Tag Archives: Gabe Weatherhead

The Best Reason To Quit

Who is this for? Those who have a difficult time deciding when to stick something out and when to quit.

Gabe Weatherhead:

[T]o me, quitting always means that I’ve found some structure and priority where previously there was a lack. I don’t quit so I can start something new. I quit things when I remember what I want my life to be about.

Like Gabe, I’ve always struggled with the phrase “saying no to one thing is saying yes to something else.” Easily some of the best thoughts I’ve read on quitting since Godin’s The Dip.

If you’re considering quitting, be it a job or a project, read this first. If you’re not considering quitting anything, read this anyway. It’s Gabe at his best.

Do You Feel Stuck In Your GTD System?

Who is this for? Those who are considering reworking or rebooting their personal productivity system.

From Erik Hess on Generational podcast:

If you’re stuck in a system, you have to get used to working within the limitations of that system.

This was a great conversation on considering and reconsidering your GTD system. The only addition I’d make to Erik’s point is that you also have to get used to the limitations of whatever system you create for yourself.

A perfect system is an unlikely goal. If you’re seriously reassessing or refactoring the way you work, focus on making things better. Some aspects of the way you work will continue to be imperfect. Embrace that reality, determine how to work through the rough spots and get back to work.

And if what you end up creating sounds “wrong” to others… well, then just heed the wise words of Gabe Weatherhead from the same episode:

Whatever’s working for you, keep doing that thing.

Be sure to give the full episode a listen.

Be Direct in Email

Who is this for? Those who feel that their email messages are not received clearly or do not yield the desired response (or any response at all).

From Gabe Weatherhead of Macdrifter:

Email is a necessary evil of the modern world. It’s the best self documenting collaboration tool I’ve used. But there are no rules or guidelines and it’s easy to make a mess of things.

We focus so much of our energy trying to figure out how to better manage our email. We spend too little determining better ways to communicate our needs.

Here are some direct suggestions from Gabe on writing a short clear message that’s likely yield a short clear answer. Not only will it make you a far more enjoyable person to receive email from, it’s should lead to far less email that needs to be managed.

The Best Way To Learn Markdown

David Sparks has launched the latest MacSparky Field Guide. This time he is tackling the subject of Markdown along with Eddie Smith of Practically Efficient.

If you write for the web, you should learn to write in Markdown. It makes it easy to format your work to be converted to HTML for posting to the web. It also allows you to save your files as plain text, ensuring that they are essentially future proof. If you plan to learn Markdown, this is the way to do it.

Markdown itself is very easy to learn and use, yet it isn’t intuitive to decide how best to integrate it into your writing workflows. In this guide David and Eddie show you many of the possibilities that come from using Markdown. They also provide enough of a point of view that you won’t get lost in the possibilities.

The book itself is a blend of text, audio and video. It will help you get your head around the basics, gives you glance at some of the geeky goodness you can accomplish and tells you how some of the smartest people I know are using it to accomplish their work.

As with Paperless and 60 Tips (the two previous books in the series) Markdown is well written, easy to understand and the videos are well done. This time around David also added audio interviews to the mix. While they test the limitations of the iBooks format (I’d occasionally accidentally swipe or rotate the screen, both of which stop the audio. The screen would also time out during longer conversations) the audio interviews with Merlin Mann, Fletcher Penney, Brett Terpstra, Federico Vittici and Gabe Weatherhead are worth the cost of admission alone. As I listened, I found myself wondering if we will see audiobooks under the title MacSparky Field Interviews in the future (this is purely wishful thinking).

Bottom line, if you haven’t taken the time to learn Markdown or aren’t entirely comfortable with it yet, do yourself a favor and buy this book.

Note: David was kind enough to send me an advanced copy. I also used an affiliate link, because I’m shameless. That said, this really is a great book. It’s one that I will be gifting out regularly to anyone I know still using Microsoft Word.

Evernote and Editing

I love it when smart friends make cool things. This week there are two new projects that I believe to be worth your time.

Evernote Essentials – The Definitive Guide To Getting Started With Evernote

I’ve always said that I use Evernote “wrong”. To me, it’s mostly a very smart filing cabinet. To many, it’s much, much more. While I may only chose to use aspects of it, Evernote is a powerful tool, especially when you know how to wield it.

Evernote Essentials 3.0: If you’re looking to get more out of Evernote (or want to use aspects of it better), you want Brett’s comprehensive guide . As I said yesterday, you can’t buy a workflow, but that you should look to those who make the most out of applications and learn from them. When it comes to better ways to do better work in general, there are few more sensible than Brett Kelly. When it comes to doing more with Evernote, there’s no one better. If you’ve been looking for a way to get more out of the app or aren’t quite sure where to get started, you’ll want to check out the latest version of Evernote Essentials. And since Brett is crazy, if you buy Evernote Essentials once, you get free updates, forever.

CriticMarkup – Plain Text Change Tracking

I love writing in plain text. I love the simplicity of it and the fact that I know that years from now, I will have little to no compatibility issues with the words I create. I love Markdown for the ability to format my documents in a way that make it easy to post my thoughts to the web. What I don’t love is the need to take my beloved plain text and place it inside of an application like Microsoft Word whenever I need to collaborate with others on edits. As my writing grows, the need for feedback from others grows along with it.

CriticMarkup: To date, the best way to do this is to take something that is future proofed and move it into an application that isn’t. Fortunately there are smart people like Gabe Weatherhead and Erik Hess who are hard at work on the problem. Much like Markdown looked to make it easy to format plain text for the web, their newly released CriticMarkup looks to make it possible to use plain text for change tracking. Gabe and Erik are doing it right. They have released tools for apps like BBEdit, Sublime Text, they’ve created macros and snippets for Keyboard Maestro and TextExpander, they’ve also created OS X System Services and a Command Line Preprocessor (although I’ll admit, I have no idea what that last one is). This is early days, but I can see this being highly useful for those of us who use plain text, especially as the syntax is finalized and integrated into applications. It’s worth a look, even if just to see the polish and thought that Gabe and Erik put into their projects (you may remember that they also created NerdQuery.com).

Both of these are great projects being created by great guys. If you’re looking to do more with Evernote, check out the latest version of Evernote Essentials. If you’ve been trying to figure out how to collaborate on text outside of Microsoft Word (and if you aren’t, please do), take a look at CriticMarkup. It’s worth it if only to support guys like Brett, Gabe and Erik, who create useful things for those of looking to do better work.

Note: This post includes affiliate links, because I’m shameless and stuff…

You Can’t Buy A Workflow

Ok, you totally can, but you can’t buy it all at once. You can’t have someone tell you all of the “right” apps to buy, go on a shopping spree and expect that your world is going to be any better for the experience.

Like anything worthwhile in life, a workflow that helps you do your best work is discovered, not merely purchased. A solid foundation is built not bought.

All too often, we expect our wallet and our technology to solve our problems. They can help a lot, but dramatically upping your game doesn’t come in a box, it doesn’t come in a device and, much as I hate to admit it, it doesn’t come in an app.

If you’re struggling to find something that works, stop looking for an all-in-one solution. Go one challenge at a time, examine the solutions and find an option that seems like it fits with the way you like to work while ensuring it plays well with other applications. The best approach that I’ve found is slowly adding in applications that focus on a few key areas of your workflow (i.e. OmniFocus for tasks, Fantastical for calendaring, Evernote for reference materials, Gmail and Mailplane for communication), learning as much as you can about them and attempting to blend them all into a holistic approach that is optimized around the way you do your best work.

You can and should look at what others are doing, just know that what works for them will probably not work for you, at least in its entirety. There may be aspects of what they do that fit, but chances are you won’t just be able to take what works for someone else and apply it to yourself. Most, if not all of my workflow is “stolen” from others like David Sparks, Merlin Mann, Gabe Weatherhead, Brett Terpstra and more. In fact the only parts of my own workflow that are original are the connections I’ve made between their best practices.

I wish there was a fast and easy way to apply a workflow to your life. I wish there was a silver bullet, but truth be told, once I really put my head down and started figuring out the best way to do my best work, it took far less time than jumping from one person or company’s all-encompassing solution to another.

How have you gone about creating your own workflow?

Expertise Does Not Have Units

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Gabe Weatherhead of Macdrifter. I’m an unabashed fan. Not only is Gabe an all-around nice guy, he’s wicked smart and is very generous with his time (read: he puts up with far too many of my annoying emails). Gabe is a creator, a maker of things. He has an annoying habit of turning his ideas into a reality. He leads by example, and it’s an example I strive (yet struggle) to follow.

We measure length in feet[1], weight in pounds, time in seconds and expertise in failure. The problem with becoming an expert is that often there’s no beginning and no end. Worse, there’s no measure we can use to perceive our progress. This is my attempt at a retrospective measurement of my journey.

What does a ten-year-old know about success? Well, if you were an uncoordinated oaf that had been repeatedly placed in special education programs by lazy teachers, you believed success was synonymous with respect. You believed that there was a magical point in your awkward progression where the world would take you seriously and believe in you. You knew nothing about success.

I began studying chemistry in the 5th grade. I read science books that I brought home from the library and idolized the scientist mythos in popular culture. I wanted to be an old gray man with wild hair that alternated between a tweed blazer and a lab coat. So I started a methodical progression toward becoming a “scientist”.

Over the years, chemistry became an escape for me. It was a topic that supplied an endless stream of ideas and small joys. I could play with thought experiments in my head as easily as normal people carry a tune. While I loved chemistry I never felt like a chemist. To me a chemist was still that gray old man in a lab coat shouting “Eureka!” and scribbling on a blackboard. So I continued on.

I proceeded through college throwing myself into the lab and plowing headfirst into graduate level coursework. I was no genius. I often floundered and struggled to keep my head above water. But I was single minded. I needed to become an organic chemist.[2] I completed every graduate level organic chemistry course with top grades by the end of my senior year (but nearly missed graduation by not completing humanities coursework). I didn’t attend a single party and spent every holiday in the lab, but that was OK because I was almost a chemist.

By my measure, I was half-way to my goal. I was 20 years old and knew more organic chemistry than I had ever imagined. I knew enough to get a job doing chemistry for a paycheck. My days were work and my nights were books. I focused on the small bits that are often left as floor shavings when a boy is turned into a college graduate. Half of every pay check was reinvested into chemistry textbooks and half of every day was reinvested into becoming an expert. Four years of work and study saw me off to graduate school and I was almost a chemist.

Now at this point, most reasonable humans would consider that I had reached some significant plateau. However, organic chemistry is a deep and subtle science, chock full of history and anachronistic legacy. We speak in combinations of English, German, French and Polish. We name things after old dead men who ceased being mortal and became gods. We prize minutia and celebrate knowledge of the obscure. At 25, I was ignorant and absurd and still not quite a chemist.

Graduate school was a playground full of the hardest problems I had ever faced. I was consumed by becoming an expert and the world around me disintegrated. I emerged six years later with another degree, far less hair, and a keen mastery of organic chemistry. I overshot my goal.

Sometimes, the problem with achieving a goal set for you by a ten-year-old is that you have no idea what to do at the finish line. The world changed and I missed it. I was an expert and I was tired and bored. For me, the sweet spot of expertise hovered around the 70% mark. Being an expert is boring. While there’s always more to learn and new problems to solve, nothing is so thrilling as problems that make me fail. The moments when I struggled the most were the moments when I was scientist. I was at my best when comprehension was just out of reach.

Expertise is a funny thing. There’s no way to measure our progress towards obtaining it, yet we always feel far from our goal. When I did finally feel like an expert it hardly felt valuable enough to hold on to. I only learned afterward that expertise is not a destination but a vehicle. It’s the golden ring that makes us jump higher and reach further. In the end, it’s just a ring.

I can’t blame that little boy though. How could he know that he was already a scientist?

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  1. Sorry world. I’m an American. We use logical measurement standards like the appendage of a long dead ordinary human from the Roman empire.  ↩

  2. Organic chemistry is the study of carbon-based chemistry, not an aisle in Whole Foods.  ↩