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.

Email Newsletter Zero

Who is this for? Gmail users looking to automatically forward email newsletters from a specific sender into Instapaper.

Many say that your inbox should be a sacred place. I agree with the sentiment but suggest tweaking the phrasing slightly: Your email inbox should be a specific place.

For me this means that the emails that arrive—especially those I choose to receive—should drive me towards a specific action (e.g., answer this or click that). It’s not an ideal place to send something that I’m primarily meant to read and enjoy.

With the recent introduction of HappyLetter, many trusted and unwitting mentors have introduced email newsletters. These newsletters are exactly what I want, they just happen to arrive in the place where I want them least… my inbox.

When it comes to these kinds of recurring emails, I take an automated approach. I don’t want to miss these newsletters, so I forward them into Instapaper using a filter in Gmail. If, like me, you’re expecting to see a significant increase in the number of newsletters you plan to read, here’s how you can keep them out of your inbox while ensuring you don’t miss a single word of wisdom.

Note: The following process is for those using both Gmail and Instapaper, but it should be possible to set the same thing up with any email client and any read-it-alter service that accepts submissions via email.

Step 1: Find Your Instapaper Email Address

This part could not be easier. Go to Instapaper, sign in and click on the How to Save link. You can also click here to go directly to the How to Save page.

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Then scroll down until you see the section that has aptly been titled Add Content to Instapaper by Email and copy your account’s email address (I’d also suggest making a contact out of this address. That way you can forward individual emails into Instapaper with ease).

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Step 2: Add Instapaper as a Forwarding Email

Next we’re going to add our Instapaper email address as a forwarding address. You need to do this before you can use the address to create your filter. Go to the settings screen (you do this by clicking the gear icon in Gmail), select Forwarding and POP/IMAP and then select Add a forwarding address.

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Paste in your Instapaper email address and click Next.

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Gmail will now ask you to verify that this is your account. Since you used your Instapaper email address, you will find the email confirmation alongside your Unread Instapaper articles. You can either copy the code they provide or just click the link to verify the email address.

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If you have any trouble with the link, just paste in the code and click Verify back on the settings screen where you first started adding the forwarding address.

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Before moving on, make sure that forwarding is disabled, otherwise all of your emails will be sent to Instapaper.

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Step 3: Get The From Email of Your Email Newsletter

Once again, this could not be more straightforward. Find a previous edition of the email newsletter and copy the From address onto your clipboard.

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Step 4: Create Your Gmail Filter

Now we’re going to create our filter. First go to the settings screen, then select the Filters tab and click on the blue Create a new filter link.

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If you’re only doing one email, all you need to do is paste the From email address into the From field. If you’re doing multiple email newsletters you can separate them with OR (e.g., Name@Example1.com OR Name@Example2.com OR Name@Example3.com). Once you’re done, click Create filter with this search.

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All that’s left is to tell Gmail what to do with these messages. Set Forward it to: as the Instapaper forwarding address we set up earlier, check Skip the Inbox (Archive it) and Mark as read, and then click Create Filter.

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And that’s it. From here on out, all of these emails will bypass your inbox and appear in your Instapaper account.

Yet To Subscribe To Any Newsletters?

If you’ve yet to try out any of these new premium email newsletters, I’d suggest This Could Help from Patrick Rhone and The Writer’s Whip from Randy Murray. I’m really enjoying these projects, especially now that they are out of my inbox and arriving in Instapaper where they get the attention and consideration they deserve.

5 Apps That Will Make Evernote Even Better

Who is this for? Those looking for some of the best 3rd party applications for extending and enhancing their use of Evernote.

From Brett Kelly:

As you get beyond the Evernote basics and your love affair with Evernote deepens and you start keeping more and more of your life and work inside it, you’ll almost invariably come to the conclusion that you might be able to do even more with Evernote.

[…]

Having tried and tested dozens (and dozens) of different Evernote-capable applications and services, I’ve found these to be crazy useful.

A great list of apps for extending Evernote functionality from the man who literally wrote the book.

Really wish Powerbot would play nice with Mailplane

Don’t Avoid Your Weaknesses

Who is this for? Those who believe that the best way to overcome a weakness is by avoiding or outsourcing it.

If there has ever been a valid point that translates into poor advice, it is this: play to your strengths, avoid your weaknesses. It’s not that the advice itself is bad, just our understanding of it.

The problem with this adage is that it omits an essential caveat: you first need to understand the difference between a weakness worth avoiding and a strength you’ve yet to learn.

A weakness isn’t just something you’re bad at, we all suck at first. Weaknesses are those elusive skills or traits that, no matter how hard we try, we just cannot seem to get proficient at or learn. Understanding this subtle, yet essential, distinction goes a long way towards discovering a few new strengths and understanding your true weaknesses.

All too often we assume that an uncultivated skill is a permanent weakness. After all, it’s far easier to say you’re bad than it is get good. From there we either avoid or attempt to outsource around these challenges. I certainly did.

When I finally started getting my act together, it wasn’t because I avoided or outsourced what I perceived to be my weaknesses. It was because I shifted my attention to overcoming these shortcomings. I faced the unenjoyable facts that clearly expressing my thoughts, organizing my ideas and staying on top of my commitments aren’t easily outsourced. I accepted that, no matter how inept I am at a particular skill, I still needed a basic understanding of what others actually do in order to efficiently leverage their assistance. Once I identified these, I started pushing myself to see just how far I could get on my own, and I was often was surprised by the results.

Eventually there comes a point where focusing on your strengths and relying on others to help with your weaknesses is probably the right move, but chances are that today is not that day for you. Chances are there are still plenty of “weaknesses” you should attempt to overcome (especially if they are the ones you are ignoring). There’s also a pretty good chance that you’re a long way off from being able to afford hiring anyone to overcome anything for you.

Even if you have the resources to avoid your shortcomings, don’t. At least not at first. First try and see what you can face on your own. Test the limits of what you’re truly capable of overcoming. How? Give yourself a good once over, write a list of your “weaknesses” and try seeing just how far you can get on your own before you start pawning off anything to anyone. Put in the effort, have some faith and see just how far you can push the limits of your own potential.

This may take a little longer, but overcoming the right weaknesses will help you go a lot further than ignoring all of them.

NOW Years Day

Who is this for? Anyone struggling to effectively use their calendar.

From Mike Vardy:

As of today pre-orders are now available for The NOW Year: A Practical Guide to Calendar Management.

My podcasting partner-in-crime, Mike Vardy, has been hard at work on a solid overview of how you can put your calendar to better use. While the guide is technically a follow up to The Productivityist Workbook, his latest project also serves as a “how-to” guide for his first book, The Front Nine.

The guide only costs $5 and, if you order by November 5th, there are tons of great pre-order bonuses including interviews on how some truly smart folks like Erik Fisher, Mike Rhode, Srinivas Rao, Todd Henry, Julien Smith, Chase Reeves (and more) use a calendar to push their work forward.

If you’d like to check out a sample interview or are curious as to how I put my calendar to good use, be sure to check out The Now Year, A Practical Guide to Calendar Management pre-order page for Vardy’s conversation with yours truly.

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.