Work on the Right Thing

We always think we can do more than we can. Myself included. That hasn’t changed since taking on a leadership role.

Multiple bosses have told me that I “take on too much.” Recently, several members of my team said the same thing to me. Why do I do it? Lots of reasons. Like my team might already have a big to-do list so I don’t want to burden them. Or I want to contribute, and feel like I’ve knocked something off the list. I might even think I can do it quicker than anyone else.

No matter the intentions, many times those reasons end up being selfish. Especially if I fail to help my project, team or company.

Daily habits and routines build up from triggers – the thing that starts a habit forming. I’ve found two triggers that have started helping me make sure I’m working on the right thing:

  1. If I have the urge to add a task to my to-do list, I ask, “Will this help my team or a specific project?” If they answer isn’t “The team,” I try to delegate the task.
  2. When I start a task, I try to ask myself the same question. That way, I have a filtered process, meaning it’s harder for the wrong tasks to make it through to my day.

I’m not perfect, but using these triggers has meant delegating more and working on the right things for me. If I hesitate, I try to think of the advice my colleague, Brie shared – “Delegate until you’re uncomfortable. If that doesn’t work, I  can usually hear my team’s voices, “Delegate, DK!”

This is Water

Every so often, I read or listen to the commencement address, This is Water, by David Foster Wallace. You can get it in article form, book form or on YouTube. In it, he talks about truly learning how to think, and the freedom that provides.

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” – the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

– David Foster Wallace

It’s worth a read, especially as you begin a new year. I’ve blogged about this before, so these words have stuck with me.


A new year starts tomorrow, so I’m going to keep up my tradition and set a few goals for the days and weeks ahead.

This year, I want to be all about focus. I recently read a post from Nathan Kontny about focusing, and its message was clear to me: set one priority, not many. The simplicity of the “one thing” resonated more when I discovered the Ivy Lee method for productivity, which boils down to doing the most important thing first each day. So these two approaches will drive my goals this year, both personally and professionally.

Last Year

In 2017, I wanted to:

Write more: I set out to write more, both on my blog and in my newsletter, Accessibility Weekly. I accomplished that goal with the newsletter, sending out 45 issues during 2017. I also wrote 31 blog posts, with a handful of those being photo posts. Even though I didn’t blog often, keeping up with Accessibility Weekly on a regular basis was an important goal, and one I’m proud to make.

Run personal/productivity experiments: I ended up doing a few of these. The main one ended up being completing bodyweight exercises for about eight months. I fell off this goal the last quarter of the year, but I still managed to make a lot of progress. Recently, I also uninstalled Facebook from my phone, creating extra time for hobbies like reading and more fun stuff like playing with my daughter.

This Year

This year, I’m setting one professional and one personal priority. Everything else will stem from there.

Professional: The priority for this year: Be a better leader. I recently became the lead of the Theme Team at Automattic. So this year, I want to focus on  activities and goals to help me be a better leader for my team. That means some leadership coaching, leadership training and more.

Personal: The priority for this year: Read more. Ditching most of social media on my phone has helped me find more time to read in the last month or so. I want to continue that. I read nine books in 2017, so if I can get to 12 this year, I’ll be happy.

Happy New Year!

Previous years: 201720162015201420122011.

Goodbye Firebug

When it came out in 2005, Firebug was the first tool to let programmers inspect, edit, and debug code right in the Firefox browser. It also let you monitor CSS, HTML, and JavaScript live in any web page, which was a huge step forward.

Saying Goodbye to Firebug

Another classic web tool says goodbye. Just like Thematic when it reached its end last year, I have fond memories of Firebug. I haven’t been in this business as long as some of the people I admire, but Firebug helped teach me a lot about web development. It’s how I learned to debug a website. Thanks for letting me view source in style, Firebug!

Staying Positive When Your Product Causes Pain

Sign with words: We Like You Too :).

I make and think about WordPress themes all day with the Theme Team. They control the appearance of a WordPress website, and it’s a heck of a fun job. Most of the time.

What I often hear from customers who use our products: “I just want to get it to look how I see it in my head.” Or something similar. People have a vision, and unfortunately, some levels of customization in WordPress can be hard without advanced knowledge or coding expertise. So ultimately, I can come away from many of these conversations and support tickets feeling like I’ve failed my customers. That’s true to some degree, of course. But how do you keep moving forward, releasing something better for people, if all you see is the negative?

You can’t. I want to share some tips on how to stay positive when your product can cause customers pain.

Search for wins too: My team spends a lot of time trying to detect challenges customers face and how to fix them. Naturally, this leads to a lot of, “Well, that’s terrible. No wonder the customer quit or became confused.” When you’re finding this stuff, look for the positive too. We have a “Random site” button where I can view a random site with a particular WordPress theme on Sometimes, I look around until I find a nice-looking site, and explore it a bit.

Share the positive: Finding wins won’t help unless you share them. The support staff on our team drops cheerful notes about customers liking themes or features regularly. It’s a small thing, but it makes you feel good. Real good. Any product team needs those feelings in bunches.

Build a culture around finding and sharing the good: If you do this regularly, you start to feel like you’re winning regularly too. And it balances out that feeling that you’re failing your customers when you create something they struggle with. My team could always be better at this, but a few ways to start:

  • Share one win before every weekly meeting.
  • Start and/or keep product testimonials updated. It forces you to find the gold you know doubt have buried.
  • Have a place to collect the positive, and have it be visible so it’s obvious when it hasn’t been updated in a while.

Good luck in the product trenches, and stay positive out there!

Photo courtesy of Adam Jang.

Originally published on Automattic’s Design Flow blog.

Themers in a Photo – Grand Meetup, 2017 Edition

A few weeks ago, Automattic held its annual Grand Meetup. That’s where the company I work for gathers together in one place for a week to strategize, work and bond. Every year, we throw a party at the end of the week, complete with a photo booth. Piling into the photo booth (or in this case, photo area) has turned into one of my favorite things.

Many themers posting in a photo both, holding signs, silly props and wearing funny masks and faces.

Of course, we also took a serious one.

Group photo of the Automatic Theme Team

Between all the work, I had a bit of fun too. A few nice hikes, plus a ride up a mountain in a gondola. We saw a bear! Although, I didn’t snap a great picture of it. One of these days I’m just going to move to the mountains because I love it so much. 🙂

Here’s to another great year at Automattic, surrounded by awesome colleagues with a worthwhile mission!