A Restatement of Purpose

A Restatement of Purpose

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!


  1. Tom Miller 11 years ago

    Hi David,

    I completely understand what you are saying at a gut level. I too have faced, and still am facing, many of the issues that you describe. As an introvert at the core, I can relate to the internal challenges to making the necessary changes as well as the obstacles to following through with product concepts and actually releasing them.

    I have been in a preparation mode this past year with plans for execution this coming year. I appreciate the work that you share and am encouraged by the points you make in this article. Lastly, I can honestly say that your Printable CEO products have given me a serious jump in making the necessary changes to my fundamental work and organizational habits which have laid the foundation for success in the coming year and beyond.

    Thanks again, David, and keep it up!

    • Tom Miller 11 years ago

      it looks like I need to brush up on my markdown skills ;-) my apologies for the obnoxious link…

  2. Elise 11 years ago

    You’re one of the most thoughtful people I know. It must get exhausting at times. Glad that you have a new wave of insights.

    Proud to be your friend!


  3. Mark J. Reeves 11 years ago

    Glad I recommended The Introvert Advantage to you :)

    I’ve felt more relaxed as well, embracing it, and pacing myself.

    • Author
      Dave Seah 11 years ago

      Yep, I blanked on who recommended it to me, but let it be known it was Mark J. Reeves!!! :)

    • Roy Francis 11 years ago

      Don’t forget my http://davidseah.com/2010/10/the-mutual-exclusivity-of-wanting-versus-doing nod.

      Interesting, isn’t it, how she breaks out introversion as not being a personal failing? Takes a lot of the weight off not having to look at the intoversion behavior traits as limitations but instead as oportunities!

  4. Sacha Chua 11 years ago

    I hear ya! =) One of the things that worked for me was to switch from thinking of it as selling myself to thinking of it as helping people figure out how I could help them. You don’t have to be in the spotlight. You can put your work and your vision in the spotlight. In fact, you can go beyond that by focusing the spotlight on other people and the possibilities you can help them achieve. I’ve put together some tips on being a shy connector that other introverts seem to have liked. Might prompt some thoughts! =)

    (… and rock on with the Printable CEO sheets, which are cool!)

  5. Amanda Pingel 11 years ago

    Hey, Dave:

    I read something recently that says that introverts actually aren’t a significant minority – we’re actually almost 50% of the population. It’s just that all the people who get press time, who call attention to themselves, who speak up in meetings and conferences, and who are quick to say “You’re doing it wrong!” if you don’t do it their way… Are all extroverts. So they get over-counted.

    Have you read First, Break All the Rules? They talk about what makes a great accountant, which turns out to be: when the checkbook balances, they get a little shot of dopamine. Balancing accounts makes them happy, so they slog through a lot of s*** to get that reward. So maybe you need to find jobs that are their own positive reinforcement.

  6. Author
    Dave Seah 11 years ago

    Elise: You are one of my most thoughtful friends too! :-)

    Sacha: Thanks for the words of advice! Interesting website you have going on there, too! I’ll certainly poke around.

    Amanda: After you mentioned this, I went to look for supporting statistics. I found this thread on the typelogic BBS, which seems to corroborate what you’re saying. It makes sense there’s a rough continuum in the general population. In the MBTI stuff, there’s degrees of I and E, though, so it makes sense that for people that are MOSTLY introverted and possessed of introverted traits, they are very well in the minority. That isn’t what I originally claimed, but it is probably a better definition. But you’re right that the extroverts tend to speak out first, because the introverts are still processing.

    I actually have read First, Break All the Rules; I may have to revisit it. An interesting thing about the Introvert Advantage book is that it suggests that the major neurotransmission chemical for introverts is not dopamine, but something else entirely. I’ll have to look it up.

  7. Cameron Plommer 11 years ago


    I just discovered your blog and am very impressed with your insightfulness and realness. I’ve found your resources page a gold mine and will be looking forward to future posts!


  8. seuss 11 years ago

    Find myself in many of these same conundrums. Seems I may need to check out this introvert advantage book as well.

    Always wondered why u didn’t put out more instructional videos on your forms, because I think they’d be great and you’d be great at it. Every time I think about it, the simple genius of Sal Khan’s work (khanacademy.org) comes to mind. Familiar with Sal’s story?

  9. Sally J. 11 years ago

    Dave, I found you thanks to the awesomely awesome Colleen L’Communicatrix. Your thoughts about introversion and goal setting are fascinating.

    My favorite introvert book is by psychologist (and introvert) Laurie Helgoe. It’s called Introvert Power. Laurie claims that introverts actually outnumber extroverts. One memorable passage in the book was a Brit who complained that in America “you can’t tell which people are the introverts!” because we all act like extroverts.

    Here’s a link to an interview with the author from Psychology Today.

    Rock on with your bad self, -Sally J.