The value of GTD

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 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).

Disconnected from the desk actually means more connected

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.

Notes from Mashup Camp

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!

Bradley (my boss) is blogging

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.

Tactical is the new strategic

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.

Yahoo! User Interface Library: amazing and free

In my very first days at Yahoo! working with the team that made the Local Events Browser demo using a bunch of Yahoo! APIs, I was really amazed at the Javascript/CSS talent assembled at Yahoo! As of today, a huge chunk of it is out there for anyone to use and the people who created all of it have started a blog. By any standard of openness, you have to admit that the release of the Yahoo! User Interface Library is incredible:

The Yahoo! User Interface Library is a set of utilities and controls, written in JavaScript, for building richly interactive web applications using techniques such as DOM scripting, HTML and AJAX. The UI Library Utilities facilitate the implementation of rich client-side features by enhancing and normalizing the developer’s interface to important elements of the browser infrastructure (such as events, in-page HTTP requests and the DOM). The Yahoo UI Library Controls produce visual, interactive user interface elements on the page with just a few lines of code and an included CSS file. All the components in the Yahoo! User Interface Library have been released as open source under a BSD license and are free for all uses.

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.