Stay on Top of Your Work With Michael Sliwinski! [PODCAST EPISODE #29]

  • July 4, 2018
  • by Kate Borucka
  • No comments

Another Wednesday, another episode of our podcast! Are you ready for another dose of great tips?

Michael is a productivity guy – he’s the founder and CEO of Nozbe – a project management and collaboration tool for busy professionals and their teams. Nozbe is a web-based tool with apps for all the major platforms. Michael is also a speaker, author of a few best-selling books, a podcaster, and a blogger. He is happily married to his wife Ewelina and they have three daughters.

Michael is known for his unorthodox way of running Nozbe – the company doesn’t have any physical office (#NoOffice) and they dedicate Fridays to weekly reviews and personal development (#TGIF).

Listen to #29 episode to learn what is the secret to successful remote team management, how Michael does it at Nozbe, and how he gets things done!

Keynotes of this episode:

  • No office work is better than office work. Michael explains the No Office culture of work.
  • How the CEO of Nozbe manages his entirely remote team and how he managed to create a strong team.

Books and people mentioned:

Enjoy and let us know in comments what are your thoughts on today’s episode!

Are you an iTunes user? Listen to the podcast here

Podcast Transcript

Welcome back, it’s Kate and as every Wednesday, I’m back to talk to my guest about productivity, project management, leadership, and many other interesting things.

We’ve got a lot to talk about today so let’s get right to it!

My guest is Michael Sliwinski, the founder and CEO of Nozbe – a cool application which helps productive people get things done.

Michael, thank you so much for joining me here today, it’s my pleasure.

Michael: Hello, Kate. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:42 – 00:02:22]

Kate: That’s great! So my first question is related strictly to Nozbe and to you. How did Nozbe come to existence? Why did you decide to create it? And, the thing that’s most interesting to me, why that name, Nozbe, what does it mean?

Michael: Yeah, so it’s a long story but I’ll try to wrap it up for you. So first of all, the idea for the app came about because I couldn’t get myself organized. Because I’m a pretty chaotic person, I have always lots on my mind and when I read the book by David Allen Getting Things Done, I loved the concept but I couldn’t find any way to apply it so actually it was a weekend project where I just built a very basic version of Nozbe just for myself.

And after I did it, I was using it for another year or something, just for myself, completely selfish and then, after that I decided that it works for me and some people who saw it, you know, they might wanna use it as well and then I decided to rewrite it, write nicer and better and to show it to the world and to see if there are other Michaels, like me, who have the same problems and who have, who are searching for the same solutions to get things done. So yeah, I basically, it was my site project, I was a freelancer and I launched Nozbe another year later and apparently there are more Michaels because we have more than half a million users right now so I think quite a few people are using it so it’s great.

[00:02:23 – 00:04:52]

Kate: I think there are a lot of Michaels and Kates as well because I could use that kind of app too. So I’d like to ask you about the objectives and goals and plans for Nozbe. Do you have any special plans for the next maybe couple years and you know, how does the situation at Nozbe look right now?

Michael: Yeah, so Nozbe, as I mentioned, was born out of my own need for an app to manage my own stuff. But what happened was that it grew to a company and we’ve been running Nozbe for 11 years now, and now we have a small team of similar size I think as yours, so 25 people in the core business and several other people working with us. And what I realized was that, what we realized like a few years ago is that we also need a tool like Nozbe to manage our company. So the big shift right now is for Nozbe not only for consumers but is also for teams. And for us, this is a kind of a pivot or kind of a change that we’re right now signing up more business and customers and are focused on that because what we realized was that people are not really getting stuff done in business and teams and what they are doing is they’re sending e-mails, they’re sending reminders, you know, they are talking to people, interrupting them and what Nozbe does is we can share projects, we can delegate tasks easily, we can easily comment in tasks so like, the responsibility is more clear, when you open a project you can see who’s responsible for what, who’s working on what, it’s very easy to see the accountability for a project and for a task.

And it’s also a better way to communicate. You communicate through tasks. You communicate through ways of doing things instead of just writing a long e-mail with lots of things in the e-mail, you know. And people may address some of them but usually not all of them, somebody forgets an attachment and it’s even worse. So what we realized is that we need to change a little bit Nozbe, improve, I would use a word for a team environment. Because we are using Nozbe to run Nozbe, at our company, and we want other, especially smaller and medium size businesses and teams to use Nozbe to communicate better and to just work better.

[00:04:53 – 00:07:55]

Kate: Okay, that sounds good. So I’d like to talk about team management in a while, but first of all, I’d like to ask you if you have any indicators, figures, or maybe some indexes that you use in your work, and which are important in business? And what are you guided by? I think it’s quite important in a company.

Michael: Yeah, so first of all, measuring the traditional things, like revenue and costs, like the basic stuff. And also some typical startup kind of things or SAAS kind of things, like churn, the lifetime value of a customer, although in our case it’s a bit queued because we’ve been on the business for 11 years now we have customers for many years so they are really improving this number. So these are all obvious financial stuff. But also what we are also checking out is the customer involvement.

So we wanna see how many projects they have, we wanna see how many comments they post or how many tasks they delegate. And for our customers what we have is that in every team, every customer can get a report every week of their Nozbe score. Nozbe score means like if you have completed or delegated more tasks than created, you know, to see how good of a task creator are you vs. task doer. So we also use that. These are the metrics that we care about, of course. Of course the vanity metrics like what I mentioned, we have half a million user, which is nice but actually what I prefer to focus on is the active users, people who are actively using Nozbe and also in my business, which is really important is that people are sometimes giving up on Nozbe not because Nozbe is bad but because they just stop, they give up on themselves. They just stop managing their stuff.

So this is like a big thing for us like what you are doing guys is that to teach people good practices, teach people productivity, teach people how to manage their stuff out of Nozbe. But this influences the way they use Nozbe because if they’re organized, like all over the place, they will be using Nozbe to get even more organized. But if they’re chaos, if they are all over the place, then the problem becomes with Nozbe itself and they stop using Nozbe because they would say, “it’s not you, Nozbe, Nozbe is fine. It’s us.” And we don’t want that. We want people to actually, you know… we have a tool that helps people get stuff done so we want them to stick to it but also, thanks to that, stick to good habits, good routines, and everything that comes with it.

[00:07:56 – 00:10:57]

Kate: Okay, that sounds actually quite inspiring. So I’m thinking about productivity and efficiency at work, especially when you work remotely? Because you guys all work from home, right?

Michael: Yes, we have no office, like literally, there’s no central office. There’s an official address but nobody goes there so if you wanna meet any of us and you go the official address, you’re gonna be disappointed. It was from the beginning, when I was in college, I studied management and I wrote my thesis, my final thesis on virtual companies and on teleworking. So I already was into that when I was in college and my dream come true is actually this. It’s to run a company from anywhere. And to enable all of my people who all work with me to work from anywhere.

And it is challenging, of course, but if you find good people who are self-motivated, who are driven, who are entrepreneurial, then it’s easier so you know, always with recruiting we have hard time because we really want to find this person who is driven, who wants to do it and whose able to not go to office. But on the other had there are many advantages like the fact that people can work from anywhere and we can have free talented people from all over the place and also the fact that very often in our company what happens is that people change where they live because of the fact that they work with us because they realize, for example, “okay, I was in Warsaw, in the capital, because that’s where the best jobs were but now I have a good job at Nozbe so I actually don’t wanna be in Warsaw because I’m from this small town and I wanna be back at this small town and I can because the Internet is there.”

So it makes… on the other hand, it’s challenging, to communicate and to be in touch, but on the other hand, it’s very good for both, the employee and employer.For the employee, as well, is the fact that people are more focused because they can’t really switch off the internet and just work on their stuff and they will not be distracted. Unlike when you are in the traditional office, especially in open office, you know, distractions are very likely. So you know, there are pros and cons but we like doing it, we like running like this, our business.

And we meet twice a year, so twice a year we do like a Nozbe reunion. So twice a year we hire a hotel for a week and we just go there on Monday and we leave on Friday, and we just enjoy ourselves. We, you know, we work, but we also reconnect on a deeper level. So we chat, we brainstorm ideas, we go out for good food, for something to drink. So it’s a good time to just hang out and recharge batteries for next half a year.

[00:10:58 – 00:14:14]

Kate: That’s great, sounds really good! So when it comes to team management, how do you do it? How do you manage people who are spread all over the country or over the world? Is it challenging, is it difficult? How do you do it?

Michael: So, the thing is in your head, right? So very often people think that if somebody is out of sight, they’re out of mind. So you don’t really, you forget about them. But I don’t forget about my people, that’s the first thing. But second thing is the trust. There is this saying, this German saying, I think that trust is good but control is better. And I argue that it’s the contrary. Control is good but trust is better. So both are important but trust is more important.

At the end of the day, you wanna work with people you trust, not with people you have to control. So controlling is good because you still have to control them and they have to control you, because you may, you know, we are humans, we make mistakes but, don’t get me wrong, this is true for everyone but trust is more important as a common thing to work together and in the case of a company like ours, it’s really hard to fake work because the only way to show up, you have to show up with work, because I don’t see you in the office, so I’m not sure if you’re working but if you send me a task that you just did, I’m like, yeah, so you did your work. I can see you through your tasks and through your professionalism, through what you are doing and not through how you look like in the office.

And this… what we have found out in our company is that this kind of dynamic helps us respect people more, not of how they look and how they behave but what they deliver, how they work. And I think… so I think the beginning is the trust issue and many managers have that problem that they don’t think. And of course there are some misconceptions, like I very often get these arguments, “because we are so close together, we have these ideas coming in and coming out. If we would be apart, we wouldn’t have these ideas.” Of course you would, it’s just the question of good communication. We have too many ideas at Nozbe, just too many. And we have to cancel lots of our ideas. So it’s not like we don’t have ideas. But we have ways to communicate them. We have ways to work on these ideas and we have ways to also brainstorm. But we don’t have to be in the same place.

Kate: Right! That sounds really inspiring, actually! And I think many people would like to have that kind of atmosphere even in the office. So it’s really great that you guys can make it, it’s amazing.

Michael: There’s is our VP of product. He came to our company years ago from a traditional office and he was surprised that after a year, two months of working in our company, he felt more connected with the team than he was in the real office.

[00:14:15 – 00:17:57]

Kate: Yeah, that can be surprising actually! In the office you stay with people every single day and it seems like you should have a good connection and it turns out you actually don’t. That’s pretty cool in a remote work.

So I’d like to ask you, if you use any strategies in your work because as you said, trust is the most important thing. Do you maybe have some methodologies or something like that or maybe you don’t really care about that?

Michael: No, I mean, one of the things I use a lot are good habits, good productivity habits that we try to promote. For example, in the morning I have my morning routine. And very often when I skip my morning routine I have a worse day. So this is important and we promote this across the company. Another thing that we use, we try to… we are grown up company, more than ten years in business, whatever. It’s a grown-up company, so for example, we try to instill processes.

Of course not in everything, not like a corporation or something but very often we realize we are forgetting things. So we decided, “okay, for this need a process, and for this, we need a process.” And especially in the productivity environment, there’s this concept of weekly review, right, that at the end of the week you should review your stuff and prepare for next week. And this is very, very powerful concept. And we have taken it to a different level on the company level that we also put additional reviews on things like we have this thing going on right now, we will review it then and then. And this way when we know we will review it, it just gives us this peace of mind that we can just not think about everything because we know that we will review and then we will just have a lessons learned from that. So putting these reviews, these moments when you just reflect are very important.

And for example, in my company, we introduced this concept of TGIF so thank goodness it’s Friday. And Friday is a special day at Nozbe because it’s the only day that the employee designs. So the only thing that they have to do is the weekly review because then they can read a review of what they’re doing and reflect on the last week and prepare next week and then they should focus on Fridays on personal development. So like, for example, all the articles, interesting articles they found on the internet during the week, they put for Friday so they can read these articles, maybe watch a TED talk, or some other conference talk or something like that. So, the idea is this, from Monday to Thursday we work very fast, efficient, very, very strong, and then on Friday we have this moment to reflect, moment to review, and moment to actually focus on our personal development, on our hobby, maybe we can, we are programmer, we wanna learn some new programming technique, we are a marketing person and we wanna learn more about marketing, remarketing or whatever. So, this is a day for personal development. Because what I found out is that many companies say they care about personal development of their employees but they don’t put the money where the mouth is. They don’t really dedicate time for that, they think it happens in between and it normally doesn’t. So that’s why we have the Fridays, TGIF, and we keep them like this. So these are kind of our strategies or ways we’re dealing with this.

[00:17:58 – 00:19:10]

Kate: That’s really cool, it’s very creative, I have to say. So I’d like to ask you if there are any tools that you use in your work beside Nozbe of course?

Michael: Of course, yeah, especially for remote work we have to use good tools and the good thing in the fortunate time is that this is 2018, we have so many cool tools that we can use so for example, the video conferencing there are so many apps for that right now, it’s not just Skype, now for example we use Zoom a lot and it works very well for us to the video conferencing and meetings. Then, we use Slack for chat so it’s our company chat, it’s like this place where we just, you know… our water cooler. We just talk about things, we send gifs, and you know, jokes and whatever. And we use Dropbox to exchange files, we use Dropbox Paper for documentation, our company documentation. We tried all our wikies and other apps but Dropbox paper sounded… in practice came out to be most intuitive although it has its quirks but it works pretty okay. So basically these tools are the most important ones.

[00:19:11 – 00:20:35]

Kate: So I’d say these are most commonly used tools by many remote workers.

Michael: Yeah because the cool thing is… we also use Google Docs sometimes. But the cool thing about these tools is that, again, for remote workers but I think they should be used everywhere. The idea is this, you do something and then you ask for feedback, and then you get the feedback. So for example, in Dropbox Paper document or in a Google Docs document what you do you prepare something and you ask for feedback. Then people post comments, change things, they give you feedback and based on that you improve.

And the same goes with Nozbe. We comment on tasks. The same goes with Slack when you can just have a back and forth with somebody over chat. The same goes for video. So all these tools are good for remote workers but they’re also good for any type of work because very often what happens even in the normal office, what I found out from friends, is that you say things, then the other person replies but it’s never written down. When it’s not written down, people forget about this so, “yeah, we discussed this. Oh, we talked about it but… it’s gone.” Right? So in this way, again, being a remote worker, I cannot do it, I should really write it down because otherwise, it will be forgotten. So these kind of text-based systems are really important for us.

[00:20:36 – 00:22:45]

Kate: Right. So I’d like to switch to the more creative part of the podcast, which I really like. The first question will be, what inspires you in your work? Because you yourself seem like a really inspiring and creative person so what’s your source of inspiration?

Michael: Thanks for the compliment. So like many other people, I like reading biographies, I like reading a lot. Well, that’s technically not true, people are reading to me because I’m listening to audio books. So I like listening to audio books, very often to biographies, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, all these other guys, all these big ones but also different ones. So that’s for sure. I have a very nice group of mentors that I… people that are really successful and I follow them and every now and then we meet to just chat and talk. And I have mastermind group as well. We have like four people that we meet every week to just.. four different business owners and we just discuss things, exchange ideas and it works very well for us as well.

So yeah, many other people inspire me and whatever happens on the internet inspires me if it’s something positive, if it’s something good. Just know, actually just now I was listening to this person called Shawn Askinosie, who is a guy who launched a cocoa factory, a chocolate factory. And he’s working, he’s sourcing chocolate from all over the world and he’s doing a chocolate factory. So all these stories, I just like business stories, just like my story inspires people, you know, the way that I was doing it on the side and it was my thing and now it’s a very nice business. It’s the same what inspires me. It’s like all those stories of businesses, how they came to be, they inspire me all the time so I love listening to this kind of stories.

[00:22:46 – 00:24:39]

Kate: Alright, so what books? Because you said you like to listen to books. Have you read any interesting books lately or maybe do you have your favorite, well, you actually said you like autobiographies so, you know, any interesting books?

Michael: Oh yes. Of course, apart from Getting Things Done by David Allen, which is a classic, I’ve always liked productivity books by Stephen Covey like First Things First, The 7 Habits of Most Successful People but recently they had this new book, 4 Disciplines of Execution which is very good. But one of my key books recently was Essentialism by Greg Mckeown. I had a pleasure of interviewing him for my “Productive” magazine. And it was really great to talk to him personally. But his an inspiration. The book is fantastic. Essentialism because it forces you to focus on what’s really important for you and for your growth and for your maximum impact and I might not be the smartest person because I needed to read this book like four times already. For the information to sink in, to really sink in. So I really recommend it. And there’s another book, One Thing which is of similar thing that you should do just one thing that doing this makes everything easy or unnecessary. So these are the biggest recommendations recently.

Kate: Some of these positions are actually already on my list of books to read but it’s getting bigger and bigger with every episode.

Michael: So get Essentialism.I mean really, take this one first and then forget about all the other books.

[00:24:40 – 00:25:58]

Kate: Okay, I will. So my last question is related to the name of the podcast, Stay on Top of Your Work. How do you stay on top of your work and how do you get things done?

Well, you know, I am, apart from being an owner of the company and doing marketing for the company I also have a wife and have three kids so I wanna be motivated and be running my company and be doing things well. My girls motivate me a lot and they’re my source of inspiration as well, which I haven’t mentioned. But also, thanks to… for them and to be a good business guy I am also doing lots of sports which help me get the best drug ever, which is endorphin. So I am doing triathlons. I just recently signed up for tennis classes to just refresh my tennis and so I run a lot, I swim, I ride on a bike. So all these things that I mentioned also, the morning routine, the evening routine. So these kinds of routines and habits, they all help me be better.


Kate: Michael, do you have any final tips for our audience and remote workers especially?

Michael: Yeah, so my dream is so that remote work would happen more. I was saying that at this podcast that it’s in mind of people and of managers. So for all the remote workers or people who wanna go remote, try to convince and try to show people that.. show your managers that there is a way to do the remote work. Maybe not full time for the beginning but just you know, half the time. Some of time. Because commuting is not really good for you. Commuting is really bad and it’s wasted time so I would start with that. But of course, once you do it, it’s important in your remote work environment to really communicate well.


So to be able to really respond communication, be proactive and communicate well in the comments, in the comments to documents, like in all these places. And I would leave this tip also for office workers that using text-based communication is really good because it stays there. There’s history ‘cauze in way of productivity, it’s important that you understand that what’s in your mind is volatile. It’s just for a second there so you will forget things. And it’s better to have the information start somewhere else, somewhere in the system like in your task manager or in your document or whatever you’re putting stuff in and not rely just on remembering things. So I would encourage on not relying on membering things but really relying on saving information on writing down notes and having a system to put them there. So I would say that and also good habits, having morning routine, evening routine, what I mentioned. There was this cool tip that you should actually figure out what you wanna do tomorrow the day before so if you plan your next things for tomorrow today, tomorrow morning, instead of going to social media, you will go to your fresh tasks and you will just do your first tasks, you will be more productive, you’ll be happier. So this is one of the best tips and I’m doing it every day. Every day I’m thinking about what’s gonna happen tomorrow, preparing tasks, and this way when the next day comes, I know what I have to do, I’m focused, I’m excited about this day and I can really get stuff done. So I would start with all these.

Kate: Me too because this is what I do as well and it really works out. It’s a great strategy actually.

 Michael: Very good. And because I‘ve heard somewhere that it’s even more powerful than we think because it’s like our mind is kind of ready for tomorrow and it sleeps, it rewires itself for tomorrow. I don’t know how much of it is true but I think it is kind of. Because whenever I have plan for tomorrow, then tomorrow is way better.

Kate: Yeah, that’s true, I agree completely. Alright, Michael, thank you so much for joining me here, it was my pleasure to talk to you, I really enjoyed it. 

Michael: Thank you so much, it was great to meet you and thanks for having me.

Thanks for listening!

 Connect with Michael

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Kate Borucka

Kate is a freelance translator, copywriter, and a content writer specializing in time tracking software, time management, and productivity. When not researching new software, she's reading books, or spending time outdoors.

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