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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 January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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