It’s been over a month since I started flirting around the margins of GTD, and it’s working pretty well. My inbox sits at about 200 messages, which isn’t bad for the volume of e-mail I get. I’m finding it quite easy to focus on what I need to be doing at any given moment.
In a work conversation today, though, something rolled off my tongue that really put the whole GTD experience in context for me. I said jokingly to a colleague, “Look, my e-mail is so well-organized that I know exactly what I’m not getting done.” There’s certainly great value in that, but I would hardly call it the “mind like water” state that was promised. Still, I strongly recommend it. At least when you know what you can’t do, you use some other bits of the GTD system to make sure it doesn’t just fall through the cracks (still need to write in more detail about my experience, but it’s still on my “defer” list).
In Jeremy’s “where almost doesn’t matter” post, he mentions that I often gather my stuff and say, “I’m living out of my bag for the rest of the day.”
So why do I do that? Tim Converse nails it for me:
My hunch is that what being unchained from your desk makes possible is talking to more people face-to-face in more various places, which is really about greater personal control of the all-important Where (and the all-important face-to-face contact), than it is about making Where disappear.
This past Friday was a case-in-point. I left my desk in Santa Clara for the day at 11am to go to a meeting at our main Sunnyvale campus. I hopped the Yahoo! inter-campus shuttle and was soon instant messaging with one of my colleagues while going 60 mph down highway 101 (thank you, EVDO!) When I arrived in Sunnyvale, I IM’ed my colleague and asked him to grab another colleague and call my Treo from a conference room (we had something important to talk about). I was still connected to IM when I folded my laptop under my arm and stepped off the shuttle. My phone rang and I slipped into the landscaping for a little privacy (the mobile office does have its disadvantages). When I hung up, I got a text message on my Treo from Matthew with the room where we would be meeting. All of these communications were high-value, but none were face-to-face until I met up with Matthew. Oddly enough, by the end of the day, I had seen each person mentioned in the above scenario face-to-face for one reason or another. Living out of your bag doesn’t mean avoiding face-to-face meetings at all.
I think all the virtual communication is necessary in the era of Web Development 2.0. When you’re moving fast, lots of small decision points come up, and it’s best to get those decisions out of the way as soon as it’s feasible.
Side anecdote: if you live out of your bag, you have to make sure your bag is well-stocked for all circumstances. One of my great moments in bag history was a day when Caterina was asking around if anyone had a Treo charger because her battery was dead. I had the charger, but instead I pulled out a fully-charged spare Treo battery and traded for her dead one (which I charged later). It was the Silicon Valley high-tech office version of a Mentos moment.
I encourage everyone to pack an extra fully-charged cell phone battery in your bag. One day you will be sitting in stalled Manhattan traffic on a Friday afternoon on the way to the airport and need to make a critical call, and your phone will be dead. That’s when you will remember that spare battery and thank me.
Unfortunately for me, some pressing work obligations came up on the second day of Mashup Camp so I wasn’t able to attend, but I did make it the first day and had a great time while I was there. I apologize to people I missed. David Berlind and Doug Gold did an amazing job putting it all together and deserve massive praise. News.com has a nice story about the camp and how it all works.
A few quick random notes (work is insanely busy these days, so this will be short):
In one session, (“Chicagocrime and the ScrapePI“), I watched Adrain Holovaty demonstrate his amazing Chicagocrime.org super mashup.
Did you know Wikipedia has a third-party API? I didn’t: http://www.ontok.com/wiki/index.php/Wikipedia. This an example of a “ScrapePI,” an API against information that has been scraped.
I also talked with Chris Law about some of the stuff we’ve been doing at Yahoo, particularly the “hack days” I’ve been running (explained very well by Jeremy after our first one). One of the reasons I’m so bummed about missing the second day is that I really wanted to see how the Mashup Camp hackathon went compared to our Yahoo! hack days. According to Edward O’Connor, Podbop won the “Best Mashup” award (check out the other entrants with vote totals). Congrats!
I’ll be at Mashup Camp on Monday and Tuesday. Hope to see some of you there. If you want to meet up, e-mail me at chad at chaddickerson with the usual dot com at the end.
Technorati tag: mashupcamp
If you want to know more about one of the key people driving some of the coolest stuff happening at Yahoo, subscribe to Bradley Horowitz’s blog now. (Bradley happens to be my boss).
I first met Bradley in person when he was on a panel I was moderating at the Syndicate conference last May. A week or so before that, I got an e-mail from Caterina saying something like, “Bradley used to be in a punk rock band in Detroit and he cleared the way for bringing Flickr to Yahoo! You guys should meet.” Thank you, Syndicate, and thank you, Caterina. You did me right.
Be sure to scan Bradley’s bio for an entertaining read and check out Bradley’s first post, “Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers.”
Link: Jeremy welcomes Bradley to the blogosphere.
I was talking to a friend recently who works in a large Silicon Valley company about the expectations of managers within large companies and we discussed how big company managers routinely describe themselves as either “tactical” or “strategic.” Typically, those who say they are “strategic” talk down to those considered more “tactical,” directly or indirectly. This is wrong-headed. Marc Hedlund’s post about Web 2.0 development practices over at O’Reilly Radar firmed up my existing feelings on the matter:
More often, though, the developers and the CEO respond to the majority of the support email. One CEO told me he responds to about 80% of all the mail they receive. How better to know what people are saying about your product? he asked.
These days (especially in the web world), being conversant in “big picture” issues means knowing the details, as the anecdote above illustrates. I would bet that the fact that it cost a hundred dollars to FedEx a 30-pound bag of dog food was dismissed as a “tactical” concern by Pets.com board members back in the dot-com craziness as they pursued the larger “strategy” of selling pet food online. We know how that ended up.
“Strategies” are big and sweeping and inherently pass the task of implementation to someone else. Tactics are inherently about executing. The distance between “strategic” and “tactical” is measured in meetings, PowerPoints, conference calls, and, well, “not writing code.” Limiting (or even mostly eliminating) that distance is the key to making things happen.
I’m not saying that strategy isn’t important, just that strategy directly combined with tactical skill is the real killer combo. “Strategy” in the absense of tactical engagement is a loser’s game. If you’re a manager who gets down in the muck to make things happen (not to be confused with “micromanagement”), take heart: tactical is the new strategic.
If the technology itself wasn’t cool enough already, check out that generous BSD license — “free for all uses.” Getting your hands on the Y! UI Library is incredibly straightforward, too. I just downloaded the zip file and the zip file unzipped with no funny business.
I always like playing with real examples, and there are plenty of those (these are just a few that caught me eye — there is much more and all these are backed up by detailed documentation):
Aside from the UI Library, there’s the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library and an article on Yahoo’s Graded Browser Support by Nate Koechley.
All I can say is: have fun.
When a successful commute depends on both a phone company and public transportation, something just has to go wrong.
I didn’t get to try my new Verizon EVDO service today on my commute as I had hoped. Track work (details here) on the Capital Corridor line prevented me from taking the Amtrak train, though they are offering a “bus bridge.” I’ve taken plenty of public transportation in my day, but I wasn’t feeling too excited about taking a temporary Amtrak bus (would you take a temporary Greyhound train? Didn’t think so.)
I will grant Verizon one thing — I have never been so excited about the prospect of waiting for the train in my life. I just can’t wait for my first two-hour delay!
I used the CNET Bandwidth Meter to test my new Verizon Wireless EVDO service (the stuff came in the mail today). The gear took less than 5 minutes to install, and no problems. Check out the speed numbers:
870.5kbps on the first try. This is looking pretty good (I’m sitting in the Yahoo! Research Berkeley office).
My blogging output has been miserable as of late and it’s been bugging me because I really like sitting down to write and there are lots of big blogarific thoughts rolling around in my head these days. That being said, getting down to Yahoo! a few times a week (when I’m not working in the Berkeley lab near my house) means a my 43.7 mile commute that has me in the car for several hours every week. Driving is an antidote to writing — not to mention that this calculator told me that my commute costs me $13,731 a year (!!), and this environmental calculator estimates that my car is dumping just under 900 pounds (!!) of pollution into the world every year. Not good. All of this has made me seriously re-evaluate my commute situation and how to make it better.
First, a little more background on the specifics of my commute situation: a lot of people don’t realize this, but the best way to get from Berkeley to Silicon Valley on mass transit is via the Amtrak Capitol Corridor. I’ve taken the train a few times now and it’s a nice ride — but while this particular route that winds down through Silicon Valley seems to be a natural for solid wi-fi service, the wi-fi offering sucks. Check out the message above the byzantine wi-fi “schedule” on the Amtrak site to see why:
Currently, our Wi-Fi enabled cars rotate among different trains, giving all passengers a chance to test the service. Please be aware that trains are rotated out of service for regular maintenance and that there may be times when Wi-Fi service is unavailable. Check the schedule below to find out when Wi-Fi will be on your train!
Yeah, like I really want to add “figure out which trains have wi-fi today” to my morning to-do list.
I don’t know why it took me so long to think of this, but I finally thought: EVDO is the answer to my problems. Within minutes of this realization, I had signed up for the Broadband Access service from Verizon Wireless which promises “typical download speeds of 400 – 700 kbps, capable of reaching speeds up to 2.0 Mbps”. I ordered the Kyocera KPC650 card and it’s on its way. Now, not only will I be able to get high-speed access on the train instead of worrying with their wonky wi-fi, I will be able to get online while I’m waiting for the train. The service is expensive, but easily paid for many times over by eliminating (or at least greatly limiting) the car commute. This is looking like a win-win.
Of course, I had this same level of excitement in late 2001 when I was taking Caltrain to San Mateo and had just ordered the Ricochet modem that never really worked well enough to use on the train. I hope this time is different (the reviews of the service I’ve seen are stellar). Fingers crossed!