Experimenting With GatsbyJS and the WordPress.com API

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that my November project was to rebuild my personal site using GatsbyJS and the WordPress.com API:

If you’re not familiar with Gatsby, it bills itself as a “blazing-fast static site generator for React.” Having used React to work on Calypso and build some other small projects here and there, I figured it would be a pretty fun experiment.

Obviously, November has come and gone, and yet, you’re still seeing a traditional WordPress theme on my personal site. I ended up not launching my GatsbyJS site (although it is more or less built!) for a few reasons. I’ll touch on those reasons as well as my experience working with GatsbyJS.

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A Refresh to My GTD System

Back in January of 2016, I wrote about how I was applying Cal Newport's concepts from Deep Work to my own routine. I still think it's the single best book on the market related to productivity and meaningful work.

Since that original post, I've made some tweaks here and there to how I plan and set out my day. Over the past few months in particular, I've felt pretty on top of things. I'm able to get in some solid coding time every day. I don't feel behind on anything work-related. I'm still able to find some time to read every day.

I've shared this updated system with a few folks, and they've found it helpful so I thought I would share it here.

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Troubles and Triumphs When Re-Building Our Customer Onboarding Process at WordPress.com

I’m on stage right now at SupConf ATL talking about some work we’ve been doing recently over at WordPress.com to rebuild the onboarding process for our Business plan customers. What you’re reading below is a transcript of the talk. I’ll update this page with a video whenever it’s available! Full slides are at the bottom.

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Building a Rock Solid Career Reputation

I’m currently working my way through The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. The book is fascinating as it draws on dozens of historical examples to pull out key takeaways and suggestions for building power and influence. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular lesson or takeaway and how you can apply it to your own life.

A few chapters in particular have stood out to me, but one in particular (Law 5 – “So Much Depends on Your Reputation—Guard It With Your Life”) is applicable to some of the topics I’ve been writing about recently.

In the beginning, you must work to establish a reputation for one outstanding quality, whether generosity or honesty or cunning. This quality sets you apart and gets other people to talk about you. You then make your reputation known to as many people as possible (subtly, though; take care to build slowly, and with a firm foundation), and watch as it spreads like wildfire.

The two parts are then:

  1. Building a reputation.
  2. Spreading your reputation.

The trick is always “How?”. How exactly do you build a reputation? Perhaps more importantly, once you have that reputation, how do you spread that reputation without feeling like a selfish jerk?

This post will touch on the first piece – building the reputation. I recently wrote a piece on The Muse all about soft skills that will help you excel in your career. I have another one coming up on Todoist about demonstrating your value within an organization.

I wanted to pull together some common threads from the research I did for both that apply to building a reputation and some distinct points in the process that I’ve found helpful. In a follow-up post, I’ll discuss some thoughts on spreading that reputation and talking about yourself without feeling sleezy.

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We Should All Be a Bit Angry

A child yelling as he picks up a weight from the ground.

“I’m probably the angriest person here.”

That phrasing caught me by surprise. I was at dinner at the 2017 Automattic Grand Meetup in Whistler, BC. I was sitting next to one of the happiest and most enjoyable people I know.

This person went on to elaborate on what they meant. They weren’t angry about their current situation, the dinner, or anything else related to that particular point in time. Here’s a short list of things they were angry about:

  • Certain parts of the education system in the US
  • Gender gaps in tech
  • The lack of self-advocacy techniques shared with underrepresented groups (in and out of tech)

We overuse the term “passionate” to describe our various areas of interest. Passion implies a strong belief and an interest in learning more about a particular issue. Often times, passion stops there short of action, short of follow-through that changes the situation for others.

“Anger” is different. It implies something more than passion. Yes, you hold a strong belief about the issue. Yes, you want to learn more about it. But, anger doesn’t stop there. It goes a step farther – you’re actively working to change the game for everyone else.

Many would characterize themselves as passionate. Not many would say they’re angry.

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A Comprehensive Look at How to Give Better Feedback

A woman sitting on one side of the table as she receives feedback from two individuals

A few months back, I published some notes from a presentation I gave at Automattic all about why receiving feedback tends to sting. While everyone is focused on developing the skill of delivering feedback, I truly believe becoming a better feedback receiver is worth spending some time on. The skills go hand in hand. While you can’t always control how feedback is delivered to you, you can control your reaction to that feedback.

Still, there is an art to delivering feedback. When delivered appropriately, feedback can grow the relationship you have with colleagues, teammates, and even friends/family. When delivered inappropriately, it can create animosity.

If you remember the three types of feedback triggers, you’ll know that the three reasons feedback tends to sting are:

  • Truth triggers – We’re upset by the substance of the feedback. It’s unhelpful or simply not true.
  • Relationship triggers – We’re upset by the dynamics with the feedback giver. Either we feel mistreated by this person or we feel as though they’re not in a position to give us feedback on this particular topic.
  • Identity triggers – The feedback we’re receiving conflicts with our own internal narrative.

Similar to receiving feedback, I led a workshop awhile back at Automattic on the topic of giving feedback. Here are some extrapolated notes from that topic. They’ll address specifics like:

  • Feedback comes in all shapes and sizes. We’ll talk about the three specific types of feedback and why you’re likely falling short on one of them.
  • Now that I know why colleagues are set off by feedback, how can I tailor the feedback I’m giving to avoid the three triggers mentioned above?

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Be Unnecessary (And Two More Tricky Leadership Principles)

I’ve been reading, learning, and writing a good deal about leadership over the past two years. It’s one of my favorite topics because the applications expand far beyond your business career into your personal relationships, family, and more. Regardless of whether you’re in an official leadership position within an organization, you’ll benefit greatly from developing leadership skills.

In my mind, one of the best ways to learn about leadership is to read, absorb, and apply lessons from the greats. I wanted to distill some of the more counterintuitive principles I’ve picked up from reading books like The Score Takes Care of Itself, Extreme Ownership, and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

  1. Be a leader, not an achiever.
  2. Make yourself unnecessary.
  3. Take all the blame.

Here’s more about those leadership principles and how they specifically apply.

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Monthly Review: August 2017

A photo of Ao Nang bay near Krabi, Thailand from our trip in January.

I publish a monthly review of habits, work, etc. You’ll be able to find them all here.

August was a kickass month. Once again, we were traveling a good bit. First, we headed to Chicago for some family celebrations. Then, I headed up into the mountains for the Ragnar Relay out here in Colorado. As a 11-person team, we covered close to 200 miles running from Copper Mountain to Snowmass. It’s one of my favorite events of the year!

Work-wise, I was able to accomplish everything I wanted to without feeling super stressed. Drink for Pink also started to ramp up. We’ve already raised over $2,000, and our main events haven’t even started yet! Really excited to see where we end up this year.

Before I forget, if you haven’t yet, definitely sign up for “If we grabbed coffee…” It’s a monthly newsletter where I send out my favorite links from around the web. I also give away one free book each month marked up with my favorite highlights and chapters.

Here’s a full recap of the books, habits, etc that I tackled in August along with what’s up next for September.

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The Failure of Kodak: Why New Ideas Feel Risky

Way back in the 1970s, an engineer named Steven Sasson at Kodak invented the first digital camera. Sasson’s invention was ahead of its time by a few years so one would assume that this innovation would put Kodak at the forefront of the digital revolution.

If you have read one of the many articles on the topic though, you’ll know this isn’t the case. Despite being ahead of the curve, Kodak eventually fell far behind (filing for bankruptcy in 2012). The term “Kodak moment” now connotes missed opportunities instead of magic moments to be captured on film.

As Scott Anthony points out in his article on Harvard Business Review “Kodak’s Downfall Wasn’t About Technology,” the fall of Kodak has less to do with the actual digital camera technology and more about the culture of the company surrounding innovation and new ideas.

When Sasson originally brought his prototype to management, Kodak made a large chunk of their profits from selling film for their cameras. As one might expect, this new film-less invention didn’t get a warm welcome from leaders at the company. As Sasson recounts: 1

My prototype was big as a toaster, but the technical people loved it. But it was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was, ‘that’s cute — but don’t tell anyone about it.’

The first digital camera created by Sasson at Kodak

New ideas can be both incredibly exciting and intensely stressful. On one hand, new ideas are necessary to disrupt an industry and create a unique product/service. On the other hand, they represent a change in the status quo. By definition, a new idea is a departure from what you’re comfortable with and what you may have had success with in the past.

Let’s take a deeper dive into why new ideas are so difficult to adopt pulling from Adam Grant, author of Originals, and others.

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The Planning Fallacy: Why We Overcommit And How to Stop

Picture this: You have a day packed with meetings and obligations. Then, your best friend asks you to go out to lunch. After examining your calendar, you find a 45 minute block around noon that could work. You would still need to drive to the restaurant, order as soon as you arrive, and then get back to the office by 12:45pm to prep for your next meeting.

We’ve all been in a scenario something like this in the past, right? We’re already scheduled to the max, but a juicy opportunity presents itself so we squeeze it in determined we can make it work. More often than not, it fails. We’re late to the next meeting, over the deadline, stuck in traffic, etc. If “to err is human,” it seems like “to overcommit” is human as well.

Although it’s probably obvious, it’s worth diving into why overcommitment should be avoided. First, it puts us in a situation where we overpromise and underdeliver. That’s certainly not the fastest way to the corner office. Second, we’re putting ourselves in a stressful situation. Comparing your calendar and todo list only to find out you have absolutely no time available to get it all done? Not fun.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we overcommit to projects, events, meetings, and tasks in the first place? In order to understand answers to those questions, we first need to understand why we’re so bad at predicting the future. We’ll look at research from The Black Swan by Taleb, Stumbling on Happiness by Gilbert, and others to help us understand and more importantly, improve.

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