How Clockwise helps Sri, Engineering Manager at Asana

Cathy Reisenwitz

by Cathy Reisenwitz on October 24, 2019

Sri Raghavan is a Product Engineer and Engineering Manager at Asana.

“Asana’s a tool that gets out of people's way and allows them to stop managing their work and just do actual work,” Sri said.

I talked to Sri about his scheduling challenges, what life was like before Clockwise, and how Clockwise has helped him and his team make time for what matters.

Meet Sri

Sri manages six people. He sits on Asana’s First Experience team, along with half of his reports. The other half are in Core Experience. Both of those teams are aimed at making it easy for people to adopt Asana.

The First Experience team helps prospective Asana users “get in the door, understand how to use the product, and get themselves and their team successfully onboarded so that they can start using it to actually get stuff done,” Sri said.

But it’s management that means the most to Sri. “The vast majority of the work that I'm doing and the value that I'm creating is developing my relationships with my reports,” Sri said.

The challenge: Balancing reactive and proactive work

In every role, there will be a few last-minute, urgent tasks. These are things that you and your team must address in a timely manner, but can’t necessarily budget for or expect. Sri used the site going down as an example.

This is reactive work. “Different teams have different levels of this particular challenge,” Sri said. Asana’s infrastructure team gets more than their fair share.

Reactive work can come from anywhere, but for Sri it mostly originates from Asana’s responsibilities framework and from his own work habits.

Asana’s approach to distributing responsibility and decision-making is both an opportunity and a challenge for Sri and his team.

The areas of responsibility challenge

Asana calls the idea “areas of responsibility.” Basically, the person closest to the problem should have decision-making authority, as opposed to the CEO dictating every decision from on high. “Those individuals are best empowered to make decisions in that particular area,” Sri said. “But it often also means that work around these areas of responsibility can feel like reactive work.”

Let’s say you’re an engineer, and someone finds a bug in the part of the code your own. “Well, then when somebody discovers the bug you have to deal with it even if you’re in the middle of some other work,” Sri said. “How can you make sure that you're focusing on the right stuff in a given week?”

If you’re not careful, reactive work can take over your day completely and prevent you from doing proactive work.

“Oftentimes, I find myself literally looking at my Asana inbox and just responding to the most recent stuff,” Sri said. “That is not a particularly sustainable way to work because it means that you never get to the stuff that's on the backburner.”

The collaboration challenge

Even when things are calm in his areas of responsibility, interruptions just keep coming for Sri.

I’m sure most of us can relate. We’re looking at our task list and there are just too many things going on. We’ll try to make progress on a task, and then someone messages us on Slack. “And then I’ll come back to my task list and start working on something else,” Sri said.

Then there’s reactive work from colleagues. “I have this habit where anytime anybody asks for help I will pretty much immediately drop everything and go do it,” Sri said. While his colleagues appreciate this, “It's also kind of distracting,” Sri said. “It can be really hard to get things done.”

All this led Sri to long for a better way to allocate his time at work.

Finding Clockwise

Clockwise has helped Sri find time for his high-priority work without keeping him from the reactive work required to do his job.

First, Sri discovered Focus Time.

Focus Time is based on the idea articulated by productivity experts from Cal Newport to Nir Eyal to Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky that high-quality, high-return work requires the kind of deep, intense, focused concentration that takes a little time to settle into. Most workers can get much more out of two uninterrupted hours than four 30-minute blocks.

Before Clockwise, Sri didn’t take Focus Time into account when scheduling meetings. When he needed to schedule a meeting, he’d go into Google Calendar and try to find a time that worked. That left him with a lot of Fragmented Time -- 15- or 30-minute spaces in which he wasn’t as productive as he could have been. Sri wasn’t taking into account the impact all these interruptions were having on his overall progress on his goals.

Our Focus Time Sync schedules blocks of time on your calendar for deep work.

Before Clockwise, “I didn't really think at all about how, on a given day, is that going to mean that suddenly I'm at my desk for half an hour and then have this half hour meeting and then back at my desk for half an hour?” Sri said.

“I started trying it and pretty quickly noticed that the biggest thing that I love about Clockwise is the focus blocks. That's really useful for me and now I see lots of people at Asana using Clockwise and it's great.”

Sri uses Monday mornings for planning. “I look at my calendar for the week and I say, Do I actually have a lot of stuff going on this week? Am I really really heavily booked with meetings? Is this a time where I can expect to have a decent amount of Focus Time at my desk?”

After the week view, Sri plans his day on his 40-minute train ride into work.

Here’s his routine:

  1. He’ll open Asana and his calendar on his phone
  2. He’ll decide which task is his highest priority that day (not necessarily his most urgent task)
  3. He’ll put it at the top of his Asana list
  4. He’ll mentally assign a particular block of Focus Time to this task

“Having a chunk of time on my calendar that’s essentially set aside for that already makes it pretty easy to not be trying to do those kinds of things in between random meetings.”

Focus Time Sync has also helped give Sri some time back. “I think another really big, really important value that Focus Time, and therefore Clockwise, provides is making people think a little bit.” Instead of just throwing 30 minutes on Sri’s calendar or asking a random question, now engineers at Asana will try to get work done while respecting Focus Time. That might mean creating a task instead of sending an interruptive Slack message or deciding to schedule a meeting on a different day or asking before scheduling.

“Just having the Focus Time block on the calendar helps to keep those times clear,” Sri said.

Having your Focus Time set aside and scheduled is great. But how do you get more of that precious FT?

That’s where Autopilot comes in. Autopilot helps limit interruptions and distractions during Focus Time.

“That was something that I wanted to try pretty quickly,” Sri said. Autopilot moves your meetings to the least interruptive time to maximize your total Focus Time.

Autopilot works best when the whole team uses it. So Sri asking each of his reports, “Hey, I'm trying this Autopilot thing. Our meetings might move around but stay on the same day. Is that OK?” Autopilot won’t move a meeting with less than 24 hours of notice, and you can choose to keep the meeting on the same day if you’d like.

“Some people are a little bit more attuned to the fact that having lots of scattered meetings is distracting them or means that they can't get a lot done,” Sri said. “Some people complain to me in one-on-ones: ‘I have interviews. I have all this other stuff. There's so many meetings. I feel like I'm not getting anything done.’” Sri was able to say, “‘Well, here's this tool I use that’s supposed to clean up your calendar and make you blocks of time that you can use to actually focus on things.’”

Today, Sri’s meetings are “pretty much all on Autopilot. If I'm scheduling a meeting I will often turn Autopilot on just to feel confident that conflicts will be resolved in case something comes up.”

“I think the need for Clockwise is a lot more apparent for people who've been at Asana longer,” Sri said. “Calendar debt is a kind of debt that adds up over time. You have lots of meetings that maybe should never really have been recurring. I also circulated it with some of my peer managers and I think a lot of those folks are finding it really really valuable as well just because they also happen to have a lot of meetings as managers. With Clockwise, I have a lot of trust that my inefficiencies in my calendar will get resolved over time.”

So far, Clockwise has saved Sri 20 hours of Focus Time and resolved 22 scheduling conflicts.

It can be difficult to make time for all your reactive work while also setting aside time for the kind of proactive work that moves the needle for your organization. For Sri and his reports, Clockwise’s Focus Time Sync set aside and protected Focus Time on their calendars, and Autopilot created more total Focus Time for the team. As a result, they’re better able to respond to last-minute needs while prioritizing high-value tasks.

To see how Clockwise can benefit you and your team, try it today.

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is Head of Content at Clockwise where she oversees the Clockwise Blog and The Minutes Newsletter. She has covered business software for six years and has been published in Newsweek, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.

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