An Open Response To Daniel Markovitz on "To-Do Lists Don't Work"

I want to preface this post with the fact that I have no idea how an ‘open response’ or ‘open letter’ even works, other than being publicly available. I’ve seen them before, but they have a tendency to lean towards the negative, if not threatening, tone of voice. That’s not what this is. I will, however, admit that it was written hastily after reading Daniel Markovitz’s article (only because of a lack of time on my flight). Perhaps it’s better titled “An Alternative Solution to Ditching To-Do Lists (written in haste)”, but as some of my marketing friends would probably tell me, there’s nothing “bait-y” about that title. Daniel Markovitz I have the utmost respect for your post; this, however, is my opinion on where To-Do lists went wrong.

Edit: Oh, and I almost forgot, here's the original (told you it was my first time) -- "To-Do Lists Don't Work" by Daniel Markovitz

From what I can remember, I’ve used To-Do lists for as long as I could write. In the early days of elementary school, I vaguely recall our teachers enforcing some type of list, the contents of which were our tasks for the evening. These were simpler times. I imagine my To-Do list at that time going something like this:
  1. Have parents sign pop-quiz grade
  2. Have parents sign permission slip
  3. Complete cursive worksheet
What an easy life. The majority of my tasks weren’t even my responsibility, but instead, it was my job to tell someone else to do something. Who knew, I was managing people at the ripe young age of 5, or so I was led to believe.

Over time I’d come to realize To-Do lists weren’t only for tasks I had to do when I got home from school, but as I got older, I recognized they started to have items like bills, groceries, email responses and any other number of random tasks I had to complete. What I want to walk through, and figure out, is where I went wrong — when did the simple To-Do lists of my childhood become the nightmare that exists today.

  • In elementary school, my To-Do list was a simple piece of paper, perhaps with a series of numbers (or small boxes to check off if I was getting fancy).
  • By the time I reached college, my To-Do list had transformed from the typical sheet of lined paper into a whiteboard (likely accompanied by R-rated drawings from drinking that occurred the night prior).
  • At GE, my first internship, my To-Do list took a step back in time, except rather than being on a piece of paper, it was an index card in a small Tumi case made for just that (I still own this, and carry it most of the time).
For a number of years the index card system stuck as my primary means of writing down tasks, I’d guess somewhere from 2003 until 2010. But what changed? Why did I abandon it?

2010 — The year I graduated from my Blackberry to an app-rich smartphone, the HTC Incredible.

Smartphones. The devil in disguise. Not quite, that’s a little harsh, but seriously, they made things too simple. Jumping to a quick conclusion here, I really think the demise of the To-Do runs deeper than what Markovitz proposes. I agree with all of the fundamental problems that he points out, but I think it frames the To-Do list problem too late in the game, after the content is already on the list. I believe the problem stems from the fact that our ability to add items to our To-Do list is too simple.

I do run into all the problems Markovitz points out, it’s a serious issue. I don’t have just one, short, concise To-Do list; instead, I have a series of lists all over the place, because they are so simple to create and add items to.

     Index cards? check
     Evernote? check
     Wunderlist? check
     Apple Notes? check
     Mail app? check

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with me? Mail apps pitch me that my inbox should be a To-Do list, To-Do apps pitch me that they should be my list, it’s like I’m being pulled in 50 different directions. If we simply focused on one medium for creating a To-Do list, preferably one that does not make writing down tasks easy, I think we’d be fine.

You should note, I also do love hand written work. I always carry a notebook/notecard and pen with me nearly everywhere I go, so I may be a bit jaded on the solution to To-Do lists. But honestly, if it was more difficult to write a task down, wouldn’t you give it more thought before ever putting it on paper? Or if the space in which you could write down items was limited, we’d make sure we used it well. Instead, in an age where our To-Do lists can reach infinite length, we’re causing more headaches than we realize.

There, I said it. My first open response. How’d I do?

Upgrading from iOS7 Beta to Official Release

Don't make the same mistake I did with iOS6. Don't forget to update from iOS7 beta to the official release before the beta times out, and you start getting messages saying "Your phone can not be activated". I'm having flashbacks to iOS6 even typing this; when I got locked out of my phone for a day, and even (un-named) Apple engineers couldn't figure out what was wrong with it.

With today's announcement of iOS7, you'll want to upgrade to the official release instead of the Beta (should you have it installed on your phone), by following these steps, with your iPhone plugged into your computer:

  1. In iTunes, back up your phone (to iCloud, locally, whatever your preference)
  2. On your device, go into Settings and turn off "Find My Phone" (for whatever reason this needs to be disabled according to an error I received) (Settings >> Privacy >> Location Services >> Find My iPhone)
  3. In iTunes, click "Restore iPhone"
  4. Follow the instructions...

It's all pretty simple, and prevents you from having issues where the beta is no longer active and locks you out of your device. Don't make the same mistake I did on iOS6.

The Startup T-Shirt Stereotype

Swag. A common item in the handbag of tricks that startups use to get attention and instill excitement. 

Here at Braid Labs @idangazit and I recently discussed means to get our name out, and in these discussions, came across the all too familiar idea to get t-shirts. Everyone does it, so why shouldn't we? For the minimal amount of work (and money) expended to get shirts, it has to be worth it for some notoriety, but is it really?

As far as I can tell, there are two distinct measures for giving out a shirt and measuring its worth,

1) it should add value to the recipient

maybe as a reward? as a prize? as a thank you? we want people to love us, and secondary to that, hopefully they'll talk about us

2) it should incite interest from others

when said person wears your shirt, will other people see it? will they ask themselves "where do I get a shirt like that for myself?" or even better "how do I sign up for this wonderful service advertised on this person's garment?!?"

1 is pretty clear-cut, I don't know anyone that doesn't like receiving gifts (unless as a child you received coal and therefore have bad associations with gifts -- I'm sorry for you). It's obvious that even in the population of our shared office, the hope of receiving a gift is shared throughout. Whenever the UPS guy walks down the stairs with a package, a bunch of heads pop up from behind 30" monitors hoping the delivery may be for them. A collective sigh occurs as the intended recipient walks over to get their package, and we all wait for our day...

2 is a little different, it requires predicting where in the hell the person who receives the shirt will actually wear it. In an ideal world we could send a t-shirt to someone along with a bunch of GPS coordinates -- "show up at 37.7842° N, 122.4016° W on 10/22, stand still for at least 20 minutes", unfortunately that's not how it works. In thinking about where people will actually be when they wear these shirts, Idan and I came up with the following thought, "the Startup T-Shirt Stereotype".

In our combined time around startups, we have both come across a lot of shirts(1), and Idan has had the pleasure of designing quite a few himself. During this time, some trends amongst the people that wear them started to stand out. Out of our quick chat one afternoon about t-shirts, we distilled the stereotype into the following situations,


Laundry Day

What is it? You're at the bottom of the barrel, nothing left to wear, and you're forced to dig into the dresser equivalent of a junk-drawer. A graveyard of shirts, it's almost like having your own personal crunchbase in your dresser.

Who will see it? If we're lucky the cute girl/guy at the laundromat may look away from their magazine for just long enough to catch a glimpse in between wash loads, and maybe, just maybe, look it up on the iPhone we know they have with them.


For Sleeping

What is it? Pretty cut and dry, it is what it is. Home at the end of the day and ready for sleep, so you reach into your pile of clothes not meant for going out in public and throw on a shirt emblazened with "Facebook".

Who will see it? This is a world of mystery, and really depends on what type of person you are. Do you spend your time on Craigslist casual encounters? Well, perhaps you can do us some good. In a steady relationship? We'll probably max out at 2 sets of eyes -- perhaps we should've sent you two shirts so you guys can match at night.


Swol Wear(2)

What is it? Free gym shirts 'till the end of time. This is probably the one I personally see around the most. The startup gym outfit, a company t-shirt paired with gym shorts and sneakers, it's about as common as yoga pants in the Marina(3).

Who will see it? It all depends on your schedule. If you're an off-schedule gym-goer who appreciates the quiet of an empty gym, it's unlikely many people will see this shirt, and you'll miss out on some opportunities. However, the upside possibility is the person shows up at the gym during prime hours, where you're guaranteed more eyes than any of the previous two combined.


I don't buy shirts

What is it? This person survives solely on the constant supply of startup t-shirts, with no plan to ever have to go shopping for a t-shirt given the unlimited supply. If only startups branded boxers & shorts this person would be set.

Who will see it? This is the crown jewel of all the stereotypes, the person you want to find. They'll proudly wear your shirt day in and day out regardless of setting. Interview? Sure, why the hell not. Fancy dinner? I'll wear my GrubWithUs shirt, that's food related.


So which t-shirt stereotype do you fall into? Maybe a new group altogether.

Follow the conversation here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6246216

And if you think there are any I missed, share them in the comments.


Interested in learning more about Braid Labs, and possibly getting a t-shirt?

Follow us on Twitter @BraidAapp

Follow us on Angel List https://angel.co/braid-labs

Get your Braid Pass http://braidapp.com


(1) I seriously have an entire dresser drawer dedicated to startup t-shirts, and it wasn't even planned that way, they just kind of took over -- I think they actually may be breeding, can't wait to see what kind of offspring they produce

(2) I give credit to @zainy and @coudron for introducing me to this word in the office -- this is my first use of it, I hope I did it right?

(3) The Marina is a San Francisco neighborhood where its locals are known for wearing yoga pants . . . (nearly) always

A Masterpiece by Collin Donnell

Little more needs to be said other than what's been captured in a blog post by Collin Donnell, co-founder of Braid Labs, who we all have the pleasure of working with. Distance between us can't contain the excitement we all have for working with one another, which is clearly expressed in this thoughtful post:

http://collindonnell.com/2013/08/14/introducing-my-new-company-braid-labs/ 

tl;dr -- @collindonnell <3's his co-founders and Get your BraidPass now! 

Working remotely and the tools that make it possible

Portland, Tel Aviv, San Francisco -- three locations, two timezones, numerous developers. There was a time when this description wouldn't be that of your typical startup. With the advent of online collaboration tools and always on connections, geography no longer weighs us down. We are able to work efficiently, no matter where we are. I wanted to share a few of the tools that make this possible at Braid Labs.

Trello

I really can't say it much better than these guys, front and center on their homepage "Organize anything, together". This sums it up quite well, and is to a T exactly how we use this service. When you first signup, you're given three lists, To Do, Doing and Done, which works as a great starting point. We took it a step further and added in additional lists for Blocked, Inspiration (cool apps, articles, etc.,), and Ideas (what I like to call the parking lot, a spot for keeping ideas we want to work on one day but aren't fully baked, and aren't quite ready for development).

Flowdock

Team chat, it doesn't get much more simple than that. Flowdock is where we hang out all day when we're online. It works as a simple medium for communicating with each other, as well as a place to ask quick questions with commands like @<username> and @all. They have a nice feature-set, and some extra frills, like emoji, which are a nice little touch. Every once and awhile I like to throw out a :pineapple: (

) just to spice things up.

Hackpad

Sometimes all you really need is a room and a whiteboard, and although there are very few tools, if any, that can solve this for remote workers, Hackpad does help quite a bit. This is essentially Google Docs, with all the bloat ripped out, leaving behind the good stuff like document collaboration, revision history and some rich text support. When we need a quick brainstorming session we usually hop into Hackpad and just start typing away, all of us at once -- it's really not as disorganized as it sounds.

Slingshot

This tiny app that runs in the background is probably one of my most used apps, even though I never see it. Anything from a quick website snapshot to a reference of something on my screen -- this app automatically uploads screen grabs (mostly Cmd-Shift-4 for me) and puts a link to them on my clipboard for easy sharing. That screenshot of the pineapple above? I used Slingshot for that.

CloudApp

In a similar arena to Slingshot, CloudApp provides a way for sharing but rather than just a screenshot, you can share the actual file(s) via a clipboard link. CloudApp is a simple menubar icon that you drag/drop any file or folder to and get back a link copied to your clipboard automatically -- simply send the link to share.

iMessage / Facetime

Yes, seriously. The ability to send a text message or have a call via data is incredibly helpful. For no extra cost, we can communicate across the pond between the US and Israel. Quick one-on-ones work well using Facetime on our laptops, and even on our phones when we're in a pinch.


There are, of course, a few other services worth noting. These aren't necessarily specific to remote work, but do help quite a bit. Off the top of my head, GitHub and Dropbox, and a few others I'm surely forgetting to mention.

If you're interested to learn more about what we're up to at Braid Labs, share your email at BraidApp.com or follow us on twitter (@braidapp) -- we aren't too noisy, but don't worry, the party will start shortly, and we'd hate to have you miss out.

Join the discussion here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5869780