Paul Graham’s advice for startups, which applies to tackling challenges in general.
Start small, and then onward and forward to big things!
Paul Graham’s advice for startups, which applies to tackling challenges in general.
Start small, and then onward and forward to big things!
We live in a culture that seems obsessed with being productive.
While increasing our output and doing more with our time is certainly an admirable goal, according to Tony Schwartz, author of Be Excellent at Anything, that misguided approach is actually liable to hurt your productivity.
Without real restoration and rejuvenation throughout the day, people (knowingly) hold themselves back because they are worried about “pacing” their energy to make it through the day.
This is incredibly damaging to your potential, because it distributes your efforts at 25% across your whole work day instead of reaching 90% output at the moments that correspond with your body’s naturally productive rhythms of alertness. The result is that you aren’t able to do your best work and you aren’t getting the rest you need to rejuvenate yourself either.
I know I’ve fallen into the trap of conventional thinking that to be productive, I just need to work harder. I spend more and more hours at the desk, but when I look back, I’m not sure where the time went.
To Schwartz, not being able to push yourself to 90% output without worry is the biggest impediment holding you back from being truly productive and producing your best work. True productivity is determined by better energy management rather than simply cranking out more hours at your desk.What do our energy levels actually look like throughout the day?
We all have a sense of our energy level, whether we feel productive or not, whether we’re alert and excited or tired and groggy, but most of us try to ignore it and don’t know the science underlying its effect on our work. It turns out that our energy functions according to what psychophysiologist Peretz Lavie called “ultradian rhythms,” or natural cycles that take place during the day.
Lavie conducted a fascinating series of experiments where he put young adults on an ultrashort 15 minute awake-5 minute sleeping schedule in 8-hour sessions, first from 4 pm until midnight, and then after 6-7 hours of sleep, he put them on the 15/5 schedule from about 7 am until early afternoon. He then observed when his test subjects fell asleep and couldn’t fall asleep during this bizarre sleep schedule and came up with some surprising findings.
In the afternoon and evenings, we get sleepy at two times: at 4:30 pm and at 11:30 pm. But in the morning, we get sleepy every 90 minutes. These 90-minute cycles are our ultradian rhythms which define when we’re naturally feeling awake and productive. We perform our best in between those periods of drowsiness.
(via DeeperDish)How do we sync to our natural rhythm?
Those who work with instead of against their ultradian rhythm perform better, according to a study on world-class violinists. You might expect the best violinists to practice until their fingers bleed. Not so. Top-tier violinists practice no more than 4 1/2 hours a day, in 90-minute bursts, plus they got more sleep than their peers (notably, 20-30 minute afternoon naps).
It’s not just about concentrating when your energy levels are high. It’s also absolutely vital that you rest when your energy levels hit bottom. One piece of research that Schwartz regularly cites is a Federal Aviation Administration study of pilots on long haul flights that shows the crucial importance of resting when your energy levels are low:
One group of pilots was given an opportunity to take 40-minute naps mid-flight, and ended up getting an average of 26 minutes of actual sleep. Their median reaction time improved by 16% following their naps.
Non-napping pilots, tested at a similar halfway point in the flight, had a 34% deterioration in reaction time. They also experienced 22 micro sleeps of 2-10 seconds during the last 30 minutes of the flight. The pilots who took naps had none.
If you push yourself to continue working during periods of low energy, you risk continued grogginess and low performance. It’s critical that we acknowledge our body’s natural rhythms and align our periods of work and relaxation with them to work in a sustainably productive way.You improve by pushing your practice, not yourself during low energy.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” is what you need to become an expert in your field. Research from psychologist Anders Ericsson on deliberate practice shows that it’s true strain and “wear and tear” that helps people build expertise.
(via K. A. Ericsson, Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406)
Although getting into a flow may feel good, sometimes we use the term “flow” to describe times when we’re not pushing ourselves very hard. But it’s the hard practice that allows us to improve. A good metaphor is weightlifting at the gym: while a good flow might involve a 30-minute walk and some light free weights, if you are looking to push yourself into chiseled, six-pack ab territory, you’ve gotta hurt.
Building muscle at that level doesn’t come without pushing into the territory of the uncomfortable, and this is why Schwartz and noted authors like Cal Newport are so adamant about these “hold nothing back” periods of work. During these sessions, it’s vital that we challenge ourselves with increasing difficulty and focus uncompromisingly on how to fix our weaknesses.
When deliberate practice corresponds with periods of intense concentration, we suss out our weaknesses, make progress, and do our best work.3 Important tricks for managing your energy
Nick, by contrast, works intensely for approximately 90 minutes at a stretch, and then takes a 15-minute break before resuming work. At 12:15, he goes out for lunch for 45 minutes, or works out in a nearby gym.
At 3pm, he closes his eyes at his desk and takes a rest. Sometimes it turns into a 15- or 20-minute nap. Finally, between 4:30 and 5pm, Nick takes a 15-minute walk outside.
What did you think of the research in this post and Schwartz’s approach to finding a work schedule that works with you?
Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!
About the Author: Gregory Ciotti is the marketing guy at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software that makes email support a breeze for you and your customers. Get more from Greg on the Help Scout customer loyalty blog.
@allanbranch Yup, and we love it.
— Chris Savage (@csavage)
Wistia provides super easy, distinctive video hosting, management, and marketing for businesses. We wanted to find out from co-founder and CEO, Chris Savage, how Wistia uses iDoneThis and why they love it.
In the past year, Wistia has gone through a growth spurt, doubling to a total of fifteen people. Chris wrote a great blog post about the challenges of staying productive during such rapid growth, pointing out how Wistia’s “internal communication mechanisms have had to evolve so that they are less disruptive, more relevant, and more helpful.”
Allotted ample ownership and authority, people at Wistia have a great deal of freedom over what they do. As a result, as Chris explains, “it’s hard to know what everyone else is doing, which I think is really important.” So, the Wistia team uses iDoneThis to “facilitate what would often be those random connections that would happen if you were sitting next to somebody, if you were walking by somebody working on something.”
iDoneThis enables fast-growing companies like Wistia to revive something of the easy immediacy of two founders working in a room together, capturing valuable information that wouldn’t have been pre-set on a task list or deemed “worthy” of sending out yet another email. Chris notes, “That’s something that’s been really big. It’s good that other people can see that that’s happening, know that it’s important, and can comment on it.”
The Wistia team relies on tools like Yammer to keep the productivity engine running and continues to hold weekly stand-up meetings, but specifically for announcing goals for the week. iDoneThis is used for “a very different purpose,” says Chris. “It’s an accomplishment list and a way to show others what we’re working on. Other tools don’t supply that.”
What’s distinctive about the Wistia team is the obvious pride that they have in the company culture and the deliberate effort with which that culture is cultivated. Chris elaborates, “A big thing we wanted to do was start to write it down and talk about it and have a vocabulary, because we felt like if we don’t fight for it, we won’t be able to maintain it. It actually feels like a competitive advantage.”
Part of building that company culture meant defining a company identity, or the “Wistia way” of doing things. When Wistia launched a free version of its service in June, for example, they created a rap video instead of simply sending out an email and adding the plan to the pricing page. They did it the Wistia way: “Go a little over the top, have a lot of fun with it, and express our own excitement.”
We haven’t created a rap video about it, but we’re very excited that iDoneThis helps make the Wistia way happen!
How To Create Time:
1. Eliminate or reduce media
2. Work offline.
3. Do less.
4. Don’t make appointments or schedule meetings.
5. Sleep in two shifts.
6. Make time less precious.” —Read the full tips from Caterina Fake, not just on how to create time, but how to work with joy.
Sue Shellenbarger explores The Peak Time for Everything for WSJ.
Some takeaways: Nap around 2pm. Tired times make for better open-ended thinking. And retweeting chances increase between 3-6 pm.
Circadian and natural rhythms, and thus peak times for doing stuff, depend on the individual. Read on for some pretty interesting ideas on how to set your activity to your inner clock.
Felicia Day, Lifehacker, I’m Felicia Day, and This is How I Work
Any.DO is an elegant task management application available for Android, iPhone, and the Chrome browser. While the app has received praise for its simplicity and ability to sync across platforms, the Tel Aviv-based startup found that it needed some management tools to synchronize itself, with one of its founders, Omer Perchik, relocating to San Francisco. Plus, the company, which started in 2010, saw its team nearly double to twelve people.
Any.DO turned to iDoneThis to sync its team, and as co-founder Yoni Lindenfeld explains, to solve one of the challenges of fast growth — how to get all the newbies up to speed. “It’s a good tool to get new people coming on board to understand what other people are doing and to show other people what they’re doing.”
Communication and coordination are priorities for Any.DO, achieved through transparency regarding the inner workings of the company. “It’s really important for us for everyone to be involved and aware,” declares Yoni, as part of Any.DO’s tight-knit “family-style environment” work culture. These objectives led the Any.DO team to implement iDoneThis with a plan to be more specific in their daily entries. Yoni elaborates, “Before we started using it, we talked to everyone about how we would profit most from using it. It’s going great because people are writing more details about what they’re doing and other people,” —including new hires — “know more details. It’s a great tool.”
Everyone at Any.DO uses their own creation to manage personal and work-related tasks, but according to Yoni, iDoneThis plays a different role. “When you put a task in your to-do list, it’s more of a personal thing. Actually that’s something we’ve learned from researching a lot about how users manage their tasks. Tasks are usually much more personal and you don’t elaborate a lot because it’s just something that will remind you about what you want to do.” Meanwhile, a tool like iDoneThis functions more broadly and publicly. Members find value both in personally focusing on accomplishments and in sharing that attention with others.
We’re delighted that a company that made a task management app uses iDoneThis to help get them from to-do task to Done!
The availability of seed-stage funding today means that there are a ton of first-time entrepreneurs out there assembling teams and building companies without any experience running a team or managing people. Building a team in this environment is especially difficult because funded companies typically grow teams prior to sustainability or product-market fit. It’s hard to steer the team in the right direction when you yourself don’t quite know what to build.
Naval Ravikant at AngelList has blogged about “Building a team that ships”, describing his assembled team as “self-managing people who ship code.” Naval calls this peer management: one person per project (with help from others as needed), no middle managers, and individual choice on what to work on using accountability is the rudder. In his words: “Promise what you’ll do in the coming week on internal Yammer. Deliver – or publicly break your promise – next week.”
At iDoneThis, we’ve seen peer management as an effective approach to take for the young startup CEO. We’ve worked closely with many first-time entrepreneurs like Danny Wen at Harvest and Tobi Lutke at Shopify who have succeeded in building unique, quirky, and profitable companies by empowering individuals at their companies to manage themselves and each other to build out great products exceeding a high standard of excellence. Here are some keys to effective peer management that we’re seeing.
Skillshare uses a system called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to systemize accountability. Every individual is responsible for company objectives, which are broken into measurable bites in the form of key results, resulting in alignment within and accountability throughout the team. At the end of every week, month, and quarter, individuals measure themselves against their OKRs to evaluate performance.
OKRs have a rich history in building great tech companies, going back to Andy Grove at Intel in the 1980s and what he called “Management by Objective.” Drawing a fundamental distinction between output and activity, Grove’s use of the word “objective” involves dual meanings. Output is both the objective and something that’s objectively measurable, while activity is a black box. An engineer at heart, management by objective was Grove’s way of bringing scientific and engineering principles to management.
OKRs have since been embraced by tech giants like Google and Zynga and spread throughout the Valley and to the broader tech world. At Salesforce, they do V2MOMs (vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measurement); at Yammer, they do MORPHs (mission, objectives, results, people, and how did you do); others use KPIs (key performance indicators). While the acronyms may vary, the general principles hold true.
To Mark Pincus, OKRs are the solution to the basic problem that’s at the heart of many a founder’s anxious and sleepless night: how “to keep everybody going in productive directions when you’re not in the room.” Every individual has one objective, and they are the CEO of that objective, entrusted with authority and accountability for their objective and the key results necessary to get there.
Individual Data Tracking
“Do things, tell people. These are the only things you need to do to be successful.” When individuals are CEOs of objectives, goals, and projects, they need a way of measuring the intermediate progress and activity of themselves and their peers. As with the quantified self movement, tracking progress — writing it down — leads to reflection, knowledge, and betterment.
In old school, hierarchical companies, information that passed down to employees or up to executives had to travel through middle managers and that created a single-point of failure anti-pattern. You had to rely on your manager to get information and also to market your accomplishments upward to upper management and the executive team.
Where individuals manage themselves and each other, it’s vitally important that everyone gets the requisite information flow they need to do their jobs and that they have channels to market their own accomplishments and results.
The system of snippets adopted at Google is an example not of big brother monitoring, but of empowering individuals to see everything that’s happening in the company so that they can find their niche in the company and contribute. You get a weekly email that asks 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.
The power of snippets is in gathering data to demystify the black box of the notoriously fuzzy production process — in which raw material turns into output with the application of labor — and makes progress possible to measure, analyze, and recognize. It makes sense then that peer management environments tend towards transparency, meritocracy, and individual professional fulfillment. Companies on the rise like Shopify and Harvest track and celebrate their daily accomplishments with a daily email from us here at iDoneThis.
Fit as a Deal Breaker
In company cultures of extremely high personal autonomy, fit is paramount because it reduces friction in every interaction. Companies like Valve and Github tout bossless cultures. Stripe is building a world-class team and every employee can veto a potential hire.
While fit can be tested by hiring a candidate first as a contractor, fit often amounts to guesswork based on intuition and impression during interviews. Peter Thiel said PayPal once rejected a top-notch engineering candidate because he said during an interview that he liked to play “hoops,” and a PayPal engineer does not play basketball, much less “hoops.” The wisdom of that decision is unclear, but that decision process no doubt solidified a sense of self in the team.
Fit is about an ever-solidifying sense of self as much as it is about bringing on like-minded people, and that sense spawns canonical stories and processes. Carwoo is a company that’s a little weird, so they ask every interviewee how weird she thinks she is on a scale of 1 to 5. There is a right answer. 3-4 is the sweet spot a weird person who is self-aware.
Wistia is a company that highly values its culture and the unique identity it has built. Co-founder and CEO Chris Savage finds that combination of autonomy, culture, and fit becomes “a competitive advantage”, as Wistia hires more people, “the culture of the company should get stronger because we’re hiring for values that the company believes in, and people with those values should make it stronger.”
As work gets automated and outsourced, self-directed, creative work is required in ever-increasing degree. Peer management not only makes us more efficient, but it builds a workplace that enables — as Dan Pink describes — autonomy, master, and purpose that makes work fulfilling and joyful.
Ray Bradbury, in an interview with the Paris Review.
Maybe we should make an iDoneThis theme song out of these words, they’re so apt.
Thanks to a study by Japanese scientists at Hiroshima University’s Graduate School of Integrated Arts and Sciences, titled “The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus”, you can be guilt-free when looking at photos of ridiculously cute animals at work.
Published in the journal, PLOS ONE, the study found that viewing photos of cute animals — which induces positive emotions — results in improved “subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus.”
Well then! Here are a few cuties to focus you today:
We’ve written before about the secret to happiness and motivation at work. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer wrote a whole book about it called The Progress Principle. They found that the number one driver of a positive inner work life, the key to motivated, engaged, and productive employees, is making progress on meaningful work, even if that progress is a small win.
In a recent 99U conference talk, Professor Amabile shared the best way to achieve those small wins and leverage the progress principle in our daily lives: keeping a work diary. We’re so pleased that she suggested using iDoneThis as an online work diary tool, and we thought we could break down how iDoneThis contributes to the four benefits of keeping a work diary that she identifies:
1. Capture progress that may have been lost in a busy workday and celebrate the small wins.
Professor Amabile notes that even on frustrating, seemingly unproductive days, you can almost always find one thing on which you made progress. Note it. Celebrate it. “This is the best way to leverage the progress principle,” Professor Amabile says. Next stop: more awesomeness.
iDoneThis helps you see your workday through the lens of accomplishment because it asks, “What’d you get done today?” In taking a moment to reflect on this question, you make a habit out of focusing on the progress you made and your wins, however small. Writing and recording wins in your iDoneThis calendar is a quiet affirmation and celebration.
2. Plan next steps, think things through, and overcome setbacks.
Professor Amabile also suggests using a work diary to consider the causes of setbacks you experience and create a plan of action if a similar problem rears its head again. The Progress Principle encourages learning from negative experiences and counts those valuable lessons toward your overall progress, turning negatives into net positives.
iDoneThis contributes to such positive growth, because it keeps a record of all your daily doings. You can go back into your log and see what decisions, actions and efforts led to the setback. In short, you can pinpoint where things started to go wrong. This record gives you the information to form a plan of action to resolve similar setbacks. Down the road, your iDoneThis becomes a map to which you can refer back and see how you overcame obstacles.
3. Nurture your own personal growth and work through difficult events.
In her talk, Professor Amabile provides an example of one engineer struggling through the experience of massive layoffs at her company. While grappling with the stress of watching her team members being laid off and her own uncertainty about the future, the engineer turned to her work diary to center her thoughts. She recognized that because she had no control over her position at the company, instead she would focus on the one thing that she did have control over — her work.
iDoneThis is about you, you the captain of your work. It’s not a task-specific or project-oriented tool in that it isn’t interested in micromanaging questions like: “How far did you get on Project X today?” or “What did you do for Team Y?” No, it asks, “What’d you get done today?”
This is a question that matters when the going gets tough. Your progress is what matters, not that of a particular endeavor. If you need to center yourself and regain control of a situation by focusing on work, iDoneThis allows you to see evidence of your control and progress. If you need to focus on your emotional and cognitive processes, iDoneThis provides an outlet for that as well.
4. Spot patterns in your reactions and behaviors. Identify your greatest strengths and weaknesses.
In The Progress Principle, Professor Amabile recommends asking yourself at the end of each month, “Do I notice trends over time in this journal? What are the implications?” She also describes how research participants would change their behavior based on recognizing unwarranted and unconstructive behavior patterns.
Patterns of behavior and trends are easy to spot with tools like iDoneThis. Because iDoneThis records all your entries in an easy-to-read monthly calendar, you can see at a glance the ebb and flow of your inner work life, day to day, week to week, month to month.
iDoneThis also provides a Word Cloud, a fun way to spot trends in your entries. The Word Cloud is populated with the most commonly used words in your entries. At the moment, my most commonly used words seem to be “worked”, “idonethis”, and “gym.” Sounds about right.
5. Find patience.
Professor Amabile adds a bonus benefit to her list of four, noting that keeping a work diary “can help to cultivate patience.“ Why? Because you can always look back and see how you persevered and survived much worse days.
It’s especially true if you’ve kept your work diary with iDoneThis. Every day that you make an entry, you’ll see a blue check mark appear over each calendar day. Over time, you’ll see from the number of blue checkmarks in your iDoneThis calendar that there are no unproductive days. Even on the worst days, you achieved accomplishments worthy of note. Don’t believe it? Click on that day and see for yourself. There’s always something in each of your past days to be proud of that contributed to the successes that came later on.
It’s an honor for us to have Professor Amabile’s recommendation. It’s always been our goal to create a tool that helps people find happiness, meaning, and motivation at work through celebrating their daily progress, however incremental.
Ginni Chen is Chief Happiness Officer at iDoneThis. When not striving for the happiness of iDoneThis members, she’s a rock climbing instructor, skier and collector of first edition books. You should follow her on Twitter at @GinniChen.
Here’s the weekly round-up of the best of the blog & links we’ve shared on the interwebs! Happy Friday!
How Mozilla uses iDoneThis to communicate and create.
The key to building an awesome team? Make employees feel like superheroes.
Stillpower, not willpower, is the key to flow and getting in the zone.
In case you need to read an article to remind you to please, take a real lunch break, like, regularly.
Some tips on how to get past creativity block.
The Mozilla Foundation has a super software team working on projects that range from Popcorn (a video remixing application) to Thimble (an easy-to-use web page maker) to Open Badges (a digital badges system that support learning and achievement).
Developer Jon Buckley talked with us about the struggle to align three teams when Mozilla wanted to integrate Badges into both Popcorn and Thimble. Combining multiple product worlds could very well collide into chaos and confusing communication, but Mozilla is seeing smooth sailing.
Status update discussion used to fall to a weekly call, which was time-consuming, while a shared mailing list was only used periodically for such purposes. The Mozilla teams soon turned to iDoneThis to coordinate communication for people spread across time zones and for cutting across teams. “You don’t have to worry about being in the same room at the same time. That asynchronous nature of updating people is very helpful.”
After the switch, Mozilla found that they cut down on a ton of meeting time and used their gatherings for things that required real conversation. “I still find meetings have their place,” Jon noted, “but if you don’t have to give a status at a meeting because you’re using iDoneThis, then that’s a way you can save a meeting for this particular problem that we need to tackle. Let us discuss this in person.”
Jon is one of our work-style kindred spirits in his cultivation of time away from the distraction of Things That Constantly Refresh like, IRC, Twitter, and bugmail. He prefers to turn them off and head into one of the smaller conference rooms to work without distraction.
Personally, he has found iDoneThis helpful in broadening his perspective from building software for developers to building for a general audience, because he gains insight from his UI and UX design teammates. “If they’ve been working on mockups, they can post that in their status, so we can get visibility into what they’re doing. It’s not quite obvious. On our team, we use a bug tracker really heavily, and the UI or the UX designer workflow doesn’t fit into that all that well, so it’s useful to have a way to see what they’re working on that we can comment on.”
The Mozilla Foundation’s getting stuff done and innovating for the people. We’re psyched that we’re helping Jon and his team build an open, accessible web by opening up avenues of communication and collaboration!