Louis Bidou

documenting my journey

Hi there! Welcome. I'm Louis. I'm passionate about the complexity of organizations. Currently, I work on those operations and organization development topics with Sketchfab's co-founders and team to keep it smooth at it grows. My north pole is a profound trust in people, and an obsession for psychological safety.

I started to document parts of my journey here, check the table of content. I don't aim at sharing solutions or advice, but resources I discovered and thoughts I had based on my experience, as perhaps prompts in your own inner and organizational journey.

I don't write that often, so feel free to subscribe to receive new posts once a month. Also, I don't know what brought you here – tell me, always happy to chat and bounce ideas!

During my first months working closely with Sketchfab's co-founders, I sometimes felt unsure about whether or not I needed their approval to do something.

“I think we should do this. But I should discuss it with Alban first, he is the CEO so I probably need his approval. Well, he is traveling this week, so I'd better wait until Monday to share him the context of my recommendation. Actually, maybe I should go ahead and do it: maybe he simply doesn't care and need to be disturbed with that – he already has so much on his plate, and probably hired me to not think about this kind of things anymore. But I'd not like to appear as I'm trying to bypass him, that's not my intention. Arf, what's my room for maneuver here exactly?”

Not easy – especially if you work with people who are very busy or just hands-off, and if you have a lot of freedom in your job, as well as maybe a little bit of an impostor syndrome. When you feel in need of approval, things can get stuck really quickly and prevent you from doing anything meaningful.

But I came to realize that the founders' responsibilities was to provide me with the tools, resources and information to do my job well, not to be a roadblock. Also, I should be trusted to do my job to the best of my abilities.

So now, my trick is to ping them in advance using this formula:

Unless otherwise stated, I “ACTION” + “REASONABLE DELAY”.

“Unless otherwise stated, I will do this tomorrow morning.”

I see several benefits of such a format:

  • It reverses the authorizing step. You don't need one (or worse, several) “yes” anymore, you simply need to hear nothing back
  • Informing them in advance keep things transparent. People will not be able to blame you for a lack of communication
  • It still gives others the opportunity to step in if they don't agree or want to discuss the matter further
  • Often times, people from whom you seek approval don't have all the relevant context to actually wrap their mind around your recommandation, or best case they simply trust you. Now you are basically freeing them from this weird burden of deciding about something they have no idea about, or you are simply honoring the trust they grant you with
  • It feels liberating, and turns the possibly toxic authorizing step into a much healthier, actionable and scalable act of information and advice
  • It is in line with the spirit of starting by doing, especially in an organization where the culture welcomes the idea that it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission

We may have read countless articles about the importance of articulating teams around a purpose, but still find the concept esoteric and hard to scale down and embed in our daily context.

Sam Spurlin from The Ready just put it in a very actionable way in their last newsletter: “If your team doesn’t have a clearly articulated purpose yet, then pull everyone together and talk about how the world will be different if your team is successful.”

“How will the world be different if we are successful?”

In the example of my Operations role at Sketchfab, people will be trusted and supported to do their best work. They will feel safe and free to be brave and express their true-self. We would reach a point where the administration of the organization seems effortless.

I feel it's fair to consider that this statement reflects Sketchfab's Operations team purpose. Also, it honestly felt quite easy to came up with using Sam Spurlin's prompt.

What are the benefits of articulating our purpose upfront and refine it as we learn over time? Because it gives us a powerful tool to:

  1. Communicate to the rest of the organization about the work we are doing
  2. Prioritize decisions
  3. Trust people to take any creative and meaningful action that moves the team or organization closer to its purpose

Source: https://medium.com/the-ready

Even in very innovative companies, it's sometimes hard to apply this pioneering mindset also on organizational topics. I'm amazed by the simplicity and actionability of the concept of “workable solution”, as defined and used in Holacracy's Governance Meeting process.

The goal of this meeting is to optimize the structure of the organization. And the method used to be sure everybody's voice is heard and no one dominate decision-making is the following (pay attention to the Objection Round):

  • Present Proposal — The proposer identifies a tension and presents a proposal
  • Clarifying Questions — Anyone can ask questions to better understand the proposal
  • Reaction Round — Each person reacts to the proposal, and no response or interruption is allowed
  • Amend & Clarify — The proposer can clarify the intent of her proposal, or amend it
  • Objection Round — The facilitator of the meeting asks each participant if they see any reason why adopting this proposal would cause harm or move the organization backwards
  • Integration — Goal is to amend the proposal so that it would not cause any objection, and would still address the proposer’s original tension

What strikes me here is that the goal is not to aim for a perfect and definitive answer, but to find a workable solution on which to iterate quickly. If there is one, it will be adopted: decisions are not postponed because someone thinks more data or analysis could result in a better decision.

“Do we see any reason why adopting this proposal would cause us harm or move us backwards?” That's it.

I see three reasons to aim for workable solutions:

  1. We can't predict the future. Predictions are valuable in complicated situations, but have lost all relevance in a complex world. We waste energy and time producing an illusion of control of the complex systems organizations are by trying to shoot for the best possible decisions.
  2. When decisions are small, we can revise them often, whereas when we invested much efforts in defining “the best” solutions, we become attached and stick to them much longer than needed when things don't turn out as planned.
  3. Change start with changing. Innovating on organizational topics requires as much courage as innovating on a product. We should test and learn our way into next steps rather than falsely believing we can predict and plan our way to innovation. Start by doing.

Sources: https://www.holacracy.org/governance-meetings, http://www.reinventingorganizations.com/

Steve Blank recalls that organizational debt can actually kill a company even quicker than technical debt. Things could turn into a nightmare when the company suddenly grows, if it didn't take some time to think about it in advance. So it's all about understanding how to recognize and “refactor” organizational debt.

He suggested a few things startups could do. I'm completing and presenting them a bit differently here, inspired by a vision of organizations closer to independent living systems than machines, and the OS Canvas from The Ready.

Reviewing how authority is distributed, and how decisions are made ; how data and information moves through the organization and how it is processed ; meetings, rituals and events that bring us together and coordinate action ; all things people, from recruiting to development, motivation and beyond ; the connection between what we think will happen – financial plans, what we'd like to have happened – goals, and how we should deploy resources ; where ideas come from, how do they come to live, and how the product evolves over time ; written policies and anything associated with 'right' and 'good' administration of the organization ; structure and space ; and of course, purpose and values, what's important to us, individuals, and what suggests the organization as an independent living system.

I feel the “don't worry be scrappy” mode of startup founders can be both a threat and a strength when it comes to consciously scaling. A threat as not understanding the importance of these dynamics would be dangerous for the very survival of the organization. And a strength as it can prevent a “predict and control” mindset and machinist worldview, in favor of a more trustful environment, welcoming wholeness and trying to make winning worthwhile.

Sources: https://steveblank.com/2015/05/19/organizational-debt-is-like-technical-debt-but-worse/, https://medium.com/the-ready/the-os-canvas-8253ac249f53

Kathryn Maloney, Partner at The Ready, a consulting firm focused on organization design and transformation recalls that too much time and money is spent considering change versus just doing it .

First, even though they rely on and teach to their clients new meetings and teaming structures, decision tools and communication technologies, they are cautious to keep people from falling into the ideology trap. “Commoditizing any method or practice as a whole system-change ideology (versus a method of intervention) will quickly create limitations on their application in complex, perpetually changing ecosystems.” Instead, we should understand those frameworks as mindset shifts. “They are not destinations and frankly, rarely is there an arrival.” We should be prepared to give up what we know to make room for what we don't yet know, and feel slightly off balance in the process.

And then, it's all about getting into the work quickly. Learning by doing may be disorienting, but it scales much quicker. It's impossible to change without changing, and talking about change is just delaying effort.

Finally, she shares 6 things to keep in mind as we commit to pushing a collective start in this organization design journey (which I prefer to call organization “listening and emergence” journey as I believe it's all about making room for our organization to self-discover, with us having pretty much nothing to actually “design”):

• Experiencing is believing “Show rather than tell. Just do. People will feel the commitment and it will naturally spread.”

• Don’t wait for permission Even if you don't have full support of the leadership team in place, “declare your independence, step into your personal authority, and show people the way. Make people curious and take notice rather than wait for permission. This is leading.”

• Prepare to lose in order to gain “Resistance is what causes adaptation energy. Lean in and let go.”

• Mind your ego Don't let your ego win and believe you should “drive rather than create space for bigger thinking, deeper connecting, and reflective learning”, that it's dangerous to not know all the possible pitfalls before trying and that you should not show vulnerability.

• Stop planning and start doing “Test and learn your way into next steps rather than falsely believing you can predict and plan your way to innovation. Set a direction, but steer continuously. Think wayfinding over navigating.”

• Be grateful and present “Don’t artificially or passively be grateful. Say thank you. Tell people you love them. Live the moments consciously. It’s contagious.”

“You will need to step in and do work. The choice has to be about braving learning, experiencing yourself differently, and being in the truth of how systems, change, and work actually work — and using whichever tools, practices and methods that enable that. Just start by starting making sure you are doing real work. You’ll know because it feels challenging, personal, enlivening — and yet not ideological. Then, just keep evolving from there.”

Source: https://medium.com/the-ready/dear-beloved-clients-please-start-by-doing-not-thinking-8dff9dd0ac98

Over the past months, I ran into other interesting resources, feeding my journey of unfolding towards a more complex worldview, and its translation in the workplace. I have been naturally keeping track of these readings for a while, but figured it could be smart to share them here as well – as always, for my current and future teammates to better understand what I am going through.

Also running into something helpful? Please let me know!

BOOKS

SEARCH INSIDE YOURSELF, CHADE-MENG TAN

REINVENTING ORGANIZATIONS, FREDERIC LALOUX

LET YOUR LIFE SPEAK, PARKER J. PALMER

NON VIOLENT COMMUNICATION, MARSHALL B. ROSENBERG

DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS, DOUGLAS STONE

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, DANIEL GOLEMAN

YOUR RESONANT SELF, SARAH PEYTON

LEVEL 1 – Excellent reads or guidelines pushing you to dive in more

ORGANIZATIONAL DEBT IS LIKE TECHNICAL DEBT, BUT WORSE

THE OS CANVAS How to rebuild your organization from the ground up

A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO ORG DESIGN The 9 words we encounter the most

10 PRINCIPLES OF EMERGENT ORGANIZATIONS Almost all of our work is united by the application of a few key principles. We use these principles as the foundation for talking about the future of organizations and the kinds of mindsets and behaviors that are needed to bring a legacy organization into the 21st century.

LEVEL 2 – Great examples of best practices

HOW TO BUILD HIGH-PERFORMING, SELF-MANAGED TEAMS Building high-performing, self-managed teams requires self-awareness, trust & vulnerability, and cohesion.

HOW TO RUN AN UN-CONFERENCE

HOW TO ELIMINATE ORGANIZATIONAL DEBT The debt that’s crippling your company isn’t on your balance sheet. Here’s what to do about it.

TOOLING THE OPEN ORGANIZATION

LEVEL 3 – Other good resources worth browsing

THE ROLE OF LEADERS ON A SELF-ORGANIZING TEAM

TOOLS

LOOMIO Loomio is an app that helps people make decisions together.

SUPERPOWERS Superpowers is a tool to help you and your team learn about your individual superpowers, and how to use them to be at your best.

A couple years ago, I was recommended to take a look at Reinventing Organizations, a fabulous study from Frederic Laloux. I read it when I joined Sketchfab, understood how important it could be in my life, and bought two copies, one for each bookshelf of our two offices. Since then, I had the chance to observe Sketchfab's dynamics and act on its operations and organization design. Along the way, I figured I could leverage more Laloux's takeouts, and that I needed to carefully read it again.

This time around, I was amazed by how strongly it resonated with me, in light of my experience in this 30-people organization, which I like to see as a living system and organizational lab. With now some failures and bright initiatives behind me, and thus a bit more background in organization design than when I joined, as well as probably more personal courage than a few years ago, I'm committed to promoting practices and inspiring a culture that sees the world with more complexity, in the spirit of fostering true fulfilment of my teammates and the whole ecosystem around us.

Thus, I figured sharing a brief summary of Frederic Laloux's study of the different stages of human consciousness, and how it translates into organization models would help my current and next teammates, at Sketchfab or elsewhere, understand and accept there is an evolution in human consciousness, and hopefully plant the seeds to a more complex worldview and profound changes in the way we behave as a living system.

Frederic Laloux introduces that each time we, as a species, changed the way we think, we have come up with more powerful types of organization. And today, many different are coexisting. He describes the process of human evolution through different stages of consciousness, and associates a color to each of them.

Before diving in, some clarifications are needed in order to avoid common misunderstandings: • This discussion of stages and colors is simply a map to better understand the complexity of reality, and doesn't intend to reproduce it in its tiniest details • Later stages of consciousness are not “better” than earlier stages. They simply highlight there are “more complex” ways to deal with the world, and that each stage is more adapted to certain contexts • Human beings can't be reduced to a single stage. At best, a person will “operate from” one type of perspective at a specific moment • Talking about an “Orange organization” for instance doesn't mean that all daily interactions in that group are consistent with this model, or that all the people in it operate from this perspective. Laloux makes it clear that it never happens this way

How the shift from one stage to another happens? On the individual level, facing a life challenge that cannot be resolved from our current worldview seems to be the common way to incorporate a perspective from a later stage, but it can't be forced onto somebody. Also, the stage an organization operates from at a given moment is aligned to the stage through which its leadership tends to see the world, which means that an organization can't evolve beyond its leadership stage of consciousness. A solution is to create environments that promote behaviors inspired by later stages: an organization leadership can create a structure, set of practices and culture that helps its members to adopt behaviors of a more complex paradigm, even if the members themselves have not fully embraced this new model on an individual level. This is the beauty of organizations: they can lift groups of people to achieve outcomes they could not have achieved on their own.

Now let's dive into Frederic Laloux's analysis of human evolution.

REACTIVE (INFRARED)

Until 50,000 BC, bands were formed of a few dozens people and thus no proper organization model was needed and existed.

MAGIC (MAGENTA)

Around 15,000 years ago, small family bands shifted to tribes composed of a few hundred people. Cause and effect being poorly understood, the world appeared as magic, and people lived in the present with little capacity to project toward the future.

IMPULSIVE (RED)

Current examples are mafia, street gangs and tribal militias.

Around 10,000 years ago, humankind evolved to a point where people ego is fully developed, making role differentiation possible, while orientation remained mostly short-term focused and in the present. People organize as wolf packs, the glue being fear and the continuous exercise of power. No formal hierarchy or job title is required for these impulsive and highly reactive groups striving in chaotic environments, which makes them rarely successful at scaling.

CONFORMIST (AMBER)

Current example are the Catholic Church, the military, most government agencies and the public school systems.

Around 4,000 BC, humankind disidentified from impulsively satisfying its needs. Cause and effect start to be understood, as well as the past, present and future, making projections possible. Humankind also develops a better awareness of others' feelings and perceptions, changing the Impulsive Red “my way / your way” to “us / them” which leads to design organizations as definitive silos. Authority is no longer based on the powerful personality of the “lead wolf” but tied to roles, in a static and stable worldview of immutable laws where change is seen with suspicion – groups eye each other across silos. To feel safe in a world of causality, linear time and awareness of others', people seek for order, stability and predictability.

The first breakthrough of this paradigm appears with the invention of processes, which enable paste experiences to be repeated, making it easier to take on long term projects. Future is a repetition of the past.

The second is the stability brought through formal titles, rigid hierarchies and organizational charts. Strict pyramids are designed with a cascade of formal reporting, in a context where planning and execution are strictly separated: the thinking happens at the top, the doing at the bottom. Workers are viewed as dishonest, lazy and in need of direction, and individual talent is neither discerned nor developed. The wolf pack turns into an army.

Social stability comes at the price of rigorous processes and wearing a social mask, learning to leave behind our feelings, needs and desires.

Compared to organizations operating from an Impulsive Red model, who are missing formal structures and thus can't scale, people operating from the Conformist Amber perspective internalize group norms, can make projections to the future and take on large long term projects. But change and individual talents are still seen with suspicion.

ACHIEVEMENT (ORANGE)

Current examples are multinational companies and chartered schools.

In the Achievement Orange paradigm, humankind disidentifies from group norms: there is no right or wrong anymore, even though some things work better than others, which makes questioning the authority and status quo possible. Authority is not considered to have the right answer, experts do.

As change is not seen with doubt but now as an opportunity, the first breakthrough of this paradigm is innovation. The pyramid structure still holds, but cross-functional initiatives, experts functions, and internal consultants are introduced to foster internal communication and innovation.

The second is accountability. Organizations operating from an Orange perspective understand the value of leveraging all their brains, and thus aim at giving room to maneuver to larger parts of the organization. Management by objectives is introduced, the top of the pyramid formulating an overall direction and arranging down goals and milestones to reach the desired outcome: to beat competition and achieve profit and growth. Even though freedom is real, leaders in practice fear to give up control, fail to trust, and continue to make top-down decisions that would be better handled by people lower in the hierarchy.

The third is meritocracy. It is a breakthrough in social fairness: people should be positioned in the organization where they can best contribute to the whole. Identity is defined by being seen as competent and successful, prepared for the next promotion.

This worldview is highly materialistic, and individuals should be able to chase their life goals, and the best should make it to the top. People effectively live in the future, filled with things they need to do to reach their goals, but hardly manage to enjoy their new freedom in the present.

But in a model where the organization is seen as a machine – the engineering jargon we still use today reveals how deeply we hold this metaphor (layers, inputs and outputs, moving the needle, scoping problems and scaling solutions, human resources...) – and where dispassionate rationality and absence of emotions is valued, questions of meaning and purpose feel out of place, and organizations can feel lifeless and soulless.

PLURALISTIC (GREEN)

Pluralistic Green sees the “what works and what doesn't” split of Achievement Orange as too simplistic and insists that all perspectives deserve equal respect, and seeks fairness, equality, harmony, community, cooperation and consensus.

The first breakthrough is empowerment. Anyone can now make significant decisions without management approval, which means that top and middle managers are asked to share power, abandon some control, and act as servant leaders.

The second is a values-driven culture and inspirational purpose. While strategy and execution are placed above anything else in organizations operating from the Achievement Orange paradigm, company culture and an inspirational purpose are the keystones of Pluralistic Green organizations. Promoting the values and culture is the CEO main task. The HR director acts as advisor to the CEO, and heads a large team that orchestrates significant investment into employee-centric processes and to guide managers to become servant leaders.

The third breakthrough introduces that there should not be any hierarchy among the stakeholders: investors, customers and suppliers, employees and management, local communities and the society at large as well as the environment have to be equally taken into account in every decision.

The dominant metaphor of the machine is replaced by the family. Relationships are valued above anything else, thus bottom up processes, gathering input from everyone and trying to reach consensus from opposite point of view is promoted. But finding consensus among large groups of people is rare, and almost always leads to endless discussions and the emergence of power games behind the scenes to try to get things moving again.

Even though Pluralistic Green is powerful as a model to take apart and analyze old structures, it is often less effective at formulating practical alternatives.

EVOLUTIONARY (TEAL)

People shifting to the Evolutionary Teal paradigm can now accept there is an evolution in human consciousness.

This shift happens when we learn to disidentify from our own ego and thus don't let our fears control our life. Fear is replaced by a capacity to trust the abundance of life. Dealing with adversity is thus a lot easier. With the ego under control, we now fear more to not try than to fail. Life if seen as a journey of discovery, and we think there are no mistakes but experiences that drive us to a better understanding of ourselves and the world. We embrace the possibility that we play a part in the problems that occur, and tend to make frequent small adjustments.

Our wisdom goes beyond rationality: we tend to develop a holistic approach to knowing. As we are less attached to outcomes, we more easily deal with the sometimes unpleasant truths of reality. Cognition at this stage taps into a broader range of sources to support decision-making: analytic approaches, emotions, intuition as a muscle that can be trained, as well as reasoning in paradox to find answers in the AND, not in the OR, are all insightful.

We don't base our decisions on external elements (such as a conformity with social norms, success in business, or belonging to a community) but on an inner rightness. We ask ourselves, “Is this in line with who I sense I'm called to become?” We pursue a life well lived, where the ultimate goal is to become the truest expression of ourselves and to be of service to humanity and the world. We see our life as a journey of unfolding toward our true nature: we are not problems waiting to be solved, but potential waiting to blossom.

We strive for wholeness, and can transcend the Achievement Orange judgment and the Pluralistic Green tolerance in our relation to others with non judgment, being able to examine our belief and find it to be superior in truth but yet embrace the other as a human being of equal value. In our relation with life and nature, we tend to pursue a simpler life.

The translation of the Evolutionary Teal model in organizations is striking. Researchers have proven that the higher people have gone on the consciousness stages ladder, the more effective they are. The more complex our perspective and cognition is, the more adequately we can deal with issues we are facing. When trust replaces fear, the relationship to power is fundamentally transformed: there are much more straightforward and easier ways to run an organization. And some are already operating from this Evolutionary Teal paradigm, giving us living examples to duplicate in our own organization.

In the rest of his book, Frederic Laloux studies the structures, practices and culture of organizations currently operating from the Evolutionary Teal paradigm, as well as presents the necessary soil and steps to take in order to start or guide ours. A read full of hope.

Source: http://www.reinventingorganizations.com/

At Sketchfab, my job is to help the CEO and founders on everything organization related, to keep it smooth as it grows. My goal is to create the conditions for our organization to scale in a non-violent way. To get there, I believe in healthy team structures and psychological safety as basis for personal development and organizations performance. I act as main point of contact, both for our U.S. and French entities, for our accountants, banks, lawyers, and providers. Internally, I supervise our People efforts, including recruiting and benefits, onboarding and personal development, team building and internal communication, and advice the founding team on organization listening and emergence. As our team is still small, I have been handling these roles by myself for more than two years. It's a lot of very small things you should not forget about, but it also requires to be able to step back and think about the organization and its dynamics as an independent living system.

Everything has been fine and gently scaled for more than a year, but a few months ago, I reached a point where I was swamped by those very small things. They were too much of a mental charge: “Did I pay this invoice?”, “Is there coffee left?”, “We haven't heard from this customer about payment in a while, right?”, “I should ask her to forward me this countersigned NDA”, “Ok, let's update the calendar as they are both off next week”, “What's this mail from the bank about again?”, “Time to plan the quarterly reviews of the team”, “I need to review the format of this goals slide today, and share the monthly metrics to our investors”, “Let's plan a little briefing with her on preparing a job description”, “Ah, and our remote teammates are going to Paris next month, correct?”...

I needed to take a deep breath and reorganize, otherwise I'd stupidly need to recommend hiring someone to help me out. So over a month, I paid extra attention to the way I was working and tried to find solutions to bring some attention and focus back in. Bottom line was the belief that focus wins.

Results came from better leveraging the simplest tools I was already using everyday: board, calendar, and inbox.

BOARD

For several years now, I used a very simple yet powerful notebook to keep track of my todos and notes: Evernote, but recently decided to move to Trello.

— THREE LISTS —

Over time, I figured it was best for me to gather everything on a board made of three lists/columns: “In two”, “In silence”, and “To unlock”

• IN TWO. This column lists all the tasks I can start killing in two minutes. I realized there is actually a lot of those. The barrier to entry of these tasks is so low it's easy to start doing it even if I only have 15 minutes before my next meeting. It typically includes:

• Order 50 hoodies • Ping the team for staff expenses receipts • Send a recap about this to the Founders...

• IN SILENCE. Here are listed all the current projects requiring a deeper focus. It needs some time to start jumping into it again and move the needle. This includes:

• Update the way we model churn in the business plan • Prepare a framework for postmortems • Map the yearly team event project...

• TO UNLOCK. It gathers all the initiatives I need someone else’s input in order to move forward. These pending tasks are the worst, because the risk is either to forget to follow up on them or to try very hard to keep them in mind, ridiculously increasing your mental charge. Some examples are:

• Paul to validate the sales commission structure • Lawyer to advise on next steps for A. visa application • Accountants to share a first draft of the books...

— NOTES ON CARDS —

Basically, all the meetings notes, thoughts, drafts I write down on a given week are stored in their own cards. For instance, if I am attending a meeting about our company analytics, I will simply create a new card for it, and gather all my notes there.

— PROJECTS MAPS —

I also use Trello to break down upcoming projects in advance.

I try my best to leverage less busy times to start planning what the upcoming projects will look like: what will be step 1, 2 and 10, who will I need input from, what are the things that will for sure require time to be completed... The goal is to be as prepared as possible when projects actually start, most of the difficulties and potential road blocks being already identified.

It basically looks like a checklist. Examples are:

• GDPR compliance • Team event 2018 • Application for innovation grant...

So I have handy, on a single board, all the pending little things and bigger projects I need to either move forward or follow up with others on, as well as an idea of what the upcoming projects will require.

At the end of each day, I take 5 minutes to label in red the most important things I want to focus on the next day (the idea being to figure out what’s critical to do if my day were to end at 1pm), and in orange the rest I should dive in. Once again, goal is to decide and plan now, and be able to focus on execution the next morning.

CALENDAR

Google Calendar is often an essential part of the suite of tools we use everyday. It’s powerful to plan meetings, but I now also leverage it as a reminder for recurring todos.

I realized my tasks include plenty of small things to not forget about. The simple fact of trying to keep them all in mind was a huge mental charge, disturbing me to be fully focused on important and more complex projects. So I needed a tool to list all those little and recurring tasks and simply get reminded of them when appropriate. I ended up leveraging the 1:00-2:00am slot in my calendar to add recurring events.

From 1:00 to 1:15, I now add recurring tasks to be taken care of in the morning, and from 1:30 to 1:45 those to focus on in the afternoon, and apply them some recurrence. While building this structure, I paid attention to organize reminders in a way that helps me organize my time most efficiently: as our team is split between Paris and New York timezones I keep things I need everyone's input for mornings, pending conversations to follow up on with our partners for Tuesday afternoon, mindless archiving and payment todos for Friday end of day when tired of the week... Basically, for each recurring event added, I took time to ask myself: “When does it make the most sense to work on it?”

I also turned on a daily notification via email, to receive in my inbox at 6:00am my calendar for the day. It of course includes meetings, but now also all the recurring tasks that are due today.

Examples are:

• [Recurring PM] Finance: Update business plan – Monthly on day 1 • [Recurring PM] Payroll: Send wage slips to Paris team – Monthly on the first Friday • [Recurring PM] Finance: Transfer cash from PayPal to bank – Monthly on the second Friday • [Recurring PM] Office management: Review and order supplies – Every 2 weeks on Friday

I found this little tweak to be extremely powerful. It indeed takes a little bit of time to identify the recurring tasks that could fit in this structure, and to create the events in your calendar with the appropriate recurrence. But once done, it becomes a no-brainer. You simply forget about them, and don't spend time to think about when it's best to take care of them. And more importantly: you forget about potentially forgetting them, freeing you up some mental charge for core projects.

INBOX

My inbox was the last part I needed to review. I realized I receive many kind of emails: urgent and/or important requests from the team and our partners ; conversations I got cc’ed in just for my information and to be able to step in if necessary ; forwarded NDAs, invoices, receipts... and I send requests and documents I need to follow up on.

I now leverage labels to organize conversations depending on the level of attention they require, and have teached my inbox to filter incoming emails for me.

— LABELS —

I have already been using labels for a while on Gmail, but mostly as folders for archiving conversations depending on their topic. For instance: “Accounting”, “Finance”, “Legal”, or “People”. I was already also using sub-labels such as “Recruiting”, “Onboarding”, “Vacations”, “Health”, “Culture”... But goal here was to work on bringing focus and attention back in. So I needed to take a closer look at what kind of attention each email required. I ended up creating two new labels:

(1) PENDING

Every conversation I need to keep taking a look at are now tagged as PENDING on top of their usual topic-specific labels. This is something I manually add when I feel it’s necessary. And every week, on Tuesday afternoon, I go through all those emails and follow up. This way, I’m sure nothing falls into the cracks.

(2) LATER

Based on the Founders' Time Management framework Alban introduced us, I now have a safe place for less urgent conversations. Each time an email comes in, if I consider that doing it now would disturb my attention and that I‘d better bulk it with others later in the day or the week, I label it LATER and mark it as read. So now, I have a pile of mindless and/or less urgent things I can dive in when I’m tired at the end of the day, or during Friday afternoons.

— FILTERS —

I also started to systematically create action filters for any email I receive.

Examples are:

• Matches: FROM:(support@justworks.com) SUBJECT:(“Justworks invoice for”) – Do this: MARK AS READ, FORWARD TO accounting+providers@sketchfab.com • Matches: FROM:(payments@sketchfab.com) SUBJECT:(You received a payment) – Do this: MARK AS READ, APPLY LABEL “Accounting/PayPal” • Matches: FROM:(spectrum@email.spectrum.com) SUBJECT:(Your Spectrum Business bill is now available) – Do this: APPLY LABEL “LATER”, MARK AS READ

Results come right away: incoming conversations or information got automatically forwarded to the right person, or labeled the right way. It saves a ton of seconds, but most importantly again, prevents you to be disturbed with all these things that could wait or be managed automatically.

To conclude, I found very useful to pay extra attention to the way I was working during a month. I ended up sticking to very basic tools I've been using for years. I now simply use them a little smarter, to better fit with my missions at the moment. I'm convinced this structure neither works for everyone, nor for me until the end of times. It's always a constant optimization loop. As Guy Kawasaki puts it, “There is no right or wrong, there is only what works for you and what doesn't.”

Two last things that helped me a lot in this process:

  1. In the spirit of getting things done, don't forget to check tiny things off of your list as they come through – it is often more efficient to open an email once, instead of sorting it in many different ways and reading it 5 times before actually killing it ;
  2. Don't spend too much time thinking about personal organization and using dozens of different tools. Goal remains execution.

At Sketchfab and for a couple months, we were used to leverage Fridays late-afternoon to share best practices about personal and teams organization. Goal was to basically bounce ideas to work smarter.

Alban, co-founder & CEO, learnt a bunch of things during Sketchfab early days at Techstars. And he once shared with us a framework to help startup founders organize their time. The idea is to evaluate how important and urgent each task is before diving in.

If it’s important and urgent, you should do it yourself on the spot. If it’s important, but not urgent, do it, but later. If it isn’t important but time sensitive, make sure someone else takes care of it shortly. And if it’s neither important nor urgent, simply forget about it. Don’t do it.

An very actionable way to move forward when things pile up. For founders, but also anyone else working in a small team.