Category Archives: Self-Improvement

Agreeing With The Essence While Disagreeing With The Details

It’s a difficult thing when someone you respect speaks out against something you’ve been seriously considering.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out two things: how to move forward with the work I’ve been doing online and what to do about the work I’ve already created. Just when I finally felt like I figured things out, Shawn Blanc had to go and make some truly excellent points about attempting to evolve your future work by eliminating your current project.

As he puts it:

Recently I was talking with a friend who was considering deleting his weblog and starting all over. Tossing his archives into the trash, changing the domain, and re-focusing on the sort of writing that he most wants to do.

His premise was that a new domain and new “brand” would help set the tone for the new voice he wants to write with. And that by trashing his archives of the work he’s written so far, there will be nothing on his new site which he’s embarrassed about. Nothing juvenile or off topic.

I told him he was being silly and then linked him to this article by Zeldman where he writes: “If your old work doesn’t shame you, you’re not growing.”

Now this is a damn fine point and one that gave me pause. While embarrassment isn’t really the issue here, there are plenty of parallels between what Shawn describes and my current situation. Essentially I’ve been planning to move on from a current project in order to focus on a similar one. Before reading this, I was not only ready, but actively preparing to completely shutter a multi-year project in order to focus on something new. But what do I do now that someone whose advice and instincts I trust has suggested the exact opposite?

Consider What Others Are Saying, But Don’t Always Follow The Exact Advice

All too often, we read blogs, listen to podcasts, and seek out books and advice to find answers. We’re not sure what to do and we hope that someone we respect will know what’s best. There’s nothing wrong with this, but occasionally we let our respect for others (and our own fears) replace, rather than inform, our own opinions and instincts. This is never the writer’s intent; it’s just a common reaction to a well thought-out point. There’s no harm in seeking inspiration, but it can be dangerous to take the advice of others as gospel.

Here’s an alternative approach that I’ve always found useful. Use advice that contradicts your current course of action or line of thinking to first challenge and then strengthen your own thoughts. There’s a temptation to either embrace everything they’ve said or dismiss it. Don’t. Take a step back, think about what they’ve said and then consider if they are right. If you still feel like they aren’t, don’t just move on. Try to figure out what gave you pause and what they may be right about or hinting at that caused you to question your current approach.

Ignore the details that do not fit, but question how the essence might help improve your own thinking.

In my case, I’ve created a situation where I have two sites—A Better Mess and Workflowing—yet have come to the realization that I only have the bandwidth to effectively create for one. Shawn’s advice and conventional wisdom would probably lead me to keep A Better Mess, a site I’ve spent years building, while backing down from the newer project. Upon reading his thoughts, I found it easy to build a case to refine what’s already working rather than reinventing it. But even as I found myself agreeing with what Shawn was saying, I still felt that the better course of action would be to shelve something I’ve spent years creating to focus on a project that I believe is a better fit for my future.

As much as I agreed with much of what he said, the advice wasn’t an exact fit (it wasn’t aimed at my exact situation, after all). Embarrassment isn’t what’s causing me to want to make this move. Don’t get me wrong, A Better Mess has plenty of pieces I’m embarrassed by, but it’s also a project I love, and I am extremely proud of the work as a whole. But it has come to feel limiting. It was a project I created to help myself. I wanted to capture my struggle to get things done and chronicle my attempt to improve. It’s a very real struggle and one I continue to face, but it’s not the site I want to be writing right now.

As it says on the site:

A Better Mess serves as a journal or record of one ADHD-addled mess (that’s me!) to find the best way to do the best possible work.

As I’ve grown, my interest in the the way we work has moved beyond my own difficulties, and my focus has shifted away from the first part of that previous mission. Today I’m far more focused on finding the best way to do the best possible work.

Now could I evolve this site to meet that mission? You bet. But everything in me tells me I’m better off doing that on a platform that is better suited to the mission. One that wasn’t created to achieve a similar, yet different goal.

So, What Happens Next?

This will be the last post on A Better Mess.

Over the next few days, I will be rolling over the site’s feed to Workflowing. If you like what I’ve written here, you’ll like what I write there. If not, it’s very easy to unsubscribe. Unlike A Better Mess, Workflowing will look to share and create work that looks to help others to do better, not just me.

Even though I will be moving on, Shawn’s right. I shouldn’t dismiss my old work by destroying what I’ve built here. There’s nothing to be embarrassed of, even the embarrassing stuff. I need to figure out what I’ll do with this site and the work I’ve created for it (even if that is just leaving it up and leaving it alone), but it will live on in some way, warts and all.

That said, I still plan to focus on Workflowing. I want to give my future work what I believe to be the best possible chance for success. A Better Mess means the world to me, but from a personal standpoint, it’s also run its course. In the same way that attempting to erase previous “embarrassing” work will hold you back, so will clinging to the work you’ve outgrown.

I cannot thank those of you enough who have been kind enough to spend your time and attention here. I also hope you’ll follow along or at least stick around to see what comes next.

Creating A Clearer Picture

Regular readers of the site will have noticed a slight drop-off in the writing here. By slight drop off, I mean that I haven’t posted in over a month. There are a few reasons for this, but one big one.

I find myself at an interesting moment in my life. For 13 years, I’ve worked for my family’s jewelry business. Our company is in the process of being acquired. It brings great change, has created new opportunities for the future and has required a tremendous amount of work in the present.

Preparing a 68 year-old entity for an acquisition is no easy feat. Neither is getting your head around what this kind of a change means to the vision of my career that I’ve held since I was 12 years old. This is all good news, but it’s required a lot of work, both professionally and personally. It’s taken much more of my time and attention than I expected. It also looks like it will continue to do so going forward.

What exactly I will be doing going forward hasn’t been solidified as of yet, but I like the direction things are heading and am very interested by the shape that the opportunity before me is taking. I also know that, much like the acquisition itself, making the most out of this opportunity will require more of me.

So what does that mean for this site? What about the other projects I’ve been working on across the web? The honest answer: I don’t know yet, but I know it will bring change. I need to let things play out a little longer. I need to get a clear picture of what I want and need to do to make the most of this new opportunity. Then I need to figure out how to continue doing work I’m proud of on the web.

I hope you’ll stick with me through the quiet and I’ll be sure to let you all know as the picture becomes just a little bit clearer.

If you’d like learn more about what’s going on in my world, I invite you to check out this week’s episode of Mikes on Mics. I’ve been struggling to talk about everything that’s going on (both to find the words and the time to do it justice), but I do my best to start sharing more in this conversation about creating and taking advantage of new opportunities. It’s also our first episode on the 5by5 podcast network, which by itself is no small opportunity.

There’s a lot to figure out. I’m looking forward to getting clear, cleaning things up and then getting back to work.

My BitQuill Interview

Yours truly on what’s changed in my life because of this site:

This may sound like hyperbole (and probably is), but I’m a different person for this experience. Or at least a far better version. I know myself better; I do more to mitigate my many, many shortcomings; I have a far better sense of what I want from the world and have developed a few of the skills needed to actualize those ambitions.


Don’t get me wrong, I still have a ways to go. There are far too many days where I tip more towards the “mess” than the “better,” but more than any other time in my life, I feel as if my life is moving in the right direction.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Related side note: never, ever follow Pat Dryburgh in an interview series.

The Three Things #31

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.

Workin’ By Jason Rehmus

Michael on Career Paths: So often we think we can decide what we want to do, and then do our best to try and turn that fantasy into a reality. I have spent much of my life attempting to do exactly that. As I get older, I tend to see it more as a path than a destination. I also believe the destination we’re heading towards early on is rarely the one we reach (or would even want to reach).

I’ve been fortunate to watch my friend Jason Rehmus’ career unfold during the past few years. I watched from afar as he set his sites on a career goal, achieved it, but then decided to keep moving along his path. With his new newsletter we’re all fortunate to get to look at where his career path – which somehow manages to seem both unique and familiar – has led and where it’s about to go.

Notes from the Frontline of the War in Cyberspace

Howie on Information and Hacking: Amazing article. Some of the best quotes ever, such as ‘you can’t arrest an idea.’ There will always be a battle between those who create and want to protect what they created, and those who want access to those creations to set them free. This article has great insights into the hacking culture and data/content wars.

Twenty Things I Wish I’d Know When I Was 30

Gini on Perspective…Again: I am quickly becoming a big fan of the writing of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and this article is no exception. We’re talking about a man who, by the time he was 30, achieves more than most of us do in a lifetime. And yet…he says he wants to climb into a time machine and go back and shake his 30-year-old self. There are a few of themes in it: Get as close as you can to your family, learn how to do things yourself, and stop being so shy. You’ll read this and smile a few times, but it’ll also make your heart hurt a little bit. This man, while a great basketball player, seems to be an even greater intellect.

Be sure to subscribe for free by Email or RSS to automatically receive future editions of The Three Things series and more from A Better Mess.

Getting My Workflowing

For far too long, I’ve wanted to align more of the work I’m doing. This is especially true of what I create for the web. At the moment, I write for this site, I co-host a podcast with Mike Vardy and collaborate with him on a newsletter (and since that isn’t enough, we also have a second podcast associated with said newsletter). In theory, each project has an identity of its own, one that needs to be nurtured. In reality none of these identities are being managed particularly well.

All Over The Place

I’m spread too thin, this holds true for much of my life, but it’s especially true on the web. It’s a mess of my own making and it’s one I need to start cleaning up. I’m taking the first step towards bringing more of my work together; I’m also not doing it alone. Today Mike Vardy and I are introducing Workflowing.

What is Workflowing? I encourage you to check it out for a deeper look at why we wanted to create this and what we intend to do, but at its core it’s a site that aims to do a better job at helping people to actually do better.

Darn You Patrick Rhone

While we are introducing Workflowing today, we’re not officially “launching” it until later this summer. Rather than working in private, we plan to continue to develop the project in public. Those who have listened to the latest Mikes on Mics episode know that I’m somewhat obsessed (read: very obsessed) with Patrick’s recent launch of Minimal Guides. In the span of a week he took a question on and turned it into the first in a series of guides.

He also did much of the work in public, which helped shape and improve the end result. He worked hard, he worked out in the open, he encouraged feedback and, in the span of a week, turned his idea into something tangible. It’s a project that continues to improve as we speak. We’ve been inspired to follow Patrick’s lead. There’s still a lot to be done, but Workflowing is no longer just an idea; it’s something that exists and will now continue to evolve. We hope you’ll follow along.

So… What Does This Mean For A Better Mess?

As of today, not much. If you’ve noticed, I haven’t been writing a ton of “how to” posts. It wasn’t intentional at first, but I’ve already been changing this over to a slightly more personal site (or at least focusing more on the personal aspects of my own attempts at self-improvement). A Better Mess is not going away; it is however becoming a Workflowing project. One that I’m very proud of and passionate about. It will continue to remain as active as ever. Some things will make their way over to Workflowing, but if you enjoy the site today, I expect you’ll enjoy it tomorrow.

And What About The Rest Of Your Projects?

For the time being, we’re looking at Workflowing as an umbrella for all of the work that Mike Vardy and I create. It will also serve as a place to share the work that helps and inspires us. Over time, things may change, but as of today A Better Mess, Vardy’s Productivityist and Mikes on Mics will continue.

Rather than maintaining separate social media accounts for each project, everything will now be shared and promoted under Workflowing. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, ADN and Google+ (that last one was Vardy’s idea). To help things along and help align things we will be shutting down Mike Techniques in favor of focusing our energies on making Workflowing the best that it can possibly be. Subscribers should have already received an email from us explaining what comes next.

We have big plans for Workflowing. I encourage you to check it out and see if what we’re working on has the potential to help you do better.

I Feel Great…

Confidence is a funny thing. Most of the time when we think we have it, we don’t. I’ve been feeling confident lately. This worries me. It feels good, but it doesn’t feel right. 

No matter how excited I might be about an idea, confidence only comes when I manage to align my energy, potential and skills with an outcome. Until there’s a clear plan, it’s all just bravado. 

There’s nothing wrong with that; bravado is what happens when you allow yourself to believe that you can do something. Confidence comes from doing the work needed to figure out how. I don’t discount the first stage but it doesn’t matter much without the second. 

The truth is that I know. I may not say it to anyone, I may not even be able to admit it to myself, but I know when my confidence is real and when I’m still just trying to pump myself up. The problem is that I often try to see just how far my bravado can take me. I let myself believe that – if I work hard enough – I can will my way to the objective.

I even have some experience to back this up. I mean, I’ve pulled off my fair share of last minute sprints and all nighters in my day. I’ve accomplished more than we thought was possible when the pressure was on. It’s possible, but it’s almost always temporary. It’s a short-term mentality that derails almost any long-term ambition. 

Anyone can sprint, only the prepared can run a marathon. Bravado burns out. Confidence lasts. 

I have a few big rocks that I’m trying to smash – I even think I have the skills to make that happen – but something is off. I’m doing work, but it’s all over the place. I’ve been getting myself ready, I’ve been building up that early bravado and using it to make progress. That’s fine, but it’s not going I get me where I want to go. 

When you feeling confident, you’re probably not. When you’re too busy working on and executing your plan to even think about this, you most certainly are.

Excuse me, I think I have some planning to do…

Note: This post was written late last week before a very thorough review and a few days of targeted cleanup. It’s amazing how – even in a matter of days – having a process for clarifying your plans and clearing your head can get you out of the weeds and back on the right path.

Was Starting This Blog a Bad Idea?

From “Brian” at Brain Cutlery:

Starting a blog was a bad idea

It was kind of a Narcissistic urge to write about my experiences at the same time as trying to improve myself. I guess you can consider it a ‘public journal’ with a few hints, tips and best practice techniques thrown in.


In productivity terms, it was a dumb move. Blogging is hard (at least for me) and takes a chunk of time and energy to ensure you’re engaging and posting regularly (which is required to get the conversation going, which in turn is kind of the whole point of blogging vs journalling).

It’s not hard to see why taking on a new project at a time where you’re looking to improve is a bad idea. It does, after all, take away time and energy from your efforts to improve, not to mention that it’s yet another distraction from whatever else you’re attempting to accomplish with your life. On the other hand, having gone through the experience myself, I see where a blog or any other self-contained project can have value for those looking to do better.

When I started A Better Mess, it was very much a part of my attempt to improve. There was no big plan or larger ambition for the site. I had no real desire to engage or to get a conversation going. The purpose of the site was to create a space that offered similar challenges and responsibilities as my everyday work, but that lacked the mess I’d inevitably need to clean up. It was a place to experiment, to learn, to screw up and to attempt to do better. I did it publicly as the commitment to readers (both of them) kept me honest and their feedback challenged my ideas.

It required that I make some room in my life, that I watch less TV, that I sacrifice a few nights out, that I sleep a little less. It also forced me to take a step back from some of my larger ambitions while I got my crap together. In return, I honed new skills, I got better at determining and organizing my priorities, I became a better writer, I learned a ton about the web, and I met amazing people who continue to help and inspire me to improve. It also provided me with a place to clarify and organize my thoughts on the experience.

While taking on a new project at the same time that you’re trying to improve may seem counterintuitive, I don’t think it’s dumb (unless its an attempt to take on a big ambition before you’ve really gotten your act together). The work I’ve done on this site has had a massive positive impact on every part of my life and every project I attempt. It gave me a blank slate for improving, one that allowed me to think things through without the burden of a slew of problems that need solving. This site is an endeavor that helped me take more control over my life, it taught me the skills that have helped solve many of my pre-existing challenges and it continues to help me actualize more of what I imagine.

So no, I don’t think it was a bad idea, even in productivity terms…