Maximizing Productivity & Positivity in Yourself and the Team with Momentum

Ever have that feeling where you’re just in the groove, borderline effortlessly making progress on the task at hand? Time passes differently, outside influence can be zoned out from, energy is high, and the quantity and quality of output is well above average. It’s a glorious feeling of productivity – it can even get addicting.

There are many names for this state of mind: flow state, in the zone, focus state, hyperfocus, or even motivation. This productivity state can be elusive and mysterious, but no one can deny its power. Many books have been written on it, many studies conducted, and many systems have been established to try to get into this state of mind. A single article doesn’t provide enough time for a full and deep study on this topic, so to keep this discussion simplified and focused, I’m going to simply call this elusive state: “momentum.”

Momentum is one of the most powerful productivity tricks available.

An effective leader can utilize momentum to boost productivity and job satisfaction in themselves and in their team.

Unfortunately, many people just sit back and wait for momentum to find themselves. Sure, momentum can be elusive at times, which results in many people taking a passive approach on achieving momentum – simply hoping they find it along the way. However, there are methods to enter such a state of mind with reasonable consistency. There’s no need to simply hope to stumble upon momentum.

What’s more, effective leaders can encourage processes and systems for teams to create momentum in team member’s work as well. In creating momentum, wins and celebrations of the wins is a core component, so building this momentum subsequently builds positivity and cohesion in the team. I love opportunities to double dip like this.

Create Momentum in Yourself

Leadership always starts with the self. If you’re going to lead, you need to lead by example. Leading by example builds trust in the team, allows you to demonstrate excellence, makes you more accessible to the team, and so much more. In the case of creating momentum in others, it’s easier to teach people how to create momentum by demonstrating it in your own life.

Create a Win

Manufacturing a quick win is the simplest and easiest way to generate momentum. Find a task, any task, and complete it. Yes. Really. That simple.

Wins are positives. Wins put individuals and those around the individual in good moods. Good moods help with focus, and focus helps with momentum.

Start with known tasks that are quick and easy or regular tasks that are deep within your primary skill set. Something you know you can complete with ease and knock it out of the park. Even if it’s a 5 minute task, just get it done.

After all, momentum is simply a series of wins in a row. A manufactured guaranteed win is still a win. It can act as the first domino falling over, even if it easy to knock over that first domino.

Revel in the Success

When the task is completed, take a moment to intentionally revel in the success. Completing a task garners satisfaction. There’s satisfaction in something done and over, or the enjoyment of the process, or the gratification of doing something you’re good at. There’s something to enjoy – so dwell on that positive component of completing a task. Nine times out of ten, the next task will be easier to get started and complete.

Reveling in success creates a positive imprint in yourself and in your team. It builds an individual’s positive self image and helps build camaraderie in the team through shared positive experiences. It can help make any win feel bigger, even a small win. The bigger the feeling of success in completing something, the more positive emotions and momentum it’ll create.

“Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.”

Thomas Carlyle, influential author of the Victorian Era

Create a Log of Wins

There are many methods of journaling that dance in and around this topic. It doesn’t have to be complicated or intense. It doesn’t even need to be something that can be referenced in the future, though there is benefit in that. The key is to take a moment to write down the success of the task. It can be short and sweet, or detailed and thorough. Simply take a moment to write out what you did and why it is a win – even if it’s on a dry erase board and will be gone before the end of the day.

There’s something about writing that helps things stick in the brain. Getting the positive feeling of success to stick in the brain puts people in a better mood and even helps build positive self image in the long term.

Having logs like this is also an effective CYA technique in the corporate world. You can use these logs to demonstrate progress and value as an individual contributor.

Create consistent processes to act as triggers

This method is a long term play. It requires planning, effort, and most importantly – consistency. But when utilized effectively, process triggers can be incredibly effective at building momentum and maintaining positive moods.

Everyone has processes in their lives, eventually these processes become more like habits. Things like sitting down in the car, putting a seatbelt on, turning on the car, and selecting choice music is second nature for so many of us. You do it without thinking. It’s a trigger (getting in the car) to be prepared to drive in a particular manner and achieve a reward (getting somewhere safely). It’s a basic “habit loop” – cue, routine, reward.

Everyone has them in more areas of their life than they may realize. I absolutely want to dig into the habit loop more, but that’ll require its own post. The key takeaway is how a specific set of actions happens based on a certain cue in order to earn a particular reward.

Intentionally creating new processes to trigger momentum can be incredibly powerful. Specific processes can be created for work, personal life, specific tasks, and… well… everything. The routines can be personalized to the individual and the specific circumstance.

The process is easy in concept. A cue starts a routine. The routine is a consistent set of actions. Completion of the routine earns a reward. That’s a habit. The key to a habit is consistency. The key to a positive and productive habit is intentionality.

A good morning routine is an easy example. If we’re going to create momentum, why not have momentum at the very beginning of the day?

Here’s an example morning routine.

Alarm goes off, put feet on the floor, then turn off the alarm. Brush teeth. Light physical activity to get the blood flowing. Read something educational to stimulate the mind. (Notice how we’re starting each day with physical and mental growth?) Shower while thinking through 3 things to accomplish today and 3 things that were accomplished yesterday. Get dressed. Start the day by working on one of those things to accomplish.

This isn’t a universal morning routine and it’s a bit long, but it illustrates a few key points. It includes progression, allows for key consistent actions to trigger the next, it creates growth which includes potential for success, and it revels in previous successes. Following a routine like this guarantees at least one win, if not multiple wins. These wins can be used to build on each other, gaining momentum before starting on the first main task each day.

Protect Earned Momentum

Momentum takes effort and anything that requires effort has value. Things of value are protected, and things of immense value are protected – even at a cost. I argue momentum in particular has immense value.

When momentum is captured, do everything possible to protect and maintain momentum.

Avoid distractions! Silence notifications, don’t check email, don’t get sucked into water cooler talk, and stay focused on the task at hand. Self sabotage is the greatest killer of momentum as people leave a task to work on something else, check social media, eat a snack, check email, look at a Slack notification, etc.

Study after study shows that interruptions destroy flow and it can take 15 to 60 minutes for someone to fully get back into a task. Protect your momentum and respect the momentum that others have.

Create momentum in the team

Momentum in the self is powerful, but we are focusing on leadership after all. So how can leaders create momentum in their team?

Create opportunities for small, compounding successes

Encourage your team to start with small, easy wins in the morning. Give them opportunities to pursue these small win tasks. Use todo lists and project management software so everyone can feel the satisfaction of marking off tasks and encourage team members to revel in those successes.

When building out and assigning large, long term projects. Ensure these projects have plenty of small short term tasks. Individual tasks shouldn’t take longer than a day. Generally, tasks should be a half day task at most. Completion creates satisfaction, so why structure a project where team members have to wait more than a day for that completion satisfaction?

Give opportunities for team members to define their own execution plan. It’s satisfying to complete a task, but it’s even more satisfying to complete your own vision. There’s definitely a balance to be had when giving people opportunities for their own plans. It generally is only an option for more seasoned employees, but the more seasoned the employee, the more opportunities they should have to sculpt their own execution plan towards a defined goal.

Encourage team members to share their successes. Consider creating official channels and opportunities to share these wins. It’s absolutely possible to create feelings of satisfaction on wins from team members. The more success is shared, the more cohesive the team becomes. A close knit team can erupt in excitement when one person completes a task, which is a huge boost to morale and momentum for everyone.

Protect the team’s momentum just like you protect your own momentum

Avoid interrupting coworkers mid task. Standardized signals can be set up to indicate whether someone is deep in focus – such as headphones are over both ears or slack is set to “do not disturb.”

Have as few meetings as possible with as few people in them as possible. Meetings interrupt workflows. They take time for everyone to filter in. There’s a reason why “This meeting could have been an email” is practically a meme. Keep meetings tight and focused. Only use meetings when collaboration is needed rather than simple information to be shared. Use emails when the sole need is to share information.

It is the job of a leader to make a team more than the sum of its parts

If a leader can’t generate a multiplicative output from the team, what use is that leader?

A primary focus of any leader needs to be figuring out the team’s unique dynamics and help every individual contributor to establish a workflow that maximizes momentum. If teams or individuals don’t have workflows, by all means create workflows. If there’s room for improvement, by all means help improve workflows.

Once teams and individuals get their workflows established, leaders need to work around the team’s workflows to preserve and build momentum.

Encourage and protect the team’s momentum to watch productivity and quality of life soar.