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.
Tip 5: Share a Google Docs and ask for feedback
The second way to collaborate async is in Google Docs. There are 2 ways to do this:
- Give them access as ‘commenter’ so you can see the changes they’ve made directly in the text
- Ask them to place comments
In both cases, ask them to let you know that the feedback is ready to process. Either ask them to tag you by using “@ YOUR NAME” in the Google Docs or simply let you know through another channel.
Tip 6: You don’t always have to be online
Avoid being available all the time
Don’t approach digital communication as a game of tennis, where you have to bounce back the ball as quickly as possible. Take your time to think about a problem, because the solution will be much better and helpful to colleagues.
Solve by turning off communication channels when in focus mode
It’s a good habit to turn off chat and/or email when in focus mode. Without interruptions, you’ll get so much more done. If you’re a junior, you can easily go offline for 90 minutes to work on that campaign or write a blog post draft.
Communicate with the team you’re going offline
Send a message 15 minutes before you turn everything off: “I’m going in focus mode, is there anything I can help you with before I go offline for 90 minutes?” or “Can I unblock anyone before I go into focus mode?”
Sending this message is a great way to prevent blocking team members and to work in focus mode without worrying about blocking colleagues.
If you go offline for longer than 2 hours, communicate the day beforehand, so you don’t block anyone’s work.
Pro tip: Add focus time to Google Calendar
Add focus time in your Google Calendar and share the calendar with colleagues. Read more on Calendar Management if this is difficult for you. This way, they can see if you’re available or offline. They can also see when you will probably come back online.
Tip 7: Let people distribute their time in line with their preferences
Avoid unnecessarily interrupting the focus time of your coworkers
If you’ve implemented the previous tip, you know how much work you can get done in 90 minutes without interruptions. How great is it, if you can share that joy by being mindful about interruptions.
Let people respond at the time that’s best for them
Work inherently means working together. Please keep collaborating as much as possible, but don’t expect an instant response. Instead of pinging someone “do you have 10 minutes?” or asking for their opinion on the spot, let them respond at their convenience.
Use asynchronous communication when possible
Record a video (next tip) or collaborate asynchronously with Google Docs. Ask them to track changes with ‘suggesting’ so you can see the changes made. Don’t forget to ask them to inform you when they’re done, so you can continue.
Ask them what time of day works best for them
People are wired differently: some people need time to get going in the morning, others have an after-dinner dip. It doesn’t hurt to ask your colleagues how and when they work best. Asking about their schedule is a great way to better understand each other and build trust.
Tip 8: Set boundaries and log off when work is done
Avoid working outside working hours on a structural basis
Let’s say you’re working async and you receive feedback from a colleague at the end of the day. It’s tempting to process the solution and get the task of your list. The problem with this, is that you might send it to a third colleague, you also might want to ‘quickly’ respond. This is a downward spiral.
Protect your boundaries and don’t work at night (unless it’s an emergency)
Protect your downtime and unplug. Stop thinking about work and relax. Tomorrow is another day. The only exception is if it’s an emergency. An emergency should happen once a month at most. If you have emergencies every week, you should take on less projects and plan time better.
Tip 9: Set up communication guidelines
Having worked within and alongside a variety of different teams I have found people to have quite different expectations about the usage of chat, email, and when it is OK to call someone over the weekend.
Avoid frustration in the team by setting up guidelines
Most of the communication guidelines are informal. If misalignment happens in your team, this chapter is for you. If all communication is going smoothly, feel free to skim through the article. There still might be some useful tips in here as well.
How to create communication guidelines
- Decide on a channel hierarchy, i.e. “We prefer email over chat”
- Decide on a response time per channel, i.e. “We expect you to respond to email within 2 working days”
- Decide on communication etiquette, i.e. “Do not send emails on the weekend, delay sending to Monday 8AM if you do.”
An example of communication guidelines can be found in the next chapter.
Collaborating in a productive and mutually beneficial way, requires you to think before you act. Combine being deliberate with awareness of the working preferences of your colleagues. Knowing what works for them and how they get the best work done is crucial to a great working relationship when working async.
Be precise and complete when you communicate, so there’s less back and forth.
Lastly, find the balance between asking for help when you really need it and postponing reaching out and solving the problem yourself first.