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.

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.