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2×4: An Interview With Aaron Mahnke

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2×4: An Interview With Aaron Mahnke


    Many of us who create for the web wear a lot of hats; most of the time this causes us to spread ourselves too thin. Occasionally, someone comes along who manages to balance so many of these skills while maintaining a level of quality that is intimidating. It seems as if they can do everything and that everything they do is exceptional. If you need an example, look no farther than designer, author, podcaster, product creatorgeneral advocate of common sense,” Aaron Mahnke.

    You wonder if people like Aaron have a secret, something that lets him do what we can’t. It turns out he does and it seems he’s finally sharing it with us all with his latest project, Frictionless. His new, free manifesto along with Capture Cards, offers a path towards a life without friction. A path that lets you do more and helps you do better.

    Without any further ado, here’s some insight into how Aaron Mahnke manages to do so much while making it all look far too easy.

    Creativity

    Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

    Creative? Sure. Talented? Not so much. I’m a problem solver by nature, and that’s basically a creative quality. I really enjoy taking rough, broken processes and ideas and retooling them until they work better.

    At the same time, I suppose I fit the stereotypical notion of what a creative person is supposed to be like. I’m an artist and a writer. I’ve willingly taken pottery classes and sketched models. I’m at home with a palette of color and a blank canvas. And if I had the time (or a time machine), I would be learning an instrument of some sort. Probably drums.

    What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate toward to realize your creative goals?

    I’m far from being a pioneer, so I need to be around people and inspiration in order to pump up my creativity. You are what you eat, they say. So for me, time in conversation is a huge deal. My wife and I talk constantly, and it is in conversation that I verbally talk through problems, realize the absurdity of ideas and find encouragement in my latest pursuits.

    Seeing other people do amazing things also gives me a kick in the pants. I’m capable of anything you throw at me. I believe this at the deepest level of my soul. I just happen to get in the way of myself too often. When I see others overcome the friction in their own life, it makes me want to do the same. It gives me permission to try.

    If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creations are you most proud of and why?

    Oh man. Just one thing? I have two kids; do you want to know which one I love more than the other? Just kidding!

    I’m an idea guy, and there’s always something new brewing in my head. So sometimes what is most relevant at the moment feels like the most important. That’s not true, but it feels like it. A core idea in Scott Belsky’s book, Making Ideas Happen, is that the newness of ideas has a tendency to pull our attention away from the ideas that need seen through to the end. I’m proud of my books, and my design work, the Read & Trust Network, the Home Work podcast, and my brand new Frictionless project — all of it, really. But what I’m most proud of is the fact that I shipped them. Period.

    Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative enough to unlock their inner artist?

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    Join the narrative. Find people who are doing what you would love to do and read their stories. Mine deep and far for the inspiration, and use it as fuel on your journey. And figure out what things or people or systems are keeping you from reaching your goals (that’s the “friction” I keep talking about) and remove them from your path.

    Then, go create.

    Productivity

    Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

    First and foremost I’m a husband and the father of two amazing and gorgeous little girls. So I’m responsible for making sure they have a place to live, food to eat and clothes to wear. Real-world responsibilities.

    I manage all that by taking on a set of secondary responsibilities: I’m business owner, a logo designer, marketing designer, writer and business consultant. I spend my week helping people and businesses figure out how to communicate who they are and what they have to offer. I do this full-time, for pay, and with a glad heart. I love my job.

    How do you go about balancing the personal, professional and digital?

    I have the benefit of having a home office that is removed from the rest of the house about as far as it could be without being in the shed out back. So it has been really important to me over the years to treat the threshold of my office with honor and sanctity. When I step into my office, I’m at work. My family doesn’t disturb me, and I don’t wander out and do personal things.

    But when my day is over, I walk out of the room and shut the door and work is left behind. Your calls and emails? I’ll get to them tomorrow. I have an amazing wife and two eager kids waiting to see me downstairs, and they get 100% of me.

    Digital is tough. It’s like a stowaway rat in my pocket when I leave my office; a little bit of work is always right there with me. And I have a laptop that I bring down each night, just in case something massively important crops up. But yeah, the battle to keep the digital from encroaching into my family time is a constant one.

    The rule in our house is that during normal family hours (basically whenever the kids are up and in need of attention), our phones are for emergencies only. My wife is better at obeying that rule than I am, but I’m getting there.

    What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?

    Planning. I plan everything. Go read David Allen’s Getting Things Done book and put some of those habits into practice. I don’t follow it to the letter, but I employ enough of it that I have removed a ton of friction from my productivity system.

    One big thing is to always be ready to capture ideas or tasks. I use OmniFocus on my Macs and iOS devices, and that’s the central nervous system for my tasks. Everything I need to do gets tossed into there and organized by area of life (personal, work, side-projects), and given a context regarding how long it will take me to do it. I capture things on the computer, but also on index cards when I’m out and about. For that I keep a few Capture Cards cards in my back pocket, with a Fischer Space Pen (because you can sit on them all day and they’ll never leak).

    And every night (Sunday through Thursday, really), I sit down with OmniFocus and a notebook and map out the next day. I plan everything out hour-by-hour, giving tasks 30- or 60-minute blocks of time. This does a couple of things for me. It helps me to go into my day with realistic expectations (I can’t overload a day if I’ve added up how many hours everything will take), and it helps me stay on track when the day gets crazy.

    Plan to succeed, or you can plan on failing.

    What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us, who are looking to get more organized?

    Just stick a small notebook in your back pocket and start writing down things you need to do the moment you think of them. And then use that notebook to guide your choices. Most of us only accomplish 50% of what we’d really like simply because we never remember to do the rest. Don’t give yourself an excuse to forget. Write it down and keep it handy.

    Oh, and the more complicated the tool, the more friction it adds. Find the basic, simple tools that work for you, like scraps of paper, index cards or a notebook.

    Capture. Plan. Do.

    More by this author

    2×4: An Interview with David Sparks 2×4: An Interview with Myke Hurley 2×4: An Interview With CJ Chilvers 2X4 Interviews 2×4: An Interview With Gabe Weatherhead 2×4: An Interview With Brett Kelly

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    Last Updated on November 25, 2021

    Protecting Your Online Life With Secure Passwords

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    Protecting Your Online Life With Secure Passwords

    With all of the recent online services and companies falling under attack to hackers in the past few months, it seems only fitting to talk about password creation and management. There are a lot of resources out there discussing this, but it never hurts to revisit this topic time and again because of its importance.

    Password management isn’t necessarily a difficult thing to do, yet it does seem like a bit of an annoyance to most people. When it comes to password management, you will hear the famous line, “I don’t really care about changing my passwords regularly. I have nothing important online anyways.” Let’s see if you have nothing important online when your PayPal account gets taken over because you thought the password “password” was good enough.

    In my opinion, it is an “internet user’s” responsibility to make sure that they keep secure passwords and update them on a regular basis. In this article we will discuss how to make your online presence more secure and keep it secure.

    The easy fundamentals

    First thing is first; creating a strong password.

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    A strong password is a mixture of alpha-numeric characters and symbols, has a good length (hopefully 15 characters or longer), and doesn’t necessarily represent some word or phrase. If the service you are signing up for doesn’t allow passwords over a certain length, like 8 characters, always use the maximum length.

    Here are some examples of strong passwords:
    * i1?,2,2\1′(:-%Y
    * ZQ5t0466VC44PmJ
    * mp]K{ dCFKVplGe]PBm1mKdinLSOoa (30 characters)

    And not so good examples
    * sammy1234
    * password123
    * christopher

    You can check out PC Tools Password Generator here. This is a great way to make up some very strong passwords. Of course the more random passwords are harder to remember, but that is where password management comes into play.

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    Managing your passwords

    I know some people that keep their passwords in an unencrypted text file. That’s not a good idea. I suppose that if you aren’t doing much online and are decent at avoiding viruses and such, it could be OK, but I would never recommend it.

    So, where do you keep your strong passwords for all the services that you visit on a daily basis?

    There are a ton of password safes out there including KeePass, RoboForm, Passpack, Password Safe, LastPass, and 1Password. If and when I recommend any of these I always count on LastPass and 1Password.

    Both LastPass and 1Password offer different entry types for online services logins (PayPal, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, etc.), credit cards and bank accounts, online identities, and other types of sensitive information. Both have excellent reviews and only differ in a few subtle ways. One of the ways that is more notable is that LastPass keeps your encrypted password Vault online where 1Password allows you to keep it locally or shared through Dropbox. Either way, you are the holder of the encryption keys and both ways are very secure.

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    LastPass and 1Password both offer cross-platform support as well as support for Android and iOS (LastPass even has BlackBerry support). 1Password is a little pricey ($39.99 for either Windows or Mac) where LastPass has free options as well as premium upgrades that allow for mobile syncing.

    Upkeep

    You should probably change your passwords for your “important” accounts at least every 6 weeks. When I say “important” accounts I am referring to ones that you just couldn’t imagine losing access to. For me that would be Gmail, PayPal, eBay, Amazon, all my FTP accounts and hosting accounts, Namecheap, etc. Basically these include any account where financial information could be lost or accessed as well as accounts that could be totally screwed up (like my webserver).

    There is no hard and fast rule to how often you should change your passwords, but 6 to 8 weeks should be pretty good.

    Alternatives

    You may think that all of this is just too much to manage on a daily basis. I will admit it is kind of annoying to have to change your passwords and use a password manager on a daily basis. For those people out there that don’t want to go through all of the hub-bub of super-secure, encrypted, password management, here are a few tips to keep you safe:

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    1. Create a unique and hard to guess “base password” and then a pattern to use for each site you logon onto. For instance a base password could be “Ih2BaSwAa” (this stands for “I have two brothers and sisters who are annoying”). Then you would add something “site specific” to the end of it. For Twitter Ih2BaSwAaTWTTR, Facebook Ih2BaSwAaFCBK, etc. This is sort of unsecure, but probably more secure than 99% of the passwords out there.
    2. Don’t write your passwords down in public places. If you want to keep track of passwords on something written, keep it on you at least. The problem is that if you get your wallet stolen you are still out of luck.
    3. Don’t use the same passwords for every service. I’m not even going to explain this; just don’t do it.

    These are just a few things that can be done rather than keeping your passwords in a management system. Personally, with over 100 entries in my password management system, I couldn’t even dream of doing any other way. But those out there with only a few passwords, having a simpler system may be beneficial.

    So, if you want to be a “responsible internet citizen” or you just don’t want to lose your precious account data, then creating and maintaining strong passwords for your online accounts is a must.

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