We’re well in the holiday party season, and whether you’re still looking for gifts for fellow productivity nerds or looking forward to some time off, here’s a tongue-in-cheek list of how iDoneThis can help cut down on holiday stress by keeping you organized from our chief-iest of chief happiness officers, Ginni.
1. Tell your office Secret Santa about what you really want with a subtle hint in your dones! “Call with Client X on projections for new deal, worked on spreadsheet reports, *****Puppy or iPad***** edit client presentation.”
2. Record gifts received so you don’t regift to them to the original sender. Shake-Weight givers get Snuggies. Snuggie gifters get decorative soaps, etc.
3. Track how long that fruitcake in the coffee room has remained untouched … by any living species.
4. Click “Feedback” and write, “holiday bonus holiday bonus holiday bonus holiday bonus” on your boss’s dones.
5. Write down how many cookies you ate so that months from now iDoneThis will remind you. Or don’t.
6. Record where you put away your holiday decorations. This year, you found them in a box labeled “Fishing Lures & Tackle.” Next year, you’ll know it’s in the box with all the golf balls.
7. Record how much cash you gave your doorman/dogwalker/butler/gardener as a year-end tip. Decide to make homemade jam as a present to everyone else.
8. Write down “made jam” in your iDoneThis. That way everyone will know you really made it and appreciate your gift more.
9. Go back and “Like” everyone’s dones from the year. Then you can “Like” the bowl of candy on their desk. Yum, yum!
10. Print out all your dones and make cut-out snowflakes. That way your boss will know how festiveand how hardworking you are.
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.
How Crashlytics Helps Mobile Developers Focus on the Things that Matter
Crashlytics provides real-time crash reporting for mobile apps, down to the exact line of code that caused the crash. We chatted with Rich Paret, Director of Engineering, about how Crashlytics is leading the pack at an interesting stage of mobile development.
Current mobile performance management options run thin due to a knowledge gap that arises after somebody downloads an app. Rich recounts, “When [our] founders talked to developers about what they were doing to manage the quality of the stuff once it hit the app store, we found out that some software companies were paying an engineer to read the reviews in the app store. Any review that was under 3 stars, they would try to reverse-engineer from the reviewer’s comment what was wrong with the app. That’s a crazy sort of situation to be in.”
With Crashlytics, developers no longer are blind to how their mobile apps are performing in the wild. It has been so successful at doing this that it powers many top apps like Yelp, OpenTable, HBO, PayPal, and Square, and is deployed on hundreds of millions of devices.
The Cambridge-based startup doubled in size in the last six months, and with the sudden growth, the Crashlytics team wanted to avoid the problem of what Rich calls “islands of information,” where some people know certain bits, while others don’t know what’s going on. So instead of daily standups which can get unwieldy, Rich thought iDoneThis would fit the bill for making sure that “everybody is aware of what’s going on, in a lightweight way.”
Experienced in thinking about, building, and managing great collaborative teams, Rich tells us about the challenges of having to pay coordination costs as groups scale up. “Investing in the right tools and taking advantage of things like iDoneThis allow me to pay a lower coordinating cost than I would otherwise have to at this stage.” In turn, Rich has observed “a general awareness of what’s going on, how things are going, that sometimes you don’t get at a startup that’s growing this fast.”
Rich emphasizes recruiting people who are both self-directed and collaborative and plugging in tools for them to work that way. “Then you could step back, I don’t need to be mediating every relationship, I don’t need to be scheduling a meeting to make sure everybody is talking. We use iDoneThis as a tool to encourage the behavior that I want to see and that I’ve hired for.”
Crashlytics is gung ho about building awesome solutions for developers, who “have a lot of pain and a lot of need,” to help them spend “more time on doing things that matter, like building new features, and differentiating their product in the marketplace.” iDoneThis similarly provides a way for Crashlytics to spend more time on doing things that matter, serving as “a good base layer, sort of substrate for a bunch of collaboration and communication that might not otherwise happen,” Rich comments. “It makes it easy to focus on the work but also stay in sync.”
We’re inspired by Crashlytics’ enthusiasm and proud to support their work helping mobile makers make awesome apps!
We’re super excited to welcome Tony Doran to the iDoneThis team!
Tony learned about us by landing on one of our popular guest blog posts on the science of motivation, discussing the significant impact emotion has on us at work and how managers misunderstand what motivates employees. The post resonated with Tony because he was in a stressful working situation himself, with management issues brought on by fast scaling-up of staff and office politics in an environment that wasn’t open to communication and collaboration.
Tony found that he dug the simplicity and elegance of the service we offered. We’re thrilled that he’ll be helping us out with web development, improving our web UI, and getting us just as excited as he is about data visualization.
Tony has a strong background in math, with a B.A. in math from Wheaton College, experience presenting at mathematics conferences, and a masters in math education from N.Y.U. Meanwhile, pitching in on casual web projects for friends and acquaintances eventually led to full-time donning of web developer and programmer hats at companies including Ordr.in, a TechStars company, and Acadaca, developing ecommerce platforms on Amazon EC2.
While he sustains his mathematical interests, Tony also keeps score in competitive ping-pong, plays numerous musical instruments, and adds up the traveling miles, including his most recent trip to Shanghai, where he was accosted by a monkey.
Follow Tony on Twitter @aedoran, and say hi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to Master the Art of To-Do Lists by Understanding Why They Fail
I rather used to hate to-do lists but found it odd that I still continued to use them. Was my half-hearted exercise in list-making just a futile exercise or productivity-flavored self-torture?
The to-do list is an inescapable, age-old productivity tool. It is our very human attempt to create order in our disorderly lives and an expression of our ability to impose self-control. Most of us, including to-do list haters, keep one, and so do 63% of professionals, according to a survey released by LinkedIn in May 2012.
Yet to-do lists seem particularly difficult to tame. At iDoneThis, we used to have a to-do task feature, and we discovered some interesting numbers demonstrating the common struggle to conquer our to-do lists:
41% of to-do items were never completed.
50% of completed to-do items are done within a day.
18% of completed to-do items are done within an hour.
10% of completed to-do items are done within a minute.
15% of dones started as to-do items.
In other words:
people aren’t that great at completing their to-do tasks;
tasks that do get completed are done quickly; and
tasks that are reported as done don’t correlate with planned to-do tasks.
The popular to-do list, then, appears to be rather ineffective, and it’s this paradox that may explain the spiky love/hate relationship that people have with to-do lists. Is the to-do list just a blunt instrument to wield in the quest for personal productivity and getting stuff done? Or does the weakness lie deeper in ourselves in our human struggle to impose order and control?
It seemed too facile to chalk up the poor figures to the simple failure of to-do lists and/or humankind, so we wanted to take a closer look into why people aren’t good at completing their to-do lists.
Problem 1: Too Many To-Do’s
First of all, most of us put way too much stuff on our lists. Social psychologist Roy Baumeister and journalist John Tierney, authors of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, report in their book that one person typically has at least 150 different tasks at a time, and that an executive’s to-do list for a single Monday could take more than a week to finish. Sounds like a set-up for failure.
Overstuffing our lists causes a continuous thrum of worry in our head, and this constant disquiet has negative effects in tackling the very tasks that are so worrying. As described in Willpower, psychologists Robert Emmons and Laura King discovered that the worry that results from having too many conflicting goals causes our productivity as well as our physical and mental health to suffer.
So the to-do list gives and takes. We have so much to tackle, and a to-do list helps us remember everything. At the same time, it’s a nagging tool that can induce unhealthy and disarming anxiety. Do the cons of a to-do list outweigh the pros if we’re not ultimately getting everything done?
Problem 2: How We’re Making To-Do Lists
Zooming into the true purpose of to-do list, we discover that a significant problem is that we’re just not good how to construct our to-do lists.
It’s not as simple as it looks. The to-do list is an external memory aid, or a reminder outside of your head, which nudges you about all the stuff you mean to do. Right, you knew that. What’s surprising about the research recounted in Willpower is that the to-do list’s badgering isn’t for you to actually get stuff done!
That intrusive pestering from uncompleted tasks and unmet goals hanging around in your mind is known as the Zeigarnik effect. The logical response to “cure” the Zeigarnik effect would be to finish the tasks and meet the goals. However, studies by Baumeister and E.J. Masicampo [pdf] found that the Zeigarnik effect was the unconscious “asking the conscious mind to make a plan”, as opposed to asking the conscious mind to get off its butt to complete some tasks.
In one of these studies, a group of students was instructed to think about an important final exam while another group was told to make a specific study plan with details of what they would do, where, and when. (Nobody actually studied during the experiment.) When given word fragments to complete, the students who had been told merely to think about the upcoming test filled in exam-related words, while the study-plan group did not. Even though the planners had, in effect, spent more time thinking about their task, with no progress made on the task itself, as Baumeister and Tierney explain, “their minds had apparently been cleared by the act of writing down a plan.”
It turns out to-do lists aren’t as useful when you conceive them as just a string tied around your finger. Many of us aren’t any good at formulating the tasks on the list, failing to think through steps and plans, so that when we’re faced with too many tasks and too few suggestions on how to proceed, we don’t complete tasks. Remember that the to-do list string around your finger is for you to make better plans using the list.
Problem 3: We Give Ourselves Too Much Time
It makes sense, then, that our stats show that when people did complete tasks, they were done quickly. When goals are broken out into actionable steps, it takes less effort, energy, and time to cross those smaller tasks off the list.
Add to our lack of planning a tendency to be lenient on ourselves about deadlines, up goes the chances that we’ll never finish a task. As many fellow procrastinators know, the more time you give yourself to finish something, the less likely it is that you will finish in that timeframe. For example, behavioral economist Dan Ariely [pdf] found that students who had longer to finish three papers performed worse than those who had externally-imposed or self-imposed deadlines that were evenly spaced and earlier.
Problem 4: The Future is Full of Unknowns, Interruptions, and Change
Only 15% of our members’ dones started out as to-do’s. That’s a staggeringly small correlation.
Dones don’t match up with to-do tasks when we’re not great at formulating to-do list tasks to begin with. If, as discussed above, we don’t take the time to plan out specific actions for general goals or tasks, but do take some forward steps, those steps won’t correlate with the original task. You can’t sort-of check off a task as done.
Plus, we can’t predict the many interruptions that happen in our day. The LinkedIn survey reported that the most common reason for failure to get through a to-do list was unplanned tasks, such as unscheduled calls, e-mails, and meetings. Things pop up in our lives, in and out of the office, little and big fires to be put out — the kids had to be taken to school when they missed the bus; the deal fell through; this coworker is never going to stop talking; same coworker screwed up the budget and now I have to fix it; this internet is so much more interesting than tasks A through Z right now.
Sometimes the to-do list just can’t handle the changes that crop up because we can’t tell the future.
Why we got rid of our to-do feature
We tried to incorporate a to-do feature because people told us they wanted to plan their day. We let the feature go, because the main focus of our service here at iDoneThis is dones and how motivating, revealing, and useful recording those dones are.
We saw how we weren’t in the business (at least not yet) of helping people change their initial behavior, leading them to better construct their to-do lists, put less items on them, give themselves shorter deadlines, or give them the power of a crystal ball.
But we still believe that to-do lists are helpful and that dones help balance out the to-do list’s problems and shortcomings. To-do’s and dones are two sides of the same productivity coin.
That said, here are some ways to improve your to-do list making:
Make more specific, actionable plans. Make it easier for you to get to done by spending some time thinking about what that journey will look like. If I am reminded by my list to do some general task like “write blog post” instead of something specific like “research and brainstorm some ideas for blog post about to-do lists”, I’ll be much less likely to reach the intended goal.
Use implementation intentions in your planning. An implementation intention is a planning strategy that helps automate a desired action. You plan out an if-then process, where you use a certain situation to lead to a desired response. Setting out in advance some specifics of when and where forms the “if-component” of the implementation intention, and the specifics of how forms the “then-component.” In effect, you’re the director in the play of your life, giving the cue to act a certain way.
Give yourself earlier deadlines. Dan Ariely found in his study that even when earlier deadlines were self-imposed, students performed better than those who had later deadlines.
Prioritize. Look at those 150 tasks you have to do and pick the most important, pressing or interesting ones to work on, big and small. It’s easier to focus on 5 things and get them out of the way than running away from a towering mountain of DO THIS NOW!
Ease up and pat yourself on the back. Since our minds can get overloaded to the point of distraction, forgive yourself for not getting to 150 tasks. Be realistic about what you can do in a day.
“The main thing that marks the Developer is that they are comfortable making forward progress even in the midst of uncertainty. Even in the midst of their work they are perpetually scanning the horizon for new insights, new opportunities, and new ways of approaching their work.”—
Todd Henry of The Accidental Creative breaks down three different productivity types - the Driver, the Drifter, and the Developer.
Drivers are motivated by the task at hand. They want to get stuff done, nose to the grindstone.
Drifters are multitaskers of life, diffusing their focus on many different things.
The Developer involves a balancing act of perspective, fostering focus while allowing drifting and dreaming.
Whatever productivity type you tend to be, try to actively go into Developer Mode and take some time to see both the forest and the trees.
Justin Jackson reminds us that desks are workstations. Take your thinking, procrastinating, eating, and even sitting elsewhere.
It’s common wisdom that you should keep your working space and sleeping space separate for the sake of the quality of your sleep. But it’s equally important to think about the quality of the time you spend working.
If you can’t work or are not doing any work, step away from the desk!
“[I]n many ways, time is a much more valuable resource than money. You can earn large profits and save them for use years later. However, once time is gone, it will never come back.”—Robert C. Pozen, Harvard Business School professor and author of Extreme Productivity, on the importance of time management and working smarter, not harder, because time is an irreplaceable resource.
Peter Thiel’s Unorthodox Management Philosophy of Extreme Focus
“What are your top five priorities for this week?” “What are the top three objectives and key results you’re using to measure how you’re doing for the quarter?”
These are questions that get thrown around by managers at work to help their teams prioritize and focus on achieving the most important accomplishments.
In Peter Thiel’s view, this doesn’t go far enough. As the founder of PayPal, Thiel developed an unorthodox, extreme philosophy on focus and prioritization. Instead of focusing on five things, or three things, the magic number is one. You only focus on one singular thing.
As PayPal executive Keith Rabois recalls, Thiel “would refuse to discuss virtually anything else with you except what was currently assigned as your #1 initiative.” Every employee, for instance, had to identify their “single most valuable contribution to the company” on PayPal’s 2001 annual review forms.
Extreme focus worked, because Thiel gave it teeth. With distractions cleared away, Thiel empowered every person in the company to pursue their only priority “with extreme dispatch and vigor.” Giving each individual in the organization a singular focus drives people to work on only those goals that will help achieve true excellence.
As Rabois explains:
The most important benefit of this approach is that it impels the organization to solve the challenges with the highest impact. Without this discipline, there is a consistent tendency of employees to address the easier to conquer, albeit less valuable, imperatives. As a specific example, if you have 3 priorities and the most difficult one lacks a clear solution, most people will gravitate towards the 2d order task with a clearer path to an answer.
As a result, the organization collectively performs at a B+ or A- level, but misses many of the opportunities for a step-function in value creation.
To Thiel, if you allow yourself to have more than one focus, you’ve already blinked.You’ve determined that mediocrity is an acceptable outcome. With Thiel’s singular focus philosophy, the solutions may not be clearer but the paths to excellence and value are.
Walter Chen is co-founder of iDoneThis, an ex-lawyer, and an amateur Starcraft player. You can follow his tweets at @smalter.