in Personal Growth

How to Work (Questions, Not Answers)

One of the favorite things I’m learning at work is how to work. This might sound a little silly but I feel it’s quite important so let me explain. When I think of “how to work”, there are several things that come to mind.

(Sorry in advance that I’d leave you with more questions than helpful information!)

First, how to be effective. I have always thought about being efficient (ie. doing things fast and right) but I learned that being effective (ie. doing the right things) should come first. There have been times when I spent hours on a task that isn’t the most important thing I could have been doing. I found categorizing tasks into “Important and urgent”, “Important but not urgent”, “Urgent but not important”, and “Not important and not urgent” a helpful first step. But how to allocate time among them feels like an art, and I don’t think I’ve mastered it yet. On a higher-level, how do I decide what new projects to take on? There are so many exciting ideas to work on but not all will be worth exploring.

Second, how to make full use of my one-on-ones with my team lead. I’m grateful to have a weekly one-on-one with my team lead. I’m not sure how many of my peers have one-on-ones in their companies. Sometimes, I have so much to discuss with my team lead that an hour is not enough. Sometimes, I don’t have a lot in my mind to talk about but I also don’t want to talk just to fill up the hour. How can I make better use of the full hour?

Third, how to plan my day. With teammates across 12 time zones, I feel lucky that I don’t have to stick to a fixed 9-5. On some days, I start at 7 am and stop work by 4 pm. On other days, I start at 7 am, take a long break in the afternoon, and end my day at 9 pm. How do I do enough work, spend enough time knowing my teammates, and also have time for myself and my loved ones? I prefer sticking to a routine but my schedule has been changing every once in a while. I’m still figuring out what’s a good routine to have but perhaps it is meant to change constantly.

Fourth, how much work is enough. Work never ends. There are always more things to do or new things to try — and that’s exciting! Many of us love our job so much that we like to keep working. But that is probably not sustainable. How do I decide what’s enough for the day or the week?

Fifth, how to balance work and team bonding activities. Being a fully-distributed team means we don’t see one another along the hallways, chat in the pantry, or go out for lunch together. (Some of us do meet up once in a while.) So team bonding activities are important. Our People team (ie. Human Resource team) plans activities for us to get together, know one another better, and have fun together. There are many opportunities to bond as a team, too: celebrations for promotions and new roles, showing appreciation and gratitude for each other, sharing personal news or funny stories, and more. These are important but they aren’t work. I think finding a good balance is key to being a happy, productive worker.

Sixth, how to balance work and learning. We are always encouraged to take the time to learn new things and improve ourselves, even during working hours. I’m so glad that “Have a focus on self-improvement” is one of our values. Getting the right work done usually produces immediate results. The effects of improving myself are more long term. How do I balance both immediate and longer-term needs? How do I allocate my time?

Seventh, when to take a break. We have a minimum vacation practice (which is awesome) as we feel that taking the time to recharge ourselves is important. How often should I take a break? How long should the break be? I imagine the answers to these questions differ for everyone. Sometimes, we work harder and longer hours for special events such as a campaign or a launch. But after those events, should I work less than an average day? What’s a good balance?

I have some thoughts on these questions but not the answers yet. I don’t imagine that there are black and white answers, too. They are probably different in different circumstances and for different people. What works best for me now might not work in the future, too. I see this as a continuous learning journey instead of a destination to reach, and I’m excited!