Micro-productive moments in the flow of work
I use Microsoft 365 applications for most of my work. Many of my conversations are held in Microsoft Teams chat and channels. Chat is a frequent source of interruption. It may be helpful for work, but it is a hindrance to focus. Recently, I have been trying to develop a habit to use features that help me stay in the flow of work. Features that help me take action quickly without taking me far from the task I’m focused on.
How often do you use the messaging apps within a Teams chat? The apps are small icons below the text box where you type and send a message. The Attachment is an app that helps you find a file to add to your conversation, without going far from the conversation. There are other messaging apps we can use for productivity and collaboration that help keep us in the flow of work. I want to focus on those that enable micro-productive moments while we work. When we master micro-productivity, it will help us maintain our focus on our current task.
Micro-productivity near our current task
Recall the last time you were working on something and a team member started a chat with you. They had a request for you to help them. You responded and determined it was a task that could complete later. What did you do to remind yourself of the task later? Did you open another app and create a task? As you created the task, you noticed other tasks in your list and you began to think about completing those too. You finished your conversation with your team member and are left with residual thoughts of the task they just gave you and the tasks you saw in your list. Now as you try to return to what you were working on, your focus is divided.
Micro-productivity features facilitate quick, productive moments that don’t take you far from your current task. In this example, I could use a feature in Microsoft Teams to create a task from a chat response. As I initiate creating the task, a small window opens over the top of the conversation. It doesn't open my task list in ToDo or Planner and distracts me from other tasks. I see the conversation in the background and dimmed. Like a photo that focuses on a subject in the foreground. The conversation fades into background bokeh blur while I quickly create a reminder to complete my team member's task later. I save the new task, the window closes, and the background becomes the foreground again.
This is a benefit of being able to complete related tasks in the flow of work. You aren’t leaving your current application and entering another fully featured application, to be distracted by features, functions, and other content unrelated to your current task. What happens when you leave a conversation in one application and open another to search for a file, a related conversation, or a task? You see notification counters and Activity feeds. You see a message from a team member or client who needs your help. You see other files and tasks and at some level, begin to think about them. These small distractions are like breadcrumbs that take you further away from your current task. Breadcrumbs, being like bread, can be eaten by birds, making it more challenging to trace your path back to your current task. Apps that keep you in the context of your current work help you deal with something quickly and get back to your main focus.
Micro-productivity within our current task
Some micro-productivity features are used within the application we are working on. Rather than opening a window through to an app, we can achieve what we need in-line with the content we are working on. By typing a special character such as a “/“ or “@“. These micro-productive features do not offer a lot of choice or rich functionality. Such choices could lead your thoughts further from your current task or conversation. Instead, micro-productivity features are simple in function and form. Text and rich formatting. Simple, functional lists and tables. A few buttons. A simple search box with suggestions based on your recent activity.
(Mentioning a document in Word Online to create a link - Source: Microsoft 365 Blog)
Products like Notion and Coda have set the standard, typing a “/“ to quickly add blocks of lists, tables, and referral links to a page. Google Docs is catching on, adding it’s Smart Canvas so people can add micro-productive blocks to documents. Microsoft is taking a similar approach to Microsoft Loop but in two steps. First, by adding a Loop component to a Teams chat, email, or Word Online document. Second, by adding the blocks inside the component. The component becomes the container for Loop’s blocks. The component itself can be shared, and embedded in multiple places to use.
When you can search for and reference a recent file by typing an “@“ symbol, in line with what you are typing, all of these distractions are avoided. Smart suggestions are made as you begin your search. They show what you have been working on recently. The suggested files are related to your current focus. Some suggestions might be for a different topic. But the display of them is minimal and therefore less distracting. If instead you opened up a different window, opened your team files, and navigated levels of folders to find the file, you would become distracted as you navigated. You see unrelated files and begin to think about them, even if on a subliminal level.
What about capturing related tasks within the content you are working on? It can be useful to create and list tasks in a document, a message, or a site page. Today a “/“ supports adding a task list. The list stands alone and doesn’t connect with your task management apps. But imagine being able to / and create a task in an existing list of your task apps. Even if it embedded the task within your work, that would be amazing. I am certain we will see this area develop in the Microsoft eco-system as adaptive cards mature more to create and reference tasks from our task management apps.
Let me encourage you to start using the features of apps that make micro-productive moments possible. Features that don’t take you far from your current focus. Some features that support micro-productivity within your files and messages. It is becoming more important for us to manage our distractions. This space will continue to develop as productivity becomes more interconnected and embedded in the things are working on right now.
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