No distinction between work and play

We often draw a distinction between work and play, especially when it comes to doing “work” we are passionate about. It is pretty easy to reserve your passions for your after hours time. Working hours become the time when you do what you need to do to pay the bills.

Unless, of course, you find work that feels more like play because it is closely related to your passion.

I quoted Seth Godin recently in my post titled “Your calling and meaningful work”. One of the quotes really appealed to me:

It’s not that important where. It matters a lot how. With passion and care.

It resonated with me although I didn’t really explore the idea much further until I read this quote in a Brain Pickings article titled “Ray Bradbury on Failure, Why We Hate Work, and the Importance of Love in Creative Endeavors”:

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play,” the French writer Chateaubriand is credited with saying. “He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

I watched Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts this morning. One of the many insights he shared was this:

I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.

What struck me when I read each of these pieces of advice (and others I don’t remember right now) is that a better way to approach work is not to see “work” as the necessity to earn money to pay for “passion” and/or “play”. Instead, work should be another opportunity to refine and enrich your passion.

To paraphrase Chateaubriand, pursue your vision of excellence in whatever you do. Sometimes that happens during working hours and sometimes after work. Ideally you have an opportunity to do this during more of those hours than not or those hours are wasted. As Ray Bradbury observed:

I can only suggest that we often indulge in made work, in false business, to keep from being bored. Or worse still we conceive the idea of working for money. The money becomes the object, the target, the end-all and be-all. Thus work, being important only as a means to that end, degenerates into boredom. Can we wonder then that we hate it so?

My day job is to write marketing copy. It is easy to see that work as divergent from the writing I’d rather being doing. The more I think about it, though, even that writing is an opportunity to become a better writer. The more I write and the better I write, well, I become a better writer. Whether I do that during working hours or after hours shouldn’t really matter, as long as I am pursuing my vision of excellence in my writing.

On work and the person you’ll become

On work

One of my favourite quotes about work comes from Kahlil Gibran who said this in “The Prophet”:

Work is love made visible. And if you can’t work with love, but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy.

Whether you are employed, self-employed or “unemployable”, work can be challenging. I’m not referring to those busy, frantic even, times but rather the experience of doing work that we struggle to do with passion, with love. That latter experience inspired this next piece (well, that and Dr Seuss):


Oh, the person you’ll become

When you wake in the morning,
do you hear your passion calling you
or the shrill alarm clock
beside your bed?

Oh, the person you could become.

When you walk out the door,
do you step into the morning light
or feel as if you are falling
back into the darkness?

Oh, the person you may become.

Is your daily work your labour
of love, your soul’s song,
or the burden that crushes
your promise with infinite despair?

Oh, the person you are becoming.

And when your day is done,
is your spirit elated with a sense of infinite possibility
or is it starved and unfulfilled,
having been drained of its vitality?

And at the end of it all, what have you become?
Do you feel a sense of wonder or do you quietly rage
against your ceaseless confinement?

Oh, the person you have become.

“If you’re not proud of it, don’t serve it”

I’ve been thinking about these themes lately:

If you’re not proud of it, don’t serve it.

If you can’t do a good job, don’t take it on.

If it’s going to distract you from the work that truly matters, pass.

They remind me of some advice I received from Bernard Hotz, a South African lawyer I worked for many years ago. He said you should never compromise yourself, certainly not for a client. That advice has particular significance in legal practice but it’s good advice in general.

With everything being so interconnected, your work speaks for you “out there” and if you consistently deliver work you are not proud of, you are compromising yourself. It could be for a client, for money or for some other short term reward.

The question to ask yourself is whether those compromises are worth it, really?

Source: Seth Godin’s post titled “On saying “no”

A productivity system for autonomous adults

I once lost about a day and a half exploring a new productivity system to help me be more productive. That lost time is one of my favourite life experience ironies. Part of the reason I wound up spending so much time obsessing about a new productivity system is that I am more than a little OCD about that sort of thing.

I don’t remember emerging from that “process” with a coherent system but it remains a personal reminder not to let myself become distracted by the search for something new for the sake of finding something new. Instead, I focus on simplifying my processes and my toolkit with a preference for the stuff that I know works for me. When it comes to tasks, I prefer OmniFocus because I have it on all my devices and because I paid far too much money to just ditch it.

The catch, though, is that it doesn’t tie into anything I could use to collaborate with my team at work. Over time my work tasks have split from my personal tasks because different managers have wanted us to manage projects using different tools which became additional layers on top of my OmniFocus system and another layer of complexity to manage.

When I diverted off the productivity cliff

In my quest for something I could use to tie in with my colleagues, I stopped using OmniFocus as my “everything” productivity app and OmniFocus became my poorly maintained personal task manager and a procession of other tools became my work options. In retrospect, that was probably when things started falling apart.

I used OmniFocus exclusively before I started my current job because I worked for myself and I could focus on being productive, not finding ways to adapt to whichever project management system my managers wanted at that point in time. I’ve tried a few services:

  • Asana, which I really dislike for reasons I can’t quite identify (and some I can);
  • Spreadsheets, which are terrible for managing ongoing tasks and, when I think about using them for this purpose, can make me physically ill;
  • Basecamp, which is a terrific project management service and the only reason it became problematic is because there was no meaningful integration for me with OmniFocus so it required a work/other split to minimise duplication;
  • Pen and paper, which isn’t dynamic and too easy to forget about and ignore because my brain knows it isn’t reliable for me; and
  • Trello, which is my current choice at work and works fairly well except, as I write this, I just think it is another layer of distraction I should ditch and return to OmniFocus.

As I see it, the thing about productivity systems and work projects involving teams is that you really have two choices if you want to remain productive[1]:

Option 1 – the team system

Use a system that everyone uses and that works well, generally, for everyone. When I had a small team back in the day, I was looking at Basecamp or Podio (I think). I gave my candidate attorney the two options to look at and she picked Basecamp because it made sense to her. We went with that and it worked well for us. I only stopped using it when my team moved on and maintaining it for one person didn’t make sense.

The key thing with a team-based system is that the directive to use it must come from management even though the choice of what to use should only be made with the team’s input (after all, they need to use it and stick to it and no-one will stick with a system that doesn’t work for them).

Option 2 – The “autonomous adults” system

I was chatting to Don Packett a while ago and I asked him what Missing Link uses to keep projects going effectively. I was expecting him to give me the name of some slightly fringe productivity app (if you know Missing Link, you’ll understand why I wasn’t expecting them to be using Ye Olde Corporate Standard Fare). He surprised me with a really smart and appropriate answer (I wasn’t surprised that it was smart, just because it wasn’t what I was expecting). He told me that they –

aggressively push for ‘autonomous adults’ who can set their own timelines and deadlines and get their shit done in the right fashion.

I love that. As soon as I read that, I realised that a system imposed on a team can, more often than not, reflect an attitude by management that the team does not comprise “autonomous adults” who can be trusted to get their stuff done “in the right fashion”. Instead, people are treated as if they lack the capacity to do what they need to do and be productive.

Update (2016-03-09): Don messaged me and clarified that Missing Link uses dapulse to co-ordinate their autonomous adults, which makes a lot of sense.

This attitude comes through in how they are told which steps to take to complete tasks and when to do them. A better approach is giving them a set of priorities (or, even better, involved in the decision-making process about the upcoming priorities) and left to figure out how to meet them effectively and on time. That doesn’t mean people don’t make mistakes or miss deadlines. Being an “autonomous adult” means being able to make those mistakes, taking responsibility for them and then fixing them without being told that making mistakes somehow deprives you of your right to be a grown-up at work.

My point is …

What prompted to start this little verbal foray into productivity systems was a post by Shawn Blanc titled “A System That Works (for You)” which begins with this truism:

Everyone wants a time management system that works. One they can stick with. One that’s not a pain in the butt.

He goes on to explain what such a system looks like:

  1. It empowers you to do the things you want and need to do.
  2. It aligns with your personality.

What I have learned is that a system that doesn’t have these two qualities very much becomes an obstruction to just getting stuff done. I am also constantly reminded that the key thing is to find a system that just make sense to you and works for you. A system that requires constant tweaking and reconfiguration is, literally, counterproductive. I have reached a point where I can feel just how wrong the system is when I started using it.

A good productivity system should have something that makes it easier to use, enjoyable even. As Blanc noted:

The reason I use a pen and paper is because I enjoy it. The analog aspect adds a bit of joy, which, in and of itself, is enough grease for the skids to keep me on track with using my system.

I definitely find that a productivity system that isn’t aesthetically pleasing to me is problematic because appealing design is a great introduction to a system for me. It is “grease for the skids” to help ease the transition to a new thing and how I can use it.

Most of all, a good productivity system should support you and, as Blanc puts it, empower you “to do the things you want and need to do”. Adding more friction to your workflows is an effective way to dissuade you from using a system and becoming less productive overall[2].

Postscript: I have written a follow-up about a related issue so consider reading “Cross-platform or best platform?” too.

Cross-platform or best platform?

Image credit: Pexels


  1. Being “productive”, to me, means getting stuff done and not spending more than the absolutely minimum time required to maintain your system. If you spend too much time just keeping your system afloat, so much so that it cuts into the time you need to actually get your stuff done, change your system. It isn’t working.  ↩
  2. Of course, now that I am thinking about it more, I am tempted to move all my tasks back to OmniFocus. The challenge with these sorts of moves is that each time you reconfigure your productivity workflow, you take more time away from the time you have to get stuff done so it has to count.  ↩

Stress, Diabetes and a fresh perspective on Death

We’re now into March (wow, right?!) and I published some new stuff over the weekend that you might have missed; about work stress, Diabetes and a fresh perspective on Death. I understand, you have weekend stuff to do. Here are a couple things you might be interested in.

My Diabetes recently taught me that work stress can be deadly. I always knew stress was harmful but it was only when I saw that reflected in my blood glucose tests that I realised just how much. Here is a little post about the lessons I learned:

What Diabetes taught me about work stress

imonomy, my employer, moved to new offices recently and I spent a little time capturing little details early one morning. Here is a peek inside our new offices:

A peek inside imonomy’s new Tel Aviv offices

I watched a short video that included a audio track by Alan Watts talking about life and death and part of his narrative really caught my attention and I had to share it:

Everybody is “I” – life, death and being

Have a good week!

Plotting a course around business failure

Nathan Jeffery is an entrepreneur, developer and speaker (among other things) who I have mentioned a couple times in the past (including when he basically saved this blog after I almost killed it). He recently published a series of blog posts that essentially plot a course around business failure that every entrepreneur should read – yes, every single one! 😉 – and I want to share them with you:

Micro Failure

Nathan tackles the popular notion that failure is something to be embraced, even sought after. While there is certainly value in the lessons you learn when you fail and not repeating those mistakes, it is a mistake to romanticize failure. As Nathan puts it:

When you fail in business you lose money and often wreck the lives of your employees. The current flippant and arrogant approach to failure is disrespectful to everyone who works with and depends on you for their livelihood.

Do what you love

I believe strongly in doing work you are passionate about. When you do work that doesn’t challenge you and doesn’t tap into your passions, it can be soul destroying (almost literally). At the same time, there are some practical considerations and a different way to think about fulfilment in your work that aren’t usually mentioned in the myriad articles about doing what you love.

You need to get satisfaction from producing quality work; this is especially true for the creative industries. Your clients will hardly ever comprehend how much effort you’ve put into your work, and quite often they won’t really care, many won’t even thank you. You need to be happy within yourself and get joy from the work you do.

Take Ownership

This short piece is really about taking responsibility. When you take responsibility for what you do, take ownership of your decisions, you make the choice to take more control of your life.

Taking ownership, to me, is more than taking responsibility and being accountable for your actions or lack thereof. You need to constantly be learning and questioning situations, especially when things go awry.

Focus and Commit

There are many ways to distinguish between businesses and one perspective that is increasingly relevant is to distinguish between businesses is between those that specialise and become experts and those that try to do everything and don’t do anything particularly well. I thought about specialisation and hyper-specialisation often in my previous career and I see it in my new industry.

Do one thing, maybe two but whatever you do, do it so darn well that it’s all you need to do. You can expand your service offering once you have a big enough team to handle it. There’s enough work out there for specialists to exist.

Hire a boutique accounting firm

Accounting is not even remotely something I enjoy dealing with or even have a clear handle on despite needing to understand legal accounting in order to set up a practice as an attorney. At the same time, having your books in order is essential if you want your business to function effectively so make the right decisions about who manages those books.

You need to know and understand what is going on in your business’ finances. Accountants can make mistakes. By understanding what is going on in your business’ books, you’ll not only be in a better position to manage your business but you’ll also have a better chance of spotting mistakes in your financial statements should your accountant slip up.

Pay for good contracts and use them

On this I am more than a little biased. In my previous career (and in one aspect of my current role), I wrote contracts for my clients that were intended to give their commercial relationships better structure and protection.

Unfortunately contracts are perceived as largely superfluous, to a large degree because they are often badly written and poorly understood and, as a consequence, regarded as “necessary but preferably no longer than 1 page”. Contracts are a critical component in business, it is worth having them done properly.

Hire a good lawyer, pay for good contracts and use them.

Image credit: Map by Unsplash, sourced from Pixabay and released under a CC0 Dedication

Meet some of my new imonomy colleagues

I’ve been pretty busy since I started working at imonomy (an in-image advertising company) as a Content Marketing Specialist. I have been planning a post with some thoughts about our new routine here in Israel (eventually) but, in the meantime, meet some of my newer imonomy colleagues: