The reason why we exist is to help companies like Pipedrive work richly. They have an amazing story — they’ve gone from Timo selling books door-to-door in San Jose to a company that spans three continents and has created one of the hottest and most useful CRM tools on the market today. We’re so proud to be an ingredient in their success.
I love the guys at Pipedrive because their ambition is global. They know that sales is a problem that knows no boundaries—not language nor culture—and so from day one, their scope has been international. Pipedrive was founded in Estonia, but at any given time, its founders are in Tallinn, San Francisco, Santiago, or Nairobi to spread the good word about Pipedrive, a simple CRM that people actually use.
With distributed teams, there’s a daily struggle for team members to maintain a basic understanding of each other, especially across different disciplines. We get stuck in our silos. At Pipedrive, marketing has its own Skype chat and its own weekly standups. Engineering has its nose in Asana and it’s filled with technical mumbo jumbo that no one else in the company can understand.
iDoneThis bridges this divide. Just taking 30 seconds to write down the three highlights from the day pays huge dividends in giving the team a basic understanding of teammates’ contributions and the direction and progress of the company. They dig up the company roadmap on a quarterly basis at Pipedrive and have a “all-hands” meeting. iDoneThis keeps the company together and headed in the right direction in the meantime.
Maybe this is best experienced from the perspective of the “new guy.” Pipedrive recently had a new developer start working for them remotely, and he was immediately bombarded by questions on Skype asking him what he got done by four different people every day. On Skype, it’s hard to tell what someone is feeling, and the most benign questions can become irritating and overbearing. The new developer was thrilled to use iDoneThis, because now no one pesters him to find out what he’s done, everyone just knows.
Pipedrive exemplifies how a company can use international reach to drive revenue growth. To make that happen, they’ve mastered the art of working together remotely. We’re proud to be a part of their workflow, one that encourages understanding and appreciating the work of other business divisions and one that fosters daily participation in and ownership over the trajectory of the company as a whole.
Check out Eileen Brady’s minute of insight for entrepreneurs that works for all of us!
“It’s really the individuals that can get up and say … I’m just going to try and win the day and move on and win the next day that end up making it.”
(From GOOD’s minute of insight series.)
“The hard part is building the machine that builds the product.”
Successful entrepreneurs like Dennis Crowley and Mike Karnjanaprakorn at SkillShare have pointed that building a great product is only step one. The next, harder step is building the machine that builds the product which turns improvement into a repeatable process.
Mark Pincus, discussing his experience of growing Zynga, observed that products can be built “through the strength of your personality and lack of sleep,” but that doesn’t scale — and soon “you’ve got to find some way to keep everybody going in productive directions when you’re not in the room.”
To Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, what’s required is “higher level thinking.” It’s the ability to step back and take the perspective of someone who’s looking down at your company from an objective standpoint, as if the company were a machine. The machine consists of people plus design, with goals as inputs and outcomes as output.
For Bridgewater and companies like Google, this means an obsession with tracking and data to peer into the black box that is the machine. Goals go in, outcomes come out — what happens in between? Without tracking and data, there are no log files to comb for debugging the discrepancies between outcomes and intended outcomes.
Dalio would say that it’s about the search for truth. I’ve talked to a number of startups that do a daily standup or scrum with the idea that it’s an iterative process that provides for improvement by rapidly addressing and resolving issues as they arise. It’s often a young company’s first stab at formalizing a process. But without a log file of what happens in a company, I’ve observed that issues inevitably get addressed reactively, on a case-by-case basis.
A record that shows how the machine works makes it possible for higher-level pattern matching to identify systemic issues plaguing the company — and this makes exponential progress, not just incremental progress, possible.
Happy Monday! Keep on, keepin’ on!
Ira Glass’s wise words on closing the gap between your work and your ambitions: Do a lot of work!
(original design by Sawyer Hollenshead)
Terri Trespicio is a writer, editor, host, broadcaster, healthy living expert, and former senior editor at Martha Stewart’s Whole Living magazine. She also hosted the live, daily call-in show “Whole Living” on Martha Stewart Living Radio on Sirius XM 110. Terri has appeared on the Today show, Dr. Oz, The Early Show, and The Martha Stewart Show. She’s also the creator of Best Decision All Day.
We chatted with Terri about the connections of health and wellness to productivity, the power of owning your time, and the navigation of career paths, as she steps out into a new chapter of self-employment.
Photo: Chad Griffith Photography, 2011
You’ve been a great supporter of iDoneThis. How did you start using it?
This app is something I actually use is because I really do tie my sense of wellness and calm to feeling productive. Nobody wants to feel like they’re spinning their wheels, not sure from one day to the next what they’re doing. Now that I’m not answering to a team so much and working on my own from home, I like to be able to keep track of what I’ve done. it’s just a cool way to feel good about not just what tasks you’re getting done but things that are building you toward what you want to achieve.
I like how you tie wellness and worth to what you’ve done and what you said about being mindful about the building process. Maybe to-do lists don’t get to that as much.
Of course I have a to-do list. Everyone has one, and I continually scratch things off it. It’s fun. But when you cross things off, in a weird way, you’re sort of negating it. And I do think people let their lists get out of control.
There’s literally too much to do, so I feel like it’s sort of a yin yang thing. The yang is I’m going to go out and do this and that — it’s very aggressive. Your to-do list is aggressive, how you’re going to attack the day, but the yin side of that, you need to receive what you’ve done and be able to look at it. iDoneThis is the sort of yin to my to-do yang.
You’ve been seguing into freelancing and working for yourself. Could you talk about that process?
I was part of a big round of layoffs from the magazine in October, which was also really a grateful thing, because I had outgrown it and didn’t know how or when to jump. I was always doing something new and that’s why I stayed. As soon as I got bored, it was because nothing new was happening — I knew it, they knew it.
This is probably the most exciting time of my life because how often do you get a clean slate to re-jigger and re-decide what your life looks like? I was thrilled because then I got full permission to move ahead with my next phase, being a creative consultant which is really a lot of fun.
There’s tremendous power in owning your time and being able to do with it what you want. It makes you more productive. [With] presenteeism, you have to be at the office so you might as well piss away some of the time. But I know that if I get stuff done, I actually can go out and not feel bad.
Do you have any advice for people who are thinking of making the jump to self-employment or just starting out?
I think that being on your own little planet is going to be one of the biggest moments of self-discovery you have, because you’ll really see what you’re made of, what you’re interested in, what you’re afraid of. You’re not obligated in the ways you are normally, and it can be incredibly freeing and a little scary too.
I would say, don’t keep your life in park and sit there and think that you’re going to be good. Always be driving around looking for another spot. I’m always, always thinking, what am I really good at that other people are wowed by, that they’re not as good at, or that they want you to do for them. I’ve found that.
Seek out contacts, be networking all the time, and not in a cheesy way. There’s not a week that I don’t have lunches or coffee or something planned. If you are going to endeavor to work for yourself, really strongly consider getting a gym membership if you can afford it because you need a place to get up and move. My friend who’s a mother said, take a page from the mom playbook: up and out and to the gym in the morning, shower, put on real clothes, and sit down to do work.
Also make sure that you’re always reaching out and giving back to connections, not just asking for help. I think the key is to be always exchanging ideas with colleagues. Make an effort to stay socially connected, stay physically active, and keep healthy food in the house — set up your conditions for being as clear-minded and stable and calm as you can, so you can actually man your own ship.
That idea of setting up conditions is really neat, placing thinking about productivity outside of work but in terms of health.
Oh yeah, health! I never used to be one of these go to the gym in the morning people ever, ever. When I was working full-time, no way you’re going to get me out of bed early to go, and now … I don’t know what it is! This is proof that people’s habits can change.
I make sure I have food on hand, and that I can really follow my gut. If I feel sleepy, I need to lay down and take a nap. I need to eat? Eat something and take a break. Take breaks — people don’t do that enough either.
I think to be really productive, you have to feed the nonproductive side. I’ll eat and watch The Daily Show, or I’ll take a nap, or I’ll do some errands. You’re not supposed to be a working machine, whether you’re full-time employed or self-employed. It’s really important to put conditions in place to be the healthiest you can be and the most rested, so that you actually can get stuff done.
For those of us who feel like we don’t have a strong sense of self-discipline, how do we manage that dangerous line of too much non-productivity?
If you’re struggling with self-discipline, it tells me that you must not like what you’re doing, trying to force yourself to do something you really don’t want to do. So I would say, take a really good look at what it is you’re doing and why the heck you’re doing it. You might say, oh I’m just doing this job, it’s just for money now. Okay, then maybe you’ll limit the amount of hours you do something that you hate, that you must do for now, and then build in, if you can, some time to do something that you really love. Then your reward for doing what you don’t like as much is doing what you love and that you’re good at.
You mentioned that a growing sense of boredom is a good guide to moving on. How do you take that next step?
Life is too long and too short to be bored. My advice there is always be growing and always go for the next thing. Don’t apply for the job you already have. I was a senior editor at Whole Living. I could have jumped and applied for any number of other editor jobs, and I think it would be the same damn thing.
A lot of people go out thinking, when they’re young, in their twenties, “I’m going to do this one thing.” They have to pick it and they’re supposed to go find it. You want to be guided by what you want to do, but I really strongly think that you are created by the choices that you make. You’re not supposed to go “oh, what if I make the wrong choice?” There are no wrong choices. You make a choice, you don’t like it, you’ll leave. It’s not a big Easter egg hunt where people go, “did I find the right path?” It’s not a game.
I turned down - which I still think is dumb - an invitation to apply for and probably get an editorial assistant job at Inc. magazine years ago. I wish I could go back in time, but you know what? I was too scared. I always wonder what might’ve happened. I might have had many more years of publishing, maybe I would’ve been onto something else by now. But fear kept me back.
I thought, there’s no way I could do that, I don’t know anything about business. I didn’t know anything about anything! I was 22 years old. So I think waiting until you have this perfect knowledge to go do this perfect thing is not the reality. The reality is put yourself in the path of people who like and trust you and believe in you and allow them to open some doors for you, and don’t run away screaming like I did. Eventually I wasn’t running away screaming, I’m not running away screaming now!
James Chin is a guest columnist and 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.
On the one hand, if you’ve had bad results for an extended period of time, then you must be receptive to the possibility that you’ve been doing something wrong and, if so, have the courage to change. On the other hand, if you’ve analyzed your decisions and can find nothing wrong (i.e., if you could have a do-over, you’d do the same thing you did before), then being results-oriented can be the worst mindset because it causes you to doubt your decisions.
Ultimately, you must have the mindset that good results will come in the long run if you keep on making good decisions. The problem is that you have no control over how long the “long run” is. So focus on those things which you do have control over: your decisions. This means not only experimenting and adapting to make sure you do have a genuine long-term winning strategy, but also deciding on your response to those short-term intervening losses.
What might the best response be? Whatever motivates you to persevere in the face of difficulty. For others, that might be anger or a sense of pride, and if those emotions work for you, awesome. John McEnroe was a winner, despite seemingly being on tilt half the time. But for me, the answer is equanimity. I’ve found that a sense of calm is the most sustainable emotion for me to have in continuing to put in good work.
How do I draw on that sense of calm? One answer I’ve mentioned previously is a mantra that helps keep me present and centered on the action. But another answer is an awareness of my history of using a calm mindset with an eye toward improvement. It becomes a positive feedback loop because I’ve already experienced those smaller wins that happened when I kept calm and kept working, so this winning mindset for me gets reinforced.
It comes down to self-awareness. You ought to have a sense of your own history, of what has worked for you in the past, of productive patterns. You already have a foundation of past success that short-term present losses can’t take away from you; be mindful of and build on that foundation, and your future success will come.
We help you get closer!
The always wonderful Maria Popova at Brain Pickings delves into the psychology of to-do lists in her discussion of John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister’s book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.
She points to the authors’ discussion of the Zeigarnik effect, which explains why our brains continue to nag us about what we leave unfinished. Originally thought to be the mind’s way of making sure we get stuff done, recent research shows that this nagging is to make a specific, doable plan of action to get stuff done.
Fascinating! Have you read Willpower? Let us know what you think!
Matthew Stibbe is the CEO of Articulate Marketing, a marketing copywriting agency, and founder of Turbine, an online application that helps businesses take care of administrative issues, to “take the paper out of paperwork.” In what he calls his spare time, he’s learning Dutch and blogging about flying and about writing and productivity. We talked about his faith in to-do lists, the shortcomings of productivity systems, and how we are all becoming robots.
Since you’re in charge of two companies that do different things, how do you divide and maximize your time?
I am a devotee, a worshipper in the temple of lists. I love to-do lists. I’ve had this same list running in various versions of Microsoft software back almost 20 years, and it’s a very strange thought to think that the items on the list have changed, change constantly, but the list is still here. I’ve still got it, and it’s still fundamentally the same electronic thing that I had when I was running my computer games company in the nineties. It’s an interesting philosophical point — one day we will all become lists, some computer memory somewhere.
We’re all becoming robots.
I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords.
I think what I’m trying to do is to capture all the things that I’m supposed to be doing. Sometimes it’s about saying what you’re not going to do. There’s a very great commonality between personal time management and being the boss of a company in a way. If anything’s possible, what’s important? That’s the question that you ask yourself every morning when you wake up. I could spend the day doing this or this or this, but what is the priority? So what I’m doing with my list all the time is I’m trying very hard not to carry around a lot of things in my head.
Do you ever get stressed out just knowing how much stuff is on the list?
I do. I think this is slightly the problem with these sort of time management bibles. The premise of those books is you keep a list and you do your time management really efficiently, you’ll have less stress.
I suppose what you get is a choice of stress, meaning without a list, you have the additional stress of actually not being sure you’ve remembered everything, not being able pick the most important thing to do today or when your deadline is. That’s quite hard work. It’s a pretty uncomfortable place to live, I will grant you that.
I think once you get used to the idea that the list goes on but the things on it change, that’s oddly a comforting thought. In other words, you’re never going to get everything done. So don’t worry about that. And then you treat it as a sort of menu of options for a given period of time.
It sounds like your list is a living, changing thing and you have to treat it as such.
You do have to do a bit of pruning from time to time. My experience is without doing that pruning and without shaping that list a little bit — I mean all this sounds terribly sort of clinical. It’s not. I’m very leery of turning this into a sort of Getting Things Done — it literally doesn’t happen like that. It seems more organic to me. But I’ve got this habit going back decades of using this list and obsessing about the list.
The List in capital letters.
Yeah, THE LIST. All my working life has been governed by deadlines. So it fits into that pattern very well too.
This is why iDoneThis is great for me. Because the bit that is missing is the record of accomplishment or the confirmation that you have actually done something, right? When I mark a task as complete, I do put it into a completed tasks archive, but it’s just a list of things with lines through it. There’s no sense of context to it.
Sometimes you get to the end of the day and you feel like you’ve been working really hard, but you cannot actually remember what it is you’ve done. It feels very frustrating doesn’t it? What I like about iDoneThis, it just encourages me to take really only about 30 seconds or a minute just to jot down I did this, I did that, I had that, I spoke to him, I landed that … and it’s quite satisfying. It turns that feeling of “Ugh, I’ve been working and I haven’t done anything” to a feeling of, “Huh, I did quite a lot today. That’s good! Pat on the back!”
You seem somewhat hesitant to wholeheartedly embrace what I might call the cult of productivity. Do you think it can get too clinical? Sometimes all these ”10 things to improve your life and be awesome” make me a little angry or frustrated. I’m like, I’m already awesome!
There was a zen master in San Francisco, Shunryu Suzuki, who said, “All of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.” That’s probably the human condition. Self-improvement and self-help are very powerful motivators for people.
We’ve talked a little about Getting Things Done. It’s probably one of the more humane productivity guidelines or books out there because it’s not over-regimented and he’s got some pretty practical suggestions. I think part of my objection though is that style of book typically takes a couple of good ideas and spins them out. Goodness, I’ve written blog posts like 10 ways to do this or how I got up earlier in the morning, and I try and write it from a place of sincerity.
But at some point as an author, in order to make that kind of article work, you are sort of implying, “I know something you don’t.” You’re setting up rules and regulations which — and I’m pretty sure in these books and blog post authors’ lives, as in mine, you probably stick to most of the time — but in a sort of human and erring and occasionally lapsing way, instead of being a complete superhero robot of time management.
So I find that sort of author person a little bit hard. I know it’s gross hypocrisy because I write that stuff. Then the other part that I find very hard is that, yeah, I’m awesome already. My circumstances are not yours, and sometimes there isn’t a mechanical or a black and white or an A-B-C solution to what you have to do.
I guess that’s the gap. First, it’s the tone of “I know best”, but it’s really that the ultimate work is left to you to do to translate those suggestions and hints and make them work.
I suppose my ultimate advice or my ultimate feeling for myself is the only way you know if a particular approach is good for you is, do you do it, does it work, does it help? Try it for yourself. You’re responsible for your own life.
We live in a world where buying a book is quite a cheap exercise. If you go and read zenhabits, which is a great blog, I think it’s really nice, but it’s very much in that space. All those sorts of things, they’re quite cheap to get into, but we live in a world where we’re sold quite expensive things as the solutions to these problems, right?
This is why iDoneThis is kind of nice because it lets me use it how I want to use it. It’s not got a formula that I have to apply to it. It’s just you write down whatever it is you want to write down and we’ll just keep track of it against a calendar. It’s a pretty simple proposition and a lot of online sort of time management or time organizational tools are much more prescriptive. This is kind of what we’re trying to do with Turbine. What we really want to do is to give people the tools that will let them simplify the paperwork but kind of do it their way. Every company’s a bit different and every company has its own little style. I just admire the simplicity of what [the] guys at iDoneThis are doing and I kind of want to emulate it a bit.
It Couldn’t Be Done - Edgar Albert Guest
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!
Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.
James Chin is a guest columnist and 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.
Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the face.” So you’ve been going through life with these plans in your head, these perfect ideas of how everything will turn out, and eventually, it comes to pass that the world isn’t like how you envisioned it so perfectly in your head. What then? Do you lose your motivation? Do you only have the courage to live a perfect life?
Hopefully not. Hopefully, you realize that setbacks are an opportunity to learn more about how the world actually works rather than how you idealized it in your head. This is where being truly passionate about what you do and how you do it is more important as a motivating force than “living the dream,” full stop. Because you’ll have to, in a real sense, get over yourself: let go of this idea of your perfect self, study and experiment to see what actions actually work, and adapt those actions to a newer, better self. Perfect is the enemy of better.
In poker, it’s often said that there are multiple winning styles. One guy can have a very loose-aggressive style and win, and another guy can have a relatively tight-passive style and also win. Many poker players misinterpret that idea and take it to mean that you should play in the style that you’re comfortable with, because if you’re winning with your style and are uncomfortable playing in another style, then you’ll make more mistakes and be more apt to lose. It’s thus easier for them to stay in a zone of comfort (especially if they’re winning) rather than making short-term mistakes in order to learn and make themselves better long-term when game conditions might change and their formerly winning style becomes a losing style.
Don’t be afraid of failure. More important, don’t take either failure or success too personally. No one has a complete understanding of how the world works, and if your ego causes you to think that your understanding can’t be improved upon, then when circumstances change, you might be caught standing still.
Instead, embrace experimentation. An evolutionary understanding is much more robust than an understanding based on dogma and the comfort of inertia. When it comes time to get things done after getting hit in the face, you’ll be ready.
iDoneThis will be hosting our first #prodtalk Tweet Chat of a series on productivity, motivation, and getting more done!
The topic: Our recent post, Silicon Valley’s Productivity Secrets, has piqued a lot of interest, and we’d love to hear more about your thoughts and reactions! What do you think about scalable people management? How do you check in at work? What are the limitations to the Snippets system? Share your tips and comments!
The details: Our first #prodtalk Tweet Chat will take place Sunday, Feb. 12, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST.
We’ll be moderating the chat through @iDoneThisChat. Use the hashtag #prodtalk to follow and participate in the chat.
Wait, what’s a Tweet Chat? They’re live discussions that take place on Twitter on a pre-determined topic, sort of like a Twitter version of a chat room. (So you do have to be a Twitter user to participate.) Tweet Chats are a fun, easy way to have a live, directed conversation and to meet other Twitter users who are interested in the same topic or field.
The key to participating in a Tweet Chat is to use the pre-determined hashtag identifier (that thing with the # sign before it, like #prodtalk). You’ll use this hashtag to find the conversation if you want to “listen in”. And whenever you want to participate and “say” something, include the hashtag so that your tweet gets picked up in the conversation stream.
For more information, check out this guide on how to participate in a Tweet Chat.
Dan Pink, #1 New York Times bestselling author on the changing world of work, told us that the most radical change happening in enterprise organization is that “[t]oday, talented people need organizations less than organizations need talented people.” The effect of that is to upend the traditional corporate hierarchy and put individual employees at the top. As Robert Greenleaf wrote in 1970 in his influential essay, The Servant as Leader, the winners will be those companies whose “first order of business is to build a group of people who, under the influence of the institution, grow taller and become healthier, stronger, more autonomous” — in other words, those that put people first.
Greenleaf argues that the only person to lead a people-first organization is a servant, because a servant’s natural inclination is service to others — not coercion — for the purpose of others’ growth, health, wisdom, freedom, autonomy, and benefit, and for that reason, in the future, “the only truly viable institutions will be those that are predominantly servant-led.” That makes the value proposition of the social enterprise stark and dead simple, and, no surprise here, it isn’t covered by buzzwords like “collaboration” or “social”: adapt to the social enterprise or face complete obsolescence.
Social enterprise software’s obligation is to deliver processes and culture oriented around people first, defined by the amplification and incentivization of service to others. I remember talking with Andrew Gilbert at Yammer, and he told me that one of the biggest determinants of uptake in a company was whether management participated in using Yammer and led by example. The bottom-up distribution and adoption model relies on internal champions to build community within a company’s network, and community building is made up of acts of service. It doesn’t result from demands for participation or IT’s imposition. That means that everyone needs to get down and dirty and adopt a servant’s mentality, and software’s job is to amplify those behaviors. What’s at stake isn’t just adoption of some piece of software within a company, it’s the wholesale transformation of a company’s culture.
In The Progress Principle, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer write about the “crisis of disengagement” at work, a $300 billion per year problem of lost productivity. I’m reminded of what Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr. wrote to young lawyers setting out for a career in law in his seminal essay, The Path of the Law, emphasizing the curiosity and drive for fulfillment, purpose, and truth that compel individuals to participate in the knowledge economy.
[A]s Hegel says, “It is in the end not the appetite, but the opinion, which has to be satisfied.” To an imagination of any scope the most far-reaching form of power is not money, it is the command of ideas. If you want great examples, read Mr. Leslie Stephen’s History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, and see how a hundred years after his death the abstract speculations of Descartes had become a practical force controlling the conduct of men. Read the works of the great German jurists, and see how much more the world is governed today by Kant than by Bonaparte. We cannot all be Descartes or Kant, but we all want happiness. And happiness, I am sure from having known many successful men, cannot be won simply by being counsel for great corporations and having an income of fifty thousand dollars. An intellect great enough to win the prize needs other food besides success. The remoter and more general aspects of the law are those which give it universal interest. It is through them that you not only become a great master in your calling, but connect your subject with the universe and catch an echo of the infinite, a glimpse of its unfathomable process, a hint of the universal law.
100 years later, Amabile and Kramer’s work uncovers that the #1 motivator for employees at work is daily progress towards a meaningful goal. More interesting, perhaps, is their discovery that a setback, however minor, can have a greater negative impact on inner work life than progress can have in the positive direction. A manager’s job then is merely to lead with a compelling vision and provide service by removing blocks that cause setbacks and impediments to progress, and then stay out of the way. This model of leadership and management can be poignant for those who’ve sought pleasure in work but have been stifled by a manager who serves himself first.
The place where the servant leader and the social enterprise meet is a place where an individual’s professional aspirations and drive are enabled at scale and the organization succeeds because the employees’ visions align. Servant leadership is a culture that spreads and nourishes an organization by leveraging networks and structured engagement. Greenleaf lays out a test for answering the question, “How does one know the servant?” that might equally apply to technology as it does to persons: is it “strong, able, dedicated, dominating, authority-ridden, manipulative, exploitative — the net effect of whose influence diminished other people”, or does it “build up people and [make them] stronger, and healthier?”
Stacy-Marie Ishmael contains multitudes. Currently, she’s the founder and editor of Galavant Media and an adjunct at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Previously at the reins of FT Tilt, an emerging markets news service, as a co-founder and editor, she has also reported for the Financial Times and FT’s financial blog Alphaville.
We talked with Stacy-Marie about the challenges of running a news startup and how she gets the better of distractions and deals with a career transition.
With FT Tilt, you were in charge of a team from all over the world — Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, London, Sao Paulo. What was it like starting a new project this way?
The challenge for me was how do I get these people to think like a team. How do I get them to feel like these are their colleagues even if they have never met?
One of the things I did very early on was to have a call that everybody has to dial into, no matter what you’re doing. That became one of the spaces where they could hear each other’s voices.
The second thing is we had two different Skype chats. We had one that was called General Tilt chatter, and that was the watercooler Skype chat. That was when they were like, “hey guys, what up, have you seen this hilarious cat video?” as if they were all sitting next to each other.
Then there was the “official” Skype chat. We needed to get stuff done, so I didn’t want to have that buried in the general chatter because it would be like shouting across a crowded newsroom “can somebody edit my story?!” so separating them worked really well.
It’s interesting that you thought it was important not to shut down the watercooler chat.
It was a social lubricant in a sense because otherwise it would have been a very formal working relationship. I think that was one of the key things that helped them build camaraderie.
How did you deal with the challenges of starting a new news service?
One of the things I’ve learned is that whatever goals you set will be what people work toward, and in a startup environment, those will change all the time. One of the things I tried to do with the team is say, here are our basic outcomes and I want your ideas on how we should get there. So I said, hey, you’re covering Russia, how many stories do you want to have done, what kind of traffic would you like to see, that kind of thing.
Then my job became not telling them what to do but making sure they were on track to achieving the goals they set for themselves. I found that that worked really well because if somebody says, “hey, this is what I want to do,” it’s not a case of “hey, this is what you have to do.”
What about the times where you have to say exactly that?
Yeah, there are always times where you say “this is what you have to do.” But once you get to the point where the team feels invested in whatever they’re doing, they’re very, very receptive to that.
Right now, you’re in a bit of a transition period career-wise. How do the work habits you’ve cultivated cross over to help you?
One of the ways I was using iDoneThis is whenever I sent an e-mail or followed up with somebody, one of the things I’d say was, e-mailed my resume or got in touch with these potential references. Having it written down as kind of a mental prompt to what’s the thing that I need to do next, I found that to be very helpful.
Sometimes, frankly, I would be embarrassed if I didn’t accomplish anything. I feel bad if I don’t get to write down that I went for a run today. Because it’s very easy when you’re in a transition period to feel like because there isn’t anything to do, you can’t do anything.
I also find that I can get bogged down in projects, so I need to cut them up into bite-size pieces. That’s kind of how I’ve had to approach this transition period, like there’s no way I can go through the process of re-editing my resume for the first time in six years or doing all of these cover letters. So what small tasks can I do to get this done? Revamp your LinkedIn profile, you can do that in ten minutes. Then when you update your LinkedIn profile, you’ve got to update your CV, so it’s gamifying my life in a sense, like mission accomplished, a good way of staying on track. I’m not getting distracted.
Do you find that distraction is one of your main obstacles?
One of my issues is focus. I get distracted extremely easily. Have you seen the movie Up? I’m like the talking dog whenever he sees a squirrel. My main thing is that I need goals to help me focus. So I wake up in the morning and I think, here’s what I need to get done today, or here’s what I’m working toward. It’s very helpful. Otherwise it’ll be 4 pm and I have instapapered 5000 articles and done nothing else all day. Once I’ve started writing, once I’ve achieved that kind of flow state, it’s fine, but it’s the getting there process that’s not so straightforward.
So how do you set goals for yourself at the beginning of the day? How do you get into that flow?
This is one of the things I really like about iDoneThis — it lets me look back at what I achieved for a period, and it helps me see patterns.
I started noticing that on the days when I got out of bed really early and I went for a run or went to the gym or went to spin class, I got three times as much done than as on the days when I get up slightly later. For me, there’s a direct correlation between waking up early and doing some kind of exercise and having an incredibly productive day. That’s not something I would have noticed, had it not been for keeping track of that and looking back at my calendar.
You mentioned in an e-mail that you also use iDoneThis to keep in touch with your friends? It’s one of the first times I’ve heard of using iDoneThis in a social sense.
I have this crazy all-over-the world group of friends that are drawn from people that I grew up with in Trinidad and when I went to LSE [London School of Economics], which is the kind of school where it’s more than 60% international students, and they’re not on Facebook. E-mail is such a horrible way of staying in touch with groups of people. So I thought, here’s this group of people that I know, they’re doing cool things, but I’ve got no idea what they’re up to in a smaller space of time. I’ll get a big 6-month update from somebody like, “Hey! I got married!”
But when you’ve got this daily thing, I feel like it fleshes out the relationship in a way you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. When you have lunch with them, you get that background noise, but when you’re only seeing somebody maybe once or twice a year, you only get the headlines because the background noise you feel like it’s too unimportant to talk about.
You’ve accomplished so much already. What would you love to be doing next?
The main thing I want in my next job is to learn different skills. I know how to be a reporter, but I would like to be a lot more on the business side of things. I’m more into product development, project management, so editing from a different point of view —still seeing things to completion but instead of just words, you’re helping a whole new company or a whole new team.