Remote procrastination — how we cope with it and grow Teams’ efficiency (no cruelty involved)

Jane Belenkaya Aug 21 Article

As we say in every our post — we are not here to give you advice, we are here to share OUR OWN experience — how we cope with blocks or issues we meet at our daily life of a now fully remote company working from 13 countries.

Since our transition from a traditional office, we became big fans and ambassadors of remote — access to global talent, zero commute, flexible hours, cost-effectiveness, you name it. Still, we realize, that even though employees can be more productive when working outside of the office, they’re also more vulnerable to all sorts of distractions.

This particular employee (and the author of this blog) is a fan of Tim Urban and his Inside the mind of a master procrastinator TEDs lecture.

An Instant Gratification Monkey and the Panic Monster live inside my brain like there’s nobody home. I can only speak for myself here, but let’s be honest — every one has its zoo, waking up here and there. When you work from home, the problem is real though. Fridge, Facebook, Wikipedia, kids, cats and dogs stare at you from the abyss.

So what do we, as a Company do about it?

Clever people give all sorts of advice: eat the frog (do less pleasant/most complicated first), tomato timers, break reminders, to-do-lists, distraction-limiting tools, time-trackers, bosses who micro-manage — the list is long. There is only one problem with all these super-clever ideas — “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”. Some people are counter-productive when micromanaged, some work better at night (and not when you have a team call at 7 am), others need detailed and clear tasks, someone else can do things others do for 8 hours in 2.

From our experience, we found only 2 things working for everyone: structure and deadlines. It might seem coming from Captain Obvious, but it took us almost 2 years to find a proper balance between self-discipline and overcontrol.

What exactly is Captain talking about?

You can’t ask tenants to build a foundation for a house, they already live in. We are against bureaucracy in all its forms, but you need to make sure all processes are in place. Below I listed some of the most important processes, tools and routines we use:

  • Use a task manager. No, let me rephrase it. YOU MUST USE A TASK MANAGER. It took us a while to find the right one and to educate our teams to use it for everything they do, especially when transitioning from office to remote
  • Make sure every task has a deadline — just forbid to create tasks without a due date. Extremely helpful for procrastinators as well (remember the Panic Monster)
  • Processes must be clear to all teams. Make sure they are described in a simple language (you think everyone knows this acronym? think again!). Why so? Even though our corporate language is English, it is not a mother tongue for most of the team members. What is easy to understand for our US team, can be a complete mystery for those in China or Russia. Just keep it in your head when creating instructions, policies and even slack announcements
  • Promote cross-company “cleaning days”. We asked all teams to dedicate joint time every month to sit together and make sure all their processes, tasks and communications are clean and used efficiently. For a procrastinator like you and me, it helps to make sure that:
    • all tasks are closed with comments or removed to paused if unattended
    • all unused or finished projects are archived
    • all unused teams and channels in Slack are archived
      All this helps to keep our tools clean and easy to navigate
  • Our tech teams use all sorts of prioritization tools and techniques — from RICE model ( reach, impact, confidence, and effort) to Agile’s story points. Many think of these techniques as tools, used by developers and engineers only. From our experience — works at all levels and functions, from marketing to HR
  • Talk to people around you. Someone misses one deadline after another, doesn’t show up for a call or you sense something’s different? Everyone has his ups and downs — it is so easy to miss it when you don’t meet every day near a coffee machine in the office. Ask what’s up, offer help, don’t miss 1-on-1s
  • Rituals and routines, that would draw borders between your daily and work life — some dress up even for a home office, some establish work hours, etc. Our CTO told me about all sorts of routines he uses to organize his day and make it productive when working from home with 3 kids: he’s got morning, day and evening rituals with dedicated time for distractions- like walking the dog, reading with kids, watching the news and doing sports
  • The last, but not the least — feed your inner monkey regularly! It is ok to be offline outside normal hours, time off means exactly what it sounds like and it is normal not to check your Slack every 5 minutes during your vacation.

Now, back to my inner monkey. As a part of the team, all processes, described above, apply to me as well. But, as anyone with a creative personality, I might sometime struggle a bit more than others. For those out there with similar issues — remember, laziness doesn’t exist! Don’t be shy to talk to your teammates and managers — ask for advice in dividing your bigger assignment into smaller portions, request tasks with clear deadlines or just ask for help!

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