A Restatement of Purpose

POSTED Tue Dec.07.2010 by Dave Seah UNDER Productivity TAGGED

Hello world! I’ve been sick for the past three weeks, having succumbed to either closet dust on my winter clothing (which tends to trigger bronchitis) or a pastry that I saw a little kid touch moments before I ingested it; I shall not underestimate the power of child-incubated germs in the future.

Anyway, it’s been quite some time since I’ve been this sick, and I’ve had to slow waaaay down. The silver lining is that it’s become a time of reflection. I documented most of this in The Google Wave with Colleen™, which sort of works like a text-adventure version of a magic mirror. A lot of what’s on my mind is related to stepping up my game to dig myself out of this plateau I feel I’m in. 2010 is almost over, and this was the year I had hoped to be more independent financially than before. I’d say I’m about halfway there, in terms of figuring out what works, but it’s been slow going as far as making it work.


There are two general strategies that seem to be paying off.

  • Being Involved with Other People’s Projects – As much as I’d like to be completely self-motivated with my own projects, I find that it’s other people’s projects that help keep the momentum. It’s the strategy of productive osmosis: by being around people who are doing things, I tend to want to do things too. The bonus is that it also satisfies the need for socializing.

  • Embracing Introversion – I’ve been skimming The Introvert Advantage, which has given me a more detailed understanding of the difference between “introversion” and “extroversion” than I had before. It turns out that quite a lot of what I’ve written about regarding motivation to be more productive can be tied to introverted tendencies. For example, I’ve described how I tend to imagine how much work goes into a project before I start it, which can itself be highly demotivating…this is a common introvert trait, according to author (and introverted practicing psychologist) Marti Lany. My recent post about needing to rest for 4 hours for every 1 hour of outside interaction? Also an introvert trait! There’s an intriguing chapter in the book that describes the difference between the neurological pathways in introverts and extroverts, which offers a theory for why our energy needs are so different. And it’s encouraging to be reminded that introverts are in the minority, so it is up to us to remember that our way of doing things is not wrong…it just seems that way. Result: I’m more relaxed about relaxing my pace. And, I know that the challenges I face to be more productive are faced by a lot more people than just me.

What it all boils down to, though, is to maintain some kind of pacing to produce tangible and sharable results. This is the golden key to any productivity system. The second key is to be able to frame results in the context of goals, and that’s been the real trick for me. Ideally, I should feel some passion for my goals, which helps ensure that I can self-actualize myself into action. Lacking this, I have to work with three other mechanisms that help move goals along are external motivation (difficult to come by for single freelancers), inspiration (which imparts burst energy to get something done) and positive feedback (a reaction that triggers that ‘do it again’ response). Instead of passion for a particular craft or activity, I have a passion for principles. This is perhaps the best I can do: to be an author and to be independent.

In my case, I think these principles can be met by becoming an independent producer of original content, so I can pursue my interests and live off what I can make. The set of relevant goals to build the best website I can and produce copiously. This set of goals, however, is at odds with what I actually do to make a living as a designer and developer: communication design, interactive design, and creative technology advisor. These are all service-oriented offerings, and it’s not the same as making my own products or selling my own content. In that sense, they are a distraction except this is how I make money.

In the past, I’ve felt that working on these projects have taken away from the time I could be spending developing original content. I’m pretty sure this is a common complaint for every creative person who dreams of making something really cool: there’s always something else that comes first, is more important, or more pressing. And we don’t always have the energy either, after a full day’s work, to start a new project. So what’s the solution? Is there some way of converting that service work into original content?

I think there is, and it’s kind of risky: make the service work into content! In other words, blog about my project work with clients, in realtime. The reason it’s risky is that this just isn’t done. Client work is usually private and secretive for good reason. Vendor relationships, trade secrets, market advantages…these all are threatened by the possibility of public discussion. I would imagine that most of my corporate work would have to remain secret, but it would be interesting to see if there are any companies that would welcome it. As it is, I already write the equivalent of an entire topical blog for every project; this helps me maintain continuity of thought, and I think clients like to feel they can see how the thought process works. The only difference is that instead of keeping it all in a private Basecamp project area, I’d post it somewhere here.

Defining Multiple Goal Posts

My friend Gary was showing me his “week that was” planning system. It basically is a list of columns, each representing a major project area in his life, in which he writes down what he needs to be done during the week. It’s sort of like a to-do list that’s been broken up into several vertically-integrated strategic segments. Mine would probably be the following:

  • Build a Great Blog – Actions here include any improvements to navigation and organization, writing more content, writing more relevant content, writing with more focus, and writing in a more entertaining manner. I’ve been kind of lazy about the whole writing thing lately, but having finally looked-through John Gruber’s tightly-written Daring Fireball website, I can see there’s a whole level that I’m just missing.

  • Make Great Tools for the Public – I’ve already built a collection of interesting freebies for the Internet, but there’s a lot more I could be doing. I haven’t been so good at following through with some of the more complex software projects, for example. Any release at all in this vertical segment is a good thing. The major pieces that are missing, in my opinion, are instructional materials and related how-to guides; taking the various forms I make from the experimental “hey check out this thing I made” stage all the way to “here’s a step-by-step guide to how you use this to do X” would go a long way toward helping adoption of the tools. And this happens to lead into the next vertical…

  • Sell Great Products – I’ve dabbled with product creation with the Emergent Task Planner pads, and I know it can generate a small but consistent profit. Why aren’t I making more products? I have several half-finished ones in the loop, but creating those packages is something that I’ve felt motivated to do. Why? I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s because commerce is so confusing, but having recently had a chance to preview Joshua Permuda’s upcoming The Personal MBA Book, I’m actually excited about putting the pieces together. Joshua’s book breaks the business concepts down into principles that are friendly to synthesists like myself.

  • Sharpen the Dave Seah Brand – I still have trouble telling people hat I do and what I can do for them. Partly this is because I don’t talk about it a lot; I’m kind of a secret weapon in the hands of the few people who know me from my past life as a highly-technical visual designer / visually-intuitive developer with off-the-charts emotional intelligence. And even with the more public stuff I’ve done with regards to The Printable CEO, I don’t make it easy to figure out that it’s becoming more and more comprehensive with every new form and suggestion. The better I can tell my story and attract like-minded people into a greater network where we can mutually benefit, the better. That means getting over my natural propensity to avoid the spotlight (yes, another introvert trait).

  • Take Care of Myself – Sundry things like health, household, and making the decision to not overextend myself. Introvert care!

By making sure that what I’m doing from moment-to-moment fits into one of these verticals, I will know that I’m doing the right thing as far as working toward my desired state-of-being. This reminds me of my first form, the Concrete Goals Tracker, which was designed to deal with more specific achievement within a focused area of endeavor. The original CGT was designed to help me focus on doing what mattered in my freelance business; I could see making a CGT for each of these vertical segments.

In Summary

It’s important to remind myself that my work may get worse before it gets better. For example, making a “better blog” means making some changes, and I’m not sure all of them will be good. The first change off the bat is to just start writing more varied material and see what sticks, an approach that I used when I first started blogging back in 2005 but discarded when the broad patterns became more clear, and found myself niched into “personal development”. If I can find a way to write on broad topics but remain topically interesting to a broad audience, that would rock. I’ve avoided this because I was, as introverts tend to be, worried I’d mess everything up because I didn’t know exactly what would happen. I think now, I will embrace the change and see where it goes. I may lose audience in the short term, but I think ultimately I’ll find the right one for me.

So here goes!

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