Advertising
Advertising

2×4: An Interview With Brett Kelly

2×4: An Interview With Brett Kelly


    2×4: One series that examines two topics, creativity and productivity, by asking those who make things on the web the same four questions on both subjects.

    We all want to change our circumstances; we want to make more money or get a better job. For most of us, it’s simply a fantasy, something we’ll imagine ourselves doing, something we may even try for, but more likely than not, it’s something that will never happen. Why? We don’t do what it takes to make that happen. Brett Kelly of Bridging The Nerd Gap made that happen when he got his job at Evernote.

    Many of us sit around and scheme. We try to find any easy route to improve our circumstances. What most of us don’t do: the work. We don’t do what it takes to get ourselves noticed and get in the door. Brett did. Brett wrote the user guide that was missing, Evernote Essentials. It was downloaded 12,000 times and caught the attention of the team at Evernote so much so that they hired Brett full-time to write and maintain their user documentation. It was a chain of events that enabled Brett’s wife to be a full-time mother, empowered him to work from home and helped them get to a place where Brett was no longer working two jobs (or when he is, it is now in pursuit of his own projects).

    Brett’s story is more than a bit of hard work or a spot of good luck; it wasn’t just about writing the right book at the right time. It’s about consistently looking for ways to make things that matter and delivering the goods. Evernote Essentials is a great resource and the site he created to support it, “Bridging The Nerd Gap” is consistently a useful site. Brett is a hell of a writer, especially for those of us who enjoy our Mac geekery. He brings the goods, but he is also grounded in a way that is rare amidst us Apple and GTD fanatics. Look no further than his recent take on minimalist writing apps. Where most of us get excited and exuberant, Brett finds clarity and makes sense.

    Without further ado, here’s a look at how Brett Kelly consistently does what it takes to make things happen.

    Creativity

    Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

    Advertising

    No, not really. Though, when I was growing up, “creative” was a word used to describe poets, musicians and sculptors. I’ve enjoyed writing in some form or another going back to high school, but it wasn’t until many (many) years later that I saw it as a creative pursuit on par with the other, more obviously “artsy” endeavors I mentioned a second ago. Now, I would say that I’m certainly a creative person, but I don’t necessarily think that makes me terribly unique. The lesser-sung outlets for creativity, I think, are things like problem-solving. My six-year-old son isn’t going to be writing sonnets anytime soon, but he can certainly figure out a way to eat the last cookie without technically breaking the rules.

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

    My creative expression can be wrapped up in precisely two gerunds: writing and programming. I can’t paint, draw or play a musical instrument. I deal in words and characters (the kind you access via the Shift key, not the kind you develop as a novelist) because the parameters are fairly well understood and agreed-upon, particularly when talking about software. All the creativity in the world isn’t going to save you if your program doesn’t compile or generates three screenfuls of error messages. You’re working in a known universe. I like it that way. English is arguably quite similar, though there’s definitely more flexibility. When I’m writing, my goal is to say something that the reader can understand. If I fail at that, then it’s time to re-examine the execution a bit and figure out where things went south.

    The inspiration part is easy: people who are better craftspeople than I am. Thanks to the Internet, you can hardly swing a dead eCat without hitting somebody who is a hell of a lot better than you at just about everything. Having ready access to the works of my heroes—both writers and programmers—is like looking out toward what I may become one day, if I work hard and take every opportunity to improve.

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

    I guess I’d have to say my eBook Evernote Essentials is my current front-runner for the achievement of which I’m most proud. This is mostly because it’s far and away the longest single work I’ve ever produced and, well, it’s earned me some money. Plus, lots of people really like it, which helps.

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

    Creativity isn’t about being able to paint or write or make music; it happens every day on a much smaller, less glamorous level. When I discover that I can use a binder clip to hold my iOS charging cable firmly to my desk, that’s creativity applied to problem solving (except people don’t usually use the world “creativity”).

    You’re a unique little snowflake of a person that’s walking around having had different experiences than everybody else. These experiences combined with your personality give you a particular take on any number of problems or topics. After all, a butcher’s apprentice is going to be a very different hunting partner than a taxidermy student. Use your specific brain and emotional makeup to take a look at existing situations/problems and see if you don’t have different spin on it (because that’s exactly what creativity is — a different spin on the stuff we all see/feel/use).

    Productivity

    Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

    By day, I’m the Technical Communications Manager for a startup called Evernote. The title is a little ambiguous, but my duties include generating user documentation and doing a bit of programming—some things for the web, some internal tools. If you’ve ever used the Evernote Knowledge Base, you’ve probably read words that I’ve written.

    Personally, I’m the undeserving husband to my first wife and we have two great kids. I also write a blog called Bridging the Nerd Gap where I talk about all sorts of different things, mostly relating in some way to technology or productivity. I also co-host a weekly podcast with my good buddy Myke Hurley called Cooking with Brett and Myke where he and I talk about anything and everything that happens to tickle our fancy on a given day. Lastly, I’m the one-man show behind my little ebook business where I handle everything from marketing, customer support, product development and—most importantly—the office coffee equipment.

    I’ve got other self-imposed responsibilities in the form of unannounced projects and such, but those are the biggies.

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

    This is one area where I could definitely use some work, but I’ve got a reasonably good handle on things. Every day I eat a quick breakfast with my family before walking down the hall to work (I work at home). I don’t usually take a real lunch break, but having taken a couple of strategic breaks to hug my wife and kids, who are also usually at home, I knock off around dinner time and have dinner with the family, followed by family hang-out time until my kids go to bed a couple hours later. Then, I’ll either spend time writing, reading or working on something. I’ve got far more ideas than I have time to execute on them, though, and that’s hard.

    The more tactical parts where I need help involve getting to bed at a reasonable hour and doing a better job “defining my work” (to borrow an expression from David Allen). I’m routinely bitten in the ass by a poorly defined project or task, so I’m trying to make fewer mistakes there and spend less time tuning my task manager (which will lead to knocking more tasks out in the time I’ve got and not crawling into bed at 1:30am).

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

    I’m a big proponent of GTD. We’ve had a rocky relationship in the past, but it’s definitely how I like to roll. The best part about it, I think, is that it makes it possible to move everything forward, even if it’s only a little bit.

    As far as tools, you’ll almost always find me in one of these applications: OmniFocus for tasks on my Macs and iOS devices, Evernote for all sorts of different things, Vim for writing code and prose and Apple’s Mail. Without OmniFocus and Evernote, I’d probably be 40 pounds heavier, single and in therapy.

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

    I’ve probably bought more copies of David Allen’s Getting Things Done for desperate friends than I care to remember, but that’s what I tell just about everybody to do. Yeah, I know it’s become cliché and lots and lots of people won’t shut up about it, but it’s really such a great antidote for the stressed out everyman (or “everylady”, if that’s a thing).

    Tactically, do what David Allen calls a “mental sweep”; essentially, sit down with a big stack of paper and a pen and completely empty your head of every single thing that’s got your attention, one item per sheet. You can read his seminal book for more info on what to do after this, but the point is that your brain is really good at solving problems and creating things, but it positively sucks at holding information such that it can be called back up on command.

    If I’m ever feeling overwhelmed, I’ll sit down and do exactly this mental sweep activity until I’ve cleared everything out of my brain and it can relax.

    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

    Trending in Lifehack

    1 How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever 2 The Lifehack Show: Overcoming Anxiety Through Personal Agency with Dr. Paul Napper 3 The Lifehack Show: On Friendship and Belonging with Dr. Kyler Shumway 4 The Lifehack Show: On Personal Success with Robert Glazer 5 The Lifehack Show: Mindfulness and the Authentic Self with Ora Nadrich

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on December 3, 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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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?

    Advertising

    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 About Setting & Achieving Goals

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Read Next