Enabling “flow” is critical to the way we work. Flow allows us to have time to think, take new projects from A-Z, and to dive deeper into work without meetings or interruptions that may distract us from completing our goals. Once every episode, we run a hackathon at Asana. We set aside time and encourage everyone really dig into an unplanned project that really excites them. This gives the team space to tackle its most fun and even crazy ideas, to flow.

The idea is to allow for willful intention without attachment to results: if you want to learn a new programming language, design UI for the first time, or build something new, go right ahead. Learn that code, do that design, build that feature. If none of it pans out, no worries, we still ♥ you.

Normally, our hackathons last just a couple of days. This time, we decided to change it up a bit, and built a longer hackathon around Thanksgiving. For six days, from November 15th – 20, we held Thankshacking at Asana. This was the longest hackathon we’ve had since we first became a team.

Because of the hackathon’s length, we made sure to strive for a balance of work and play: we integrated more team bonding experiences, including a weekend feast with home cooked meals, a movie night (we watched “Sneakers”) and a board game night to break up the long work days.

We made it clear that working over the weekend was optional, but included a rock climbing trip and late night pizza to break up the hard work. It worked. As Alex Davies, one our newest engineers put it, “The flexibility and fun aspect is what made this hackathon more enjoyable and more relaxed.”

Here’s what we did to make the hackathon a success:

  • We hosted a fun activity every night of the hackathon. This made our office an unusually fun place that week.
  • We gave everyone on the team full autonomy.
  • We made sure everyone understood there was no pressure to ship.

The results were great. This is what happened:

  • Even though weekend work wasn’t mandated, a large percentage of our team, including non-engineers, worked over the weekend.
  • I’ve never designed anything in my life, but the icons I designed for one of my teammate’s projects got approved by two of our actual designers.
  • One of our engineers took his original project even further than he had planned and built a totally new feature. He said the total autonomy made him even more creative.
  • One person on our marketing team mocked up a major new page for the website and another taught himself Ruby.

Hackathons are fairly common on the startup scene, and they usually go like this: the engineering team takes somewhere from 24-48 hours to work like crazy on (usually) unplanned features and/or new product ideas. Pizza, beer, ping-pong, and all-nighters are often involved.

But there are other ways to do hackathons. They don’t have to be 24-48 hour sprints. They can be easier on the body, yet more focused and intense at the same time.

Or, at least, we like to think so.

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