Golden Goals series: Adam Pash of Lifehacker on writing code and determination

This is one in a series of interviews of notable bloggers in the Zen Habits Golden Goals series.

Adam Pash is a freelance writer and budding programmer and web developer based in Los Angeles, California. Though his interests are varied, Adam spends the majority of his time working as Senior Editor for Lifehacker, a weblog with a focus on software, the internet, and productivity. I previously interviewed Gina Trapani of Lifehacker, and I was excited to get Adam to do the interview as well.

1) What would you consider your greatest achievement in the last few years? Feel free to add other achievements or goals if you’d like.

Definitely all the work I’ve done at Lifehacker. When I was hired on at Lifehacker in November ’05, we were less than a year old and still very much finding our place in the blogosphere. Over the last year and a half, we’ve really hit our stride, consistently putting out really strong content. Of that content, I’m most proud of the work we’ve done in our original weekly features, like my Hack Attack series.

This January, Gina Trapani and I, both big fans of simple scripts and software, decided to start programming our own stuff, and Lifehacker Code was born. Since Lifehacker Code started, we’ve cranked out about 10 different projects, from bookmarklets and Greasemonkey scripts to Firefox extensions and full-fledged Windows apps. My personal favorite of the bunch is Texter, a full-featured text replacement application.

Being able to give back to the software community after having taken advantage of all of the free offerings for so long feels great.

2) What was the key to achieving that success for you? Was there one thing, or were there a number of factors?

There were two huge contributing factors that helped me get to where I am now:

  1. Knowing when to quit. I was working as a consultant my first year out of college, but I had no interest in what I was doing. After six months, I decided that the stability wasn’t worth the stress of a job I didn’t like, so I quit with a vague notion that I wanted to try my hand at writing. I started writing about digital music for, then upgraded the Lifehacker, which I then considered (and still do) to be one of the best blogs on the internet.
  2. Interest and determination. I’ve always loved tinkering with technology, but until shortly before I started writing for Lifehacker, I didn’t know that much more than your average 20-something about it. But as soon as I started playing with the underpinnings of the technologies that interested me, I became engrossed.

I taught myself HTML and CSS building and designing a blog about six months before I started at Lifehacker. After, Gina helped me find some good resources for learning some PHP. Then I stumbled onto Autohotkey and have been nuts about scripting simple programs with that. Aside from that sort of relatively harder core stuff, I just love finding solutions for problems at the computer. Every time I find a new software or web site that solves a problem that I’ve struggled with, I’m always excited to dive in and write it up on Lifehacker, especially if its a feature-worthy topic.

3) What are the essential habits that you’ve formed to help you achieve your goals?

In general I suppose it’s been diligence (if that can be considered a habit). I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in the Midwest or what, but when I moved to Los Angeles I realized that a lot of my competition was a bit lazy and didn’t seem to care that much about doing a good job. I was brought up with a very strong work ethic, so doing poor work gets under my skin. When I realized what an upper hand my work ethic gave me, I began to see how attainable my goals were.

4) How often do you think about your goals, review them, and take action on them?

Like most people, I probably don’t focus on my goals often enough, but I do try to review my goals at least once every two months.

5) Describe how you overcome failure, how you pick yourself back up if you are struggling, and how you motivate yourself if your enthusiasm is lagging.

It’s just a matter of accepting the failure, trying to figure out what went wrong and why, then deciding whether or not those factors were in my control. If they were, I can make a point not to make the same mistakes again. If not – well, sucks to that.

Despite my love of Lifehacker, enthusiasm can drain a little once you get your 200th email touting the greatest online todo list webapp. The great part of working somewhere like Lifehacker, though, is that if you’re turned off by one section of the life hacks territory, there’s always so much more to explore.

6) Could you describe your productivity system and any productivity tips you have for people?

Since I work at home, my system is pretty simple. I keep several text files as buckets for todo lists and whatnot, and I use Quicksilver on my Mac to quickly add todos/ideas/whatever to my lists. I don’t use a calendar that much, but when I do it’s Gcal (I’ve just started using it as a tickler for Gmail messages).

I keep a pen and paper next to me on my desk, with which I normally track my day’s todos. Something about physically marking something off my list that I will always enjoy. Finally, I keep a digital timer near by at all times for keeping track of and delegating time to tasks. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but it works for me.

Others in the Golden Goals series: