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In 7 Hours With, we explore the routines of leading professionals in their space to learn the when, why, where and how they work. In each diary, we will look at what they’re doing at seven different check-ins throughout their day.
Robert Ross is the CEO and founder of FireHydrant, a modern incident management tool that automates best practices and prevents future incidents.
I’m usually up around 7 or 7:30 AM. Lately, I’m pretty strict with my sleep schedule because I saw a TED talk on sleep and how it kills you if you don’t get enough. I wake my body up around 7/7:30 with lights in my room that slowly turn on and brighten up the room.
Once I’m up and ready for the day, I go to the Starbucks near my apartment in Greenwich Village — every barista knows my name. I go there not really because I like it, but because I know that if I get a Starbucks anywhere in the world, it will be the same. My drink of choice is a grande cold brew with almond milk.
I’ll walk into our office around 8:15, and once I’m at my desk I’ll look at Basecamp. I like to check out the status of what my team has accomplished the previous day or week, and I like to specifically look through the lens of “what good was done.” I think that was a Benjamin Franklin quote, “What good shall I do this day.” That’s something we really focus on — we’re super small, but always want to focus on what good can we do for the companies we work with. That’s something we really embrace.
FireHydrant is an incident response tool. There’s not really a good suite of tools out there to help solve software breakage problems quickly, and that’s where we come in. We’re putting out technical fires.
I actually happened upon FireHydrant by accident — I was making a video series on how to make a website, and ended up creating this company. Technically we’ve been around for about two years, but we just raised money last December and the rocket ship took off in January of 2019, right after New Years.
Our goal is to be the first thing you think of the moment you have an incident. When you see a fire, you don’t think “how did that fire start.” You think, “I need to call the fire department.” That’s where I’d like us to be.
Technically, the first thing I do when I get into the office is try to get to inbox zero. I tend to get emails overnight or early in the morning, and I try to read and address them all as quickly as I can, because if I don’t it’s just a never-ending thing. Your eyes will start to glaze over when you try to get to inbox zero and you’ve got 300 emails — you’re accidentally going to mark one as read that was really important. I’ve learned that the hard way. So now it’s a process of constantly getting my inbox down to zero.
The next part of my day really depends on the day of the week. The first two days of the week I’m a software engineer, and then the last three days of the week I’m a CEO. I’m an engineer by trade that happened to start a company, and the quickest way to become a CEO I’ve found is to not necessarily go get your MBA, but just to start your own company.
Then Wednesday-Friday I perform the duties of the CEO. During those days, I talk to people who are using us, ask how its going, and offer any help I can. I also have a good amount of people who reach out and ask me about tech I’ve used in the past. So I spend a good amount of time talking to people who aren’t customers, or people not necessarily looking to use our software. I just help them out because software can be a big scary world, and it feels like the right thing to do.
Today it’s Monday, so I put on my engineering cap, and try to get the biggest ticket items things done in the morning — that’s when my brain is the freshest. We operate on two-week sprints where we’ll either be building products or enhancing what we already have for current customers, so I’m in the midst of one this week.
I take fast lunches because I use MealPal now. I don’t have to decide when it’s lunch time or where I’m going, it’s great. I decide early that morning or the day before, and I can say “Ok I’m going here at 11:50, picking up my lunch at 12.” I eat in 10 minutes and I’ll be back in the office, so my lunches are no longer than 30 minutes. Our offices are also near Madison and Union Square Park, so if it’s nice out I’ll take a lap, especially since the weather isn’t trash anymore.
I’m still working away on coding and engineering stuff all afternoon. I use the Pomodoro technique, which is essentially working in 25 minute increments followed by 5 minute breaks. After 4 intervals I take a 15 minute break, and I work for two 25 minute sections with a 10 minute break every hour. Writing code is actually very mentally demanding, so you have to give your brain a bit of a break to keep it on track. You can’t run a car at full speed for an hour — you have to give it a break or you’re going to blow a fuse.
Another tip I use to power through my work in the afternoon is to really limit notifications. On Mac, you can change your notification settings very granularly. In the world of Slack, every message is a distraction and can pull you out of flow. When you’re changing windows you can see the number of messages on Slack, and you’re drawn to the notifications missed. You almost get Slack FOMO. But you can actually turn off that notification bubble, so you’re none the wiser if there are messages in Slack that you haven’t seen yet. You have to very explicitly open Slack to see them. I’ve done that for email too. The reality is that people don’t need you to respond in 5 minutes.
I have a calendar event at 5 PM called “CEO Stuff.” During that time I tackle anything that pertains to running the business. Sometimes its paying bills, trying to push another client to a close, reaching out to potential hires, reading articles on LinkedIn, or going through a bunch of other tabs that I’ve opened throughout the day but haven’t had a chance to read in Chrome. All of that tends to happen around 5 PM.
The idea of CEO stuff is that it’s going to suck. None of it is fun. I try to push the non-fun stuff to the end of the day, crack a beer or pour some scotch, and get it done.
The exact time that I leave the office changes day-to-day. Sometimes I leave at 5:30, or 6:30 or 7, it really depends. Sometimes if you’re in a state of flow writing code, it’s not beneficial to stop. You might as well push the CEO stuff to 6 PM. The elation of finishing something in code is something I still treasure after doing this for 17 years. I know if I stop when I’m about to finish I’ll be up all night wondering why I didn’t just get it done.
I typically continue working when I go home, but in a much less regimented way. For example, I might take the time to write a blog post, or do work that requires less intense focus. I’m also a huge fan of the British Bake Off, I can’t get enough of that show, so I’ll throw that on. It’s so calming, and the people are so nice to each other.
Now that I’ve been standardizing my sleep schedule, my body has been turning itself off around 10:30. I need to rest up for another day of coding tomorrow.