Archive for the ‘Interviews’ category


Frictionless Interviews: Michael Schechter

Frictionless Interviews are short chats with amazingly productive people from around the internet. Learn how they manage to get so much done, despite the friction that could potentially stop them.


Questions:

Tell me a little bit about who you are and what job or profession takes up the majority of your time and energy.

I’m a Brooklyn-based writer, husband, parent and jeweler who struggles to competently balance those roles.

I have a tolerant wife, and two amazing daughters under five. Much like Stephen Hackett, we deal with a lot of poop, even our dog’s.

For the past 12 years, I’ve worked in various roles throughout our third-generation family jewelry business. While the role varies from day to day, I primarily focus my energies on marketing, customer service and our overall digital presence. I am not the world’s most detail-oriented person. In fact, I may be the least… which is what led me to start obsessing about how I go about my work.

Since I’m stubborn, I also attempt to write five days a week on my personal site A Better Mess on the subjects of struggle, creativity and productivity. Last, but not least, I co-host the Mikes on Mics podcast on the 70Decibels network along with Mike Vardy.

When you began your roles and settled into your responsibilities, what were the areas that created the most frustration and stress in your day-to-day?

So much of my day is spent course correcting as wrecking balls come my way. At home, I have two adorable, yet unpredictable children who love to mess with my desired schedule (man plans, kids cry). At work, I have bosses and customers who keep the ground moving under my feet. I’m involved with projects that span several division, so keeping track of the myriad tasks that need to get done as well as the constantly shifting priorities has always been a major pain for me.

Obviously, finding solutions to those frustrations took time. But boiling it down into a teachable chunk of knowledge, what solutions did you ultimately discover that helped you remove that friction and find a smoother path to success in what you do?

I wish I could tell you that one system did it. That I read something like GTD and all of my problems were solved. I needed to build my system from the ground up and I started by building a foundation. That foundation breaks into four areas: idea capture, correspondence management, file storage and to-do management. I attacked these one area at a time, while attempting to find the tools that best worked together. While still a work in progress, I use the following:

Idea Capture – When a thought occurs, I capture it quickly (a byproduct of having the memory of a goldfish) in nvALT on my Mac or Notesy on my iPhone. I use a combination of TextExpander snippets to create these files and a have a specific naming convention to speed up recall them. Thoughts that I’m yet to act on live as a note in text files in Dropbox and sync across my devices. I periodically review these files to act on, eliminate or defer ideas to a later date.

Correspondence Management – I handle a ton of email. It often feels as if my life is a string of email responses, so finding the tools that get me out of my inbox and into other work was important for me. Gmail has a great combination of speed, search and keyboard friendliness. I use it alongside Mailplane to make it function like an app and play nicely with my task-manager of choice, Omnifocus (more on this in a minute). I depend on TextExpander for speeding up repetitive emails. At this point, it’s saved me 46 hours of my life, much of which is time that would have been spent in my inbox.

File Storage – I put as much as possible into Evernote. I depend on my Fujitsu ScanSnap for eliminating as much paper from my life as I can (paper and I have a difficult relationship). I don’t quite have storage down yet as large files can be a hassle (I currently put these in Dropbox), but overall, the Evernote gives me a home for these materials and access to the bulk of my files wherever I am.

To-do Management – Crazy as this may sound, I break to-dos into four categories: reminders, appointments, lists and tasks. I have an app for each. While the majority of my world goes into Omnifocus (its quick capture makes it easy to create tasks from the web, emails, Evernote and more), I use Fantastical for scheduling appointments, Due for persistent reminders and Listary for managing things like my wife’s disorganized shopping lists.

As you’ll see, there’s a lot of crossover of applications; this is based in my desire to align these four pieces of my foundation as much as possible. I’ve started using David Seah’s paper-based Emergent Task Planner to give myself an easy, daily way to organize my digital data and am experimenting with Capture Cards for idea capture, but both of these are very new to me.

What advice would you offer to other people in a similar situation who are looking to streamline, de-stress and de-clutter their procedures and systems?

You see all the steps I suggested above? If you’re disorganized, you were probably overwhelmed by them. I was too. Start slow. Attack your challenges one mess at a time. Start with your biggest pain point. For me that was email, and Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero was the right starting point. For you that will almost certainly vary. Also, realize that certain systems might not work for you. You might feel like GTD should be the answer, but in reality, it may not be a fit. As to finding your own system (and if you’ve read this far, you probably need/want one), stop trying to avoid having one and stop trying to religiously apply someone else’s process as your life. It doesn’t matter what you use to eliminate friction and force more action in your life. It just matters that you figure out what works and use the hell out of it.


Frictionless Interviews: Matt Gemmell

Frictionless Interviews are short chats with amazingly productive people from around the internet. Learn how they manage to get so much done, despite the friction that could potentially stop them.


Tell me a little bit about who you are and what job or profession takes up the majority of your time and energy.

I like to describe my work by saying that “I help computers be nice to people”, but if you’re looking for a job description then these days it would probably be Experience Designer.

I’ve worked for myself for about five and a half years now (under the name Instinctive Code) from my home office, mainly doing consultant UI, UX and development work for a variety of clients – including Apple on several occasions. My main job is take an idea or an interface, and make it not only usable by humans but also delightful for them. As an extension of that, I’m also passionate about accessibility technologies.

In the second 90% of my life, I try to contribute as much as I can to the developer community (mainly iOS and OS X). To that end, I regularly write at mattgemmell.com, release open source code and components that have been used in hundreds of Mac and iOS apps (my degree is in Computing Science, so I’m absolutely a programmer at heart), speak at various industry conferences each year, and write the Dev Zone section of Tap! magazine each month for Future Publishing.

I’m Scottish, I live in the city of Edinburgh with my wife, and I just turned 33 recently.

When you began your roles and settled into your responsibilities, what were the areas where that created the most frustration and stress in your day-to-day?

Aside from the usual hassles of starting your own business (administrative work, setting up projects, and learning to manage your own time effectively), one of the biggest frustrations was in feeling constrained, in two main areas.

Firstly, in my work, clients often have strong preconceived notions of what the issues are with their apps and interfaces, and just want you to address those: make this screen easier to use, or redesign this control. More often than not, the actual problem is different, or deeper, and it can be an uphill battle to help people realise that. We all tend to hyper-focus on the things we’ve already noticed, and we become blind to the bigger picture.

Secondly, in connection with writing articles on my blog, I found it draining to manage the ‘community’ side of blogging: the comments. Once you get above a certain traffic level, you become very, very aware of the signal to noise ratio of internet comments. As someone who writes mostly for developers I think I’m fortunate to have more generally educated, intelligent people as readers, but there’s still self-evidently a vast majority of valueless comments out there. I found that I was being held hostage by my own vanity, and it was taking some of the joy out of writing.

Obviously, finding solutions to those frustrations took time. But boiling it down into a teachable chunk of knowledge, what solutions did you ultimately discover that helped you remove that friction and find a smoother path to success in what you do?

In my work, the two most valuable lessons I’ve learned are:

  1. Have a strong opinion; and
  2. Ask the real question.

Regarding the first point, I like to say that good software is opinionated, and it applies to people too. You should have a solid reason for your opinion, but you should definitely have an opinion. People value guidance, leadership and expertise, and I’d much rather have a (reasonably justified) wrong opinion, strongly-held, than to sit on the fence. You can always change your position, but constantly hedging your bets is the hallmark of ineffective people. The best software has fewer options because it has already made better choices – that’s how I like to approach things. Think first, of course, but then commit fully to your position (especially when talking to clients).

On point 2, I often have people approach me asking how to solve a given problem, and in perhaps 70% or more of those situations, they’ve identified the wrong problem. I’ve learned to ask the real question, which is “What’s the actual issue?”, rather than to accept the problem I’m initially presented with.

It takes practice, but it can be a very freeing thing, and leads to better solutions. If your app’s navigational structure feels clunky or cumbersome, maybe it’s not the UI that’s at a fault, but instead that there’s just too much stuff to navigate through. If you’re trying to make a feature more prominent because people aren’t using it, perhaps it’s actually because you should get rid of it. You have to be willing to throw away the implicit assumptions of a problem, and try to identify what the real issue is.

In my writing and my life in general, the most valuable lesson has been to control your own environment – and that means both physically and socially. Life is too short for dealing with negative people, or having unproductive or unedifying interactions. Don’t be afraid to cut people from your life if it’ll make you happier. Delete phone numbers or emails, block or unfollow on social networks, and generally optimise your happiness. I disabled comments on my blog a number of months ago, and I think that my writing – and my enjoyment of it – has never been better.

There’s a self-defeating unwritten rule in society that politeness mandates tolerating other people, and I just don’t believe that’s true. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and their life, but they’re not entitled to have it overlap with your life unless you want it to. Don’t be afraid to fire acquaintances, friends or clients. We’re alive for a very short time, and we have more important things to do than worry about corrosive relationships and experiences.

What advice would you offer to other people in a similar situation who are looking to streamline, de-stress and de-clutter their procedures and systems?

I’d offer one very simple piece of advice: remember your humanity.

We’re humans, and that means we’re emotional, empathic creatures. We don’t exist or work in a vacuum: we’re affected deeply by our environment and interactions. I do my best thinking (which is by far the most important part of my work, and probably yours too) when I’m attending to my humanity. Get away from the machine (in particularly, don’t be looking at a screen), and let your mind breathe for a while.

I like to physically leave the office, and either wander around for a while outside, or just take some time and space to truly focus on a problem. You can’t fully engage with a task if your thoughts are cluttered with artifice like the keyboard or the computer or whatever it is that you use to do your work. It’s important to disengage from those things, and give yourself a chance to be creative without worrying about output.

Equally, when you get back into the office, remember that your working surroundings are a reflection of your inner environment. Most of my work involves helping people to reduce distractions and clutter and confusion, and to focus on a single task or piece of functionality in a pleasant and undemanding way. It would be the height of hypocrisy (and damaging to my work) if I didn’t also pursue that goal for my office itself. Control your space, keep it clean and focused, and invest in tools (including computers, art supplies, furniture and whatever else you need) that will help.

I’m fortunate to live pretty much in a park, with office windows looking out through trees towards a river. It’s quiet, and has its own beauty no matter what time of year it is. My office is simple, with natural materials and plenty of space, and I buy the best hardware I can find. My desk is big, and the surface is as clear as I can make it (but no clearer). Those surroundings let me immediately get into the mindset of what I’m doing, whether it’s designing a software interface or writing an article.

With a controlled environment that prioritises your own focus and creativity, your surroundings can become translucent for a while and let you lose yourself in the actual work. Everyone has not only a right but also a duty to feel that way about what they do.


Frictionless Interviews: David Chartier

Frictionless Interviews are short chats with amazingly productive people from around the internet. Learn how they manage to get so much done, despite the friction that could potentially stop them.


Tell me a little bit about who you are and what job or profession takes up the majority of your time and energy.

I am David Chartier, and by day I am a Herald for AgileBits, the 1Password folks, and a freelance writer. For AgileBits, that basically means I’m their PR guy, so I run the blog and help with social media, work on documentation, and occasionally help with customer service.

When you began your roles and settled into your responsibilities, what were the areas where that created the most frustration and stress in your day-to-day?

I think the period of settling into the right tools and workflow can be the most frustrating. I’m not the kind of person who always needs the latest version of everything, but I do believe in having the right tools for the right job, whether it’s an ultra-minimal text editor or Photoshop CS6.

So there’s always that period at a new job where you’re still getting familiar with your duties and their little details, and figuring out which tools can help you do your job and handle all those little things efficiently. It’s a natural process and sometimes even a fun challenge, but it can still be frustrating.

Obviously, finding solutions to those frustrations took time. But boiling it down into a teachable chunk of knowledge, what solutions did you ultimately discover that helped you remove that friction and find a smoother path to success in what you do?

Everything I Know I Learned From Captain Kirk’s Solution to the Kobiyashi Maru: if you don’t like the game, change the rules. Sometimes you just need to change your perspective on how you view the problem. 

I’ve found it to be absolutely essential to step out of myself, the situation, or the thing I’m trying to accomplish and really examine the problem to find a solution. Sometimes that solution involves my preferred bag of tricks, sometimes it takes more of a departure to, say, learn different muscle memory or an entirely new tool. Either way, the more I work through that process, the more the frustration ebbs away.

What advice would you offer to other people in a similar situation who are looking to streamline, de-stress and de-clutter their procedures and systems?

Try to not stay married to the way you do things. There’s always room to grow and learn, and sometimes that means throwing out what you know and starting over. In other words:

“The tree that does not bend with the wind will be broken by the wind” 
- Mandarin Chinese proverb.


Frictionless Interviews: Stephen Hackett

Frictionless Interviews are short chats with amazingly productive people from around the internet. Learn how they manage to get so much done, despite the friction that could potentially stop them.


Tell me a little bit about who you are and what job or profession takes up the majority of your time and energy.

Well, I’m from Memphis, TN, meaning I like sweet tea and fried food. I’m married to my high-school sweetheart, and we have two kids, both under the age of four.

There’s a lot of poop to deal with at our house.

For the last two and a half years, I’ve worked as the IT/Multimedia Director for The Salvation Army Kroc Center, currently under construction here in Memphis. It’s a large, state-of-the-art community center, and I oversee the department that handles all the IT, audio/video and multimedia needs for the project. I’ll transition into a similar role once the center opens early next year.

On the side, I write a weblog named 512 Pixels, where I write about technology, journalism and design. I also appear on two weekly podcasts.

When you began your roles and settled into your responsibilities, what were the areas where that created the most frustration and stress in your day-to-day?

That’s a good question. I think one of the most frustrating things can be handling the sheer amount of information that crosses my desk and Inbox each day. I usually have several projects going on at once, all moving at different speeds toward different goals.

Obviously, finding solutions to those frustrations took time. But boiling it down into a teachable chunk of knowledge, what solutions did you ultimately discover that helped you remove that friction and find a smoother path to success in what you do?

While I use OmniFocus to keep my tasks organized, keeping reference information handy really solved a lot of my issues. I keep blueprints in Evernote, for offline access on my iPad, but my real secret is my blue organizer. In it, I have (at least) 10 or so manilla folders, one for each current project. In it, I keep meeting notes, printed emails, copies of contracts and more. It might not be very “green,” but having hard copies in the real world is invaluable, especially as using my iPod outside at our WiFi-less job site isn’t a great solution.

What advice would you offer to other people in a similar situation who are looking to streamline, de-stress and de-clutter their procedures and systems?

Look outside the digital. Sometimes the best solutions are old-fashioned.