Async isn't just for work


I recently started watching all my live sports on delay and it hit me that I was effectively watching sports async and reaping the same benefits as I did when I swapped to working async. It got me thinking about the most important benefits of async work and how else I could make my personal life more async.

I started working async when Sunsama hired an engineer many timezones away in Portugal. Coordinating meetings was going to be too hard and we just committed to doing everything in writing. With no meetings and no set working hours, I found more uninterrupted blocks of focus, got to work in harmony with my personal rhythms, and found work more satisfying.

It took me years to realize I could apply async principles to my personal life and feel less busy and more fulfilled with my days. Oddly, it didn’t hit me till I became a power user of the NBA League Pass and NFL+ apps. For those that don’t waste their time watching sports: these apps let you watch any game, not just the ones on tv that night, live or as a recording.

When I started using these apps, I was stuck in a 'sync mindset'. I’d tune into the app at the same time the game was scheduled and watch along in real time. Watching it later seemed crazy to me. The fear of missing out on something happening right now was palpable. Then I moved to Hawaiʻi and all the live sporting events overlapped with the best parts of the day to be outside. I gave in and started watching games on delay. I was blown away. It had the same magic feeling as the first time I replaced a meeting with a screen recording or write-up.

I’m now saving massive amounts of time. I fast forward through parts of games that don’t matter to me just like I skim through sections of documents that aren’t relevant to me. For NFL games, three hour games took one hour when I skipped commercials, penalties, and pre-snap faffery. I’ll take back two waking hours in my weekend anytime.

I’m doing things in harmony with my rhythms. I started watching basketball in the listless hour before I go to bed. That’s when I’m too tired to do something meaningful but not tired enough to go to bed. That felt natural, as I’ve been cranking out a half hour of low value emails each evening so I can reserve the times of day I’m mentally sharp for deeper more creative work.

I’m now participating in things I could not have done at all before - and this is the real magic of going async. I can watch games that were broadcast simultaneous with my favorite team’s game. I can keep up with the league as a whole and get deeper satisfaction watching games, storylines, and players that I missed before. This was simply impossible if I watched games synchronously on TV.

Doing what was once impossible is the 10x unlock you get when you go async that gets buried behind the perk of flexible hours. In a work context, it means you can collaborate more and on things you never could before.

When documents replace meetings, you can modulate your time commitment based on relevance and interest. If a certain decision needs my expertise, I can spend a full hour reading and reviewing. If it doesn’t, I can just skim it for my own curiosity, pop a few ideas into the comments and let other people spend more time on it. In a synchronous world, everyone from the expert to the observer must make the same time commitment to the meeting. Meetings aren’t a waste of everyone’s time but they’re definitely a waste of someone’s time.

The fear with remote work is that we’ll miss out on collaboration and serendipity. The reality is that we’re far more limited on collaboration and serendipity in a sync environment because our conversational surface area is limited to the number of meetings we can coordinate or people we bump into. In async work, we’re limited by the number of documents or artifacts we can browse, which is a far bigger number. It must be a 10x difference. In an eight hour day, I can barely attend 16 meetings but I can easily browse 160 artifacts. From this lens, async work is all upside.

Inspired by my new life as an 'async sports watcher', I started wondering what else I could do async. Here’s a few other things I’ve tried:

  • I send my parents a daily video of my newborn. They want to talk to him daily but it’s not practical to time an infant’s nap schedule with a six hour time difference. This way they get cute updates of things he did at times of day that were totally impossible for a call.
  • My wife and I email doctors first and aggressively seek out the online version of things when possible e.g. getting eyeglasses. As doctors get more comfortable async, we’ve even had simple prescriptions taken care of via email, saving us huge chunks of time during our work hours. I find it’s best to start things async and escalate them to synchronous when required.
  • I do more guided YouTube home workouts. I don’t have to worry about timing my workout with the gym’s hours or when it’s busy. Workouts can now fill a gap in my schedule instead of being an event that (over)constrains my schedule for the day. This keep my busyness level lower and improves my wellbeing.
  • I am writing more emails to my real friends and ‘work friends’. During the peak of the pandemic, I was getting a Zoom catch up request once a week. I’ve found a lot more depth in the relationships where I exchange infrequent but thoughtful emails. Again, it’s another example of being able to modulate your thoughtfulness and time commitment to a conversation based on your own interest.

Now I’m wondering where else misplaced FOMO is keeping me stuck in a sync mindset and how else I might make my life more async.

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