strategy Time management

Working in multiple time zones

Recently, the subject of teams working across time zones has come up in three separate conversations, so it makes for an excellent topic to write about.

Here are a few guidelines I’ve seen applied successfully that will help work across time zones a bit easier on your team.

Default to public conversations in chat

Doing so allows the people to chime in, even when they are not the intended recipient. 

It also makes it easy to get caught up on what happened while you were out, including essential decisions or ongoing conversations.

By the way, on the subject of ongoing conversations, be explicit about leaving a buffer time for other time zones to participate in the discussion rather than closing the thread 🧵 as soon as you get consensus among the people in your time zone.

Question the need to have a meeting

Meetings are an essential aspect of our work, but questioning if you should meet becomes crucial with multiple time zones.

Here are some ways to move a meeting asynchronous

  • Status meetings turn into status updates to a dedicated chat or page.
  • Decision-making meetings turn into collaborative documents following RACI/DACI format.
  • Problem-solving meetings turn into collaborative documents following a problem-solving framework such as ADR (architecture design review)
  • Information sharing meetings can become a pre-recorded video shared repeatedly to the team or organization, with a dedicated communication space for discussion. 
  • Brainstorming sessions become a multi-step asynchronous process to generate ideas first, set success criteria second, and filter ideas through the last success criteria.

Record meetings

At some point, a meeting is inevitable. We thrive in social environments and engaging with each other; meetings are as close as we get to that experience while working remotely.

But working in different time zones makes it difficult to get everyone to participate.

To be inclusive of others and disseminate information accordingly, record the meeting and share the recording with those not in attendance.

Extra points if the meeting recording is shared in your public chat messages for even more exposure to the information 

Take notes during meetings

While recording a meeting is great, the content is usually not searchable.

This is where taking notes becomes more critical.

Doing so allows for the information to be searchable, easy to share and provides consumption options for those that prefer reading over audiovisuals.

Be inclusive of time zones

To include people working in different time zones than your own, try to find a time between the participants.

When finding an overlap isn’t possible, consider having the same meeting in multiple time zones.

Empower and trust

A big complaint of new organizations distributing work across many time zones is the wait times needed for decisions and discussions to move forward.

I already spoke about some asynchronous ways to get to a consensus and make decisions, but the easiest way to unstuck someone is to make sure they are empowered and trusted to make decisions.

To do so, we will need laid out processes and an evident sense of direction. 

When people know the goal, they can figure out their way within the existing constraints.

Time zone icons created by Freepik – Flaticon

habits stories Time management

Unblocking yourself

I am recovering from a couple of weeks of COVID madness and trying to get back into my habits, including writing.

To my surprise, I had no idea what to write about. I was effectively blocked.

Thinking about being blocked reminded me of being blocked at work and what I did to get moving.

In management, you are constantly bombarded with information streams that seem equally important.

To tackle the work, we resort to prioritization frameworks, to-do lists, four Ds (do, delete, delegate, delay), and other techniques that give us confidence that we’re working on precious work.

In my experience, prioritizing is where I tend to feel blocked, and the anxiety of not making progress kicks in.

This is where a quick mind hack kicks in to save the day. I add a to-do item called “prioritize work” and mark it as the most essential item on my list.

And just like that, I am now going through all the various items and applying prioritization techniques to ensure I use my time well.

The problem was not seeing the value of prioritizing.

I felt blocked just staring at the amount of work in front of me, and since I feel good about making progress constantly, I incorrectly assumed that prioritizing work wasn’t progress.

Unlock icons created by Smashicons – Flaticon

management Time management

My managerial framework

When I first started as a manager, I didn’t have a role model, classes, or even a good list of books to read and learn about management.

I made a lot of mistakes (sorry everyone that worked for me then) but I also learned a ton in the process.

Next, I’ll introduce a very simple framework that has helped me tremendously over my career

Keystone habits 

I first learned about keystone habits by reading the power of habit.

Since this is not a blog post about book summaries, I’ll leave you the homework of reading it on your own.

The key takeaway for me was that not only could I engage in life-changing habits, but that I could help my teams do great by introducing keystone habits

For example, introducing a test-first mindset has done wonders for my teams, while calendar blocks is another keystone habit that has significantly reduced interruptions for everyone I have worked with.

Team accountability over personal accountability 

I brought this from my military days, where every action we take can cost my partner’s life.

Since we are all accountable not only for our work but for each other’s, I celebrate team accomplishments over individual ones.

When mistakes happen, I look at them as opportunities to learn and improve on as a team, after all, nothing happens in a vacuum. That engineer you think introduced the bug was let down by a lot of people.

Starting with their fellow engineers for not picking up on the error or pairing more, the product team for not clarifying the requirements, the manager for not providing enough learning resources, infrastructure for not having a good way to deploy without releasing.

I could go on but the point is that holding the team accountable will yield much better results than any individual accountability system could.

Time management over working late 

After doing 12 hour days, working on weekends, skipping on vacation time, and not seeing any actual gains from it, I realized that time management was one of those keystone habits that I needed to introduce everywhere I went.

The premise is simple, work on time blocks and ruthlessly prioritize what goes into those time blocks.

Blocking time removes distractions, forces focus on the task at hand, and leads to a much happier life.

By the way, for a more detailed insight into avoiding distractions, take a look at “How to deal with interruptions

Constraints over abundance 

Having constraints in place spark creativity, set good boundaries, and help get the most out of your resources.

In project management, work in progress limits keep your team working at an optimal pace without fear of burnout.

Constraints in resources such as hardware and software help you get a better return on investment on them.

Concentrating on one task at a time yields much better results than having to constantly shift focus.

Time constraints foster a sense of urgency that comes very handy when feeling stuck, such as writing a blog post on your personal management framework

Overall, I have found that having constraints is extremely helpful to me and my team.

Simplicity over complexity 

This is usually easier said than done, especially when it comes to architecting new systems or defining a new process for a team.

The idea here is that simplicity is easy to replicate, easy to distribute, and easy to follow.

So when given an option to follow multiple paths, the easy one will always win in my book. 

Value the individual

Not to contradict my team accountability statement above, when it comes to interacting with my team, blanket approaches to specific situations don’t work very well.

What I am talking about here are things such as communication preferences, background, career goals, coding styles, pairing preferences, etc.

Learning and valuing the vast difference in character from all my team members is one of the best ways for me to show that I care about them and that I am fully vested in their success.


Introducing keystone habits, holding the team accountable, managing time, introducing constraints, keeping it simple, and valuing the individual is my simple recipe for managerial success.

what is yours?

Icons made by Eucalyp from www.flaticon.com
Ask a dev manager Time management

How to deal with interruptions?

Interruptions are the bane of the creatives and yes, that includes you, software engineers of the world. Let’s dig a little deeper into why interruptions are bad by explaining “flow”

What is flow?

Flow is a mental state that allows for deep concentration on a task without noticing the surrounding environment or the time.

Think of the last time you began work, looked at the time, and 3 or more hours had passed and you did not even realize it.

Why is it important?

For anyone involved in engineering, design, development, writing, or similar work, flow is your most productive time and for the vast majority, it is the only way to “get anything done”.

The above statement usually surfaces as a comment saying “I can’t get anything done from 9-5”, or your team deciding to work early or stay late just to accomplish anything meaningful.

The problem

In a normal 8 hour day, engineers and everyone else, are at odds on how to best utilize their time.

Managers, Product Managers, Executives, Sales, and most everyone that needs something from Engineers thrives on a day full of interruptions. Meaningful work for non-engineers looks like constant interruptions, status meetings, impromptu discussions to come up with action items, and similar items. We pride ourselves on the fact that we can keep track of 10+ things in our heads. For proof, just look at the calendar for anyone not doing software engineering.

Exaggerated calendar view for a manger

This interruption driven style of work then permeates to the daily life of our engineers, and soon enough, their calendars start looking like the one above, Yikes! and we dare to wonder why the engineers “don’t get anything done”

What can we do about it?

The first step is to measure the interruptions, then take action.
A really good starting point as mentioned by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister in Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (3rd Edition) is to measure the proportion of uninterrupted hours to total hours, they call it the e-factor as in “environmental factor

If you buy the idea that a good environment ought to afford workers the possibility of working in flow, the collection of uninterrupted-hour data can give you some meaningful metric evidence of just how good or bad your environment is.

Whenever the number of uninterrupted hours is a reasonably high proportion of total hours, up to approximately 40 percent, then the environment is allowing people to get into flow when they need to.

Much lower numbers imply frustration and reduced effectiveness.

We call this metric the Environmental Factor or E-Factor.

(Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister, 2013)

The number might be low, to begin with, but constantly watching the e-factor and aiming to increase it, should lead to new measures to reduce interruptions being introduced

How do we get better?

When it comes to actual action items, your team will know best. Talk to them, experiment, and measure your team’s e-factor constantly.

To get started, here are some practices that have helped teams around the world:

  • Introduce a strong commitment to quality, which reduces support, and thus reducing interruptions
  • Time management techniques such as
    • Pomodoro
    • Block “maker time” in your calendar
    • Turn on do not disturb settings on your phone and computer
    • Visible chat signals so others know about “flow” time
  • Writing objectives on paper before starting work
  • Knowing and practicing when and how to say no, or better said, “not now, but let me get back to you”
  • Email rules to surface important items and hide or delay “noise”
  • Separate machines for work and personal use
  • Quiet environment

For more great ideas, see Scott Hanselman’s productivity tips

Best of luck and happy “flow”

Icons made by Darius Dan from www.flaticon.com