The best work is usually done when you’re really concentrated on this one task and can really get deep into it. This applies to your coworkers too. The less distraction there is, the more work both you and your colleagues will accomplish.
This guide will give (junior) marketeers practical tips on how to minimise distracting others while maintaining a high level of collaboration.
Working async to reduce distractions
My goal with this chapter is to motivate you to work more asynchronously (synonym: async). Async work means you work at your own pace and when you want to work on the task (keeping deadlines in mind). It means you work without direct, real-time communication.
Working fully async is a cultural shift that goes beyond this guide. I propose a hybrid form where you’re mindful of how and when to ask for your team’s time.
Working more async needs to be a team effort. If it doesn’t fit the company culture, it might not be for you. You can still apply the tips from this chapter to your own work.
Working async is a skill - take your time to learn
Working async is a skill and you need practice. So take it slow and implement one idea at a time. Discuss with coworkers how the implementation is going. See it as an experiment and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Prioritise building relationships next to working async
Working async means getting more done. It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and build culture. Invest time in hanging out with your coworkers. Schedule time to have a digital coffee, have 1-on-1s, schedule learning sessions and work together to just hang out and be around them.
Building relationships doesn’t have to be efficient, it’s about building meaningful work and meaningful relationships.
Benefits of working more async
Async work forces you to slow down, look ahead and be more conscious about the work you’re doing.
Working async might feel intimidating for people that have open communication lines all the time. You’ll have to learn how to work differently.
The benefits of working asynchronously are better concentration (more deep work), higher productivity and lowered stress-levels.
Another benefit of working more async is that it allows both introverted and extroverted team members to contribute equally and work according to their preferred way of working.
And finally, you will spend more time on meaningful tasks and satisfying work. Who doesn’t want that?
Tip 1: Move deadlines up
Avoid working close to deadlines and making everything urgent
A great habit to learn, especially when early in your career, is to plan ahead. Having to disrupt a colleague because you need something now is a symptom of bad time-management.
Create room for margin and communicate clearly on deadlines early on
The solution is to start the work early. Leave 2-3 working days between asking feedback and the final deadline. This gives you wiggle room in case someone is out-of-office or has higher priorities to deal with first.
Set internal deadlines earlier than client deadlines
If you work with deadlines for a client, consider moving the internal deadline even earlier. This gives extra room for error within the team and the client doesn’t notice it. Worst case scenario, you’ll deliver ahead of time.
Keep each other accountable
If you collaborate on a project, realise you can delay other people as well. If you’re unsure, ask about dependencies and figure out if you are the bottleneck to completion of the project.
Keep to your commitments or communicate early
It’s important to be perceived as trustworthy, both for your career progress and team happiness.
If you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, communicate early and often.
Let the team know you can’t make the deadline. If you’re a junior, it’s not up to you to decide if the deadline is missed.
Let the team know you will not make it and ask for help. It’s much better to know upfront that someone can’t make a deadline, because the team still has the opportunity to do something about it: 1) move the deadline or 2) redistribute the work to people who do have the time. If you’re a junior, this decision is not for you to make. If you communicate early, the project lead still has an opportunity to meet the deadline.
Please note, this says nothing about the quality of your work, nor about you as a person. Prioritise the team goal of completing the project and ask for help. You’re part of the team to help each other.
Don’t promise hard deadlines if dependencies exist
If the completion of your work depends on other people, don’t give hard deadlines. Instead of saying “it will be finished next Monday” it's better to say “I’ll get back to you as soon as I’ve confirmed with my team when we can finish it”.
Don’t make any promises you can’t keep.
Tip 2: Be respectful of others' time
Avoid making your problem someone else’s problem if you can solve it yourself
Don’t waste other people’s time. Don’t ask a colleague for a link to a file in Google Drive while you can use the search functionality in Drive to find the document yourself. To be clear: if you’ve searched for it and can’t find it, reach out of course.
How to be respectful of others’ time
Avoid setting up a meeting with multiple people if an email will suffice. If the meeting is necessary, make attendance optional for as many people as possible.
Consider the time investment you’re asking for
Consider the time investment you are asking others to make with meetings, asking for feedback or approvals.
Prepare the meeting with an agenda
Any meeting should have an agenda. It’s the responsibility of the meeting owner to set the agenda. Even if the agenda is unclear, for example when brainstorming, you can still decide on how long the brainstorm will last and what the outcome should be.
Let invitees know the meeting will be recorded notes will be shared
Let the invitees know prior to the meeting that the meeting will be recorded and notes will be shared afterwards. This makes it easier to not attend a meeting and still be up-to-date on what was discussed.
Take meeting notes and write down actions & decisions
The faintest pencil is better than the sharpest memory.
Write down the outcomes of a meeting and share the notes with the attendees. If you write down the actions, decisions and outcomes of meetings, it’s much easier to keep people accountable. You won’t forget the things you said you would do this way.
Set an outcome for a meeting - stop if the outcome was achieved
Avoid brainstorming without preparation. Brainstorming and feeding off of each other’s ideas is great. However, it’s more effective to share a list of ideas beforehand and set a designated end time.
Think about what you want to achieve in the brainstorming session, for example create a short list of 5 blog post ideas from the backlog of all 154 ideas. Once the desired outcome is achieved, finish the meeting.
Tip 3: Asking for help without wasting people’s time
Don’t tap people on the shoulders (digitally)
If you’re new to a job, you tend to get stuck all the time. It can be frustrating to get stuck for the 10th time and not know what to do.
Something I’ve seen happen in multiple teams, is to walk over to someone to interrupt them so you have the solution right now. The digital variation is sending a chat ‘do you have time for a quick call now?’. There are situations where this is helpful for both parties. But most of the time, it’s only for your own benefit.
Even worse: I’ve sent you an email this morning, have you read it? Before you ask for help by tapping someone on the shoulders, try this instead.
Are you blocked on this task or all work?
If you’re blocked on a task in the morning, ask for async feedback and work on the task scheduled for that afternoon. Think: Are you stuck on one task or your entire to-do list?
If you’re blocked on important work that has a deadline today (or someone else might miss their deadline), ask for feedback immediately. Otherwise, use async communication.
Try and figure out the problem yourself first
Google is your friend. Make sure you search for a solution before asking a colleague. If you’re not sure if this is the right solution, you can always ask. It’s better to double check if a solution is correct, because you show you’ve done some research yourself.
Search through documentation (both internal and external)
Do you have an internal wiki, company documentation, SOPs or does the software you’re using have documentation or support? Read the FAQ and help articles before you reach out. Another benefit of finding the answer yourself, is that you retain the information in a better way if you actively learn by working through the problem.
Pro tip: Share your thought process and context
Writing down your issue forces you to think about the problem. Formulating your problem and giving it boundaries helps to give structure to a discussion.
Answer these questions to get feedback as efficient as possible:
- What is the problem you are facing?
- What is the background, context and details that are needed for them to understand the problem?
- How have you tried to solve the problem?
- Have you found any possible solutions? If so, what are they? Which one would you choose and why?
- What kind of help are you looking for?
- Help with identifying the problem
- Help with finding a solution
- Confirmation that the solution you’ve found is correct
- Validation of the entire process ‘am I doing this right?’
- How urgent is this?
- Bonus: How do you feel? Fine / overwhelmed / stressed etc.
Ask for emotional support if you need it
The above solution process is about finding technical solutions. Sometimes you’re just having a bad day or you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you need emotional support (especially if you work remotely and by yourself), reach out to a colleague immediately. This is a team effort and your coworkers are here to support you. Having a quick chat with someone will help you get unstuck.
Pro tip: Always default to action
When working async, you could get stuck. Remind yourself that you’re stuck on this one task, not on all work. When in doubt, take action. Fix stuff that’s broken, continue working on the next task that is not stuck.
Tip 4: Send a video voicemail instead of having a meeting
One of the reasons to set up a quick call is, because it’s faster to explain something with voice than drafting an email. There is a medium that is both quick & easy and also doesn’t require to disturb team members if they’re in focus mode.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Sharing images, links or a video about what you’re seeing makes it so much easier to help you when you’re stuck.
Record your voice, body language and shared screen
Record a video with Loom, Awesome Screenshot or Vidyard to get the message across quickly. The good thing is that the body language and other meta-communication is also recorded. Added benefit: the receiver can watch the video at 2x speed or skip to parts relevant to them. Nice!
Pro tip: Share the video and ask for a video response
Ask your coworker(s) for a video where they record their response and add their ideas. You still get the benefit of vibing off of each other’s ideas.
Pro tip: add the video with the solution to internal handbooks
If someone helped you out, record the solution if the problem occurs more than once. By creating these internal resources, you learn from each other async.