"If you don’t give a damn about anything, no one will give a damn about you."
— Jessica Hagy offers great advice and brilliant illustrations over at Forbes on How to Be More Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps). Her points are also spot on for how to get awesome stuff done. Our other favorites? Embrace your inner weirdness and ignore the scolds!
Look at the progress of the day towards the end and ask yourself: “Have I done a good day’s work?”
Answering that question is liberating….
It feels good to be productive. If yesterday was a good day’s work, chances are you’ll keep the roll. And if you can keep the roll, everything else will probably take care of itself.
37signals’s David Heinemeier Hansson writes in his post, A good day’s work, about the frustration from those ever-continuous waves of work that seem to lap up against our mind’s shore.
David’s helpful suggestion to deal with that worried and anxious mind is to simply reflect on the day that’s just passed. Oftentimes, you’ve done a great day’s work. Leave your work knowing that you’re ready and primed to have a great day of accomplishments tomorrow.
Of course, we’re all for reflecting upon your work day. Use iDoneThis to ask yourself, “Have I done a good day’s work?” and keep that roll!
The key to success is not just focusing on what’s important but knowing what to ignore, to say “No” to. The decision to achieve something requires decisions not to achieve other things.
HBR’s Peter Bregman recommends looking at Focus and Ignore lists every morning to direct your day to success:
List 1: Your Focus List (the road ahead)
What are you trying to achieve? What makes you happy? What’s important to you? Design your time around those things. Because time is your one limited resource and no matter how hard you try you can’t work 25/8.
List 2: Your Ignore List (the distractions)
To succeed in using your time wisely, you have to ask the equally important but often avoided complementary questions: what are you willing not to achieve? What doesn’t make you happy? What’s not important to you? What gets in the way?
“We always assume that you get more done when you’re consciously paying attention to a problem. That’s what it means, after all, to be ‘working on something.’ But this is often a mistake. If you’re trying to solve a complex problem, then you need to give yourself a real break, to let the mind incubate the problem all by itself. We shouldn’t be so afraid to actually take some time off.”—
Jonathan Schooler explains his forthcoming paper on the power of daydreaming in Jonah Lehrer’s blog post, “The Virtues of Daydreaming”. According to Schooler and Benjamin Baird’s research, questions need time to marinate and incubate in your brain in order for you to come up with better and more creative solutions.
Like doodling, daydreaming is put down as a waste of time, when in fact you’re getting stuff done. Your unconscious is still hard at work while you can let your mind wander and take a break without the guilt trip!
This 1932 quote from FDR may be about the U.S., but it stands as pretty good personal advice too!
The country needs, and unless I mistake its temper, the country demands, bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.
“Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.”—
English teacher David McCullough Jr. delivered a rousing commencement speech at Wellesley High School, advising the graduating class to reach for achieving something good and genuine rather than for accolades.
The entire speech is worth a read, or watch the video:
“Motivation and inspiration can go a long way toward helping you get where you want to be. Sometimes blogs and books and in-person meetings give me that push or ah-ha moment I need to get moving. But when it comes to creating something awesome, whether that’s a book or a business or some other exciting project, you have to step away from all those sources of energy and create.”—
Alexis Grant writes about how the way to kick your butt into gear isn’t by doing other things, no matter how helpful they seem.
Step away from the push itself and get stuff done!
“Productivity — the amount of output delivered per hour of work in the economy — is often viewed as the engine of progress in modern capitalist economies. Output is everything. Time is money.”—
In a recent NY Times op-ed, Tim Jackson reminds us that with a narrow definition of productivity and the fact that "we’ve become so conditioned by the language of efficiency," we risk neglecting parts of our lives that matter, such as a focus on care and craft.
We tend to agree. What is your definition of productivity?
“Years ago, when I was researching an article on research into stress, one social scientist passed on a simple tip: “At some point every day, you have to say, ‘No more work.’” No matter how many tasks remain undone, you have to relax at some point and enjoy the evening.”—John Tierney, NY Times columnist and co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, in an interview with Gretchen Rubin.
I’m sure we’ve all worked at companies where the loudest guy gets the biggest bonus. In most companies, compensation is determined by a cabal of execs—guys that you may never have met—evaluating work that happened up to a whole year ago. Bonus compensation ends up being a function of politics, not performance.
51% of employees feel that the performance reviews upon which bonus compensation is based are inaccurate according to a 2011 survey by Globoforce. A 2010 literature survey in Psychology Today concluded that 87% to 90% of employees hate performance reviews because the feedback is not useful, the whole process is stressful, and they’re left demotivated as a result.
Incredibly, despite widespread recognition of its failure, a recent Wall Street Journal article found that 99% of companies still go through the process of ritualized demotivation.
At Shopify, an e-commerce software startup that’s doubled to a 100-employee headcount in a year’s time, they’ve reinvented the process and turned bonus compensation on its head. They distribute bonuses every month — not once a year — and that compensation is determined by peers, not by the management team on high.
Shopify crowdsources their company bonuses.
We spent a week with Shopify at their headquarters in Ottawa, Canada, after the company began using iDoneThis. We learned that their use of iDoneThis was a small part of a bigger philosophy—to put power in the hands of employees, the ones closest to the ground, to make consequential decisions, crowdsource business intelligence, and build their own unique company culture.
To crowdsource company bonuses, the Shopify team built their own internal system called Unicorn. Here’s how it works.
When Serena does something awesome, Daniel gives her thanks by going into Unicorn, logging her accomplishment, and giving her one, two or three unicorns. Everyone in the company sees Serena’s plaudits and can pile on more unicorns if they agree that she did an awesome job.
At the end of month, every employee in Shopify gets allocated a proportion of the company’s profits that are set aside for Unicorn bonuses. Daniel’s allocation goes to Serena and anyone else to whom he’s given unicorns over the course of the month. In other words, Serena’s bonus is determined by the gratitude of her peers for a job well done.
Whereas traditional bonus compensation schemes assume that management knows employee performance better than employees themselves, Shopify’s system seeks the wisdom of the crowd to determine who the top performers are. The upshot is that Unicorn isn’t merely an administrative tool that doles out bonuses, it’s a business intelligence platform for employee performance.
It’s the difference between management hindsight on the one hand and data and genuine insight on the other. CEO Tobi Lutke told me that Unicorn discovered top performers among employees who might otherwise have been overshadowed by more charismatic colleagues.
Perhaps the most amazing fact of Unicorn is that Shopify has transformed the process of workplace feedback, performance evaluation and compensation from a source of fear and dread into a fun way to recognize a colleague’s good work. The power of crowdsourcing is that it can take a back office function like traditional HR and put it into the hands of every person in the company. The result is that Shopify’s culture of performance, gratitude, and quirkiness is baked into everyday life at the company.
“The world is full of people who are waiting for someone to come along and motivate them to be the kind of people they wish they could be. These people are waiting for a bus on a street where no buses pass.”—
It’s not just the number of hours we sit at a desk that determines the value we generate. It’s the energy we bring to the hours we work … . Maintaining a steady reservoir of energy – physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually – requires refueling it intermittently.
Schwartz’s insistence that real productivity requires real rest, recharge, and renewal is in tune with Ken Robinson's focus on energy. Robinson suggests that having passion for your work is a built-in energy renewal system. Schwartz's point on sustaining personal energy levels is even more basic, whatever your passion (or lack of passion) is for your work — simply take more meaningful breaks.
Get outside, move around more, and please, stop eating lunch at your desk.
The Minor Miracle of Third-Party App Development Without a Real API
I’ve never had a kid, but I imagine that it can’t be too different from giving birth to a web app. It’s amazing that the thing exists at all, much less that it walks and talks, and it’s a minor miracle when it thinks on its own and creates something new of its own volition.
The Springest guys were the ones who had been spamming my inbox with errors! They had been testing their iDoneThis extension to Alfred (an awesome Mac app launcher).
It was super simple, it worked, and ok, I thought it was incredible. Wouter at Springest, a company halfway around the world that I’d never talked to, without asking for permission or needing to ask for permission, lacking a real API, used our email interface to connect Alfred to iDoneThis.
Just punch your done into Alfred, and it will shoot out an email to us and in it goes into your done list. Not only did the extension rule, it also became the main way that I entered my dones!
A week later, more errors hit my inbox and I noticed what seemed to be an error with the Alfred extension. ”Uh oh,” I thought. Either we’ll have to support the extension or we’ll be left with buggy software built by a third-party that diminishes the user experience.
I reached out to the user to see what was up and if there was anything I could do to help. It turned out that Rudy was attempting to use the Alfred extension for his personal iDoneThis, whereas the Wouter built the extension only for teams because that’s how they use it at Springest.
I didn’t feel comfortable with reaching out to Wouter to request a fix, and I wasn’t sure that we had the bandwidth to basically begin the process of supporting a third-party extension. I sent the kind of useless placating email that I hate sending.
Oh, I think I realize the problem.
The Alfred integration was created by Springest, and they use iDoneThis in a team only, but you’re trying to use iDoneThis for personal use.
So by default, the email address that the email gets sent to is <team name>@team.idonethis.com, which for you, is email@example.com. But the email address for personal emails isn’t the same scheme — it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
So basically, the Alfred integration won’t work for personal users right now.
I’m cc’ing my co-founder Rodrigo on this email and I’ll make a ticket for this. We’ve wanted to add email@example.com as the primary address we send and receive from for personal emails.
Rudy’s response was short and simple but it made me stop and marvel at the world we live in. ”I’ll fork the extension and submit a pull request.”
Fabian Kruse writes about “the loop" inherent to getting anything done, and the idea that periods of procrastination, having doubts, and losing momentum are just part of that natural productivity cycle. So, while productivity systems and techniques are valuable, they don’t necessarily prevent the slower parts of "the loop" from happening again. In fact, they become a part of the loop.
The reason why I hate productivity systems is because they easily become a dominant part of “the loop”. And once they become a dominant part of the loop, they become a problem. A problem that keeps creatives from focusing on what matters – and from doing what they want to do because their muse is calling.
While Kruse focuses on the lives of “creative” people, his post applies to pretty much everyone as a reminder that productivity systems are tools and managers, not creations. At the end of the day, there’s no point in having “make a to-do list” on your to-do list.
C.J. Chilvers also writes about the paradox of productivity apps and the struggle that remains in getting important things done. The solution, for him, has been that “the easier a system is, the more will get done.”
We hope iDoneThis is a super-easy system, helping you record more daily dones that matter!
How Agiliq Creates Bespoke Webapps by Focusing Within
Agiliq is a 12-person web design and development studio based in Hyderabad, India that builds web applications which provide that “just-right” fit for its clients. The key to crafting bespoke webapps relies not only on the ingredients of technology and design but on understanding your client and your client’s issues.
But in order to do that, it’s important to understand the inner workings of your own team members and their work. Agiliq director and developer Shabda Raaj finds that using iDoneThis is integral to getting to the nuts and bolts of Agiliq’s operations. The results: a greatly streamlined workflow and improved capacity to focus on what matters, solving clients’ issues and getting more app-making done.
Before implementing iDoneThis, Shabda’s team members used to send him a daily report. At the same time, he did not send anything out to his team members, since he wasn’t obligated to report “down” to anyone and felt that doing so would be too much like spam. Using iDoneThis was a neat workflow solution, a non-spammy way for team members, including Shabda, to send and receive daily reports, providing better transparency within the organization and better plan-making.
Improving workflow regarding daily reports is one thing, but Shabda and the Agiliq team appreciate iDoneThis’s ability to work in concert with other project management tools such as Assembla. Since Agiliq is a heavy user of Assembla for tasks such as source control and ticketing, they set up a script that emails Shabda a summary of commits that he edits and sends on to iDoneThis. “It allows us to summarize the progress without a lot of duplication.”
While Shabda may have expected the productivity benefits of time-saving and progress-tracking, he has been surprised to find that the quality of team members’ daily reports have markedly improved. “People obviously care about what the team is reading about them.”
We’re happy that iDoneThis is a just-right fit for Agiliq, and we’re excited to see their improved inner workings translate into some awesome new webapps.
We don’t know about the origin of this story but it’s a nice reminder about setting priorities:
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day isn’t enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open area between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes.”
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things…your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions…and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your home and perhaps your car.
The sand is everything else…the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.
“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Enjoy a romantic dinner with the one you love. Play another 9 or 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the faucet.
Take care of the golf balls first…the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.
“Forget about productivity and numbers. They matter not at all. If you are driven to do things to reach certain numbers (goals), you have probably lost sight of what’s important. If you are striving to be productive, you are filling your days with things just to be productive, which is a waste of a day. This day is a gift, and shouldn’t be crammed with every possible thing — spend time enjoying it and what you’re doing.”—How to Live Well, zenhabits.
Here are some of our favorites from the wise words spoketh:
"Your best work is your expression of yourself. Now you may not be the greatest at it, but when you do it, you’re the only expert in it." - Frank Gehry, architect.
"You can’t get to wonderful without passing through alright. You can’t skip from not being able to function all the way over to running the whole show." - Bill Withers, musician.
"I always thought that inspiration was for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you’re not going to make an awful lot of work." - Chuck Close, artist.
“Wise use of space means creating the right context for concentration, learning, communication, and collaboration—the building blocks of productivity.”—
Productivity is not just about you. It’s also about your environment.
The National Institute of Building Sciences takes a look at “productive building design.” Organizational effectiveness, or organizational productivity, is a fancy way of saying using space wisely. It makes sense to make a user-friendly work environment to cultivate an organization’s greatest resource and expense — the worker!
Less than half of workers report being satisfied with the recognition they receive on the job. Is it just a coincidence that less than half of employed adults report being completely satisfied with their jobs?
Do you have any tips for working smarter, not harder? Share them with us in the comments!
Confronting the Brutal Facts of Your Startup's Reality
"This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."
- Admiral James Stockdale 
Fundraising is distracting because much of it is about framing facts about your reality rather than confronting the brutal facts of your reality. For us, that meant coming up with a plausible story for not sucking when we did mostly suck. 
Some startups try to handle this by juggling two different stories: the one they tell investors and the one they know to be true. That sounds easy enough, but it can get very confusing and that confusion results in friction.
That was especially the case for our team. I used to be a lawyer, and it’s a lawyer’s job to put different frames on facts and argue why a given frame is closest to the truth. An engineer’s mentality is to find the closest frame to objective truth. 
When the team got down emotionally, I would try to persuade them that reality wasn’t as bleak as it seemed. I laugh thinking about it now. The guys would tell me, “You can’t persuade me of the pitch because we helped come up with it!”
The problem is that I was operating under the mentality that a team needs to be motivated to get more done. It turns out that my attempts to frame reality for the purpose of motivating was extremely demotivating to the team because it distracted our attention away from confronting the brutal facts of our reality.
Jim Collins in Good to Great and Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in The Progress Principle both interviewed hundreds of managers and employees, analyze thousands of employee journal entries, and concluded that motivation is a waste of time — employees aren’t motivated by motivation. Rather, the right people are self-motivated and the key is just to stay out of the way and focus on not demotivating people.
Not dealing with reality on the part of management is a huge demotivator. When you confront the brutal facts of your current reality, you’re able to conduct an autopsy in earnest, and then execute — a process that’s invigorating and self-motivating.
 Jim Collins, Good to Great (2001).
 Ironically, the best investors are those that want to confront the brutal facts of your current reality with you and that’s what value-added is in that context. They’ll find you difficult to talk to if you engage in sales talk rather than confront the truth. The funny thing is that practicing pitching with the average investor may lead you astray with exceptional investors.
 All of this is somewhat ironic because iDoneThis is a tool that shows you the truth.
“I have a theory that burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful. I tell people: Find your rhythm. Your rhythm is what matters to you so much that when you miss it you’re resentful of your work… . So find your rhythm, understand what makes you resentful, and protect it. You can’t have everything you want, but you can have the things that really matter to you. And thinking that way empowers you to work really hard for a really long period of time.”—Marissa Mayer explains that the key to avoiding burnout.
Non-Technical Founder Feature Launch in Three Weeks
I’ve recently spoken with technical founders who’ve complained about their non-technical co-founders who refuse to do or learn anything technical, and it’s struck a nerve. One technical founder told me, “My co-founder refuses to learn the most basic SQL so that they can pull analytics on their own.”
As the worst engineer at iDoneThis, I’m the CEO. I haven’t coded seriously in about 7 years since I was in college, before I went to law school. My lack of coding chops has meant that I’ve often found myself asking the engineers to create tools for me that enable me to do my job. That behavior can get extremely distracting for the engineering team that’s trying to push the product forward, and it creates a negative dynamic in which engineering serves managers’ needs.
We began to hear from companies using iDoneThis that they wanted a place that aggregated a single employee’s activity and dones, and I thought to myself, “Simple profile pages is a feature that I could build in a few days!” So began a three week struggle in which I nearly gave up a bunch of times, before we triumphed as a team and got the profiles launched.
Off and Running
On Saturday, March 17, I got cracking, and things were looking up. I thought that I could crank out profiles over the weekend and I’d have something to show off to Rodrigo and Mike on Monday. The team cheered me on.
I have a basic working knowledge of Python and Django, so I didn’t have any trouble from the start. I had the routing set up, along with outlines of the Django views that would grab the data, and the templates that would display the data. I was just aggregating data (dones and likes) and displaying them on one page, which isn’t a very hard problem.
By the end of the day on Sunday, I felt like I was basically done. My logic that pulled the dones and likes and displayed them on the profile pages worked well. All I had left to do was style the profile pages and allow an editable bio and an editable profile picture. Fantastic!
A Huge Coffeescript-and-Backbone-Shaped Roadblock … NOT!
Daunting, I thought, learning a new language and framework, but I figured that I could handle it. And I actually got off to a quick start. I went through the to-do list tutorial and tried to do some background reading. When I grasped the essential analogy (Coffeescript:Backbone::Python:Django), I got bored of reading and just started hacking away.
With a little beginner’s luck, I was able to code up the following/follow/unfollow/edit profile interaction pretty quickly, and I declared Monday a success. All I had left to do was the profile picture and bio editing, and I figured I’d be done by Tuesday and maybe I’d add more sugar to it. Man, I’m good!
Nevermind: A Huge Coffeescript-and-Backbone-Shaped Roadblock
On Tuesday, I thought I’d start with something simple: refactoring the display of the dones. Instead of it happening with Python and Django on the backend, I’d pass a JSON object to the frontend and render it with Coffeescript and Backbone.
Passing the JSON object over to the client was a confusing process because I kept thinking, “There must be a better way!” I ended up having to write methods to reconstruct Django objects as JSON objects, which felt incredibly primitive to me, but Stackoverflow didn’t seem to have a better solution.
Once I got the JSON objects to the client, I needed to display them. Up until that point, I’d only done a rough cut of displaying anything on the client-side, so I just wrote HTML as strings in the Coffeescript. Obviously, that wouldn’t cut it for displaying the dones, which involved a lot more HTML.
I looked around our code for the answer of what to do, and I found that we used a templating engine for Coffeescript called Coffeekup. It looked easy enough — just pass in the template and “this”, whatever that means, and it would render. I spent the next two days at a total standstill learning what the word “this” meant.
As a novice developer, when a simple statement like “$(‘#dailydone_display’).html(CoffeeKup.render(this.template, this))” doesn’t work, my first reaction is to go into “change random stuff” mode. To a beginner like me, so many things in an application work like total magic to the point where the application doesn’t always appear to be responding to logic. Applied to debugging, that means that changing random junk can get you to the answer often just as fast as attempting to deduce what the actual issue is.
Random junk I’m embarrassed to say that I tried: hitting refresh and hard refresh again and again in the browser, recompiling Coffeescript, restarting the web server, adding @s and $s in random places, renaming “template” to something else with the thought that “template” is a special word, and on and on. I probably spent a couple of hours in a zombie-like trance hitting the same buttons over and over, expecting something new to happen.
After awhile, I came to a dead end, and that meant that I could either ask Rodrigo to fix it for me, or I could actually try to figure out what was broken. I won’t lie, I went to Rodrigo first, but after 30 seconds of explaining what I needed from him, I realized that my question was of sufficient complexity that it would break up his day to help me with my problem, thus defeating the purpose of my attempting to build this feature in the first place. I struck back out on my own.
What does “this” mean? I’m still not sure.
I learned a lot from taking a deep dive on the word “this”. Probably the most lasting impression that the experience has had on me is an appreciation and sympathy for how the simplest steps can turn into deep dives into the depths of an abstraction you were told that you’d never have to worry about.
Modern web frameworks, languages, and platforms make it possible for even an idiot like me to build and launch a feature, but once one thing goes unexpectedly long, it can be a deep, scary exploration and adventure underground before getting back up to the surface. Everything is totally placid at the surface, but underground … well, let’s just say that I don’t want to go back there. That’s where you need the fat dudes with neck beards, not a skinny guy like me in tight pants.
I isolated the issue to the variable “this”, and then did some googling. After frantically changing random junk, my next vector of attack is always Google. But I found nothing. The word “this” is hard to google.
During this time, I got extremely frustrated — irrationally so — and considered quitting a bunch of times. Why was I doing this? I wasn’t leveraging my strengths; I was wasting time. When am I going to code again? Rodrigo and Mike could do this 100x faster. What made me step back from the ledge was recommitting myself to the long view — we were trying to build a great software company and it is important that I be able to get in the trenches and support my team rather than have it support me.
That’s when the mystery began to unravel. I remembered that my code had “_.bindAll @” in it, which I had copy-pasted from a Backbone tutorial that had gotten me started. I deleted it, massaged some other code, and voila! I was able to get everything working without really understanding why it broke in the first place.
I spent the next week adding avatars, adding bios, making the bios editable inline, adding profile settings, fixing bugs, cleaning up code, and messing with the styles. I kept thinking that I would be done the next day. That thinking went on for a week.
After two weeks (7x longer than I estimated), I got user profiles production ready. Rodrigo and Mike told me that it sucked and Mike had to spend another week making my database queries not take forever, paginating my dones, and actually deploying it.