Advertising
Advertising

2×4: An Interview With Gabe Weatherhead

2×4: An Interview With Gabe Weatherhead

2X4 Interviews

    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.

    Run an interview series long enough and you start to see trends emerge. In the case of these 2×4 interviews, a clear, recurring theme has emerged. Those who tell me that they “aren’t all that creative” when I request the interview end up offering some of the best perspective of the series. Today’s interviewee, Gabe Weatherhead of Macdrifter, is no exception.

    I first learned of Gabe’s work through fellow 2×4 participant David Sparks’ Mac Power Users podcast. He tends to focus in on an app and learns how to make the most out of it. It was his impressive efforts with Keyboard Maestro that caught David and his co-host Katie Floyd’s attention. When they wanted to do a full episode on Keyboard Maestro, they decided to bring him in to guide Mac users through the application. Gabe is not only knowledgable, but he excels at making things clear in a way that even the code-free amongst us can benefit.

    I’d go on, but frankly, I’m just keeping you from some excellent answers to some rather straightforward questions. So without further ado, here’s one of my favorite entries to date in this series courtesy of Gabe Weatherhead from Macdrifter.

    Creativity

    Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

    I think everyone is a creative person. It’s what defines us as human beings. We can’t escape it. Anyone that has found themselves stuck in a bathroom without tissue knows how creative they can be.

    In all seriousness, it’s my opinion that, as we become adults, we become more effective at pushing down creativity in exchange for efficiency. Occasionally those two aspects are mutually exclusive but some of us lack the ability to know when. I think when I am enjoying my work I am more creative because I’m not looking for a quick resolution. I’m looking for a better resolution. I have a good sense of my limits and no problem telling people “no.” The shorter my task list, the more freedom I have to be creative.

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

    I am a scientist by training and view problems through that lens. The natural world provides an essentially infinite supply of inspirational solutions to problems.

    When thinking about problems, I tend to anthropomorphize the inanimate. I’ve always done this. When I was a chemist, I related to chemical reactions as human interactions. For example, I think about how one molecular construct has a preference for another. Or how two molecules might be encouraged to react by the right catalyst. Now that I spend more time being a hack programmer, I think in the same way. I say things like “how would this application talk to this one?” or “who needs to talk to this method and what language are they speaking?” Personally, I think this is what enables me to deal with extremely abstract ideas.

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

    My daughter is my single greatest achievement. But I have other things I like too. Oddly, I don’t really take pride in my posts at Macdrifter.com. I like writing there and try to do a good job, but I don’t think I’m particularly good at writing. What I do take pride in is making things people find useful. I really enjoy comments and emails where people share how they are using a small piece of something I’ve done. I do have a list of highlight posts but they are a list of things I had fun writing, rather than a list of what I think is good. I guess I just don’t respect my opinion much.

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

    Get over it. There’s no such thing. Some people have a better perception of shapes and colors or a steadier hand. That’s just biology. There are very few humans that are truly and uniquely inspired and that quality usually comes at a high price. As far as I know, only a serious brain injury can suddenly change our innate skills. I’ll skip that option.

    I have three suggestions to have more fun doing better work.

    I try to take the time to really appreciate things around me. At one point in my life, I enjoyed painting and sketching. Through that experience, I learned to stop and think about the shape and colors of things. I would wonder how I could reproduce a particular color or shadow effect. Now I try to do the same. When I read a Gruber article or a Horace analysis, I try to think about what makes it so good. What makes a superior sentence or argument?

    It’s hard but I try to get to the nut first and then elaborate. Too often I will ramble (like now) before getting to my point. I’m more effective if I outline first and then go in and elaborate the thought or project. Afterward, I go back and cut unnecessary material.

    Relax and enjoy the work. Just as there are few people that are uniquely skilled, there are also few jobs or problems that are actually critical. We’ve been screwing things up throughout history. There are very few bad choices that really matter on a grand scale. If I’m not enjoying the work, then I’m thinking about it too much or I’ve chosen the wrong work.

    Productivity

    Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

    I’m a dad and a husband first and I’m a “Lead Systems Engineer” second. I have no idea what that title is supposed to mean. My daily job is to plan, design and implement software solutions for research scientists at a pharmaceutical company. I focus on things like chemistry applications and electronic laboratory notebooks. My job is a hybrid between project manager, scientist and software engineer. My day consists of Gantt charts, chemical structures and code (mostly Python/SQL/JavaScript/VBScript).

    I have far too many hobbies to list but I brew and collect beer and enjoy Mac hacking. I prefer to teach myself something new before I will pay someone else to do it for me. That means I do a bit of everything. I cook, make cabinetry and wire networks. I’m not great at any of them, but it makes me appreciate a master at work.

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

    I try not to over-think it too much but my family always comes first. I have organized my schedule so I can come home early (I’m up by 4:30am). After work I get about an hour to practice code or work on a personal project before I pick up my daughter from school. My wife is in law school so I carry a bit more load at home. That means making dinner, giving baths and lots of dancing with a 3-year-old.

    I forfeited what I would consider a successful career as a scientist to make sure my life was constructed around things that are important to me. That includes family, hobbies and principles. It’s liberating to know that I’ve already done some of the scariest things I will do in my life. Either that or I’m blissfully ignorant. I’ll take either.

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

    Here comes the nerdery. I use Markdown. A lot. It keeps my work structured but without making it overly complex or fiddly. I write emails in Markdown and I take notes in Markdown. It’s Markdown all the way down.

    That leaves me plenty of time to fiddle with other applications though. I benefit from OmniFocus and the Reminders app with Siri. I’m forced to work in a locked Windows environment (read: NO DROPBOX) all day so I bridge that world with MS Exchange integration with iOS and Simplenote. So basically, I still rely on OS X and iOS even though 90% of my work is done on Windows.

    I also think tinkering has received a bad rap. It’s disparaged as being unproductive or procrastination in some circles. I think it leads to discovery. It has provided me with a comfort and familiarity with my tools. It’s ok to sit and sharpen an axe if you intend to use it. I spend plenty of time writing little scripts to use while I write. It’s made me more comfortable in my chosen tools. Learning some amount of scripting has been incredibly valuable to me. Anyone can learn to write Python or Ruby. Not Perl though. That’s for the criminally insane.

    I offload as much as I can to my iPad. Instead of keeping my mail open on my work computer, I use my iPad. It reduces the Pavlovian email response and keeps me focused on work. I occasionally take notes on paper but I always transcribe to my iPad. I also use my iPad for task management throughout the day. The iPad is the logical conclusion of the PalmPilot and OmniFocus is the pinnacle of task management on iOS.

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

    I’m no expert. I’m also not comfortable saying what other people should do. For me, I find the things I enjoy and incorporate those into my work. I get more done when I enjoy the work. Sure, a nice pen doesn’t write more, but it will make me hold that pen more which precipitates more writing or sketching. The same goes for a well-designed app or webpage.

    The single best thing I have done to help keep me organized was to get married. The second best thing was to get a ScanSnap scanner and go paperless as much as possible. I try to avoid any paper and I prefer to buy eBooks whenever I can.

    Finally, I don’t follow movements. I prefer to focus on what makes me happy. I don’t cut things out to achieve an ideal. I just spend more time with the things I like. I do the parts of GTD I like. I don’t clean my desk to be minimal. I don’t have inbox-zero. Movements and mantras are insidious and counterproductive to me.

    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 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

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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].

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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

    Read Next