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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 February 15, 2019

    How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

    How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

    Achieving personal goals deserves a huge amount of celebration but setting these goals in the first place is a massive achievement in itself.

    While the big goals serve as a destination, the journey is probably the most important part of the process. It reflects your progress, your growth and your ability take control and steer your life towards positive change.

    Whatever your goal is, whether it’s losing 20lbs or learning a new language, there will always be a set amount of steps you need to take in order to achieve it. Once you’ve set your sights on your goal, the next stage is to take an assertive path towards how you will get there.

    The aim of this article is to guide you through how to take action towards your personal goals in a way that will help you achieve them strategically and successfully.

    1. Get very specific

    When it comes to setting your personal goals, honing in on its specifics is crucial for success.

    It’s common to have a broad idea of where you want to go or what you want to achieve, but this can sabotage your efforts in the long run.

    Get clear on what you want your goal to look like so you can create solid steps towards it.

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    Say you have a vision on retiring early. This goal feels good to you and you can envision filling your days of work-free life with worldly adventures and time with loved ones.

    If retiring early is a serious personal goal for you, you will need to insert a timeframe. So your goal has changed from “I’d like to someday retire early and travel the world” to “I’m going to retire by 50 and travel the world”.

    It may not seem significant, but creating this tweak in your goal by specifying a definite time, will help create and structure the steps needed to achieve it in a more purposeful way.

    2. Identify the preparation you need to achieve your goal

    It’s easy to set a goal and excitedly, yet aimlessly move towards it. But this way of going about achieving goals will only leave you eventually lost and feeling like you’ll never achieve it.

    You have to really think about what you need to do in order to make this goal possible. It’s all very well wanting it to happen, but if you just sit back and hope you’ll get there one day will result in disappointment.

    Self-managing your goals is a crucial step in the process. This involves taking control of your goal, owning it and making sure you are in a great position to make it happen.

    In the early retirement example, this would mean you will need to think about your financial situation.

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    What will your finances ideally need to look like if you were to retire early and travel the world? How much money will you need to put into your retirement fund to retire at 50? How much extra savings will you need to support your travels? You could also start researching the places you’d like to travel to and how long you’d like to travel for.

    Outlining these factors will, not only make your goal seem more tangible, but also create a mind shift to one of forward motion. Seeing the steps more clearly will help you make a more useful plan of action and seeing your goal as a reality.

    3. Breakdown each step into more manageable goals

    The secret to achieving your goals is to create smaller goals within each step and take action. Remember, you’re looking for progress, no matter how small it may seem.

    These small steps build up and get you to the top. By doing this, you also make the whole process much less daunting and overwhelming.

    In the early retirement scenario, there are several smaller goals you could implement here:

    • Decide to make an appointment with a financial advisor asking what financial options would be available to you if you were to go into early retirement and travel. Get advice on how much you would need to top up your funds in order to reach your goal on time.
    • Set up and start to make payments into the retirement fund.
    • Research savings accounts with good rates of interest and commit to depositing a certain amount each month.
    • Make sure you meet with your financial advisor each year to make sure your retirement plan remains the best one for you. Research new savings accounts to move your money into to reap the best returns in interest rates.
    • Start investing in travel books, building up a library that covers where you want to go.
    • Think about starting a language course that will help you get the most out of your travel experience.

    4. Get started on the journey

    Creating a goal planner in which you can start writing down your next steps is where the magic happens. This is where the real momentum towards your dream starts!

    Create a schedule and start by writing in when you will start the first task and on which day. Commit to completing this small task and feel the joy of crossing it off your list. Do this with every little step until your first mini goal has been reached.

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    In the early retirement example, schedule in a meeting with a financial advisor. That’s it. Easy.

    As I mentioned before, it may seem such a small step but it’s the momentum that’s the most important element here. Once you cross this off, you can focus on the meeting itself, then once that’s ticked off, you are in a position of starting a profitable retirement fund…and so the momentum continues. You are now on your journey to achieving your dream goal.

    5. Create an annual review

    Taking a step back and reviewing your progress is essential for keeping yourself on the right track. Sometimes you can be moving full steam ahead towards your goal but miss seeing the opportunities to improve a process or even re-evaluate your feelings towards the goal.

    Nominate a day each year to sit down and take a look at your progress. Celebrate your achievements and how far you’ve come. But also think about changing any of the remaining steps in light of new circumstances.

    Has anything changed? Perhaps you got a promotion at work and you feel you can add more to your monthly savings.

    Do you still feel the same about your goal? It’s normal for our desires to change over time and our personal goals need to reflect this.

    Perhaps you’d like to take someone new with you on your travels and you need to take this into account regarding timelines. Are there any new steps you want to add as a result?

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    Remember, reflection is a useful tool in realigning your goal to any changes and it’s important to keep on the right trajectory towards it.

    Strive to become the best goal-setter you can be

    Having personal goals gives you purpose and the feeling of becoming a better version of yourself.

    But it’s the smaller steps within these big goals that the growth and achievement really lies:

    • Whatever your goal is, make sure you get specific on when you want to achieve it. This helps you focus on the necessary steps much more efficiently.
    • Research the actionable steps required to get to the end result and…
    • Break these down into smaller, manageable goals.
    • Create a daily or weekly schedule for these smaller goals and start the positive momentum.
    • Reflect each year on your goal journey and purpose, readjusting steps according to changes in circumstance or desire.

    Keep going and always have the end goal in sight. Remember the ‘why’ behind your goal throughout to keep you motivated and positive.

    More Resources About Setting & Achieving Goals

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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