Last week, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s plans for a new campus, a 420,000 square foot single-story warehouse made to look like “a hill in nature,” one giant room fitting thousands of people. He described their aspiration as wanting to build “the perfect engineering space.”
I admit that Zuck’s statement caught me off guard because I dislike the typical open floor plan office and so do most engineers that I know. Many engineers wear headphones to create the missing wall so that they can concentrate and focus on coding without distraction. We chose the small offices at WeWork in SOMA, SF, over co-working for those reasons.
The New York Times reported that recent research supported the hunch that open floor plan offices reduce productivity. The research showed that ambient conversations at work and a noisy office space contributed to “a decline of 5 percent to 10 percent on the performance of cognitive tasks requiring efficient use of short-term memory, like reading, writing and other forms of creative work.” According to the researcher, “Noise is the most serious problem in the open-plan office, and speech is the most disturbing type of sound because it is directly understood in the brain’s working memory.”
Nevertheless, the open floor plan office has become a shibboleth of startup culture. It reflects our rejection of hierarchy, and our embrace of agility, collaboration and creativity, and as a result, many startups take the open floor plan for granted.
We’ve recently visited two startups, Shopify and Zappos, that are reconsidering and riffing off of the standard startup open floor plan office, and we’ve been inspired by what they’ve come up with to ensure that engineers have the relative solitude that they need to get in the zone, without reverting away from the promise of the open floor plan for serendipity, collaboration and work happiness.
Work and Play at Shopify
Shopify, an e-commerce platform, is on their fourth office in their sixth year of existence, so they’ve learned a thing or two about offices. One important thing they’ve learned is that they don’t like open floor plans.
At Shopify, they work in pods, which are rooms of the 6-8 people you work closely with on a day-to-day basis. The pods shoot off from a central hallway loop. On the outside of the loop are the pods, and on the inside are small private meeting rooms and conference rooms.
Attached to the core of the office is a big open space called the Annex where they hold their weekly all-hands meeting and host events in the community. Daily free lunch and a big, central kitchen with free drinks and snacks facilitate collaboration and serendipity, but when people open themselves up to it, not on a constant barrage.
The configuration shows the value the company puts in quiet, distraction-free coding with your core collaborators. Open floor plan offices are noisy and distracting and that can prevent engineers from getting in a state of flow. There was definitely plenty of fun to be had in the office, but those areas weren’t in places that would create distractions for others trying to work.
To me, this reflected an organizational value of work-life segmentation. We worked out of Shopify’s office for a week, and we were shocked to see engineers come in at 9 and leave by 5 on a daily basis. Similarly, concentrated work happens in the work areas and hanging out and relaxing happens in the lounge areas. In Silicon Valley, work and play is all mixed up together so it sometimes feels like you’re expected to work and play all at the same time all the time.
What “Open” Means to Zappos
Their offices look like total mayhem to the outside observer and it’s hard not to wonder how anything gets done, especially with the world-famous Zappos tour rolling through the office nonstop. (Noticably absent from the tour, however, was the engineering team, which is housed in a separate building.)
They have a open floor plan at Zappos with team-oriented bullpens, but for them, that’s far from sufficient in ensuring serendipitous interactions and a culture where everyone knows everyone. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is famous for taking measures to hack serendipity like only allowing Zappos employees to enter through one door in the building to force spontaneous encounters.
Zappos is taking the concept of the “open floor plan” to the next level with what you might call an open floor plan community. The irony of the open floor plan Silicon Valley corporate campus is that they’re typically cloistered away from the community at large in their own ivory tower. Openness, collaboration, and nonhierarchical organization is the order of the day, but among themselves only.
Zappos’s $350 million project to bring its HQ from suburbia into downtown and revitalize downtown Las Vegas reimagines what an open floor plan office can be by opening itself up the entire community. It’s inspired by the idea that companies become more productive when they collide with people and ideas in the broader community, and the entire plan is organized to facilitate interactions not just between employees, but within the community, from the placement of the buildings and public spaces, to the grassroots investment model and the community-oriented projects being funded.
In some ways, the Downtown Project is an experiment in taking the open floor plan office to its logical extreme. It blurs the distinction between companies in the same way that co-working does (no wonder co-working is a big part of the Downtown Project) by subsuming individuals into a broader community.
What’s your take on open floor plan offices? How does your company balance work and play and openness and distinction? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Walter Chen is co-founder of iDoneThis, an ex-lawyer, and an amateur Starcraft player. You can follow his tweets at @smalter.
In the workplace, we rarely share what’s going on beneath the surface. At most companies, the unspoken expectation is that you park your emotional life at the door, put on your game face, and keep things light and professional. In short, you bring a part of yourself to work and try to suppress the rest.
But at what cost — including to productivity?
Tony Schwartz, in an HBR blog post, Seeing Through Your Blind Spots, talks about how acknowledging and understanding our emotions in the workplace are important to how well we work.
Paying attention to feelings, of others and of ourselves, and improving our communication regarding these emotions helps us know how to work better. (We recommend maintaining a work diary to bring the rest of yourself to work!)
Cheers to mistakes! Here’s the full quote about making mistakes from the excellent Neil Gaiman’s blog, totally worth reading before you get back to doing:
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
A recent Gallup poll found that workers who are engaged feel almost as good on the weekdays as they do on the weekends! Plus, learning and interestingness peaks for these happy, engaged workers during the workweek. In turn, they are more likely to be productive.
The bad news? Only 30% of U.S. workers were engaged in the first part of 2012.
“You also have to have perseverance – and maybe that’s the hardest thing, to persevere and to believe that what you’re doing is worth doing – and to do it, rather than talking about doing it.”—
Maira Kalman talks to 99u about work and overcoming the challenges of the creative process. Her daily routine expressly involves avoiding work: “Avoiding work is the way to focus my mind.” Kalman’s wisdom is endless.
The Freedom Experiment lists 55 ways to take care of yourself when the going gets busy. There are many gems but we especially liked this one about remembering to schedule me-time and honoring it:
To make your life less chaotic, it’s a good practice to keep a planner. Make sure you write down every single appointment, to save yourself from unwanted surprises and missed meetings. Just remember to schedule time for yourself. Honor your appointment with yourself just as much as you would keep an appointment with anyone else. Just make sure you schedule time with yourself first – anyone else needs to come in second in your life.
“We forget that mastery is something human beings seek because we’re human beings. We like to get better at stuff because it’s inherently satisfying.”—
Daniel Pink, writing for the Washington Post, argues that we need more renewable motivation. How do we create this? Engage your employees, not by managing them but granting them autonomy.
We’re not mice on treadmills with little carrots being dangled in front of us all the time. Sometimes we are. There’s no question about that. But in the workplace, as people are doing more complicated things, the carrot-and-stick approach doesn’t work.
What’s frustrating, or ought to be frustrating, to individuals in companies and shareholders as well is that when we see these carrot-and-stick motivators demonstrably fail before our eyes - when we see them fail in organizations right before our very eyes - our response isn’t to say: “Man, those carrot-and-stick motivators failed again. Let’s try something new.” It’s, “Man, those carrot-and-stick motivators failed again. Looks like we need more carrots. Looks like we need sharper sticks.” And it’s taking us down a fundamentally misguided path.
17 Women Startup Leaders Name Their Modern Day Heroines
A lot has been said about the scarcity of women leaders in the tech startup world. As the lone woman in a tech startup company, it’s a subject that fascinates me both personally and professionally.
Working with iDoneThis, I have long noticed that there are vastly more men than women in the startup world. Often, the individuals who can exert great influence over your startup’s future are men. The people you network with, get advice from, collaborate with and befriend are also men. And once in a while, the people you have to say no to, who you have to argue with or tell something they don’t want to hear, are also men.
This intimidates me, but I’m not entirely sure why. I’m not intimidated by law, medicine, corporate business, or any other traditionally male-dominated career paths. Could it be that I never had any role models in tech? I decided to ask leading women in the tech startup world this simple question:
What woman in tech startups do you look up to, and why?
I got an immediate flood of responses from CEOs and founders who were eager to applaud and promote other women startup leaders. Their responses were personal, insightful and full of pride at other women’s achievements.
“Katie Rae, Managing Director, TechStars Boston. She’s brilliant, funny and patient. No, strikethrough “patient,” she is a saint. She kicks ass and has made TechStars Boston into something truly epic, capturing the attention of even aloof elements of Boston’s startup scene. She knows how to apply just the right mix of nurture vs. beat up to struggling entrepreneurs, and can hold them to high standards even while building up their spirit. She has saved my ass too many times to count.”
Laura Fitton Inbound Marketing Evangelist, HubSpot
"I look up to any and all female founders because I know how hard it is to start something and grow it. Some of the women in technology that I idolize are Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman. They are all power women who are continuously challenging themselves and others.”
"I look up to Chantel Waterbury, founder and CEO of chloe + isabel because she not only built an accessories brand from the ground up, but also built a company that uses a direct sales model to provide opportunities for young women to learn and run their own businesses. She’s recruited a rockstar team, fostered a supportive culture, and created a beautiful product — all in all she’s an amazing CEO who I fiercely respect.”
"I salute Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Meyer for crushing barriers and at the highest levels. I admire and am in daily awe of Jen Pahlka at Code for America for believing in the power of technology to solve large problems — and helping others make that happen. I seek advice constantly from Janice Fraser, who is introducing the world to the concept of “Lean UX”. I LOVE female founders who turn personal experience into a true solution — women like Melinda Wittstock of NewsIT; Tereza Nemessanyi of HonestlyNow; Ellie Cachette of ConsumerBell. And I am enormously grateful to the women who work so hard to empower other women: Rachel Sklar of ChangeTheRatio and TheLi.st; Whitney Johnson of Dare.Dream.Do.; Amy Millman and Kay Koplovitz of Springboard Enterprises. And finally, I look up to the strength, persistence, creativity, and vision of the woman I am privileged to call my co-founder, Rachna Choudhry.”
"I’ve never met Carol Realini of Obopay, but I really admire women like her that are pioneers paving the way in traditionally male-dominant industries like finance & tech. On top of that she started her entreprenuerial path over three decades ago— pretty bold if you ask me!”
"I look up to every woman who has ever started, worked in, led and grown a tech venture - because I know firsthand what it takes generally, how much more it takes when you’re female (no, it’s not a level playing field), and I admire every single woman who has ever gritted her teeth, pursued her vision, battled through every obstacle, and said, ‘I’m going to fucking well show them.’"
"My first thought is Ann Winblad, because she has been a VC for so long (before the chit chat about the lack of women in tech receiving funding), and was such a believer/supporter of us … She’s such a rock star, and yet when you chat with her she’s always genuinely interested in your business and eager to help.”
"I really look up to Cher Wang, she is the founder of HTC and she actually spear headed the effort to use Android as the platform for HTC phones. I think it’s rare that you see a woman running a hardware company especially in the mobile industry … I am also a big fan of Julia Hartz who founded Eventbrite. She is married to her co-founder and I think people really underestimate the power of having founders who are married/related to one another.”
“Rashmi Sinha, CEO & Co-founder of Slideshare. Rashmi built the most successful platform for professional content sharing with a small team and only $3M in investment. Her 6 year old company was acquired earlier this year by Linked in for $199M; a mere four months after she and her Co-Founder husband gave birth to twins. Her balance of professional and personal success is beyond inspiring.”
Joselle Ho Co-Founder & Creative Director, Miso Media
"Mine is, of course, Marissa Mayer. I’ve been a fan of hers since seeing her speak back in 2004, long before she became Google’s poster girl. The engineer behind some of Google’s most dominant products, she also developed as a business woman until she truly represented the whole package.”
"I’ve been very fortunate to work with several extraordinary women who have given me a lot of inspiration. Audrey M. Roy, Esther Nam and Jessica Stanton, who are brilliant programmers and community leaders, as well as Angie Chang, founder and editor-in-chief of Women2.0. They are role models not only for myself but for countless other women and are people whom I deeply admire.”
"We really respect the work that Halle Tecco, founder of Rock Health, is doing. Rock Health is a seed accelerator program for health tech startups, and is enabling significant innovation in that space. Because of Halle and the wonderful team she works with, revolutionary healthcare ideas are getting the support, partners, and mentorship they need to become game-changing companies. Halle is a true visionary.”
“Caterina Fake, the master of pattern recognition. With Flickr and then Hunch, she was first to market with products that harness consumer enthusiasm for human connection via technology … The late, great Michael Dertouzos of MIT wrote that the Web is just one big, Greek marketplace. Caterina’s gotten that from the beginning, delivered two successful multi-million-dollar exits for her investors, and taken the time to advise many other women entrepreneurs along the way. That’s my definition of a rock-star entrepreneur.”
"Having worked in the startup world, then going to Corporate America and coming back to the startup world, I’ve come across many smart women in my path. When I worked in Big 5 Consulting, although it was corporate America, running your own consulting projects, teams of people across the country was like being an entrepreneur even in that environment. I had two great women mentors there that showed me how to work hard, manage people and most importantly, ethics. With them, it was never women vs. men mentality and I’ve always lived that philosophy. They taught me about “no fear” and the art of presenting."
“Halle Tecco, the co-founder and CEO of Rock Health, is one of the female leaders in digital health I look up to. Halle strongly believes that startups can revolutionize health care and has created a fantastic platform to empower entrepreneurs to do so.”
"I look up to every woman who has made (or is making) the jump into realizing she is an entrepreneur. Regardless of gender, there’s always self-doubt and insecurity and women in particular tend to sell themselves short. It really inspires me when I hear about a female founder launching an idea and changing the world. It shows the younger generations that tech start-ups are not just for the boys, girls are winning too."
“Leah Busque took the idea of an online marketplace for errands, built the first website herself (she is an engineer, after all) and grew the startup business over the last few years. Today, she is reknown for creating thousands and thousands of jobs through TaskRabbit. That’s a really great feat. I also greatly admire other technical women who have founded startups: Mary Lou Jepson who used to be CTO of One Laptop Per Child and now runs Pixel Qi, Cathy Edwards who co-founded and was CTO of Chomp until it was acquired by Apple earlier this year, to name a few.”
Angie Chang Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Women 2.0
"I have learned over the years that it doesn’t pay off to ‘look up’ to anybody - you shouldn’t waste any energy on trying to be like somebody else. Rather use that energy trying to figure out what your own talents are and how you can best use them to the max! But I am very proud at women such as Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg for what they achieve and the role model they play for ambitious women all across the globe.”
Claire Boonstra Co-Founder & Head of Bus. Dev., Layar
* * * * *
What I didn’t expect when I sent out this survey was the amount of support each of these women showed me in my efforts to write a blog post. Every answer I got was personal and enthusiastic. Many showed genuine interest in what I did at iDoneThis, my position as the Chief Happiness Officer and my desire to promote women in tech. Those who couldn’t participate wrote back personally to express their regret. Some went out of their way to collect answers from other women in their company. Some offered encouragement and kind words for my endeavor. I even received invitations to women in tech events.
All this is to say, women really support each other in this tech startup world. I never expected to send out a single question and be met with so much encouragement and support.
“I learned that sharks sleep parts of their brain, like rolling blackouts; they can’t fall asleep because they can’t stop moving or they’ll suffocate. So they sleep sections of their brain at a time. So I do kind of a version of that, where I shut down brain centers. I literally tell myself, “Don’t logistically problem-solve for the next three hours, but you can talk to folks. Driving my kid home from school—don’t think about all the professional things you have to do.”—
Louis C.K., on how he manages his crazy busy life, in an interview with the A.V. Club. Shark-y brain sleep it is!
Teresa Norton writes at HBR about how a simple exercise called the story spine can help you get unstuck and make change while “living truthfully” at work.
The story spine is a narrative tool created by playwright, improviser, and theater educator Kenn Adams used to craft well-structured stories. As Norton’s post shows, the story spine can be used as a personal narrative tool to help you make sense of your situation, envision and then enact positive change, and make key self-discoveries.
The story spine structure goes like this:
Once there was…
And every day…
Until one day…
And because of that…
And because of that…
And because of that…
Have you ever used the story spine? We’d love to hear about it!
“[T]he really important thing about being alive is how you relate to other people and the world around you, rather than how many tasks you complete or how quickly.”—Some lovely words from Andrew O’Hehir’s review of the Korean documentary, Planet of Snail.
It’s hard to build great technology products without a muser. The muser not only adds emotional motivation to the developer’s work ethic; she serves a cognitive function of focusing his mind on the one thing that truly matters: what using the thing is like. Without her, projects disintegrate into scattered bundles of individual features, appealing to the intellect but not the heart.
Hands down the most inspired we’ve felt as a company has been our excursions to visit our musers, see first-hand how they get down with iDoneThis, and chat about the vision and direction of the company.
From San Francisco to Ottawa to Learn How to Startup
It started serendipitously. In February, we’d started corresponding with a guy named Tobi at Shopify about a support matter who turned out to be the CEO. The more we talked to Tobi and read about Shopify, the more enamored we grew with them — they do things their own way and on their own terms, and they’ve been wildly successful.
When the iDoneThis crew was sitting around chatting one night about Shopify, we were struck with a brilliant idea! We should get to know them, see how they use iDoneThis, and learn how they’ve built an amazing company. It was a bit forward, but that night we invited ourselves up to Ottawa, Canada, to hang out with them at work for a week.
The next day, Tobi wrote back:
That sounds really cool. Cody Fauser ( our CTO ) agrees that iDoneThis is working really well at Shopify. There are a few things that we definitely have on our wishlist but once there is an umbrella company account type all the really important things are there.
Send over some dates and also Laura from our office can help set this up.
A month later, we flew into a frigid Ottawa winter from San Francisco and New York, and we arrived to incredibly warm and hospitable company. They gave us office space to work for an entire week, and the exec team, developers, and all staff took a ridiculous amount of time out to give us feedback and talk excitedly about what iDoneThis could be.
Tobi later told us that he was thrilled by our visit, and he wished that when he first started Shopify (over 6 years ago) that he’d spent more time getting out of the building and talking to customers. He shared his vision for not only disrupting e-commerce software, but for re-imagining software development around creativity and craft, not hours and grind. Everything became more meaningful because they believed in what we believed in.
We’re eternally grateful to Shopify. Their enthusiasm for iDoneThis made us feel as if we deserved to exist, even though we still haven’t justified it based on profit. We continue talk on a regular basis with the Shopify team and they’ve remained our customers and friends. (Walter now plays Starcraft with Shopify data analyst Jesse Lung nearly every day.)
Waking Up in Vegas
A few months later, we started corresponding with a fellow named Will who’d recently started using iDoneThis with his team at Zappos. It turned out that Will was Will Young, director of engineering at Zappos Labs in San Francisco and partner in the Vegas Tech Fund, a $50 million fund to bring startups to downtown Las Vegas (part of Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project, a $350 million project to revitalize downtown Las Vegas).
Will loved the product and told all of the Downtown Project team about it, including Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. Before long, Tony and the Downtown Project crew were on iDoneThis, and we found ourselves in Las Vegas getting feedback first-hand from the Downtown Project cohort and in Tony’s apartment watching him play around with iDoneThis on his email client of choice, Pine.
Zappos is amazing company because they look at seemingly everything through the frame of culture and that thought process pervades the entire company. To Zappos, culture is everything — it’s product, customer service, PR, etc. We were humbled that they chose to use us to positively affect their culture of collaboration and feedback, because that’s something we hoped would be possible.
To Shopify, Zappos, and All of Our Musers
We were our own muser to start and that was effective but lonely. Visiting Ottawa and Las Vegas to meet our musers tapped a deep source of motivation that imbued us with the sense that we weren’t alone and that we might be on to something.
Connecting to the people in those companies re-sensitized us to the feeling of using the product — a sense that can get numbed after using the product so many times. Chief Design Officer at Shopify Daniel Weinand spent over an hour walking through everything about our onboarding process that sucked, and it physically hurt us.
Before we heard back from Tobi after inviting ourselves over, we were terrified that he’d laugh in our faces. It turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of working on iDoneThis that gave us motivation, empathy, and food for thought.
Have you visited your musers? We’d love to hear whether you were as inspired as we were.
12 Startup Leaders on What They Love about Their Company Cultures
Startup founders begin with building new products and end up building new companies. Ultimately, some of the most successful companies not only reinvent a product or market, they change the way people work in a way that’s reflective of what they value most.
To find out how startup leaders think about building companies that they themselves enjoy working in, we surveyed the founders of some of the most innovative startups out there to ask them one simple question:
What do you value most about your company’s work culture, and what’s one important way that you contribute to it?
We received some amazing, proud and insightful responses from startup founders personally, another individual within the company who was eager to chip in, and the PR or marketing team.
“We don’t have anything set in stone regarding culture but … the most important thing is that everyone realizes why we are doing this: for our users. Many examples of their success stories and how our hard work pays off for them (and in turn, us!) is a big deal in my opinion.”
“We’re all very proud of how close the team is. We eat lunch together every day and generally end up spending time together outside of the office. It’s this culture that’s led to our ability to disagree with each other on product and to challenge each other to build the best product we can.”
“One of the neatest things about Stripe’s culture is that everyone’s in it together: no matter what you work on from day-to-day, you’re able to pitch in anywhere in the organization. I first noticed this back when I was just a Stripe user and one of the core engineers was answering my support emails; now part of the team, I’ve found that all emails are available internally so that everyone can share their ideas. It’s less of what I individually bring to the team and instead about everyone’s combined experiences… . Basically, Stripe is an ongoing brainstorming session, and that means we can take the best of everyone’s ideas and make something lasting.”
"Ark continuously focuses on and encourages personal education … Because of this environment, you will always find people testing new tools and technologies, sharing best practices, exploring competitor products, networking at industry events, and learning from guest mentors … I’m always looking for new opportunities for our team members to grow whether that’s personally or professionally. I find opportunities, such as tech events, for them to expand their network and talk to others about Ark. At these events they’re able to get away from their computers, recharge, meet similar-minded folks, and learn what others are doing in their industry."
“Our core values, TAGFEE (ed: Transparent and Authentic, Generous, Fun, Empathetic, Exceptional), are my favorite part of Moz’s company culture. It’s an amazing framework that helps to guide our decisions in big and small ways throughout the company. In meetings about a product we’re building for customers, we ask about whether a feature or a UX element showcases our style/personality authentically. In a discussion about recruiting bonuses, we’ll compare our plans to our core values of transparency and generosity. When we work on product strategy, we question our empathy to customers and their desired outcomes.
“I get to contribute to this in many ways, but the first and foremost is leading by example. My actions and my involvement in every aspect on Moz has to be incredibly TAGFEE, and living up to that standard is hard, but incredibly worthwhile. I don’t doubt that although we are getting to make great software and serve tens of thousands of customers, Moz’s greatest contribution to the startup, technology and Seattle entrepreneurship scene may be our core values. That’s pretty exciting.”
"This is a timely question for oDesk. Last week we debuted our new tagline, ‘Love the way you work,’ and asked everyone who works here, as well as our users, why they love the way they work. We got thousands of responses, such as this one from our Facebook page: ‘I love the way I work because I have the freedom to do what I love with the skills I enjoy using. I am able to witness the first time my baby smiles, and all other moments with loved ones which are simply priceless.’ I love oDesk because we are creating boundless new opportunity in the way people can work, and I feel the impact we’re having every day. The ability to do something great for the world while doing something we love is incredibly exciting — and that excitement permeates our culture."
"The most satisfying aspect of our company’s work culture is that people take initiative to find innovative solutions to problems wherever they find them, rather than just sitting comfortably within their own departments. People don’t use the phrase ’that isn’t in my job description.’ I think I’ve been able to embody this concept by doing customer service shifts a few times a year. The whole company has followed suit, and we each spend 2-3 days a year doing a stint in service so that all of us can stay close to our customers."
“Our culture is all about empowering talented people to get stuff done in the way they feel most comfortable. On any given day, you’ll see people riding motorized scooters around the office, engaged in competitive ping pong ball tournaments, snacking in our fully stocked kitchen, and only half of the team wearing shoes. It’s this laid back environment that gives us the space and energy to work hard and tackle whatever the day brings. Each Braintreep is equally responsible for maintaining this positive energy. It’s one of our favorite ways to contribute.”
“Seamless is a 12-year-old company with more than 250 employees, but our history as a tech startup informs our culture. In order to maintain the nimble development processes and personality of a startup, our Executive Management Team encourages transparency and information-sharing, context over control in management and risk-taking. Our new office, which we moved into last year, was deliberately designed with an open layout where Seamless’ top execs work alongside less seasoned employees. We encourage collaboration, creativity and the exchange of ideas, and we wanted our new office to reflect those values.”
No two companies responded with the same values and practices. Even when companies did similar things, like Stripe’s core engineers responding to customer support emails and GrubHub’s entire team doing customer service stints, the purpose of it, the values they served, and the histories that brought them to that point differed. It’s awesome that however disparate their corporate identities cultures may be, they’re both tied to giving users an amazing customer support experience.
Now that you know what each company practices to achieve the culture they want, what kind of culture do you want to create in your company? We’d love to know what daily practices you use to build and maintain your company’s cultural values.
Plus, a recent study by Amy Dalton and Stephen Spiller found that detailed planning works when you have one big to-do item, but the longer the list, the less powerful a tool it is to get stuff done.
For those of us who are unmoved by the to-do list (and the arguments of its most fervent disciples), we feel that they loom without spurring action, rebuke without encouragement. They don’t care about our circumstances or our moods. In fact, they don’t care about us at all, sitting there with items unchecked and uncrossed, coldly expectant. And in return, we don’t care about them. To-do lists can’t be effective when they are simultaneously discouraging and easy to ignore.
The Solution: Keep a Done List
We suggest a compelling alternative — the done list. Instead of itemizing things that haven’t happened yet and living in the wishful subjunctive, flip your focus to the immediacy of the present and the concreteness of the past. Is it more useful to know how much you had planned on running or how far you actually ran?
The simple power of the done list in encouraging productivity is that it relies on the fact that, as Leo Babauta says of living without goals, “you simply do.”
Why Done Lists Work
Recording your “dones” gets the ball rolling and builds momentum to propel you into the next day to get even more done. Progress itself provides powerful motivation, engagement, and encouragement. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer have found that “small wins”, even incremental steps, power progress. And once you have a small win, it’s easier to follow Jerry Seinfeld’s directive: “Don’t break the chain.”
Keeping a done list encourages reflection and awareness of the hows and whys of where you are, yielding patience and perspective, better ability to plan, and a clearer picture of where you stand.
Your done list is difficult to ignore, because it requires your active participation. The practice depends on you to record your accomplishments (or lack of dones) and self-feedback to exist.
How to Keep a Done List
It’s really up to you. Unlike the checklists and itemization of to-do lists, you have more freedom in how you choose to write down your dones. That said, don’t just turn a done list into a “done” to-do list. The value of the done list is its responsiveness to you and the reality of your day. This way, you control your lists instead of the other way around.
Just take a few minutes to reflect. Reviewing what you got done doesn’t take a lot of time, but in return, you’ll start to be more aware of your achievements. A done list helps you acknowledge how you dealt with what life brings your way, the planned and the unexpected.
Insert some comments and observations along the way. You’ll gain more motivation and learn better this way. Enjoy and celebrate accomplishments to pave the way for future ones. Think of a game plan when something didn’t go your way. Notice when something that had once been a reluctant to-do, like eating more healthily, has become a positive life habit.
Be thoughtful. Unlike to-do lists which can focus on errands and little things, done lists are most useful with context and purpose. So you may want to avoid recording mundane minutiae like “paid the bills” or “did the laundry”, unless such activities are part of a broader scheme like better financial responsibility and building better cleaning habits.
Balance your to-lists. For those of you who swear by to-do lists, a done list can be a useful balancing tool for analyzing your journey from plan to result and improving how you craft your future to-do lists.
“We are constantly trading off what we are doing now against what we might do in the future. As long as we are doing that in a reasonable way, it doesn’t matter that we are putting some things off.”—
Frank Partnoy reports on how experts in different fields view procrastination in Procrastination Rules. He describes how a journalist manages time by managing delay:
For projects that require different amounts of time, Guerrera makes separate lists. He describes a technique he and many other journalists use: “We have two sets of notebooks, a small one and a big one. The small one is for immediate day-to-day stories, the work we have to do right away. The big one is for big thoughts, features and stories that have some time. There’s an actual physical distinction between our immediate stories and the ones we can wait on. The physical form of two notebooks is our way of saying it’s too overwhelming to do both at the same time.”
Managing delay or, yes, procrastination, can be positive, reasonable behavior depending on what you’re actually trading off.
A 2005 study by the International Labour Organization found that nutrition habits do indeed directly influence work productivity. Mindflash’s infographic offers some great brain food suggestions. We’re always up for eating more dark chocolate, avocados, and blueberries - yum!
“[T]ime management isn’t primarily about using minutes well, it’s about using yourself well. And using yourself well means spending most of your time in your sweet spot, which is at the intersection of your strengths, weaknesses, differences, and passions.”—
Peter Bregman found that many people “agree or strongly agree that they don’t spend enough time at work in their sweet spot, doing work they’re really good at and enjoy the most.”
Focusing at work isn’t just about concentrating on the tasks at hand, but also about focusing your talents. Stay in your sweet spot longer.
“[W]e have one reservoir of willpower. It’s a highly limited resource, and it gets depleted by every act that requires its use.”—
Tony Schwartz, proponent of maintaining your energy levels for sustainable productivity, offers a Master Plan for Taking Control of Your Life back from all those temptations that ultimately deplete your tank of willpower.
His two tips related to eating and sleeping are great reminders to attend to your physical health in order to give your best during the day:
4. Sleep as much as you must to feel fully rested.
Enough with the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality. That just makes you a zombie.
6. Eat energy rich foods in small doses at frequent intervals.
Schwartz recommends refueling at least every three hours. Skip the mocha choco latte yeah yeah and donuts, and snack on lean proteins and complex carbohydrates for longer lasting energy boosts. Here are some helpful meal and snack ideas.
Leo Babauta of zen habits is all for killing time. To Leo, “killing” is a misnomer.
Reframe killing time as enjoying time.
Is this what our lives are to be? A non-stop stream of productive tasks? A life-long work day? A computer program optimized for productivity and efficiency? A cog in a machine?
What about joy? What about the sensory pleasure of lying in the grass with the sun shining on our closed eyes? What about the beauty of a nap while on the train? How about reading a novel for the sheer exhilaration of it, not to better yourself? What about spending time with someone for the love of being with someone, of making a genuine human connection that is unencumbered by productive purpose, unburdened by goals.
In this modern age of gizmos and gadgets, the best productivity app is you.
Benjamin Franklin, that historical grand master of productivity who did pretty well without an iPhone, knows why:
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
Our capabilities for self-analysis, awareness, and perception are what separate us from robotic worker drones, punching in and punching out without rhyme or reason. But our limited notion of productivity ignores those capabilities, focusing simplistically on output and end results, on just doing it and getting it done. We know the destinations in our work are important, but all too often, we ignore the journey and the process. We ignore ourselves.
Fuel growth and progress by keeping a work diary.
It makes sense that Franklin was a regular diarist. He was obsessed with personal growth and progress. Every evening, Franklin set aside time for “examination of the day” and to ask himself, “What good have I done today?”
The daily exercise of reflection and asking such questions are powerful, as Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer have found that the most effective motivator at work is the sense that you are making meaningful progress. Integral to fostering that sense of progress is a positive “inner work life”, which is “the mix of emotions, motivations, and perceptions” that form feedback loops in reaction to workday events and affecting how people perform at work.
Amabile and Kramer’s research shows that the quality of your inner work life impacts your “creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality.” People with positive inner work lives are engaged in their work. Meanwhile, disengaged people are less present and less productive, more worker drone.
Keeping a work diary enables you to pay attention to your inner work life, ensures engagement with your work, and helps you make meaningful progress.
How does this work?
Amabile and Kramer offer four explanations: focus, patience, planning, and, especially, personal growth. We build upon those here:
Health: Expressive writing helps cognitive processing and thus enables adaptation, resulting in better emotional and physical health.
Focus and Memory: Journaling distills the thoughts running around your head, helping to identify, clarify, and preserve. Even though you’re influenced by work events all the time, it’s extremely difficult to pinpoint how or why you were impacted more than a day later. Details get lost in the stream of busy. Keeping a work diary captures them.
Patience and Planning: With a more accurate picture of where you are and what you have done, you can plan better for your future and have more patience to insulate you against the monsters of pressure, frustration, and anxiety that time can unleash upon you. Daily journaling will also build a record and improve your ability to see the long-view. Look backward at any time to forge ahead more meaningfully and productively.
Personal Growth: Gain insight into your work habits and relationships. Command more control and autonomy because you are better able to learn from mistakes, change course, and recognize what might be standing in the way.
Daily recording and reflection also yields an honest overview of what you’ve done during the day. Instead of focusing miserably on ghosts — the to-do’s you feel you failed to accomplish — you can reflect on the reality of all the stuff you got done that day. Small wins, too, are significant to the sense that you’re making progress.
How to keep a work diary.
It’s super simple! Here are a few tips to get you started:
— Try it out for at least a month, since it takes time to build up a habit.
— Don’t use lack of time as an excuse to skip out on journaling. Amabile and Kramer recommend five to ten minutes a day. You probably spend more time during the day in the bathroom.
— Show up. Try not to miss any days. It builds the habit and you don’t have to deal with the memory problem.
— Use whatever methods and style you prefer. Pen and paper are fine, as are any kind of word processor or text editing program. Electronic tools will probably make searching and review easier but it’s up to you. Write in short fragments, bullet points, or full paragraphs. Journal in the morning, noon, or night. Whatever works.
— Follow Franklin’s example and start positively. What good did you get done today? It’s too easy to get mired in the negative and you don’t want to forget those small wins that can end up making a difference in the long run. Remember that you’re looking to cultivate a sense of progress. Celebrate your accomplishments, big and small, and unleash your inner Oprah to explore what you’re grateful for.
— Turn negatives into progress fuel. If your day had setbacks or you felt crummy, think about what caused negative performance or feelings and what could be done to improve such situations.
— Review regularly to gain the maximum benefits. Note patterns for what supported or detracted from your work, your level of engagement, and your moods. Having written proof grants you stronger footing to implement change.
Maintaining a work diary engages you in your work and reflects the journey of your inner work life. You’ll stand out in your outer work life for the finer work you produce and improved relationships you foster. You and your work diary make up the most effective and efficient productivity tool. From a fraction of an hour, you receive incredible gains — more momentum and meaningful progress to carry you onward and upward rather than going ‘round and ‘round the hamster wheel!
Audrey Tan, founder of Waggit, has a neat productivity trick she calls “dip the ink" that keeps the work flow going after breaks and interruptions:
If a friend asks me to take a coffee break or someone starts hovering at your desk as a sign they want to chat, I say - ‘gimme one sec’, get to a good stopping place, PLUS a little extra work on my next task. I simply dip the ink. If I’m writing an email, I’ll finish the one I’m doing - then I’ll start composing the first few lines of the next email. This way, when I come back - I avoid having to think about what to do next. It’s easier to dive back in and my work flow is less disrupted.
Check out the rest of Audrey’s blog for a look behind the scenes of the startup life.
Recently, we highlighted a method of planning your day that consisted of asking yourself what you’d say “No” to. Just as important is to ask yourself “Why?” when it comes to the items on your to-do list.
Psychologist Michael V. Pantalon recommends making a Why-Do list to increase your motivation on those items that just never seem to make it off your to-do list. The key to Pantalon’s “Why?” exercise is keeping it positive. So instead of asking yourself negatively charged questions like, “Why can’t I do ____”, focus on the reasons why you wanted to do it in the first place and why those reasons are important to you.
This way, you may see how some to-do items don’t belong on your list and be more motivated to accomplish others — which connects back to knowing what to say “No” to.
“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”—
Tim Kreider writes about modern life’s worship of busyness in The “Busy” Trap for the New York Times Opinionator.
Find the balance between idleness and hustle, for “Life is too short to be busy.”
“Giving and receiving undivided attention, even briefly, is the least that one individual can do for another — and sometimes the most. And yet, attending to others doesn’t just help them — it helps us, by evoking responses that help the listener feel cared for, useful, and connected to the larger world.”—
We’ve said before that the ultimate true lifehack is to figure out what to pay attention to. Anderson explains the positive impacts of being conscious how we devote our attention on not just ourselves but those around us.
Paying attention to others is the path not just toward being a better leader but leading a better life.
Tips and tricks aside, lifehacking neither reaches the roots of the how’s and why’s nor the wants and cares of life. The ultimate true lifehack is to figure out what to pay attention to. Then, pay attention “effectively, meaningfully, and relatively unselfishly.”