Category Archives: Editorial

Back To Getting Better

I haven’t written regularly in some time. Not for you, and not even for me. A fair amount of that has to do with a lack of time, which is in short supply with a full-time job, a wife and young children. But if I’m being honest, that’s just an excuse.

Some of my absence here had to do with the fact that I wondered if I’d outgrown—or had even achieved what I’d been attempting with—the site. Again, an excuse.

Another part of it was the fear of talking regularly, openly and loudly about being an ADHD-addled asshole with a tendency to struggle. I know that it’s been helpful to myself and to others. I know it has helped me grow. But I also worry that it will be harmful to the side of me who is a rather capable and ambitious employee working hard to help support a growing family. While there’s truth in this, it’s yet another excuse.

So why am I here? Why am I back?

The truth? I feel I’ve reached a point where I’m only getting better now in the ways that come easy to me.

I spent a ton of time figuring out how I can do better work, and, as one would hope, I am indeed doing better.

I’m nine years married and three kids in; I know what it takes to be a half-decent dad and half-decent husband. Every now and again I even feel like I come close to achieving these lofty goals.

But there are ways in which I’m yet to get better. Ways that I’m not even sure I’m trying all that hard. Ways that aren’t even entirely clear to me right now. More and more I worry that I’m letting what comes naturally be sufficient, rather than embracing what’s hard.

There are things in my life that I want to do that I’m not doing. Chief amongst them are writing here and writing honestly. Both for you and for me. There are things in my life that I need to do that I’m not doing. Such as the growing need to find a way to be healthy, regardless of my busy work and family life.

I want to get back to getting better. And while I continue to embrace the ways come with some measure of ease, I need to shift my focus back to the ways that don’t. And the best way that I know how to grow is to write here and to see what comes out.

I’m not unhappy. I’m not struggling as much in the ways I once did. But I’m also not striving as much as I’d like. I’m not risking as much as I’d like. I’m not writing as much as I’d like. I am however worried about what will come out as I go back to writing here, but I’m tired of making excuses not to anymore.

It’s time to get back to getting better. And while I’m not exactly sure what that will look like this time around, I hope you consider sticking with me. And perhaps even choose to join in.

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…