The Minimalist Approach to Great Work – An Interview with Guus

Ciloo’s fusion of tech and creativity is inspired by minimalism, the same minimalism that fuels effectiveness in our day-to-day work. In this interview, Ciloo’s Head of Operations Guus van Mastrigt speaks about Ciloo’s minimalist approach, how this is translated into the company’s operations and the benefits reaped, as well as the tools that help make this way of working an effective one. Check out his tips and advice below, including an inside look into what a typical minimalist work day (with far from minimal results) looks like! 

  1. What does minimalism at work mean to you and what inspired you to take on this approach?

I see minimalism as very close to essentialism, which means removing the clutter down to the vital components, which makes the final outcome elegant and easier to digest. In the domain of work, I consider this to be the limitless amount of work that one could be doing and bringing that down to the core, valuable activities.

Richard Benesti (CEO) is my main inspiration for following the path of minimalism. He shared with me a quote and an important reason for setting your focus, summarized by Jim Rohn as: “Either you run the day or the day runs you”. You want to be the one to prioritize your efforts, or otherwise you’ll fall prey to the priorities of someone else, who might not have the same long-term goal as you do. Or worse, you could even be diverted in a negative direction in relation to your personal and company goals.

  1. What tools do you use that allow you to carry out this approach effectively?

I use a combination of planning tools & strategies that allow me to prioritize the right things, which is done by collecting, organizing and doing the work that needs to be done.

Using Todoist, I collect most of the work to be done. The collection is made as easy as possible to ensure nothing gets lost, including the use of extensions on Gmail & Twist to quickly and directly move tasks into Todoist.

Every day, I have a scheduling session, where I run through my task inbox & start organizing. This entails determining what I should prioritize today, tomorrow, this week, as the main component at this stage is making the priorities actionable. I could also find items to postpone, delegate or remove from my overview. Some items on the list will never win priority over new arrivals and if you see them recurring in your planning sessions weeks on end, it is a red flag that they’re cluttering your system and should be dealt with in another way.

In addition to the daily session, I run a weekly, monthly and yearly session, which is inspired by both Carl Pullein and Jim Rohn. This helps to combine the beauty of short-term actionable priorities with long-term reflection on high-level goals.

Besides planning, I also perform Carl Pullein’s method for answering my emails, where I run through the inbox in the morning, but respond to the mail in the later hours of the day. This helps restrict the total time spent in my mailbox, yet keeps me informed and prevents Gmail from becoming a chat system.

  1. After years employing minimalism at company-level, what do you think are its main benefits?

The main benefits are numerous. For one, it helps to keep at bay the feeling of overwhelm, when there is a lot more work than time. Secondly, as one reviews priorities daily, the chances are far greater that you’re working on things that matter, which in itself is of tremendous importance to getting to your goals.

When the minimalistic approach is understood and applied correctly, you will also convey less unnecessary stress unto your colleagues, as you yourself will better understand the difference between real urgencies and fake urgencies.

  1. There is the idea that remote, async teams are harder to manage and coordinate – how do you think a minimalist approach benefits remote and async companies?

It might be harder to gain insights into how someone is spending their every minute, but this is not something we intend to police. We would much rather provide our team with a lot of freedom to make the perfect schedule for themselves and focus on the outcomes we aim to achieve, which also has to do with our prioritization for what matters.

Secondly, the minimalistic and asynchronous nature of our communication also helps prevent overwhelm and loss of overview, thanks to a clear structure on where to discuss certain topics within our chat system Twist. Every discussion has a logical place in our structure of channels, so it’s not hard to find the necessary information, even if you never took part in the conversation.

Finally, we don’t expect each other to be on top of our chat system and in fact would let people know they shouldn’t respond right away, but rather plan in moments in the day to run through the chat system. This is experienced within the team as much less stressful, as they’re not being judged over such trivial matters as continuous availability on chat. You might wonder: “What if something time-sensitive comes up?”. From our experience, people tend to increase their availability naturally, as they also want the time-sensitive topic to go well.

  1. Let’s talk a little about clients. Ciloo’s end goal is client satisfaction. How do you employ a minimalist approach when it comes to client interactions?

Firstly, we aim to tackle the complexity of global printing and distribution on behalf of the customer, so minimalism in this sense is not to overwhelm the client with technical terminology, but rather simplify it, which I consider to be a great minimalist or essentialist selling point.

Secondly, we often work in phases. The solutions we build could (almost) go on without end, unless we clearly define the project scope. Basically turning it into a S.M.A.R.T. goal (S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound). This in itself is a necessity to allow for the scalability we aspire to, but another example of focusing on the essential solution. This improves client satisfaction by being able to provide both expectations and a quick onboarding.

  1. On a more personal note, what does your typical, minimalist-inspired day look like at Ciloo?

I start the day running through my productivity systems:

  • Through Todoist to see the main tasks for the day
  • Through Linear, our company project management software to check for updates
  • Through my mailbox, to see if there is anything in particular I have to take into account, such as amendments for appointments on the day
  • Through my Calendar to check for my schedule on appointments

After this, I have a good sense of what is important for the day, although things can always come up and force you to divert attention. Throughout the day, I work on the priorities & commitments best I can. Near the end of the day, I process the necessary emails and by the end of the day, I have my daily scheduling session to determine the priorities for the day after.

This is in a nutshell, my way to minimalism, to keep myself in charge of what to spend time on.

  1. Any words of advice for teams considering moving on to a more minimalist approach?

The main advice I’d like to give here: Take one step at a time, instead of trying to do all changes at once. People will need to get used to the change, including you yourself. Old habits are often deeply ingrained and take repetition and willpower to replace.

Finally, if you do not know where to begin or if you’re still unsure about the benefits, there are so many great examples out there that can serve as inspiration and as guidelines. I definitely recommend many of my personal inspirations, among others Carl Pullein, Doist, Basecamp, Jim Rohn and Carl Newport, but I know there are many more that might better suit the needs of your team. Instead of reinventing the wheel, learn from their best practices and most importantly: try it out!

Thank you for sharing so much helpful insight, Guus! 

Check back here over the next weeks for more inspiring interviews with the Ciloo team!