Processing the Processing

Processing the Processing

Last Friday I rebuilt my big picture list of tasks. It doesn’t look as daunting as I expected in terms of size, but it is daunting in scope. How do I chip away at it?


I think the scariest part about the list is that it’s a big list, filled with unknown difficulties. All I know is that they’re MY difficulties, and that I will be JUDGED on them. Types of judgment:

  • is it good work?
  • do my clients like the work?
  • am I good at what I do?
  • do I know how to do it well?
  • am I, Dave Seah, diminished or raised by the work?

This usually just manifests as a feeling of dread; I doubt that most of us really look into the dread to name the specific fears. Ignorance is bliss, of an uneasy and tentative nature. Which isn’t bliss at all.

Practiced artists that to get beyond this phase, you’ve got to put the work in. There are no neat answers at this stage of the game, no guarantees of success or safety nets to catch us when we trip after the first step. Practiced practitioners know that this is the way it is, and learn to deal with it.

I have two possibilities of action.

  1. Pick something, and start working on it. Give myself time to try things and fail. Use time blocking. Trust that my brain will see a solution.
  2. Evaluate everything, refine the list, and then pick the BEST thing to work on.

Number 2 is appealing to me right now; I’m thinking that this is something I haven’t formalized as a process. This is a second-pass big picture pass. I’m going to call it “name that fear”.

Breaking it down

I’m going to go through every line of the Big Picture diagram from Friday, and write down how I feel about them. I’m hoping some patterns come out of it.

After going through the whole list, I’ll bold the phrases that I think are critical fears or concerns.


  • ETP licensing means coming up with a timely package and set of terms for something that I don’t feel entirely ready to offer. I also am feeling swamped with other work. To get this out of the way, I need to spend an hour creating a framework for licensing the work. I feel this is expanding my to-do list in a way I don’t want.
  • A get-to-know session. Again, I am feeling pressed for time and it feels like one of those “could be cool” things that ends up making more work for me.


  • Some projects just require a bit of time assigned to them. SOmetimes, though, I have the sense that there are behind-the-scenes thigns that I need to address as well. And I don’t know what to really expect. I should trust myself to work through it.
  • Some work is favor work designed to keep the community moving. However, since it is unrelated to my line of work, fuzzy as it is, it feels kind of like a trap I don’t want to engage. The financial incentive is low, also, but I don’t feel I can charge a price to make it worthwhile because it is not my expertise. This might be wrong thinking on my part, but I’m not happy if I don’t deliver satisfaction. Charging for time that does not lead to satisfaction is difficult for me. It is sort of a catch-22.
  • For some projects, the ongoing concern I have is that the end state isn’t very clear, so it feels like an endless project for a limited budget.
  • Some projects I look forward to, because there are no concerns when the deliverable is pure strategic thinking, which I am confident in delivering.
  • Some projects stall, which might be part of a larger pattern I’ve been seeing. A project can be interesting, but they may be bandwidth starved. This puts me into waiting mode, which demands a small trickle of my attention with no hint of when the reward of completion will occur. It is otherwise an interesting project, conceptually.

The overall patterns I’m seeing:

  • I’m most confident about my strategic thinking / writing offerings. I know how long it takes me to break down most challenges, and I can produce a quality product quickly.
  • Projects that require client approval of the work are the ones that feel most fraught with peril, because it’s based on what the client “likes”.
  • As I tend to be eager to please, predicating the completion of a project based purely on client happiness introduces uncertainty into project times. Flipping the relationship around to doing what I like and think is appropriate would be more appropriate. That’s not being egotistical…if someone hires me for work, I should probably presume that there’s something that I already do that is at the heart of their rationale.
  • Projects with low payoff, in the face of more pressing matters, tend to get delayed. The would-be-nices, favors, etc.


  • Some clients are enthusiastic, but disappear or stop replying to my bi-weekly status check emails. Not really an issue when there is no outstanding invoice. Probable reason for dormancy: other more pressing business came up, and cashflow is king. I get cut out of the loop.
  • Sometimes clients just are very very busy, and our project is more of a speculative “would be cool” process/product development opportunity. These tend not to move, unless I push.
  • I wonder sometimes if some clients look to me to indicate availability or take command. This happens with clients who signal interest in starting, but never initiates. I expect the clients to tell me when they’re ready, generally.
  • Some clients are very busy working one enterprise while developing a new creative property, and we keep in touch even though we haven’t really figured out how best to work together yet.

Overall, the pattern I’m seeing is that dormant projects have the following characteristics:

  • These projects tend to be based on speculative process improvement. Therefore they have low priority to the client, and I am put into a holding pattern, because the benefits are not immediate. I face the same problem.
  • Some clients may actually need or expect firmer project management. I haven’t been offering it because I don’t want to be an outsourced project manager even at double the rate. Triple the rate might be worthwhile, but it would be a bad deal for the client.
  • I may need to institute additional fees for projects that linger, or pre-sell a block of time that expires if it isn’t used. People are more loss-averse than gain-oriented.
  • I don’t like bothering people. And I especially find it hard to email people who aren’t interested in working with me. But perhaps I should bother people more.


  • This collaboration has no contract associated with it, so it falls really under the “dormant client” category. I expect that this collaboration won’t move forward without significant input from me. It’s starved for multiple creative inputs to help drive it forward. But for me to provide that level of creative input, I want to see something come back periodically. Anyway, it’s up to them, as it is their project.
  • This is a contact I made a while ago, but haven’t followed up on because it’s outside of the area I want to be in as a creator. So it feels like a distraction. On the other hand, it would be income and the opportunity to meet new people. This is an activity that, unless I know the specifics of money and the individuals involved, has low value with me, so I tend not to prioritize it.
  • This project is sort of backburnered but at least we keep talking ourselves forward.
  • This project requires me to review a design document and write a collaboration brief. It is more than I have energy to do, at this moment.

Overall patterns I’m seeing:

  • I seem to require visible input from collaborators for me to produce input. I have a low expectation that this happens. The people on this list, however, are the ones who have been most consistent in follow through (maintaining position on the list) or are new contacts.
  • I am taking on new project opportunities when I should be saying no, because I am overbooked with them. I tend to say yes to anything that sounds interesting, so long as the collaborator can work independently. And I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that for a project to work for me, I have to be pushing on it consistently and seeing results come back from the collaborator. It probably is very unsatisfying as well for the collaborator to wait for my feedback.


  • I’ve had a few products sent to me for review.
  • The holdup on these is either photography (I take my own pictures) and a lack of process to efficiently write and review them.
  • The total time per review is probably 4-6 hours. It’s a big chunk of time, for nothing in return except for the product.

Overall thought: I see the chunk of time requires to create a great review as being large, and I always delay it because it’s just not that pressing. While I love reviewing gear, it probably isn’t a significant draw on my website.

I may need to reconsider the role of these.


  • Several people have submitted translations for the ETP.
  • The process of cutting/pasting these languages and then posting them online takes a big chunk of time. Around 3-4 hours, especially when the translations are too long.
  • There is no immediate feedback when I get these.

Overall thought: it’s a lot of work that benefits people, but I don’t often get any feedback for them, so the motivation to do it is not often there. However, I should recognize that this helps build up what I’m doing internationally. It’s a chore, but one that pays off in more opportunity.


  • It would be nice to do these to be nice, but it takes a couple hours to dig up the piece, set up a photography rig, process the images, and mail them. Just to be nice. It’s worth doing this, of course, every once in a while. But I am again feeling swamped.


  • 2012 calendars are kind of a pain to do. It’s a couple hours of work to write the article and make a new image. More time if I need to create alternative versions, and look for new incoming links.
  • Canadian Fulfillment – Like many physical business processes, there are no easy solutions. It will cost me time and money to do, for maybe 50 bucks of profit. The better way to think of this is learning how to manage a mail-based business, but that’s not what I really want to do with my life. On the other hand, making a turn-key business that brings me revenue is not a bad idea.
  • Print Products – I have to pick them, and I don’t have them ready. The big fear here is uncertainty as to what to pick, and then the uncertainty of recovering cost through sales. This is probably 30 minutes of planning plus 4 hours of execution, though. I also am wondering if I should just set up my ecommerce solution and swing with it.
  • 7 day planner – Mostly an uncertain layout idea. I am thinking it will be tough to squeeze the 7 days into one sheet in a usable form. But it would be something new.
  • Note Taker ETP – New electronic download. I’m not doing it because…it’s a context switch, and I don’t know where I should sell it.
  • NON-Encouraging ETP – Sort of a power-user version of it, without the prompts.
  • Mini ETP Notebooks – I have the designs ready, but lack the capital to launch it. So it sits.
  • Moleskine Notebook ETP – This is related to Mini-ETP notebooks. I should move on making these with the bindery I can work with.
  • Post-IT ETPs – in progress!
  • Attitude Guide Notes – Breaking this into two sections is a good idea, and creates a possible information product. It’s just sitting down and doing it. No good reason not to do it, except worrying about brand image consistency. Which I don’t have.
  • Translation Guides for TOU, ETC. To expand the international aspect of my tools. It shouldn’t take too long, actually. Maybe 30 minutes per guide, if I use the ETP one as a starting point.


The rainmaker is a form that I think has limited utility, but redesigned and packaged well, it might actually work. I keep thinking that the ELECTRONIC version I have in mind will be better, so I keep NOT working on the paper one.

Electronic Tools is kind of the creative block right now…I think I should finish that first, but I am not really enjoying the process.


  • Book reviews: I keep intending to do more of them. But they can wait. I’m actually blocked on the photography part; I need to build a better tabletop set to take the pictures.
  • Gear reviews: Photographic style and setup. Also, writing the reviews. I should establish a review pattern. Would take 15 minutes.
  • GHDRR – coming up soon! It’s a 4-hour commitment. Sigh.


The WebApp is the big attention sucker right now. I’m pushing forward on it, though process is slow.

There are areas that I’m making up new process to get things done, based on my current understanding of what motivates me and captures my attention.

I’ve accepted it’s slow, and that I am not going to see the rewards right away. But toee the rewards, I have to do the chores. The chores bring me further up the road enough to see how things MIGHT go, or to see opportunities where I can apply my new found experiences to create new opportunity.

There is an awful lot of opportunity work that I do. Maybe I should cut back on it.


New business cards. What should the new design be? It depends on my focus for 2012. I have to pick something and go with it, but I’m worried about inadvertently pigeonholing myself in a certain area.

As for better form ads, that’s related to better photography, and also new layout. The layout has been established, somewhat, by the work I’ve been doing on baseline grids. The copy is a hold-up, because I hate making claims that are not universally true. But I have an angle on copywriting that I think will work: PLAINSPEAK.


  • ArtWalk – That’s over! I attended 2 days of it at Sid’s studio. No reason other than to provide some support and see some artists. This is the third one I’ve been to.
  • The Tiny School – Talked to more people about it. It’s something I have to get going. It will be the center of my public effort.
  • Barcamp Manchester – Kelley and Ian run it well, so I don’t worry about it. But I may be doing a session. Also should do promotion.
  • Tweetup – Just wondering if they’re still going on.
  • NONAZON Magazine – This is related to the advertising pages, and creating good and fast web page layouts. It’s a matter of getting my ass moving on this. So PAGE DESIGN is a major push I need to go with.
  • Nashua Mapping – This is good future content for community-based activities. I should finish it, but it’s a low priority

Overall patterns: Page Design for Web Layout is at the heart of several projects. I need to push on that.


  • Renew SSL – Yeah, duh. But since I don’t use it much, it hasn’t been a priority. Plus technically, setting it up is a bit confusing because its poorly documented.
  • WP-Ecommerce – This is a plugin. E-commerce gateways and shopping carts give me the willies. But I have to push through this. It’ll take a bunch of hours.
  • New Baseline theme – This is that ad layout thing.

Overall thoughts: This is “learn how it works” activity in the form of a chore. I’m not interested in how any of these stuff works, but I have to learn it. So, suck it up and put in the time.


  • Compile LLC Guide – Setting up a business and knowing what you’re on the hook for as a business is not well described. I should mput together a guide so I know what is what.
  • Complete Inventory – This is reviewing my existing website and figuring out how to do something with it that’s profitable or has some other kind of return.
  • Develop Associates Rolodex – I am constantly starved for quality people to outsource to. I should set up a job seminar and find some people.

Overall thoughts: Again, putting the time in and LEARNING how stuff works, or FILTERING lots of people to find the one or two gems I need. Tedious-feeling work.

Reviewing Patterns

After scanning through the bolded words, I came up with this list:


  • Creating Packages that are complete, and reflect well on me by being excellent.
  • Creating Processes that Handle Problems, so I don’t have to come up with them again.
  • Improved creative templates and content production efficiency
  • Writing plainly about myself and my products without feeling like an ass
  • Communicating the essence of my public efforts, locally and internationally


  • Recognize the feeling of being swamped with work, not sure what to do first to alleviate the pressure, knowing there is no easy or responsible way to get around it, leading to procrastination or dip in morale.
  • Re-focus on the core activities, find ways to remove non-core activities. That can just be stuff you don’t have to do right now.
  • If taking on opportunities as a distraction from doing the work, start saying NO and move some to dormant list.
  • Being confident that picking SOMETHING to work on, and doing it every day, will lead to complete projects.
  • No completed project is too small.
  • Managing uncertainty of result timetable and quality by recognizing it’s a process.


  • Open-Ended/Dormant Projects
  • Inequality in Collaboration, Participation, or Consideration
  • Not initiating firm project management controls, and charging for it accordingly
  • Inadequate Financial incentive
  • Lack of timely, frequent feedback.
  • Being put into holding pattern, not hearing back from clients


  • Acceptance of the Longer, Harder Path
  • Working through chores that deliver the results that pay off over and over
  • Doing the work of learning about something that isn’t inherently interesting to me, because it opens doors and improves process.


  • Layout/Design of Pages for various web properties
  • Photography Rig
  • Processes / Packages

Will look at this on Monday and see how to distill this down into something shorter-to-read.


Taking another look at this at 930PM. Reworked the client section a bit to be clearer to me.

So, while I have an idea of WHY I’m feeling resistance and anxiety, I still have to deal with the actual list. And that’s a different process.

A simple way of handling this would be to merely allocate “work cycles” during the day. When I was waking up super early, the “first thing” was client work, followed by possibly another piece of client work, then followed by the rest of the day for my own stuff. So that means:

  1. To sleep by 10PM
  2. UP by 6AM
  3. Out of the house by 630AM, after having eaten something.
  4. Work on client work without reading any email or surfing web, for 15 minutes minimum.
  5. On finish, check mail and then pick another client project, for 15 minutes minimum
  6. Rest of day: allocate to personal projects.

As it’s 930PM now, that means I should start to get ready for bed. In the morning, I will start with the top two clients on the list and process them through. All this requires is for me to put out thoughts of anything else out of my head.