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.

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…


Who is this for? Anyone interested in the recent changes in my world, the impact they’ve had on my personal projects and the approach I’m considering getting those personal projects back on track.

Pausing a project is easy. There’s often a significant amount of thought that goes into deciding what you will and will not continue to do, but the actual final act itself couldn’t be simpler: decide to stop doing something and then stop doing it. If you use software for project management, hit pause or put the project on hold and—like magic—watch it drop off your list and off your mind.

Over the past few months, I’ve had to hit pause on more than a few projects. I even killed some. Since January, I’ve been working on projects for my job that took significant mental bandwidth. For months, I aided in the due diligence process as we sold our family business. Immediately after we closed, I transitioned myself out of the company in order to go work for our new parent company. I closed the book on a 13 year career and watched what has always been our family business no longer be our family business.

This is all good news. I’d been seriously thinking of making a professional change for some time, and I happen to really like the company that did the acquiring. But these are big, emotional changes, and when I added them to a significant increase in actual workload, something had to give.

For months, things I care about have gone by the wayside. This site hasn’t received the attention I would have liked. Relationships that mean the world to me have been malnourished. I haven’t worked on the second draft of my book. This might sound bad, or at least unproductive, but the decision to pause these things is paying off.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m finding professional flow. The decision to focus on my career is helping me to make the most of my new opportunity. I’m challenged by the work. I like the team. And I’m interested to see where things go.

I’ve also benefited from the space I gave myself to emotionally settle the sale. This “exit” is something to celebrate, but I’d be lying—to you and to myself—if I didn’t need some time to accept the reality that what my grandfather created and my father built is not something I will ever be able to pass along to my children. I’m happy with how things turned out, but I’m also glad I’m not ignoring the significance of that truth.

Professionally and emotionally, I feel like things are on track. On the other hand, my personal projects are kind of a mess. When things were getting hectic I gave myself permission to take a step back, to ease off and give major life changes the attention they deserve. Now that the dust is starting to settle, I have to decide what to do about them. I have to figure out what to unpause and I have to decide if there’s any more that I have to kill.

I’ve tried to unpause it all as if no time had passed, the results have been poor and rife with procrastination. The reality is that I have to redevelop habits and muscles that have atrophied over the past few months. I don’t write as much as I used to. I don’t find my mind wandering to these personal projects as often as it used to. I could chalk that up to my being ready to move on, but that’s not really it. I’m just out of practice and these projects have been out of sight.

I really need to start revisiting these projects and will need to rebuild my habits. I need to prioritize the unpausing. I need to build back up some of my muscles. And once I’ve gained some momentum, I need to reassess what continues and what ends.

I’d love to make that decision now. I’d love to know exactly what I plan to unpause and accomplish over the next few months, but I’m just not there, yet. I have a good sense about what I’m doing professionally. Now I just need to dedicate some of the newfound time and emotional bandwidth towards figuring out what it is that I really want to do with my spare time. And then I need to dedicate myself to doing it.

In the meantime, things will continue to come a little slower than I’d like, here and on other personal projects. I need to get back on track, but I also need to be okay with the fact that it’s going to take some time to get back into a creative routine and to figure this all out. Pausing might be easy, but unpausing … it’s proving to be a lot harder than I imagined. That said, it’s time to start getting back to work. Acknowledging the hard time I’m having with that seemed as good a first step as any.

Productive Counterpoints

Who is this for? Those who struggle to strike a balance of working on how they work and actually doing their work.

No matter what it is that you care about, it’s important to seek out those who disagree with what you believe to be true. When attempting to put your passions and beliefs in perspective, it’s helpful to find voices you respect, yet often fundamentally disagree with.

When it comes to the ideas of productivity and workflow – two concepts that struggle to maintain their meaning, yet matter greatly to me – Matt Alexander is that voice.

We’ve had our disagreements – both in writing and on the podcast – but Matt continues to be a grounding force as I refine my thinking.

While I believe in the importance of examining and refining the way we work, Matt does not. It would be easy to dismiss his ideas, to focus in on where he goes too far. Yet when I look past the hyperbole, he often has a point.

On this week’s Bionic podcast, Matt once again shares his frustration with the obsessive nature of the self-help and productivity genres as well as the authority that many within it bestow upon themselves. While I believe he goes too far, it’s difficult to ignore what he’s saying.

If you’re struggling to strike a balance between working on the way you work and actually doing your work, you’re going to want to give the first segment of this episode a listen. If you have a sense of humor and appreciation for the absurd, you’re also going to want to stick around for the very unrelated second half of the episode (be warned, it is very NSFW).

Like most things in life, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Those who struggle to meet there goals should think about and experiment with the way that they work, but we also have to be careful. It’s easy to get lost when attempting to improve. It’s easier to optimize your skills than it is to use them.

Until you find that balance for yourself, keep experimenting, but be sure to seek out a few people like Matt to keep you honest.

Give this week’s Bionic a listen. It’s equal parts eloquence and absurdity. And if, like me, you’re prone to overdoing it with your attempts to improve, it offers a healthy dose of skepticism.