What does “working smart” look like at CodeHS?

One of my favorite operating practices at CodeHS is Working Smart.

We like to say that to succeed at CodeHS, employees should work smart rather than just work hard. But what does that exactly mean?

Working smart means spending time on the right things and maximizing meaningful output for your input. It means thinking about what to work on and why and not just working aimlessly. It means working proactively rather than reactively.

We also say “rather than just work hard.” This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t work hard or that people should be lazy. Rather, we mean that merely putting in effort and hard work is not sufficient.

We also don’t believe that over exerting yourself is even necessary. Rather than putting in extra effort or extra hours, we want our team to be smart about what they work on and how they work, so we spend our time on the best things.

How do we do this?

Quarterly Prioritization

At the beginning of each quarter, we set company priorities that should be the guiding light for what’s important to work on during the quarter.

Then, we over-communicate the priorities to the team and repeat ourselves often, so people get the priorities ingrained in their head. We repeat our priorities every week in a team presentation and consistently check in on our progress toward out goals.

Knowing what’s important is the first step in knowing where you should spend your time.

This Week Planning

At the beginning of each week, everyone on the team writes down their plan for the week. The plan is broken into two categories.

  1. Things you’re working on
  2. Things you will complete this week.

Everyone writes down a few things in each category on Monday morning. Then, after our weekly team presentation, each team member meets with their manager to finalize their plan for the week.

We built a web app into our site to write down your plan and send it to your manager. Managers then log in to review and approve the plans for everyone on their team. This ensures employees and their manager discuss their plans and make sure they are aligned with the team’s goal.

We think it’s worth spending an extra hour every week to make sure you spend the other 39 working on the right thing.

This takes some time, but we think it’s worth spending an extra hour every week to make sure you spend the other 39 working on the right thing. You can waste a lot of time working really hard on something that isn’t important. You might as well put in a little extra effort making sure the rest of your week will be spent working on the right things.

After everyone’s plan is set, an email of the team’s plan automatically gets sent to the whole company, so everyone can see what the rest of the team will work on that week.

It doesn’t stop there. To make sure we are adhering to our plan, we do midweek and end of week checkins.

On Wednesday morning, an automated email goes out to everyone asking for status updates on their “will completes.” This only takes a few minutes at the beginning of Wednesday and is a helpful barometer for whether we’re on track or not.

If someone’s not on track, it’s a good opportunity to clarify priorities, make changes, or unblock them if something is in their way.

Friday, before heading off for the weekend, you leave one final checkin on the status of your “will completes.” Did you accomplish what you said you would? If not, why not.

This sets us up to be ready to plan again the next week.

Creating Focus Time

Time to focus on work is invaluable. Part of why spending time planning what to work on is so helpful is that it allows you to focus on the work you planned to do without worrying that something more important may come up. It lets you distinguish between working on what’s urgent vs what’s important and be proactive rather than reactive.

We also try to make sure that responsibilities are clear when things do come up that aren’t planned for. Every week, we designate one of our engineers to be the Firefighter. That engineer is the go-to person that whole week for any site issues, questions from other teams, or small fixes or projects that just come up. By designating one person to handle all of the reactive work, we create time and space for the rest of the team to focus and get stuff done.

Want to work smart?

We’re always looking for great people who want to work smart on a meaningful problem. Check out our openings at https://codehs.com/jobs

CodeHS is a comprehensive teaching platform for helping schools teach computer science. We provide web-based curriculum, teacher tools and resources, and professional development.

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