Interview: Yana Vlatchkova, COO of Swipes

Yana

Our interview series asks developers, designers, and other knowledge workers to share their favorite productivity tools and techniques, and how they overcome struggles like procrastination and distraction. Read all our interview posts here.

First up, can you tell us who you are and what you do?

Thank you for inviting me to this interview, Belle! Sure, I can. My name is Yana and I am the Chief Operator at Swipes.

I am also one of the three co-founders of the company and I am responsible for our business operations, marketing and what we call “happiness at work”. This is essential, all the initiatives and work we put into being a better team and a better company for each and every person, working here.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I’ve built a routine that helps me focus and use my best energy for work but still have a nice life balance and take joy in the day.

My team and I live together in a 2-bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley and we also work from home. So the typical day starts with a quick meeting to align on the main important things for the day, a good breakfast and coffee, while catching up on industry news or emails.

We all start the day differently. I like slow starts, while one of my teammates jumps directly into the important tasks. We have a pretty good harmony on this and don’t push each other in the early hours.

Now that the weather is so wonderful in California, we all aim to take a break from work at 5 pm and walk to the nearby park for a picnic. It’s not an every day thing because we often are in the zone during these hours but we aim to stick to it as much as possible. We then play basketball and other sports at 7 pm and then finish off some work in the evening.

Yana's workspace

What does “meaningful work” look like for you? How do you determine what’s meaningful work and what’s not?

The question of “meaningful work” is an ever present one. On a personal level, I have found my passion in life. I do what I love with the best teammates, who are also some of my closest friends.

I believe that through helping one another, pushing each other, inspiring each other to take action and uniting our efforts we drive positive changes in our societies. Meaningful work is making your own little world a better place, making someone’s else world a better place and making everyone’s world a better place. You can work on any of these aspects and you’d be doing meaningful work.

How do you make sure you’re always making time for meaningful work vs. everything else that needs to be done?

This is a very good question. The commitment to meaningful work requires a constant zoom in/ zoom out view on work. Which is very hard to do on a daily basis. I am a very task-fixated person. I work best when I have a plan and I commit my full attention to do something.

But this sometimes contradicts a bigger commitment I have and I am not always aware of it. I’ve learned to question this on a daily basis and remain committed not to productivity for the sake of productivity and checking things off but to bigger, long-term, meaningful things. These are things that might eat up the time in the short-term but I’ve learned to accept this.

How do you balance collaborative work with focused solo work periods?

There are rarely days of solely collaborative work for me. I try to avoid them as they become very exhausting. Solo work is the same. You reach the capacity of your own energy and dedication to something and it becomes counter-productive at some point.

So the balance is very important. I’m aware of this, which helps me do some solo work in my high energy moments of the day and initiate teamwork in my lower energy times, when I can really use some extra motivation.

What’s the best change you’ve ever made to the way you work?

That would be to stop fixating on the small tasks at hand and aiming to check everything off. Breathe, enjoy, see the bigger picture and recharge.

In entrepreneurship, there is a very thin line between using your passion for greatness and burning yourself out psychologically. I’ve learned this the hard way after a few times of hitting dark periods and now I’m more aware of keeping a good mental balance, even at the cost of some things getting done later or never getting done. I learned to say “No” to many things.

How do you avoid distractions and stay focused?

You know, after so many years working in the productivity space and creating software for productivity, I’ve started to push back on the notion of traditional productivity – you switch off distractions, you make a plan and don’t get up until you get the thing done.

I’ve learned to better understand my energy levels and follow the flow. If I feel energized and committed to my work I use it to do high-level, hard work. If I feel less on top of my game, I try to not battle it that much but accept that it will be a less productive day. I lower the expectations for the day and let myself be distracted.

Sometimes great work and new ideas are born from the ‘distracted’ work. Also, as an entrepreneur, I’m by default not allowing myself to get too distracted because I know no one else will do the things I’m pushing off so I might as well do them.

What do you do outside work to wind down and recover?

In our living-working situation, there is little time and space left for outside work. Often, personal trips, vacations, dinners etc. end up in a work conversation. There is no life-work balance as an entrepreneur.

I’m planning my wedding on the same sheet of paper that I’m taking notes on during a meeting with an investor. This is my life.

But don’t get me wrong. Time off is very important. At the end of a hard work day, I enter what I call “the zombie mode.” It’s the brain that’s working at full capacity but steam is coming out of the engine and I can’t focus my mind, everything is itchy and irritating.

That’s why I always prioritize sports at the end of the day. Doing sports immediately resets this process. After sports, my other tricks for entering another dimension are: watching silly happy romantic TV series, reading novels and sci-fi, and talking to my non-tech, non-entrepreneurial friends and family who are outside this bubble.

If you could work any job in the world for a day, which job would you choose, and why?

My job! Every day!


You can find Yana on Twitter at @yanavlatchkova and learn more about Swipes here.

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Belle B. Cooper

Belle is an iOS developer, writer, and co-founder of Melbourne-based software company Hello Code. She writes about productivity, lifehacks, and finding ways to do more meaningful work.

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