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.

The Three Things #30

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.

Why I stopped caring about the numbers — 512 Pixels

Michael on Success: All too often, we’re so obsessed with how we’re doing we tend to forget to focus on the work. We fall into a rhythm where all that matters is the stats. Instead of doing the work we’re meant to do, we do what we see is working. We water ourselves down hoping for one more link or one new subscriber. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, but thankfully this week Myke Hurley was here to remind me (and all of us) what matters most. It’s not how many people you can reach but how much you care about those you do. A great post and a great reminder.

Clean, Safe and it Drives Itself

Howie on the Future of Cars: I can’t wait for a car I can sleep in while it drives or makes pancakes or martinis. One that never crashes and reduces traffic. Oh wait. I live in a town where there are no traffic lights or interstates or even double-lane roads. I’m really just excited to not have to drive.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Gini on Perspective: While I was on vacation, I finished reading The Stand (finally), read Dark Places, and read We Need to Talk About Kevin. The story is about a mother who sees all sorts of sociopathic tendencies in her son, starting as early as birth when he refuses to nurse, through high school when he pours Liquid Drano in his sister’s eye. He goes on to kill several kids, a teacher, and a janitor after school one day and the book deals with the aftermath, from his mom’s perspective. Written as letters to her husband – Kevin’s dad – it’s a compelling look into how a family of a murderer has to deal with society scorn. I finished it as the manhunt for the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings was coming to an end and it left me haunted. I highly, highly recommend it, if only to give you a different perspective on the human beings who are supposed to love these kinds of people.

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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…

The Three Things #29

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks (although Gini is away, so the ever-awesome Lindsay Bell is filling in), Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

The Donut by Pat Dryburgh

Michael on Willpower and Habits: As a gentleman who is far from slender, I have a great appreciation for what Pat Dryburgh is attempting with his Hundred Down project. His podcast chronicles a one year journey to lose one hundred unwanted pounds.

In addition to the podcast, Pat occasionally shares his progress and struggles with the project on his personal website. In a recent update Pat shared how he started falling off the Paleo wagon while staying with his family. I really related as I tend to break many a habit – especially those that center around living a healthier life – while away from my routine and environment. The entire piece is an honest and enjoyable read, but his parting words are an encouraging reminder for those of us who struggle when our larger goals face little (and often tasty) challenges.

It is in Our Nature to be Self-Deficient by Scientific American

Howie on Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan and Those Delusional Haters of Help: I know I know sounds political right? Not really. Just rational. We can all debate the role of the state in our lives. Whether or not Government is the solution to certain problems. I know I have an ornery independent streak. Sometimes things fester out of pride, and then the help I end up needing is bigger than if I raised my hand at the start. We also tend to mock those we deem helpless. But this article proves we need other people. Everyone does.

If that wasn’t the case the victims in Boston would still be bandaging themselves and the suspects would be free with no police or FBI or anyone caring to find them. So fans of Ayn Rand or folks like Paul Ryan – both who benefited from massive help from many people to grow and prosper – should change the discussion from do we need help…to what kind and from whom? Because I wouldn’t be alive without family, friends, and community…and neither would you. Read and be humbled…I surely am.

Baby’s Latest: Going Diaperless by The New York Times

Lindsay on ‘elimination communication’ and…really? Just…what??: Ok, trust me when I say it’s worth a link click just to get a gander at the photo accompanying this article. Hipster New York mom, in on-trend black and white striped shirt, engaging in ‘elimination communication’ with her adorable 4 month old son. Did I mention he’s naked from the waist down? Yup. He’s using the toilet. Well, she’s holding him over the toilet, to be precise. But advocates of this latest in a long line of child-rearing trends insist that their little darlings actually respond to special ‘elimination noises’ that Mommy makes. In a nutshell: They pee and poo on cue.

I don’t know about you, but I raised a child (who by some stroke of luck or other divine intervention manages to still be alive at age 13), and I know the special hell that is diapers. Thousands of diapers. I suppose if you can eliminate most of those diapers, you’re doing yourself – and the world – a big favor. But I don’t know. This latest “thing” pained me today. I pity the poor young women of today. What with advice on attachment parenting, breastfeeding until four, sign language for infants, co-sleeping (or not), controlled crying, sleep training, permissive parenting or baby bootcamp – how any parent makes it through the first year is beyond me. What are your thoughts? Has ‘new parenting’ gone haywire? Would you aim for a diaperless life…?

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.

Yes, You Have A System

Talk about workflows and productivity long enough and you eventually find yourself listening to those who say that they either do not have or do not need a system. It’s a subject we touched on when Matt Alexander joined us for an episode of Mikes on Mics and it came up again on this week’s Systematic podcast with Myke Hurley (et tu, Myke?). Frequently as I hear one version of this or another, I’m not sure the assertions jive with reality.

The truth is that everyone has a way that they go about their work. Most just aren’t aware of it or don’t care about it. 

Now you’re probably expecting me to put up some fight about how this is a problem. And since we all have a system we should all be thinking about how to make our own better. Not so. There are many who don’t need to think about this at all. Their natural aptitude is either sufficient (as is the case with both Myke and Matt) or their ambitions aren’t all that lofty and they don’t require it. I envy the former and question the latter, but – much as I may envy them both – there’s nothing wrong with either one. If what you’re doing is working for you, if you’re able to achieve all that you set your mind to (ambitious or otherwise), you’d likely be wasting your time trying to figure out how to do even more.

You’re Making The Wrong Assertion

Framing the conversation as do you or don’t you have or need a system is the wrong way to look at things. It’s not an issue of the existence of the system, it’s a question of its effectiveness.

If you’re yet to really consider your system, don’t ask yourself if you need one. Don’t start by asking yourself something along the lines of “do I need to read Getting Things Done?” Instead, start by asking this: is how I’m working, working? If the answer is yes, great! Get back to work. If not, don’t worry, but start looking to understand the system you’re pretending not to use and then start figure out how to make it better.

You may not want to acknowledge or address your system (or as is the case with Myke and Matt, you may not need to), but this has nothing to do with its existence (for further proof, take a look at every bad habit you’ve been ignoring). If you start off by questioning if you need a system, you’re ignoring the fact that you already have one. 

Does This Even Matter? 

It’s easy to write this off as a semantic argument, but there’s a risk that comes along with pretending you don’t already have system. If and when you finally decide to improve the way you work, you’ll end up building upon a broken foundation. And when you start with a bad foundation, the “system” you choose will often do very little to actually improve your potential.

Do or do you not need a system is the wrong question, so stop asking it. Instead, consider the only thing that matters, is it or isn’t it working? If it is, why on earth are you still reading this? If it isn’t, there are plenty of sites, books, tips, tactics, apps and methodologies that can help you understand and improve that system you’ve been ignoring for far too long (this site is hopefully one of them, so be sure to subscribe for free by email or RSS).

You have a system. Just make sure you’re happy with it and then go make something amazing with it.

Upside Down

I was upside down last night. Sure, it was only for a few seconds and I had a spotter, but for a brief moment at my Crossfit class, I found myself inverted in front of a class full of far fitter people. Yes, handstands happen every day. No, a handstand is not a marvel of physics (although I certainly feel like I tested some of its limits…), but for a brief moment my lumbering 6’2, 250-pound frame was looking at the world from an entirely different perspective. 

It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t like I did it on my own and I wasn’t like I didn’t nearly bust my ass once or twice getting there. It’s not even a given that I’ll ever be able to do a handstand on my own, but for 20 minutes of risk, the idea of something that was implausible a day earlier became a possibility. 

There are a lot of very stupid things that we tell ourselves, the dumbest of them all being: “I can’t do that”. Yesterday, I went into class thinking exactly that. When I saw that we would focus on handstand practice, I considered sprinting for the door (and not as a warmup). Thankfully I didn’t and in less than 20 minutes – thanks to the help of a good coach and a trusty spotter – I saw the world upside down.

We’re quick to eliminate things… we decide that they’re either too hard or too crazy, but with the right support system and a better mindset we have more options than we allow ourselves to believe. 

I’ve gotten a lot out of these past few months of Crossfit – most of which involve me dying a few pounds lighter and a few years later – but nothing comes close to the wealth of contradictory data about what I can and what I can’t do. Every time I walk through those doors – right after I look over at the daily “fun” – I feel myself getting ready to say “I can’t do that”. And – even though it may not be pretty and I may not always be able to do it exactly – every time I stick around, it turns out I can. 

Kind of makes me wonder what’s possible if I keep applying the same approach to more than just my regular (or in this case, irregular) workout…