Walking Through Fire

Far too many of my childhood memories center around being teased and bullied. Braces, thick glasses, social awkwardness, severe ADHD and the ’80s seemed to work in concert against me. It was a crappy experience. It was also a defining one. Much of who I am is due, in part, to having been bullied in my youth. And while I’m not happy about this fact and wouldn’t wish bullying on anyone, I eventually came to a place where I wanted to make something positive out of all the negative.

Learning to stand up for myself was a big one. The problem that I eventually found is that too much of overcoming bullying centers around this act. I used to look at it as the ultimate solution. I think, to some extent, we all do. We get to the point where we’ve finally had enough, our fingers roll into a fist, and we finally, after all those years, punch Biff in the face in order to change our future (sorry … like I said … the ’80s).

Standing up for myself was always an important step, but it was only the first and it often wasn’t the most useful. Sure, I gained confidence and eased my pain, but it was always temporary. Standing up for myself took bravery, but it was usually more a byproduct of being fed up than it was a sign of strength. Those moments were rife with emotion and, more often than not, I held onto both the experience and the emotion far too long … usually until everyone involved, including myself, came off looking bad. I found that standing up for myself was important, but continuing to stand up to a bully after I’d said my peace just turned me into a different kind of bully.

Rather than becoming the very thing I hate, I started making the experience less about my tormenter and more about me. I started looking for a better way to get through these crappy situations with grace. I found inspiration in one of my favorite lines from Charles Bukowski, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”

For me, bullying is all about power. And this usually had less to do with someone trying to take power and more to do with my giving it away. For years, I gave away that power to just about anyone looking to take it. It wasn’t because I was unwilling to stand up for myself, I actually got pretty good at that early on (being rather tall and rather large didn’t hurt). True freedom from my bullies only came once I could move on from what they put me through. This happened when I finally started separating what a bully said from how they said it. It let me turn a a negative experience into an opportunity to grow.

There is no valid reason for what a bully does, but when you can’t let go, there is occasionally a word of truth hidden inside the hurt they spew (I find this to be especially true as I get older, as personal name calling turns into harsh professional feedback). Now not all bullying experiences involve nuggets of truth, but thankfully it’s always proved easier easy to move on from those that don’t. On the other hand, I find it impossible to move on when hearing something I fear, consciously or unconsciously, to be true. I can’t let go of the situation because I can’t make peace with it. Instead of trying, I just hold on to the anger and indignity (which, despite being justified, isn’t particularly helpful).

When it comes to being bullied, I’ve found that there’s only one thing I can control: the way I react. I think it’s worth it to try and make more out of that reaction. It never made me feel any less a victim in the moment, but it let me feel like less of one in my life. I couldn’t stop that fire Bukowski was talking about, but I was able to chose how I walked through it.

How do you walk through fire?

Three Words for 2014

Who is this for? Anyone looking for an alternative approach to annual resolutions, but mostly myself.

Ever since 2010, I’ve started my year by choosing three words to help guide my actions over the next 365 days. Rather than obsessing over specific projects or goals, I choose general terms that help me define a better arc for the year to come.

2013 was an unusual year for me, to say the least. Our family business sold (I’d worked there for 13 years and it has been in existence for over 65), I started a new position at the new parent company, and I shared less work online than I have in years past. This is not ideal considering Make and Deliver were two of my words, but the sale was an unexpected change, and I wanted to give this monumental shift in my life the attention it deserved.

The third word, and the one where I feel that I failed most, was Align. I wanted to figure out a way to better integrate my obsession with the ways we work and improve with my career in jewelry and marketing. While I feel there was less of a dichotomy for the first time in years, it came more from neglecting my work on the web in favor of the work that pays my bills and supports my family. It was not the kind of alignment I was hoping for.

As I head into 2014, I want to start to move past the recent shakeup in my life and figure out how to get back on track with the projects—both personal and professional—that matter to me most. I want to get back to defining and actualizing a better story for my life. With this in mind, here are my three words for 2014:

Choices – There have been several conversations on App.net recently regarding the role that choice plays in our lives. For many, such as myself, who have a job that helps support a family in addition to personal projects on the internet, we question if we really do have a choice. We have a passion for the work we create and share, but that passion often does not bring in enough money to support our lives and families. It requires that we maintain a traditional job while trying to create something else on the side.

This year, as I continue to settle into a new job, rethink my work on the web and attempt to find a viable place to live, I want to continually remind myself that everything is a choice. These choices can feel limited by our current reality, but they are choices, none the less. I have some hard decisions to make make in 2014, and while my circumstances will be factored into every decision I make, I want to be mindful that every one of those decisions is indeed a choice. I need to remember that this is especially true whenever I try to convince myself that I don’t have options.

Options – Speaking of options, I want to spend this year ensuring that I create as many for myself and for my family as possible. I had no idea what to expect when I started working for a new company and with a new team, but I’m surprisingly happy. I’ve met several great people to learn from and to work alongside. I’m doing work I enjoy and have the potential to create things that I’m proud of in 2014. In other words, I don’t see myself leaving the new job, but as I said above, I want to make sure that the decision to stay is indeed a choice.

I also want to do everything I can to create options for myself both within and beyond my current position. There are several possibilities that arise when you leave a job of 13 years and start somewhere new. I want to make sure I identify and determine the right ones to nurture. If I believe anything, it’s that opportunities, and therefore options, need to be created. I want to make sure that I create as many as possible for myself in the year to come.

Harmony – I still feel no closer to aligning the various aspects of my life than I did in 2013. Not ideal considering it was one of three things I wanted to focus on. Circumstance certainly played a part on this shortcoming, but when I look back, a big part of my shortfall in this area comes from what I now believe to be a foolish approach. Last year I asked, “How do I plan to make a blog about self-improvement and productivity jive with a marketing and operations job in jewelry?” Having spent a year trying, I believe the honest answer is that I can’t. These are two aspects of my life that will likely remain separate.

Last year I tried to smash two things that didn’t belong together into one. It was a bad idea. This year, I want to see what happens when I accept them as two separate entities and work to fit them together.

While I’m happy with the year that was, it was the first time that my three words did not serve me well (if you’re curious, here are my three words from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013). In years past, I always felt as if I was building upon the year that came before. I always felt as if my efforts were leading me somewhere better. Last year I embraced some serious change and started finding my footing in a world that looks very different from the one I’d been working towards. This is the first time in a while that I feel I need to step back and take a hard look at the direction things are heading. Much like last year, I’m still not at the point where I have any earthly idea what my future should look like. In 2014, I want to do work and create plans that help me identify a way forward. I want to get back to a place where less of my energy is needed to process the present, so I can get back to creating some longer-term goals and determine a better direction for my future.

Thanks as always to Chris Brogan for the inspiration to create these words. If you have any words or any steps that you’re taking to make 2014 an even better year for yourself, I’d love to hear about them.

Breaking The Resolution Mindset

Who is this for? Those who continue to attempt, and fail with, New Year’s resolutions.

Like many, I’ve always taken this time of year as an opportunity to assess the year that was and plan for the year that will be. Like many, I used to set some very specific resolutions for myself. And, like many, these rarely made it past the first few days of the year. Having gotten pretty good at setting and failing at resolutions, I started looking for methods that would make a larger impact on my life and, hopefully, last more than a few days.

Over time I’ve settled on two tactics that have had made a greater difference in my life.

The List

I start my year-end process with a thorough GTD-style review where I look over all of my open projects, goals and areas of focus. This goes a long way towards getting a few stalled projects back on track (it also forces me to kill a few as well), but it’s the annual postmortem that follows that has proven to be a big help.

After I’ve looked over the things I’ve decided to do, I set my sights on a far more challenging mess: the human that decided to do them. Each year, I have at myself. I sit down with a Word document and a stiff drink (ok, several stiff drinks …), then I start writing down all of my self-directed frustrations and perceived shortcomings. I don’t bother too much with the accomplishments. For me this isn’t really about feeling good or bad about the past year, it’s about determining what needs to change. My intent is to get as clear a picture of my major and minor challenges as possible. I treat this like a GTD-style brain dump, except instead of the things I have to do, I attempt to uncover all of the things about myself I’d like to work on. This isn’t a particularly pleasant process, but for me it’s a useful one.

The Words

From here, I start to organize the list and try to identify patterns as well as some key areas I’d like to work on. The list is daunting, but I don’t bother trying to convince myself that I can tackle this all in one year. Cleaning up this list is a lifelong pursuit and often a failed one at that.

What comes next is taken directly from Chris Brogan. I don’t start making projects. I don’t try to enforce sweeping change. I just use the list to determine three words that are meant to guide my year (here are my words from 2011, 2012 and 2013). These words serve as a filter for my choices and a guide for my year. Eventually I have to turn these vague desires into actual projects with measurable progress, but there’s plenty of time for that. 365 days, in fact.

So often our resolutions are determined in a weekend, and they tend to last as long. You look down, notice you’ve gained some weight and resolve to lose ten pounds. It’s not something you really care about, it’s just something you feel you ought to do. Stop that. This year try putting in more time and more thought. Do the upfront work, really determine what you’re up against and then find a way to make some progress before you have to do this all over again.

These steps might help, but—as is often the case—how-to advice like this falls short. The frustrating truth is that, like me, you’re probably going to have take time to experiment. You’re going to have to find your own way of breaking out of what, if you’ve read this far, has almost certainly been an unsuccessful resolution mindset.

What Am I Actually Doing?

Who is this for? Those who struggle to find a balance between what they feel they should do and what they tend to actually do.

From Chase Reeves:

Innovation comes from discovering what a thing actually is. It always starts with something and then goes deeper, closer to the core of what that thing is.

It’s not blue sky solutioneering or spit-balling. It’s, “hmm, I think people will actually behave this way, not that way …”

And that phrase shows up wherever innovation happens.

“People don’t want that. They ACTUALLY want this.”

I’m busy right now. Busier than I’ve been in a long time. This reality has contributed to the slowdown here, but I’d be lying if I said that was all that has kept this site quiet.

Before starting this site I looked at what I had been doing (which was essentially slowly and methodically dealing with my own challenges in public), then I thought long and hard about how to take that work to the next level (helping you more effectively deal with your own work). I determined what I thought would be the best way to build upon the work I’d been doing on the web. Despite still believing in my initial assumptions for Workflowing, it turns out I don’t care enough about them.

In his post, Chase makes a great point about what we assume others will do versus what they actually end up doing. I also find that the sentiment holds true for myself. I have to let go of what I think I want and embrace what it is that I’m ACTUALLY doing.

The more I think about this site, the more I think about the role I want it to play in my life, the more I consider what I want to say, and the more I consider what it ACTUALLY is that I do, the more I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to build a better site about productivity and workflows. What I really want to do is continue to push myself and hopefully inspire one or two other people out there to ACTUALLY do better.

I’m not exactly sure what that looks like, but I’m looking forward to figuring it out. I hope you’ll continue to stick around and, more than anything, I hope that whatever comes next helps us both to do better.

A Good Day For Evernote and Markdown

Who is this for? Those who use (or are curious about) Evernote or Markdown and are looking to improve the usefulness of either one.

Today there are not one, but two useful new tools that I urge you to consider. And both of them are made by wonderful men named Brett.

Evernote Essentials 4

Brett Kelly is introducing the fourth version of his Evernote Essentials guide. Like Evernote itself, the revised edition sports a new design and in addition to being rewritten for the newest version, it includes several new chapters.

There is an overview chapter on Evernote Business and a walkthrough of the new Reminders feature. The new edition also includes instructions on how to set up an new Evernote account for those who are yet to take the plunge.

My personal favorite new section walks you through how Brett uses the app. While I’ve always appreciated the broad appeal of both Evernote and Evernote Essentials, I found it helpful to see how Brett uses the application.

In addition to buying the book directly from Brett as an ePub, Mobi and PDF file (in other words, you can use it on everything from a PC to a Kindle to an iPad), Evernote Essentials is being released in the iBookstore for the first time ever. It’s also sporting a shiny new launch price of $15, a nearly 50% discount. If you’ve already purchased Evernote Essentials from Brett it is a free upgrade (unless you want it in the iBookstore, where it is a separate purchase).

If you’re new to Evernote or just looking to up your game, there is no better place to get started than Evernote Essentials.

Marked 2.0

Brett Terpstra is finally unveiling Marked 2 to the world. I say finally as I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the beta for this app since day one, which was in April of 2012. Yes, 2012… Brett has been working on this refresh for a very long time now and it shows in the final product.

Not only has Brett refined everything Markdown geeks love about Marked, but the new version is a leap forward. The app makes it easier than ever to view and export your Markdown text into a variety of beautiful documents or formats (including HTML, PDF and Word). Brett has also started a series of videos that shows off some of the lesser known features of Marked 2.

While Marked will be a delightful addition for fans of Markdown, the new version will even prove to be a useful tool for non-Markdown users as well (but seriously folks, write in Markdown). In fact Marked 2 is one of the few applications that will make you a better writer. Why? The new keyword highlighting feature. With a single keyboard command (⌘⇧H for those keeping score) Marked will highlight the words that the Plain English Campaign suggests you avoid. If you’re prone to overusing certain words or phrases, you can add them to Marked in the Proofing tab in Preferences and they will be highlighted going forward. You can even use regular expressions to highlight similar words. Overuse adverbs? I certainly do. By adding /\S*ly/ to the “Avoid” words Marked 2 will highlight any word ending in “ly” to help you to reconsider your choices of words.

Better still, if you’re working on a specific document and need to ensure that certain terms are used with a certain level of frequency, Marked 2 makes it easy to add on the fly temporary keywords. Just open the keyword drawer (by hitting ⌘⇧K) and enter your words, phrases or expressions. Hit CMD-Enter and they will be instantly highlighted in Marked. This is ideal if you need to see keyword density.

Marked 2 is a new application, it is not currently available in the Mac App Store and costs $11.99. It is worth every penny. If you write for the web, or if you write at all, get Marked 2 today.

Related Side Note

Both Brett Kelly and Brett Terpstra are two of the smartest and most generous guys I know. If you’re even the least bit curious about Evernote or Markdown, you should check out Evernote Essentials and Marked 2. I know you have far too many options for spending your hard earned money, but seriously consider boosting your productivity with two great offerings from two great independent creators.

Sure, That’ll Happen

Who is this for? Those who worry that their dreams will never become a reality.

When we were little kids, my brother locked himself away in his room watching movies. He decided that one day he was going to make one of those. Sure, that’ll happen…

When he was 12, my mother—who totally didn’t bother to learn enough about the movie—took far too many of his far too young friends to see Pulp Fiction. He fell in love with Tarantino. He wanted to make a movie just like him one of these days. Sure, that’ll happen…

When we were teens, I suggested that my brother actually read a book for a change. I gave him a copy of Get Shorty. I figured his only shot at finishing a book was to get him to read a book based on a movie. Despite never really reading a book before, he was hooked. He started reading any Elmore Leonard book he could find. He wondered if he would ever get to turn one of them into a movie. Sure, that’ll happen…

When he was a young independent filmmaker with far too few films under his belt, my brother decided to adapt the prequel to Jackie Brown. It was based on a movie from his favorite filmmaker and a book from his favorite author. He sent it in hoping to one day hear back. Sure, that’ll happen…

After nearly giving up on his dream he convinced Leonard (and got permission from Tarantino) to let him make it. But only if he, a young director with two films under his belt, could get the project funded. Sure, that’ll happen…

When he found producers and financiers who saw the potential in the project—and, more importantly, the potential of a young director—he was told that he would need to convince A-list celebrities to sign on in order to get a green light. He’d have to get stars like Jennifer Anniston and Tim Robbins to come on board. Sure, that’ll happen…

For years my brother has had—and been encouraged to follow—impossible dream after impossible dream. For years, many (including himself at times) thought it might not happen. There were successes along the way, but there were most certainly lows. And now, after two decades of working towards and never letting go of his dreams, this happened:

(Stan Behal/QMI Agency)

(Stan Behal/QMI Agency)

Some will call him lucky. Some will say that he had every advantage. They may even have a point, but here’s the truth: for two-thirds of his life my brother took an unlikely dream and worked to make it real. For over twenty years he allowed himself to believe that sure, that’ll happen…

Unpausing

Who is this for? Anyone interested in the recent changes in my world, the impact they’ve had on my personal projects and the approach I’m considering getting those personal projects back on track.

Pausing a project is easy. There’s often a significant amount of thought that goes into deciding what you will and will not continue to do, but the actual final act itself couldn’t be simpler: decide to stop doing something and then stop doing it. If you use software for project management, hit pause or put the project on hold and—like magic—watch it drop off your list and off your mind.

Over the past few months, I’ve had to hit pause on more than a few projects. I even killed some. Since January, I’ve been working on projects for my job that took significant mental bandwidth. For months, I aided in the due diligence process as we sold our family business. Immediately after we closed, I transitioned myself out of the company in order to go work for our new parent company. I closed the book on a 13 year career and watched what has always been our family business no longer be our family business.

This is all good news. I’d been seriously thinking of making a professional change for some time, and I happen to really like the company that did the acquiring. But these are big, emotional changes, and when I added them to a significant increase in actual workload, something had to give.

For months, things I care about have gone by the wayside. This site hasn’t received the attention I would have liked. Relationships that mean the world to me have been malnourished. I haven’t worked on the second draft of my book. This might sound bad, or at least unproductive, but the decision to pause these things is paying off.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m finding professional flow. The decision to focus on my career is helping me to make the most of my new opportunity. I’m challenged by the work. I like the team. And I’m interested to see where things go.

I’ve also benefited from the space I gave myself to emotionally settle the sale. This “exit” is something to celebrate, but I’d be lying—to you and to myself—if I didn’t need some time to accept the reality that what my grandfather created and my father built is not something I will ever be able to pass along to my children. I’m happy with how things turned out, but I’m also glad I’m not ignoring the significance of that truth.

Professionally and emotionally, I feel like things are on track. On the other hand, my personal projects are kind of a mess. When things were getting hectic I gave myself permission to take a step back, to ease off and give major life changes the attention they deserve. Now that the dust is starting to settle, I have to decide what to do about them. I have to figure out what to unpause and I have to decide if there’s any more that I have to kill.

I’ve tried to unpause it all as if no time had passed, the results have been poor and rife with procrastination. The reality is that I have to redevelop habits and muscles that have atrophied over the past few months. I don’t write as much as I used to. I don’t find my mind wandering to these personal projects as often as it used to. I could chalk that up to my being ready to move on, but that’s not really it. I’m just out of practice and these projects have been out of sight.

I really need to start revisiting these projects and will need to rebuild my habits. I need to prioritize the unpausing. I need to build back up some of my muscles. And once I’ve gained some momentum, I need to reassess what continues and what ends.

I’d love to make that decision now. I’d love to know exactly what I plan to unpause and accomplish over the next few months, but I’m just not there, yet. I have a good sense about what I’m doing professionally. Now I just need to dedicate some of the newfound time and emotional bandwidth towards figuring out what it is that I really want to do with my spare time. And then I need to dedicate myself to doing it.

In the meantime, things will continue to come a little slower than I’d like, here and on other personal projects. I need to get back on track, but I also need to be okay with the fact that it’s going to take some time to get back into a creative routine and to figure this all out. Pausing might be easy, but unpausing … it’s proving to be a lot harder than I imagined. That said, it’s time to start getting back to work. Acknowledging the hard time I’m having with that seemed as good a first step as any.

One Inbox Zero

Who is this for? Those who are deciding between merging all of their inboxes or keeping their various email accounts separate.

On a recent episode of Mikes on Mics, my co-host, Mike Vardy, and I discussed our respective approaches to managing our email inboxes. Both of us maintain multiple accounts spanning our personal and professional worlds, but Vardy keeps his various email inboxes separate while I prefer to combine everything into a single inbox.

Tomorrow I will touch on the exact tools and tactics I use, but to start I want to explain why this approach works for me. I also want to give some background which may help you decide if this approach is for you.

I receive a fair amount of email. I average over 100 messages a day. I have multiple addresses that center around my job, a few for various web projects, a purely personal account and what’s known as a bacon account.

There’s nothing wrong with using multiple inboxes. In fact, Vardy makes a valid case for keeping things separate, but here is why I opt for a one inbox approach.

Processing More Less

Getting into a regular Inbox Zero practice helped me stay on top of email but was a challenge with multiple email accounts. Early on I always felt as if I was constantly neglecting one inbox or another. I also felt like too much time was spent jumping between accounts (and remembering which accounts had and had not been checked). I went down to three accounts that consolidated emails from work, my personal life and my various web projects, but even this felt like too much. So eventually I rolled everything into a single account. Even though I potentially see more emails in a single sitting, I only have one place to check and feel better about checking it less often. I also never worry if I am neglecting any one particular email account.

One Person One Voice

Despite the fact that there will often be a clear difference in the way that I talk to a friend, a stranger or colleague, I don’t like to over think the tone I take when responding to emails as I process my inbox. By having personal and professional emails sitting side by side, I don’t give myself enough space to worry about which part of my persona should respond. I just focus on the best possible response. Some people prefer to have one voice for personal emails and another for professional correspondence. There’s nothing wrong with this. I’ve just found it to be more efficient to blur the line.

One Search To Rule Them All

As my personal and professional lives continue to merge and as my memory grows ever worse, I’ve come to count on search more than I would care to admit. When I had multiple accounts, I often found myself jumping from one to another seeking a message from a friend who sent a message to my work email or a colleague who accidentally sent a work email to my personal account. One inbox means one repository. When I search, all of the correspondence with that person comes up. It gives me a more comprehensive archive of messages and saves me from ever having to wonder where a specific message lives.

Making One Inbox Manageable

While I plan to talk about the exact tools I’m using and how you can go about setting things up in an upcoming post, there are a few general best practices for applying a one inbox approach to your work.

The first is to ensure that whatever desktop or mobile applications you use properly handle what are known as domain aliases. These allow you to control the reply-to address with little to no thought. You can set these up so that messages automatically respond from the same address they were sent from, you can group multiple accounts so that they respond to a single address or you can have everything respond from the same email account.

Consider setting up filters that group related accounts. I use a Gmail label to wrap up all of the work-related emails. This way, if I really need to focus or have a heavy load on a particular day, I can just filter out unread messages using my Work label and not see a single unnecessary message.

Mercilessly unsubscribe from nonsense. A one inbox approach will increase the amount of emails you see when you check email. Mitigate this by unsubscribing from any and all unnecessary notifications, superfluous email newsletters or spam that finds its way into your inbox. This takes effort in the short term, but in the long run it leads to far less nonsense that to process.

Getting To One Inbox

This approach takes a bit of setup, but once it’s up and running, you can send, receive and store emails from all of your accounts in one place with ease. If you’re at all curious about how to setup a single email inbox, check back for the next post or subscribe for free to the feed for a walkthrough of the tools I use to effectively manage all of my email in a single inbox.

Where Should You Start When You’re Struggling To Improve?

Who is this for? Those who want to improve, yet have no idea where to start.

My friends over at Asian Efficiency recently shared their 7 Truths About Productivity. They make several sound points, but I can’t help but feel as if they underemphasized what I believe to be an essential truth and a potential starting point for those looking to improve.

They examine self management, perfect systems, the importance of sex, time constraints, diet, technology and psychology. Throughout the piece they allude to what I believe to be the single most important truth: this isn’t about better understanding aspects of productivity, it’s about better understanding yourself.

When I first got serious about getting my act together, I put a fair amount of energy into discovering the tactics that might help, the tools I might try, the life changes I might make. I went to sites exactly like the one you’re reading now in hopes of discovering the secrets that would make all of the difference. These early experiments helped, some even made an impact, but they didn’t really make a difference.

The Problem With Premature Progress

As we look to improve, we crave progress. This usually implies forward motion. Our desire to forge ahead leads us to overlook our present struggles and motivations and causes us to overlook many of our current strengths.

My advice, forgo some of your productivity progress in favor of enhancing your understanding of current strengths, weaknesses, patterns and desires. Get to know yourself as well as you get to know the options that are available to you.

Don’t crack open Getting Things Done. Don’t download yet another app. Don’t try a new hack. Take out some paper or start a new text file and have at yourself. Really consider and clarify the way that you work. List out what’s working and force yourself to face what isn’t. Question your choices. Do you even want to get better at the thing you’re doing? Take the time to seriously examine who you are, what you’re doing how you’re currently doing things and what might be causing you to feel as if you need to improve. If it’s as simple as difficulty managing your volume of email, you’ll find no shortage of solutions. But it usually isn’t.

I’m not suggesting you start reading every self-help book out there, I’m not really even suggesting you stop considering your options. I’m just suggesting that you spend as much of your energy improving your self-awareness as your workflow. Much like that better workflow you’re looking to create, self-awareness takes time to cultivate. If you start by making self-awareness a priority, it will become a force multiplier.

The time I’ve spent enhancing this understanding certainly slowed my initial efforts, but it exponentially enhanced my long-term progress. A better understanding keeps me from trying things that would most likely be a bad fit. It lets me tweak what works for others to work for me. It has helped me to separate a critical issue that needs addressing from an interest that will soak up my attention, but do little to improve my creative output. It allows me to better observe my patterns and to catch myself when I’m falling back into old and unhelpful habits.

The Problem With Sites Like This

So many sites, including this one, encourage you to experiment, improve and evolve your personal productivity system. We suggest tools, tactics and life changes that can help you overcome whatever ails you. These are great resources as you progress, but their daily offerings are often a poor starting point.

As my friends over at Asian Efficiency later point out:

Technology is not the primary solution to your productivity issues.

You are.

[…]

Technology is a catalyst, not a fix.

Your knowledge, skills and insights are far more important than any app.

I think this speaks to far more than just technology and apps. It’s equally true of the tactics we attempt to adopt and tweaks to our psychology or physiology. We are always at the center of our challenges, and until we better understand them, we’re likely building around a core that is unstable.

My guess is that this isn’t your first visit to a site like this, and my guess is that whatever the other site suggested didn’t really fix the real problem. If it did, you wouldn’t bother reading a post about where to get started. So here’s what I suggest you try if everything you’ve been reading and everything you’ve attempted hasn’t worked: stop looking out and start looking in.

Don’t rush, don’t think of this as a box to check off. Consider attempting a larger mission. Make self-awareness an integral part of your attempts to do better. You aren’t just looking to improve your productivity, you’re looking to improve as a person.

The Benefits and Pains Of Creating In Public

Who is this for? Anyone considering launching a project and iterating it publicly before it is ready. This also may apply to those whose fear of making mistakes keeps them from ever making their ideas a reality.

When Mike Vardy and I first had the idea for Workflowing, we intended to form a plan. That plan would be thought through again and again and again until we felt it was sound enough and we were prepared enough to implement it. Once we started implementing, we would have had a clear vision of what we wanted to create and have every next action carefully plotted. From there, it would have been up to us to do everything in our power to execute on our plan and turn the idea into a reality.

Just as we started to plan, we were inspired by Patrick Rhone to take our early vision and allow ourselves to iterate the concept publicly. Rather than creating the shape the work would take, we wanted to let the work help create the shape. We had a strong sense of what we wanted to do, but we were unclear on the details and far from ready to implement them. We jumped in anyway.

And How Did That Work Out?

The honest answer: good and bad.

The Good

The site exists. The value of this cannot be understated. It’s not something we might do. It’s not something we want to do. It’s something we are doing.

We’ve created a few original posts that we’re proud of. We’ve been able to get the link posts up, running and sharing properly on social networks. We’re experimenting with the running list concept to see how we can make better long term use of short-term link posts. We have a design that, while imperfect, is a sound starting point. We’re learning more about what the site is with every single day and every single action. We’re creating work that we’re proud of that we believe meets the spirit of our initial idea.

The Bad

It doesn’t exist as it would had we waited. The value of this cannot be understated as well. You only ever get one chance to make a first impression.

The accelerated timing made it difficult to dedicate as much time to Workflowing as we should have. The concept of creating in public allowed us the freedom to make mistakes, but it also gave us enough room to neglect our new baby when things got busy. As mentioned in the previous post, it also happened to align with a particularly busy and challenging time for both myself and my partner in crime, Mike Vardy who has now moved on from the project (so the we I keep mentioning is more of an I). The newsletter, something we believed would be a core feature for the site, has proven difficult to properly express to potential contributors and would require far more time and attention than we ever could have anticipated.

Would I Do It Again?

As I’ve been talking with Vardy and other trusted souls to figure out how to proceed moving forward, I’ve found myself questioning if creating Workflowing in public was the right decision.

In theory, had we kept this quiet I wouldn’t be shuttering a newsletter I never launched and we probably would have figured out that this project wasn’t ideal for collaboration long before anyone even knew that a collaboration even existed.

In reality, I don’t regret it one bit. I sacrificed a first impression, but I care more about the lasting one. I’m changing things, but that was the plan. I did things this way so I could work my way towards a clear picture of the project. I started something that I really wanted to do and I’m looking forward to continuing to improve it. I’m building something that I’m proud of, I’m testing my desire against my reality and am forcing myself to clarify the kind of work I want to continue to do moving forward. This is worth any early loss or minor embarrassments.

The truth of the matter is this, had I been patient the initial impression may have been better and the initial vision may have been clearer to others. Still, that same patience could have led to procrastination, which could have led to abandonment and this project may never have seen the light of day. I may have gotten started, but there would be no guarantee that I’d ever actually get it out there. It very well could have been yet another thing that I really wanted to do, but didn’t.

I also cannot understate the value of all of the amazing feedback I’ve received. When I shared the early idea with friends, I was met with encouragement and enthusiasm. When I launched Workflowing, I was met with ideas as to how to make it better and had an actual place to test them. When it really comes down to it, this is why I will never regret the approach I’ve taken and will likely create in public again the next time I’m serious considering a new idea.

If you’re struggling to get your idea to a place where you feel it’s ready for the world, consider getting it out there. It may be uncomfortable at times, it may be imperfect, but whatever it is, it will exist. And once something exists in the world, its far more likely to get better.