Asana’s Dave King Wants You to Keep Your Wednesdays to Yourself
When scheduling a meeting with Dave King, Asana’s Chief Marketing Officer, special attention should be given to the day of the week. Wednesdays are usually a no-go since that’s the one day of the week that the company explicitly bans meetings.
Editor's Note: The following article is an excerpt from our book Better Meetings Every Time: The Secret to More Productive Meetings in a Digital World. You can access the entire book here.
“That’s for anybody inside the company,” he clarifies. “I do make exceptions.”
Dave leads a team that helps to build and market an organizational work management platform, so it makes sense that internal (and to an extent, external) communications rely on structure.
Every individual team at Asana sets their own cadence. For Dave’s team, there’s a weekly team huddle; every month, there’s a longer team town hall meeting that helps everyone get up to speed and aligned on goals; and twice a year, the company holds a team offsite (or what in the past has been called a “work from woods”).
But that’s just the beginning of Dave’s meeting schedule. Generally, his days are carved out into long stretches of meetings, with some blocks of focused work wedged in – plus a lunch break with his three kids.
“If I could double the length of those deep work sessions, it would probably be better,” he says. “I’m always looking for ways to cut down on meetings.”
If you’re familiar with the three R’s of recycling, then you may appreciate how Dave and his team at Asana approach meetings:
Reducing the number of meetings they have
Reinforcing the goals of the meeting
Recording all meeting videos and action items
Relationship-building through fun interactions and casual events
Despite their best intentions, the process is still fine-tuning itself.
“I’m still probably spending more time in meetings than I would like to,” he admits. “Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday – pretty much full of meetings outside of those work blocks.”
So let’s talk about No Meeting Wednesdays, AKA NMW, AKA – in Dave’s opinion – the best day of the workweek.
The sound of silence
No Meetings Wednesdays are exactly as they sound: No meetings on Wednesdays (with some exceptions, like client calls). That means no scheduling a quick sync call with a teammate, and no unexpected team huddles – just a full day of blissful, deep, focused work.
“No Meeting Wednesdays was born out of this idea that people do their best work when they’ve got dedicated extended blocks of time to really get into a focused state and to experience flow,” he says.
While most companies take a hands-off approach when it comes to leaving their employees to work at their own pace and carve out focused work time for themselves, Asana has scaled up their employee deep-work time by turning it into a company-wide policy.
“If you leave it to each individual to find that chunk of time, they’re going to get interrupted by someone else calling a meeting or sending a Slack message asking you for something, and it’s kind of like a tragedy of the commons,” he says.
So far, the company hasn’t seen any drawbacks to the policy – no dip in productivity, no rush to fill up the other days with meetings. Teams still communicate by Slack on Wednesdays, but they make a conscious effort to minimize these types of social distractions. Now, Dave says, Wednesdays are most peoples’ favorite day of the week. In fact, when offices re-open, the company plans on turning it into Work From Home Wednesdays.
“No commute, no meetings, hopefully minimal Slack or other discussions; it’s just time to really focus on the craft,” he says.
Meeting with intention
Dave King has sat through some bad meetings in his day, so he makes a point to cut down on superfluous meetings wherever he can. These include status updates, coordinating tasks, and information readouts.
“A lot of meetings are just called to answer these questions: ‘What’s the status of this thing? Hey, are you doing that or am I doing that? Let’s all get in a room to talk it out,’” he says. “Those are the productivity killers. They’re soul-sucking. Just a huge waste of time.”
One way Dave and his team make meetings more intentional is by sharing any “pre-reading” materials that will help people get prepared. Another is identifying “non-goals” for every meeting so that people know which topics to avoid asking about.
For example, say Dave needs to make a decision on some aspect of a new marketing campaign. He’ll outline that topic in an Asana task with relevant pre-reading and contextual information. If there’s a lower-priority topic that may detract from the discussion, such as budget, he’ll mention it in the Asana task so people know to not ask questions related to budget. That means everyone will come into the meeting fully aware of the main topic (marketing campaign rollout), the supporting materials, and the non-goal (budget discussion).
Often, Dave says, when a meeting is planned with all the necessary information outlined in Asana, the problems sort themselves out beforehand in the comments of the task, thereby achieving the purpose of the meeting before it even begins.
“That’s a really powerful thing,” he says.
Finally, to ensure that the meeting ends with strong and clear takeaways, Dave makes sure that all action items are logged in Asana by a designated note-taker. That means any impromptu “Can you follow up with this person?” requests are tasked in real-time, with firm deadlines attached so everyone is aligned on expectations.
Asana has 11 offices spread across four continents, so they take special care in deciding when to conduct meetings, how they keep minutes, and how to make sure everyone gets the message.
To that end, technology and virtual collaboration tools have been indispensable. Asana’s meetings take place at different hours to accommodate time zones, and all meetings are recorded for replay with detailed notes attached. If key members in a certain time zone are unable to make a scheduled meeting, they’ll send in a video update to include in the meeting presentation. This lets them feel like they’re still participating and being heard.
Making information accessible not only keeps core team members on the same page – it also allows other people to peer in and get situated if they want. One special consideration that Asana takes seriously is being able to accommodate people whose first language isn’t English, such as team members in France and Japan. Having clear written communication and meeting video replay allows everyone to catch up at their own pace without missing any key pieces of information.
Getting together (without actually getting together)
For all the ways Asana’s product keeps remote teams in sync and on target, as a company they’ve always focused on real, human-level office interaction. While this is easy to pull off in a physical office, it’s been tougher to organically encourage day-to-day casual conversation as team members have shifted fully remote.
The solution looks a lot like structured play. Dave calls his team’s weekly 25-minute huddle “the best 25 minutes of the week” – they play music, ask icebreaker questions, and share positive updates. People walk away energized, having learned something new.
They also try to replicate an office culture virtually through events, like having people eat together on video, or host virtual coffees, or play interactive games through video.
“People feel most engaged when they know what their goals are, what they’re trying to achieve, and what success looks like,” Dave says. An element of human-level engagement, he adds, no matter how casual, can help bolster the collective sense of goal-setting and vision of success. “That means feeling connected to the people you’re working with.”
Still, despite everyone’s best efforts to stay connected while working remotely, they still value in-person interactions over Slack messages fired off from disparate living rooms. That’s why, when offices can safely re-open, the company plans on transitioning their currently remote teams to an office-first hybrid work environment.
“There’s something that gets lost if you don’t have any in-person experience,” Dave says. “Humans are a social species. And those meals together in the lunchroom, the hallway conversations, whiteboarding sessions – those are not only where some of the greatest ideas come from, but it’s where a lot of people get their energy and engagement.”
When all is said and done, it turns out the best meetings, according to Dave, are the ones that aren’t actually meetings at all.