“From looking at the time logs of extremely successful people, I’ve learned that they focus on three categories: nurturing their career, nurturing their family and nurturing themselves.”—Laura Vanderkam, speaking to the Washington Post, on how to be successful before breakfast.
Happiness at Work: A Photo Safari of Culture at 10 Awesome Startups
Many of the startup companies we work with have built incredible cultures and teams. Cultures that are quirky, fun-loving, hardworking, energetic and adventurous. Teams that are tight-knit, creative, dedicated and happy. While there are a thousand words we could use to describe the characteristics of each company’s culture, we all know what a picture is worth.
Photographs can tell you more about a company’s culture and their team experience than any lengthy blog post we could ever write. So we decided to ask some of the innovative startups we work with:
Send us a photo that best represents your company culture, and tell us why.
We share their awesome responses below so you can get a glimpse of the inner lives of ten iDoneThis musers companies.
1. Kitchensurfing is an online community and global marketplace connecting private, professional chefs with food enthusiasts everywhere.
"Kitchensurfing is a worldwide community of chefs and people that love to cook. Our customers love inviting our chefs into their homes and offices for special events and meals with friends and family. But! The Kitchensurfing team also loves doing right by our chefs. Everyone’s heard of Christmas in July, so the KS team decided to cook Thanksgiving in June for a dozen or so of our most active chefs. We roasted a turkey (hard to find in June!) and had a full array of sides. We’re fortunate enough to have an office that doubles as a test kitchen.
I’m one of the founders and CEO in the blue-checked shirt (the solo shot of me needs to be credited to Peter Hobbs). The gentleman that’s excessively excited about the turkey is our community director, Max Siegal, who cooked the turkey. The multi-person shot shows our little dining room, some KS staff, and a few of our chefs.”
Chris Muscarella Co-Founder & CEO, Kitchensurfing
2. Olark is an easy-to-install service that enables you to chat live with any visitor to your site.
"Yes, this is at our OFFICE. We do things a bit differently here at Olark… Redwood trees, gymnastic rings, team lunches, and a cat that runs the meetings between our Palo Alto and Ann Arbor offices. It’s all in the name of building the best live chat software around (sorry we weren’t able to share the photos of our top secret control center)."
Roland Osborne Co-founder, Olark
3. LKR Social Media is a team of online marketing whizzes that trains small businesses to leverage social media.
"We don’t have an office, but we do meet up for in-person retreats at least once per year. Here’s a snapshot from our latest retreat that was held in the Ace Hotel in New York City. I like this picture because it shows our value of not taking ourselves too seriously. Our customers come to us because they want social media to be easy, not a complicated burden. We try to keep things fun and light to take away from our customer’s stress, not add to it!"
Laura Roeder Founder, LKR Social Media
4. TravelPod helps users create an online travel blog, upload photos from their phone while on the road and participate in travel challenges.
“We work hard and we play hard.”
Luc Levesque Founder & GM, TravelPod
5. EZTable is a 24/7 online reservation platform for diners and restauranteurs that started in Taiwan and is expanding.
"EZTABLE focuses on customers. The biggest mission is to figure out what the customer needs. “Hack, everything” is what we believe and we learn hard from failures. Without failures, no successes."
Alex Chen Co-Founder & CEO, EZTable
6. SocialToaster helps you engage and empower your fans to share your social media content.
"SocialToaster has a dynamic, fast-paced, energetic culture that embraces the work-hard/play-hard mentality. We take great pride in the closeness of our team. We regularly participate in extra-curricular activities outside of the office… And although the size of our lunch table has grown into a lengthy “Hogwarts style” table in recent months, we still try to eat together everyday.
The SocialToaster environment, and associated culture, is truly the envy of Baltimore. Not only does our team work hard and play hard together, inside (and outside) the office. But our office is somewhat of a playground, as well - with a velour room (company lounge area with velour couches and coffee tables), eclectic renovated warehouse office space, and am onsite pool and hot-tub.”
Brian Razzaque Founder & CEO, SocialToaster
7. Alton Lane customizes men’s clothing to fit your exact measurements and personalized style online.
“At Alton Lane we are always evolving with our customers and their individual and collective experience as our most important guide. The only way to achieve this is to empower and supply our team of amazing people with tools that assist them in being more efficient. We value creativity, innovation and fun in everything we do and believe that communicating across teams allows us to break down information silos and concentrate our efforts in the most effective ways.”
Colin Hunter CEO, Alton Lane
8. ShopLocket is an easy-to-use e-commerce site that lets you sell anything from anywhere.
"At ShopLocket we work hard and we ping pong hard. Staying tight-knit is very important to us. You have to hire the right people, someone that you’re willing to be with for long, long hours. And someone that’s good at ping pong."
Dan Kalmar Community Manager, ShopLocket
9. FreeAgent is a stress-free, simple accounting solution for small businesses and freelancers.
"We’re very proud of our team here at FreeAgent. Not only are they an awesome, friendly bunch of people, but they’re also the reason why our business is going from strength to strength - and that’s why we’re committed to keeping them happy.
But it’s not just the Aeron chairs, Herman Miller desks and Apple Macs that we give all of our staff that creates a happy office culture. Nor is it our shiny Edinburgh office with its fridge full of soft drinks and beer, or the fact that we pay for everyone’s lunch each Friday. Rather, it’s because we’ve built an environment where people actually want to share their talents, support each other and make FreeAgent the best cloud accounting system for small businesses and freelancers worldwide.
We love the camaraderie that runs through FreeAgent: not only in our headquarters, but across all of our staff working remotely in the UK and the USA. Whether its our Edinburgh-based engineers hot-desking to develop new features - or our developers hooking up over Skype to solve problems - it’s great to see dozens of exceptionally talented people working together and having fun doing so.”
Olly Headey Co-Founder & CTO, FreeAgent
10. Springestmakes it easy to find and compare online educational programs for personal and professional development.
“Here’s a picture of our balcony a few months ago during a Ruby Hack Night we held with about 40 Ruby developers. It shows 5 Springest guys working on PingPongGuru for ranking and displaying our ping pong results… But of course there’s beer and a nice view of early 17th century buildings along the canals of Amsterdam. It shows our open culture and especially our drive to always share numbers about performance. iDoneThis does for our normal operation what PingPongGuru and our hack nights do for ping pong ;).”
Ruben Timmerman Founder & CEO, Springest
Looking at all these photos reminds of me of something I once read, that humans across cultures and generations can tell a fake smile from a real smile. This is because of the orbicularis oculi muscles, located near the outer corner of the eyes. Those muscles cannot be voluntarily moved, and thus a forced smile is always discernible from an emotionally honest smile.
The same could be said of company culture. Bells, whistles and office amenities aside, you can’t fake or force employee happiness and engagement. And as many of these photos show, it’s those employee smiles that are the proud focal point for our muser companies and what drive their success.
Now it’s high time we shot our iDoneThis team photo!
Ginni Chen is the Chief Happiness Officer at iDoneThis. When not striving for the happiness of iDoneThis members, she’s a rock climbing instructor, skier and collector of first edition books. You should follow her on Twitter at @GinniChen.
“I’ve gotten better at the drudgery of real life, but I still suffer from bad habits. I put off difficult tasks, and then I feel guilty about putting off these tasks, and I blow that guilt out of proportion, and then I rub all these bad feelings around my insides like broken glass. I become a worry machine. It is not an overstatement to say that the despair of these tiny, accumulated failures keeps me from truly living, because it creates in me a need to hide from the world. I needed to figure out a way to get right with the world—not because I was going to die soon, but because I probably wasn’t.”—
How VHX is Leading the Self-Distribution Revolution
VHX is bringing digital video distribution up to speed with this internet-fueled modern age, delivering DRM-free video, such as Aziz Ansari’s Dangerously Delicious and Indie Game: The Movie, directly to fans. Having launched as a social video community — a way to discover, share, and queue video for later — VHX could soon be seeing their distribution platform and consumption community interact in interesting ways down the road.
We talked with co-founder, Jamie Wilkinson, who describes how the timing felt right for VHX’s push to help small filmmakers and artists self-distribute their work: “It really helps leverage all the growth we’ve seen in social media for people to actually financially support themselves outside of the old studio distribution model. For filmmakers, it’s really great because we don’t take any rights restrictions or exclusivity, so we push things to market super fast and work in a way where every project is individualized and has a bespoke solution.”
Jamie also appreciates the bespoke solution that iDoneThis provides for the VHX team, with its flexibility regarding entries and settings. “Everybody uses it differently and it’s interesting seeing just how it’s evolved as people use it more.” For Jamie, iDoneThis’s most important function is providing talking points for the next morning. “It’s been really good just in terms of thinking about what will get accomplished that day.”
The VHX team is in the process of expanding (calling all hand models!). Jamie explains how, with the company centered in New York and remote team members like himself, “we lean really heavily on tools to make sure that everybody is up to sync all the time. I have a lot of experience, especially with open-source software development, so I know how critical it is having good communication lines.”
iDoneThis is one communication tool among many that VHX uses, including email, HipChat, Google Hangouts, Asana, and Github. “It’s a question of having a good Swiss Army knife.” Jamie elaborates on how one tool shouldn’t try to do everything, that instead, “it works having a Unix style, having small tools that do certain things really well.” iDoneThis is the small but powerful tool that keeps everybody in the loop. “With the chat, you’re going to miss things and you shouldn’t be expected to see everything necessarily. With project management tools, it’s more static, and you kind of tune it out because there’s so much activity.”
Many of us grapple with the challenge of navigating the relentless stream of information and activity at work. Jamie sees our daily digest feature as a great solution for dealing with the flood. “iDoneThis’s daily digest model has been really great because it’s a summary of what has been done and it gives you a high-level view. It’s exactly how start-ups probably should be run and how we try to run [VHX]. I think there are almost lessons for services like Twitter. I mean, they finally started pushing out these digest-like highlight emails that I think most people turn off, but if it’s something you know is important, you pay really close attention to your inbox and you’ll pay attention to everything that you’re looking at.”
We’re proud to serve as one of the handy tools on VHX’s swiss army knife of work solutions, helping VHX democratize the world of digital video!
Marc Andreessen's Productivity Trick to Feeling Marvelously Efficient
I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon among productive people: they often overlook their own productivity. The more productive you are, the more likely you are to get down on yourself and think at the end of the day, “I wasn’t very productive today.”
Because ambitious people measure themselves by their progress towards achieving audacious goals, they often can’t appreciate a single day’s worth of tiny, incremental advancements that they’ve made. Plus, the fuller your day is with activity, the harder it seems to pinpoint what exactly it is that you did at all.
Between starting Netscape, Opsware, Ning, and Andreessen Horowitz, Marc Andreessen has done monumental work in his career and seems particularly at risk to fall into this trap. To arm himself against the daunting imperative of making meaningful progress toward his big objectives, Marc came up with a system: the Anti-Todo List. It’s his way to stop and recognize his own accomplishments, measured not by a project’s impressive success, but in increments, to fuel his motivation for getting stuff done day after day.
What you do is this: every time you do something — anything — useful during the day, write it down in your Anti-Todo List on the card.
Each time you do something, you get to write it down and you get that little rush of endorphins that the mouse gets every time he presses the button in his cage and gets a food pellet.
And then at the end of the day, … take a look at today’s card and its Anti-Todo list and marvel at all the things you actually got done that day.
Note that he’s advocating for more than crossing items off your to-do list. His Anti-Todo List gives him credit for everything he gets done, not just what’s preordained by his to-do list. And keeping a separate list means that when you take stock of what you’ve achieved, you aren’t hounded by what’s still left to do.
There’s value gained from the act of slowing down to write down accomplishments, which is inaccessible without acknowledgment. It turns out that “being able to put more notches on my accomplishment belt, so to speak, by writing down things on my Anti-Todo list as I accomplish them throughout the day makes me feel marvelously productive and efficient[,] [f]ar more so than if I just did those things and didn’t write them down.”
Rather than waiting for a major milestone to celebrate an achievement, recognize that tiny, wonderful triumphs happen every single day. Turn that into a daily process of rejuvenation and inspiration after a hard-day’s work, and you’ll have added a crucial ingredient to your day that maintains the positive emotional balance necessary to accomplishing great things.
Chris Savage, CEO of Wistia, wrote about how magnifying your field of vision when it comes to your perspective on progress is key to generating the momentum and joy to accomplish big things. He expressed this lesson concisely in two graphs:
There’s a hard road to travel to get to big-time achievements and reaching heady dreams, whether it’s making your first million, mastering the piano, or running a marathon, and if you’re too exhausted every day to take stock of your successes, you’ll lose heart. Take a note from Marc Andreessen:
[Y]ou know those days when you’re running around all day and doing stuff and talking to people and making calls and responding to emails and filling out paperwork and you get home and you’re completely exhausted and you say to yourself, “What the hell did I actually get done today?”
The science behind why better energy management is the key to peak productivity
We live in a culture that seems obsessed with being productive.
While increasing our output and doing more with our time is certainly an admirable goal, according to Tony Schwartz, author of Be Excellent at Anything, that misguided approach is actually liable to hurt your productivity.
Without real restoration and rejuvenation throughout the day, people (knowingly) hold themselves back because they are worried about “pacing” their energy to make it through the day.
This is incredibly damaging to your potential, because it distributes your efforts at 25% across your whole work day instead of reaching 90% output at the moments that correspond with your body’s naturally productive rhythms of alertness. The result is that you aren’t able to do your best work and you aren’t getting the rest you need to rejuvenate yourself either.
I know I’ve fallen into the trap of conventional thinking that to be productive, I just need to work harder. I spend more and more hours at the desk, but when I look back, I’m not sure where the time went.
To Schwartz, not being able to push yourself to 90% output without worry is the biggest impediment holding you back from being truly productive and producing your best work. True productivity is determined by better energy management rather than simply cranking out more hours at your desk.
What do our energy levels actually look like throughout the day?
We all have a sense of our energy level, whether we feel productive or not, whether we’re alert and excited or tired and groggy, but most of us try to ignore it and don’t know the science underlying its effect on our work. It turns out that our energy functions according to what psychophysiologist Peretz Lavie called “ultradian rhythms,” or natural cycles that take place during the day.
Lavie conducted a fascinating series of experiments where he put young adults on an ultrashort 15 minute awake-5 minute sleeping schedule in 8-hour sessions, first from 4 pm until midnight, and then after 6-7 hours of sleep, he put them on the 15/5 schedule from about 7 am until early afternoon. He then observed when his test subjects fell asleep and couldn’t fall asleep during this bizarre sleep schedule and came up with some surprising findings.
In the afternoon and evenings, we get sleepy at two times: at 4:30 pm and at 11:30 pm. But in the morning, we get sleepy every 90 minutes. These 90-minute cycles are our ultradian rhythms which define when we’re naturally feeling awake and productive. We perform our best in between those periods of drowsiness.
Those who work with instead of against their ultradian rhythm perform better, according to a study on world-class violinists. You might expect the best violinists to practice until their fingers bleed. Not so. Top-tier violinists practice no more than 4 1/2 hours a day, in 90-minute bursts, plus they got more sleep than their peers (notably, 20-30 minute afternoon naps).
It’s not just about concentrating when your energy levels are high. It’s also absolutely vital that you rest when your energy levels hit bottom. One piece of research that Schwartz regularly cites is a Federal Aviation Administration study of pilots on long haul flights that shows the crucial importance of resting when your energy levels are low:
One group of pilots was given an opportunity to take 40-minute naps mid-flight, and ended up getting an average of 26 minutes of actual sleep. Their median reaction time improved by 16% following their naps.
Non-napping pilots, tested at a similar halfway point in the flight, had a 34% deterioration in reaction time. They also experienced 22 micro sleeps of 2-10 seconds during the last 30 minutes of the flight. The pilots who took naps had none.
If you push yourself to continue working during periods of low energy, you risk continued grogginess and low performance. It’s critical that we acknowledge our body’s natural rhythms and align our periods of work and relaxation with them to work in a sustainably productive way.
You improve by pushing your practice, not yourself during low energy.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” is what you need to become an expert in your field. Research from psychologist Anders Ericsson on deliberate practice shows that it’s true strain and “wear and tear” that helps people build expertise.
(via K. A. Ericsson, Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406)
Although getting into a flow may feel good, sometimes we use the term “flow” to describe times when we’re not pushing ourselves very hard. But it’s the hard practice that allows us to improve. A good metaphor is weightlifting at the gym: while a good flow might involve a 30-minute walk and some light free weights, if you are looking to push yourself into chiseled, six-pack ab territory, you’ve gotta hurt.
Building muscle at that level doesn’t come without pushing into the territory of the uncomfortable, and this is why Schwartz and noted authors like Cal Newport are so adamant about these “hold nothing back” periods of work. During these sessions, it’s vital that we challenge ourselves with increasing difficulty and focus uncompromisingly on how to fix our weaknesses.
When deliberate practice corresponds with periods of intense concentration, we suss out our weaknesses, make progress, and do our best work.
3 Important tricks for managing your energy
Break your work sessions into 90-minute blocks: I tested this for myself, and I noticed that the feeling of reckless abandon in being able to give your all for those 90 minute periods was incredibly useful in allowing yourself to pour out creativity without having to think, “What will I have left for the end of the day?” It’s a surprising bit of mental jiujitsu, but it works: I feel energized and empowered to operate at peak levels because I know that it’s only for 90 minutes.
After your 90-minute sessions, take 15 minute breaks: According to Schwartz, breaking up work periods into 90 minute sessions with the knowledge that there will be a 15 minute break at the end is a great process to get started with balancing energy and recovery throughout the day. This way, the 90 minute work period can be approached without having to worry about pacing or burnout: a scheduled break is just on the horizon. It seems strange to allow yourself these sorts of breaks if you are a person who prides themselves with being busy/productive (two very different things, actually), but on the advice of Schwartz and the complementary studies that support it, it’s definitely worth a try.
Take Naps: The naps were the hardest sell for me, but after seeing the science behind napping by my buddy Leo Widrich, I was sold on at least giving them a go and was very glad I did: my productivity “dip” around 4pm is now all but gone, thanks to a quick 30-minute nap at 3pm. Schwartz gives this schedule as a sample:
Nick, by contrast, works intensely for approximately 90 minutes at a stretch, and then takes a 15-minute break before resuming work. At 12:15, he goes out for lunch for 45 minutes, or works out in a nearby gym.
At 3pm, he closes his eyes at his desk and takes a rest. Sometimes it turns into a 15- or 20-minute nap. Finally, between 4:30 and 5pm, Nick takes a 15-minute walk outside.
What did you think of the research in this post and Schwartz’s approach to finding a work schedule that works with you?
Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!
“Trust yourself. If you are passionate about your idea you can do more than you ever imagined. There is no secret to success; you simply start with a vision and then it is about problem solving, breaking everything down into smaller pieces, getting it done, and remaining tenacious even when the uphill pursuit becomes steeper. Nothing is more rewarding!”—Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp, co-founders of Birchbox, giving the scoop at goop about starting your own business.
Wistia provides super easy, distinctive video hosting, management, and marketing for businesses. We wanted to find out from co-founder and CEO, Chris Savage, how Wistia uses iDoneThis and why they love it.
In the past year, Wistia has gone through a growth spurt, doubling to a total of fifteen people. Chris wrote a great blog post about the challenges of staying productive during such rapid growth, pointing out how Wistia’s “internal communication mechanisms have had to evolve so that they are less disruptive, more relevant, and more helpful.”
Allotted ample ownership and authority, people at Wistia have a great deal of freedom over what they do. As a result, as Chris explains, “it’s hard to know what everyone else is doing, which I think is really important.” So, the Wistia team uses iDoneThis to “facilitate what would often be those random connections that would happen if you were sitting next to somebody, if you were walking by somebody working on something.”
iDoneThis enables fast-growing companies like Wistia to revive something of the easy immediacy of two founders working in a room together, capturing valuable information that wouldn’t have been pre-set on a task list or deemed “worthy” of sending out yet another email. Chris notes, “That’s something that’s been really big. It’s good that other people can see that that’s happening, know that it’s important, and can comment on it.”
The Wistia team relies on tools like Yammer to keep the productivity engine running and continues to hold weekly stand-up meetings, but specifically for announcing goals for the week. iDoneThis is used for “a very different purpose,” says Chris. “It’s an accomplishment list and a way to show others what we’re working on. Other tools don’t supply that.”
What’s distinctive about the Wistia team is the obvious pride that they have in the company culture and the deliberate effort with which that culture is cultivated. Chris elaborates, “A big thing we wanted to do was start to write it down and talk about it and have a vocabulary, because we felt like if we don’t fight for it, we won’t be able to maintain it. It actually feels like a competitive advantage.”
Part of building that company culture meant defining a company identity, or the “Wistia way” of doing things. When Wistia launched a free version of its service in June, for example, they created a rap video instead of simply sending out an email and adding the plan to the pricing page. They did it the Wistia way: “Go a little over the top, have a lot of fun with it, and express our own excitement.”
We haven’t created a rap video about it, but we’re very excited that iDoneThis helps make the Wistia way happen!
“A growing body of research suggests that paying attention to the body clock, and its effects on energy and alertness, can help pinpoint the different times of day when most of us perform our best at specific tasks, from resolving conflicts to thinking creatively.”—
Any.DO is an elegant task management application available for Android, iPhone, and the Chrome browser. While the app has received praise for its simplicity and ability to sync across platforms, the Tel Aviv-based startup found that it needed some management tools to synchronize itself, with one of its founders, Omer Perchik, relocating to San Francisco. Plus, the company, which started in 2010, saw its team nearly double to twelve people.
Any.DO turned to iDoneThis to sync its team, and as co-founder Yoni Lindenfeld explains, to solve one of the challenges of fast growth— how to get all the newbies up to speed. “It’s a good tool to get new people coming on board to understand what other people are doing and to show other people what they’re doing.”
Communication and coordination are priorities for Any.DO, achieved through transparency regarding the inner workings of the company. “It’s really important for us for everyone to be involved and aware,” declares Yoni, as part of Any.DO’s tight-knit “family-style environment” work culture. These objectives led the Any.DO team to implement iDoneThis with a plan to be more specific in their daily entries. Yoni elaborates, “Before we started using it, we talked to everyone about how we would profit most from using it. It’s going great because people are writing more details about what they’re doing and other people,” —including new hires — “know more details. It’s a great tool.”
Everyone at Any.DO uses their own creation to manage personal and work-related tasks, but according to Yoni, iDoneThis plays a different role. “When you put a task in your to-do list, it’s more of a personal thing. Actually that’s something we’ve learned from researching a lot about how users manage their tasks. Tasks are usually much more personal and you don’t elaborate a lot because it’s just something that will remind you about what you want to do.” Meanwhile, a tool like iDoneThis functions more broadly and publicly. Members find value both in personally focusing on accomplishments and in sharing that attention with others.
We’re delighted that a company that made a task management app uses iDoneThis to help get them from to-do task to Done!
The art of getting stuff done without bossing around
The availability of seed-stage funding today means that there are a ton of first-time entrepreneurs out there assembling teams and building companies without any experience running a team or managing people. Building a team in this environment is especially difficult because funded companies typically grow teams prior to sustainability or product-market fit. It’s hard to steer the team in the right direction when you yourself don’t quite know what to build.
Naval Ravikant at AngelList has blogged about “Building a team that ships”, describing his assembled team as “self-managing people who ship code.” Naval calls this peer management: one person per project (with help from others as needed), no middle managers, and individual choice on what to work on using accountability is the rudder. In his words: “Promise what you’ll do in the coming week on internal Yammer. Deliver – or publicly break your promise – next week.”
At iDoneThis, we’ve seen peer management as an effective approach to take for the young startup CEO. We’ve worked closely with many first-time entrepreneurs like Danny Wen at Harvest and Tobi Lutke at Shopify who have succeeded in building unique, quirky, and profitable companies by empowering individuals at their companies to manage themselves and each other to build out great products exceeding a high standard of excellence. Here are some keys to effective peer management that we’re seeing.
Skillshare uses a system called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to systemize accountability. Every individual is responsible for company objectives, which are broken into measurable bites in the form of key results, resulting in alignment within and accountability throughout the team. At the end of every week, month, and quarter, individuals measure themselves against their OKRs to evaluate performance.
OKRs have a rich history in building great tech companies, going back to Andy Grove at Intel in the 1980s and what he called “Management by Objective.” Drawing a fundamental distinction between output and activity, Grove’s use of the word “objective” involves dual meanings. Output is both the objective and something that’s objectively measurable, while activity is a black box. An engineer at heart, management by objective was Grove’s way of bringing scientific and engineering principles to management.
OKRs have since been embraced by tech giants like Google and Zynga and spread throughout the Valley and to the broader tech world. At Salesforce, they do V2MOMs (vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measurement); at Yammer, they do MORPHs (mission, objectives, results, people, and how did you do); others use KPIs (key performance indicators). While the acronyms may vary, the general principles hold true.
To Mark Pincus, OKRs are the solution to the basic problem that’s at the heart of many a founder’s anxious and sleepless night: how “to keep everybody going in productive directions when you’re not in the room.” Every individual has one objective, and they are the CEO of that objective, entrusted with authority and accountability for their objective and the key results necessary to get there.
In old school, hierarchical companies, information that passed down to employees or up to executives had to travel through middle managers and that created a single-point of failure anti-pattern. You had to rely on your manager to get information and also to market your accomplishments upward to upper management and the executive team.
Where individuals manage themselves and each other, it’s vitally important that everyone gets the requisite information flow they need to do their jobs and that they have channels to market their own accomplishments and results.
The system of snippets adopted at Google is an example not of big brother monitoring, but of empowering individuals to see everything that’s happening in the company so that they can find their niche in the company and contribute. You get a weekly email that asks what they did last week and what they plan to do in the upcoming week. Replies get compiled in a public space and distributed automatically the following day by email.
The power of snippets is in gathering data to demystify the black box of the notoriously fuzzy production process — in which raw material turns into output with the application of labor — and makes progress possible to measure, analyze, and recognize. It makes sense then that peer management environments tend towards transparency, meritocracy, and individual professional fulfillment. Companies on the rise like Shopify and Harvest track and celebrate their daily accomplishments with a daily email from us here at iDoneThis.
Fit as a Deal Breaker
In company cultures of extremely high personal autonomy, fit is paramount because it reduces friction in every interaction. Companies like Valve and Github tout bossless cultures. Stripe is building a world-class team and every employee can veto a potential hire.
While fit can be tested by hiring a candidate first as a contractor, fit often amounts to guesswork based on intuition and impression during interviews. Peter Thiel said PayPal once rejected a top-notch engineering candidate because he said during an interview that he liked to play “hoops,” and a PayPal engineer does not play basketball, much less “hoops.” The wisdom of that decision is unclear, but that decision process no doubt solidified a sense of self in the team.
Fit is about an ever-solidifying sense of self as much as it is about bringing on like-minded people, and that sense spawns canonical stories and processes. Carwoo is a company that’s a little weird, so they ask every interviewee how weird she thinks she is on a scale of 1 to 5. There is a right answer. 3-4 is the sweet spot a weird person who is self-aware.
Wistia is a company that highly values its culture and the unique identity it has built. Co-founder and CEO Chris Savage finds that combination of autonomy, culture, and fit becomes “a competitive advantage”, as Wistia hires more people, “the culture of the company should get stronger because we’re hiring for values that the company believes in, and people with those values should make it stronger.”
* * * * *
As work gets automated and outsourced, self-directed, creative work is required in ever-increasing degree. Peer management not only makes us more efficient, but it builds a workplace that enables — as Dan Pink describes — autonomy, master, and purpose that makes work fulfilling and joyful.
“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”—
Published in the journal, PLOS ONE, the study found that viewing photos of cute animals — which induces positive emotions — results in improved “subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus.”
Well then! Here are a few cuties to focus you today:
We’vewrittenbefore about the secret to happiness and motivation at work. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer wrote a whole book about it called The Progress Principle. They found that the number one driver of a positive inner work life, the key to motivated, engaged, and productive employees, is making progress on meaningful work, even if that progress is a small win.
In a recent 99U conference talk, Professor Amabile shared the best way to achieve those small wins and leverage the progress principle in our daily lives: keeping a work diary. We’re so pleased that she suggested using iDoneThis as an online work diary tool, and we thought we could break down how iDoneThis contributes to the four benefits of keeping a work diary that she identifies:
1. Capture progress that may have been lost in a busy workday and celebrate the small wins.
Professor Amabile notes that even on frustrating, seemingly unproductive days, you can almost always find one thing on which you made progress. Note it. Celebrate it. “This is the best way to leverage the progress principle,” Professor Amabile says. Next stop: more awesomeness.
iDoneThis helps you see your workday through the lens of accomplishment because it asks, “What’d you get done today?” In taking a moment to reflect on this question, you make a habit out of focusing on the progress you made and your wins, however small. Writing and recording wins in your iDoneThis calendar is a quiet affirmation and celebration.
2. Plan next steps, think things through, and overcome setbacks.
Professor Amabile also suggests using a work diary to consider the causes of setbacks you experience and create a plan of action if a similar problem rears its head again. The Progress Principle encourages learning from negative experiences and counts those valuable lessons toward your overall progress, turning negatives into net positives.
iDoneThis contributes to such positive growth, because it keeps a record of all your daily doings. You can go back into your log and see what decisions, actions and efforts led to the setback. In short, you can pinpoint where things started to go wrong. This record gives you the information to form a plan of action to resolve similar setbacks. Down the road, your iDoneThis becomes a map to which you can refer back and see how you overcame obstacles.
3. Nurture your own personal growth and work through difficult events.
In her talk, Professor Amabile provides an example of one engineer struggling through the experience of massive layoffs at her company. While grappling with the stress of watching her team members being laid off and her own uncertainty about the future, the engineer turned to her work diary to center her thoughts. She recognized that because she had no control over her position at the company, instead she would focus on the one thing that she did have control over — her work.
iDoneThis is about you, you the captain of your work. It’s not a task-specific or project-oriented tool in that it isn’t interested in micromanaging questions like: “How far did you get on Project X today?” or “What did you do for Team Y?” No, it asks, “What’d you get done today?”
This is a question that matters when the going gets tough. Your progress is what matters, not that of a particular endeavor. If you need to center yourself and regain control of a situation by focusing on work, iDoneThis allows you to see evidence of your control and progress. If you need to focus on your emotional and cognitive processes, iDoneThis provides an outlet for that as well.
4. Spot patterns in your reactions and behaviors. Identify your greatest strengths and weaknesses.
In The Progress Principle, Professor Amabile recommends asking yourself at the end of each month, “Do I notice trends over time in this journal? What are the implications?” She also describes how research participants would change their behavior based on recognizing unwarranted and unconstructive behavior patterns.
Patterns of behavior and trends are easy to spot with tools like iDoneThis. Because iDoneThis records all your entries in an easy-to-read monthly calendar, you can see at a glance the ebb and flow of your inner work life, day to day, week to week, month to month.
iDoneThis also provides a Word Cloud, a fun way to spot trends in your entries. The Word Cloud is populated with the most commonly used words in your entries. At the moment, my most commonly used words seem to be “worked”, “idonethis”, and “gym.” Sounds about right.
5. Find patience.
Professor Amabile adds a bonus benefit to her list of four, noting that keeping a work diary “can help to cultivate patience.“ Why? Because you can always look back and see how you persevered and survived much worse days.
It’s especially true if you’ve kept your work diary with iDoneThis. Every day that you make an entry, you’ll see a blue check mark appear over each calendar day. Over time, you’ll see from the number of blue checkmarks in your iDoneThis calendar that there are no unproductive days. Even on the worst days, you achieved accomplishments worthy of note. Don’t believe it? Click on that day and see for yourself. There’s always something in each of your past days to be proud of that contributed to the successes that came later on.
It’s an honor for us to have Professor Amabile’s recommendation. It’s always been our goal to create a tool that helps people find happiness, meaning, and motivation at work through celebrating their daily progress, however incremental.
Ginni Chen is Chief Happiness Officer at iDoneThis. When not striving for the happiness of iDoneThis members, she’s a rock climbing instructor, skier and collector of first edition books. You should follow her on Twitter at @GinniChen.