Week 113: More Writing

As our 4-day-work week experiment is coming to an end (and becomes normality), we start a new experiment.

4-Day Workweek

Two months ago, Johannes and I started the experiment of having one dedicated day just for consuming information. The simple idea was: if we know that there is one day in our work week that we can fully dedicate to reading, we will be able to focus more on the tasks that we are supposed to do in that particular moment instead of glancing at Twitter. Since I picked Monday and Johannes picked Friday, we also had the luxury of having only three days for meetings. That too is immensely helpful. It shapes the week in a very natural way.

As reported in the previous week notes, we do not see this as a rigid system that needs to be enforced no matter what. Instead we used it as a guide for structuring our work week. Some weeks, we won’t be able to dedicate a whole day to consume as much as we want and need to. That’s alright, because we are likely to do something else that is exciting and fun.

To make a long story short: the experiment of a 4-day work week was a success and will now become a general routine for us.

New experiment: more writing, more structuring

As one experiment found its happy ending, we decided to start a new one. This one was solely inspired by something that I have read about the way Jeff Bezos works.

Bezos says the act of communal reading guarantees the group’s undivided attention. Writing a memo is an even more important skill to master. “Full sentences are harder to write,” he says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

While we will not directly start reading out our memos, we decided to start writing down our ideas. No bullet points. Real sentences, real structure, real depth. From now on – and until the end of February – only ideas can be discussed in meetings that are have been written out by the person who proposes one and who actually saved their text in a specified folder. This sounds a little bit more rigid than usual and it is.

We are starting this for multiple reasons. The most obvious one is of course already in the quote from Bezos. Having an idea is very easy, especially for meta people like us. Shaping this idea into something more than a spontaneous line of thought is much harder and requires either a lot of discipline or a structure that helps you deal with that particular problem. That’s where our experiment comes in. It will help us reflect and it will help us make the most out of meetings. It will also make it easier for other people to help shape this idea.

On top of this, it will also help us get into the routine of writing more. It’s a skill that, if mastered, can be of an immense value and we all want to get better at it.

With that, I wish you all a pleasant week.

Week 107: The 4-Day Workweek and Read-Later Services

Igor continues the documentation of our 4-day workweek experiment and combines it with opening thinking about how much time we spend on creating breadcrumbs.

Week 3 of our little experiment.

Feeling more guilty now then ever when I read anything on one of the four not-for-input days.

Still, feeling a lot more synchronicity between my being increasingly interested in everything and running a small company.

There is still one main question that remains unanswered: will we manage to stick to the rigidity of four output days and one input day? Especially when the work load rises. The questions that I ask myself are: Will I really be able to explain to my clients that this is how we work and that they need to wait? Is it actually fair to expect that from clients? What if I actually would prefer working on a project instead going into an input day? Even with a testing phase, it will be hard to find a definitive answer to that. All of this is part of the experiment.

That brings me to my current iteration of how I save, consume and process my information.

There are an incredible number of read-later services out there. I’ve been testing many. My latest favourite is Pocket. Not because of its design – I prefer Quote.fm and Readability in that regard – but because it also can save videos and provides the best multi-platform solution right now.

On my output days, I try to send as much of the stuff that sounds interesting directly into Pocket without even opening it up in the browser. That minimises distraction. On my input day, I start with the few newsletters that I actually read. These days, it’s mostly the one from Quartz and the New York Times. After that, I switch to Pocket and the saved items. Being interested in many things is in itself a good personal trait, but not necessarily one that always helps the business goals. That’s why we attempt to make the most out of the things that we read and not only on a cognitive level for us personally. Let me show you how the process looks right now.

  1. Saving article into Pocket
  2. Opening it up in a browser
  3. Enabling Evernote’s Clearly to mark important passages and automatically sync them into my Evernote account
  4. If the article is in some way relevant to what we do, save it – with an appropriate description and tagging mechanism – into Pinboard so that it can be easily integrated into our “What we read this week” blog post and newsletter
  5. In most cases, when I do that, I’m also inclined to post it to Twitter and Facebook. For that, I use Buffer to get the most out of my posts
  6. Post an interesting passage to Quote.fm

That’s a lot of breadcrumbing right there. Recently, and looking mainly from a business perspective, I found myself asking whether I’m investing my time sensibly. It is incredibly hard to measure a direct business impact for all of that. It’s actually impossible. My experience and instincts tell me that I should continue and try to automate wherever possible.

I’d love to hear thoughts from other people on this topic.

Week 104: The first Input Day

Igor is reporting from his first input day in the first week of the 4-day-work week experiment.

If you think that we always have everything neatly planned out, let me put it this way: today is officially the first day of our 4-day workweek experiment and Monday will be my “input-day” for the rest of October. And yet, here I am writing this week note. That’s not a bad thing. Experiments come and go, but well established and functioning processes don’t always need to make a step back for innovation. Not every system needs to be broken all the time.

When it comes to experiments, it is also wise not to try to make a too-rigid rule system. The purpose is to roam free, adjust as needed and find the sweet spot that will eventually become a routine. Introducing a 4-day-work week in a small, still young company can seem easy, but it’s not and I’m looking forward to find out which of the small things that where part of a 5-day-work week will have to adapt. While at it, I will continue doing certain things on input days that are part of the usual other days. Like checking the accounts of the company, invoicing clients (as a small company, never ever be late about this) and updating the to-do list. If I would make myself not do all those things, because I decided that it’s an input day, I’d probably end up being distracted by those small things and not get any of the reading done that I prepared for the day. It helps more to clear your mind by finishing those small tasks instead of writing them down on a ever growing to-do list.

As for the way I approach this input-day: I got up as I usually do (around 7am), got on my bike and went for a 40 minute gym session. Cleared my mind, got back, ate breakfast (fried eggs, fresh veggies and a good piece of bread with butter) and went into reading for the next three hours. My current favourite for saving things to my to-read list is Quote.fm. If I find something interesting for a newsletter we publish or the weekly reads, I’m saving it to pinboard for the rest of the team to see. With Evernote and their Clearly extension, I’m dissecting every article for good, usable quotes and research material. I’m very much looking forward to the business version of Evernote that will – hopefully! – make it actually usable for collaboration.

So long, we will keep you posted about the progress of our experiment.

In case you have missed it: check out our interview with Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, of Good Night Lamp and Designswarm.

Week 103

Back from vacation at last, we’re starting to experiment with a 4-day-work-week and got a lot more coming up.

I’m back from my first two-week vacation since 2004. It’s been some time since I’ve felt that recharged. So let’s get straight back to work.

The 4-Day Workweek

As you might have read on our blog, we are starting a two-months experiment with a 4-day workweek on October 1st. Well, it depends on how you define work if you want to count the fifth day as work or not. Anyway, from October, Igor and I will be taking four days a week to completely focus on projects and client work. We won’t take the fifth day completely off, but use it more for inspiration and open-minded exploration.

Personally, I’ve been fascinated with this approach that companies like Google and 37signals have spearheaded, for quite a while. In a work day full of temptations to multitask between strategy development, researching and inspiration coming in, it’s sometimes hard to concentrate. I’ve been experimenting with having dedicated time slots for different tasks throughout the day for some time. Taking it to the next level with doing it on a weekly base seems the obvious next step.

We will keep you posted about the experiment here in the week notes. If you want to know more right now, check out the article.

Coming up

I will be joining Klaas Bollhoefer from The unbelievable Machine on Thursday to deliver a keynote at the Big Data Congress in Offenbach. We will talk about how we tend to forget about the end-users in our big-data-projects and how they won’t take it anymore. It’s going to be fun.

On Friday, I will be in Vienna to finish off a project with our new friends at Men on the Moon.

A bit further out, I will be attending the Playful conference in London on October 19. Really looking forward to this one as just reading about the conference last year left me with a lot to think about.

PS: We’re still looking for a new office space somewhere in Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg.

The 4-Day Workweek

Starting October 1st, we will experiment with a 4-day workweek to explore if we can be more productive that way.

As of October 1st, we will be switching to a 4-day workweek. Technically, this will only affect Johannes and myself, because our trainees are working half of their week at VCCP and Maddie actually started with a 4-day work week contract at Third Wave.

This is an experiment and should be also judged as such. Since we are not sure if this is actually something that we can make work for ourselves, we decided to test this for the next two months. It is our goal both to learn from it and to share as many insights about it as possible. If it’s something that’s not compatible with our line of work, so be it. While there are plenty of people out there who are proclaiming that theirs is the one and only method to approach a balanced work week, we don’t belong to them. It probably helps that it is not part of our business model to write and publish a book. At least not on this topic.

So, why are we doing this? There are plenty of reasons. One of which is the quest for being more productive. We noticed two things over the course of the last couple of months. The first one is that being rested helps you to be more productive. While this might seem extremely obvious, it is nevertheless hard to achieve. Secondly, scarcity of time leads to higher output per measurable time interval. We’ve known this for a while now, but lacked the ability to make this knowledge actionable. Part of this experiment is to find out if this is actually true when implemented consistently.

It should be noted that we do not necessarily see the fifth day as a typical day off. It is our attempt to distribute our energy better into output and input days. We want to create a better way for us to focus on the work without having the fear that we’re missing out on reading something. Most of the things that we do read end up being not as time sensitive as they sometimes appear to be and we want to see if we can spend our fifth day on reading, exploring and just giving our brains the ability to wonder without instantly feeling guilty that we are not working.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that nobody will be available on any given Friday. Johannes and I will be doing our 20% shift on different days.

Let the test begin. We’ll keep you posted on our observations.