Set up an async work schedule by implementing the below framework:
- Identify critical synchronous and asynchronous tasks
- Automate manual asynchronous tasks using various no-code tools
- Write down guidelines and SOPs for repetitive tasks that are difficult to automate. Try to delegate, if possible.
- Design a new schedule that considers time zones, work deadlines, leisure times, and deep work pockets. Have separate schedules for tasks that require ‘creation’ and those that require ‘management or communication’
- Calculate your hourly rate to gain clarity on what tasks require your attention
- Define ‘done’ and a plan to measure productivity to know if being async is working for you or not
- Get ready to set boundaries and insist others on adhering to your async lifestyle
In this article, I will deep dive into the above framework that I have used to adopt an asynchronous working schedule. I heard this term getting popular on Twitter, where many business influencers spoke about how ‘async’ was the future of work.
As I researched more, I understood that the key to ending my burnout and procrastination, as a result, was adopting such concepts in my work life. Not just individuals like you and me, but every organization needs to understand that the key to remote or hybrid work is to design an asynchronous working schedule.
Let us learn more about what is the async way of working and how to implement it across various work-related activities.
What does it mean to work async?
Working asynchronously means completing your work within a schedule while maintaining limited availability online for a healthy work-life balance. This is done by designing a working style that minimizes time spent on communication so that you can do more meaningful or revenue-generating tasks.
The key question one has to answer is – how can I achieve or provide the same outcome to my employer/client by limiting my availability online?
Unlike in today’s hustle culture, you are not expected to be constantly online for your teammates or clients. Here, you clearly define boundaries between your work hours, meeting hours, and leisure hours to achieve maximum workplace productivity.
For example, an independent professional can easily conduct discovery calls for clients in an async mode – by replacing them with forms. On further reading this guide, you will learn how to turn many activities that require you to be in ‘sync’ with your clients/colleagues like meetings, collaboration workflows, emailing, etc turned into asynchronous ones.
Doing so may sound uncollaborative or even unprofessional to some – but async work actually leads to discipline for you and your colleagues. It makes one more conscious about time management by reducing any engagement in professional tasks that waste time.
When one worker adopts an async working lifestyle, it inspires professionals around them to get more efficient at work too.
Major aspects of the async working schedule include:
- Prioritizing and scheduling deadlines for goal-oriented tasks than wasting time on unproductive tasks
- Defining and documenting workflows than doing constant back-and-forth with co-workers or clients
- Enables professionals to design the schedules that make them deliver productive output
- Helps develop trust with co-workers, clients, or managers.
When the above aspects of async work get introduced to your work life, you tend to get more productive, independent, and satisfied with your work.
How is working asynchronously different from synchronous work?
In a synchronous work environment, one is expected to be available in real-time by their clients or workplace organization. While working async means you are mindful of time spent on your communication so that you can focus on doing more productive work while being physically absent.
Some roles, like customer support or management assistant, may require one to stay in ‘sync’ with your co-worker to maximize response time and efficiency. But many roles do not require real-time availability. Being ‘constantly online’ may negatively impact your productivity and output as it hinders you to perform true ‘deep work’.
Insecure organizations and clients, especially in a remote work setting, expect you to stay ‘online’ to truly indicate that you are ‘working as per the paid hours’!
But the truth is, remote work is most efficiently nurtured when one follows async work culture. Let me tell you how!
Working asynchronously is critical to successfully implementing remote work culture
Many organizations and professionals have understood the benefits of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After a lot of trial and error, companies like Google, Meta, Salesforce, Hubspot, etc have opted to go ahead with a ‘hybrid’ workplace culture.
McKinsey too has stated how hybrid work is going to be the norm for a majority of the workforce that has the privilege of implementing a remote work model.
Hybrid remote work promises much-needed ‘freedom’ and balance with how one manages and saves time, but oddly, many aren’t experiencing it. Due to improper implementation of remote work policies and lack of change acceptance, managers may tend to micro-manage employees to stay ‘always available’ to get work done.
But staying ‘always online’ doesn’t work:
- Employees get easily distracted due to being ‘online’
- Cannot perform deep work due to constant interruption of replying to coworkers
- Causes anxiety when you receive late replies and erodes trust among co-workers
As a result, an employee ends up spending more than the allotted working hours, making them feel that remote work is exploitative. According to Robert Half Research, 7 in 10 remote professionals work on weekends.
A simple solution to avoid this is to adopt an async work schedule, which promises below mentioned positive changes:
- Defined workflows and SOPs
- Fewer meetings
- No time-zone concerns
- Boosts inclusivity among co-workers
- Enables work-life balance
The key that bridges the gap between achieving the ‘dream’ remote work lifestyle and what one is experiencing is adopting this asynchronous working lifestyle. Here’s what the async work schedule does to you – this is a Twitter user explaining why they choose to work for a particular company:
I have done the homework for studying asynchronous working lifestyles and jotted down a practical framework for implementing it for your schedule.
5-step framework to design and set up an asynchronous work environment
Based on my research and implementation of the same, here’s how you can get started with an asynchronous way of working:
Step–1: Understand how much flexibility you need
The idea of async work is to own your time, lessen unnecessary communication and do more productive work from the saved time.
But there would be many tasks that require you to sync with your boss or client. So first, you must list down the tasks that you do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis as per your job or role. Then, separate the tasks that require you to:
- Report to senior officials or clients
- Gather information or speak to people as a part of your work research
- Collaborate with co-workers
- Depend on input from co-workers
- Provide output that is critical to someone else’s work
- Deliver or work on sensitive information
- Hire, fire, onboard, educate, or sell
All the above tasks require you to maintain a line of communication with various professionals across levels via many communication channels. Hopping from one communication channel to another is exhausting – you may have to stay mindful of email notifications, meeting requests, phone calls, WhatsApp messages, slack notifications, etc. It’s easy to see how it causes one to waste time and spend less time doing actual work.
Separating synchronous tasks gives you clarity on how truly remote work friendly your job role is. If there are way too many tasks that require syncing, you may be better suited in an office space where it’s easy to work in sync.
Another important factor to note is how well-implemented your current remote work culture is. This will help you understand how much effort you will put in to make your colleagues understand your async work demands.
I came across this YouTube podcast – Long Distance Worklife Podcast – What is Asynchronous Work?, where the guest, Wayne Turmel explains about segregating synchronous tasks:
“The problem is that a lot of senior executives have never worked in a flexible environment. They’ve always worked sometimes literally nine to five, and in a highly structured environment. And so if you’re coming from that environment and trying to adjust, you don’t know what you don’t know that’s true. So having the company make all the decisions makes no sense, right?
What needs to happen is you need to sit with your team and you need to say – OK, what is the work that needs to get done? What is the mission-critical work that has to be done synchronously what can be done asynchronously with a giant asterisk, and what doesn’t matter where it happens and when that happens?
Set those boundaries and expectations, and let people tell you how this works.
And then and this is the part that people stress about just because you set a policy doesn’t mean that’s written in stone. By a month, two months, three months ask – Is the work getting done? Are customer complaints rising? Is working with the other parts of the organization creating a problem?
Then re-examine it and do the process again until you find something that works.”
Step–2: Define standard operating procedures and automate workflows
Whether you are adopting a synchronous or asynchronous working style, it is important to identify repetitive tasks and delegate them to automation tools or juniors.
To do this, you must first define processes for these repetitive tasks and document them. Then, understand if you can automate these activities using various available tools. If you cannot automate, then check if you can optimize them to reduce the completion time or delegate them to someone else.
For example, if your work involves taking recurring information from your client, you can simply optimize it by making a short and intuitive form that collects the data. Till you set the system, you can set an option to book a meeting with you, if required. The moment people stop opting for meetings or you follow up with one, you know your form works!
Designing SOPs for tasks involves a bit of trial and error till you conclude with a set process. Once done, it’s easy to automate using any available tool – it’s all about taking that first step.
Step–3: Fix the maker and manager schedule
Paul Graham wrote about this life-changing time-management concept called ‘maker’s schedule, manager’s schedule’ – an absolute must-read if you struggle with too many tasks that require context switching.
In brief, Paul clarifies how a maker and manager tend to have different working schedules – a maker will have deep work hours to provide an output, while a manager divides time on an hourly basis spread across communicating or managing people. But many roles involve both behaviors – for example, a writer cum entrepreneur (like me) has to attend to her business, and also write for the RedQueen blog. I faced the constant context-switching issue – where some days I got flooded with meetings or writing for RedQueen meant neglecting my lead generation or sales efforts.
“For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.”
Reading this sentence from the blog was a eureka moment for me – and shifted my interest into understanding time management better if I were to handle my generalist curse.
Thus, Paul encourages separating ‘maker’ and ‘manager’ tasks into ‘creation’ and ‘management’ categories. Then, fix slots for them in a day such that you have an ‘office hours’ kind of slot for all meetings or communication-related activities.
This helped me limit my communication slots – I even batch all my email notifications or Slack message checks in the same.
Step–4: State and draw your async work boundaries
Post clearing, automating, and slotting your schedules, it’s time to communicate about your latest working style to the people you interact with.
Before you press the ‘start’ button on your asynchronous working schedule, take care of the below pointers:
- Empathize on different time zones: did you consider your client and co-worker’s time zones before fixing your communication schedule? Research the same by directly asking for convenient time slots or automating it using tools like Calendly or Google Calendar.
- Organization/Client culture: you cannot just declare that you are going async – you must speak to your managers or clients too about what they think of your schedule before taking up that job or working with them.
- Design onboarding flow: If you’re an organization that follows remote work, it’s important to include training sessions for async workflow for your employees. For business owners, include onboarding flow for your clients so that they understand your way of working before opting in.
- Seek feedback: Adopting the asynchronous way of working requires trial and error as not many are yet comfortable with the remote work concept. It’s better to seek feedback in the comfort of your peers, clients, or managers to ensure it works for everyone to get the job done.
- Have an escalation process in place: Your colleagues and clients should have a way to contact you in case of emergencies. Define these urgencies and the process of how you handle them to limit unnecessary calls. Also, incorporate these incidents to optimize your usual workflows for minimizing their occurrences.
From the same podcast by Long-Distance Working, here’s another useful quote by Wayne Turmel:
“As time shifting and flexibility become more important, not only do we have to get better about setting boundaries, the other people on our team need to respect those boundaries.
One of the reasons for burning out when you work from home comes from a bunch of guilt and wanting to take one for the team and be a good teammate to the point where you are draining your resources and flexibility to work. We need to be able to set expectations for the company. I mean, let’s start with you’re getting paid to do a job. So the job is going to have certain expectations.
Now, with that, what requires you to be synchronous with the rest of the team?
What is the expected availability?
What is the expected response?
What are the tools that we are expected to use – Google Drive, Slack, whatever?
These are the things that we need to determine.”
If your async schedule works as per your KRA or deadlines set, you will not have a hard time getting other stakeholders on board. Most of the time, people only care about getting the job done within the deadline.
Step–5: Define ‘done’ and measure the work done
What does it mean when you say ‘the work is done’?
For every workflow defined, it’s necessary you define what the output looks like and the quality control parameters that help you gauge if you’re delivering your best or not.
The best way to know if the async working style works for you is to measure the work you are getting done at the end of the day. Some straightforward ways to do this include:
- Deadlines: are you able to meet your deadlines? Are you clearing off projects before them or restricted communication is delaying your project execution? This would give you a clear answer if the async working style works for your job role or not.
- Client or Manager feedback: are your clients satisfied with your output? Do they see the value in your async schedule? To ensure they are onboarded with your schedule, you can mention your async style of working and how it helps you deliver better output before working with them.
- Co-worker dynamics: Are you going async hampering the work of your colleagues? If that’s the case, you will observe them highlighting the same to you directly or skipping you from their workflows. That’s quite bad – so ensure you add their tasks in critical sync ones to take care of in step-1.
- Growth: adopting an async work schedule should free up some time that you may use for your personal or professional growth. If you still end up with more unnecessary work, you may want to re-evaluate your remote work lifestyle or choose in-office.
How to conduct async meetings?
It’s easy to share memes about how meetings are a complete waste of time – but honestly, this need not be the case if done productively. An important skill set for everyone to learn is knowing when and how to hold meetings. If your organization or client doesn’t have the meeting etiquette, it indeed becomes our responsibility to align to save our own precious time.
Three ways to do this:
- Eliminate meetings by adopting an asynchronous working style: which helps us figure out WHEN to say yes or no to meeting requests and minimize their need.
- Transform synchronous meetings into async: use simple video recording and commenting tools to ask questions and send replies without getting into a synchronous meeting
- Shorten synchronous meetings: most meetings tend to be purposeless. If done with discipline, you can end meetings in 2-5 mins easily.
We already saw how to eliminate meetings via the async working framework. Let’s learn how to transform or shorten synchronous meetings in this section, especially for remote teams:
- Loom, Vidyard, Vidcast (now with Webex), or any other screen recording tool
- Notion, Coda, Google Docs, or any other notes/documentation application
Here are some tricks to run an async meeting:
Record presentations or queries
This may be unheard of, but async meetings mean you have to avoid synchronous tasks unless required. Thus, you need to record your presentations using the best practices for delivering one. This helps you save mental bandwidth of re-doing the same thing, avoids time waste due to presentation delivery issues (no more ‘Can you see my screen’ crap), and you get to put your A-game forward all the time.
Apart from this, you could simply record your queries and use tools like Loom or Vidcast to share them with your colleague/client to comment on their response. This is a very common practice among designers and developers community who use Loom or relevant tools to record their feedback.
You can watch this simple video that shows how async meetings work –
Running an async pre-work before any synchronous meeting
It’s always great to run pre-work activities before meetings as it helps reduce mindless discussions. A simple way is to prepare a pre-meeting document that includes:
- Any data everyone must know for the discussion and decision-making
- Important dates
- Prepare a questionnaire whose answers need to be figured out during the meeting
- Set up a follow-up section to share post-meeting notes
Record a short video where you explain this pre-meeting document and then share it with your colleagues. This helps give context to your document and makes it faster for them to grasp.
Doing so also reduces the chances to conduct a synchronous meeting as many tend to use the comments section to solve and share their opinions.
Prepare 15 mins synchronous meeting workflow
Sometimes, it’s just faster when you do a synchronous meeting. For such tasks, align all your meetings like this:
- Introduce yourselves (if required) – 1 min
- 3 major points to discuss – 5 mins
- Note down key-action points from the discussion – 7 mins
- Summarize the meeting and write a follow-up email – 2 min
I know this sounds harsh – but if you have recurring meetings of a similar theme, then with practice, a typical meeting that takes 30 mins can be done in 15 mins. The aim is to be as prepared as possible for various meeting types and situations.
Replace ideation and check-in meetings with async productivity tools
Many organizations run standups or check-in status meetings at the start or end of the day – which I feel is a waste of time. One should instead set up start and end day routines of updating their work done or work to be done in an async manner.
Many project management or productivity tools allow you to carry out status meetings in an async way.
- Design simple tags as status updates with an option to add notes
- Use Kanban boards and update your work status on cards. One can easily set this up using tools like Trello, ClickUp, Asana, etc.
- Use video recording of your work done to get feedback via comments itself
One can even turn ideation meetings async using many whiteboard collaboration tools.
Async meeting workflow example – how I run a discovery call in 15 mins
Under Merrative, I do a lot of discovery calls with potential clients. Here’s the meeting workflow I use:
- Introduce myself and what I specifically help with – which is a content marketing strategy, hiring an awesome content writer, and building content teams
- Allow the other person to introduce themselves
- Ask them what issues they face or what are they seeking in the 3 offering areas I stated
- Ask a set of deeper questions to understand their brand, requirement, and budget
- Give potential solutions one by one
- Summarize their problem statement, suggested solution, and mention next steps for both client and me
- Send an email with the meeting notes and next steps
I used to take 30-45 mins per meeting once upon a time – and now with practice, I have toned it down to the above 7 steps to clear it off in 15-20 mins. Designing workflows and keeping tools ready that help in faster execution is very helpful.
How to manage clients via an async communication process?
Another area where many professionals, especially independent ones, end up spending time is – reporting to clients about work done.
A simple way to tackle this is to prepare a client dashboard.
A client dashboard is exclusive access for your clients to showcase the project’s progress. Many project management tools allow this feature via white labeling options. One can even create Dashboards on Excel, Google Sheets, Notion, Airtable, etc, and simply limit access via sharing options. There are many client dashboard templates available out there to make it easy to get started.
If you use a coded website or multiple tools for your project, you may explore using automation tools like Zapier or Make to pass on the data for the client showcase.
The idea is to organize data relevant to the client, use APIs or automation tools pass it to no-code tools, and update them for the client to see as required.
- You can either use Excel or Google Sheets templates for simpler dashboards. You can even use project management tools like ClickUp, Trello, Asana, Clientjoy, etc which come with client dashboard features. You can also make it from scratch using no-code tools like WordPress, Bubble, Airtable, Notion, etc.
- Any automation tool like Zapier, Make, Magical, etc.
Client dashboard using no-code tools
It’s better to use no-code tools to make these client dashboards as templates are readily available. You can choose the ones you find comfortable. I generally prefer Google Sheets, Airtable, or Notion for such ‘showcase’ related tasks depending upon how complex the data is or how pretty it needs to look.
Here are some videos I found that you can use depending on what platform you’re using:
- Wix: Create 100% free Customized Client Dashboard with Wix Site
- WordPress: How To Create Custom Front End WordPress Dashboard For Your Website Clients | Elementor Pro
- MS Excel: How to build Dynamic & Interactive Dashboard in EXCEL with Pivot Tables&Charts | Tutorial Episode #1
- Notion: Notion at Work: Create a Client Portal
- Airtable: No code client dashboard using Webflow, Memberstack, Zapier, Airtable
- Softr: How to build a Customer Portal on Softr | Filter Data by Role
There are many such cool tutorials available that you could follow step-by-step and learn a new tool in the process.
I will be writing detailed tutorials on building these systems on this blog too, so do subscribe for updates.
Client dashboard using Project Management tools
Another straightforward way to create a client portal is to use project management tools. Many of them can create client portals or have templates available. Here are a few tutorials I found around this theme:
- ClickUp: Create a client portal in ClickUp | Clickup dashboards for client management
- Basecamp: Working with Clients in Basecamp
- Zoho: Customer Portals | Zoho Creator
- Trello: How To Setup A Client Portal Using Trello
Tips on creating client portals
- Ensure you add KPIs, supporting metrics, and benchmarks. Also, add a side note on the context of these or how to interpret them.
- Do not use too many acronyms
- Add different timeline views for comparison for all-time work done, 6 months, 3 months, 1 month, etc.
- Ensure your assignees and client-side point of contact are in the loop
- Make room to upsell your services
- Visualize for impact – ensure your charts and graphs are not cluttered with too much data.
- Do not make your portal way too much colorful or use flashy tones. Try to adopt the color-coding method across the client dashboard and keep it to 3-5 colors.
- Add a ‘recommendation’ or ‘next steps’ section – to share actionable insights and present a concluding section of the data presented by you
Managing distractions and notifications using an async lifestyle
Going async with your work itself is a trick to reduce distractions caused by workplace habits or the internet. But in this section, we focus on distractions caused due to the transition of going from a synchronous working style to an asynchronous one.
Minimizing FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
One of the biggest threats to your async lifestyle would be the feeling that you are missing out on crucial conversations or information. You would feel ‘out-of-sync’ with your daily routines and colleagues.
But here’s the thing – you are not required to be everywhere. Sometimes your presence itself could be a distraction for other teams. If you still feel this way after adopting an async working schedule, then you may want to include tasks that help you sync with your colleagues who could be a source of FOMO.
Controlling the urge to ‘be always available’
Post going async, you may experience the hangover on how it’s your moral duty to respond to each and every email or message that asks for an update, feedback, or query. Maybe it is important too, one never knows what urgency a message might entail.
But first – define what is urgency. Ensure your colleagues and clients understand and agree with this definition.
Other fixes post-defining urgency include:
- Have a selected group of contacts who can connect with you anytime via email or any other messaging channel. Ensure they understand that you have given them a privilege and they shouldn’t misuse the same.
- Try to work parallelly (if possible) with your colleagues or partners in an async mode to sort any issues in minimum time
- Prioritize emails using labels
- Instill independent decision-making as much as possible within your organization.
Controlling this urge requires you to build trust among your peers and delegate – so work on that.
Use reminder features generously
You need not attend to that email or message asap – but you also cannot forget it. If any message or email notification is coming in between your schedule, simply put a reminder on it.
Slack has a reminder feature for messages. You can also assign emails to Google Tasks and use its reminder feature to get back to it later.
Source: Google Community
Use DND to draw boundaries
Use DNDs whenever you are on your deep work schedule. You can mention in your statuses like Whatsapp, Slack, Email, or any other messaging client you use – that you are doing deep work and would take time to respond to messages. Bonus if you add the exact time you will be back to reassure people about your presence.
Enabling collaboration in your workplace using async remote work culture
It’s easy to assume that async would make collaboration very difficult. But it actually makes it easy – you only need to get introduced to the concept of asynchronous collaboration.
A typical collaboration process involves:
- Setting the context of the problem statement
- Share your recommendations and ideas
- Questions or feedback on the ideas shared
- Discuss a shared approach to the problem statement
- Refine the approach into actionable next steps
Now, many of the above steps can be easily done in an async mode as follows –
- Share a document that has a video explanation of the problem and resources for learning more about it. Team members should watch the video and read this document to participate.
- Add a comments section in the document for people to share the ideas they get on the fly as they consume the information in the video. Encourage them to add as much as possible
- Ask people to vote on the best ideas that should get picked up for further discussion in a synchronous meeting
- Ask people to prepare pointers and feedback on the top 3 or 5 ideas for discussion.
- Join a meeting if required – you can go further to simply ask people to share feedback, evaluate, and choose the best solution in a simple poll
- Ask the person who gave the idea to prepare a plan of action or anyone can voluntarily summarize it for everyone.
That’s it! – it may sound rough, or one may miss out on details, but async collaboration is great for making smaller decisions or taking steps that are repetitive with minor collaboration requirements.
Remember – the key idea of this whole article is how to deliver the same or better output than getting on a synchronous meeting.
Your world will not fall apart if you go asynchronous
Here’s a small task in the end – calculate your hourly rate.
When you know how much you are paid on an hourly basis, you will quantify how much time you spend on silly tasks like meetings or data entry.
You could have done tasks instead that help generate actual money or value for your organization. Get started with an asynchronous working lifestyle – try it, optimize it, and adopt it as per your comfort zone.
Hey, we can help you!
Tweet to the author of this guide (me!) for any feedback or follow-ups: @harshalachavan7
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