“More satisfied and engaged employees perform better. In a Towers Watson study of some 90,000 employees across eighteen countries, companies with the most engaged employees reported a 19 percent increase in operating income, and a 28 percent growth in earnings per share. Companies whose employees had the lowest level of engagement had a 32 percent decline in operating income, and an 11 percent drop in earnings.”—
Tony Schwartz, "Transforming the Way We Work," HBR
Investing in your employees’ happiness feeds the company’s bottom line. What do you do in your workplace to engage and satisfy employees?
James Chin is a professional poker player living in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from The University of Texas.
As a professional poker player, creating and maintaining flow is of great importance. It’s often the difference between a winning hand and losing your shirt.
What is flow? To me, it’s the feeling of being perfectly adapted to my environment. My working environment is the poker table. Here’s how I do it.
Genuine study of craft. Every situation I encounter at the poker table, I’ve thought through before in my head.
Reading poker books, watching poker videos, analyzing hands away from the table, and playing many hands while at the table with a deliberate thought process give me confidence that I know what the correct play is.
From genuine study comes genuine confidence.
Structure. I make sure that I practice good bankroll management — only playing a certain level of stakes if I have a minimum number of buyins for that stakes such that risk of total ruin is vanishingly small — so that the costs of my poker decisions aren’t so high that they cause me to make risk-averse and sub-optimal plays rather than the plays I know are correct for the situation.
Creating flow feels relatively simple once I have the correct form down and the freedom from fear to use that form.
Mantra. Maintaining flow is still another matter. Poker is similar to life in that even if I make the correct decision, at times, the result will still be negative due to factors outside of my control.
At times like these, it’s easy to slip into a sub-optimal thought process where I dwell on what could have been instead of staying present in the moment and continuing to make the best decision for hands I’m currently involved in.
What helps in these instances is having a mantra that centers me back on the action. It may sound silly, but one mantra that’s been effective for me is a lyric from the film Before Sunset: “Let me sing you a waltz.”
Whenever I think about that scene and that song, I’m immediately flooded with a sense of calm. And just through the swingy nature of the song, I internalize the feeling that swings (in life, in poker) are natural and not something to dwell on.
How do you create and maintain flow?
Study the structure of your field and practice so that you’re confident you know the fundamentals intimately, make sure the cost of failure isn’t so high that it inhibits you from aiming for the lines, and be present, even in the face of difficulty.
Work is what we do by the hour. It begins and, if possible, we do it for money. Welding car bodies on an assembly line is work; washing dishes, computing taxes, walking the rounds in a psychiatric ward, picking asparagus—these are work. Labor, on the other hand, sets its own pace. We may get paid for it, but it’s harder to quantify… Writing a poem, raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms — these are labors.
Work is an intended activity that is accomplished through the will. A labor can be intended but only to the extent of doing the groundwork, or of not doing things that would clearly prevent the labor. Beyond that, labor has its own schedule.
There is no technology, no time-saving device that can alter the rhythms of creative labor. When the worth of labor is expressed in terms of exchange value, therefore, creativity is automatically devalued every time there is an advance in the technology of work.
The wonder of Silicon Valley has been its rich history of producing incredibly capital efficient companies operating at massive scale. No doubt part of that achievement lies in the capital efficiency of software engineering itself where technology gives incredible leverage to create and disrupt established industries. Nevertheless, as a company scales, individual engineers need to work together in concert which results in the industry-agnostic problem of people management.
Unique from other industries, Silicon Valley’s natural inclination is not simply to find a solution to people management, it’s to create a scalable management model. Of course, technology is the natural place to turn.
During Google’s growth stage, Larry Schwimmer, an early software engineer, stumbled upon a solution deceptively simple, but one that persists to this day at Google and has spread throughout the Valley. In his system called Snippets, employees receive a weekly email asking them to write down 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.
A number of the top Silicon Valley startups have similar processes. At Facebook, they have a system called Colbert where weekly check-ins are logged. Square employees, for example, send weekly reports directly to the COO Keith Rabois. The elite engineering shop Palantir requires a weekly email to managers detailing what got done last week and what’s planned for the upcoming week.
The Snippets process at any scale is a compelling productivity solution, and companies of all sizes have adopted it — some, like SV Angel, rich in Google DNA, do daily snippets. The process forces employees to reflect and to jot out a forward-looking plan for getting stuff done, all while requiring a minimal disruption in the employee’s actual work.
Setting aside time on a daily or weekly basis to reflect on the day is a powerful productivity hack. In The Progress Principle, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer showed the counterintuitive conclusion that progress toward a meaningful goal is the #1 motivator for employees at work, not financial motivation or downward pressure. Professor Amabile prescribes 5 minutes per day of reflection, religiously protected by bosses, centered around the progress and the setbacks of the day. Simply put, employees connected to their work and its progress are happier and more productive.
On the flip side, Snippets works because it has a minimal disruption in employee flow because it works asynchronously and without facetime. It allows for a maker schedule — large blocks of time dedicated to concentrated progress on work — rather than breaking up an engineer’s day into a manager’s schedule to suit a manager’s need to manage. At Palantir, they do email snippets because they have a very strong culture against meetings. In addition, email as an interface avoids the issues with, for instance, CRMs, where employees spend valuable time logging into a system and entering highly structured information or they don’t use it at all.
Google turned periodic email updates as a process into a scalable management solution, leveraging technology, through automation, data storage and data retrieval. An individual’s Snippets are transparent across the organization and are linked to an individual’s internal resume in its MOMA system which connects individual employees to the work of team members and others within the company. It can kill political squabbles, the core problem of people management, by providing a record of what’s been done.
Put differently, Snippets is a management process that scales because transparency means that individual engineers can manage themselves and individual engineers can manage each other without having to go through a middleman. It’s the disruptive power of peer-to-peer for management centered around atomic units of work.
Silicon Valley’s focus of work around the work itself is still an ongoing competitive advantage. Compare it to the East Coast and you’ll see a stark contrast in the importance of dress and facetime at the office. Being work-centric means focusing manically on how to formulate process to eliminate all the cruft. Most engineers at Google, Zynga, Palantir, Square, etc. do often end up finding the process of Snippets and OKRs to be annoying and unnecessary — at the same time, many of them admit that they were their most productive when they closely tracked their Snippets and OKRs (objectives and key results) and that much of the autonomy and freedom that’s characteristic of top software engineering shops in the Valley could be attributed to Snippets doing its work of people management secretly, in silence.
I’m often surprised by how often I meet VCs/investors who seem to express interest in hearing my personal story of how I ended up going from being a math nerd to working as a big firm corporate lawyer to running a startup. I remember telling Brad Burnham at Union Square Ventures something self-deprecating — like, “Oh it’s boring” — in an attempt to move the conversation away from questions I imagined he was asking merely as a courtesy, but in that moment and moments like it, I forget — I am a young guy living the dream.
I’m reminded of Randy Pausch’s lecture on achieving your childhood dreams and enabling the childhood dreams of others as two of the best things in life.
My dad is a math professor. He loves to do math, but he also drips with pride at his students’ accomplishments. I found out that he recently offered his own summer salary to support his graduate student. VCs exist to make money, but they share a similar, important institutional role — to put capital in the pockets of the next generation of entrepreneurs. One generation enabling the childhood dreams of the next is the process of technological and intellectual advancement.
To be able to relate to a professor, no doubt you have to show resourcefulness and tenacity in problem solving. My dad refused to give partial credit to students who left his exams early. He taught me that if I finished an exam early, I should do the entire exam again on the back of the test without looking at my work. If a student had shown up before at office hours, she’d get the benefit of the doubt.
But most important of all, I think — be pure of heart. For example, there’s no worse student than the one who asks, “Is this going to be on the exam?” Intrinsic motivation manifests an effervescence that’s a gravitational force to investors, potential hires, and customers and users. It makes it easy to speak freely and connect with others with an open heart, and it transforms a pitch into the most natural thing in the world.
Wanting to report what you’ve gotten done is a perfectly natural inclination. Before today, we had a rudimentary CSV export file and the option to copy and paste, but no doubt, iDoneThis users deserve better.
Click and drag on the calendar to highlight multiple days’ worth of accomplishments. Where the yellow circle is in the image above, you’ll see 3 icons. Plain text, PDF, and email.
The plain text export will make it much easier to copy and paste your dones, the PDF button will give you a nice report of what you’ve gotten done, and the email icon will let you send off your accomplishments to anyone you choose.
Rashik Parmar, President of IBM's Academy of Tech, on Work and Dones
Every company needs to re-invent it self regularly. Without guiding principles that are more than financially motivated, they will struggle with the transformation to capture new value.
- Rashik Parmar
We took time to catch up with Rashik Parmar, the President of IBM’s Academy of Technology. From across the pond, he shares with us his greatest Done from 2011, his work process, and the future of review processes in large corporations.
Rashik, tell us about yourself in three sentences. What do you do and why do you do it? What do you love about your job?
I have worked for IBM for 28 years and am currently the President IBM Academy of Technology. My passion is applying technology to solve real world problems. In my current role, I lead over 5,000 people around the world and hopefully inspire a wide range of new technology solutions.
Tell us about PBCs at IBM. What are they, what purpose do they serve? Where do you think the annual review process in large corporations is headed? Will they ever die out?
We call them Personal Business Commitments. I think everyone needs a personal set of values and goals that are meaningful and motivational. Some of the goals need to align with the corporation - otherwise you need a new job! I think that corporations that live by a set of values and have clear goals that are social, economic and environmental will succeed. IBM is in a good place here. The Smarter Planet Agenda along with the values provide an enduring foundation.
Every company needs to re-invent itself regularly. Without guiding principles that are more than financially motivated, they will struggle with the transformation to capture new value.
Routine is important for a technical person such as yourself. Tell us, what’s the first thing that you do when you arrive at the office? Before you leave?
I maintain various lists which track the next action against all the “open projects”. I skim through those and decide what I want to get done today. I pick a realistic set, so that I can overachieve. I then go through my mail (very quickly as per GTD) and see if anything else needs to be added to the list. Finally, I review my diary and get to work.
You’ve been an active user of ours for a while now. How and why do you use iDoneThis?
It is great to spend a few minutes to reflect on what I have achieved, and it is fantastic to have one place to document that. Then, on a quarterly basis, I review what I to have hoped to achieved and re-plan my long term goals. I am a strong believer/user of the GTD method from David Allen.
What was your greatest accomplishment, or “done” if you will, from 2011? What are your goals for 2012 and how will you accomplish them?
Tough question! For 2011, my greatest Done was defining 5 models for how technology can and is disrupting industries and using these as an innovation technique with clients.
For 2012, I want to bring the vision for the Academy to life. To accomplish this, I’m developing a complex programme of work based on some specific themes including: Technology, Client Innovation, Affiliate Engagement, IBM Brand/Strategic Alignment, Geographic Alignment.
Maybe we’ll visit you in the UK someday. Just in case, how do you take your coffee?
I prefer black coffee - at most a couple of times a day. I also like “fruity teas” - the flavours help to calm the stresses of daily challenges.
“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”
“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me … they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone …. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”
"Getting up every morning and looking into the mirror, asking myself: ‘Do I like what I am doing?” After every full day, I do the same in the evening. Whilst I write my next day’s to do list, I reflect on my achievements. And by doing this, I also try to listen as good as I can how much fun and fulfillment I have gotten. If there are too many days in a row that I can’t answer with a loud ‘Yes’, something is up – I am not happy. And I aim to change things around sharply. Very sharply sometimes." - Steve Jobs (Thanks to our blog reader, M. Kelley, who shared this excellent quote with us!)
“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out the plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.” - Victor Hugo
“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” – Bruce Lee
“Schedule your time well. When I know what I am doing from hour to hour I get more done. Write it all in the day’s calendar, what you want to accomplish and in what time frame.” - Gwyneth Paltrow
Dictionary Evangelist and founder of Wordnik.com, Erin McKean spreads the good word about words. Former editor in chief for American Dictionaries at Oxford University Press and editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary, 2E, Erin also shared her quest to redefine the dictionary itself in a 2007 TED talk.
That redefined dictionary is Wordnik.com. Erin explains, "What we’re really trying to do is map the whole language. We really want to transform the way people relate to meaning. We want to give you a 360-degree view of what that word does.”
We spoke with Erin about her passion-driven career and running a start-up. Plus, we get her expert opinion on iDoneThis’s name.
Your career has clearly been shaped by your passion for words and lexicography. What motivated you to actually work within these fields?
It just felt like a really compelling thing to do. The funny thing is, my hobby is sewing but I have absolutely no desire to do it professionally in any way. I just want to sew for myself. I think that’s probably the difference — how compelled you feel to share what you like with other people.
Did you already have a clear idea of what you wanted to build with Wordnik or was the result more organic?
A little bit of both, because at the beginning we weren’t sure that making this map was going to be even possible given how big English is. But we knew that making a dictionary was not going to be enough.
So Wordnik captures how language evolves with technology.
Yeah, that’s a lot of fun. Because the map that we make changes as people use it. You look up something that we’ve never seen before — we add that to the map, even if there’s no data there. It’s like we pencil it in waiting for the meaning to arrive.
Lexicographers are always playing catch-up. We’re always chasing the language. We don’t produce the language, we report the language so we’re always a step behind, but I’m hoping to make that a baby-step behind and not like a seven-league-boot-step behind.
How has working on Wordnik been different than working on a print dictionary?
I love working with software engineers. The ingenuity and the pride they have in making the impossible possible, not just barreling through but doing it as elegantly as possible.
I’m envious in a way, because their words actually make things. So I’ve been trying to pick up a little bit of coding as well because that seems to me like the ultimate interesting words.
Right, because coding is a language too.
Yeah! And it’s much more regular. It has to be a certain shape. It’s like Shakespearean plays. It has to be in iambic pentameter or else it’s not Shakespearean.
Have your work habits changed since becoming a founder of a start-up?
When I first started working on dictionaries, the joke was that every day was like Sesame Street, like today is sponsored by the letter P. You’d spend a lot of time on one letter. But now as a founder, my job is mostly to do whatever needs most doing that day.
You’ve also found time to write a novel.
I’m kind of an accidental novelist. Before I worked on The Secret Life of Dresses, I really didn’t ever intend to write one. Or if I did, it was going to be science fiction and full of angry robots. But I’m really happy that I did and it was a really tremendous experience, kind of like running a marathon.
I’m trying to get deep into another one. I’m trying to set aside time for writing. It used to be that I could fit in writing into the empty spaces of the day, but startups don’t really leave that much time. Unfortunately, it’s a little bit of a zero sum game.
How does iDoneThis fit into that schedule?
It’s nice to have iDoneThis which is so relatively unstructured that I can put down anything. It’s much more reporty. Even though I love some to-do list programs, by the time I check the little tick-box, the task has changed so much that it bears very little resemblance to what I originally said needed to be done. So what I’m checking off doesn’t feel like the real thing.
I tend to be really playful with it. I’m really writing to myself. So instead of writing “answered e-mail”, I tend to write things like “email email email email email email” to kind convey how much email I was actually answering.
I make sure that I record things that wouldn’t normally be in my to-do list, like if I get a funny text from my son who’s 11, or if I have a particularly good run that day I try and note it down, ‘cause I don’t want to have a separate program where I’m like, here are nice things that my child did and here’s my workout log.
As someone whose work focuses on words and language, what do you think about the name of iDoneThis?
Oh, I actually like iDoneThis as the name for the product! I think it’s very lighthearted and “iDidThis” sounds — it’s just not as fun. For some reason “done” sounds more complete. Like you could do something and have it still not be done. And even something that you “did” could still not be done. But when you’ve done something, it is over. I think it’s memorable and that’s an important point.
We host our blog on Tumblr, and it’s our third-largest source of social media traffic after Twitter and Facebook. I asked my friends at Fitocracy for their stats (their blog is on Tumblr, too) and they reported that Tumblr was fourth after Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, and it’s high-volume traffic as Fitocracy is doing several million pageviews monthly. For both of us, it’s in the top 10 of all sources of referral traffic.
With Tumblr, we’re talking about an enormous community — one of the largest on the Internet (rank 24 in the US according to Alexa). Using Tumblr, we not only get a publishing platform, with it comes a huge source of persistent, repeatable traffic and signups for free.
That’s why Paul Stamatiou’s recent post, Startups: Don’t Host Your Blog on Tumblr, came off as missing the boat on what’s really important in a company blog. It took a tech-centric approach (uptime, technical substitutes) to a question that’s really about user/customer acquisition and engagement. Simply put, not hosting something, whether it be a company blog or a tumblelog, on Tumblr amounts to nothing more than a missed opportunity to reach internet scale.
In elementary school, I never showed my work on homework. I tried to impress the teacher by going straight to the right answer. On occasion — it’s embarrassing — I’d even erase my work and write the answer on top.
When I got to college, the math problems were harder. I showed my work for my own benefit, because it helped me organize and analyze my thoughts. I wasn’t always getting right answers these days. Showing my work helped me find where I went wrong and learn from my mistakes.
In law school, I learned that there are no right or wrong answers, argumentation is all there is. To make an argument is to show your work and the logical chain you followed to reach your conclusion.
The federal judge I worked for after law school taught me the importance of process and giving the litigants their day in court. Law gets its legitimacy from reason, not from right and wrong answers. Showing your work is the court’s work.
As a startup guy, I show my work for all of the reasons above and because it represents the opportunity to show the world who we are in what we get done.
“Getting up every morning and looking into the mirror, asking myself: ‘Do I like what I am doing?’ After every full day, I do the same in the evening. Whilst I write my next day’s to do list, I reflect on my achievements. And by doing this, I also try to listen as good as I can how much fun and fulfillment I have gotten. If there are too many days in a row that I can’t answer with a loud ‘Yes’, something is up – I am not happy. And I aim to change things around sharply. Very sharply sometimes.”—Steve Jobs via leostartsup (h/t to our blog reader, M. Kelley, who shared this excellent quote with us!)
Power Ranger to Beauty Entrepreneur: Our Interview with Jennifer Yen
We recently were lucky enough to Skype with Jennifer Yen, Founder of pūr~lisse, a line of skin products for sensitive skin. We love Jennifer for her feisty spirit. Not only is she a female entrepreneur, but she also used to be a Power Ranger! Check out our interview of her below as she shares her story and stress tips.
Jennifer, you have such an amazing story! You followed your heart to LA to be an actress for Power Rangers. Tell us how you went from Power Ranger to Entrepreneur.
It was a long time coming! My family moved to Alabama from Taiwan when I was five and opened a restaurant, so entrepreneurship and hard work was natural to me. I always wanted to be an actress, so when I moved to LA, my parents told me, “If you want something, you focus and you work for it.”
I loved acting — but it was not glamorous. Ultimately, the heavy makeup gave me terrible acne and tolled my self-confidence. Looking to fix my own problem, I turned to my grandmother’s time-tested skin remedies. This is how pūr~lisse came to be.
Sometimes it seems that acting is a required skillset for entrepreneurs. Did your career in acting prepare you for entrepreneurship?
Yes, it prepared me to take rejection. I had more rejections than successes in acting. This is the same for business. It taught me to not take things personally.
Jennifer, we know that it can’t be easy. What are the greatest challenges that you face as a female entrepreneur?
It’s no secret that business is a male-dominated industry. But as a woman in the 21st century, it’s your responsibility to not see a glass ceiling. It’s what you say in substance and the context in which you deliver your message that gives you credibility. Yet, I have a distinct advantage as a woman in the beauty industry. But as my mom says, “You can’t eat your looks. A pretty face won’t feed you.”
Tell us, what role does iDoneThis play in your daily life?
I love iDoneThis because it’s very simple and straight forward. Even if it’s one sentence, it can trigger a memory. If I don’t write that down, ten out of ten times, I won’t remember what I did today. When it comes to more in-depth journaling, I write in Word documents. I keep my emotions there.
Stress can be extremely detrimental to your health and appearance. How do you manage stress with your busy lifestyle?
Oh God. I believe in a really healthy diet. I live it. I only eat fish, no meat. Most of my diet is plant-based. I surround myself with good, humorous friends. I try to do some sort of exercise or stretching everyday, like yoga. I also like walks in nature, massages and meditation.
Every milestone is an opportunity to attract attention to your startup because you have a piece of “news” — a new piece of noteworthy information that no one else but you has.
When you have something to announce, conventional wisdom says to go to the press and blogs with your story because they (1) have distribution and (2) are expert in crafting a story. In the past, we’ve offered nuggets of news to journalists as exclusives, and we’ve gotten written up by Betabeat and The Next Web this way.
However, we’ve recently experimented with writing our own story on our own blog, telling a narrative that’s personal and shows how we work behind the scenes, harnessing the power of social news for distribution — and that has resulted in our all-time one-day high for traffic and 1,000+ signups, more than double the signups resulting from our press piece. Through that experience, we’ve learned the importance of writing your own story and turning transparency and narrative into a competitive advantage.
The Old Way
Here’s the short email I sent to Courtney Boyd Myers at The Next Web when we passed 200,000 daily dones. She had written about us once before, and we had a great experience with that early press coverage.
Hey Courtney, we’ve crossed a significant milestone here at iDoneThis and I wanted to give you an exclusive on it because you kicked things off for us with your article back in January.
Our users have gotten 200,000 things done using iDoneThis.
I’d love to talk with you about what people have gotten done. One person used iDoneThis to finish his Ph.D. My co-founder used iDoneThis to go from the couch to finishing Tough Mudder. Another guy even used iDoneThis to propose to his girlfriend.
Let me know if you’re interested in writing about us!
We got 400+ signups from the article, some traffic, social media buzz, and pats on the back from friends.
Writing Our Own Story
When we hit 500,000 daily dones, we decided to do something a little different. In addition to getting press coverage about how we hit 500,000 daily dones, we wrote our own story on our blog that gave a behind-the-scenes look on the year leading up to hitting our big milestone.
The Next Web story got around 1,000 people to click through, producing over 400 signups. Our blog post got 3,000+ people to click through, resulting in just over 1,000 signups.
Lacking a distribution network for our post, we turned to Hacker News. Social news sites like Hacker News are a democratic force, giving everyone an equal say, 1 upvote, in determining the placement of an article.
That’s not to say that social news is a meritocracy. Most people I know who have turned getting to the top of HN into a repeatable process use an email list to request upvotes whenever they post a piece in order to get the requisite momentum to reach the top. Nevertheless, HN is still one person, one vote, instead of one person positioned as a gatekeeper, as in the press. Plus, quality is a big determinant in an article’s staying power once it’s placed near the top of the main page.
Press is obviously press-centric, curated by editors, whereas social news is centered around the individual reader. When you get written up in the press, you build a relationship with the press — for instance, getting to know the journalist who wrote about you — and you’re more likely to get written up by that journalist and publication again.
When you write your own story, you build a relationship with the readers themselves. They follow you on Twitter and “like” you on Facebook, creating subscriptions, essentially. Through these channels, you can reach them again, leveraging your HN email list into a Twitter and Facebook following or, put differently, your own distribution network.
Both create a repeatable process for driving traffic to your site, but the latter is more reliable and the content it demands is more personal and, I think, compelling. Ultimately, “news” most often refers to funding announcements, new feature releases and the like — not, for instance, a description about the clever way that you solved an interesting problem. Writing your own story is your opportunity to establish your MVP (Minimum Viable Personality), show the world who you are, and make that your competitive advantage.
Ever wondered whether or not list-making is for you? Well, The Morgan Library and Museum's current exhibit features lists - “lists of bills to pay, things undone, failings in oneself and others; lists of people to call, stuff to buy, errands to be accomplished” - from the most ordinary of business owners to the artistic and crazy Picasso.
The more you study the Morgan exhibition, the more you realize that lists are everywhere, and that list making is an essential human activity — a way not just of keeping track but also of imposing order on what would otherwise be chaos. Your address book, a restaurant menu, the instructions on the MetroCard machine, prescription-drug ads spelling out possible side effects: they’re all lists.
List-making is for everyone. Inch by inch, we’ll help you track your progress to greatness. Who knows, maybe your iDoneThis calendar will be in a museum one day!
"iDoneThis keeps me honest." - Our Interview of Daniel Pink
Here at iDoneThis, we are huge fans of Daniel Pink, author of #1 New York Times bestseller, Drive. We admire his thought leadership on the changing world of work and are so excited that he records his daily accomplishments with iDoneThis. Below, we interviewed Dan on the important stuff - why he does what he does and how he gets stuff done.
Dan, we know that you are a best-selling author. But forget that. In three sentences tell us what you do and why you do it.
I’m a writer. Why? In part because I could never hit a curveball — and in part because when I get it right, which is rare, it’s the most exhilarating feeling in the world.
We’re just curious - why are you fascinated with what motivates people and the way that we work?
Work, I’ve realized, is an amazing topic to explore — psychology, economics, anthropology, and a few scoops of biology blended into a ginormous, fascinating smoothie. Think about it: Most of us spend over half of our waking hours at work. That makes it a powerful lens for examining who we are and where we’re going.
We love your video on the two questions that can change your life. So, Dan, what’s your sentence? Were you better today than yesterday?
1. He wrote books that helped people see the world a little more clearly and live their lives a little more fully.
2. Unfortunately, no.
What do you predict will be the most radical change in the enterprise organization within the next 10 years?
I think it’s already occurred: Today, talented people need organizations less than organizations need talented people. In the next decade, that reality will only deepen and intensify.
What is your process for writing? What do you do when you hit writer’s block?
When I’m on a deadline, I write in the morning — and try to turn off my email and phone the entire time. Most days, I give myself a word count — and won’t do anything else until I’ve hit my number. As for writer’s block, that’s not my problem. My problem is getting the momentum to sit down every day and write.
We love that you are a fan of us! How and why do you use iDoneThis?
I use it to get a sense of whether I’m making progress each day. Simply “feeling” like I’ve been getting things done can be a form of self-delusion. iDoneThis keeps me honest.
Fun fact that has never been published about you: Ready, GO!
In fifth grade, I wrote and performed a song for my entire elementary school. The song was about — here comes the revelation — Pete Rose.
We probably didn’t need scientists to actually come up with a figure (80% failure rate!) to know that New Year’s resolutions don’t stick around. The key to change is not making some grand declaration of an ideal, that this is the year you’re going to lose x number of pounds, stop procrastinating, find Princess Charming, or any of these popular resolutions. Resolutions are often too abstract or unrealistic that they’re almost easy to ignore.
Instead, build a habit! Forming habits slowly can be much more effective. You can start with baby steps, like drinking water instead of soda, attaining small successes and rewards that will build up until voila, habit! The conscious creation of a habit also allows you to experiment to see what works best for you without feeling like you’ve failed the overall intention of, say, daily exercise if you find that running that extra quarter mile just isn’t for you.
The ever-helpful Zen Habits has great tips on building habits: make it enjoyable, commit to only one habit at a time, and harness the power of a social network. Make that habit merrier with more company and yourself more motivated by others’ experiences.
Make a habit for the New Year with iDoneThis! Tell us your New Year’s Habit and we’ll match you up with people building similar habits. We’ll keep you on track with a nightly email reminder. Just reply with what you did. The next morning, you’ll get an email with what your team did to keep that habit-flame burning, and you’ll be on your way to long term-change slowly but surely.
For lawyers who shudder at the very mention of the word “billable”, timekeeping ranges the negative spectrum from the worst chore to the bane of lawyerly existence. The best way to keep track of your time is contemporaneous entries for accuracy’s sake, but that’s just not how a lot of people work. Timekeeping gets in the way, breaking any work flow mojo. It just isn’t a priority given the “actual” work to be done, and it’s an unnatural task for human beings who are more human than robot.
Many lawyers resort to guesstimation, or have to don their Sherlock caps to search for clues among their notes, papers, and e-mails to reconstruct their days. This method actually takes more time and results in “time leaks,” where time flies away never to be recaptured. The time spent on timekeeping itself is lost to the land of unbillable.
Lawyers use a variety of methods, from handwritten notes, spreadsheets, timers, and other manual data entry. Perhaps there is a magical Mary Poppins fix to this dreary chore? There’s probably, yes, an app for it, some technological doodad that results in less hassle and more accuracy. Think about it. You can lock your car door with your phone. We have probably surpassed the age of using spreadsheets and paper notes or that time- clocking dinosaur from the Flintstones.
Capture that Time!
Here are a couple applications and programs that lawyers (and freelancers and contractors!) can use to stop time leaks and concentrate on tasks in the land of the billable. Many are passive systems, which means that you don’t have to fuss about with entries or keeping track of yourself, or they make those tasks much easier.
Use idonethis (web or app) for a gentle daily nudge prompting you to log what you got done every day. You can set the time you receive your nudge, refer to old entries, and export your data to use as a CSV file or print.
Chrometaruns on your computer (available for Windows & Mac), keeping Big Brotherly track of what you’re up to. It has privacy controls plus a timer for logging any time spent away from your computer.
Time Master is an app that can keep single or multiple timers running, even when you’re not running the app.
Solo practitioners and small firms may be interested in Clio or Time59, which are web-based and accessible across devices.
Sure, it’s hard to change your timekeeping behavior, but it may be worth giving one of these a whirl for a trial period to see if you gain more time (and time = $). Often, a law firm will dictate a timekeeping system, but you can supplement whatever is already in place.
Not interested in a techie fix? Make a daily-as-possible habit, block your times more consciously, get a fancy notebook that will make timekeeping feel like a very-important-person task, or set aside a few minutes to go over your time along with your daily cup o’ caffeine.
"Very often when we talk about the skill of ‘productivity’ what we are really talking about is ‘self-control’ — the disciplined ability to choose to do one thing at the cost of not doing another (perhaps more tempting thing)."
As the nature of work changes to more flexible design, we must learn when not to exercise our freedom.
Ameliorating the Human Condition with iDoneThis Memory
A few months ago, we started to occasionally send your old daily dones to you as a reminder of just how much progress you’d made. Some of you told us that you loved it. For you, we made iDoneThis Memory.
Every morning, we’ll email you and remind you what you did on that day either 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year ago. To turn it on, just go your Email Settings and check the box which reads, “Send me memories”.
In the words of the 20th century Italian poet Cesare Pavese — “The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten.” Thanks to modern technology, we can shrug off some of the human condition’s more unfortunate features. iDoneThis Memory brings life’s evanescence into your inbox every morning, turning email into an affirmation of immanent existence.
Based on the emails that people send, we’d have some kind of graph/calendar like Seinfeld’s.
When we don’t hear from people we send them an angry email and show them their calendar with their string of Xs broken the next day.
I can likely put some rudimentary version of this together in a couple of days.
We called it “Attain Chain”. And then we changed it because that’s a horrible name. Here’s one of the lists we kicked around.
iDoneThis looks pretty good in comparison, huh?
Rodrigo, Peng (the site’s genius designer), and I started hacking on iDoneThis around Christmas time. We made a push the weekend of the New Year to get a minimal viable product out by Monday.
And minimal it was. We only sent email once a day, we only processed email once a day, we didn’t work with non-English characters, and we had to do unsubscribes by hand. But we got it done.
On January 3, the first Monday of the new year, we put iDoneThis up on Hacker News, and it was glorious — 152 signups!
Barely anything worked right. Rodrigo and I chatted at 1am at the end of a long day.
Rodrigo: i think we survived day 1
me: i need to go to sleep
Rodrigo: me too
made you a ton of tickets
Everything built slowly from there. We kept working on iDoneThis as a side project here and there and soon we went from 1,000 daily dones to over 30,000 daily dones.
We initially hesitated to turn iDoneThis into our full-time gig because of how simple the site is. A major deterrent was the incredulousness of friends and family that iDoneThis could become anything serious.
But we talked to our users who told us that they loved the service because it was so easy to use. Our main learning from 2011 is that simplicity is power.
For one, simple services have a variety of use-cases which overlap with “legitimate” businesses and have an inherent advantage over those services merely for being simple.
We made up our minds to go at it full-time, got into AngelPad, and got things really rolling.
Now iDoneThis has helped people get over 500,000 things done and we have big things in store for 2012.
To everyone who works with us and to everyone who loves to use iDoneThis — I think we survived year 1. Thanks for all the tickets.
The following guest blog post was written by Kable Jones, aka krunkster on iDoneThis. Kable is a firefighter with a 150-day streak of getting stuff done.
Although the overachievers of the world likely fill their calendar boxes with ease, the rest of us may occasionally stare at the IDT email with an “oh no” feeling. Nonetheless, maintaining an IDT streak need not, in fact, require constant productivity.
Unlike the Silicon Valley geniuses I don’t have a project timeline oriented job, so that’s not my easy way out of this problem. Instead, I use IDT to overcome gender roles and keep an ongoing diary.
I suppose one could turn to hip tools like Livejournal to provide this functionality, but that’s really not my style. Beyond being rather obnoxious, blogging typically requires far too much time and verbiage to continue for an extended period. IDT’s clever “bulletpoint” formatting puts me back into a comforting PowerPoint mode as I chronicle the day’s events.
It’s also a nice private log, so I don’t have to concern myself with impressing a potential audience. This lets me fill out the required data quickly without flowery language. All meat, no veggies.
A typical entry might look like this one, on November 12.
Took dog to vet.
Wrote bridge part to song.
Didn’t kill my boss.
Well, except in my mind.
Price of Metamucil went up.
Dad called and said the tattoo removal went well.
I have a terrible memory, so with the online calendar I can quickly review what’s happened over the past month. Beyond nostalgia, it often reminds me of things I still need to address.
Finally, taking a diary approach to IDT really improves the quality of daily emails from company HQ. Instead of seeing a bunch of work related nonsense, I get fun lists like:
A typical entry might look like this one, on November 12.
Thank god for Pepto Bismol.
Holy cow I bought that Moog from Craigslist.
Bought carrots since Moog took all my money.
At least what money I had left after the plumber.
Really, thank you Jesus for Pepto Bismol.
So, if IDT’s emails have you feeling like an unproductive idiot, do what I do — use iDoneThis as a tool to keep track of you digestive health!
iDoneThis: You do not yet realize your importance. You’ve only begun to discover your power! Join me, and I will complete your training! With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy.
You: I’ll never join you!
iDoneThis: If only you knew the power of the Daily Done. Dundee never told you what happened to your father.
You: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
iDoneThis: No, I am your father.
You: No. No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!
iDoneThis: Search your dones, you know it to be true!
You: Oh, huh, I didn’t know I could do that.
iDoneThis: Yeah, we just added that feature a few weeks ago. Just login and go to your calendar — there’s a search box up top.
Passing 10,000 users felt awesome and we did it with three dead simple techniques that anyone can execute.
1. Custom narratives for influential communities. I wrote in April how we made it to 5,000 users by constructing custom narratives for Hacker News, Reddit, and Lifehacker. We described iDoneThis to a community as both (a) a solution to the problems specific to that community with (b) an emotional hook that the community could relate to while (c) giving signals that reflect that we’re members of the community.
2. A product so simple that anyone can understand and use it. When a product is simple and easily understandable by a broad range of people, many different kinds of people will see many different ways to use the product. For example, MakeUseOf wrote about how we were like a “mini-assistant that reminds you to log what you did”, rather than the strict productivity angle taken by Lifehacker.
When different kinds of people see many different ways to use the product, different story lines organically emerge — which means that the product spreads.
3. Embrace your users worldwide. When we launched, iDoneThis emails went out for every single user at 6pm Pacific Time. That means that if you were in the UK, you’d get your email at 2am the next day. Our email was nearly worthless if you were in the UK, India, Japan or anywhere outside of North and South America, and we saw that reflected in our engagement. Early on, nearly 100% of users not in North or South America did not use us longer than a week, even those who loved the product.
The most useful tweak we made to the product early on was to allow the user to pick his/her timezone. We went from having an exclusively North and South American base of active users to getting written up by blogs and press around the world, enlarging our pie of users overall and growing its proportion to about 30% of active users.
In choosing to do our startup in the San Francisco Bay Area, near the heart of the Valley — the world center for technology and innovation — and joining an incubator run by Xooglers, we didn’t expect our company’s most powerful and transformative lesson over the past 4 months to be that in the realm of the visceral, intangible, and emotional. What we learned first and foremost was the importance of vision and its resonance as an organizing principle.
A company is a group of people making a series of decisions. But what continues to bind individuals together in a common enterprise? And how do individuals with wildly variant opinions and selves make shared decisions? The lesson we learned is that vision, not profit motive or friendship, provides the emotional glue to stick together and the axioms upon which concrete decisions — resolving data and feedback — are made.
iDoneThis started out as a side project done over a weekend by Rodrigo and me with one simple mechanic in mind — a daily prompt to record what you did that day. In years prior, Rodrigo had kept a calendar to track daily progress and we thought to make that process easy for everyone. People liked it.
But from the get-go we didn’t have a grander sense of what iDoneThis would become — and it showed. On day one of AngelPad, Thomas Korte and Gokul Rajaram harangued us for telling them the exact same story about the product that we had when we’d applied back in May. There wasn’t an evolution in the product’s story that’s inherent in growth and maturation.
The truth was that we were standing still at a fork in the road. Without vision, it’s impossible to resolve competing customer requests, measure data in relation to objectives, and apply best practices and learnings in context. Vision resolves customer issues at cause not symptom, contextualizes, and prioritizes. If the founders are aligned, vision invigorates — otherwise, decisionmaking as a process breeds dissent because vision is axiomatic.
That process of human gravitational attraction, decisionmaking, and retention is the lifecycle of enterprise organization and has vision at its core. For instance, attracting new talent means selling a vision because vision is the glue going forward and the emotional hook to joining in the first instance and it drives appraisal of profit potential secondarily. The rise of Google exemplifies that — organizing the world’s information is an epic idea worthy of the best of the best’s life work who took it as inspiration and as a challenge on a high-level and comprehended how it could make them very wealthy when the discrete product under consideration, search, wasn’t thought of as much of a monetization opportunity.
In the convergence toward a real emphasis on founder-market fit, passion, and domain expertise, we’re seeing how founders and investors understand the importance of vision contrariwise to the concept that the “idea” is worthless. Rather, delivering a vision means describing a world just outside the realm of possibility, but drawing a line connecting it back to the current state of the product in actionable and plausible steps, through history, ultimately ending back to the founder, who he/she is and the makeup of his/her prior experiences.
For us, at AngelPad, Thomas and Gokul admonished us to tell a compelling story on what iDoneThis could be and why it was the problem that kept us, the founders, up at night. It started out feeling like sophistry — post-hoc rationalization to please and persuade investors with a plausible argument — but ultimately, it’s simply an exercise in narrative which is by its nature retrospective and reductive.
Why did we build that thing we did, out of all the things we could have done, and how did our life bring us to that point? If it was exploitation of a market opportunity, you need to start over. A vision is about inspiration, not opportunity — and inspiration comes from self-reflection. Vision, then, is sight looking inward, a process of “connecting the dots" on your past experiences — giving them logic and trajectory, and solidifying that story into a belief in where that can take you.
This guest blog post comes from Bassam Tarazi, founder of Colipera. Colipera uses both individual goal setting and the social pressure that comes from being a part of a group endeavor to help you stay committed to your goals.
We find plenty of reasons to not start; plenty of made up, self-sympathizing reasons to never see a dream or a goal through to the finish. Truth of the matter is, we allow those reasons to seep in like water in a punctured hull because we haven’t committed to the task at hand. We’re not devoted to the all-hands-on-deck mentality that is needed to keep the dream afloat.
You see, commitment is the first and most important part of the journey. Commitment comes before the first action is even taken. That’s where the journey starts. To continue on the mode of transportation analogies, if you were committed to driving cross-country from New York to San Francisco, it doesn’t matter the exact route you take only that you were prepared for the long, sometimes ass-numbing, but wholeheartedly unique voyage ahead of you. While you are no doubt excited for all the new people, towns, experiences and wonders you’ll see, you have to be mentally ready for the hundreds of monotonous and forgotten stretches of road you’ll consume along the way.
Too many people in life get in the car, and figure out 3 miles in that they’re not sure where they’re sleeping that night, a bridge may be out in Utah, and San Francisco is still 2,900 miles away. So of course, quitting seems like a much better option.
The Journey Within the Journey
How do you manage the 3,000 mile journey mentally? Day by day. Exit by exit. Mile by mile. Inch by inch. Our brains don’t like being less than 50% done with something. We don’t want to only get excited for the inevitable downhill, no-turning-back psyche of passing Chicago. We need to have smaller, mini-goals because we take great joy in hitting milestones. “Hellllooooo Ohio!” and, “Nebraska, you’re big, but I will beat you yet!” We play the “How many miles can I drive today before I stop for gas/food/sleep?” game. Accomplishing goals, no matter how small, feels great.
This psychology works in fundraising, as well. Why do most charities only start broadcasting their current funding state to the public when they are near 50%? Well because it shows people that the cause is worth fighting for and that the goal is within reach. Fundraising also uses another tactic to help raise money at that point: peer pressure. If other people have helped it come this far, it must be a worthy trip. It’s part social proofing, and part the wisdom of crowds. If no one else has committed to this thing, why the hell should I? And conversely, if so many people have committed to this, I want to be a part of it too. I want to help get it over the edge. I want to be part of something.
Day by day. Inch by inch. Goal by goal.
It’s easy to get support for what you’re doing when you’ve shown some success; and to be successful, you first have to start, unceremoniously. In the beginning it’s mostly your commitment - your blood, sweat and passionate tears that gets you to some percentage of completion. Before you can hit the highway, the gas tank needs to be full, that long overdue oil change needs to be taken care of, those brakes need to be retooled, and snacks should be on board. That commitment needs to be made first.
In the beginning, it’s not fundraising, it’s friendraising. Breaking down your goal into manageable bites allows people to support you and gives you a chance to be part of someone else’s dream; to be part of something outside of yourself. Take the collective inspiration that groups provide and merge that with the personal accountability that each of us need to succeed at any task and you have a recipe for a journey worth traveling.
Bassam built Colipera as a system for collective inspiration and personal accountability. You can check it out at Colipera.com.
We have a broad-based, loosely constrained web application. Our users engage with the site in a variety of different ways for a number of reasons. That makes it difficult to take a bunch of usage information and turn it into actionable data about how to position our product.
In searching for data to form the basis for a concise statement on our site’s value proposition, we ended up in an unexpected place. We had built an invite system which was super simplistic. A user could type in an email address and include an optional message. We would email that person with an invitation to sign up to use iDoneThis (no special referral URL, just a link to http://iDoneThis.com).
It turns out that when a user invited her friend to use iDoneThis, she used the optional message, not merely to say hello, but as an opportunity to pitch her friend on using iDoneThis. Our invite system ended up containing concise statements of how users use iDoneThis, how it works for that use case, and the value they derive from it — and gives us the language to express all of that.
Turning those words into a word cloud gives macro-level view on the key concepts used by the crowd to pitch iDoneThis. Day, done, email, and track are the most commonly used words. After that, simple, send, see, work and every stand out. Finally, journal, calendar, sends, diary, and free have a good number of mentions.
"Every" and "day" describe the temporal context of the “done” and the “email.”
"Email" is the medium within which we work — everyone knows how to use it, so it’s “simple.” We “send” a daily email, which describes the difference between push versus pull.
What got “done” is what’s being “track[ed]” — it’s the question for which we’re prompting a response.
"Track[ing]" daily "done[s]" creates an object of value, a “journal”, “diary”, or “calendar” which could be used personally or for “work” that you can look back on and “see” your progress.
The prominence of words such as "really", "like" and “love” to express the concepts above suggests that, whether for personal or professional use, iDoneThis is valuable because it’s a friendlier way to do status updates because a nagging boss isn’t involved.
Ultimately, the taglines to use are the ones that convert the best. Implementing a dead simple invite system is one of the easiest ways to seed that iterative process. Let your own customers pitch on your behalf, and see what they say.
The lean startup movement disdains the big press launch, and rightfully so. However, the polemical nature of the argument gives off the impression that press should never be sought. Quite the contrary, press should be sought ceaselessly. That being said, it’s important to understand the magnitude of traffic that you can expect from press and of what kind.
With the tiny investment of time that it took to draft two cold emails, we got a huge payoff in getting written up by Lifehacker. For most new startups, TechCrunch is a distant and unattainable goal, but Lifehacker will write about your weekend project if it’s got a compelling productivity hook. To boot, Lifehacker will drive traffic on the same order of magnitude as TechCrunch with users who may actually stick around.
Lifehacker visibility attracted productivity nuts like Ernesto Ramirez to our site, who brought a strong point of view to our broad-based product. As a Quantified Self guy, within the daily email-reminder scheme, Ernesto saw the opportunity to track “everything else” — the stuff that you can’t track with a device. He helped us understand how to build for QS folk and evangelized our product throughout the community.
The one-day high traffic spike from Lifehacker was just short of 4,000 visits, but over the course of a month, that same content was syndicated out to Lifehacker Japan, Lifehacker Australia, Lifehacker Canada, and Lifehacker UK. All told, we got over 11,000 visits and around 4,000 signups from investing one hour to draft two emails.
Getting written up by Netted was a pleasant surprise. We hadn’t pitched them — they had found us through Lifehacker, tried the site for one month, and liked it, so they wrote about us. Zach at Netted had kind words for us. He wrote, “Honestly, I spend my days looking at hundreds and hundreds of sites… yours is well made, simple, effective and generally awesome. Well done.”
Netted drove a one-day high just exceeding that of Lifehacker — a tad over 4,000 visits — but because Netted works as a daily email, it netted very little traffic in the days that followed (on the order of hundreds of visits).
Nevertheless, the Netted cohort is the strongest of the three in terms of those users who have stuck around and continued to use the product. It’s a testament to the Netted brand and the character of its user base that it drove thousands of signups to a “digital journal” product who didn’t just sign up to take a peek at the product. Netted referrals had close to the highest ratio of signups to first-time use, and those users continued to use the product week over week.
I heard nothing from her for a month, and then at the end of July, she wrote back saying that we’d made the list. A few days later, the list was up and the bump hit a one-day high of nearly 5,000 visits.
The writeup was fantastic for us in terms of traffic and signups, but the Business Insider bump was perhaps most notable in terms of the queries from VCs, angels, salespeople, and job seekers that it sent our way. It makes sense — it’s an industry blog about startups, not a subject-matter site like Lifehacker. Nonetheless, because the startup world is filled with high achievers and productivity seekers, we also retained a number of committed users from the writeup.
What’s your take on press?
Have you experienced press bumps? How do you turn it into recurring, sustainable traffic? Let us know in the comments!