staying competitive and delivering exceptional value to clients. Plus, it goes without saying that the more billable tasks you complete, the more money your agency makes — and the less time you spend on admin work and non-billable hours, the more you can spend on valuable client work.

Still, with many obstacles in the way like tedious tasks, unnecessary interruptions, and inefficient technology, boosting productivity — without overworking your team — can be quite the challenge. 

While there are certainly many quick productivity hacks to dive into, it’s perhaps more important to instead implement a culture of long-term productivity into your team’s everyday practices. And doing so involves giving your team: 

  1. Space to get work done 
  2. Skills for deep focus 
  3. Prioritization for the right focus

Let’s see how all three of these factors connect and a few best practices that help make them happen. 

Space to get work done 

As a professional services firm, you’re selling your team’s ability to produce great work. And in order to actually do that, they need a solid amount of time to do what they do best — instead of having each day broken up with blocks of meetings that result in a loss of focus. 

According to a study on meetings by AI company Otter.ai, 35% of employees waste two to five hours a day in meetings — from which no tangible outcome is produced. This likely doesn’t come as a surprise to you given today’s heavy meeting culture, which is probably why the concept of “no-meeting” days is a growing trend among professional services firms. 

Not only are no-meeting days trending, they’ve also proven to have quite the impact. A study by MIT found that when companies banned meetings one day a week, productivity rose by 35%. And when they implemented two no-meeting days, productivity rose by a whopping 71%. 

Ready to test the theory? You can get started with your team with the following five steps: 

  1. Get everyone on board: Present your policy proposal and its potential benefits to your team and ask for feedback. 
  2. Do a trial run: Start on a trial basis to test if it works for your team and give them a chance to adapt. 
  3. Communicate your intentions: Let your organization know what to expect in terms of communication during no-meeting hours. 
  4. Have a strategy for unplanned meetings: You’ll inevitably run into meeting requests on no-meeting days and set a practice for determining what you can reschedule and when it might be necessary to bend the “rules.”
  5. Evaluate, adapt: Survey your team, discuss the results, and ask if they want to make any changes to the new policy before continuing on.

You can also use a time tracking solution like Harvest to measure the actual impact on things like project completion and profitability. 

Skills for deep focus 

As mentioned before, your product is your team’s intellectual work. And now that you’ve given your team the space they need to get the job done, it’s important that they know how to use that time to truly focus on producing that intellectual output. This requires deep concentration and thinking — and a culture that fosters “deep work” periods provides them opportunity for both. 

Deep work is a state of peak concentration that allows you to produce a high-quality level of output with zero distractions. The term was originally coined by Georgetown University Computer Science Professor Cal Newport, who said your brain works at its maximum potential when you’re in a state of distraction-free concentration. 

Basically, it means that in order to be as productive as possible, it’s important to set aside long periods of time each week (or even day) to log out of all communication tools and work without interruption. 

Encourage your team to try this method out by starting with 60-90 minutes of distraction-free minutes at a time. Remember, this doesn’t mean using the time to knock out logistical tasks that can easily be performed while distracted — it’s meant to be a space for your brain to stretch its muscles and accomplish the tough stuff. 

To help your team get started, share with them the following five rules: 

  1. Create a ritual: Studies show that our brains remember things easier with specific associations — meaning you can build rituals that trigger your brain to know when it’s time to focus. This can include your workspace, times of day, specific materials needed, and more. 
  2. Focus on one task: Deep work requires you to decide on one task to work on during the period, and deciding in advance what that task is will prevent you from multitasking. 
  3. Reduce distractions: Turn off notifications and put your phone out of sight so you’re not tempted to throw off your flow. 
  4. Schedule recharge time: Prevent burnout and make your deep work process more sustainable by setting aside time each day to fully disconnect from work. 
  5. Track progress toward goals: Set a goal for how many hours you’ll spend on deep work each day, and slowly increase it as you progress to sustain your practice over time. 

Prioritization for the right focus

Your organization likely has multiple teams — all of which have different objectives. From your strategic team to the folks on the operational side, their objectives come with a long list of varying initiatives. 

But in order for the concepts of no-meeting days and deep focus to truly boost productivity, they have to work in tandem with effective prioritization practices. If not, your team’s newfound space to get more done could be geared in the wrong direction, leading to the opposite of productivity — wasted time. 

As a manager, facilitate effective day-to-day prioritization by defining clear goals and organizing a task list for each team member. Then, work with them to mutually understand what’s important, what’s urgent, and what can be delayed so everyone is on the same page and aware of what’s expected of them. (Take a look at our blog post on prioritization tactics for tips on how to do so.

Finally, encourage your team to implement day-to-day prioritization practices so they can set themselves up to make the most of their time and accomplish the right objectives. It can look something like this: 

  1. Create a task list
  2. Determine the importance of each task based on initiatives
  3. Tackle intense, high-effort tasks first 
  4. Focus on one task at a time 
  5. Communicate with your team so everyone’s aligned

By implementing a culture with more space to work, encouragement to focus on what matters, and effective prioritization, you’ll discover a more sustainable practice in productivity. And when you set your team up for success in this way, you may even find your team is happier and more engaged with the work they do.