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, Founder of Turbine & CEO of Articulate Marketing
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.
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. 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.
Staying in a zone of comfort (especially if you’re winning) comes at a cost. When you make short-term mistakes in order to learn, you make yourself better long-term. Game conditions might change and your formerly winning style can easily become a losing one.
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: Founder, Editor, and Reporter
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.
“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.