April 22, 2020
Decision Making vs. Execution
I was recently listening to Shane Parrish describe the relationship between decision making and execution. He speaks briefly in this podcast about how the distance between decision making and outcomes put people in a position where they evaluate outcomes based on execution. In situations where there is minimal space between decision making and outcomes (in his example, putting your hand on a hot stove) it is more clear to us that our decisions directly relate to the outcome.
This bounced around in my head for a bit. It reminded me of past work I executed on, work that I knew to be executed at a high level, which led to poor outcomes. In retrospect, it is clear to me that the work was not responsible for the poor outcome, but it was strategically flawed from the start. Perhaps, those projects might have also suffered from sunk cost fallacies and flawed analysis at key milestones.
In some of those situations, time was wasted for weeks or even months trying to “fix” execution in hopes it would shift the outcome. This was not going to happen as the execution wasn’t responsible for the negative outcome in the first place.
All of these thoughts were thoughts I had had before, but after sitting with these ideas for a bit, I started to think about how we can prevent these types of problems in future projects. Two ideas came to mind with a similar theme: closing the gap between decision making and execution.
Limit the amount of time between decision making and execution. Working in a more iterative and hypothesis-driven fashion will allow you the opportunity to make more decisions and understand the impact of those decisions more quickly.
Limit the distance between those who make decisions and those who execute. Empower teams to make their own decisions and execute those decisions accordingly.
These sound like simple practices, but I have been in a few organizations that have achieved this type of work style. There are a lot of complex factors that can inhibit this style of work: org size, org structure, skill levels, etc. But if we start building teams and organizations with this in mind, we might build organizations that make better decisions.
April 21, 2020
Working with Me
I have seen the concept of “personal user manuals” before, and have always found them interesting. While working remotely, I’ve found it more important than ever to have a deeper understanding of people’s preferred work styles. Here’s my first pass at my “user manual.”
I am a believer in servant leadership. This style of leadership starts with my natural need to serve others, and pairs with my aspirations to lead. It is good to note that leadership is secondary to serving in this style, and while I truly believe in this style of leadership it can also be problematic if I am put in a situation where my service creates tension with my leadership.
Mentorship, Coaching, and Transparency
I love teaching and coaching. The most fulfilling part of my work is watching members of the team break through into new stages of their career. I use transparency as my main tool for teaching and try to involve my direct reports in every team-level decision I make. This gives them the opportunity to be open with me about decisions I make, and also gives them the opportunity to observe how I make decisions. I also value this type of transparency with leadership because it helps me think strategically, and allows me the opportunity to get exposure to new types of business problems I might not have access to otherwise.
Process and Structure
I am a creature of habit, and try to build as much structure as possible into how I work. By being structured with how I get work done, I can clearly understand where progress is being made, and where things are getting stuck. I believe in continuous improvement and look for structures and frameworks that empower my team (and myself) to continuously improve.
I am a big fan of a well crafted memo. In most cases, I feel that written communication forces us to gather our thoughts before sharing them and forces us to edit things down to the essentials. (I am not the best editor, but strive to be.)
Meeting and Collaborating
I believe that meetings have their place in team culture and should be used for: making a decision, gathering input, collaborating, discussing a problem, or sharing information. I prefer meetings that have clear agendas and end with action items.
I also enjoy collaborating one-on-one when there is a clear problem we need to solve together. In these cases, things can (and probably should!) be more free-form.
I am a deep worker. When I am locked-in on solving a problem I find it hard to shift gears into another task. For this reason, digital communication can be hard for me to manage. If I get a ping, I will most likely shift my attention to respond to it (servant mode) but I will be viewing it as a quick to-do that I need to relieve myself of before returning to deep work.
If there is something that requires deeper collaboration or shifting my attention to a task that will require me to context shift, I would prefer handling it after tending to deep work vs. during deep work.
Strengths and Quirks
I would consider strategic thinking to be a strength of mine. It is really energizing for me to tackle complex strategic problems. Where this can become tricky is when I don’t feel like I have the context to tackle a problem strategically. In order for me to feel confident in the work I’m doing, I need to understand the why behind what I’m doing.
I am a big systems thinker. I love building complex systems and as a designer I am very energized by the types of problems that allow me to work within a system. I am challenged when I encounter problems and solutions that don’t fit into the larger whole.
I am an emotional person and I like to build deep emotional connections with those I work with. I believe it helps me understand my team at a more human level and allows us all to bring our full selves to work. I can speak emotionally, but it’s generally me working through a problem in real time and is signal that I feel very comfortable being vulnerable around you.
Let me know if you have used a user manual successfully before, or if you have any tips/tricks you would like to offer!
April 15, 2020
Adapting to Remote
A lot of companies have had to move their entire workforce into remote work. In reaction to that truth, there are a lot of people writing about the importance of adaptation. The TL;DR: If you don’t adapt to remote work quickly, your business will not be competitive.
Adaptation is the competitive advantage. It’s the thing that keeps us alive in nature. It drives the evolution of every living organism.
I completely agree with the notion that businesses need to adapt to remote work. Simply put, I believe it’s the future of work. I have worked as a remote designer, and have managed bicoastal teams remotely. It isn’t easy, but like anything, with practice and experimentation you can make it work.
As an individual worker, this change in your environment can give you a unique advantage. For industries that haven’t historically been remote, and for those who have dabbled, this radical shift evens the playing field. We have found ourselves in an environment that has never existed before. This is an opportunity to adapt to this new way of work and build advanced skills in a way of working that has few experts.
Individual contributors can use this opportunity to change their way of working to better themselves and their teams. Managers can learn how to virtually share knowledge and communicate cross-functionally to empower their teams with clear understanding. Companies can use this as an opportunity to empower workers to focus on deep work and provide autonomy that lets them get the most from working at home.
These are just a few ideas. Adaptation isn’t about radically shifting things, it’s about modification to accommodate new circumstances. It will push you to grow, and alter your skills in ways that allow you to thrive in this new environment.
If we adapt together, we grow together. Take what you learn and share it with the rest of your organization. See where it works and where it doesn’t and continue to adapt tips and tricks you find to your unique situation.
Here are a couple of resources to help you get started with remote work:
Feel free to reach out with more recommendations for this list!
April 8, 2020
Document important information in a public place.
Remote group collaboration can be tough, and sometimes key info gets lost in DMs, private channels, email chains, and quick phone calls. Make sure you’re documenting critical decisions and sharing them in public channels. To ensure knowledge doesn’t get buried, use the pin feature in Slack, or document process in shared documents like Google Docs. (If you’re shared on a doc and asked to contribute, make sure you take the time to digest the info and contribute to the conversation!)
Additionally, digital stand-ups can be a really effective tool in starting your remote day. Aligning on the day’s priorities with your team in a public place not only helps you and your immediate team understand your priorities, but it can be an effective way to get alignment with your collaborators and other members of the org!
Trivia: Did you know Slack stands for “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge”? 🚀
Facilitate your meetings effectively.
Remote meetings challenge us to speak up over others. This can lead to some tough situations where meetings end without all voices being heard. If you create a meeting, make sure you facilitate and call on people to contribute. (Pro tip: this works in person as well!)
If you have trouble keeping things on track, challenge yourself to come to every meeting with a clear agenda. When things get off course, gently remind the team of the meeting’s purpose and guide everyone back to the current topic. Don’t move on from that topic until everyone has had a chance to contribute.
Need an agenda template for meetings? Use Paper!
Use Slack like a pro.
Slack had a ton of awesome integrations: Hangouts, Calendar, Dropbox, and more. (To start a hangout with an individual or group, just use the command /hangout in your DM or channel!) Since every team is different, I won’t explain all of my favorite Slack workflows, but feel free to explore Slack Apps for more integrations and slash commands.
Allow for deep work.
Deep work is defined as: “Professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
Instant communication is awesome, but in a remote setting, it can have the same effect as walking up to your colleague and tapping them on the shoulder. This pulls them away from their current task and can focus their energy on something that could be answered at another time, or by other members of the team.
If you have a question for someone that isn’t immediate, consider using a public channel vs. a DM.
Tip: If you need focus time, snooze notifications or use a Slack status.
Communicate feedback appropriately.
It’s oddly easy to get used to the quick transactional communication style that tools like Slack and Email are great at facilitating. While they allow us to move quickly and efficiently through knowledge sharing communications, they are not the best way to have emotional or tough conversations.
Choose your tools wisely when working remotely. If you need to have a tough conversation, consider hopping on a phone call or a hangout. (Pro tip: if you choose a hangout, use video! There is nothing worse then getting tough feedback while staring at a blank stared avatar of your manager.)
If you’re giving positive feedback, consider using emojis! 🚀 The opportunity for emotions to get lost goes both ways. Use these tools to your advantage to make sure your feedback is felt the way you intend.
Build culture remotely.
One thing that is often lost in remote work sessions are the small culture building actions we take on a day to day basis. We forget to share what movie we watched the night before, or the new restaurant we ate at over the weekend.
These types of conversations and activities are critical for our teams to feel like they are in a community of individuals who they can trust and relate to. Utilize channels like #random to continue building the empathetic culture we have built in person.
Take care of yourself!
More than anything, take care of yourself! Cabin fever is the real deal. Here are some quick things you can do to stay sane.
Get dressed every day. We all love wearing sweatpants, but your environment has a great deal to do with prepping your brain for different types of scenarios! Signal to yourself that it’s time to work by maintaining your daily routine for getting prepped for work.
Take a walk. If you’re feeling low on energy consider taking a walk. There are studies that say taking walks can boost creativity and problem-solving. Also, the weather seems to be nice. 🙂
Talk to people with your voice. It’s easy to go a full day without speaking to someone. If you find opportunities to speak to someone one-on-one with your voice it might be helpful to keep your energy levels up. (This is especially true for extroverts!)
I originally wrote this for the team at Buffy when we first went remote, but thought it would be helpful for others. Feel free to share and add your own tips and tricks.
March 26, 2020
A year ago, I launched a small side project called PUSH. It was a weekly fitness newsletter that gathered the best gear, advice, and tech news. At the time, I was overwhelmed by the amount of fitness content online and felt that the majority of it was attached to pushing products vs. helping people. I felt I could help people navigate the world of wellness more thoughtfully.
I was also tired of the culture that surrounded fitness. At the time, mindfulness was starting to emerge as a larger trend and “wellness” as a practice was largely attached to products like fitness teas and Whole30 books.
There’s nothing wrong with this stuff, it just didn’t speak to me. I felt like there was a missing link between culture, technology, and wellness. Brands like District Vision were connecting wellness to fashion. Tools like Strong and Headspace were connected wellness to technology. Nobody was facilitating connecting them all.
I’ve decided to relaunch PUSH as my coaching practice. At the moment, I am beta testing my client experience and content experience. Feel free to sign up for the newsletter or follow us on Instagram. There will be more to come and I’m excited to share more with you as I learn and grow.
March 25, 2020
I am two and half weeks into my COVID-19 quarantine and have noticed an interesting phenomenon in my day-to-day experience. I feel like I’m doing less and getting more done.
I feel like I’m communicating more effectively with my collaborators, and my days seem to have more time for deep work. I am knocking more tasks off of my to-do list than normal and have been able to make progress on things that I had been putting off for weeks.
A lot of this has been accomplished by automating information sharing. In person conversations have turned into Dropbox Paper doc share-outs. Meetings have turned into digital stand-ups. Critiques are more fluid as the design process becomes more transparent to accommodate remote work.
It’s only a couple of weeks in, and there are definitely some kinks to work out, but I’m excited to see the progress we have made and hope it sticks.