Tag Archives: focus matters

Everyone Panic!

Gmail's grid view at a glance

About a year ago, Gmail rolled out something they called “grid view,” and it caused a bit of noise within the email community. Briefly:

-Gmail has a feature called the tabbed inbox. It’s designed to filter certain types of emails — like promotions from companies, or newsletters — into specific folders, making it easier to find the stuff you want.

-Within that inbox, Gmail rolled out an experimental feature — grid view — that made the promotional tab in the inbox more visually appealing. (There’s a screenshot of grid view at the top of this post.)

Naturally, every email marketer started trying to figure out how to hack that feature for best results.

At BuzzFeed, we did nothing.


Since I started building the BuzzFeed newsletter platform back in 2012, I’ve had a singular focus: Make our emails as great as possible every single time. We send dozens of different emails a week. I personally have sent 1,000+ emails for BuzzFeed — actually, I’ve probably sent far more, but I lost count somewhere along the way.

But the focus has always been the same: Make our emails great. That means that when you open one of our emails, the stuff you’re getting should be consistently delightful, useful, and fun.

And it’s with that focus that I’ve seen every facet of the newsletter program grow over the past 2+ years. Our open rates have improved. Our click rates are up. And our subscriber numbers are through the roof.

There’s a lot of stuff that can derail great work, and one is focusing on the wrong things. If we worried about stuff like Gmail’s grid view, we’d be wasting time thinking about the bells and whistles of the email world. I call features like grid view “the shiny stuff.” They catch your eye, and they’re fun to play with, but in the end, they’re not your core product. We had to focus on the things that were going to make our work great — and the results speak for themselves.

When you’re building something new, having that focus is so important. Without it, you’re going to spend a lot of time on things that don’t matter at all.

I mention this because this week, Gmail quietly announced that they were killing off grid view. So I’m pretty happy that I didn’t lose a single minute of work on that — and put all of my time instead into the products that will be here for (hopefully) years to come.

Finding The Difference.

“When everyone has good players, teaching will be a telling difference.” — John Wooden

Assume, for a second, that everyone in your world is smart. That everyone in your world is talented.

So, here’s the question: What’s the difference between you and them?

For legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, it was teaching.

For you, it might be hustle.

Or teamwork.

Or focus.

And if you can’t answer this question — What sets me apart? — then here’s the bad news:

You’re playing on everyone else’s level.

And that’s okay. But if you want to do great work, you’ve got to figure out how to elevate your game.

Now’s your chance.

What Are You Looking At?

Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness.” — David Foster Wallace

That cartoon at the top of this post is by a cartoonist named Wally Wood, and — the title is kind of a giveaway on this — it’s a list of 22 ways to illustrate a panel in a cartoon.

Consider this: There’s only so much you can do with a cartoon. There’s only so many ways to keep a story going. There’s only so much that’s possible in a tiny rectangle.

Before looking at the Wally Wood graphic, I might have been able to name five or six ways to illustrate a panel.

But 22? I had no idea.

Point is: Whatever you’re thinking about, there’s probably another way of thinking about it. Whatever you’re looking at, there’s probably another way of looking at it.

Don’t get locked into your own perspective. Get out and listen — to friends, to critics.

Let them help you figure out what you’re really dealing with. Let them show you a new side of the problem.

An Olympics Lesson: Keep Your Eyes On The Road — And On Your Work.

“Driving using only the rearview mirror will cause you to crash.” — Joshua Fields Millburn

So there’s this moment that happened in the Olympics road race on Saturday. In a six-hour race, this little moment — and it barely lasted 10 seconds — defined the event.

There’s less than two-tenths of a mile left in the race. Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan and Rigoberto Uran of Colombia are dead even — and far ahead of the rest of the riders. They’ve been even since there were six miles left in the race, when the two of them broke away from the rest of the leaders. Right now, there’s a pack maybe 15 seconds behind them, and the full peloton is another 35 seconds behind that.

This is the home stretch, the final minute of the race. They’re passing Buckingham Palace. Vinokourov takes a peek back to see if there’s someone making a frantic push to the finish line. No one is. It’ll either be Vinokourov or Uran on top of the podium.

But Uran keeps looking backwards — once, twice, a third time, then a fourth. These men are traveling at speeds surpassing 25 miles per hour, and there’s less than a quarter mile left in the race. I don’t know why Uran’s looking back. He’s seconds away from the finish line. He’s on the verge of winning a gold medal in the Olympics.

With two-tenths of a mile left in the race, as Uran’s looking over his left shoulder on that fourth peek to figure out if someone’s behind him, he doesn’t notice the rider beside him. Vinokourov makes his move, takes his five hardest pedals of the entire race and pulls ten feet ahead on on Uran’s right. By the time Uran looks up, Vinokourov’s got a lead that can’t be made up. After 150+ miles of racing, ten feet of separation is too much. The Kazakh takes gold.

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 7.59.10 AM

It’s a massive mental error by Uran. After six hour of biking, with the finish line in sight, he started driving using the rearview. He kept his eyes on his competitors, not on his goal. That’s no way to do work — or to win an Olympic gold medal.

There’s only one way to do things: Looking forward, focusing on your work. When you think more about the competition than your own work, you let the competition govern what matters in your world. You can’t let that happen.

Uran was in control of his own destiny until the moment he took his eyes off the road. As soon as he did, he lost sight of the work he needed to do to win gold.

So keep your eye on the journey ahead. Focus on what you’re doing. Be a man of action, not reaction.

Your work — and your work alone — is all that matters.

Those images come via this video of the 2012 Olympics Road Race.

Focus, Dan, Focus.

The brilliant Hayes Carll one sang these words, a sentiment that I find holding more and more true by the day:

There ain’t enough of me to go around.

Of course, Mr. Carll was singing about a different thing altogether. Hayes loves women.

I love work.

To each his own, I suppose?

But these days, there really isn’t enough of me to go around. There is so much to be done with Stry.us, and so little time. This project lasts four months. Two are almost over.

Two! Where the hell did all the time go?

I serve so many roles at Stry.us. I lead. I organize. I build. I teach. I report. I listen. I generally keep us from going bankrupt or ending up in a court of law.

This is a lot for a single human. To get everything done, I either need more time or more Dans.

Or the secret third option: I need to focus.

I need to focus when my reporters talk to me. I need to focus when I report a story. I need to focus when I’m filing expenses.

Focus means that I need to look people in the eye. Focus means that I need to stop trying to hold conference calls with a soccer game on in the background.

Focus means occasionally putting down the laptop.

Yes, I have to multi-task. But what that really means for me is that while I have to accomplish many different tasks — all those different Dans need to take on their own tasks within the course of a single day — in a single moment, I need to find the will to take every bit of me and throw it into a single thing.

And then I need to find a way to finish that task, find the next task and throw myself fully into that.

I cannot give all I want to give to this project until I learn to focus.