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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 7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes 2 Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes & How to Tackle Them 3 9 Powerful Questions That Can Improve Your Quality of Life 4 How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them 5 20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

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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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