When I worked at The Wall Street Journal a while back, reporters were variously thrilled and terrorized by the phrase "byline count." This was the number of published stories a reporter wrote in a year, with consideration given to an article's relative importance, such as breaking news or mere follow-up, Page One or inside the paper. There were plenty of higher-ups who ignored the byline count or thought it was absurd -- high count doesn't necessarily translate into high quality -- but every industry has its unit of productivity, and that was the Journal's back in my day.
When we decided to put together a cover story on the secrets of highly productive entrepreneurs, with the idea that entrepreneurs like to learn from the habits and philosophies of their peers, we naturally turned to Inc.'s byline-count queen, Leigh Buchanan. During her years at the magazine, Leigh has developed a list of sources and a knowledge of entrepreneurship that are unparalleled. Leigh is clever, smart, funny (very funny), talented -- and amazingly productive. This month was typical: a 12-page cover package plus a Strategy piece on hiring, a Legacy on the inspiring William J. Powell, and a book review.
Naturally, I asked her how she does it. Like the productive Mark Cuban, Leigh answered via e-mail:
"The fact that I work out of my house is the biggest contributor. No commute to work. No commute home. No time lost decompressing after my commute because some schmuck blocked the road for three minutes waiting to make a left turn into the Dunkin' Donuts. No dropping in on colleagues to gab or being dropped in on by colleagues and gabbed at.
"I also have a system of points that I assign to various job-related and personal tasks. The goal is to rack up a minimum 10 points every day. So, for example, a phone interview of 30 minutes or more counts for two points. Transcribing the tape from a phone interview is one point, or two points if it takes more than an hour. I get two points for every 1,000 words I write; one point for every 1,000 words I edit. Meetings are one point. Research is one point, unless I have to go somewhere to do it, and then it's two.
"Laundry, cooking, and errands are all one point. So is spending time with my family. I suspect awarding that last one a point may be construed as unhealthy."
Leigh also wrote a long memo about working from home, which won't appear in the pages of Inc. but will guide her colleagues in the weeks ahead. As I write this, the entire Inc. editorial and art staff is preparing to depart the offices at 7 World Trade Center and head for home, the local Starbucks, the majestic lion-guarded New York Public Library, wherever, in an experiment in working virtually. We'll be testing a lot of assumptions about work, as well as a lot of new technology that's sprung up to facilitate virtual work. As we assign, report, write, edit, design, fact check, and produce the next issue, we'll be scattered to the winds -- but connected. You'll be able to read about our experiment in the April issue, God and technology willing.
Here, you'll read Joel Spolsky's last column. We've been honored to publish Joel, who's a force in the software industry and an insightful, polished blogger and columnist. Behind the scenes, Joel has introduced Inc. to a number of smart technologists like himself, which has made the magazine richer and more timely. Joel has a good reason for moving on, one that most entrepreneurs will understand; it's all explained in his last column.