InterviewMay 2nd, 2024

FocusTime: Derk Oosterveld

Team lead at Zonnestroom with a solid way of working that allows him to be creative, productive and maximize his impact at work and at home.

Rick Pastoor

Key takeaways from Derk

  • Clearly define your roles and link all your time to those roles
  • Have a weekly review routine in place to process your past week and plan ahead
  • Block off processing time for your meetings, as close to the actual meeting as possible
  • Have a fast route to quickly get distracting tasks out of the way so you can stay focused on what is in front of you. Derk is using Todoist for that.
  • If you’re a leader: consider running a regular ‘way of working’ survey to not just check in on how everyone is doing but also get feedback on how work is executed

We (as interviewers) were actually running over time and late to the meeting, annoyingly. That was not a problem at all, if we could fit it in twenty minutes and stick to the end time. Derk had to jump over to another item in his calendar. Such a rigid schedule – doesn’t that feel absolutely claustrophobic? “It is actually simple”, says Derk: “I sat down on a quiet moment to define my priorities, so I thought about their importance. The last thing you want to do is completely change your plans in the heat of the moment. Those decisions will definitely not be your finest.” That makes sense.

And with this in mind, we now understand how Derk manages all of his responsibilities. He is a team lead at Zonnestroom – a company that installs huge solar installations across The Netherlands. Next to that he’s the founder of Soete Swaan, a booming business of producing and selling a Dutch treat – stroopwafels – in South Africa. Soete Swaan is operated by a team of young people that normally would have a very hard time getting a job, because of physical or mental disabilities. Derk has local people on the ground working on production and sales, and travels there every few months to help out. And last but not least, he’s a father of two young boys.

That’s a packed list with lot’s of things going on. How do you have a good day, Derk?

“It all starts on Friday. I’ll spend about an hour in my Weekly Review, where I’m checking in on last week and plan the next one. I’m following a checklist where I’m spending time cleaning up and organizing, as well as figuring out what I’m going to do next.” Derk shared that one with us so you can use copy that as well. “The first part, cleaning and organizing, is crucial for me to not let things slip, and to clear my head. I’m going over my todo lists, mailboxes and other places where I’m dropping things during the week to make sure everything is in its place.

(screenshot of checklist – moeten we ff vertalen)

After that cleaning up is done I’m focusing on what’s ahead. For that I’m basically going over each of my roles I have defined in Todoist. I’m questioning myself per role: what is the most important and biggest impact thing I can do next week? I’m trying to fit in as many of them in my calendar as possible. Those are the quadrant two type things.” Derk is referring to the Eisenhower matrix, which splits work into important–not important, and urgent–not urgent tasks. Quadrant two holds important and not urgent work. The stuff that is easy to defer to later but most likely has huge impact on the longer term.

Roles are also fantastic to see what you’re not supposed to spend your time on. Derk: “When I’m looking at what I have done, both planned and unplanned, I often spot things that are actually not my role at all. In the short term, it might be good for the company if I’m picking up those things, but I’m not helping my team scale in the long term. When I’m thinking about those items in the context of the roles I have, it’s a lot easier to see what I should stop doing.”

“Next to those roles I also have quarterly and yearly goals, both for the team as well as for myself. Those are simply an item on my weekly checklist and listed in a Google Doc. By checking weekly I’ll make sure next steps are on my radar.”

Another smart item on Derk’s checklist: make time to process meetings. “A lot of my time is actually spent in meetings. There’s always follow up needed, which I always dread when I don’t do it right away. I’m much more inclined to act upon it if I do it right away, when the contents are still fresh. So to make that happen I make sure to block off time after each meeting to process the results as soon as possible. I’ll then go through Bear – a fantastic note taking app – and tackle it then and there.”

How do you make your plan happen?

“I’m at my best if I start my day with my email inbox closed, focus mode on and by switching Slack to do not disturb. I’m digging in for that important task and as a reward I’ll allow myself time on Slack and email as soon as that thing is finished. Incentivizing myself with those small rewards really help me get those important tasks done.”

“There’s always a lot going on, and I find that those things that pop into my head are super distracting. I’m using Todoist extensively to put all those loose ends in their inbox, which works great. I’ll process that list at the end of every day. I also make sure I have about 30-60 minutes of time per day to just respond to things that happen. Since I know those things will happen, I better just take it into account in my schedule.”

“I have a nice rhythm in my week too, and I really look forward to Thursdays – those are the days with almost no meetings where I can really get some big things done. I know this and I make sure to plan my most complex and difficult tasks on that day.”

How do you improve your team?

“I’m not just responsible for my own performance, but I’m also spending about 40% of my time thinking about things that improves the processes and way of working of everyone at Zonnestroom. One of the things I just introduced is a survey we’ll send out every other month, with a few key questions around wellbeing to check in on happiness, stress and fun, but also things like ‘Do you know what your key priority is?’, ‘Are you feeling fulfilled by the work you are doing?’ and ‘How do you feel about the work processes that we have in place, are they helpful or not?’ I feel more and more teams focus on wellbeing, and for me the way we work is also a big part of that. It really helps me balance things for myself and at home, so I hope I can pass some of that on to the rest of the team.

Any specific tools you recommend?

“I already mentioned a few: I could not live without Todoist to manage my tasks and Bear to manage my notes.”

Anything else you’d like to share?