Category Archives: Creativity

A Balance of Concepts and Tactics

When I look at my own attempts to improve, there are two things that have made all the difference in my ability to do better work: concepts that help me understand my work and tactics that help me do it.

For too long, I’d focus on one or the other and the impact on the way I work was insufficient. As I continue to improve, I’ve come to value the relationship between “how” and “why” we go about achieving our ambitions.

For those looking to get a better sense of both the concepts and the tactics that can help, today is a good day. Two very smart friends are introducing projects; one offers an in depth look at the concept of mastery over how we work and another shares actionable tactics in many of the key areas of productivity.

Workflow by Kourosh Dini

It’s rare that logic and beauty can occupy the same space, it’s especially rare that this would happen in a productivity book. Workflow is a unique book. It speaks to the concepts far more than the tactics (although there are plenty of useful takeaways that will improve the way you work). It looks to infuse meaning and offer a better understanding of ideas that have lost their very definitions in an age of quick fixes.

It’s very much a textbook of self-mastery. It is meant to be read slowly and carefully. It’s accessible for a novice audience, but is targeted for those who want to take a deep dive into the concepts of productivity, creativity, workflow and mastery.

Workflow is available throughout May for $30 and will double in price starting in June. This 500+ piece masterwork is well worth its full price, but you should seriously consider getting it now at the introductory pricing.

For more information, be on the lookout for a more comprehensive review of Workflow over at Workflowing.

The Productivityist Workbook by Mike Vardy

Just as Workflow is aimed at those looking to study the subject, The Productivityist Workbook focuses more on the immediate challenges that keep people from accomplishing their goals. In this easily accessible workbook, Mike Vardy offers tactics that will help you do a better job of dealing with email, task, time and idea management. This book is meant to be ready quickly and you can start implementing the tactics in it right away. It offers insights and methods that will benefit those looking for a 101 introduction to several key areas of personal productivity.

The Productivityist Workbook is available today for $5.

I’m a biased fan of both Kourosh Dini and Mike Vardy, but I believe their latest projects – especially the complementary balance of concepts and tactics between them – will prove helpful to anyone struggling to do a better job of approaching their work and life.

The Three Things #23

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Amanda Palmer: The Art Of Asking

Michael on Monetization: I’ve always struggled with the idea of donations on blogs. I don’t think they’re wrong or anything. I just tend to be more product-minded. I tend to support those who offer something additional in return for patronage (i.e. Shawn Blanc’s Membership Podcast and Patrick Rhone’s old newsletter). The idea of supporting art for art’s sake is just something I have a hard time getting my head around. Not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just something I struggle to embrace.

I feel strongly those who create for the web also have the ability to create products they can sell (even if those products are created what they’ve already offered for free on their site). I’m not sure this video of Amanda Palmer’s TED talk on The Art of Asking is going to change my mind on this topic, but it’s certainly encouraging me to challenge some very stubbornly held assumptions… which is always a good thing.

Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed

Howie on Technology: In the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying an important lesson I learned was that only one thing is guaranteed. Impermanence. Change. Every time we get comfy in life, things change. One day phones will not be Apple or Android. Just like one day social will not have names such as Twitter and Facebook. Are you ready? You don’t have a choice. This is a great article about some developments in mobile. And keep in mind, at one point, the following businesses were invincible: Yahoo. Netscape. AOL. Myspace. Sony. EBay. Priceline. Motorola. All owned the Internet or technology per the soothsayers at one time.

Cycling’s Road Forward

Gini on Competitiveness: I’ve been waiting all week to share this article! It’s no surprise I’m a cycling advocate. I love everything about it, even the Tour de France and Lance Armstrong. I’ve been completely obsessed with his fall from grace and what that means (if anything) to the cycling community.

Enter Joe Dombrowski. He’s 21 years old and has just gone pro for Team Sky (the team last year’s TdF winner, Bradley Wiggins, rides). He’s spending his time in Nice, France, riding, learning the mountain climbs, and even being hazed. It’s nice to see the next generation of cyclists come up through the ranks.

But what I found most interesting about this article is not his thoughts on doping or cycling as a sport, but on why he thinks his generation won’t dope. It’s not because it’s illegal or because they want to clean up the sport. It’s because his generation isn’t competitive to win. They’re competitive to learn from the best, to ride, and to have an adventure of a lifetime.

Shelly Kramer posted a meme on Facebook a few days ago that said (I’m paraphrasing), it’s all great kids all get trophies these days, but what happens when they enter the real world?

I guess this is what happens. They aren’t competitive. They don’t care to win. They just want the experience. It makes me sad.

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The Three Things #22

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Sweating Commas — Professional Editing for Independent Writers

Michael on Writing: For the past year and a half, my wife has been kind and patient enough to edit the words on my site. You see I have the grammar skills of a chimpanzee and she has a masters degree in English.She loves me, yet hates poor grammar. Especially mine. Despite having little to no interest in a lot of the geeky crap I care about, she edits the majority of the posts you read to ensure my lack of knowledge doesn’t affect your level of enjoyment. She’s an amazing person. I do not deserve her.

Recently, my friend Jason Rehmus launched Sweating Commas, a service for independent writers just like me. More to support a friend than anything else, I asked him to edit a longer geekier post. I figured it was a win/win as Jason was familiar with the subject matter and it would spare my wife from having to read a comprehensive post on OmniFocus (which she could not humanly care less about). I enjoyed the experience so much, I decided to go back for another 10 posts.

I’m fascinated by the concept of personal sites and professional editors. I’ve been fortunate to have one for some time in my wife. I know what her expertise has done to help make me a better writer. With Jason, I was able to see the benefit of occasionally diversifying the feedback you get on the ideas you’re trying to share (and I got to give my wife a well deserved break from my nonsense). I’m fortunate to have my wife, but if you’re looking for feedback and don’t happen to be married to an 8th grade English teacher, check out what Jason is up to with Sweating Commas. Working with a good editor will make you a better writer, or in my case, a passable one.

How Does Science Determine the Edge of the Universe?

Howie on Time and the Universe: I have a love of science. What Matthew Kleban doesn’t answer is if time moves at different rates in different parts of the multiverse, how does this affect the Facebook timeline? Other than this is eight minutes of mind-bending (and mind-hurting) insights about time and the universe.

How to Break Out of the Female Entrepreneur Trap

Gini on Women Entrepreneurs: I may have cheered out loud when I read this Inc. article about the female entrepreneur trap. What I’m about to say will not be popular, but it’s something to consider: The women entrepreneurs who are focused on growth are hustling, recruiting, making big things happen, don’t thrill in small talk, walk fast, and are too busy to be the token female at conferences and symposiums. She embraces technology, entrepreneurship, and the start-up culture and doesn’t consider herself a female leader, but a leader. Period.

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Cleaning Up A Better Mess

Note: The following is a guest post from Jason Rehmus. To celebrate the launch of Sweating Commas, a business where Jason provides affordable editing services for bloggers and web writers, I invited Jason to share why he felt this blog could benefit from an editor. As you will see, he may be on to something with his new venture…

Talk about a mess! When do we get to see the better part?

I’m just kidding. Michael has a great blog here and I’m thankful for the opportunity to write another guest post for him. In fact, it was his idea for me to write about why I think this blog needs an editor.

Let’s start by taking a look at some examples from his recent posts.

Three Words For 2013:

A new year has arrived and that means it’s time yet again to choose three words to help guild my efforts in the coming year.

I think he meant to use guide in the sentence above. I suppose gild would work, too, but that’s kind of a stretch.

Stop Setting Short-Term Goals:

Wanting to lose 20 pounds six months is not a goal, it’s a project.

I’m pretty sure “… in six months …” is what Michael meant to write.

Seems Like A Lot vs. Feels Like A Lot:

Copy Edit on a Better Mess Post

Don’t even get me started on how he uses ellipses!

The point of these examples is to show that even a competent writer like Michael can use some help finding the little errors that all writers make in their early drafts. Writers have a sort of tunnel vision while they work that causes them to overlook mistakes that are obvious to readers.

Even though readers tend to be forgiving, keep in mind that the harder you make them work to understand your meaning, the less likely they are to keep coming back. If the first blog post they read requires multiple passes to comprehend, then you’ve wasted their time and they shouldn’t be expected to read your work again in the future. A reliable editor helps you maintain your reputation and keep your readers by fixing grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors and making sure your posts are as clear as possible.

Even if you’re not interested in hiring an editor, you have other options for improving your posts. First, take the time to revise or rewrite. Don’t write a post in one sitting and think you’re done. At the very least, you should set it aside while you work on something else, then come back later to make improvements. Distancing yourself from the piece is essential to preventing the tunnel vision I mentioned earlier.

Find a friend or family member to read through your work for you. A second set of eyes is always better than just one when it comes to finding errors. As a writer you’re too close to your own work and will often overlook what needs to be fixed.

Once you edit the piece on your own or have someone else look at it for you, read it out loud. People don’t read with just their eyes and their brains. They speak the words inside their heads while they read. Reading out loud to yourself will help you identify words and phrases that sound clunky or unclear. It’ll also help you make sure you’ve written something you would actually say. If you read a sentence out loud and don’t believe it’s something that would come out of your mouth, your reader won’t believe it, either. Fix it right away.

Here are a couple more items I’d like to point out from Michael’s writing.

Embracing The Swirl:

I can never remember quite what the tree looked like, but the seeds always manage to plant themselves somewhere in my mind.

This is a fantastic metaphor. It sounds great, is imaginative, and says exactly what he means it to say.

A Workflow vs. A Lifehack:

At one point or another, you start to feel the pressure to be clever rather than purposeful.

From a content standpoint, Michael has done a great job of balancing this on his site. He provides clever tips when appropriate, and he never shies away from diving deep into a topic that needs exploring.

Can You Really Pick Yourself?:

Can you organically grow through nothing more than your own choice and effort or, at some point, does the right person or right group of people take notice of what you’re doing in order to get to the next level?

As a general rule, writers do well when they eliminate adverbs, but I would not ask Michael to remove organically from the sentence above. It sounds just like him. This really is how Michael Schechter talks. That sentence, just like almost all of the writing on this site, is representative of Michael’s voice, and it’s a good voice.

This blog needs an editor, but not any more than any blog needs one. If you have a blog, yours needs an editor, too. If you don’t have an editor to share your work with, find someone or train yourself to take on the role of editor before publishing your posts. Most writers I know are anxious to publish as soon as they’re done writing because they crave responses from their readers. Taking the time to make sure your post is the best it can be means you’ll get even better responses.

The discerning amongst you will notice that these mistakes are no longer on the site. I guess it pays to know a good editor… (and yes, these ellipses are here mostly to annoy Jason. As is putting this parenthetical after it…)

The Three Things #17

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and myself share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

‘Supporting Characters,’ Directed by Daniel Schechter – NYTimes.com

Michael on Family: I know, I know… I already spoke about my brother’s movie this week, but when the New York Times has nice things to say about your brother (or any other family member for that matter) I’ll understand you going on and on about it, I promise! Brotherly pride aside, it’s an amazing thing to me that you can have an idea for a feature length film, raise a shoe-string budget, and make something that’s worthy of praise in the Times, Interview Magazine and The Daily News. If my endless suggestions to check this movie out haven’t been enough, hopefully these reviews will get you to run over to iTunes and check out Supporting Characters (I’ll be quiet about my brothers career now… for now).

Intergalactic Croquet Cures Winter Blues

Howie on Community: Waterbury, Vt., is the birthplace of Green Mountain Coffee, Ben and Jerry’s, Alchemist Brewery, and is about 15 mins from where I live. Nothing replaces communities of real people. And it is hard to feel ‘community’ in a big city, which is probably why social networks do so well with city folks. The word community is thrown around online very loosely. This article about winter croquet – played on snow and ice – reminds us to get outside and celebrate our non-virtual communities.

This Isn’t the Petition Response You Want

Gini on Star Wars: This is a couple of weeks old, but I keep reading it because it’s so funny. You know how the White House said they would support any petition signed by 25,000 people? Well, a petition for the government to build the Death Star was signed by nearly 35,000 people. This is the response from the White House and it’s brilliant. They turn down the petition stating (my favorite), “Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”

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Supporting Characters

At the age of twelve my brother knew what he wanted to do. He had fallen in love with movies and started watching everything, and anything, he could get his hands on. Most memories of our childhood involve us either fighting (as brothers do) or watching movies. While movies were always a pleasure for me, it was clear that they were a passion for him.

It’s been a joy over the past two decades as I’ve watched my little brother wish and work his dream of making his own films into a reality. It’s been a gift to watch as movie marathons led to film school, which led to writing a feature, which led to writing and directing his first feature, which all led to today.

Today is an exciting day and an exciting time in my brother’s life. Not only is his latest film, Supporting Characters, out on iTunes, but he is currently in pre-production on a project that will likely require me to call him Mr. Schechter from now on.

I’m biased as hell, but Supporting Characters is a movie worth watching. While billed as a romantic comedy, it’s really a film about two best friends (inspired by my brother’s real-life collaboration with co-writer and actor Tariq Lowe). In addition to Tarik, the film features Alex Karpovsky from HBO’s Girls (who is so much like my brother it scares me), Arielle Kebbel, Kevin Corrigan, Sophia Takal, Melonie Diaz, Sebastian Sozzi, and Mike Landry. It’s a funny, honest independent film that I think you’ll enjoy.

It’s been an amazing thing to watch a twelve-year-old film fanatic turn into a talented storyteller. It’s even more amazing to see him thriving in a career where hard work and desire is often not enough. And, for me, it’s a joy to ask you to check out my brother’s latest film, Supporting Characters.

Watch Supporting Characters on iTunes

The Three Things #16

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and myself share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Measuring Success — First Today, Then Tomorrow by Randy Murray

Michael on Influencing Others: Much as I derive gratification from my own efforts, my greatest sense of fulfillment comes from the small influence I have on the work of others. Perhaps I undervalue my own work, or more likely I just can’t keep my eyes on my own paper, but one of life’s greatest pleasures comes in the form of offer feedback and occasionally having an affect on the ideas and creations of others. It seems I’m not alone in this pursuit. Randy Murray has found, after having many of his own successes, his lasting joy comes from being able to applaud those who he helped find a spotlight. Unlike Randy, I still doubt my own accomplishments. I’m believe I’m yet to realize them. That said, I just don’t believe they’ll ever be fully realized unless I put equal measure of effort into helping those around me realize their own.

The Web Just Got a Little Darker

Howie on the Dark Web: Well it really isn’t dark per se. I know it sounds ominous, but I found two very interesting thoughts on this article. First is that so little  of the web is indexed. What is indexed is freaking huge…and that is an understated. The second thought is someone actually feels all human information needs to be cataloged and saved. But that would include talking and texting and more, all that would be impossible to catalog/index. I mean 99 percent of our communication is drivel. Why should we save ‘checked in at Starbucks’ or every single blog about Justin Bieber, when three would be fine for history’s sake?

It’s All About the Lies

Gini on Lance Armstrong: It’s been a long week for this cyclist and fan of Lance Armstrong. When the USADA news broke last year, I wrote a blog post about what he needed to do to repair his reputation. His interview with Oprah followed that advice (it wasn’t unique advice; it’s crisis communications 101) and he went on the air and answered “yes” in the first two minutes to 10 or so questions about his doping. I still have a lot of emotion wrapped up in this so I’m not ready to provide my take on it, but I have read nearly everything everyone else wrote. This ESPN article by Rick Reilly is my favorite. Not because I agree, but because it shows how huge this has become for more than just Armstrong and his former team.

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