Worry; Don’t Stress

Article summary


Carl likes to talk about the worry gene culture at Atomic — our predisposition to turn worries into concrete, positive action. The converse of this behavior, inaction, can quickly lead to unresolved worries piling up. That’s where stress comes in. And despite our predisposition to positive action, we all sometimes need a kickstart in the right direction.

Fortunately, many of our practices at AO already serve to guide us toward the concrete, positive actions we need. And there are other simple things I’ve found that help effectively spur the worry gene into action.

1.Identify what’s causing stress.

Understanding the source of stress is where the resolution process always begins. A specific diagnosis helps me make or adjust plans to resolve the thing causing stress, and having a plan is often enough to ratchet down the severity of perceived stress a few notches.

As a concrete example, one source of stress I’ve experienced is when urgent needs delay planning and design for the next big feature, making me feel behind. Once that’s identified, I set up a specific time to work on that design and planning work. Then I can be more comfortable with the adjusted plan and stop worrying about it.

2. Take a break. / Get perspective.

Stepping away from a problem or task for a few minutes can help clear my mind, and our snack table is a perfect retreat for the quick minute away. As an added benefit, the chance for a quick conversation with other Atoms can lead to a better perspective on whatever I’m worried about. A fresh head and a different perspective are fertile ground for solid planning.

3. Communicate frequently.

Frequent communication with my team, customer, and company leadership all help reduce stress. I get a quick check on the pulse of our relationship, an opportunity to discuss needs, and make sure that they are all aware of important information (project status, the day’s tasks, upcoming plans).

We formalize this through our daily, company-wide stand-up meeting, smaller daily team sync-ups, and weekly iteration meetings with our customer.

4. Be transparent.

Transparency actively eliminates many cracks where stress can creep in. Our backlogs are open to the team and our customers, we actively discuss progress and project concerns, and we work hard to validate designs for features we’re about to build.

Internally, we work co-located with our teams in a very open office, and our openness extends to things like our sales pipeline and company financials. We all have the opportunity to engage in understanding things that are critical to the company.

Feeling stress is often a trigger for me to crank up my level of active transparency and communication.

5. Invest in being organized.

Planning and getting organized often doesn’t feel like the most urgent task, but it pays off in the long run.

There are days when I have to take an hour or two away from time-sensitive work to zoom out, get the backlog back into shape, and spend time assembling documentation and wireframes for other upcoming features. It’s amazing what even an hour of focused planning can accomplish to keep the team running like a well-oiled machine for the rest of the week.

6. Block off time to get things done.

Interruptions can hinder my ability to get through a task (often the planning mentioned above). Having the time to focus on a specific task makes it easier to effectively work through it. An hour is a good target — it’s reasonable to ignore emails for that long, and by planning ahead I can keep other interruptions to a minimum for that long. Feeling effective is a huge stress buster.

Worry; don’t stress.

Turn worries into positive action. Don’t stress.