A staggering 60% of the time we spend “at work” is actually spent on “work about work,” according to Asana chief product officer Alex Hood.
Asana is the project management company started by Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz. The company, founded more than a decade ago, is explicitly designed to be almost the opposite of early Facebook “move fast and break things” culture. Its name is a Yoga term for a type of meditation, and despite an intentionally slower pace, it currently has over 75,000 clients, is worth an estimated $1.5 billion, and just filed to go public via an unusual direct listing, following companies like Spotify and Slack.
The company’s goal: enabling productivity.
And that’s hard to do when most of our time is spent being unproductive, says Hood.
“You look for really creative people who have shipped a bunch of things in their background, who bring a unique philosophy to things, very creative, collaborative, but you put them into a situation where information workers, a billion and a quarter of them in the world, spend 60% of their time on work about work,” Hood said in a recent TechFirst podcast. “And that is all the nonsense and BS where you’re actually manufacturing information about the things that you’re supposed to be doing, instead of actually doing the things that you’re supposed to be doing.”
That 60% includes status meetings, regular standing meetings which are on the calendar because they’re on the calendar, checking email or Slack for the latest updates on projects, and as Hood says, “getting hit up for status notifications.”
The goal for Asana is reducing the burden of work. And, perhaps, helping you reduce stress, just like yoga does.
“I also have two young kids and I think about the energy I bring home after a day where I spent 60% of my time on work about work versus where I spent 60 or more percent of my time on creative problem solving big customer problems with teams,” Hood says.
The interesting part about Asana is that within that 75,000-company customer base, there are giants like Google and Intel. Traditional companies like Deloitte. Innovative companies with non-hierarchical organizational charts like Zappos. Old companies like National Geographic, and brand-new companies. And, of course, the one or two-person consultants. There are very few tools that companies of all sizes and kinds can use.
Perhaps that’s because for Hood, the goal isn’t project management per se. Rather, it’s organizing for impact.
“I don’t think the world’s information workers have people who are shepherding their time for creative work,” he told me. “I think servant leadership is all about how do you protect the flow time of creative people to do great things.”
That done, Hood says, “the decision stuff” should just kind of take care of itself.
To enable that, Asana focused on maximizing asynchronous time versus synchronous time. Synchronous, of course, is time we spend together in meetings organizing ourselves, getting on the same page, or gathering insight. Asynchronous is often the time when we’re not meeting and most of the work actually occurs.
One thing that can be toxic to growth? Hard deadlines.
“I think it’s very easy … to lead via anxiety,” he says. “Like you create a bunch of hard stop deadlines for folks. You always are ratcheting up the pressure of what excellent looks like.”
That’s perhaps the opposite of a lot of Silicon Valley tech wisdom, which is generally hard-charging, gung ho, pressure-filled endless hours on task. But it seems to be working for Asana.
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