How GTD Areas of Focus relate to Product Management

One of my favorite GTD concepts is Areas of Focus. Using Areas of Focus in your personal productivity system helps group work into context. No need to look at todos like “Get House Painted” when you’re at work. It’s better to look at only work related stuff that you want to be focused on.

For the longest time I’ve had Areas of Focus like House, Family, Marriage, Gear and Travel. I had one Area of Focus for work called PivotDesk. Inspired by a recent webinar on GTD Connect given by David Allen, I decided to refine my work-related Areas of Focus.

Old: PivotDesk

New: Product Management, Feature Development, Product Performance, Product Marketing

As I went through this exercise, I had a chance to think through the different types of work a Product Manager interacts with to get the job done.

Product Management
Idea management, sprint planning, processes, team, budgets, timelines, product roadmaps, internal communication and demos.

Feature Development
Scoping, customer interviews, idea validation, wireframes, designs, details and QA.

Product Performance
Instrumentation, A/B testing, analytics and KPIs.

Product Marketing
Product tour, blog posts, inbound channels, segmenting visitors and drip email campaigns.

I’ve found each of these areas requires a different headspace, pace and communication style. When focused on Product Management, my head is very much in business and planning mode. I’m emaliing, looking at the calendar and updating people. When focused on Feature Development, I am putting myself in our customer’s shoes, feeling empathic and brainstorming ideas. I’m staring at personas and drawings taped to the wall and getting whiteboard marker stains all of my arms and clothes. I’m far, far away from my email and calendar.

What do your Areas of Focus look like?

What I Want To See From The David Allen Company In 2015

I am such a damn fanboy. The #selfie I took with Phil Libin from Evernote at Collision Conf was something I talked about for weeks and the time I ran into Joe Gebbie outside Om Malik’s Design Conf and updated him on PivotDesk was a highlight for me, not sure why. Actually, I do know, these guys have executed on big things that impact my daily life and I admire that.

So of course, because I’ve embraced GTD and experienced the benefits over the years, I’ve become a fanboy of the whole crew, David Allen, Kelly Forrester, Mike Williams and the David Allen Co coaches I’ve interacted with.

But what happens when a fanboy feels let down?

GTD and it’s principals are rock solid in my view. I’ve lived, taught colleagues and survived by some of the concepts in GTD and can never look back. However, the community around GTD is weakening.

Given a system for GTD, or in general just doing a better job at executing on your day-to-day tasks, why care about a “community”? When I started going deeper and deeper into GTD I found myself leaning on gtdconnect and podcasts for inspiration. I realize this sounds lame but I did it and it yielded results.

Ex: During the past 2 yrs…. 1) I had two little kids 2) got my MBA and 3) co-founded a tech startup. I sought comfort in listening to the same podcasts over and over. Something about the iteration, background noise and community felt like a massive advantage I had in my corner.  Do More Faster, Get Things Done, Inbox Zero were things I enjoyed and made me happy….along with producing good results at work and home.

As GTD Connect has faded, Kelly Forrester has moved on and the whole thing seems weak, I still occasionally listen to old podcasts but am now rethinking my approach. I don’t want to move on but maybe I need to.

Ideas

Here are some things to do.

1. Lots of interviews with people in different domains – the interviews with GTD’ers doing amazing things throughout the world are fascinating and keep me paying my monthly fee.

2. More presence. My company PivotDesk is based in Boulder, CO, one of the most vibrant business and tech scenes in the world. If you asked 100 people on the street about GTD maybe 1 would know, this sucks. Why aren’t there more ways to scale the GTD philosophy in a way driven by the David Allen Co? I would help.

3. Better Software. I use Things. My buddy that has no clue about GTD but crushes it uses Wunderlist. My other buddy I’m educating about GTD uses Asana. The smartest engineers on our team at PivotDesk use only PivotalTracker and nothing else to manage their own personal life. I totally get the “tool agnostic” thing but I’m bummed that David Allen Co hasn’t done more with thought leadership around software to support GTD. I’ve reached out a few times to Intentional Software to beta test some of their rumored projects and have gotten zero response. That’s incrediblely lame and a good signal whatever they’re working on will probably suck. I have no financial gain or career gain, I just want to help and got a goose egg…boo!

4. Meetups. A women in Denver has planned a GTD event in which 3 people show up each month. She is trying so hard to make this work and it’s nice/lame. Where is the support from David Allen Co? These people are your evangalists and they have no support/training/kuddos. They are passionate about what you are selling and you are absent. Embrace this crew of people.

I will continue to be a fanboy in 2014. What David has done is amazing and the dude is great. I evangalize GTD, teach people about it, and use the approach every single day. It’s been a life changer.

However, as I look to 2015 I bet I evolve. Continue to pay $48/month for GTD Connect, no. Buy David’s revision, of course. Tell others about GTD, of course. Be a fanboy, probably not.

Mike – keep GTD Connect an exclusive, amazing resource that’s worth paying for and give the GTD amplifiers a voice. Let me know how I can help.

When will it be done?

The physical world has a funny way of revealing insights into the digital world. Earlier in the day the PivotDesk Engineering team demoed a new feature that’s “almost done”. As I walked through our “almost done” new office without Internet, a floor or paint on the walls I didn’t really think things were almost done. It reminded me how varying the definition of done can be and how important it is to define that for any project.

office

We use a MVP approach at PivotDesk and I believe in iterating to make things better and better over time. Walking through our office had me thinking about how much effort should go into projects and when. For example, if our office had an Internet connection we could move in, sit on the dusty floor and start working. We would be in the environment and give real-time feedback like “this office would be better if we had desks and chairs”. On one hand this is true early feedback that should be useful, on the other hand it’s completely ridiculous.

How much effort should you put into the first version of a feature you are building? If a little more effort, polish, investment was made, how would your user feedback change? If the feature was a bit more stable, how much extra time and reduced costs would that provide to the project?

I am confident our office is going to “launch” on time and on budget just as features of the PivotDesk platform do. The trick is finding the optimal time to let the “users” in the front-door.

The Mailbox App is a Great Tool for GTD

I strive for Inbox Zero but am usually not there. I totally buy into David Allen’s GTD philosophy of “Mind Like Water”.  An empty, processed inbox in which all next actions have been delegated, deferred to my projects list or simply done immediately (if < 2 min) is where I prefer to keep my head.  In that state, I make better decisions about what to work on and can focus on “doing”.

The new Mailbox app enhances the processing phase of the GTD workflow.  As you wake up to an inbox with 50 or so new emails as I do each day, Mailbox makes it very easy to archive, delay until later or reply.

20070206-gtd-workflow

The interesting part for me is the delay feature.  You have to make a decision on every email you read and delay empowers you to control the context in which you want to deal with that email.  Yesterday I received an email from a Vendor that had several contracts attached and was a page long.  This type of email nags at me on some level if it sits in my inbox so I touched “delay until later” which will hide the email and show it again in 3 hours.  In 3 hours I knew I’d be at work, most likely in front of my big monitor with headphones on ready to tackle an email like that which needs to be broken down into multiple actions, docs may need to be printed out, etc.  This clarity enabled me to plow through other emails whereas with Apple Mail or other email clients these emails tended to pile up until I was a bit overwhelmed and put off by my inbox.

snoozes-shot

I hope you find some GTD power in Mailbox as I have. There’s a waiting list and it took me two weeks to actually get access to the app from initial download.

 

What Breaks My Heart

HBR blogger Umair Haque has a great post called “Have to Have a Year that Matters“.

In the post he asks “What breaks your heart?”

Follow your passion, we’re often told. But how do you find your passion? Let me put it another way: what is it that breaks your heart about the world? It’s there that you begin to find what moves you. If you want to find your passion, surrender to your heartbreak. Your heartbreak points towards a truer north — and it’s the difficult journey towards it that is, in the truest sense, no mere passing idyllic infatuation, but enduring, tempestuous passion.

When I ponder this, the collection of unsolvable global problems come to mind. But as I think deeper, I realize one common denominator in this collection is a fundamental lack of opportunity, people not getting the chance to try. Being pushed down, discriminated against, facing unfair rules and regulations, no education, no economic opportunity and being blocked by stupid shit that supports the status quo all crush opportunity.  This breaks my heart.

As I look at my own career and co-founding PivotDesk, I realize how connected things are. On the surface, PivotDesk seems like a marketplace for office space, but there’s something deeper. PivotDesk creates opportunity instead of destoying it.  PivotDesk helps companies be more efficient, to waste less and to do more.  We say all the time that “this is not just about office space” and we truly believe that.  PivotDesk is about setting people and companies up for success, doing our small part in helping them do something amazing with their opportunity.

 

 

Late Again

I once heard someone say “When it comes to time, a women getting ready to leave is equivalent to a man saying when he’s coming home.”

In my life, this couldn’t be more true. I suck at being on time, especially when it comes to family stuff and getting home. Everyone I’ve ever worked with sucked at being on time. I’ve had so many conversations with myself or colleagues having one foot out the door knowing they should leave NOW but unable to resist work talk. Even more difficult is spending precious time with friends and wanting to squeeze just a few minutes out of the day to hangout with them just to let others around you down later. (see: choosing to have that second beer at Happy Hour instead of heading home)

Try this exercise, close your eyes and visually levitate over a situation in your mind, clearly understanding how each person feels in their own way (think: scene from Scrooge or overhead view of a RPG game). This is an exercise I try often and rarely achieve success. When you do, it can be powerful. Think about what a pain in the ass it is for your wife, friend or colleague when you are 45 minutes late, regardless of why you are. Use the overhead visualization technique to see that scene in your mind.

When it comes to time expectations, do these things:

1. Choose short term disappointment over long term trust damage.
Get used to over estimating the time it will take to do something or be somewhere. This is as true for your wife expecting you home for dinner as it is estimating delivery of a new software feature. Estimating high will yield short term disappointment but it’s worth it to not lose long term trust.

2. Schedules Matter
In my marriage, I have assumed synchronicity on schedules so many times and been wrong that’s it’s embarrasing. Schedules need to be taken seriously, not just treated as a minor annoyance. Big mistakes can be made by scheduling mishaps.

3. Reiterate. Reiterate. Retrospect.
As soon as you feel like you have your system dialed in it’s probably time to retrospecct on schedules. Never assume you have this figured out because life changes quickly which changes expectations surrounding this.

4. Always Txt
I have gotten in countless arguments trying to defend my guilt riden tardiness when a simple txt would have sufficed. Instead of texting “Running an hour late, sorry.” which would take 3 seconds, I skip that and send a mental message to my spouse that I am not thinking at all about her or the family, when in fact I’m stressed about running late. (I did this tonight which prompted this blog post.)

If you have a career or interest that involves attending after-work events, and you have a wife, family, friends, etc in which you have set expectations, don’t mess that up.

Good Luck. Being on time for meetings and presentations is one thing, being on time for your family and friends requires a different type of discipline.

The Energy of an Office

Spending the summer of 2012 surrounded by 11 other amazing companies in Techstars Boulder meant constantly bouncing software development ideas of one another, talking markets and strategy and bonding over financing discussions, mentor meetings and late night weekly Techstars meetings. All of these interactions and activities can be summarized as the Energy of an Office.

After Techstars Boulder Summer 2012 ended, several teams stayed in the office to continue growing their businesses, PivotDesk is one of them. I am never the first one to the office, the lights are always on, there’s always buzz, phone calls, meetings and random important people that I don’t know walking around. I have thrived off this energy in just the few short weeks since Demo Day. Being around other smart people, saying hello around the water cooler, random chit chat about cycling, skiing and software….these things are important. The Energy of an Office, much like the ambiance of a restaurant, cannot be quantified but should always be appreciated.

Find a great home for your business, for now. Visit PivotDesk to find Office Space for Startups with great energy.

Great Jason Calacanis Riff About Boulder, CO

In an interview with Kindara, a Boulder based startup that helps Women monitor fertility, Jason Calacanis discussed Boulder’s business culture.

“The thing about Boulder is everybody is so damn smart and fit and active and intelligent and friendly, it’s absolutely disgusting as a New Yorker but God, you go there and people are like How Can I Help You and Let’s Have An Interesting Conversation and I’m well read and I’m fit and let’s go for a mountain bike ride and talk about the NY Times I just read cover to cover.”

I love this rant.  With Techstars Demo Day a week away, it’s a good time to reflect on the unique ecosystems like Boulder. The Work-Life Balance, Entrepreneurial Density and Exciting Tech Scene make the days fly by and my personal productivity much higher.  Techstars is a prime example of the support a Community can provide, this summer has truly been inspiring.  I’m just happy to be a part of it all.  Thanks for the kind words @Jason…and if you’re wondering, Yes I had Tofu today, read the NY Times and am running a 1/2 Ironman on Sunday to clear my head before Demo Day Aug 9th  ;)

Discussion of Boulder, CO starts around Minute 20 of this interview.

The Definition of “Going Live”

Today, Brad Feld walked into my office (well, the Techstars office) and yelled “Time to spin up more dynos PivotDesk!”  5 minutes earlier he and Jason Mendelson had tweeted about PivotDesk which drove 50 concurrent users to our Beta site looking for flexible office space in Boulder.

Our site caved, I added more dynos and restarted all processes and we were back (Thanks Ryan Cook).  The dumbest 10 minutes of my summer at Techstars Boulder thus far.

2012-07-25T22:45:23+00:00 app[web.1]: Started GET "/" for 174.29.90.125 at 2012-07-25 22:45:23 +0000
2012-07-25T22:45:23+00:00 heroku[router]: Error H12 (Request timeout) -> GET beta.pivotdesk.com/assets/layout/denver-img.png dyno=web.1 queue= wait= service=30000ms status=503 bytes=0

"Going Live" is a tricky thing in the enterprise and in Startups.  Leading a large team for the past 2 years at a global enterprise software company, "Going Live" was always about when we felt comfortable telling the disjointed Marketing department that they could make banners for conferences and write whitepapers to put on the website.  I heard "When will it be ready" thousands of times.  "Being Live" meant a 100% bug free, feature complete product that everyone thought was perfect.  Of course this was not realistic and we struggled constantly to come to a shared understanding across the company about this.

In a Startup, "Going Live" means people start tweeting about you.

Here are 2 lessons I reflected on today during my long run up Boulder Canyon to cool down after my fuckup:

1. The day you turn off some kind of basic auth is the day you should increase your infrastructure.

I was kicking back listening to Jeff Clavier drop knowledge on the Techstars teams when my phone started buzzing and the New Relic alerts started arriving.  I had no expectation of increased traffic today and we had not had a single infrastructure hiccup in 60 days since deploying to production for the first time.  My mistake was not thinking of the site as live even though it absolutely was.

2. "Being Live" is not the same thing as MVP, Alpha, Beta, Prototype

You've probably heard the question "Are you live?" and the response "Yes, live with a MVP" or "Yes, live with an Alpha".  That's all well and good.  Getting feedback fast, not being afraid to put things out there and iterating quickly are wonderful things for software development.  Powering those early versions with weak infrastructure is not acceptable.  Although I had all of the right stuff in place (monitoring, backups, analytics, ability to scale), I was not ready for today's traffic increase.

So, learn from me and don't let this happen to you.

Find flexible, scalable office space for your High Growth Business in Boulder and Denver right now with PivotDesk

Hiring Senior Rails Developers at PivotDesk

Position:  Senior Rails Developer, Full-Time
Company: PivotDesk
Location:  Boulder, CO

Our ideal candidate is an experienced Ruby on Rails developer that is comfortable making architecture decisions, especially around eCommerce. We offer an environment where highly motivated, self-learners will grow their knowledge and capabilities in all tiers of Rails application development and deployment.  Our offices are located in downtown Boulder in vibrant, open space.  We use PivotalTracker, utilize Lean Startup methods and work with many interesting technology companies in the Boulder/Denver area.

Our Environment: Ruby on Rails, PostGres, Heroku, Redis, Resque, jQuery, HTML, CSS

Required skills:

  • Proven experience developing significant web applications
  • Solid Ruby on Rails development experience
  • Commitment to agile development practices
  • Knowledgeable in relational database technologies, including PostGres
  • Proficiency with Git
  • Proficiency interfacing with and developing APIs

To apply, please email kelly@pivotdesk.com.