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Getting Lifehack Done: Global Collaboration

Getting Lifehack Done: Global Collaboration

Global Collaboration

    Somewhere around 3 dozen people, scattered across the globe from Hong Kong across the US to the UK, Europe, and beyond work together to bring you the collection of useful tips, thought pieces, and inspiration known as Lifehack. I thought it might be interesting to our readers to learn a little bit about what goes on “behind the scenes” at a big site like this – the tools we use, the processes we’ve developed, and the attitudes that help us keep Lifehack stocked with stories 260 days a year. (That’s 5 weekdays a week for 52 weeks – we don’t take holidays off!)

    Collaboration Tools for a Global Workforce

    Lifehack simply wouldn’t be possible, not in the form it’s taken today anyway, without the awesome power of WordPress. What’s most amazing about WordPress is that it’s free and open-source – itself the outcome of a global collaboration. Lifehack pushes WordPress hard, with dozens of active users under several different roles, and huge amounts of traffic, often coming is spikes that would take most sites down. Lifehack is one of the most-dugg sites on the Internet —

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    the 31st most-mentioned site on Digg and somewhere around 125th in terms of total number of diggs (sorry, I’ve lost the link to that), and Digg traffic can come as fast as a hit a second. Configured properly, WordPress handles it with ease.

    I’ll talk more about WordPress when I discuss our process. HEre are some of the other tools that make Lifehack possible:

    • Campfire: Campfire is an online chatroom service hosted by the good folks at 37Signals. Campfire allows me to meet with Leon Ho, Lifehack’s owner, every other week for a real-time discussion of the site’s direction, special projects, and so on – despite the fact that Leon is based in Hong Kong and I’m in Las Vegas. We also use Campfire for editorial meetings between myself and the other staff writers (Thursday Bram and Joel Falconer). My favorite feature of Campfire is that it archives all your chats, so we can easily pull up a record of past discussions if we need to clarify a point or look for action items.
    • Ta-da List: Another 37Signals product, Ta-da List is a simple task list that allows task sharing between several users. The staff writers use a single list to collect post ideas that they aren’t planning to use – maybe I have a great idea for a post I know Lifehack readers will enjoy, but I lack the time or knowledge to do it justice. Our Ta-da List lets me offer it up to the other writers, who can check it off if they decide to run with the idea.
    • Google Groups: How do you communicate with a staff of 30+ guest contributors? The answer, for us, is an email list. Every guest contributor is invited to join our private group on Google. This list allows me to send them all updates about upcoming events (like the Lifehack Great Big Summer Giveaway), editorial directions, and process changes. It also provides a forum for sharing tips on writing, using social media, and other information relevant to writers of a popular site like Lifehack.
    • activeCollab: This is a project management and collaboration suite that runs on the Stepcase servers (Stepcase is Lifehack’s parent company). In theory, it allows us to assign tasks, attach them to projects, record progress towards milestones, compile information pages about projects, and so on; in practice, I find it far too complex for the small number of people actively administering the site, especially given that our workflow isn’t really divided into “projects” as much as "ongoing responsibilities". I’m sure it works much better for larger workgroups in a corporate environment.
    • Email and other communication tools: Email isn’t fancy, but it’s probably the tool we use the most, simply because it’s ever-present, near-instantaneous, and easily archived. And for person-to-person off-the-cuff discussions, we often use Skype or other IM systems as well.

    The Collaborative Process

    To make this all work, we need a pretty clear workflow for each week’s posts. When I started at Lifehack over a year ago, articles were posted to the front page pretty much as they were submitted by guest contributors. When I took over the job of editing and scheduling all the posts on the site, I decided that we should batch process our posts — eating our own dog-food, as it were.

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    Today, no matter how many guest contributors post in any given week, I only spend a few hours on Sunday scheduling posts. Although staff writers and guest contributors are free to write whatever they want (within the scope of the site), I make suggestions of loose themes every month or so — this month was "home and work", for instance.

    Such themes, when we have them, are worked out by myself and Leon Ho, and sometimes staff writers Joel and Thursday, during our bi-weekly meetings. Those meetings are also where we work out technical issues, discuss editorial policies, plan the site’s direction, and generally bounce ideas off of each other.

    In between meetings, I act as the contact person for question from guest contributors and staff writers alike, dealing with simple issues as they arise and saving the more complex ones for our editorial meetings.

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    Collaboration is an Attitude

    Keep in mind that I have never met Leon or Joel or any of Lifehack’s guest contributors. I did meet Thursday once for coffee when she was visiting Las Vegas for a conference. But basically we are a group of about three dozen strangers. Yet that group of strangers manages to keep a lively mix of stories flowing every weekday, through the whole year.

    To do this requires more than just a set of tools — it requires an attitude. Everyone who contributes to Lifehack — whether as guest contributors, staff writers, or readers — does so for reasons of their own. Everyone recognizes that, and as long as I’ve been involved with the site, nobody has made an effort to impose their own view on anyone else. We’ve worked hard to make sure that there’s room for a variety of viewpoints, even conflicting ones — I sometimes disagree sharply with a piece I’m editing, but I respect the author’s intentions in posting it, and respect the readers’ right to agree or disagree free of my interference.

    Mostly, Lifehack works because everyone has a clear role and no more is asked of them than spelled out in that role. The development of a clear system for posting and communicating reflects that — I know exactly what I can expect of each person involved with putting Lifehack together.

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    Conclusion

    I’m lucky that mutual respect and clearly-defined roles are so effective, because to be honest, the tools we use are something of a kluge. I would much rather use a single collaboration suite that handled all the tasks we perform in bringing Lifehack together day after day. So far, I haven’t found anything that is functional, elegant, easy to use, and handles multiple roles well. WordPress is the exception — maybe someone will build a collaboration suite using WordPress as a platform?

    That said, the kluge we’ve got does work, as the continued existence of Lifehack shows. And it is sure to evolve as new tools become available that handle more of the tasks we need to perform, and handles them more efficiently. And hopefully, seeing how we do it might give you some ideas about your own teams and projects.

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    Last Updated on December 9, 2019

    What Makes a Good Leader: 10 Critical Leadership Qualities

    What Makes a Good Leader: 10 Critical Leadership Qualities

    The word “leader” makes you think of people in charge. High-ranking people – your boss, politicians, presidents, CEOs…

    But leadership really isn’t about a particular position or a person’s seniority. Just because someone has worked for many years doesn’t mean he has gained the qualities and skills to lead a team.

    Getting promoted to a managerial position doesn’t automatically turn you into a leader either. CEOs and other high-ranking officials don’t always have great leadership skills.

    So what makes a good leader? What are the characteristics of a leader?

    Good leadership is about acquiring and honing skills. Leadership skills enable you to be a role model for a team in any environment. With great leadership qualities, successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes: in the home, at school, or at the workplace.

    The following is a list of characteristics of a leader who successfully leads a great team:

    1. Stay Positive, Even in the Worst Situations

    Great leaders know that they won’t have a happy and motivated team unless they themselves exhibit a positive attitude. This can be done by remaining positive when things go wrong and, by creating a relaxed and happy atmosphere in the workplace.

    Even some simple things like providing cupcakes or beers on Fridays can make the world of difference. An added perk is that team members are likely to work harder and do overtime when needed if they’re happy and appreciated.

    Even in the worst situations such as experiencing low team morale or team members having made a big mistake at work, a great leader stays positive and figure out ways to keep the team motivated to solve the problems.

    Walt Disney (1901-1966), had his share of hardships and challenges; and like any great leader, he managed to stay positive and find new opportunities. In 1928, Disney found that his film producer, Charles Mintz, wanted to reduce his payments for the Oswald series. Mintz threatened to cut ties entirely if Disney didn’t accept his terms, and Disney chose to part ways. But in leaving Oswald, Disney decided to create something new: the iconic Mickey Mouse.

      What Can You Learn from Walt Disney?

      Break down huge challenges into smaller ones and find ways to tackle them one by one.

      Think about the lessons you can learn from the mistake and jot them down — Because sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

      2. Exhibit Confidence Everywhere

      All great leaders have to exhibit an air of confidence if they’re going to succeed. Please don’t confuse this with self-satisfaction and arrogance. You want people to look up to you for inspiration, not so they can punch you in the face.

      Confidence is important because people will be looking to you on how to behave, particularly if things aren’t going 100% right. If you remain calm and poised, team members are far more likely to as well. As a result, morale and productivity will remain high and the problem will be solved more quickly.

      If you panic and give up, they will know immediately and things will simply go down hill from there.

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      Elon Musk is a great example of a leader with confidence. He truly believes that Tesla will be successful, which he has shown many times through his actions. He converted 532,000 stock options at $6.63 each, their value on Dec. 4, 2009, before Tesla went public. It was a hefty bargain considering Tesla’s stock price stood at around $195 per share at that time. He doesn’t apologize for his beliefs and has drawn fire from just about everyone for his political actions.

        What Can You Learn from Elon Musk?

        You can’t instantly become a very confident person, but all the small things you do every day will gradually make you more confident:

        • List 10 things you like about yourself every day (something different every day), and you’ll be more confident about yourself.
        • Work on your strengths, do your best to enhance them.

        3. Have a Sense of Humor

        It’s imperative for any kind of leader to have a sense of humor, particularly when things go wrong. And they will.

        Your team members are going to be looking to you for how to react in a seemingly dire situation. It would probably be best if you weren’t stringing up a noose for yourself in the corner. You need to be able to laugh things off, because if staff morale goes down, so will productivity.

        Establish this environment prior to any kind of meltdown by encouraging humor and personal discussions in the work place.

        As president, Barack Obama exuded confidence and calm during stressful situations. But he was also known for his “dad jokes”,[1] his genuinely funny speeches at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and appearing on Zack Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns.[2] Obama’s sense of humor made him grounded, realistic, and honest – no doubt that helped during some tense moments in the White House!

          What Can You Learn from Barak Obama?

          Laugh at yourself. Confident people laugh about their own silly mistakes, others will also trust you more because you’re willing to share your experiences.

          Be observant and learn from the jokes others make. You can also get a lot of inspirations from the internet.

          4. Embrace Failures and Manage Set Backs

          No matter how hard you try to avoid it, failures will happen; that’s okay. You just need to know how to deal with them.

          Great leaders take them in strides. They remain calm and logically think through the situation and utilize their resources. What they don’t do is fall apart and reveal to their team how worried they are, which leads to negative morale, fear and binge-drinking under desks.

          Great leaders do in fact lead, even when they’re faced with setbacks.

          Henry Ford experienced a major setback after designing and improving the Ford Quadricycle. He founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, but the resulting cars they produced did not live up to his standards and were too expensive. The company dissolved in 1901. Ford took this in stride and formed the Henry Ford Company. The sales were slow and the company had financial problems; it wasn’t until 1903 that the Ford Motor Company was successful and put the Ford on the map.

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            What Can You Learn from Walt Disney?

            Get to the root cause of any problem so you can prevent it from happening again and learn from the mistake.

            To do this, use the 5 Whys problem solving framework.

            By asking “why” for 5 times (or more) on why something happened, you can find out the key factor that caused the problem and can find the best solution to tackle the problem.

            You’ll also learn how to prevent this from happening again in the future after finding out a problem’s root cause.

            5. Listen, and Give Feedback

            This is far more complex than it actually sounds. Good communication skills are essential for a great leader. You may very well understand the cave of crazy that is your brain, but that doesn’t mean that you can adequately take the ideas out of it and explain them to someone else.

            The best leaders need to be able to communicate clearly with the people around them. They also need to be able to interpret other people properly and not take what they say personally.

            The Dalai Lama, as a symbol of the unification of the state of Tibet, represents and practices Buddhist values. The Dalai Lama’s leadership is benevolent and aims toward truth and understanding, alongside the other Buddhist precepts. This is a great example for all leaders: if you want to give good directions to others, you have to get feedback from others to understand the situation properly.

              What Can You Learn from Dalai Lama?

              Encourage communication between team members and establishing an open door policy.

              Practice not to interrupt team members when they’re talking.

              Summarize what they say and ask for feedback every time after you have talked about your ideas.

              6. Know How and When to Delegate

              No matter how much you might want to, you can’t actually do everything yourself. Even if you could, in a team environment that would be a terrible idea anyway.

              Good leaders recognize that delegation does more than simply alleviate their own stress levels (although that’s obviously a nice perk). Delegating to others shows that you have confidence in their abilities, which subsequently results in higher morale in the workplace, as well as loyalty from your staff. They want to feel appreciated and trusted.

              Although Steve Jobs is known for focusing in on the smallest of details, he knew how to delegate. By finding, cultivating, and trusting capable team members – like Tim Cook – Jobs was able to make Apple run smoothly, even while he had to be absent for extended periods of time.

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                What Can You Learn from Steve Jobs?

                To know when and how to delegate work to team members, you have to be very familiar with each of them:

                • List out all of their strengths, weaknesses and personalities.
                • Talk with your team members more too to know more about their passion and interests.

                Take a look at this guide and learn more about delegation: How to Delegate Work Effectively (The Definitive Guide for Leaders)

                7. Inspire and Grow People Around

                Any good leader knows how important it is to develop the skills of those around them. The best can recognize those skills early on. Not only will development make work easier as they improve and grow, it will also foster morale. In addition, they may develop some skills that you don’t possess that will be beneficial to the workplace.

                Great leaders share their knowledge with the team and give them the opportunity to achieve. This is how leaders gain their respect and loyalty.

                Pope Francis has been unusually popular with many Catholics and many non-Catholics. His position isn’t totally traditional, which is part of his appeal, but he also has admirable leadership skills. Pope Francis’s TED talk drew attention, because he encouraged leaders to be humble and to demonstrate solidarity with others. This inclusive, kind, and respectful style of leadership is incredibly important for any situation.

                  What Can You Learn from Pope Francis?

                  Spend time to talk with other team members individually to understand them.

                  Find out team members’ current challenges and try to give feedback and encouragement so they will grow and do better.

                  8. Take Responsibility and Never Blame Others

                  Great leaders know that when it comes to their company, work place or whatever situation they’re in, they need to take personal responsibility for failure. How can they expect employees to hold themselves accountable if they themselves don’t?

                  The best leaders don’t make excuses; they take the blame and then work out how to fix the problem as soon as possible. This proves that they’re trustworthy and possess integrity.

                  Howard Gillman is the chancellor of UC Irvine. You might have heard of how the university rescinded a bunch of acceptances, and then changed its mind.[3] This past spring, an unusually high number of accepted students decided to matriculate; the school initially responded by rescinding offers over things like missed deadlines. But the college realized this was a mistake and reversed its decision. Gillman and the university accepted responsibility and decided to move past their earlier bad decision.

                    What Can You Learn from Howard Gillman?

                    Ask yourself what you could have done better to prevent this from happening.

                    Take the responsibility and think about what you can do better to prevent this from happening next time.

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                    9. Make Decisions Based on Lessons Learned in the Past

                    It’s safe to say that all great leaders will have to enter unchartered waters at some point during their career (figuratively, of course). Because of this, they have to be able to trust their intuition and draw on past experiences to guide them.

                    Great leaders know that there’s always something to learn from everything they have experienced before. They are able to connect the present challenges with the lessons learned in the past to make decisions and take actions promptly.

                    You can either recall what you’ve learned from your memories, or search from your notes (ideally, a software that you can access anywhere with things well-organized).

                    Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, has mostly made the right calls. But in dealing with huge amounts of money, Buffett has also made several multi-million (and sometimes multi-billion) dollar mistakes. He has stated that buying the company Berkshire Hathaway was his biggest mistake.[4] From that poor choice, he realized that it was unwise to pursue “improvements” and “expansions” in the existing textile industry. Despite mistakes like this, Buffett has invested wisely – and it shows.

                      What Can You Learn from Warren Buffett?

                      Write down lessons you’ve learned from any mistakes you’ve made.

                      Have all the lessons well organized and  when similar things happen again in future, take these lessons as references.

                      10. Lead by Example and Commit to Do the Best

                      Great leaders stick to their commitments and promises, and they are the most committed and hard working ones on the job. All great leaders lead by example.

                      Why should your staff and team members give it their all if you don’t bother to? By proving your own commitment, great leaders will inspire others to do the same, as well as earn their respect and instill a good work ethic.

                      After 15 years of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi was voted state counsellor in Myanmar – one of the highest-profile and most powerful positions in the country. She became a symbol of peaceful resistance when she attempted to bring democracy to her country.[5] In the early years of her detention, she was often in solitary confinement. Suu Kyi is a perfect example of committed and belief-driven leadership, which she openly demonstrated during her many years of house arrest.

                        What Can You Learn from Aung San Suu Kyi?

                        Some people learn by observing the way you perform a task, some need more detailed guidelines.

                        So dedicate time to demonstrate your work to team members, let them observe how you do it. Summarize the skills you use and let team members know how you make difficult things work.

                        The Bottom Line

                        Leadership traits are learnable. If you practice consistently, you can be a great leader too.

                        Make small changes your habits when you work with your team – wherever that may be. Most of us aren’t presidents or CEOs.

                        But we all work with other people, and our actions always impact others. This gives every person the chance to develop leadership skills and to stand out from the crowd.

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                        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

                        Reference

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