Remotely Interesting

The Work Forward Approach is the Key

published5 months ago
6 min read

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We broke down the difference between synchronous and asynchronous work and when to use each style in the last issue. Today, I want to answer the question on "How?".

The Work Forward Approach is a framework I created after many people reached out wanting specific advice on switching to an effective async-first work style. I distilled what I know down to 8 core principles.

I call it the Work Forward Approach because it helps you switch from a reactive to a proactive mindset. Use this approach to spend less time chasing fires and more time catching things before they spark.

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Two people working together in their own time

1. Start with Clarity

You need a clear understanding of what you're responsible for, the priority around those responsibilities, how you'll go about getting them done, and where you'll go to find answers when you're stuck. Everything else below will not work without this.

When you see people having trouble making the shift to an async-first approach, the core issue tends to be rooted in a lack of clarity around one of these areas. Don't fall into this trap.

2. Always Default to Action

You were blocked on your #1 priority, so that means you should just wait to be resolved, right? No, don't waste time waiting. This is where having clearly prioritized responsibilities comes into play.

Get blocked on item 1, then move on to item 2. This might require you to think about your work differently. Instead of approaching it like a strict recipe that has to happen in 1-2-3 order, consider what can be done in parallel. Can you prep something while waiting for the water to boil? Can you start on a side dish?

This principle also requires managers to think ahead. Make sure your team members know the why behind the top-level goals and are set up with tasks for beyond the immediate moment.

3. Understand Urgent vs. Important

Knowing the difference is key. Urgent activities demand immediate attention, while important activities are critical toward achieving your goals. The Eisenhower Matrix provides a great framework for how to address each type of activity.

However, your first step is to identify them. Tracking and labeling where your time goes is a great way to do this. If you're solely attacking urgent tasks, you're running on a treadmill heading nowhere except toward burnout. Pairing quadrant 2 with asynchronous work is the dream team.

4. Write with Intention

You want your communications to come across clearly and in the way you intended. This requires intention. Spell out acronyms at least once before using the shortened version, keep your words simple, and use emojis to help your tone come across. Don't assume, be deliberate.

5. Communicate Everything Upfront

With longer periods between messages, it's important to proactively communicate as much as possible upfront. One technique is to provide an "if-then" response. Instead of saying "Try this", say "Try this, if this happens, then try that".

Back when I worked in technical support, we would frequently need a screen share to get more information. However, 75% of respondees would ask, "How do I take a screen share?". By including information on how to do this in the initial message, we cut down on the back-and-forth and resolved the ticket faster. Including extra information upfront makes it easier for everyone.

6. Value Results Over Responsiveness

This goes for your company, but also for you. Busy does not mean productive, yet many people schedule their deep work around their meeting schedule and keep their notifications always-on despite knowing this degrades their quality of work. Remember that it's more important to be productive than to look productive.

7. Batch Tasks

Now that you don't have to rely on real-time availability, you can take advantage by reducing your context switching. Do this by batching tasks that require you to be in a similar mental mode.

Example: If you have 2 different writing tasks, schedule a writing time to work on both and separate time to batch editing, client communications, and distribution.

Instead of working by individual task, you'll be working by individual types of work. Less context switching means more flow and higher quality output.

8. Pass the Baton

Your goal is to keep work flowing in one fluid motion. Avoid dropping the baton by regularly:

  • Responding to blockers
  • Sending updates
  • Making clear what others should expect

What does this look like in practice? Start by unblocking your team members and answering questions first thing in the morning. Anything that would take more than 5 minutes gets prioritized in your task backlog. At the end of the day, provide your team with a quick update on what you did, what you're planning on doing next, and any blockers/questions you ran into. This can be as little as 3 bullet points. Then the cycle continues. Keep the baton in motion.

Spend less time chasing fires and more time catching things before they spark. Mastering the 8 principles behind my Work Forward Approach will allow you to work asynchronously with ease. Develop a calm, sustainable, and effective system so you can take back control over your workday.


The Work Forward Approach

  1. Start with Clarity
  2. Always Default to Action
  3. Understand Urgent vs. Important
  4. Write with Intention
  5. Communicate Everything Upfront
  6. Value Results Over Responsiveness
  7. Batch Tasks
  8. Pass the Baton

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Quote of the Week

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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This was made for managers, team leads, product leaders, and founders. I'm very excited to help you level up as a remote leader!

(P.S. If you liked today's post on The Work Forward Approach, there's an entire module dedicated to the topic. This was just a small taste.)

If you're not a leader, I have more resources coming for you soon. In the meantime, please share this with your leaders because it will help them provide you with a better work experience.

Happy to answer any questions you have. Feel free to reply to this message or DM me on Twitter @mar15sa.

I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this. Hope you have a lovely day!


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