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Interview with Vassilena Valchanova

4 years ago

Being remote helps me dive into deep work without feeling I'm being anti-social to coworkers

Vassilena is a digital marketing consultant, trainer, and speaker. She helps brands build meaningful relationships with their audiences and scale them through digital channels. This involves hands-on projects, consulting, as well as training and mentoring. As she is an independent consultant, we can say she's the CEO/accountant/secretary/consultant of her own company.

She started her consultancy practice about 2 years ago and converted it into her main professional focus about a year ago. She works with local and international clients mainly in SaaS and eCommerce. Her services cover strategy development, content marketing, and funnel optimization.

The other main project she's working on is an NGO called Ratio. They show people the magic and mystery of science explained in everyday language through live events, video content, and podcasts.

Learn more about Vassilena`s work.

A few words about yourself?

Hi, I'm Vassy! I'm a digital marketing consultant, trainer, and speaker. I work with brands to help them build meaningful relationships with their audiences through valuable content. We then work together to scale these relationships online and optimize the user journey.

I'm also a bit of a science geek, so back in 2012 a friend and I set up Ratio - a science communication NGO that proves science is awesome in an everyday language. We organize events, publish video content and do podcast series.

I'm an early riser, I love theater, I'm a proud rescue cat mamma, and an amateur runner.

Do you usually work remotely or only due to the pandemic?

I went into full-time freelancing about a year ago and I've been working remotely since then. The big difference now is that my partner is also working from home. This means that I have a lunch buddy for the first time in a long while, so yay! But it also means that I can't get my afternoon cappuccino if he's in a call, because our kitchen and living room are connected and the sounds my coffee machine makes when creating froth are otherworldly! :D

When did you start and what challenges did you face in the beginning?

When I started back in May last year, I was really looking forward to it and that hasn't really changed.

I think that at the beginning I overstretched quite a lot - not having time wasted in commuting and eating at home meant no time for breaks during the day, either. I took on quite a few clients and 10 hour work days weren't unusual.

The accumulated stress quickly manifested itself in some health issues and that made me slam on the brakes and focus on fewer projects, executed with care and focus.

I feel that now I'm much more mindful of when I need a break and when I can push harder to go further. Even if I feel super productive, I rarely clock more than 6-7 hours of work per day, but I'd often do a few tasks on weekends, too. There's both a beauty and a curse in having your office a corridor away from your living room!

What are your pros and cons of remote work?

There's a ton of pros.

First off, I can manage my energy much better and work in the hours that suit me. I can also manage project intake which works great for me. For example, I can lay low in my consultancy work when we're organizing our annual Ratio Forum event that takes a lot of time off my workday.

It's also a great way to focus. I'd really prefer not to be around people when I need to work on a major task. Being remote helps me dive into deep work without feeling I'm being anti-social to coworkers.

And remote work relies heavily on written communication that forces me to communicate clearly and efficiently. I've been in love with content creation for a long time so that's a great natural extension of skills built over the last decade.

The big downside is that you're running the risk of becoming a social recluse. It's just too easy for me to go into a routine where I work, cook dinner, watch movies, train, all on my own.

What is your workspace setup?

We had a spare room in our apartment that I fitted into a great office space. I have a big desk, a nice monitor, lots of sunshine and potted plants. There's also a big bookshelf with trusted marketing reads. On my desk, I keep a large installation of photos with friends, small mementos and cards, as well as a few knick-knacks that put a smile on my face.

The one thing that makes the biggest difference for me is the door. When I open it I go into my work Narnia and I feel a rush of productivity the minute I step in. Then the gesture of closing the door at the end of the day helps me let go of my work tasks.

Vassilena's home workspace

What is your typical day like?

I wake up at 6:00 - I love starting my day early. I read for an hour, have breakfast with my partner, and start work at 8:00. I try to get my main tasks done by noon, then I have lunch.

In the afternoons, I focus on less focus-intensive tasks like status meetings, email, and so on. I'd also take time for a workout - either at home or a run in the park that's two blocks from my apartment - or learning and development. I have a dedicated annual budget for courses and training so I can keep my skills sharp.

I'd generally wrap everything up by 18:00. Then it's time for cooking, a glass of wine, watching some movies or anything else that strikes our fancy. I try to be in bed by 22:30 for half an hour of reading and winding down.

How do you stay focused and healthy?

I try to be mindful of my energy levels and match work according to them. I know that if there's a big task that will need lots of focus, I can't do a high-energy customer training in the afternoon cause my battery will already be critically low by then.

I also try to give myself permission to be unproductive from time to time. If I feel completely done by lunch and my afternoon tasks can wait for a day, then I'll go out for a walk (well, not right now, but usually), read a book, or just cuddle with my cat. Sometimes, it takes a lot of work to just not work and not feel guilty about it.

The rest is quality food, eating your veggies, lots of water, and moving your body to clear your mind. A 10-minute daily meditation also works wonders.

What collaboration and communication tools do you use?

My preferred channels to use with clients are Discord/Slack, email, and Google Meet. I can't live without my calendar, Todoist for task management, and my bullet journal (big handwriting fan here). Obviously, I'd use the tools that my client's team is already on and work with them, too.

Instant or asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous for me, please! I think it saves everyone involved unneeded interruptions and it forces you to say everything in one go and communicate your ideas and questions clearly.

I still use instant comms for quick back-and-forths and I have a weekly sync with each of my retainer clients to discuss results and next steps. This gives us a regular planning cadence so the work during the rest of the week can happen with the help of the occasional Slack ping.

Would you change anything in your regular working routine once the pandemic is over?

I'd like to take the weekly calls with all my local clients fully remote, as well. It saves tons of time and I feel that now the ones that weren't convinced can see that it doesn't diminish our productivity.

What is the funniest place where you've had to get your laptop open?

On a small square in Bologna. I was waiting for friends to arrive in the city for a get-together and I had some downtime, so I sat in the sun and finalized a content marketing strategy for a client. Then I rewarded my self with one of the finest specimens of Italian gelato I've ever had.

No-pants, pajamas or regular clothing?

Even when I was working in an office I hated the pressure of having to choose a different outfit every day. My work uniform now is usually leggings and a t-shirt + hoodie combo.

Would you like to add anything else?

Don't follow my ideas but do what works for you. If you feel now's the best time to learn a new skill, take up a hobby, or start a passion project, go for it. But if you feel down, give yourself permission to be unproductive, rest, and recharge. This is a weird time and it affects each of us differently. And call your family and friends more often!

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