HACK / MAKE

My Financial Framework and System

A framework to balance your income and spending into a manageable and sustainable system so you can make and automate better financial decisions.

There’s a lot of systems in my life. There are things to manage what I need to get done, to keep track of places I need to be, to document notes and stuff for reference. I even have a “pocket system” to make sure I have everything I need with me. One system that was lacking was something to help track and manage my finances. I don’t mean something like Mint.com, though that is an important piece of the puzzle. I needed a full framework that I could use to make smart decisions about how my income gets divided into short-term and long-term savings, and spending money and money for needs. I needed a method to the ways I spend my money. Should I put everything on my credit card and pay it off regularly? What about when I need to take out cash for the food truck? What account does that come from? The way I had been doing things for years was kind of working. Kind of meaning that I would get paid and I would pay rent and then by the end of the month everything else would be gone. I wasn’t month-to-month in that money was really tight; I was month-to-month as in I would meet my needs and then just spend everything else. I wasn’t broke but I wasn’t getting ahead.

I started following the blog Get Rich Slowly at the beginning of the year. Reading the ongoing posts and digging into their archive had me start thinking about the whys of money for me. If you’ve been reading my posts for a little while, you’ll notice that when I get to figuring out the why of something, the rest of the knot starts to unravel. I started to consider why I hadn’t been saving and why I didn’t think much about managing my money.

Why

Without understand the why, I wouldn’t be able to go all-in with caring a lot about managing my money. I discovered why I was scared to save money: I want to take time away from my career to travel. Having money saved would be the catalyst that gave me permission to quit my job and go see the world. I was scared to drop everything to explore so I didn’t put money into that account. Money gives me the freedom to do the things I truly want and my scared subconscious was keeping me safe by keeping that account empty. I was also afraid that somehow being too conscious about money would make me focus on it more rather it just being a thing that exists which can help me do the stuff I want.

I want a certain level of security. I want to know that if something bad happens in my life or the life of a loved one, I would be able to support that situation financially.

I want to be able to put my money into things that are valuable and well made and beautiful and worth my attention. High quality things last longer but generally cost more up front. I want to spend less on the things I didn’t really care about, like fast food, so I can save for purchases that mean something to me.

I also want to be in a position that I can give freely. Sometimes giving money is just training to help teach ourselves about generous living but I also want to be able to put my money into the things I believe in. Part of this is giving to my church but I also want to have money set aside to be able to give to other people and projects that matter to me.

I want a framework that is easy to manage, both with income and spending. A simple system that’s easy to take care of and be partially automated would be maintainable and sustainable. Some extra thinking up front would mean I wouldn’t have to think about it whenever I stand at the ATM deciding which account to draw cash from. If I set things up right, I would never run into the issue where some pending purchase went through the same day rent needed to clear, bouncing the check. I don’t need a system to save for retirement or for investing but to help be aware of my finances and provide constraints and simplify managing my money.

The Framework

A Game of Percentages

For me a standard budget never seemed to work. It didn’t make sense to me to put aside x dollars a month for entertainment even if there weren’t good concerts or movies out that month but I really wanted to be eating out more. I’ve always been more flexible with my spending where sometimes I’ll go out less and save up for a bigger purchase. I needed a framework to work within rather than a budget.

The Balanced Money Formula seemed to be that method. It suggests that your needs shouldn’t be over 50% of your after tax, pocketed income. Savings should be at least 20% of your income and you can do what you want with the other 30%. This made a lot of sense. If I wanted to eat ramen every night so that I can save for some cool thing that’s costs 30% of what I made that month, that fits in the framework.

I took a look at my bare necessities, as the formula suggests, and that came out to 45% of my income. That’s things like rent and utilities, student loan payment, paying off some credit card debt, and groceries. I’d rather it be closer to 35% but I partially blame the costs of living in Manhattan and that I factored debt repayment into being a Need, at least for the next few months. I wanted to push myself to save more and create a constraint around my free will spending so my formula has Saving up at 25%. This leaves Wants down to 20% because I factored 10% (a tithe, if you will) of my income to giving. A good chunk of that Giving money goes to an offering to my church, while some goes to support my sister in the missions work she does, and some gets set aside for miscellaneous giving. If you don’t have a church or feel that’s not your thing, I encourage you to budget some giving into your framework anyway. Being generous is one of the few great things we can do as human beings.

So, the “in” part of my framework—the buckets that income gets put in—looks like this:

  • Needs: 45%
  • Savings: 25%
  • Wants: 20%
  • Giving: 10%

Can’t save 25% of your paycheck? That’s fine. How about 2%? Anything is better than nothing and it’ll start to get you into the habit of automating your savings.

Buckets for Money, Not Buckets of Money

Figuring out how I should be divvying up the money I make is only part of the framework; I also needed a place to put the money that fits with how I wanted to spend it (or not spend it). I’ve always liked the idea behind the Envelope System, where you put cash in different envelopes for the different categories of your spending budget and when that envelope is empty, you’re tapped out of that area of spending. The cash-in-an-envelope part wouldn’t work for me but part of the logic does.

I have four bank accounts set up to be my different “envelopes.” I have a checking account for Needs, a checking account for Wants, and two separate savings accounts both for Savings and an Emergency Savings account. My work allows me to do direct deposit of my paycheck into several different accounts at whatever percentage or dollar amount I request, so all of the “in” percentages get deposited into these accounts. If you get paid by direct deposit, ask your employer about getting it deposited into multiple accounts. If they can’t, or you don’t get payed by direct deposit, schedule automatic transfers from your main checking account out to your other accounts. Automation is an important part of this framework.

Here’s how my accounts work:

Needs Account: This account is where the 45% of my income goes into and where just comes right back out for rent and groceries. I use USAA, an online bank with great reviews, but any checking account will do. For this account, I needed checks for rent and a debit card tied to pay for groceries and any other Needs that weren’t automatically drawn from this account. I’ll talk more about using credit cards vs. debiting directly out of accounts, but briefly, I felt like I should be buying basic needs with real money—money I had—rather than credit. When I’m at the grocery store, I pull out the card marked Needs and swipe that rather than cash or credit. I’ve also tied my needs account to Paypal so that I can give to my church online and it will come right out of this account.1

Savings Account: I have two ING Direct high-interest savings accounts that I use for my Savings and Emergency accounts. I chose this system of savings accounts (rather than something like Bank of America or TD that offer both checking and savings together) because of the benefit of the higher interest rates and because they were separate. I can’t just cheat when I’m at the Apple Store and buy whatever’s new and hot by swiping my bank card and choosing the Savings Account button. I can still transfer money out of my savings into a connected external bank checking account, like Wants, but it takes a day or two which helps reduce impulse purchases out of savings. The emergency account acts likes standard savings account, but usually holds a minimum of $1000 or a months pay that just sits there in case something bad happens and you need money for hospital bills, or a flight to see family, or whatever emergency may come up without having to tap into credit debt.

Wants Account: This is another standard checking account that has a separate debit card. I don’t need checks for this account because who buys things with checks? When I get tacos for lunch or go eat out at a fancy restaurant, I use this debit card. When I go see a movie or buy train tickets to get out of the city for the day, I use this card. I can get cash out for the ice cream truck or for late night street meat with this card. The best (and worst) part of this? When it’s gone, it’s gone. I can run this account to $0 (Aside: Don’t set up auto-overdraft transfers. They come with hefty fees and you need to learn that when it’s gone, it’s gone.) and I know that my rent will be paid and I won’t go starving since my groceries come off of my Needs account. If I want to buy something big, I can let this account grow for a few pay periods and use that money to buy something fancy. This account will see the most transactions and probably the most abuse, but I’ve allowed for that to happen while protecting the things that need to clear.

Is having all these accounts messy or complicated? Not really; the automation takes care of most of it. Hopefully, you aren’t touching your savings often so that leaves just your Needs and Wants. I think having two checking accounts actually makes it easier to manage and the built-in fail-safes of not overspending and missing rent makes any additional management worth the time you’d otherwise spend worrying.

Credit Card or Debit Card?

Noticed how I haven’t said much about credit cards yet? I don’t think they’re that important to the framework. They should be a payment method for the money you have, not a magical money printing device. Credit cards are important though. It matters to have a credit history and spending on a credit card can give you things like cash-back or travel rewards and insure your purchases. But they can also cause a lot of problems since it’s so easy to get yourself in trouble with them and to rely on credit for money that you don’t have, don’t have yet, or won’t ever have.

I’ve reduced spending on my Visa greatly in the past couple months while I get more comfortable with this framework and get a feel for how the balances look at the end of the month. I still do use the card sometimes but have my Wants checking account set up to pay off recent spending that classify as Wants and my Needs checking account set up to put money towards paying debt. I still have some sites like Amazon tied to my credit card, though I could attach my Wants account.

Since I’m a Canadian abroad in the States, I don’t really have any credit history. I was lucky to get this Visa card in the first place and want to continue to build good credit here. For me in the next several months, I’ll rely more on my debit card and spend money I know I have rather than buy on credit and put off zeroing out that credit balance with money from my Wants account. It’s not that credit cards are bad, but for now, using it less is easier for me to manage, track, and understand my spending habits.

Tracking Where Your Money Goes

Tracking “every penny” is a core part of any money management system. I actually have found this the easiest part thanks to Mint.com. Once you do the initial set up, it does a lot of the work for you. You just need to remember to go in—I do it once a week—and review things like uncategorized transactions and that your spending categories seem to be on a normal trend. Put this as a recurring task into OmniFocus or your GTD system, if that’s a thing you do, so it doesn’t get forgotten.

Making It Work For You

Finances are a pretty personal thing. With a wide range of incomes, needs, debt, and financial responsibilities, it’s hard for one solution to work for everybody. This framework isn’t meant for everybody but I think it might fit for lots of people. The important part is that it’s a framework. Frameworks are concepts, an architecture to work with and work around. Things like your Needs, Wants, and Savings percentages can be adjusted for what works for you. The financial struggles I face are probably common ones and maybe at least some of the ideas in this framework can be applied to create a system that helps money free you to do the things that you want to do.


  1. My “Giving” funds living in my “Needs” account for now, because I haven’t thought of a better way of doing it. I guess I could open a third checking account. 

Tips on Writing And How They’re Really Just Tips on Life

I’ve found a few things in what’s nearing a year of doing it regularly that have helped me in writing. Some are things that help me write better and some are things that just help me write, no matter if it’s good material or not. When I thought more about these things, I realized that they were universal, not just a writing technique or tactic, but something that’s applicable to things at a higher level. Here’s a few things I’ve learned:

Write in Markdown. I’m just going to get this out of the way first. The rest of the post will assume you’re smart enough to adopt writing in Markdown. It’s a syntax to ease writing for the web and it makes reading and formatting what you write so much easier. The clean syntax will also help you edit your writing since you’re have a good overview of what the output will be.

Get to the point early. When I find myself rambling and not really getting to a clear point, I finish my sentence, start a new line, hit the # a couple times—that’s Markdown—and create a new header titled “Why”. The why is the meat of the post I want to be writing—the functional component, if you will—which anchors the entire post. Without the why, the how doesn’t matter. When I’ve pegged the why, I can usually go back, edit and write the rest of the post more succinctly. Both are important, but the why informs the how. Get to it early, and your ideas will be clearer and better threaded through your writing.

Use comments to help guide yourself. Maybe an idea comes up but it doesn’t really fit where you are. Jump down a few lines and use an inline HTML comment. It’ll look like this:

<!-- This is an idea I want to come back to. -->

I use a TextExpander snippet so that /// expands to a comment with my cursor right where it needs to be.

A series of comments will help you create a linear outline and make it easier to visualize the progressions of your ideas through the piece. I often use comments to spit out words that I know aren’t any good and just need to get them out to start formulating my thoughts. Comments can be proposed ### headers that you just haven’t found the right words for yet, or maybe what developers call pseudocode: jot notes that capture the basic idea of what you want to accomplish in a chunk of writing.

In code, it can be something like this:

//loop through $tweets and print each tweet

The function to do that can take more than a couple lines of code but plain-English pseudocode can help you quickly capture your intentions so you aren’t chasing the wrong problem or forget what you’re trying to solve.

If you are using HTML comments, you don’t even need to remove them before you post it. They won’t publish to the visible body of your post, but if someone looks at the source they’ll be able to see it. View Source on this post and you’ll find a comment I used to direct myself while writing.

Write even when you don’t have ideas. Most of the better stuff I’ve written or posts that have gained the most momentum haven’t been ideas that began as grande or novel. A lot of them were link posts I thought I had about a sentence worth of input on. But when you dig and often when you just let your mind be quiet and allow words to percolate, something inside of you makes words. It sounds weird, but if you’ve experienced it, you know exactly why I mean. The more you just start writing even when you don’t have ideas, the more the ideas will appear as magic from your creative soul. Mumbo Jumbo or not, I dare you to try it. Find a blog post to link to, write a couple sentences, but don’t stop there. Keep writing and follow this next tip. You’ll be surprised what you’ve got in you if you just let it come out.

Write past the first logical close. I’ve been trying to push myself to go deeper in the things I write. If I have a clear idea, it often can be straightforward to lay that idea out and wrap it up. But I try to not just end there. This post, for example, could easily have been a list of a few tips that have helped me write better but I decided to push myself further than that and not to stop at the first place it made sense. I don’t let myself stop where it at first feels comfortable because I know—with a little more of the clackity noise—some bigger, greater ideas may just fall out onto the page. Sometimes they don’t and I just delete the extra crap that came out, but more often than not, what I end up with is much better.

What It Means in Life

Write in Markdown. OK. This isn’t as applicable as the others, but do it anyway.

Get to the point early. Use this in emails, phone calls, awkward conversations with your girlfriend or spouse, meetings, and when you’re not sure exactly how to say what’s on your mind. Be concise and just lay things out. Remind yourself why it is you’re doing something. If you can’t remember, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Make the point of the things you do and say clear and you’ll have more confidence that the things you do and say are the right things. Keep the point clear and you’ll build trust with the people around you.

Use comments to help guide yourself. Jot notes. Write things in your Field Notes or use an app like Day One. Make plain-text notes or write something down in Evernote. Where it is doesn’t matter but what matters is this: there will be arrows that show up along the path. Signs will be posted and you might not notice them right away. Like writing, ideas will come up before they are ready to happen but if you don’t capture them, they can be lost. Don’t worry about how everything will fit together right now, just capture these signs in whatever comments you can and eventually things will start to connect. Your job is to collect the pieces and when you have enough of the parts, it will be obvious how they fit together.

Go past the first logical close. If you wrap it up early, if you give in and give up, you’ll only get that much returned. I’ve found so many places where just a little bit more effort and a little bit more thought has pushed ideas and relationships much further than if I just settled where they made sense at first. Ever been in a meeting and just when things are wrapping up, someone says, “Wait. How about this?” Then they drop the big idea you’ve all been digging for for hours. That’s what I’m talking about. That person’s mind endured through long discussions and was able to pull out the genius when everybody else’s brain closed up shop. You want to be this person. So dig deeper and don’t settle. Don’t wrap things up when you first think they’re done; that’s just when you’re getting rolling and the greatness is about to show up.

Always let the greatness show up.

Mac Brain: Automatically Processing Email with Mail.app

Similar to the way that Hazel can automate moving around files, Mail.app can process emails in your inbox based on rules you set. Rules are often used used to flag messages and move them to folders based on certain conditions, but that’s not very exciting.

Processing email is a problem. There’s a lot that comes into your inbox and you continually have less attention to pay to it. I get a lot of recurring notification-type messages for things I need to do, like an email from my bank letting me it’s time to pay my monthly credit card bill. A thing that repeats with the same input and output is a thing that should be automated.

Routing Emails

Part of automation is setting something and never having to see or think about it. To make that part happen, I had to route all of the emails I wanted automatically processed in a separate email account1 so I never saw them in my main inbox. I set up a second Fastmail (referral link) account that would be used only on the mini server. Anything I routed to that email address would be processed. In Fastmail, I can also easily set up aliases so different to: addresses would trigger different things. I could set up omnifocus@myserveraddress.com to process OmniFocus tasks or have emails that go to alerts@myserveraddress.com ping my phone2 when important messages come in.

Once I had this new address set up, I had to configure the services (my bank for example) to send these notifications to that correct address. About half of my banking services allowed me to set up these notifications to go to a secondary address and the ones that didn’t had a unique from or subject that I was able to use server-side filtering to redirect any of those emails coming into my personal account to my Brain account.

This got me to a place where all of the emails I wanted to automatically process were in an inbox on my mini.

Setting up the Rules

Again like Hazel, setting up Mail.app rules is pretty easy once you know what to look for. For emails from my bank, I looked at the history of their messages and checked for a unique address for bill notifications or a consistent convention for the subjects of the emails. I wanted to be precise. Doing wildcards to redirect and forward all emails from @bank.com or whatever could mean that important emails I did need to see would get batched into an inbox I didn’t look at often.

All of these emails had unique conditions which could be passed on to a specified action, like the from: containing billnotifications@mybank.com or the subject is equal to Your bill has arrived.

We’ve captured the messages, now the fun part: doing cool stuff with boring emails.

Turning Emails to Actions

Once we’ve gotten to this point, we know the specific intention of the email. It has passed all of the tests and we just need to do something with it.

Most of the emails that come into my work or personal inbox I process and capture into OmniFocus. I wanted to be able to automate this step for the emails I could. David Sparks put together this great Applescript to run within Hazel to add actions to OmniFocus when he scans documents that match specified criteria. Sound familiar? We’re basically doing the same thing but the input is an email not a OCR’ed document and the rules are processed by Mail.app and not Hazel.

I have Mail.app “perform the following actions” when it receives a matching email:

  • Move it to Archive
  • Mark it as read
  • And run an Applescript on it

My Applescript is exactly the same as David’s but I’ve added in the time it was created as the Start Date of the OmniFocus action. To do this, you just need to add start date:theDate to the list of task properties. This helps me recognize new automatically added actions in one of my OmniFocus perspectives.

Now—all automatically—when my bank sends out an email to let me know my statement is ready, it filters into my Brain email account, gets checked through Rules, and when it matches, it adds an OmniFocus task to “Review and Archive my bank statement” or create two separate tasks like “Review credit card statement” and “Pay off credit card balance”.

This rule is set up to run a “Create OmniFocus Task” Applescript, but you can set it up to trigger any Applescript you can think of.

The Point of Automating

Sure, it’s cool that a computer can check your email for you but the value comes from reducing the amount of time and attention you need to be spending processing repetitive items and reducing the friction of getting something into your outboard brain. Not only is the action being put into your outboard brain, but an outboard brain is doing the processing now too. In a lot of cases it works to set repeating tasks for something like bills but I find it more direct to have the inputs of the notifications and the action align rather than scheduling a task and have it start a couple days earlier than the bill is available because of a long weekend or something. It’s all small things, but the reduction of the attention required to process along with being able to rely more on your outboard brain because of its ability to capture and process things without your input is what makes the automation worth the setup investment over time.


  1. I played around with server-side archiving, but Mail seems to only run rules on things that are in your inbox. 

  2. I’ll walk you through this soon. Having a server set up to send you an SMS is pretty cool. 

Setting up a Cough Button for Podcasting with Skype

One thing I miss from using professional broadcast gear when I worked in radio is quick control over your sound. As I’m moving back into podcasting more, I want push-button control to mute my Rode Podcaster mic. I found this Applescript, originally written by Dennis Rande, which will toggle the mute status of your current call. I hooked up the script to two Keyboard Maestro macros to emulate a cough button, where my end of the Skype call is is muted while the button is pressed and un-muted when the button is released.

To set this up in Keyboard Maestro, create a new macro tied to when a key of your choice is pressed and have it execute skype-mute.scpt. It’ll look something like this. Create a second macro so when that same key (I use F12) is released, the script is executed again, toggling the mute off. You can also set just a single trigger with “when pressed” and not the second “released” macro to have a standard toggle; hit your key to mute, hit it again to un-mute.1

Whether it’s an actual cough or a belch from drinking Sodastream on-air, you now havce control over whether you want to disgust an over sensitive audience or not.

Download the Applescript


  1. I use this one at work when I’m Skyped into meetings but don’t need to say much. 

The Benefits of a Bag You Trust

My GORUCK GR1 goes nearly everywhere with me; it’s got my back. Here are a few benefits of owning a bag that you can depend upon:

  • It can be a pretty good pillow when you’re chilling in the park, napping in the sun
  • It holds the gear that can help you affect your situation. It’s the little things that can make a big impact on your travels, like a bandaid, lip-chap, or a pen when you really need it
  • It takes less thought to pick up and go somewhere, like the beach. Throw a couple things in your trusty bag and take off
  • You’re always prepared for an adventure. It should carry the things that can get you from here to anywhere you want to go
  • It’s a reminder you carry around that no matter how much you want to avoid it, there’s always someone or something you need to put your faith in to get by. You can’t do everything on your own

My ruck has broken in to fit me better over the last year and I feel better fit for adventure because of it.


“The Benefits Of” is a series that points out some small and large ways that little things can benefit your life. You can read all of the Benefits Of posts here.

Notesy and Launch Center Pro

Notesy, my favorite iOS plain text note app, updated to version 2.2 today. With it includes support for iPhone 5, improves some Markdown handling, and most notably, adds a URL scheme for controlling the app with Launch Center Pro. Notesy has implemented this scheme in a very intelligent way allowing more than just popping open the app. You can open, create, and append to notes all from Launch Center Pro. Here’s what the basic scheme looks like:

notesy://x-callback-url/[action]?[x-callback parameters]&[action parameters]

Your main options for action are open and append. There are a few other things like restore and render-markdown (which is cool) but I won’t cover them.

This is my main action:

notesy://x-callback-url/append?name=[prompt]&text=[prompt]

That will pop up two prompts. The first is the name of the new file and the second is the body of the note. Notice that the action is append even though you are making a new note. If the name that you enter matches an existing file it will append the entered text on a new line at the end of the file. If the name is unique, it will create a new file.

To append text to a currently existing file, the URL would look like this:

notesy://x-callback-url/append?name=Things%20to%20Wiki%20%E2%80%94%20runx%20learnx&text=*+[prompt]

That will open my note titled “Things to Wiki — runx learnx” and append to the end of the file the text I entered with an asterisk and a space before it to format it as a Markdown bullet list item. If you’ve got some weird characters in your titles, you may want to use this URL encoding tool to easily get the encoded file name you need for Launch Center to find your note. One of my favorite things about the implementation of this URL scheme is that once the note gets passed to Notesy, it is automatically saved. I don’t have to tap Done to save the note.

In a recent update to Launch Center, support for TextExpander was added so you can use snippets to easily created tagged and time stamped notes. I’d love to see Launch Center support expanding snippets within the URL scheme so I could create or append text to a consistently named but date-stamped Scratchpad. I could put something like Scratchpad_$date in as the name within the URL and whenever I tap a button it would expand to open the file named Scratchpad_12-10-12.

All of these little features add up to make iOS increasingly efficient for power users to be productive away from their Macs.

Letting Projects Get Empty

A lot of us have problems finishing what we’ve started. Michael Schechter’s Starters Anonymous is a loud message to those who get off on starting things but never follow through.

I have this problem too and try to account for it in the systems I use to track the things I get done. I talked about mirroring the areas of focus and responsibility I have in my life to OmniFocus so that I can use it as a measuring stick of my progress and potential. One of the parts of this framework is letting projects, folders, and single-action lists get empty. Projects and folders being empty doesn’t necessarily mean they are finished, just that you’re at a logical close and have a chance to adjust your course slightly. You have an opportunity to re-imagine what you can do in that focus. More often than not though, if you don’t have an obvious next action in your project, it is complete. It’s time for you to wrap it up. It’ll be a relief to get it off of your list. Starting something isn’t worth much unless it can be finished and you need to get good at finishing.

I think we often avoid finishing something because we may not know what’s next and find that scary. That’s fine. Let yourself be bored for a little while without a project to tackle. In that time, you’ll start to become curious about new and more interesting things. And the best part is that you’ll be free to pursue this cool new stuff because you’ve finished what you’ve started.

You can be checking things off of your list but without ever finishing anything, you’re not getting much done.

Getting Things (You Don’t Want to Do) Done

With the rising discussions about GTD and productivity have come the counter arguments on how managing all of those lists and maintaining software and systems is a waste of time.

Jeff Atwood posted on CodingHorror about how to-do lists1 can distract from getting the things that are actually important done:

For the things in my life that actually mattered, I’ve never needed any to-do list to tell me to do them. If I did, then that’d be awfully strong evidence that I have some serious life problems to face before considering the rather trivial matter of which to-do lifehack fits my personality best.

When I’m really driven to do a project, I don’t need a list or reminders to get it done either. I know in my head what I need to do then I do that.

But the flaw in Atwood’s argument is when there are things in work and life we don’t really want to be doing but they still matter to someone and need to get done. Task lists are more about managing the things that we don’t want to be doing but have to do anyway.

It seems like our memories do a pretty good job of forgetting things we don’t want to do. Yet that stuff is a reality. Features like start dates and contexts in OmniFocus are about reminding you at the right time and place of some thing that you’d rather not do but should do. The process of capturing allows you the temporary relief of not having to think about that dreaded task until it needs to get done.

Until I’m at a point where I get to do whatever I want at any given time, I’ll stick with my lists.


  1. I think part of the Atwood’s problem with to-do lists is he’s looking at GTD as a process (and missing a lot of important aspects) not a framework, like discussed in episode 37 of Mikes on Mics with guest David Allen. 

For the Sake of Becoming

Shawn Blanc, in For the Sake of Creating:

If, in our creative endeavors, we continually do work we are proud of, then that my friends is also success. We don’t make to get rich, we make to make. We build for the sake of building, create for the sake of creating. We do it because we have to.

Pursuing being better lead me to the therapy of writing. Through writing, I’ve been able to have synapsis connect and connect with people who inspire and teach me. I’m a better person for it. Now, writing is something I do because I have to.

Writing has become a solace for me. A way to internalize and externalize an over active, over achieving, unsettled mind. When I’m lonely and confused, feeling disconnected and lost in pursuit of what could be, I turn to writing as a way to make sense of it all. We’re all searching for the same thing. A pursuit of tools, frameworks, methodologies, and workflows are all a way for us to help bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be; to bring closer together what we imagine and what we want to exist. We search in hopes of finding clues that lead us in the direction of something greater. Hacks can help because they are often a clue that the way you do something can be done better. That it can be smoother and you can be more effective. You probably remember the first time—a moment of enlightenment, if you will—that you recognized that some tool or method offloaded something from you; the first time a tip or trick made you better. It hit part of your intrinsic, humanist desire to create tools that make us better people.

We try to discover tools that relieve our burdens without realizing the relief leads us down a path to new burdens.

Writing has become a burden for me. This need to make words and my drive to make good and useful things has collided like great sheets of mantle rock and produced a precipice that I need to climb each time I sit before a keyboard. The burden of making complicated ideas simple has become a distraction from just connecting ideas and sharing them. In the same way, our tools can be these traps. A piece of software can hold the power to unlock our creative mind by collecting the distractions, bad ideas, and stuff that’s not worth focusing on so we can make something great. But our drive to improve and perfect can often turn this pursuit on itself. An introspective process—metaphorically “sharpening the axe”—puts our creative focus on tailoring our process so we can better create but ends up trapping ourselves from creating. We convince ourselves that the investment into our software will pay off in our creation and sometimes it does—but the focus of our creative potential needs to remain on greater things.

For me and my burden, I don’t just desire to methodically become a better writer but to do better things with my writing. Unlocking something in myself and letting words flow out while clearly communicating ideas is something I strive for and matters to me. Being a better writer gets me towards my goal, as being better with your tools advances you. Grasping what’s the method and what’s the matter can help you overcome indulging in one and lead you to start doing one for the sake of the other.

It’s about becoming. Becoming is cyclical and perpetual. When you think you’ve “arrived”, you’re only just at the beginning of a new place. In this cycle of becoming is where you have to give and take between the burden and the solace of creating great things. At times, you’ll be burdened by your desire to make something insanely great. That will lead you into a path of suffering and discouragement; a place of character building and of gaining understanding. In the other season of that cycle comes actualization and a freedom to create the great things you just struggled to find in yourself. There are seasons where you hack your way through a dense forest of friction. It seems endless and you feel lost until you finally manage to get though it. In this side of the cycle is when you search for and need the tools and workflows to capture ideas. You dig and hack to find something that fits and is comfortable to capture your thoughts and put them in a place you trust. You try to reduce the friction to get these ideas in a safe place because they are fragile and can be easily lost. It can be heartbreaking to lose an idea that you feel is going to get you through the struggle and the suffering into a season where you have the freedom to create. In that place of freedom you can connect the ideas you fought tirelessly to preserve and start to fit them together into something much greater than yourself. This season is rewarding and the things you can pursue feel endless—until it does end; until that end becomes the start of a new place and your freedom becomes1 burden again.

It’s in this flow of becoming that we sometimes find ourselves lost. I’ve felt it strongly and it hurts. A momentum you had becomes this pressure to become better and that pressure becomes oppressive. But understanding this flow of becoming—the flow of creativity and the flow of relationships and the flow of success and the flow of suffering; the flow of life—is the catalyst to greatness. Letting this flow happen and to suffer and prosper, thrive and survive respectively and cyclically is to live for the sake of becoming.


  1. Etymology is a wonderful thing. Become originates from the German bekommen: to “get and receive”. Cyclical.