TGIF - Nozbe team's attempt at working less, but better

We have a new policy at Nozbe. We treat Fridays differently. And we call it “Piąteczek” (in Polish), which you could translate to: TGIF as in “Thank God It's Friday”. Here's what it's all about:

Yoda helping us work less but better

Note: This is a short version of the post I originally posted on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

Note 2: If you prefer a different “audio” version of this article, we discussed this new TGIF policy with my co-host Radek at the #60 eposide of The Podcast. We came back to the topic in the #70 eposide.

Introducing an experimental policy that will give us a more productive, yet shorter workweek with more time for a weekly review and for learning new things… or not.

We're already quite an unorthodox company. We all work remotely from our homes and we don't have a single physical office. We've been working like this for almost a decade and hundreds of thousands of users of our Nozbe app don't seem to mind that at all.

But we're not unorthodox just for the sake of it. We are like that because it works. Because we enjoy a better lifestyle thanks to our “No Office” arrangement.

After all, we're a productivity company. When we experiment, we do it for a reason. To work better. To be better. To grow better. And this new policy is supposed to help us exactly at that.

And it all started with 3 questions that I couldn't get off of my mind:

Question: How to make people work less, but better?

There are many different approaches to a modern workweek:

  • There's crazy Tim Ferriss with his “4-hour workweek”, which was nothing more than a publicity stunt
  • There's Ryan Carson of Treehouse with their 4-day workweek and 3-day weekends, which is very interesting and tempting for the employees
  • There's the traditional 9-5, Mon-Fri, 40-hour workweek, which is very boring and so last-century
  • There's Google's 20% rule - when employees can work on a side project one day a week, which sounds great but I'm not sure if it's even a thing anymore
  • There's Marissa Meyer workaholic 130-hour, sleep-at-your-office-and-pull-all-nighters workweek, which is very posh among startups but unsustainable in a long run

Up until now, our “No Office” company was working in a very traditional way. Usually everyone was online somewhere between 9-5, with a few people starting earlier or taking breaks throughout the day and finishing off at night.

My week was pretty standard, too. Each day had a theme:

  • Monday - CEO stuff
  • Tuesday - Marketing
  • Wednesday - Product
  • Thursday - Writing
  • Fridays - Meetings

What I didn't like about this week was that I started it with boring CEO-related stuff. Don't get me wrong, I like being the CEO of my company but if you ask me, I prefer working on the product, doing marketing related tasks or writing essays like this one. So I had to re-structure my week anyway.

And from all the above-mentioned workweeks the mixture of Ryan Carson/Google was the most appealing to me. I generally liked the idea of working less. Of having more time off. Of having longer weekends. But the CEO part of me didn't like the fact of giving my team more free time with nothing in exchange. What to do then? How to make people work less, but better?

Question: How to make people learn more?

Our company is in the technology industry with our suite of apps. Due to the nature of our software and our mission, we're a productivity company. Both of these worlds are changing rapidly now. It's hard to keep up!

We have to be advancing. In our world, if you're not moving forward, you're standing still. If you're standing still, you're moving backwards.

To be able to move forward, we need to be focused on personal development. On learning new things. On trying new stuff. On taking the time to read articles, listen to audiobooks and podcasts, watch or attend conferences. How can we find time to do that when there's so much to do?

If we are to choose between learning new things and getting our day-to-day job done, the latter always wins. Hands down. It has to. But is it good in the long run? Should we just keep doing what we're doing and leave personal development “for later”?

Nope. Personal development should be a regular thing. Like regular exercise. I should know, I'm a triathlete. I need to make time to swim, bike and run. But how to make time for personal development in my company? How to make people learn more?

Question: How to make people do a regular weekly review?

When I first built Nozbe back in 2007 I was inspired by David Allen's book: “Getting Things Done (GTD) - The Art of Stress Free Productivity” and one of the key concepts there, apart from projects, next actions and contexts… was the idea of a “weekly review”.

The idea is simple - you must regularly review your productivity system: your tasks, projects, commitments… to be able to stay on top of things! You need to take a step back every once in a while and make sure you know where you're going. If you don't do that, you won't be in control. Other people will take over your life with their goals. Not yours.

In one of the interviews David Allen says something like this:

“I actually think once a week… and generate my widgets-to-crank (i.e. things-to-do) down to physical level. (…) Yes, I thought… and I know I'm gonna think again next week.”

My weekly review struggles

I know the importance of a good weekly review. Yet, there are weeks when I hardly find time to do a thorough one. I just find it hard to schedule a 2-3 hour session with myself to go through all of my things. It seems like a waste of time. It seems I'm not getting anything substantial done when I'm reviewing my productivity system.

The problem got bigger recently. The other day I was doing my weekly review and part of that was going through all of my projects in Nozbe. Something stood out. I mean, I've been seeing this before but this time it was just too much.

You see, we don't use emails internally in Nozbe, we communicate through tasks, so we share lots of projects in Nozbe. And in these projects there are many tasks delegated to different people and there was something strange about many of them…

“No country for old men”

What I realized was that there were an awful lot of old tasks in our shared projects. Tasks created in April, March, February… and even December of last year. And this was in the beginning of August! These tasks were there hanging, without any updates on them, any new comments, nothing. Lots of abandoned old tasks that people responsible for didn't care about anymore.

Then in downed on me. People on my team were not doing a proper weekly review anymore. We were all too busy in the whirlwind of day-to-day stuff that we didn't have the time to review our things. And we're supposed to be a productivity company!

I knew this situation was not sustainable. For our sanity. For our focus. For our success. We need to be doing a proper weekly review. ALL OF US.

Agreed, but how to make people do a weekly review?

Three questions, one attempt at an answer: TGIF

These three questions collided recently in my mind and kept me awake at night. How to make time for us to learn more, do a proper weekly review and in the end work less, but better?

Step 1. Let's try 4 days a week of actual work.

The problem with a 4-day workweek is the fact that by getting rid of one day of work we're not really getting anything in return. I mean we do, one day free, but it doesn't make our 4 days better. It actually can make them even more stressful. With literally no time for review or space to learn new things.

Step 2. Let's move some meetings, review and learning to Friday.

Eureka! Let's work 4 days better, by doing a team-wide mandatory weekly review on Fridays. Let's make Fridays the “review days” and do no actual work anymore. Let's do some meetings in the morning (if we really need to), let's do a review and once that's done and we're ready for the next week, let's do whatever we want!

Just imagine how more effective the 4 first days of the week could be if we were really prepared for them? If we had our review done, if we knew what we wanted to do and on Monday morning went straight to doing just that: to getting stuff done?

Now we've got something. A new company policy which is called:

TGIF - Thank God It's Friday (in Polish: Piąteczek)

  • We work at full throttle on our day-to-day tasks only Monday to Thursday, trying to avoid status meetings and such
  • On Friday morning 9-12 we have all the necessary meetings or chats… and we start our weekly review
  • Everybody reports on Slack once they've got their weekly review done
  • After the review is done, it's all up to each person now. They can either learn something new, maybe work on a side project or take up a new hobby… or they can simply call it a day and have a longer weekend with the family

How to do a good weekly review?

Here's my simple checklist:

  • Clean up your inboxes (the one on your desk, email, Nozbe… and any other you might have)
  • Remind yourself of your goals for this year
  • Review your calendar for this week and next
  • Review your goals for this quarter and this month
  • Go through each project and each task in your productivity system
  • Review your this week's goals and set up goals for the upcoming week
  • Get excited. Get ready for next week!

Optional steps:

  • Clean up your computer's hard drive a little
  • Clean up your desk, maybe even re-design your office space
  • Review things you wanted to learn
  • Go through your reading list
  • Create a playlist of things to watch, online conferences to attend
  • Do something you always wanted to do but never had the time for. Now is the time and the company pays you to do it!

Use a Nozbe.how template: my own one or from our users: Mike St. Pierre, Chad Garett or Eric Stetler.

Last Friday was great, can't wait for the next one!

We officially started the policy at Nozbe in August. People were really excited. On Friday some people had their weekly review done as soon as 9 am! Everyone reported on their progress on Slack. People were sharing ideas of how they're going to spend the day.

Nozbe Ratio

When we got our “Nozbe report”, our team had a Nozbe Ratio of 160%, which means we completed a lot more tasks than we created. Suddenly age-old tasks disappeared, got completed or updated or re-scheduled. Nope, not all of our projects are as clean and focused as they should be just yet, but the situation has radically improved. So far my team responded great to the idea of TGIF. I'll report back in a few more weeks once we get the hang of it even more.

TGIF is all about working less, but better.

Yes, I'm the CEO and I ask of my people to work less. It seems counterproductive or crazy, but I believe we're on to something. I truly believe we would be more productive having four days of very focused work rather than five days of semi-focused work. I believe with this TGIF arrangement we can truly work less, but better.

Now I know. My belief is proven by experience of the team. On the Nozbe Reunion in October we discussed whether to keep TGIF, modify it or come back to the status quo. We were unanimous: the new policy helps us work better, learn new things and become experts in our fields.

In the #70 episode of The Podcast, recorded from the Reunion, we summed up our conclusions.

Try it yourself!

I encourage you to try it out yourself. In your team or your company. Talk to your boss about it. Let me know what you think and how this goes for you.

And if you like this idea, I'd appreciate a "share" on social media (Twitter, Facebook?). This will help spread the word and maybe help other companies and teams work less, but better. Thanks!

Posted on Monday, November 21, 2016 (medium,NoOffice)

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