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2×4: An Interview With Brett Terpstra

2×4: An Interview With Brett Terpstra

    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.

    There is a day in every Apple geek’s life that leaves a permanent mark; it’s a day we all remember. It’s a moment in time where things change, and get better. Tasks that once seemed complicated become easier. You discover new tools that make your work on and for the web more efficient.

    That day is the day you discover Brett Terpstra.

    To discover Brett is to want to learn more about what you can make for your Mac. You start going down rabbit holes that you never imagined yourself going down. For the uninitiated, Brett is the developer of Marked, the Senior Dev at AOL, he is a frequent blogger on both his own site and TUAW and as Brett it himself said, “I create elegant solutions to complex problems.” He also creates exceptionally useful tools such as nvALT and helpful resources such as his library of TextExpander tools. Brett is generous with his time and his creations and even though those of us who are not deeply technical will occasionally find ourselves in over our heads, his creations are useful for all levels of geek, including all of us productivity and “lifehack types.

    Without any further ado, here’s an inside look at how Brett Terpstra manages to do in a week what many of us would find to be impossible in a lifetime.

    Creativity

    Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

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    Not really, but not for lack of desire.

    My younger brother is an amazing artist; even his toddler scribbles were always fridge-worthy. In my single-digit years, I was a bit competitive and constantly assured myself I was just as creative as he was. It wasn’t true, at least not in the fine arts disciplines, but I maintained a shaky confidence for a while.

    In a parallel story, my father brought home a PC Jr. when I was six. I started experimenting in Logo and BASIC and solving Kings Quest games. I didn’t realize at the time that these were creative pursuits.

    After coming to terms with the fact that drawing and painting were not my fortes, I pursued my technical interests. I built my own PCs, started a BBS and continued programming. I also acquired a used Tascam 4-track, a keyboard and an acoustic guitar and began piling up cassettes full of compositions. Once again, I didn’t really piece together the connection between all of these things.

    I went to college at the University of Minnesota for Computer Science, failed Calc 2 and–for some reason– decided to try art school. I went to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a BA in Interactive Multimedia. It was there that I finally came to understand that my technical and creative sides were tightly intertwined; I realized I’d been creative all along.

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

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    Computers. My peers often espouse starting on paper, but my creative flow is much smoother when I have a keyboard and trackpad in front of me. I brainstorm in digital mind maps, record in DAWs, outline and build solutions in text editors and design in vector and photo-editing applications. I know that more analog mediums are better for some people, but they don’t click for me the way that digital solutions do.

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

    I think an app I wrote in 2006 called MoodBlast would be my pride and joy. MoodBlast was a way to update 6 of the most popular micro-blogging services simultaneously from a HUD you could pop up with a keyboard shortcut. Everyone’s forgotten about it by now, but it was the attention that it received that made me start thinking that some things that came easily to me were less obvious to others. It may not have been the best work of my life, but it was a turning point in my awareness of my own capabilities (and limitations, but that’s another story).

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

    I think the takeaway from my own story is that you might not be creative in the areas you initially want to be, but by examining the things you are good at (or at least drawn to), you might find that you’re already creative— and exceptional. Embrace those talents and constantly explore and develop them. All creativity comes back to solving a problem, whether it’s putting ideas on paper or canvas, making physical objects do something useful or beautiful or making bits and bytes ease a workflow???.

    Productivity

    Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

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    I head up the team of developers behind tech blogs including Engadget, The Unofficial Apple Weblog and Joystiq. I work mostly on front-end code and design, and provide a communication bridge between the platform developers and my team. I also develop and support Marked and other Mac applications in my “spare” time.

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

    I ran my own business for a few years, freelanced for a bit and have worked from home for quite a while now. The one thing I’ve learned is that areas of responsibility need clear time divisions. I won’t say I’m the best at it, or that I always honor the time slots I set for myself, but when there’s no geographic division between home, work and play, I need specific times–and often physical spaces–to keep things separate. Failing to do so typically leads to an imbalance for me. I’m good at quitting my day job around five, but when it comes to the rest of the day I tend to be less precise. I have a very obsessive personality; I’ll stay up all night working on a project that I’ll often discard by morning. That was a waste of time I could (should) have spent with my family (my wife, our two dogs, three cats and a parrot) and a lack of sleep that will affect my productivity for at least the next 24 hours.

    Creating obligations is sometimes the only way I enforce those separations. I hate flaking on promises, so making plans to be somewhere with someone is usually the motivation I need to stop what I’m doing and switch modes. Even if it’s just a plan to watch a movie in the living room with my wife, it’s usually enough to force that division.

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

    I use plain text for a lot of what I do, from writing to note-taking to programming. I even use plain text for certain task management purposes (TaskPaper), but I rely on OmniFocus to handle my overall daily todos. My text editor is the tool that gets the most use on any given day. That’s always been TextMate, but I’m really starting to love Sublime Text 2 as well. When writing, I usually use Byword and always work in Markdown.

    My own applications are often designed to fill a specific need in my own workflow, so a good portion of my toolset is of my own design. nvALT (a fork of the incredible Notational Velocity) is in constant use and all of my projects rely on notes and lists stored within it. Marked is a major part of my writing workflow. Launchbar and FastScripts, along with a slew of my own AppleScripts and shell scripts, fill in the missing holes. Working without these tools is slow and tedious for me.

    As far as techniques go, I’m a fan of the Pomodoro technique. I find it works well with my need for allotted times for specific tasks, and it provides the structure I find important in my time management. A grid to work within. I don’t use it religiously, but whenever I sense the need for it, I pull up a Pomodoro timer (usually on my iPhone).

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

    Outlining and planning is important, but it doesn’t really produce anything. I always think it’s going to be the best way to get rolling on a large project, but it’s a “fiddling” stage. I’m not advising against it, just don’t depend on it to help you actually begin accomplishing the work part. The most important step for me is writing the first paragraph, coding that first function, drawing the first lines on a blank page. Then things start to fall into place. For me, outlining and mapping can eventually become an avoidance of actual work.

    I’d attribute most of my own productivity to being fortunate enough to get paid for doing what I love, and often having the flexibility to work on what I’m in the mood for at any given moment. That’s a luxury that I don’t think many people have. If you have the option, though, allow yourself to work on what you feel most motivated to accomplish right now. It’s far easier than concentrating on a task while thinking about another project entirely.

    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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    1 Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes And How To Tackle Them 2 The Power of Tapping into Your Hidden Creativity 3 How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic Throughout the Day 4 5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life 5 Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Conquer It Step-By-Step)

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2019

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes And How To Tackle Them

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes And How To Tackle Them

    Procrastination is something many people can relate to and I, myself, have been there and done that. Yes, I write all about productivity now, but when I first started out on my career path, I would often put off work I didn’t want to do. And most of the time I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

    So what changed?

    I thought to myself, “why do I procrastinate?” And I started to read a lot of books on productivity, learning a great deal and shifting my mind to the reasons why people procrastinate.

    My understanding brought me a new perspective on how to put an end to the action of procrastination.

    Procrastination slows your goals and dreams way down. It can create stress and feelings of frustration. It rears its ugly head on a regular basis for a lot of people. This is particularly apparent at work with day-to-day projects and tasks.

    But, why do people self-sabotage in this way? Essentially, there are 5 reasons behind procrastination. See if you can identify with any of these in your own work life.

    1. The Perfectionist’s Fear

    Procrastination is sometimes a subconscious fear of failure.

    If you put off a task enough, then you can’t face up to the potential (and usually imagined) negative results. If you’re a stickler for minor details, the stress of getting things ‘just right’ may be too much and cause you to delay continuing the task.

    Either way, fear is at the root cause and can sabotage your desire to move forward.

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    How to Tackle It?

    Try visualizing the completion of your task in a positive way.

    For example, you have a presentation that your boss wants you to conduct for a potential client. Visualize yourself standing in the meeting room confident, meeting the eyes of the client and seeing them light up as you explain the concept simply and concisely.

    Imagine your boss telling you how great you did and you were the best person for the job. Think about how it would feel to you and focus on this as you move forward with the task.

    2. A Dreamer’s Lack of Action

    This is a person who is highly creative and has many brilliant ideas but can’t quite seem to bring them to fruition.

    The main reason for this is because there’s usually no structure or goal setting involved once the idea has been created. This aimless approach ends up manifesting as a lack of decision-making and significant delays on a project.

    How to Tackle It?

    Write down a timeline of what you want to achieve and by when. Ideally, do this daily to keep yourself on track and accountable for progression. Creative minds tend to jump from one idea to the next, so cultivating focus is essential.

    If you’re designing and creating a new product at work, set out a task list for the week ahead with the steps you want to focus on each day. Doing this ahead of time will stop your mind from wandering across to different ideas.

    Learn about how to plan your time and take actions from some of the successful people: 8 Ways Highly Successful People Plan Their Time

    3. An Overwhelmed Avoider

    This is one of the most common reasons for procrastination; the sheer overwhelm of a daunting task.

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    The complexity of a task can cause the brain to lose motivation and avoid doing it altogether choosing instead to stay in its comfort zone.

    The search then starts for a more enjoyable task and the harder tasks are put off. This can cause stress and dread when the task inevitably comes up to be completed.

    How to Tackle It?

    Break the challenge down into smaller tasks and tackle each one individually.

    For example, if you have a project that has technical elements to it that you know you’ll find challenging, list each step you need to take in order to complete these difficult elements. Think of ways you can resolve potential hurdles. Perhaps you have a coworker that may have time to help or even consider that the solution may be easier than you initially think. Put each task in order of most daunting to least daunting. Ideally, try to deal with the more challenging parts of each task in the morning so that momentum is created as the tasks get easier through the day.

    A reward system will also help you stay motivated so, once completed, you can enjoy your treat of choice.

    If you want to know how to better handle your feelings and stay motivated, take a look at my other article: Procrastination Is a Matter of Emotion, Here’s How to Stop It

    4. The Busy Bee Who Lacks Prioritization

    Either you have too many tasks or don’t truly acknowledge the differing importance of each task. The result? Getting nothing done.

    Time is spent switching constantly from one task to another or spending too much time deciding what to do.

    How to Tackle It?

    It’s all about priorities and choosing important tasks over urgent ones.

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    Make sure to question the value and purpose of each task and make a list in order of importance.

    For example, throughout your work day, you can waste a lot of time dealing with ‘urgent’ emails from colleagues but, you need to ask yourself if these are more important than working on a task that will affect, say, several office projects at once.

    Help yourself to prioritize and set a goal of working through your list over the next few hours reassessing the situation once the time is up.

    In my other article, I talk about an effective way to prioritze and achieve more in less time: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    5. The One with Shiny Object Syndrome (Distraction-Prone)

    This is another common cause for procrastination; just simple distraction.

    Our brains aren’t wired to focus for long periods of time and it looks for something else. So throw in a bunch of colleagues equally looking for distractions or checking your phone mindlessly, and you’ve got a recipe for ultimate procrastination.

    However, this type of procrastination may not always be an unconscious decision to sabotage and put off work. It’s simply a result of your work setup or types of coworkers you have. Only you know the answer to that.

    How to Tackle It?

    Be mindful of your workspace and potential distractions. Schedule a specific time to converse with your coworkers, put headphones on to minimize listening to what’s going on around you, and switch your phone off.

    Aim to do this for 20-30 minutes at a time and then take a break. This will be a much more efficient way of working and getting what you need done. This is also why scheduling down time is so important for productivity.

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    Whether this type of procrastination is self-sabotage or being a victim of a distracting environment, either way you can take control.

    If you need a little more guidance on how to stay focus, this guide can help you: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    Bottom Line

    I’m going to be bold and assume you identified with at least one of these procrastination pitfalls.

    You could be trapped in the endless cycle of procrastination like I was, that is, until I decided to find out my why behind putting off tasks and projects. It was only then that I could implement strategies and move forward in a positive and productive way.

    I killed the procrastination monster and so can you. I now complete my tasks more efficiently and completely killed that feeling of stress and falling behind with work that procrastination brings.

    I know it’s not easy to stop procrastinating right away, so I also have this complete guide to help you stop it once and for all: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    Featured photo credit: Luke Chesser via unsplash.com

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