Agile Strategies for a Focused Team

The Gated Team
August 9, 2022

Released on August 4th, 2022, Episode 03 of Finding Focus (a podcast from Gated) features CEO Andy Mowat sitting down to talk with Hatchworks VP of Marketing, Matt Paige.

I think the biggest thing for me has been giving myself the time for deep work. And by that, I mean having at least two hours of focused time with no disruption.

In this episode, you'll hear about: 

  • the importance of deep work - for Matt and his team
  • how to be the owner of your own calendar and time
  • applying Agile methodology to marketing teams

Read on for some of the episode's best takeaways - and a full transcript at the end.

Deep work is where greatness happens.

Matt's greatest success - and happiness - comes from finding time to get into the flow of deep work. How does he make space for deep work?  Hint: i's not about time of day... it's about the location where there is the least distraction.

I've learned that it's not about the time of day. It's the time or place whereI have the least distraction. It might be in the morning when there is less stuff going on, but sometimes at night I can get a solid block of a couple hours, no distraction, and my mind can start really going deep, really thinking.

You are the owner of your own calendar.

Try to be conscious of what is stealing your time. You should be the one deciding if meetings are worth your time. If an agenda is clear enough. If there are clear enough expectations to be meeting about a topic.

Public service announcement for everybody out there: You own your calendar, right? It's your calendar. It's nobody else's. If people are going to take time on your calendar, you should ensure there's a clear purpose, there's an agenda.

To work on a Sunday night... or not? 

Much debated among founders and leaders is the topic of whether it's right to be working on Sunday Night. Matt uses that time strategically to: 

  • Set his 3 (max) objectives for the week
  • Be deeply intentional about his focus and set boundaries for what is NOT in his priority list
It's like being a kid going to school on Monday and that feeling of getting ready. For me, I really benefit from thinking about my week ahead and setting three objectives. Our management team does this and we all put our objectives out on Monday and report on how we did the previous week. It's a key strategy for me.

Applying Agile methodology to marketing teams.

Though originally a product management and engineering workstyle, Agile has become a way that Matt keeps his marketing team running in a productive way.

  • Setting clear goals and timelines for meetings.
  • Being ruthless about WHO is needed for certain meetings.
  • Using standups as a regular practice.
  • Using collaborative design thinking with tools like Miro
  • Allowing people the autonomy to work when it's most productive for THEM.
I'm used to product development, running Agile teams. So we took those principles to create more productivity and autonomy on our marketing team.

One final thought..

Another thing we've started doing is to clarify our 'one thing' for the quarter as a company. There might be other stuff we do in the quarter, but if we accomplish this... it's going to be a good quarter.

Watch the full episode...

---- FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT ----

Andy Mowat

0:13

Welcome to finding focus. This is a series of short, actual conversations that uncover why and how people focus in today's increasingly distracted world.

0:21

Pull up a chair. As we look at the obstacles, the aha moments and strategies to each guest uses to find focus today. I've got Matt page from MatchWorks Matt. Welcome.

Matt Paige

0:32

I appreciate it, Andy. Thanks for having me today. Just for reference. So VP of marketing and strategy at hatch works, what we did, we designed to build software solutions, spoke to your customers and your, your business love through our nearshore agile teams, but really excited to, to chop it up today. 80.

Andy Mowat

0:50

That's awesome. Yeah. Thanks so much. I mean, we've, we've leaked out online for awhile. This is our first time meeting, but I think we asked you a couple of questions beforehand. The first one was how would you rank your ability to focus and use one 10? You said nine, which is awesome. Right? And so I think that kind of got us focused and talking. I'm excited to kind of, I think we, on these, we focus more on unpacking, like what works, what doesn't for focus, what tips and tactics can people have versus like the business side of it. Because I think that being able to be focused is just such so foundational, but maybe, you know, talk for a second around, like, why do you think you are good at focus?

1:27

And then we'll dive into some tactics. And at the end, we'll maybe talk about some of the things that slow you down on focus as well.

Matt Paige

1:33

Yeah. It's, it's been a journey, man. If you said one to 10 today, it'd probably be a seven or eight verses. That must have been at a good mood. I was looking at it earlier, but it really has been a journey. Like, you know, learning as a grown through my career in focus has been one of those key things. One of the most important things. I think the biggest thing for me has been giving myself the time for deep work. What do I mean by deep work that's actually having, I would categorize it as at least two hours of focused on no disruption. This, this year I've actually started blocking out time on my calendar for, for deep work. But that's, that's been the biggest thing for me, the biggest, you know, pack or whatever you want to call it for getting, you know, getting focused, getting stuff up.

Andy Mowat

2:22

When are those times on your calendar, those weekends, evenings when the kids are in bed or are those middle of the day or when you're able to crank?

Matt Paige

2:31

Yes. So you mentioned kids. I got a six year old daughter and I got a nine month old daughter. So lots of distraction and we're working from home. So I used to think of myself as a morning person, you know, that's, that's when I'm most productive, but I've learned, you know, it's, it's not about the time of day. It's where I have the least distraction. So if you, if you give me the morning, which is typically it gets bought, cause there's less stuff going on, but same thing if it's at night and I can get a solid block of like, you know, a couple hours, no distraction, I can be productive. My mind can start, you know, really going deep, really thinking.

Andy Mowat

3:08

That's awesome. And how do you, so what are the things that distract, you know, what are the things that kind of, if you're, if you've got that to our block and you show up on Tuesday afternoon and you're going to start working, what are the things that try to break down that two hours?

Matt Paige

3:27

Yeah. Outside of, outside of my kids running into fixed some toys or something, it's probably other people, frankly, it's other people in the company, slack is another thing I've really tried to be conscious of. And I, this is the, you know, public service announcement for everybody out there. You own your calendar, right? It's your calendar. It's nobody else's. If, if people are going to take time on your calendar, I've started making sure, you know, there's a clear purpose, there's an agenda.

3:57

And from like agile principles, like a definition of done, like, I want to know when, when are we done with this conversation? When can we say it's complete that way. We just don't just, you know, take up the full hour of time. And if they don't have that, I've pushed back, you know, because meetings are expensive at the end of the day, like I've started looking at meetings in terms of dollars. If I see 10 people, 10 boxes on the zoom call, I'm like adding it up in my head. What does that cost in terms of, you know, money lost productivity, all that kind of stuff.

Andy Mowat

4:26

So if you, you know, one thing we think a lot about a gated is asynchronous communication. Have you gotten good at that? Where no matter what I look at it and I say, you're probably right. But if I, we should actually get a screenshot of everyone's calendar. Like there's probably still a ton, a little meetings in there and all of that stuff. So how do you, what have you found successful to maybe not have a meeting in the first place? What replaces the meeting and how do you, how do you avoid meetings?

Matt Paige

4:53

Yeah. Yeah. When you're, when your calendar looks like your Christmas tree, you got a problem, but you know, you mentioned it asynchronous. That's, that's my new favorite thing. Since, you know, since everybody moved to remote from COVID, we're on our marketing team right now. Like we, we leverage this a lot, you know, we kind of run it like an agile style of thing. I'm used to product development, running agile teams. So we just kind of took those principles for our marketing team. So we'll do our daily standup, but we'll have, you know, kind of a goal or something that we want to achieve. And instead of, you know, sitting there for an hour, we'll kind of work asynchronously on the thing.

5:32

And it's amazing what you can accomplish. You know, we leveraged tools like Miro, a lot of different kind of collaboration tools, but it, it allows people to work and collaborate when it's most productive for them, which I think is the biggest value, value prop to it.

Andy Mowat

5:49

That makes sense. You mentioned that in your, like going your two hour deep work block, I asked you what interrupts you, you said slack and people.

5:59

Do you have any strategies towards stopping that, those interruptions and being able to block out what's what's hitting you or are you checking slack every 20 minutes when you're at a deep work session?

Matt Paige

6:11

Yeah, I, I, I either close it out. I just make sure it's not visible. And one of my screens is the main thing and I always have notifications off, you know, it looks like I'm probably never working, but I never had my notifications on. I don't know about you. Do you, do you keep slack?

Andy Mowat

6:28

I have no notifications on anything turned on. I think there still is a temptation to toggle over to it and just kind of like quickly check it and then that can pull you down a rat hole. I've, I've read a lot on deep work. And so it's really interesting to me. I, I find that evenings, there are no temptations because nothing's coming in. So for me, unfortunately, that makes me much more productive to be able to crank things out on those periods of time. I think also being somebody that's outbound, that's trying to chase other people and engage and talk. I kind of need to be on those platforms as well, too. And so I think for me, like you, like, I've just tried to limit my hours in times with those, but yeah, no distractions, no notifications is kind of core to how I think.

Matt Paige

7:14

That's interesting. It's the end of the day. There's nothing immediately ahead of you. It's that's a neat way to kind of look, I've never thought about it that way.

Andy Mowat

7:22

Yeah. That's why I always find like you can do that better. I think, you know, things like the Pomodoro method and, and some tactics that can just say, Hey, don't, don't go outside that time is good. Another one I'd like to do, we couldn't ever trade notes on was you said every Sunday, you prep. I do the same. Tell me about your Sunday prep.

Matt Paige

7:42

Yeah. And there's probably several people that talk about this. It's like this Sunday kind of jitters nervousness you get, but I always, you know, being a kid going to school on Monday and that feeling, right. So for me, if I can think about my week ahead and just get into like three things, we actually do this with our management team at hatch works. Each person kind of has their three main objectives. They put it out there on Monday and they say, you know how they did on their three from the previous week. So we're kind of aligned and see where we can help each other. But if I can pick out those three things, that's, that's key for me.

8:15

And you can even take it down to like a day level, you know, retro your day. Right. So what did I accomplish? What worked, what didn't, what am I going to keep doing? Stop doing, start doing all that kind of good stuff. Like helps you sleep better. You know, if you kind of have an idea of like, even if it's artificial, there's a plan for tomorrow, it helps.

Andy Mowat

8:34

Yeah. I couldn't agree more. And that's neat. And so, you know, what else, is there anything else that you've kind of found is I actually, maybe let me, do you talk to us about the people that were interrupting? One thing I've found, and I'm curious if you've gone down, this is like, if you don't set the right norms, people won't know when they should and shouldn't interrupt you. Are there traditions within your company or that you've found in of yourself to be able to, to set the norms so people know how to interact with you found effective because that's the kind of the way I've found.

9:13

I think a lot of studies have shown, like to bend people to my will, but wait as much as you possibly can. But how, how about yourself? Like what norms have you found effective?

Matt Paige

9:22

So we've established norms on my, my team, right? So we kind of, we know how we work. We have our ways of working and all of that, and we're starting to do it like on our management team meeting the other day, we're actually talking about having a full day or at least like, you know, a half day where this is blocked out for exactly what we've been talking about. Deep work in that focus time. But it's like the rules of engagement, right? Having that defined for your, your organization is key.

9:52

Just having that kind of standardized across the top is big. Another thing, just like you talk about deep work and focus. Another thing we've started doing in this quarter is like, when it's our one thing, right? Our one thing for the quarter, if we accomplish this, it's going to be a good quarter. Right. Versus like having 10 major things, we're trying to do one thing. Right. There's going to be a lot of other stuff we do in the quarter, but what's that one thing. So that's helped us. Like it was like, we, we decided on the one thing and the next day I had like three ideas of how I'm contributing to that one thing. It just, it creates focus.

10:28

That's one of the biggest things I think people can do is just create focus, eliminate distraction as much as you can.

Andy Mowat

10:35

That's cool. Yeah. Just focus is one of our focus and prioritization are two of our three company values, I'd say.

Matt Paige

10:44

Gated. Right? That's the whole premise thing. It's like clearing out all of the, the junk out of your email at same thing for your minds. Right. It's getting that, like, you can almost think of it as like calories, right. It causes like mental, like mine calories when there's more things on your plate. Same thing with same thing with email.

Andy Mowat

11:04

Yeah, absolutely. I couldn't agree more. I'm just going to, you're kind of focused on one thing. You've seen like the theory of the big rocks, the small rocks. Right. And you put the big rocks in first, so yeah. That's cool. Oh, I guess kind of wrapping up. I I'd say we talked a little bit about like, who are, who are some of the people that you've followed rev inspired you around the concept of focus?

Matt Paige

11:26

Yeah. The, a couple of big ones. I'm sure a lot of folks don't know I'm Jason fried and David Heinemeier, Hansson the folks over at where they built base camp never actually used the product, but I'm like a fan of their products without even having ever used it just cause I, I love their stuff so much, but you know, the book reworked, how they think about work, how they think about deep work, it just so many great first principles that they have that, you know, you can apply to any area of your business or life. So those guys, you know, when you read a book and it causes you to like step back and like just change your perspective that, you know, that's a good book. So.

Andy Mowat

12:09

I think I couldn't agree more. I've read all, everything that I've written. I've also never used base camp, but I, I, you know, obviously it was inspired by their manifesto with hay as well too, which is, which is really cool. That's, that's neat. The other one that I've seen, it's really powerful is the end of email by Cal Newport. It talks a lot about needing a specific email, but also just focus in general.

Matt Paige

12:30

Yeah. Yeah. It's, you know, there's always like take it down the basics. There's always going to be communication. People are always going to find a way to talk, you know, how do you create that focus for yourself? Technology can help, but you have to kind of level set with yourself and kind of what, what are your principles when it comes to that stuff?

Andy Mowat

12:48

That's good, man. I truly enjoyed this discussion. You know, there are anything else you want to wrap up with any other key insights for focus or should we leave it there and let everyone get back to focusing on what they do best.

Matt Paige

13:02

Yeah, no, I think that's it. Yeah. Really enjoyed the conversation and stay focused.

Andy Mowat

13:11

You got it. Great.

Matt Paige

13:13

Appreciate it.