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2x4: An Interview with David Sparks
David Sparks does a lot. Like a lot, a lot. His Mac Power Users podcast (along with Kaity Floyd) can transform the way you use your computer, especially the two Merlin Mann workflow episodes. His blog, MacSparky is a wealth of geeky goodies, I’m especially partial to his magic trick with iThoughts HD and Scrivener that made writing large projects faster and easier. His books are ideal starting points for using both your Mac and your iPad at work. Oh yeah, and if that wasn’t enough, he has a family and a full-time career as an attorney. In other words, the man does more than inform, he inspires in the best way possible, with his work.
I’ve been a fan of David’s for a while now. Anyone even vaguely familiar with his work should expect an informative addition to this series (and I think you’ll agree that it is). What I wasn’t expecting is just how bold of an approach he takes to his creative work. I could continue to geek out, but without further ado, here’s David Sparks:
Have you always considered yourself a creative person?
As long as I can remember, I’ve been infatuated with the creative process. The act of transforming some nebulous concept from my mind to something feels like magic and still amazes me every time it happens. Whenever I get in a rut, creating something pulls me out.
What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate toward to realize your creative goals?
There really is no limit to the mediums I work in. I write. I play music. I design and build furniture. I do geeky things to Macs. I consider myself an artist in every aspect of my life (even my legal cases). My only limitation is my time. I just wish I had more time to explore more creative mediums.
As for inspiration, it really depends on what I’m doing. My two biggest musical inspirations are the ’50s jazz scene (Monk, Bird, Dizzy, Miles) and Impressionist era classical music. With furniture, it is the craftsman movement and on my Mac, I’m inspired by my very many brilliant friends. I wouldn’t even know where to start on all my writing inspirations.
If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creations are you most proud of and why?
Whatever I’m doing next is going to be my greatest creation. I’m not good at looking backward when it comes to my work. I move on quickly. When I was in high school I did these recordings with a Jazz Quartet that were pretty good. Several years later I threw them out in a fit of anti-nostalgia. That probably wasn’t a very good idea (and part of me really regrets that) but at the same time that behavior is completely consistent with my personality.
Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative enough to unlock their inner artist?
Wreckless abandon. Honestly, I don’t get how people can get hung up on this stuff. Turn off the TV and create something. You could write a song on an iPad without a lick of musical training. It is so much more fulfilling than sitting like a slug in front of American Idol. Put yourself out there. Life is too short.
Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?
I’m a husband, a dad, a lawyer, and a MacSparky something or other. Each of those jobs comes with their own special collection of joy, satisfaction, tedium, and tears.
How do you go about balancing the personal, professional, and digital?
Balance is the hard part. I find saying “No” helps. I am much more happy nailing a few things than screwing up a lot of things. The trouble is I have so many interests, picking those few things is really hard. To be perfectly honest, I suck at saying no. I am, however, trying to get better at this.
What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?
I find technology a big help in this regard. OmniFocus holds me together. I also use a rat’s nest of project planning, mind mapping, and outlining software to keep track of and on top of whatever I’m up to. The iPad and iPhone are, in my opinion, Grade A planning tools. They’ve really improved my game.
What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us, who are looking to get more organized?
Spend a little time figuring out why things are a mess. Sometimes it is not a question of getting organized but cutting crap out of your life you’re not passionate about. Next, make a plan. David Allen’s Getting Things Done struck a chord for me which is great, because there are some really fantastic GTD tools out there. Finally, don’t be so hard on yourself. Start small and be forgiving when you fall off the wagon. This stuff is hard and people are, in general, much too harsh on themselves.
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