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The Four Best Productivity Tricks I Learned At Google

A two-year tenure at Google gave a team of people the productivity skills to start their own venture.

The Four Best Productivity Tricks I Learned At Google
[Photo: Flickr user Don O'Brien]

When Google acquired the online photo editor Picnik in 2010, CMO Lisa Conquergood and the rest of the Picnik team went, too. They worked on the site until Google narrowed its focus and closed Picnik in 2012. Still believing in the concept, the original Picnik team left Google and founded the photo-editing site PicMonkey.

However, during her two years' tenure at Google, Conquergood got a chance to experience the productivity and workflow in one of the world’s most successful companies.

"Google’s whole mission is to organize the world’s information," she says. "They do that internally as well."

While a startup can be much nimbler than a large corporation, Conquergood and the rest of the PicMonkey team decided to incorporate four productivity tricks they learned at Google in their new venture.

1. Use Technology To Keep Remote Employees Close

Google has a large employee base of passionate people, and Conquergood says they have to find ways to be productive and efficient at scale. The company creates its own productivity tools, some of which are later released to the public, such as Google Hangout.

"Google has offices distributed all over the world," Conquergood says. "It’s important to get people together quickly and easily. Conference calls don’t give you the ability to display something on your monitor to collaborate. Google Hangout was created to let employees do that."

PicMonkey uses Hangouts for meetings with partners: "It allows us to stay connected in a more personal way versus a disembodied voice on the phone," says Conquergood. "There is less tuning out on video calls as you are being watched and are less likely to check your phone or have a side conversation. Reading people’s body language and expressions are an important part of communication, and video provides this hands down over a phone."

2. Eliminate Silos

Each week, Google employees are asked to complete something called Snippets, says Conquergood. They record what they accomplished during the prior week and what they have planned for the week ahead.

"The idea here is transparency," she says. "Anyone can access anyone else’s Snippets. If I’m interested in collaborating on a project, I can look at Snippets and see if someone is already working on the same thing."

In a small startup, there was no need to build infrastructure to accomplish the same objective. Instead, PicMonkey uses something called a "Daily Standup" where employees share their three main focuses for the day, and if they have any roadblocks to completing those items.

"Like Snippets, this is our touch point with each other," says Conquergood. "Transparency helps us be super collaborative and fluid."

3. Master Your Inbox

The amount of email Conquergood received while at Google was overwhelming. While the company doesn’t train employees on using Gmail more efficiently, Conquergood says documentation and word of mouth became helpful in learning time-saving tricks.

One of her colleagues shared the existence of a mute button where you can opt out of multiple-recipient email exchanges that are no longer relevant to you. Conquergood also uses the priority inbox tool that funnels important emails to the top of your inbox. And she sets up smart filters to segment out emails that only need to be checked once a week.

At PicMonkey, Conquergood put these tools to use, too, but this time she places priority designation on external emails instead of internal. "I get fewer emails, but now I have a higher percentage that are important," she says. "External emails are often about business development, and I need to look at those first."

4. Set Goals Before Meetings

Meetings at Google were meaningful, says Conquergood. "Before going in, we always knew the goal of the meeting, and before we left, we were crisp on what the next tasks were and who was assigned to them," she says.

This Google approach is even more important in a startup, says Conquergood, where it’s vital to be clear about who owns the next steps.

"While the benefit of a small organization is that everyone is wearing multiple hats and diving in to get things done, this can lead to overlap or assumptions that someone else is owning a specific task," she says. "To avoid overfunction or underfunction whenever a task or project is discussed, there is a clear task and acknowledgement of who is driving or on point."

Related: Productivity Tips from the Busiest People

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