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2×4: An Interview With Aaron Mahnke

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 September 15, 2020

    7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

    7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

    Overcoming fear and making life changes is hard. It’s even harder when it’s a big change—breaking up with someone you love, leaving your old job, starting your own business, or hundreds of other difficult choices.

    Even if it’s obvious that making a big change will be beneficial, it can be tough. Our mind wants to stay where it’s comfortable, which means doing the same things we’ve always done[1].

    We worry: how do we know if we’re making the right decision? We wish we knew more. How do we make a decision without all of the necessary information?

    We feel stuck. How do we get past fear and move forward with that thing we want to do?

    Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are 7 things to remember when you want to move forward and make positive life changes.

    1. You’ll Never Have All the Information

    We often avoid making important decisions because we want more information before we make a tough call.

    Yes, it’s certainly true that you need to do your research, but if you’re waiting for the crystal clear answer to come to you, then you’re going to be waiting a long time. As humans, we are curious creatures, and our need for information can be paralyzing.

    Life is a series of guesses, mistakes, and revisions. Make the best decision you can at the time and continue to move forward. This also means learning to listen to and trust your intuition. Here’s how.

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    2. Have the Courage to Trust Yourself

    We make all sorts of excuses for not making important life changes, but the limiting belief that often underlies many of them is that we don’t trust ourselves to do the right thing.

    We think that if we get into a new situation, we won’t know what to do or how to react. We’re worried that the uncharted territory of the future will be too much for us to handle.

    Give yourself more credit than that.

    You’ve dealt with unexpected changes before, right? And when your car got a flat tire on the way to work, how did that end up? Or when you were unexpectedly dumped?

    In the end, you were fine.

    Humans are amazingly adaptable, and your whole life has been helping you develop skills to face unexpected challenges.

    Have enough courage to trust yourself. No matter what happens, you’ll figure out a way to make it work.

    3. What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

    Like jealousy, most of your fears are created in your own head.

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    When you actually sit down and think about the worst case scenario, you’ll realize that there are actually very few risks that you can’t recover from.

    Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Once you realize the worst isn’t that bad, you’ll be ready to crush it.

    When you’re preparing to make a big life change, write down all of the things you’re afraid of. Are you afraid of failing? Of looking silly? Of losing money? Of being unhappy?

    Then, address each fear by writing down ways you can overcome them. For example, if you’re afraid of losing money, can you take a few months to save up a safety net?

    4. It’s Just as Much About the Process as It Is About the Result

    We’re so wrapped up in results when we think about major life changes. We worry that if we start out towards a big goal, then we might not make it to the finish line.

    However, you’re allowed to change your mind. And failing will only help you learn what not to do next time.

    Furthermore, just because you don’t reach the final goal doesn’t mean you failed. You chose the goal in the first place, but you’re allowed to alter it if you find that the goal isn’t working out the way you hoped. Failure is not a destination, and neither is success.

    Enjoy the process of moving forward[2].

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    5. Continue to Pursue Opportunity

    If you’re on the fence about a big decision, then you might be worried about getting locked into a position that you can’t escape from.

    Think about it a different way. New choices rarely limit your options.

    In fact, new pursuits often open up even more opportunities. One of the best things about going after important goals with passion is that they open up chances and options that you never could have expected in the beginning.

    If you pursue the interesting opportunities that arise along the path to your goal, then you can be sure that you’ll always have choices.

    6. Effort Matters, So Use It

    It sounds simple, but one of the big reasons we don’t make life changes is because we don’t try. And we don’t try because then it’s easy to make excuses for why we don’t get what we want.

    Flunked that test? Are you stupid? “Of course I’m not stupid. I just didn’t study. I would have gotten an A if I actually studied.”

    Stuck in a job you hate? Why haven’t you found a new job yet? “Well, I haven’t really tried to get a new job. I could totally ace that interview if I wanted.”

    Why do we make excuses like these to ourselves? It’s because if we try and fail, then we just failed. But if we don’t try, we can chalk it up to laziness.

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    Get over it. Failure happens to everyone.

    And the funny thing is, if you actually try—because it’s pretty clear that most people aren’t trying—then you’ll win a lot more than you think.

    7. Start With Something Manageable

    You can’t climb Everest if you don’t try hiking beforehand.

    Maybe applying for your dream job seems intimidating right now. What can you start with today?

    Can you talk to someone who already has that position and see what they think makes them successful? Can you improve your skills so you meet one of the qualifications? Can you take a free online course to expand your resume?

    Maybe you’re not quite ready for a long-term relationship, but you know you want to start dating. Could you try asking out a mutual friend? Can you go out more with friends to practice your communication skills and meet new people?

    You don’t need to be a world changer today; you just need to make small life changes in your own world.

    More Tips to Help You Make Life Changes

    Featured photo credit: Victor Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

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