Open Source Contributors blog meme!

Meme, Motivation, Mozilla, Work 2 Comments

I know these sorts of things can often be silly and annoying, but I’m really interested in hearing people’s stories about how they got involved with Open Source and what it has meant to them, both personally and professionally. I’m hoping this is fun and lightweight enough that everyone will take a few minutes and blog about their experiences. Everyone is welcome (and encouraged!) to play.

The rules:

  1. Copy/paste these rules and questions into a blog post, answer the questions, then tag some other people (however many you like) and encourage them to do the same.
  2. Include a link to the original post.
  3. You don’t have to be tagged to take part — if you see this post and want to play, just dive on in. Simple!

The questions:

  1. How (and when) did you originally get involved with an open source project? Which projects have you contributed to?
  2. Why did you choose to contribute to an open source project?
  3. If you were to pick one or two people who have had a major influence on your involvement with open source, who would those people be? Why?
  4. How have you personally benefited from being involved with open source projects?
  5. What advice and/or encouragement would you give to someone who is considering getting involved with an open source project?

That’s it! I’ll post my own responses soon :)

You can send kudos, too…

Feedback, Habits, Mentoring, Motivation, Mozilla, Work 3 Comments

One of the awesomest new features in the revamped Rypple system is the ability for anyone to send kudos to anyone else. Kudos are a very simple, fun way to thank people for being amazing, doing a great job, going above and beyond the call of duty, etc.

It might sound sort of silly or contrived, but it turns out that a simple note of appreciation really can have a huge impact. Since I’ve started using Rypple to send out kudos, I’ve received a few notes from folks telling me that I’ve basically made their day. It’s a little thing, and doesn’t really take more than a couple of minutes out of your day, but it can really make a difference. We don’t often get genuine, heartfelt, positive feedback, so it’s really incredibly energizing when we do.

Everyone with a Rypple account (which is anyone, since everyone can sign up) can log in and send kudos to anyone with an email address. It’s totally wide open and anyone can do it — so if you have a few minutes sometime today, think of someone who’s done something awesome, head over to Rypple, and send them a kudos. The more you do it, the more fun it becomes.

Make someone’s day

Habits, Motivation, Mozilla, Productivity, Work 2 Comments

Feedback is an interesting thing. Critical feedback, while incredibly valuable and vital to improving and learning, can also sort of gut you. And working out in the open — in this crazy transparent fishbowl that is the Mozilla project — critical feedback can often come fast and furious. It’s great, of course, and absolutely fundamental to how we do things, but it does require a thick skin, and it can be profoundly exhausting at times.

On the other hand, positive feedback is absolutely energizing. Those moments where someone goes out of their way to say “thanks” or “awesome job” or “you rock” really does make it all worthwhile. Feeling appreciated — knowing that someone genuinely cares about and values the work you do — can often make the difference between something being a burden or a joy. For me, receiving positive feedback is the most powerful motivator out there — more so than money, fame, or anything else.

Rypple (which we use at Mozilla) recently built a new feedback mechanism into their service called “kudos” that you can use to send someone a quick “thanks”, “you’re awesome”, or “you rock” sort of message. The message you send is visible to everyone in the organization, so serves as a public note of appreciation. Other people can comment on the kudos as well, so there’s a way to quickly add a “+1″ or otherwise pile on the love. You can read more about the Rypple kudos feature (and an ongoing contest they’ve launched to promote it) over at

The Rypple kudos system really is fantastic. We don’t often go out of our way to publicly acknowledge the awesome things our coworkers do, but Rypple has given us a fun, fast, simple, lightweight, and unintimidating way to do so. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should — take a minute to send a kudos and make someone’s day :)

Non-fiction: Drive

Books, Motivation, Productivity, Work No Comments

driveDrive, by Dan Pink, is a book about what really motivates us and why, and I believe that anyone who leads a team, community, or open source project would benefit from reading it.

It turns out that extrinsic incentives — the old “carrots and sticks” system of punishments and rewards — really don’t motivate us very much at all. This isn’t to say that things like money, benefits, promotions, and bonuses aren’t important, but science tells us that after a certain level (i.e. when pay is already fair and equitable), extrinsic motivators aren’t really all that effective.

True motivation is something at once more simple and more complex. Intrinsic incentives — those motivations that come from within and are part of our fundamental character and make up — are the real reason we strive to excel, why we take such satisfaction in producing exceptional work, and are what lie behind our real passions and drives.

Pink postulates that there are three elements to intrinsic motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

The first element, Autonomy, is based on the observation that people are more likely to be engaged in and passionate about something if they are free to be self-directed — allowed not only to choose what they work on, but to find their own solutions, strategies, and approaches to the work involved. Pink puts forth “four Ts” where autonomy and self-direction matter: task, time, technique, and team.

Compare these two situations: In the first, you are asked to work on a project you select, on your own schedule, using methods you choose, and with a team that you recruit. In the second, you are asked to work on something you’re not interested in, on a schedule someone else sets, using methods you have no influence over, and with people you can’t trust, don’t like, and find difficult to work with. Which would you find more motivating? Where would you do your best work? Autonomy is an absolutely fundamental part of motivation.

Mastery, Pink’s second element, is based on his belief that we each have an innate “desire to get better and better at something that matters”. This drive is what lies behind that seemingly magical state known as “flow” — where time falls away when you’re working on a clear task that is just challenging enough without being frustratingly difficult. When our tasks are just slightly beyond our current level of mastery we are inspired to push ourselves to get better and accomplish ever greater things.

The third element, Purpose, provides a grounding context for the other two. “Autonomous people working toward mastery perform at very high levels. But those who do it in the service of some greater objective can achieve even more.” If you believe that what you’re doing has a purpose larger than yourself — say, as an example, ensuring there is choice and innovation on the internet and safeguarding the future of the open web — you’re going to be even more motivated to accomplish amazing things.

The book mentions both Wikipedia and Firefox as examples of what people can accomplish when driven solely by intrinsic motivation. All three elements are present: contributors are autonomous (entirely self-selecting and able to scratch whatever itches they like), highly skilled and driven to continually get better at what they do, and they usually have a pretty fundamental belief in the purpose and importance of the larger project. Working together over several years, the people involved with these projects have accomplished what most sane people would have believed was impossible only a few years ago. Intrinsic motivation is powerful, powerful thing.

If you’re interested in understanding the power of intrinsic incentives (and, to some extent, the dangers of extrinsic incentives) and harnessing those to motivate your team or open source community to even greater feats of awesome, I think Drive is definitely worth reading.

On Personal Improvement

Focus, Goals, Habits, Motivation, Productivity 1 Comment

I’ve been working to improve myself in a bunch of ways over the past months, and the turning of the year always brings these sorts of things more sharply into focus. It also coincides with holidays where I have a few days off to sit and think about things without the ongoing distractions of day-to-day work and such.

During my week off I put together a list of what I want to accomplish in 2010. The quick (and incomplete because some are just for me) list:

  • Improve focus and execution: This is a purely work-related goal. I am far too easily distracted and thrown off track by things like IRC, Twitter, Facebook, the infinity of web feeds, etc. I need to really work on blocking stuff out, cutting things down, and improving my ability to focus. When I do — when I can hit that state of “flow” — I have a lot more fun and I get a lot more done. I would like to be able to get into that state on demand. Every day.
  • Lose another 12 lbs: I’ve lost around 15 lbs since last spring, but I’ve a ways to go to get back to where I want to be.
  • Read more: I love reading, but I don’t make enough time for it. I want to do so.
  • Write more: I love writing, but again I don’t make enough time for it. I want to do so.
  • Let crap bother me less: I tend to get annoyed more easily by things than I’m really happy with, and I sometimes have a problem letting things go. I want to fix that.

There’s some other stuff, but this is the core of it. Five goals, relatively straightforward, but each with its own challenges.

The tricky part is that these goals aren’t like “projects”. They will never be complete in any sense because they’re all ongoing, “from now ’til forever” sorts of things. I can’t just break these down GTD-style into a set of actions, then run down the list checking each off. All of these can only be accomplished by being very deliberate, conscientious, and focused on changing my personal habits over time.

So, what habits do I need to cultivate to achieve these goals? Here’s the current plan.

Improve focus and execution

  • Cut down the noise: Close all unnecessary apps and Firefox tabs while I’m working. Minimize IRC and IM sessions (I need to be available for pings, but only for direct pings).
  • Go full GTD: The old catch-as-catch-can system I’ve been using doesn’t scale. I need to adopt a (more or less) full GTD system for tracking projects and tasks. I need to assign and stick to real due dates for everything. If it doesn’t have a due date, it often just slides indefinitely.
  • Take advantage of available tools: For example, I should use an app that has a “distraction free” mode for all writing.

Lose another 12 lbs

  • Eat and cook (even more) sensibly: I’ve been working on this for quite a while, but there are things I can do to get a bigger bang for our caloric buck. Luckily I love food and cooking, so this shouldn’t be that difficult.
  • Work out regularly: I’ve been working out semi-regularly since last March, but I have to step up my game. “Regularly” is intended to become “daily” in time.
  • Keep a food and exercise diary: Tracking calories and nutrition is the only real way to understand how things are going and where things need work.

Read more and Write more
These are largely a matter of making the time and using it. This time could come from getting up earlier, staying up later, or eliminating/reducing other activities to free up time during the saner parts of the day. Right now, for example, I’ve eliminated all distractions and am simply writing. Blog posts count.

Let crap bother me less
This one’s a bit fuzzier and probably the most difficult of the bunch. Current strategies:

  • Meditate every day: It’s good for your head to just sit sometimes.
  • Better sleep: Better, more consistent sleep. I suffer from insomnia fairly often and this never helps my brain.
  • Step back: If something bothers me I have a strong impulse to react to it immediately, which is never the right thing to do. The idea here is pretty simple — if something bothers me for whatever reason, I need to use that as a trigger to step back and away from it for a few minutes or an hour or a day until I’m able to think about and react to it calmly and reasonably. I’ve been getting better at this over the past few years, but I’m hoping being deliberate about it will reinforce the habit.

I’ve started experimenting with a number of apps to help me with these things — I am a giant nerd, after all, and given that I’m in front of my computer most of the time (and within arm’s reach of my iPhone all of the time), I figured I’d take advantage of the tools at hand. Here are some of the applications I’m trying right now.


Scrivener is a bloody fantastic writing tool that, in addition to its already huge array of really useful features, has a beautiful full-screen distraction free mode. I really cannot say enough good about this app. Drawback: it’s Mac only. It’s also not free, but I’m OK with that, because it’s worth every penny. If you write — particularly if you write complex docs or have a number of different writing projects on the go at once — I strongly recommend you give the 30 day free trial a try.


OmniFocus comes in two parts — the desktop app and the iPhone app. It is not cheap, and you will spend a total of $100 for both. It took me a long time (and three tries) to really warm up to OmniFocus, but now that I’m juggling 20-odd projects and a dozen “due now” items every day, I have fallen completely in love with it. OmniFocus isn’t super intuitive, however, as it is designed to work specifically with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity system. If you haven’t, you should read the book and use the demo version of OmniFocus for a while before committing to buying the application, particularly at these prices.

The iPhone app does what you would expect it to do, which is provide a full-featured version of the app in iPhone format that syncs with the desktop app. My only quibble is that it seems to take an awfully long time to sync sometimes.

Lose It!

Lose It! is one of those free iPhone apps for which I would pay good money if they asked. It’s simple, easy to use, flexible, and goal oriented in a way that makes me happy.

The premise is simple: You set a weight loss goal, the app calculates (roughly) the number of calories you need per day in order to achieve your goal. I set my goal (lose 12 lbs) at a challenging-but-doable rate of one pound per week, which gives me a target of around 1600 net calories per day.

Once that’s set, all I have to do is log whatever I eat and any exercise I do. Lose It! gives me a running daily total, a running weekly total, and pretty bar charts to show me where I stand. It has some other features — nutritional info, friends (via the Lose It! website), a public humiliation option, etc), but the goal setting and exercise/food diary is the core and all you need to use.

I’ve been using Lose It! for about two weeks and it’s great. I’ve lost 2 lbs, have become very much more aware of what I eat and how exercise lets me eat more (I really like food). I highly recommend this app if you’re watching your weight.

Touch Goal

If you want to develop new habits and/or break old habits, a habit tracker like Touch Goal is a really great way to increase your personal awareness of what you do or don’t do in a day.

I’ve set up Touch Goals to track whether I:

  • Eat breakfast in the morning (rather than at noon like I tend to)
  • Do cardio exercise
  • Do strength training
  • Eat fewer than 1700 calories
  • Drink four (or more) glasses of water
  • Read for an hour or more
  • Write for an hour or more
  • Avoid snacking after 8pm

With the exception of strength training, these are things I want to do every day (strength training has a target of 4x/wk). When I do one of these things in a day, I add it to Touch Goals, and I can see pretty quickly how I’m progressing. This is another straightforward app that helps simply by making me more mindful of what I do or don’t do over the course of the day.

Ben’s Virtues

This is a mostly-for-fun app. As the story goes, Ben Franklin created this system for cultivating personal virtues whilst on an 80 day ocean voyage. He drew up a chart that lists thirteen virtues he wanted to develop, and put the days of the week across the top. Each week he would focus on a different virtue and make a mark on the chart if he failed in that virtue on a given day. With thirteen virtues, this cycle would repeat four times each year.

Naturally someone has created an iPhone app version of this chart, and I’ve been using it just for fun. The thirteen virtues are all (well, mostly) completely valid and worth cultivating, so why not?


Pzizz is an odd little iPhone app that is supposed to help you sleep. I often have a terrible time getting to sleep, or I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep. I’m experimenting with Pzizz to see if it helps. So far nothing conclusive.


Meditate is sort of a Pzizz for meditation rather than for sleep. I haven’t used it much yet, so really haven’t got much to say about it. I should probably go put “meditate” on my Touch Goals list.

And there you have it. Goals, habits, and apps to help me get there. Maybe I’ll post an update in a few months to let (all three of) you know how things are progressing.

Bonus screenshots!
Since you made it all the way to the end, here are some pictures…

my iPhone

Ben’s Virtues

Lose It! daily overview

Lose It! weekly overview (oh Thursday…what the hell)

Touch Goal

Articles about focus, motivation, and feedback

Feedback, Focus, Motivation, Work No Comments

The Key to Effectiveness? Focus (Harvard Business blogs)

“One of the tough truths of management is that we all have trouble making choices. While older and supposedly wiser, we still often act like kids in the candy store who want everything. Some of the best CEOs and managers are those who stop things and get their companies or their teams focused. GE’s Chief Learning Officer, Susan Peters, notes that for successful managers at GE ‘prioritization and focus are keys to doing well. Sure there are other things that are not on the priority list, but you do them differently or more slowly.’”

Motivation – you’re doing it wrong (TEDTalk)

Dan Pink’s TED Talk about the science of motivation, and how there is a mismatch between what science knows and what businesses often do to motivate people. “Dan’s point is that rewarding performance mostly doesn’t work and often leads to worse performance.” The interesting part really starts around the 12:00m mark, where he stops talking about how rewards don’t work and starts talking about what does — autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

How to Escape Perfectionism (Harvard Business blogs)

“Critical feedback is helpful as long as it’s offered with care and support. But the feedback that comes from jealousy or insecurity or arrogance or without any real knowledge of you? Ignore it. And if you’re a manager, your first duty is to do no harm. As managers, we’re often the ones who stand in judgment of other people and their work. And when we’re too hard on someone or watch too closely or correct too often or focus on the mistakes more than the successes, then we sap their confidence. And without confidence, no one can achieve much.”

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