I’ve recently watched a few people struggle to get things done in online projects. I’ve written and spoken on 12 tips for getting things done in the open source community but now I see that people also need to learn how to work with mailing lists and virtual teams.
Skills you should master if you plan on working in a virtual environment. I’m interested in any other skills you’d add to the list.
- Master your email. You will get a lot of email. There are few in person meetings and there’s a large group to coordinate, so email is the most popular method of communication. Email will become a knowledge base. You need to be able to handle hundreds of emails a day without complaining that they are too many. (You don’t want to be cut off from the knowledge base do you?)
There are lots of ways to master managing your email. Here are a few of the most common:
- Touch each email once. If you read it, think about what you need to do with it and do it right then. If it’s something that requires action outside of email, add an action item to your todo list and then tag the email or file it in a special folder. Get it out of your inbox.
- Use a threaded email client. It’s much easier to catch up on conversations if you can read the whole thread easily at once.
- Use filters. Many people filter mail from different lists or about different topics to folders. (I personally do not do this. I find I never look at them if I do this.)
- Dedicate certain time periods to checking email. I spend the first couple hours of every day responding to email. I don’t look at it as “doing email” but rather as communicating and following up with people.
- Research and try. There are lots of methods and tips for dealing with incoming email. Try a few of them and figure out what works for you.
- Learn online tools. You should know how to use mailing lists, IRC, Skype, Twitter, IM, wikis, etc. Each team will use a different set of tools, but you should know the basics of most of them. That way if someone says, let’s have an IRC meeting in a hour, you won’t be googling “IRC” to figure out how to join at the last minute. Or looking for a headset in order to join a Skype call.
- Know where to find things. People that work online usually deal with a lot of information. Learn how to search your email archives effectively, how to search the mailing list archives, where the project stores documents or information online and how to search. If you need to ask for information, also ask how the person found it. Often they are simply searching for it. Do not ask for information that you can find easily yourself. Above all, do not ask for the same information twice! If you asked for it and got it, you should be able to find it again. Feel free to ask someone how they found the answer to your question. I learn a lot that way.
- Observe how things get done. Every virtual or online team is different. Watch how things get done. Do people present ideas before they are done? Wait for consensus? Present final products for review? If nobody ever responds to your email, it’s likely you are not following the project’s culture.
- Be prompt. With people working in different timezones and with different priorities, it’s important to respond to emails and to finish action items promptly. Each delay seems to multiply across the project.
- Keep the group informed. If you have a discussion off list, be sure to let the rest of the list know. Don’t be afraid to have the discussion on the list. If you make decisions or agree to something on the group’s behalf, be sure to let the rest of the group know.
- Know when to take it off list. Sometimes it’s best to have a discussion offlist first and then tell the group the outcome. For example, if you think your idea is controversial or too vague, you might want to run it by a few trusted people first. But remember, to get buyin and build consensus, some of the discussion has to happen on the list – it can’t be all polished decisions!
- Rethink conference calls. If you have conference calls, make sure everyone has access to good technology and make sure everyone is on the phone, not just some people. I think Nat’s Everyone Dials In policy is an excellent one. Also be aware that conference calls are particularly difficult for people that have to dial an international number to join and for people who’s first language isn’t English. While you may think conference calls are the most effective way to get things done, if half the team can’t hear or communicate well, IRC may be a much better choice.
- Learn how to read silence. Sometimes you’ll post a great idea or a question to the mailing list and nobody responds. Does that mean nobody liked your idea? Or that they couldn’t understand it? Or that they are all busy on the release that’s going out the day after tomorrow? In the absence of body language, you will have to be more aware of everything else that is going on.
- Know what’s been done. When you join a project you should spend some time observing, asking questions and reading the archives. If you suggest a multitude of projects that already exist or have already been proposed, people are going to think you aren’t willing to learn the project.
- What else would you add?
For suggestions on how to get things done in virtual teams, see 12 tips for getting things done in the open source community.
This quote has been haunting me because it rings so true:
men tended to stick with their studies as long as they completed the coursework, while women did so only if they earned high grades
I don’t see that in all fields but I definitely see it in computer science. I wonder if it’s because only really competitive women tend to stick it out in a field that’s often less than 20% women (and comes with all the problems that entails.) They are used to working hard, competing and doing well. And when they don’t, well they figure they should be doing something else. Something they excel at.
I’ve seen it happen. (And for the record the women I know went on to be really successful in other scientific fields. I think they would have excelled in computer science too.)
What do you think?
My blog post about Kindle covers brought in enough revenue in December to pay for my Kindle. It now brings in enough every month to cover my Kindle reading habit.
Granted, I could use that money for something else, but I like to think of it as my Kindle paying for itself. I mean, I wouldn’t have written a review of covers if I didn’t own a Kindle.
Amazon pays a healthy 10% affiliates fee for any Kindle product sales that you send them. Those affiliate fees have encouraged a huge number of Kindle blogs. All people hoping to get rich from Kindle sales.
They fall into a number of categories.
- Books. There are blogs that just talk about books available for the Kindle. Since Amazon makes it pretty easy to find Kindle books, I don’t understand the point of these blogs at all. If I want advice on what books to read on my Kindle, I’m much more likely to read a blog about the genre I like to read, not about the reader I like to read on. These blogs can be useful when they point out free books, but you can find those easily on
Amazon’s site too. Or just check the bestseller
list – the good free books hit the bestseller list fast. (Interestingly enough, Amazon’s own
Kindle blog falls into this category of mostly about available books.)
- Merchandise. People have created entire blogs about Kindle accessories. I can see a blog about home accessories for people that like to decorate, but a blog about Kindle accessories? How many can you add to the little thing? A cover, a light, a screen protector, and then what? These blogs must live off searches. Much like my cover review blog post does.
- Kindle news. These blogs try to update you on Kindle news but there isn’t much. Some also offer tips and tricks for your Kindle and some of these are rather useful. I enjoy being able to check the time on my Kindle. (Now if they would just release the source code so I could make the time display permanently at the top of the screen …)
- E-reader news. Some blogs cover all the e-readers and the news about the industry including DRM issues, debates between publishers and distributors, etc. I think these are the only blogs that are going to live long term. Ones like the Kindle Review. If you want to try getting rich off Amazon Kindle affiliate sales, this is the long term category to be in. (I don’t think your chances of getting rich off Amazon Kindle affiliate sales are really good though.)
But even if most of those blogs don’t work out … Amazon’s affiliate program has given them enormous amounts of cheap advertising.
So the real question is how can you create an affiliates program around your product? Can we add an affiliates type program to Friends of GNOME? To GNOME? To Kids on Computers?
I was talking to Leslie Hawthorn and we had what we thought was a brilliant idea for a new business for writers. At least we'd sign up to be customers!
Business idea: Writing LinkedIn Recommendations
Here's how it could work:
- Potential customer pays for help writing a recommendation. ($10-20?)
- Potential customer calls writer. (Or writer calls the customer. I think this would have to be a phone call, not a voice mail, but maybe not.)
- In 5 minutes or less the customer tells the writer what they like or admire about their colleague.
- Writer rights up the recommendation in a format suitable for LinkedIn (a couple of sentences) and emails it to the customer.
- Customer posts the recommendation to LinkedIn.
Any writers looking for some part time work?
LIMITED TIME OFFER:
In order to see how this would work, I am making a limited time offer. For the first 6 people to donate $60 or more to the GNOME Foundation or to Kids on Computers and to email me saying they'd like to take me up on this offer, I will help write 3 recommendations. Obviously we will have to set up a time to talk and you will have to tell me what's good about the people you want to recommend.
For samples of my writing, you can read this blog or see the recommendations I have written on LinkedIn for people I recommend.
This offer is good until February 26th or until a total of 6 people have signed up, which ever comes first.
You must be among the first 6 people to donate to the GNOME Foundation or Kids on Computers and email me to qualify.
So today I was feeling frustrated that I hadn't crossed many items off my todo list. I'd been really busy and felt like I had a pretty productive day, but I'd only managed to cross a couple of items off my list.
So I took a break to see exactly what I'd been doing. And ended up tweeting this:
As of 2:30pm
today I sent 46 emails, got email in 128 threads, posted 9 tweets + 8
Facebook comments + had 4 phone calls + 5 IM chats.
And I forgot to count IRC chats.
So then I got to wondering what a normal day looked like. Unfortunately I don't have an easy way to count threads (email, IM, IRC and Facebook) and I think threads are most likely the most indicative of work done. (It's fascinating how many different conversations we can carry on at once. Often on very unrelated tasks.)
What was easy to count was how many emails I received in a day and how many I sent. What was surprising was how consistent the numbers were!
Also, look how good I was at not working over the weekend – I don't normally do so good at that.
The next thing that surprised me was how many people commented on how productive I was. So I looked up productive in the dictionary and saw they were right:
productive: producing or capable of producing (especially abundantly);
The problem is I measure productive by how many things I cross off my todo list, not how many emails I send or I'd be in reactive mode all day. Now most of the emails I sent were working towards getting things crossed off my list, but in and of themselves they aren't something I want to measure in order to measure productivity.
The third thing that struck me was how many different topics I handle every day. Those 46 emails were in 37 different threads. Over the course of 6.5 hours, that's almost 6 different topics an hour. Or at least 6 different conversations an hour. And again, that's not counting IM, IRC, twitter … If multitasking is inefficient, how much more effective could I be if I managed to focus on one topic for an entire day?
So what was the point? I don't know, but if it takes me 50-100 outbound emails a day (and at least that many inbound emails) to get my job done (not to mention IM, IRC, Identica, Twitter and Facebook) whatever did people do before email??
P.S. And I'm not complaining. Feel free to continue to communicate with me as often as you want in the medium you find most comfortable. I feel like whatever I'm doing is working well for me at the moment. (Except for that pesky todo list that grows as fast as I cross things off of it!)
I'm just contemplating what this means … your thoughts and insights are welcome.
It's time to decide what events I want to attend this year. Usually I figure it out a bit as I go but with multiple calls for papers deadlines coming up and invitations to speak coming up earlier than ever before, I decided it was time to create a plan for the year.
Every time I'm invited to talk or I see a conference that looks interesting, I struggle with the decision.
The main reasons for going are:
- To meet with people. There's nothing that substitutes for a face to face meeting. It's especially important when meeting new people but it's really good for keeping up on existing relationships. There are very few business relationships that I have been involved with that didn't start with some type of face to face meeting.
- To create new business relationships. See #1.
- To promote GNOME and free software.
- To energize myself. I find attending conferences a great way to get new ideas, meet with others with excited about similar topics and a great way to keep things moving. Although they usually mean a lot of time "away from work", i.e. my desk, I still get a lot done and have a lot of energy for new projects.
The main reason for not going are:
- Time away from home.
- Time away from my desk and the projects I'm working on.
- Financial impact. Not just of travel but also conference fees if I'm not speaking. (That's one of the reasons I always submit a talk proposal if there's a conference I want to go to.)
So the things I consider are:
- Who will be there? This is the most important fact to me. I want to meet new people and organizations we might partner with and I want to meet people I work with but don't get a chance to see often.
- How long will it take me to get there? How much time will I be away from home and how many hours will I have to sit in an airplane or airport?
- Will I have a chance to speak? This helps greatly not only in promoting GNOME but in meeting people. If you are on the agenda and speak, more people will come up and introduce themselves and their ideas. If I'm not speaking, will I have to pay conference fees?
- How much will it cost? Sometimes the event will help with the cost. Several of the events below are covering my travel costs. Some events are quite expensive to attend if you are not speaking.
- Can someone else do this? If there is a community member who would like to attend the conference and speak on behalf of GNOME, I'd love to have them go instead.
- Frequency or how close it is to another event. In order to help with the time away from home problem, it helps to not have too many events one right after the other. Otherwise my family tends to go a bit crazy while I'm gone.
So I open up my proposed travel schedule to all of you. Any thoughts or input? Note that this is my conference travel schedule and there are still other trips that might come up like marketing hackfests and partner meetings.
Here are the relevant events I think are happening this year. Let me know if I left one out. I bolded the ones I think I will end up attending. This is not necessarily a commitment, just my first draft or proposal.
- FOSDEM. Has great GNOME attendance and participation so others can help work on relationships.
- Mobile World Congress.
- TED. I'd be so excited if I ever got to attend this conference and I'd be ecstatic if I ever got invited to speak. (And then I'd spend months preparing!) Luckily for all of us, all their talks are on the web.
- SCALE. I'm sad to be missing this one this year as it's one of my favorites, especially the Women in Open Source day.
- FOSS 2010 Workshop – attending and participating.
- IASA Denver – presenting at their monthly meeting. (I like speaking with and meeting the community in my area.)
- OpenMobility USA – speaking, hoping to build relationships with GNOME's mobile partners.
- OSBC – Open Source Business Conference – would like to attend and speak because it's a great conference to meet up with people.
- WhyFLOSS Madrid 2010
- LibrePlanet – There's a track for Women in Free Software on Sunday that I'd like to participate in. GNOME has been actively working with the FSF on ways to encourage and promote women in free software. I also need a trip to the east coast if I'd like to sign the GNOME Foundation's bank's signature card. (And that'd be good because I could back up Rosanna and help with wire transfers.)
- FOSS Nigeria 2010. I'm working to get a couple of GNOME folks to this conference to present and represent GNOME. Preferably people that live a little closer – at least people in Europe.
- UKUUG Spring 2010 Conference
- OpenExpo 2010 Bern
- aKademy 2010
- 2010 Community Leadership Summit
- OSCON 2010. Lots of people to meet with, interesting talks, lots of side meetings.
- GUADEC. Nobody should miss this one. 🙂 Seriously, this one has lots and lots of people I need to meet with not to mention the Board of Directors and Advisory Board meetings and lots of working groups.
- Ohio LinuxFest 2010 – Attending, giving keynote!
- Linux-Kongress 2010
- Grace Hopper I'd love to see a booth at Grace Hopper for free and open source software projects, not just companies, so that students and women looking for new careers, hobbies or skills can get some good info. (I've been on a panel the last couple of years.) This is also a very energizing conference for me.
- OSWC – 2010 – Some year I'd love to attend this conference but my impression is that it's already well attended by GNOME folks and October is a hard month for me to travel.
- Boston Summit – I really want to get to the Boston Summit this year but October is a hard month for me to travel, especially on weekends. So we'll have to wait and see.
- OSiM World. A good event for meeting people in a great location (London) for meeting lots of people. But in October.
- The get things done month. 🙂
Thanks to these websites for the lists of events.
So once again, I open up my proposed travel schedule (and the criteria I use) to all of you. Any thoughts or input?
I “multitask” all the time. But every time I’m on a conference call and I have to say “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that,” I know I can’t really multitask.
Nobody can really multitask. When you try to do more than one thing at once, you are actually switching between the tasks continuously. You lose a lot of time context switching. If the tasks are ones that are familiar to you, like talking on the phone and running after a naked 3 year old with clothes in your hand, it might feel like multitasking, but really your brain is furiously keeping track of both tasks (the conversation with your friend and the route your 3 year old is taking) and switching back and forth between them.
When the tasks are harder, you actually are slower (or poorer) at both of them together than if you did them separately. When I answer an email during a conference call, the email takes me longer and my conference call performance suffers and so the whole meeting probably takes longer.
You know the feeling of being “in the zone”, deep in a task and everything is going well, and someone interrupts you. When you go back to the task, it takes a while to get back to where you were. When you are multitasking you are doing this at a smaller level every few seconds.
Keeping a new resolution in mind (like dieting or exercising or a new way of managing tasks) can also count as multitasking. Your performance at your every day tasks can suffer as your brain switches between your commitment to your resolution (don’t eat that cookie!) and your task (pay attention to the meeting.)
So as you pick New Year’s Resolutions, you might want to think about sticking to one to minimize your multitasking and maximize your success. (And you might want to give a break to your distracted coworker – they are probably just focusing on not eating the cookie!)
Credit for this idea goes to Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
as I’m sure I read it there last night but I can’t find the passage that talks about it. I’ve skimmed the whole book several times and used Amazon’s Search Inside to try to find the passage with no luck.
I used to think that some days just weren't productive. And I wished I could figure it out at the beginning of the day so that I could spend the day reading or hanging out with friends. Then I realized that each day is different. (Or I'm different each day.) And the key is figuring out what I'll be productive at today.
(I also realized that reading and hanging out with friends is a productive use of time too!)
The problem is I haven't figured out how to tell at the beginning of the day what kind of day it is. So I start out trying to work on what I believe is most important or urgent, and if I don't get anywhere I start switching task types. Maybe it's writing, maybe it's catching up on email, maybe it's crunching those numbers, maybe it's making all those phone calls, maybe it's something mindless like filing expense reports. Usually I find it pretty quickly – or at least by lunch time – but I wish I could some how take my temperature and know what kind of day it is …
How do you figure out what you'll be most productive at on any given day?
Earlier today I read an interesting article and tweeted:
Then I shared that I was once banned from asking questions in a physics class because the teacher didn’t know the answers and thought I was trying to disrupt the class. (My question asking status was reinstated after the teacher talked to my awesome math teacher and got confirmation from her college professor that the questions really were hard questions without answers.)
I’ve been amazed at the number of really smart people who have shared similar stories!
Do you have a similar story to share? How do we help today’s kids not run into this?
For my part, I think I kept asking the “hard” questions because my parents and my other teachers were so supportive.
While I've learned not to procrastinate, the truth is that I do procrastinate every once in a while. This isn't a post about why I procrastinate but rather how I deal with it. Here's how I deal with my own procrastination:
- Do the first step. Sometimes I procrastinate because the task is too large to even know where to start. "Publish a GNOME quarterly report." That sounds like it's going to be a lot of work, so I put it off until tomorrow. Once I realize I'm doing that I stop and think about what's the first step? Deciding what's in the quarterly report. So I do just that step and then define the next one.
- Redefine the scope. Some times a task is just so big or so hard, it's unlikely you are ever going to make time for it. "Research CRM systems." I had in my head that this was going to mean installing 4-5 CRM systems or getting live demos, writing up a huge list of features in a spreadsheet and tracking with CRM system did what, gathering requirements and mapping those to the features. So I didn't do it for a long time. I finally realized that I had been talking about it long enough that I knew what we needed and I knew what people recommended, so I should just write up a quick proposal to recommend the recommended CRM system and to verify it did what we needed.
- Do it poorly – or at least not as well as I'd like. I like to do things well, so if I don't know how to do something or think I won't do a good job, I put it off. Every once in a while, I realize there's a task I've been putting off forever because I'm afraid I won't do it well. Then I just do it. And I put it out for review some where and cringe when I think of people seeing the unfinished work. But it gets done. (And the feedback I usually get is that it looks fine.)
- Decide to do it as a favor for someone else. Another reason I procrastinate is because I don't think something is important – someone else asked me to do it. In those cases (when I realize that's happening), I either tell them I'm not going to do it or I decide I'm going to do it for them. Even though I don't think it's important, it is to them and so I do it for them.
- Don't do it. Sometimes I procrastinate because I've really decided not to do it. There are two reasons I might decide not to do a task:
- Sometimes I procrastinate on things because I've subconsciously decided they aren't important. Crossing them off my list relieves my stress.
- Give it to someone else. Some times there are tasks that others can do
more easily or with more joy. I really wasn't the right person for the job. If I can, I give it to them to do. You can trade. For example, I do the laundry and the dishes and not much of the cooking.
- Hold something hostage. I've been known to say I'm not eating lunch until this is done. That usually works. (It's best to pick something that doesn't make somebody else wait for you!)
- Promise someone else. Often I'll tell someone I'll do it and by when. Then I feel like I'm letting them down if I don't get it done. (Be careful. Some research shows that by publicly commiting to do something, you might be less likely to actually do it. Something about you already got the kudos for good intentions so now you don't need to do the task.)
How do you deal with tasks you keep putting off?