Favorite Productivity Tool: Breaks! Breaks to make tea, call up an old friend, read a magazine article, make a sandwich. Breaks reset my thought process and help me work faster.
Most Recommended App: Thought long and hard about this. I love apps. But these days, I love the Phone app. That’s right. That little green app (on iPhone anyway). I love calling people. It is often the quickest and best way to solve a problem.
Last Thing You Read: The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown
Tell us about your journey? I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the most northern large city in North America. Everything in Edmonton is about oil, so when the oil industry bottomed out, my dad lost his job - several times over. He couldn’t find work - no one could - so when he got a decent paying job in Kentucky we all moved down there. I was 13, and I didn’t understand a lick of what anyone was saying.
But I survived high school. (How any of us do that is a miracle!)
Went to college in Missouri and then Tennessee. Degrees in communications - ran a radio station for a bit - and then US history. Married young and lucky.
Moved to Indianapolis for graduate school. Started having kids, and started working for Asthmatic Kitty Records.
Honestly though - that’s all just where I was and what was happening. I just want to find my way. My journey has been one of constant leaving and arriving, it would seem!
What's your favorite part of your day? These days I work from home, and I love the transition period around 3:30 between when the house is still and quiet and I can hear Roxy our cat pit-patter on the wood floors downstairs, and then from nowhere the back door bursts open like an explosion and my three daughters come home from school and it’s a tornado of noise and commotion and activity and hubbub. And if I’m especially lucky that day they trounce upstairs like a pile of rocks going uphill and give me big hugs and sit on my lap and lean into me with their head on my chest I feel them breathe in and out and they tell me what happened in their day.
When do you feel most successful? I call it the HIST575 moment. I was in a class with about 8 other graduate students. It was a discussion seminar on antebellum race relations in the North, led by a professor who was the imminent scholar on the subject. So we come to class one afternoon - it was fall and I’d brought apples from an apple orchard on the way to Bloomington, Indiana from Indianapolis - and it was that rare night where everyone had read everything; everyone was prepared.
And we have this discussion for like 90 minutes. It is heated. Back and forth. People are pissed. Shaking their heads. Sweating, even. We’ve eaten the whole bag of apples. And everyone is kind shaking their heads because it feels like we’ve hit a dead end in our discussion.
But then silence changes into something else, and you can feel it, and someone quietly says something that captures everything we’d been talking about, and at once it resolves everything. And everyone’s head explodes. We’re all slackjawed. The professor - again this is a kind of arrogant guy who has every right to be because he really does know everything there is to know about the subject - sits back in his chair and says, “I’ve never thought of it like that before.”
I love that. I love working with professionals who do the work, who are confident enough in themselves to argue and spar and yet are pursuing resolution and success, and then it happens. Conflict leads to resolution and evolution. Everything comes together in that moment that surprises everyone, and we are greater than the sum of our parts. Someone does or says something that is the result of all this preparation and discussion and sweat and tears and…apple eating. And it just works.
Even typing that out gives me chills. #frisson
What do you do to recharge when you’re feeling drained? It depends. To me, to recharge is to find balance.
So recharging can sometimes mean being by myself by reading a book or listening to music on a walk or a ride on the train. But recharging can also mean meeting new people or going to a busy social event.
I try not to apply rules to recharging and trust my heart to tell me what it needs for that day.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur? To be perfectly honest, I am in a stage of life where I feel less productive than I have in a long time. I am trying to figure this out. I wish I could go back to the John of 3-4 years ago and ask him that question! He was so good at getting so much done!
With that in mind I’d say, find something and stick with it, do it as early as possible, for as long as possible. Push through the boredom. Persist, gently.
And then roll with the changes.
A friend once told me something very wise: “No condition is permanent.” The more I sit with that phrase, the more I need it, and the more I’d pass it on to my younger self.
How do you optimize your day? Oh boy.
I use Todoist as a “to-do” dreamcatcher; if I’m focusing, or running around at the grocery store, or getting to bed, and I think of a task, I add it quickly to Todoist.
Then the first thing I do in the mornings on workdays is load up Todoist and Bear, and I clear out my Todoist inbox by rewording them in actionable language, applying an estimated time to completion, and sorting them into projects.
Then I have a little macro that I paste in Bear that I call my journal. It includes an hourly schedule, a Focus section with only three items, a “What Happened Today” section and a “Message to Tomorrow.”
I fill out my hourly schedule as much as I can, while referring to my to-do list. It includes lunches, meetings, picking up the kids, email, etc; I try to be as realistic as possible.
In my focus I try to put the top three things I want to make sure I get done, no matter what.
This all takes 15-20 minutes.
Then I have a similar ritual at the end of the day.
I love science fiction so I kind of like to think of tomorrow’s John as a different person from me today (which is physiologically and kind of actually true), so at the end of the day, I take 15-20 minutes and recap what happened today, and I write a message to tomorrow John. Sometimes it’s harsh: get this shit done! But more often I try to be encouraging to myself: you can do it! Take it easy! Other times it’s simple: be sure to do this.
It’s silly, but it’s oddly affirming the next morning to read these things.
And then I take no shame in entertaining interruptions. My job is very prone to change and interruptions. Someone calls, something comes up that takes hours, one of my daughters runs into the wall and gets a possible concussion and need to go to the ER; these things happen. It’s ok. You are ok. It will be ok.
Who is the person/people who allowed you to imagine more? Oh my goodness, this could be a very long section! We are all the accumulation of each other are we not?
Working for Sufjan has been a gift. He’s the hardest working person I’ve ever met. He is exacting about perfection, and expects the best from everyone that works with him. But what makes it palatable is that he is as demanding with his own work.
Sufjan succeeds, I think, not just because he tries to do the best work, he is prolific. He knows it’s a numbers game. He makes a lot, and then applies stringent filters to the work.
He is always imagining more; more stuff, and more ambition, more more more - even if sometimes that “more” is actually “less” - if that makes sense. More “less.”
And of course, the important women in my life have had the most impact on me imaging more. My mom has always expected the best of me. And when I’m self-doubting, which is often, it’s my wife who gently nudges me back into confidence. And my daughters have such huge imaginations; nothing is impossible for them. These amazing women form a sort of triumvirate that keeps me going.
What does imagining more mean to you and your story? So, I’ve thought a lot about this lately.
In my bones I feel like the universe is asking more of all of us, or at least me.
I hear this call to imagine more in the actions of the brave Parkland students, who are not taking no for an answer even though we all think they should be self-caring or grieving or simply going to school. They’re doing the work and more. They have seen a dark world, and they are imagining more.
I am also so inspired by #MeToo, and the brave women are risking jobs and reputation to stand up for themselves and each other. It’s not the wealthy actors, but also the women we never hear of on social media: the housekeepers, the administrative assistants, the servers at restaurants.
I see this in the ways people of color have held America together in the face of oppression and extreme adversity. For generations they’ve imagined more.
Imagining more is demanding more of ourselves, expecting more from ourselves, pulling more weight, doing more things, doing better work — but also being graceful towards ourselves, letting ourselves fail and fall behind, and then moving forward without subsisting in the failure.
It means being more active in our communities, yes, but it also means doing more and better work. I mean the work of answering emails, and making presentations, and setting up KPIs for ROIs and all the silly acronyms we apply to everything.
And I don’t mean turning into workaholics; in a way, that’s functionally doing less.
Imagining more means treating each other better along the way of doing good work. Expecting more of each other, but at the same imagining more is also being more graceful to each other, letting each other fall, and helping each other up again, and relying more upon each other to get through it.
Imagining more means being more intentional with our time and our work. It means discarding the frivolous, the petty, the insignificant. Imagining more is a state of uncomfortable discontent, without sitting in that feeling — and instead moving into impactful action that makes a difference.
If you could do more of one thing every day what would it be? Give more hugs, get more hugs. 🤗