Interviews, Product Management

Balancing the Grind With Yana Yushkina, Product Manager at Google

September 3, 2019

Yana Yushkina is a San Francisco-based Product Manager at Google working on Chrome.

Some of her launches include: Chrome’s 10th birthday: New Tab Page redesign, background customization and custom short cuts, Neural Machine Translations for Chrome Browser, Chrome on Android Language Settings and plenty more.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

Currently, I am the product manager for Search and Suggestions on the Chrome browser team at Google. In this role I focus on helping users find information and complete tasks on the internet.

I’ve been a product manager for roughly 3 years, all of them on Chrome but focusing on a variety of features: language and translation to make sure all users can access the web, personalization and customization of the new tab page, themes, stability, even access to emoji!

My background is somewhat unorthodox for a product manager, particularly at Google. In college I studied economics and French and then did a stint in economic consulting and data analytics before making the transition into product management.

Product management is the perfect role as far as I’m concerned – challenging, impactful, and with a lot of variety.

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

No two days are alike. My job makes me responsible for the overall user experience. This means that I work with software engineers and UX designers to build the right solutions for user pain points and needs.

But that also means that I evangelize the product across the company to make sure that leadership is aware of any bottlenecks or staffing needs, and that other stakeholders are in the loop.

That also means that I partner with other product teams, work with legal, marketing, privacy, security and accessibility stakeholders. All of this amounts to a lot of meetings.

In meeting-free time, I do strategy and feature work: build and amend product roadmaps that match our product mission and the vision for how to accomplish it; write PRDs (product requirements documents) that detail solutions for specific user problems; shepherd features through launch experiments; and eventually lead them to launch.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

My team is very distributed – I work with UX leads in my home office of San Francisco, engineering and UX teams in LA, Seattle and Paris, partner teams in Mountain View and Israel, and so on.

Most meetings involve video conferencing. This means that if I need to work from home occasionally, there is no issue, and conversely it means that I travel regularly to see teams in person.

I think making time for in person work is very important: to build social bonds and a shared understanding of the problem space, to be inspired by the group’s creative energies during design sprints, and to leave room for serendipity.

On most days I prefer to be in the office – it’s where the endless supply of coffee is after all. Additionally, my job isn’t a 9 to 5 so if I want or need to work late into the night one day and take it easy the next day, it’s most often up to me. I love the freedom – and am confident that it makes me more productive.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

The practices I’ve found most useful are my version of Inbox Zero, protecting my time, and switching things up. For me Inbox Zero means relentlessly managing my incoming messages and prioritizing them just like product work (quick answer, requires work and is P0, requires work and is P1, waiting for info, archive).

A well-organized inbox helps me feel that I have the full picture and can prioritize how I spend my days accurately. When it comes to time, I do my best to cull my calendar of needless meetings – cancelling weeklies when they don’t have an agenda and trying to resolve non-controversial questions by chat or email.

Even more importantly, I block off stretches of my calendar under code names so that I can get into a flow state to get creative work done.

Lastly, I find that when my energy dips and I find myself in a rut, switching up my physical location – e.g. working in a nook on another floor or a cafe or a garden – can often provide me with the necessary productivity and creativity lift so that I stay ahead of all that needs doing.

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5) What does work life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I don’t necessarily think of work and life as a dichotomy. Rather I try to make sure that my energy is spent intentionally across different pillars of life – family, health & personal development, career/work, friendships.

These don’t always need to have an equal level of attention devoted to them – but I want to make sure I don’t neglect a pillar for too long or focus on one pillar (work being the most frequent culprit) at the expense of others.

Healthy routines help. More specifically, I typically work out 4 times a week in the morning. The rest of the day is devoted to work, but I make sure that my husband and I spend the last hour of the day catching up.

Weekends are for activities either as a couple or with friends. Work travel does throw a wrench in these routines so that’s something I’m still trying to figure out.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Journaling is a big one. It helps me regularly reassess whether I’m happy with my focus areas and my level of engagement, and to notice when I’m not content with how I’m spending my time and energy.

The idea of success for me is tied to purposefully moving forward towards a better self, and journaling is the perfect tool for inspiring introspection and allowing for analysis of what comes up.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets has been a recent favorite. The main thesis of the book is that we improve the quality of our decisions over time by separating the results from the quality of decisions that led to them.

Her point is that if we think of decisions as bets instead of deterministic outcomes we’ll make better ones. She applies a social science lens married to her experience in high stakes poker. I highly recommend it!

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

This might be silly but I’m convinced it’s making my bed. That first small accomplishment primes me to do my best for the rest of the day.

I’ll cheat and share a second “number one” thing – writing down one to three things on a post-it at my desk that I plan to accomplish that day. Even if I don’t finish – the mere act of writing them down helps me focus on what matters most.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

One idea that has always resonated with me is that we don’t serve anyone by playing small. So don’t be afraid to place ambitious bets on yourself – and go all in on making them succeed.

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