Tag Archives: 2×4

Quick Quotes | The 2x4x2 Edition

A while back, I moved my interview series, 2×4, to Lifehack at the urging of my buddy and podcast co-host, Mike Vardy. The goal of this ongoing collection of interviews is to ask those who make things on the web the same eight questions on how they approach creative endeavors and to get a feeling for how they manage to actually get things done. While I’ve been regularly updating the official 2×4 page here on the site, it’s been a while since I’ve shared some of the stellar and smart things people have been saying in the series.


By putting a productivity system in place that you can trust, you’ll go from doing productive to being productive. And that’s when you’ll get to go places.

Mike Vardy <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


Get to work. If you love something, want to become an artist, go and hook up with those who are already doing it. Study, get training, do it. Suck a lot, but get better.

Randy Murray <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


The act of transforming some nebulous concept from my mind to something feels like magic and still amazes me every time it happens. Whenever I get in a rut, creating something pulls me out.

David Sparks <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


It took me a long time to realize the thing I enjoyed the most. I tried so many different projects before I came to podcasting and now I don’t want to do anything else. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things out; you just don’t know what you might find.

Myke Hurley <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


Anyone can be creative if they can figure out how to fight their brain’s need to avoid the pain of creation. If you’re not feeling that pain, you’re not pushing yourself enough.

C.J. Chilvers <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


Hit publish on the work you’re compelled to do every single day.

Ev Bogue <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


I don’t follow movements. I prefer to focus on what makes me happy. I don’t cut things out to achieve an ideal. I just spend more time with the things I like. I do the parts of GTD I like. I don’t clean my desk to be minimal. I don’t have inbox-zero. Movements and mantras are insidious and counterproductive to me.

Gabe Weatherhead <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


While I’m sure most people would say “Don’t give a shit about what others think,” for me, not caring what I think is more important in many ways. I often find myself dismissing one of my own ideas before I act upon it, censoring myself. Sometimes, that can be good, but for me, it often means that I don’t do things that I probably should.

Stephen Hackett <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


Creativity isn’t about being able to paint or write or make music; it happens every day on a much smaller, less glamorous level. When I discover that I can use a binder clip to hold my iOS charging cable firmly to my desk, that’s creativity applied to problem solving (except people don’t usually use the world “creativity”).

Brett Kelly <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


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2×4 With Mike Vardy

2×4: One series that examines two topics, creativity and productivity, by asking those who make things on the web the same four questions on both subjects.

I’m afraid. I usually start these interviews out by trying to tell you a little bit about what the person I’m about to interview does and tell you why I was interested in having them in the series. It’s a great way to get the ball rolling and hopefully it sets the tone for what you will read below. My particular fear here is how to achieve this succinctly for our latest victim, Mike Vardy, without writing a thousand words. Mike does a lot. A lot, a lot. He is the Managing editor at Stepcase Lifehack, a frequent speaker on the subject of productivity, a podcaster, a prolific blogger, and, oh yeah, and he is a stay-at-home dad. It would take a lot of words and a lot of links to sum up everything the guy does, but thankfully Mike’s bio-page delivers all of this information in a far more concise manner than I could ever manage.

Mike’s a seriously nice guy and a solid, often humorous writer; despite a fairly daunting workload, he is exceedingly generous with his time1. He also scares the crap out of me. Mike forces me to face what you can do with a day if you chose to use it wisely. Since I tend to be an unsympathetic human, I took one look at Mike’s workload and immediately asked him to participate in the series. Thankfully, he added another paper to the pile (or more likely, another task into Omnifocus) and gave some especially excellent answers to some already excellently answered questions.

Before I shut up and let Mike take center stage, I also wanted to let you know that this series is getting ready to move. In addition to participating, Mike asked if I would consider bringing future 2×4 interviews to Stepcase Lifehack. Now, like any good aspiring productivity geek, I’m fairly skeptic of Lifehack style websites. They tend to churn out crap that seeks to amuse rather than help. Mike and the team at Stepcase Lifehack seem dedicated to go in the opposite direction. They aim to take a site that has a great domain and great traffic and make great content that matters. I not only like the guy, I trust him, so with that in mind, I’m going to roll the dice and bring a series I that love (and hope helps people) to a larger audience. I suggest you give the site a shot and keep an eye out for future 2×4 interviews!

And now, without further ado, Mike Vardy:

Creativity

Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

Yes, I’ve always been involved in the creative arts in one form or another. Whether it was singing, performing sketch comedy or writing, I’ve always had it in me. There was a period of time where I wasn’t creating much of what I wanted to — I had gotten caught up in the “rat race”, I suppose — and once I got a taste of it again (my roommate convinced me to go to an improv troupe workout with him) I was back in the saddle. Ever since then, I was determined to make a go of it in a creative field.

What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate toward to realize your creative goals?

I really do enjoy performing — and I find that I’ve been able to do that in almost any medium. Even when I’m writing, I’m delivering a performance of sorts. I’m being myself, but I’m putting it all out there in front of an audience. That, to me, is just as much a performance as being up on stage (which I’ve done countless times as well). The only difference is that the reaction isn’t immediate.

But I’ve found that the lack of immediacy has worked in my favor. I don’t get hampered by a joke that didn’t land or a piece that didn’t work; I simply go on creating. Some would say that professional performers don’t get hung up on a bad experience on stage, but I find that hard to swallow. Sure, you get back out there and do your job… but we’re human. There’s an impact. How you deal with it is what counts.

I think that through my writing I’ve been able to go on stage and not get hindered or hampered as much. Because if they don’t like what they see, I’ve got a lot of people online who do.

As for my inspirations, I tend to look inward more and more. I find inspiration in what’s important to me. I want my kids to see that you can do what you love to do and earn a living at it, and that it’s worth taking the risks involved to do what you love for work. I do look to others, especially Merlin Mann, as inspirational touchstones. What Merlin does is really inspiring — and the fact that he tells it like it is and is as fallible as the rest of us makes him all the more endearing to me.

If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creations are you most proud of and why?

I’m really proud of some of the posts where I’ve broken loose a bit, things like my recent piece on Lifehacker and an ode to my late father-in-law. I went outside of my comfort zone with those — albeit in very different ways — and it felt really good to get them out my head and into something more permanent.

While I’m also proud of a lot of my work at Eventualism — as that is what “brought me to the dance,” so to speak — I think I need to spend more time developing the accessibility of the work I’m trying to offer there. It’s something I’m struggling with as my time is at a premium these days, but I know I’ll get to it… eventually.

Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative enough to unlock their inner artist?

Make time for the space to let it come to you. Schedule out that time. You have to. You can’t force this kind of thing out of you, it’ll come. But you need to give it a window or door to go through. By cramming your day with other things you leave little to no opportunity for that lightning to strike.

And once it comes to you, capture it. Start writing, painting, singing, whatever it is that you’re feeling. By taking action when the moment hits, you’ll invite creativity back sooner rather than later.

Productivity

Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

Well, I’m one of the editors at Stepcase Lifehack — perhaps better known as Lifehack.org — that’s my main ongoing gig. I also write for my personal sites, Vardy.me and Eventualism, and produce the ProductiVardy podcast, which gives me the opportunity to speak with some the best and brightest “productivityists” and creatives on the web. I also co-host a couple of other podcasts, Dyscultured, which is an irreverent podcast that looks at news, technology and pop culture with a Canadian slant, and Talking is Dead, more of a conversational podcast that I do with Anthony Marco.

Oh, and I do all of that while being a stay-at-home parent. We have childcare three days a week, so I do my best to get everything in on those days (and on Sundays when my wife is home) so that I can spend the rest of my time with my kids and family.

How do you go about balancing the personal, professional and digital?

A carefully crafted schedule. And the discipline to stick to it. I do my major writing on the days we have childcare and do the less intense stuff (email follow-ups, etc.) on the days when we don’t. I tend to work later at night during the week — I’ve tried to be an early riser but I’m just not wired that way. I stay up until around midnight most nights and am up at 7 during the week and 9 am on weekends.

What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?

I like to test stuff; that’s how Eventualism was born. But I’ve become far more disciplined in this realm since then.

I am currently using a combination of tools, mainly relying on OmniFocus for much of my task and project management. I like the ability to easily review my week and set up “Perspectives,” which OmniFocus offers, and I always seem to go back to it after trying anything else for a bit. The Omni Group has developed an application that is both as simple as you want it to be and as powerful as you need it to be.

I don’t schedule time-specific in OmniFocus; I use Fantastical on my Mac or Agenda Calendar on my iPad and iPhone for that.

For my writing, I use Byword for online writing and Scrivener for the heavy-duty stuff, such as the books I’m working on (a fiction book for NaNoWriMo and a non-fiction book that discusses productivity and mindfulness). On the iPad I use Writing Kit for online work because it is the most robust Markdown-centric app I’ve found to date, and I’m starting to use Textkraft for longer form writing that may wind up in any of the books. (Again, I like to test stuff.)

Speaking of testing, I am looking at Mindbloom (and its companion Bloom app for the iPhone) as part of my arsenal; these apps have a mindful approach to productivity that I haven’t seen before. Same with Asana — this app could very well be a game-changer for collaborative (and individual) task and project management. Orchestra also looks promising. I’m wading my toe into these right now — although my other foot is still firmly planted in OmniFocus.

Other apps I still use: Evernote to keep tabs on notes, recipes and ideas; Instapaper for the things I either loved reading or look forward to reading; Reeder for my RSS reading; AwayFind to help me manage email; Sparrow as my email client; TextExpander to take care of the repetitive things I have to type (I’m playing with Keyboard Maestro as well); LaunchBar for quick-launching and Billings for… well… billing.

And I do write things down on my Helvetindex Cards, which are bundled up like a Hipster PDA. They go with me (along with either my Uniball Kuru Toga pencil or my trusty Pilot Hi-Tec pen) wherever I go. Because technology can fail sometimes.

My devices? 11″ MacBook Air (higher-end model), 32GB iPhone 4S and 32GB first-generation iPad. I have a ZaggMate for my iPad so that I can write with an actual keyboard from time to time, and a DODOcase for when I don’t need to type for lengthy periods and want my iPad to look like a Moleskine.

In terms of techniques, as a rule I don’t check email until 10 am each day. This is partly due to necessity (my 1-year-old doesn’t go down for a nap until at least 9:30 am) and partly out of the need to get some of the more important work done first. I head straight into my task management app once I’ve got my coffee ready (yes, an Aeropressed coffee is a ritual I keep every morning, without fail). That sets me up for the day. Before I go to bed, I review what I’ve got on the go, make adjustments so that I can start the next day off without delay and I hit the sack.

In between that stuff? I write, I edit and I parent. A lot.

What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us, who are looking to get more organized?

You need to find a system that will work for you and put it in place. Today. You need to try it for at least 30 days without interruption. You need to set up whatever system works best for you as the foundation for your success. Without a productivity system in place, be it paper-based or digital, you will not be able to get to a place where you want to be. You need to make the system second nature to you so that the reason you put the system in place can once again rise to the forefront. This is where mindfulness and productivity intersect, and once you’re there you will no longer be looking at to-do lists — you’ll be looking at to-be lists.

By putting a productivity system in place that you can trust, you’ll go from doing productive to being productive. And that’s when you’ll get to go places.

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  1. Trust me, I’m testing the theory…  

Quick Quotes Weekly | The 2×4=8 Edition

I recently launched a new series on the blog called 2×4. The goal of this ongoing collection of interviews is to ask those who make things on the web the same eight questions on how they approach creative endeavors and to get a feeling for how they manage to actually get things done. This past interview with Marcus Sheridan marks the eighth in the series and I wanted to take a moment to share my favorite thoughts from each participant. If you’re new to the blog or haven’t been following these posts, be sure to click the links and read them, there are a lot of really smart thoughts from some truly smart people. If you like what you see, please Subscribe for free by Email or RSS to receive future 2×4 posts and more!


Write down everything you need to accomplish in a day. Include reading and responding to email, reading and commenting on blogs, entering your time, returning phone calls, everything. It’s important to list the stuff that you do every day without a to-do list. That way you can see what you really need to accomplish and prioritize.

Gini Dietrich <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


Let go of having a specific goal or endpoint. Not forever, but just at first. Give yourself some room to mess around and screw up. For me, that’s a very powerful space to be in.

Yuvi Zalkow <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


Make time every day — even if it’s just five minutes — and take a picture, or write a blog post, or shoot something on your video camera. You don’t have to publish it — just get into the habit of doing it, and learning your trade. You’ll be surprised at how you grow, both in creativity and the strength to actually make your creation public.

Danny Brown <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


I kinda cringe when I hear expressions like creativity, being an artist, etc… It raises expectations and gets people to close even more. If you are not creative, you are not. Just stop thinking you have to “be an artist” and do what ever you feel like doing.

Brankica Underwood <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


Increasingly, […] I let the digital slide. Personal must come first, and that’s the difference between healthy lives and myopic ones that can go astray.

Geoff Livingston <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


Do what you love, and don’t worry about how viral it becomes. Learn to find success in niches and overlooked places. Admire, but don’t be distracted by people who’ve had mainstream success.

Eddie Smith <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


I’ve reached a point where the dots are starting to connect and they tend to forge a clear path forward. I don’t expect anything to happen on its own; I still need to show up and do the work. But life offers up a multitude of circumstances that often lead me to where I need to go.

Dan Gordon <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


I find creativity in actually going out and doing stuff. I’m not one to just sit around an analyze something. I launch an idea fast, and am not afraid to experience the pain and pleasure that come with such quick action. But when I’m actually in the grind, making things happen–that’s when creativity seems to work its magic.

Marcus Sheridan <— Click To Read More Smart Stuff!


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2×4 With Marcus Sheridan

2×4: One series that examines two topics, creativity and productivity, by asking those who make things on the web the same four questions on both subjects.

One of the best parts about playing in the Social Media pool are the people you meet. Most often, you connect with someone online and at some point or another, you end up face to face. Meeting Marcus Sheridan was exactly the opposite. We met through Danny Brown and Gini Dietrich at Blog World. A few drinks later (or at least a few for me) we were fast friends and a few days later we had connected online and I had become a big fan of his rather excellent blog, The Sales Lion.

Marcus is a rare breed and one I can relate to (as well as one I aspire to). He’s a guy working in a struggling luxury market, selling actual goods to actual people who turned to the web to grow his business. Where most people working in traditional small businesses are striving and struggling to figure out how to leverage the web, Marcus put his head down and did it for his company River Pools and Spas. Better yet, he goes out of his way to help other business owners learn how to achieve that success for themselves. Besides being great at what he does and teaches, he also happens to be a great guy. He’s extremely generous with his time, cherishes every interaction and has a sense of character that is almost tangible.

Without further ado, here is a look at how The Sales Lion roars:

Creativity

Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

I don’t know if I’ve always considered myself creative. I stink at drawing, painting, working with my hands, etc. For some reason, although I wanted to be good at those things, they just didn’t ever really get going with me. Later on in my teen years, though, I noticed I became a creative thinker in terms of how I approached ideas and concepts, especially in the business, communication, and interpersonal realm.

What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate toward to realize your creative goals?

I find creativity in actually going out and doing stuff. I’m not one to just sit around an analyze something. I launch an idea fast, and am not afraid to experience the pain and pleasure that come with such quick action. But when I’m actually in the grind, making things happen—that’s when creativity seems to work its magic.

If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creations are you most proud of and why?

Two posts come to mind:

Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative enough to unlock their inner artist?

We’re all creative. That’s a fact. But I don’t think it does someone any good to analyze their supposed lack of creativity. Go out and do something. That’s how I feel about it. Action is the great inspirer, always has been and always will be.

Productivity

Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

I own a large swimming pool company that builds in-ground pools throughout Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia along with my two business partners, who handle most of the day to day. Just this past year, they allowed me to break away to focus on my blog and coaching/speaking career. So now, I spend only about 5-10 hours a week with my pool company and about 40-50 hours a week working on my blog, The Sales Lion, and also traveling, speaking and coaching.

How do you go about balancing the personal, professional and digital?

That’s the great challenge we all face–balance. For me, it starts with my spiritual base. I attend church every Sunday with my wife and four kids. I also spend quality time with each of the children, and my wife, just about every day, assuming I’m not traveling. Every night, around 10pm, I get on the elliptical for exactly 1 hour. I might miss a workout once every three months or so. From 11-1am, I write. My mind words well after a workout.

What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?

I’m learning to say no often. I also don’t waste time. I don’t watch TV. I don’t lie around. I get about 5-6 hours of sleep most nights. My mind is kind of obsessed with creating at this point in my life, and so if I’m not spending quality time with family, I’m looking to do something that will help me reach my goals.

What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us, who are looking to get more organized?

Know your goals. Easily, that’s the biggest. For example, here are mine:

  1. Have a strong relationship with God and self.

  2. Have a strong relationship with my wife and children.

  3. Teach the masses by giving great information, via writing or speech, and make a difference in the lives of others in the process.

These may sound cliche to some, but those are my ‘big’ goals, and I do my best not to let ‘stuff’ hinder these goals.

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2×4 With Dan Gordon

2×4: One series that examines two topics, creativity and productivity, by asking those who make things on the web the same four questions on both subjects.

I’ve been fortunate to call Daniel Gordon both a friend and colleague for some time now. We have a lot in common. We come from and work in our family jewelry businesses, we both are avid techies with a passion for social media and are family men who strive to juggle all of these elephants in our daily lives. In other words, we don’t lack for common interest.

Beyond being an all-around great guy, Dan has this infectious way about him. He is unfailingly genuine and lives a impressive and/or scary amount of his life in public. Yet he manages to do so in a way that makes people want to engage more. Dan’s the kind of guy who isn’t afraid to try radically new things with his family’s 100+ year-old business and has a hilarious blog that chronicles some of the crazier things that come from the jewelry industry.

Without further ado, here is a look into the wild world of Daniel Gordon:

Creativity

Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?

I can’t say that I have always considered myself creative, but I’ve always been aware of being very curious person. It took a long time to realize that combining my penchant for daydreaming with a vigor for understanding had lead me to take action. I’ve even managed to turn some of my far-fetched ideas into realities along the way. The more success I’ve had, the more confident I become and the more I find my creative juices start flowing. It tends to be a self-perpetuating cycle, oftentimes a fleeting thought or a long forgotten memory will spark the evolution of an entirely new idea.

What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate towards to realize your creative goals?

I truly get inspired by the little things. It could be the lyrics of a song, a sentence I read, some words of wisdom from a friend, or even a tiny discovery from observing everyday life. I’ve reached a point where the dots are starting to connect and they tend to forge a clear path forward. I don’t expect anything to happen on its own; I still need to show up and do the work. But life offers up a multitude of circumstances that often lead me to where I need to go. In the end, I get what I need through listening, observing and taking in all I can that is around me.

If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creation are you most proud of and why?

It may not be a creation, but I pride myself on knowing the right questions to ask. I have always believed if I know the right questions, I’ll be able to learn the answers needed to make the best possible decisions. I think the key to creation is the realizing what we know, figuring out what we have to learn and using that information to make something tangible.

Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative take to unlock their inner artist?

Play pretend. Go back to when you were a child and remember those innocent times when anything and everything was possible. When we finally grow up, we seem to inherit all these silly rules, strict policies, overly complicated politics and guidelines we feel we must abide by. Throw them away! I’m not suggesting you go and get yourself arrested, but take more chances and let go of your inhibitions. Take chances and apply what you’ve learned to what you make. If you believe it can happen, you take the first and most important step to making something happen. It’s easier said than done, but go back to that place where you could imagine the untraditional. There’s magic there.

Productivity

Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

Professionally speaking as President of Samuel Gordon Jewelers, I’m responsible for our on and offline marketing campaigns, our buying, inventory management and merchandising, sales, advertising, staff management and customer-service policies. Personally I am responsible to my wife, Aimee, and our three children, Braden, Zachary and our newest addition, Hadley. I am also involved in many local philanthropic and business community events including the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and the American Marketing Association. I’m a community activist; I help organize or participate an average of 15 local events annually for myself or for Samuel Gordon Jewelers.

How do you go about balancing the personal, professional and digital?

I schedule my time as if it were currency. My morning is spent preparing for the day and I prioritize what tasks need to be handled by level of urgency. The evenings are family time until the children are in bed and then I play catch up answering any emails and tending to the items that time got the best of earlier in the day. I usually spend a solid 3 hours, usually from 9pm to Midnight connecting online, catching up on current events as well as industry news and working on an array of future business initiatives.

What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?

I try my best to set time limits. I kick out emails in the morning and mid afternoon. I bookmark almost all of my content through Instapaper and catch up on reading by listening to audio books during drive time. If a current project is frustrating me and I feel as if I cannot move any further, I shelve it for later or bring someone in for some fresh perspective. I always feel that time is better spent moving to an entirely different project rather than trying to force one forward when I feel as if I’m spinning my wheels. I use an array of Google apps to have my information with me wherever I happen to be.

What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us, who are looking to get more organized?

Take all your responsibilities and list them on a piece of paper. When I see things in writing they become more tangible and it helps me focus on accomplishing my goals more diligently. Treat it like a game; for every item accomplished, you level up. Sure, it’s a never-ending process, but once you start looking at it this way, it really gets the ball rolling. If you choose wisely, all the little tasks can lead up to some very impressive projects.

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2×4 With Eddie Smith

2×4: One series that examines two topics, creativity and productivity, by asking those who make things on the web the same four questions on both subjects.

When you are just getting interested in a subject, you start with the big names. You seek out the luminaries whose names people would recognize even if they couldn’t care less about a particular niche. When it comes to the productivity space, I’m talking about guys like David Allen’s, Steven Covey’s and Merlin Mann (or maybe that’s just me who is obsessed with him. Well, me and Yuvi anyhow).

Then you dig deeper and discover that next, slightly more specialized tier of thought-leaders who are killing it in their space. They are well known and well respected by those who are passionate about the subject, but perhaps haven’t been at it as long or for one reason or another haven’t been discovered by humanity at large. Yet they offer up solid gold with every post. There are few who exemplify this in the productivity space (especially the Mac side of it) more than Eddie Smith of Practically Efficient.

Eddie has a simple, yet excellent goal. He wants to “reduce complexity to simplicity through a balance of creativity and practicality.” Like yours truly, he believes that the Mac is the venue through which this is most likely to happen and he creates a ton of actionable content to help you get there. Beyond the tips and tricks, Eddie spends a lot of time examining what it takes to be productive and has an exceptionally measured approach to what us mere mortals can and cannot do. He understands that perfection isn’t a likely reality. He also surrounds himself in excellent company and has turned me on to amazing folks like fellow 2×4 participant Yuvi Zalkow and mad genius Brett Terpstra.

Without any further ado, here is a look inside the creative and productive mind of Eddie Smith:

Creativity

Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?

I think that everyone is creative in their own way, so in that sense, yes. I enjoy the challenge of new problems and being the “buck stops here” guy. Solving difficult problems–whether in insurance and finance or from a personal productivity standpoint–is what really gets me going.

I especially like trying to find connections in places that others have overlooked. That’s what makes problem-solving work fun to me. Anyone who works in any field of knowledge should understand that we’re in a creative economy now. Most of the goods and services we make as knowledge workers are imaginary, so let your imagination run wild.

What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate toward to realize your creative goals?

I love finding things that help me get lost in work so that I’m not thinking in terms of work; I’m just doing. Listening to music, regularly changing scenery / work location, and using well-designed tools are all sure bets. It also helps to find interesting things to work on.

If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creations are you most proud of and why?

I wish I could give you a simple answer. I think of all the creative milestones I’ve passed, I would say that simply creating and regularly writing for my site, Practically Efficient, has been the most rewarding.

I view the whole thing as a single body of work. It’s made up of posts that in hindsight look embarrassingly awful to me, personal favorites with virtually no page views, and unexpected hits that resonated with thousands of people.

While it’s fun to get paid real money for my work as an actuary, the feeling of creating something that helps or affects thousands of people is gratifying on a much deeper level.

I also believe that investing time in things that don’t yield immediate, tangible compensation is healthy. It’s a useful contrarian mindset in a world that’s been trained to believe that everything should yield immediate gratification.

The friendships I’ve made through Practically Efficient and the possibilities it has unlocked for me in other areas of my life constitute a pretty healthy ROI for the time I’ve put in it.

Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative take to unlock their inner artist?

Do what you love, and don’t worry about how viral it becomes. Learn to find success in niches and overlooked places. Admire, but don’t be distracted by people who’ve had mainstream success.

Ignore anyone that gives you a template for success like “write every day” or “post a minimum of five times a week”. The less you attempt to mechanize and regiment your passions, the farther they’ll take you.

Productivity can only be driven by rules and money for short periods of time. It takes true passion to keep doing something.

Productivity

Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

I’m a father of the most awesome five-month-old boy in the world, and I’m married to the best woman a guy could ever hope for. I’m an actuary that works in and out of the corporate headquarters of a life insurance company, where I build and run ginormous models of asset and liability portfolios.

I instruct actuarial exam seminars with a company called The Infinite Actuary. I’m the chair of the Society of Actuaries Technology Section, and I do other volunteer work within my profession.

How do you go about balancing the personal, professional and digital?

OmniFocus–more generally, GTD–helps a lot. I have hundreds and hundreds of actions spread over my various projects. Being a parent has made me even more aware of the need to balance my personal and professional life.

I review everything in OmniFocus on a regular basis and make decisions about what’s most important right now. I’m not perfect at it, but family loves me, my employers and clients like me, and I like what I’m doing–so something is working.

What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?

It would be crazy to list every software tool that I touch over the course of a week, but honestly, I think the most important piece of hardware is my iPhone. I see it as the common bridge across all of my pursuits. Maybe that sounds melodramatic or fanboyish, but I think it’s impossible to overstate the value of a tool that works so well and keeps me connected to nearly every person and facet of my life that I care about.

What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us, who are looking to get more organized?

I’ve found that the only piece of general advice that makes sense is this: figure out a way to have fun being organized. Find a system that’s fun to use. I think people downplay the importance of having fun with anything related to work or being adult. That’s what this is really about anyway: being a grownup, being the boss in your life, and being responsible for yourself and your actions.

It doesn’t have to be a chore. When you evaluate a new system, try to figure out whether you’ll enjoy using it a year from now. Life is ridiculously short, so have fun in every aspect possible.

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2×4 With Geoff Livingston

2×4: One series that examines two topics, creativity and productivity, by asking those who make things on the web the same four questions on both subjects.

Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know today’s 2×4 guest, Geoff Livingston a little better. He is a man who looks to do good, looks to do more and encourages you to do the same. He believes in the tools that social media has to offer and believes that we should use them to make a difference.

He is straight forward, blunt even and has made an enemy or two along the way. Yet one thing becomes quickly clear when you start talking to Geoff. He believes what he says and says what he believes. He puts tremendous thought into how he spends his time and he clearly wants to make a difference.

Geoff is the co-founder of the non-profit social good marketing boutique Zoetica. He has already published two books on social marketing and ishard at work on a third with fellow 2×4 participant and all around amazing person Gini Dietrich.

Without further ado, here is an inside look at how and why Geoff Livingston does what he does….

Creativity

Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?

Since I was very young. I was in art talented until my parents pulled me when I was in 8th grade. They were concerned about my earning potential. I guess that was the equivalent of AP in the 80s for art, at least in my school district. I took up words or writing as my medium increasingly through High School, and was a Literature major in college.

What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate towards to realize your creative goals?

Clearly the written word, but also visual arts. If I had time to paint, I would take it up again. I’m sure I will later on. For now, photography satisfies that hunger, though I could stand to have a few more windows of time to shoot and edit. What’s good is that time is being absorbed by book writing, which is a dream of mine. I am lucky to have the chance to continue to write.

If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creation are you most proud of and why?

I wrote a novel in my senior year of college called The Fundamentalists. I picked it up again ten years later, and revised it significantly, basically rewriting the whole thing in depth. It came this close to being published, I had a small house nibbling on it. Novels are very, very hard to get published in the digital era. But by far that is my most proud creation.

And you know what? When I am done this book with Gini Dietrich, my third business book, I plan on taking a good long break, and then I will revise The Fundamentalists and get it published, either by a real house or by myself. I never give in when I set my eyes on something, even if it takes me 20 years like this project will.

My second business book is also something I am proud of, Welcome to the Fifth Estate1, especially now that the publisher fixed most of the damn typos (cough). The book was well reviewed, and really represents everything I know in social. It is my Art of War, and it is experience based. I am confident anyone who reads it will get something out of it, and that means something to me.

Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative take to unlock their inner artist?

Oooh, I don’t know. Private time is critical. Taking an hour or two just to breath and screw around is so critical. There’s a great book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron2. It’s very good for this type of thing.

Productivity

Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

Well, I am a Dad, and that is by far my most important responsibility. In any day, business or not, I invest 2-3 hours into my daughter’s life, bare minimum. I am not online when I spend time with her.

On the business front, I have been working on this big project called Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington.This is a giving day for the metropolitan DC region on November 9 that is expected to raise $3 million and encourage well over 10,000 civic actions. It’s really an awesome project, combining multiple disciplines and extending well beyond social into channels, traditional PR, events, advertising and direct marketing. Further, it is a bit of a test, seeing if the long tail model works for giving in major metro markets, and if so, the sky is the limit. Really, I feel like this project ties my past six years in social with the 12 yearsof prior marketing and communications experiences into a grand effort.

Otherwise, I am book writing again for my third published title, this time with the delightful Gini Dietrich. Oh, yeah, then there is the blogging and social media stuff, which admittedly has been treated like the shoemaker’s children of late.

How do you go about balancing the personal, professional and digital?

Increasingly, I balance it in that order, and let the digital slide. Personal must come first, and that’s the difference between healthy lives and myopic ones that can go astray.

Professionally, showing people how to fish is much better than fishing, and so professionally, I get more out of seeing clients succeed now. I don’t need to be the man deep inside. I am confident that by focusing on the few opportunities to invest in people, I will have more reach than I would if I were a top blogger. For example, the Inspiring Generosity blog that I helped launch three months ago got more traffic per post than my personal blog in August. It is change focused and not social media specific. That means more to me.

What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?

I hate email. I use an auto responder to excuse myself from responding to everyone. I know, some people hate it, but I hate wasting my time on something I feel is not important. And I am also a zero in box guy, so tons of email drives me nuts. I don’t respond to 99% of pitches, and don’t make myself very available for free anymore. If I get an ask for something that I feel is an unfair request, I don’t pull a Shankman, but I don’t respond at all even though I certainly read the request.

I also minimize my phone time, using that tool for important conversations. Same for meetings. The more you can do electronically the better.

This may seem anti-social, but in reality it’s more a prioritization. Again, I want to concentrate on a few opportunities as opposed to being accessible to all. In that sense, I have a B2B marketer’s focus, not a consumer one. I invest time on the opportunities that are most fulfilling or can affect the most beneficial change for society.

What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us, who are looking to get more organized?

Understand what you want, and then go get it. Don’t get distracted. When we chase windmills for weeks on end, it can be disheartening to look back and see that we are nowhere. But when we have goals, and are disciplined about staying on task, dreams come true.

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  1. If you’re smart enough to buy this book, any funds from the affiliate link used will go towards some good deed of Geoff’s in the future.  

  2. This one too…