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.

Productive Counterpoints →

Who is this for? Those who struggle to strike a balance of working on how they work and actually doing their work.

No matter what it is that you care about, it’s important to seek out those who disagree with what you believe to be true. When attempting to put your passions and beliefs in perspective, it’s helpful to find voices you respect, yet often fundamentally disagree with.

When it comes to the ideas of productivity and workflow – two concepts that struggle to maintain their meaning, yet matter greatly to me – Matt Alexander is that voice.

We’ve had our disagreements – both in writing and on the podcast – but Matt continues to be a grounding force as I refine my thinking.

While I believe in the importance of examining and refining the way we work, Matt does not. It would be easy to dismiss his ideas, to focus in on where he goes too far. Yet when I look past the hyperbole, he often has a point.

On this week’s Bionic podcast, Matt once again shares his frustration with the obsessive nature of the self-help and productivity genres as well as the authority that many within it bestow upon themselves. While I believe he goes too far, it’s difficult to ignore what he’s saying.

If you’re struggling to strike a balance between working on the way you work and actually doing your work, you’re going to want to give the first segment of this episode a listen. If you have a sense of humor and appreciation for the absurd, you’re also going to want to stick around for the very unrelated second half of the episode (be warned, it is very NSFW).

Like most things in life, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Those who struggle to meet there goals should think about and experiment with the way that they work, but we also have to be careful. It’s easy to get lost when attempting to improve. It’s easier to optimize your skills than it is to use them.

Until you find that balance for yourself, keep experimenting, but be sure to seek out a few people like Matt to keep you honest.

Give this week’s Bionic a listen. It’s equal parts eloquence and absurdity. And if, like me, you’re prone to overdoing it with your attempts to improve, it offers a healthy dose of skepticism.

How To Merge All Of Your Inboxes Into One

Who is this for? Anyone looking for step-by-step directions for merging all of your email inboxes into a single Gmail account.

As promised, I’m going to walk you through the initial setup and tools I use to manage a single inbox.

The Service

A Google Apps for Business account serves as the backbone of my email setup. This costs $50 for a single email address. The account offers 30GB of storage, the search cannot be beat and—if you’re a fan of their interface—the keyboard shortcuts are fantastic. It also makes it easy to setup and maintain a one inbox approach.

The Setup

Step 1. Select a primary email address. First things first, choose an email address you plan on having for a very long time. Don’t worry if you need to make a change down the road, though. It takes some effort, but if you ever find that you need to move from one primary account to another, you can always use a service like Backupify’s Migrator for Google Apps to move your data from one Google Apps account to another.

Step 2. Start forwarding alternate email accounts. You should begin forwarding messages into this primary account. This process will vary by email provider. If you’re using an alternate Gmail account, you can do this by clicking on the gear icon in Gmail, clicking on Settings and then clicking on the Forwarding and Pop/IMAP tab. Click on Add a forwarding address and add your primary email account.

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You will need to confirm that you own this address by email. Once you receive this verification, click on the link to confirm that you own the account. Now you will be able to set Forward a copy of incoming mail to your primary inbox. You should also decide what you would like to do with the emails in this account. I would suggest archiving messages rather than deleting them in case you ever decide to go back to separate email accounts.

Step 3. Setup your additional Send Mail As addresses. Next you need to setup proper reply-to email addresses for every account you own (these are also known as domain aliases). This ensures that, when using Gmail, a message will respond from the correct account (or whatever account you specify). Go into the settings panel in your primary Gmail account. You can do this by going to your inbox, clicking on the gear and then selecting Settings. Once you’re in the settings go to Accounts to make sure that When replying to a message: is set to Reply from the same address the message was sent to and then select Add another email address you own.

Gmail_Accounts_Page

Enter your address and leave Treat as an alias checked. You can Specify a different “reply-to” address if needed, otherwise an email will reply from the email address it was sent from when using the Gmail interface.

Honora_Pearls_Mail_-_Add_another_email_address_you_own

You will be asked to verify each email address. If you’ve already setup the forwarding, these messages should arrive in your primary inbox.

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Enter the verification code and you’re good to go.

Honora_Pearls_Mail_-_Add_another_email_address_you_own_verification_code

Step 4. Add some labels (optional). While not necessary, I’ve found that the strategic use of labels can be helpful, especially since I have several email accounts. All work related emails (which accounts for over half of my email addresses) get the same label. This allows me to filter out all work only messages. I don’t use this all that often, but it’s a valuable tool on the days where I cannot even consider checking personal messages when processing my inbox. To do this, go back to the Settings menu, select Filters and click Create a new filter.

Gmail_Filters_-_Create_New-3

Include the email addresses you would like to apply a label to in the To field. You can do this for a single email address or create a filter for multiple addresses by placing OR between each email address (i.e. Work@Email.com OR OtherWork@Email.com OR YetAnotherWork@Email.com).

Mailplane_3

Once you’ve added your email addresses click on Create filter with this search. Last but not least, click on Apply the label and select your label (or create a new one). Once you create the filter, all messages received from this account (or accounts) will automatically include the correct label when it arrives in your inbox.

Add_label_to_filter

The Apps

Not all applications honor these domain aliases (including the built in mail applications on OS X and iOS), so be sure to confirm that your email application of choice honors these settings. My preferred apps are Mailplane on the Mac and Mailbox on iOS.

Mailplane essentially wraps the Gmail web interface into its own application, so there are no additional settings required.

Mailbox just added Gmail domain aliases in a recent update. Click on settings, select your email account and choose Gmail Aliases. From there you’ll have to add each address manually. You only have to do this once as your aliases will sync across the Mailbox app on various devices. Be sure to test that all of your domain aliases are working properly. For some reason, I had to completely close the application and reopen it to get things working. Excluding this one hiccup, I haven’t had a single issue since.

The Day-To-Day Use

Once this is all set, there will be no more checking multiple inboxes and no more worrying if you replied from the correct address. You’ll want to be careful when creating new messages as most email applications default to your primary account, but all of your responses are handled perfectly. The setup takes some time and effort, but it makes juggling far too many email accounts far easier.

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.

Podcast – Every New Beginning →

Who is this for? Those preparing to leave a job, start a new one or both.

Last week, I ended a 13 year career. Yesterday I started something new. Mike Vardy and I discuss this big ending and new beginning in the latest episode of the Mikes on Mics podcast. We examine how to best end one thing well while preparing to start another.

It’s an exciting time in my world and I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about in the near future, but for now, here’s how I’ve been approaching a massive change in my professional life.

What Does Your Personality Say About Your Productivity? →

Who is this for? Those looking to better understand how their personality impacts their work habits.

One of the more useful takeaways from this year’s World Domination Summit was a framework for personality types provided by Gretchen Rubin (of The Happiness Project fame). While no framework is perfect, the following four categories accounted for a surprising majority of the room:

Upholders respond to both inner and outer rules
Questioners question all rules, but can follow rules they endorse (effectively making all rules into inner rules)
Rebels resist all rules
Obligers respond to outer rules but not to inner rules

I suggest you learn more about how this personality framework applies to you. I’d also recommend checking out Brooks Duncan’s insights into how they impact the way you approach your work and your goals.

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.

Personalizing Someone Else’s Productivity System

Who is this for? While targeted at online entrepreneurs, this video can also help just about anyone looking to apply a basic, yet tactical approach to better handling their daily work.

I was recently invited by Chase Reeves to check out Fizzle, a community for online entrepreneurs that centers around carefully-created training videos. After watching his Productivity Essentials course – a great starting point for entrepreneurs struggling with their workload – I suggested that we have a “productivity throwdown”.

While I agreed with the big ideas and concepts of the course, I handle many of the smaller details differently. The overarching concepts he shares apply to almost anyone, yet I believe the details of how they should be implemented will vary from person-to-person.

Chase felt that a full-blown throwdown was excessive, but thought a conversation was in order. He even added the 35 minute discussion that followed to his Productivity Essential course on Fizzle.

It costs $1 to check this out (this also gives you full access the site for one month). If you’re struggling with your workload and are yet to dive too deeply into the world of productivity, Chase’s advice is well worth your time. As is our follow-up conversation on making it work better for you.

Note: This is not an affiliate link, I just like the approach and philosophy behind Fizzle (as well as Chase’s willingness to have someone “disagree” with him).

The Best Reason To Quit →

Who is this for? Those who have a difficult time deciding when to stick something out and when to quit.

Gabe Weatherhead:

[T]o me, quitting always means that I’ve found some structure and priority where previously there was a lack. I don’t quit so I can start something new. I quit things when I remember what I want my life to be about.

Like Gabe, I’ve always struggled with the phrase “saying no to one thing is saying yes to something else.” Easily some of the best thoughts I’ve read on quitting since Godin’s The Dip.

If you’re considering quitting, be it a job or a project, read this first. If you’re not considering quitting anything, read this anyway. It’s Gabe at his best.