Paul McCartney and Luigi’s Alcove

Big Mountain Face

I’m sure you know Paul McCartney as a singer and song-writer. But did you know the ex-Beatle also paints?

A few years ago, I got the book Paul McCartney: Paintings. He does these big, expressive, semi-abstract pieces that have a sort of visceral effect, with lots of drips and runs. Very much influenced by Willem de Kooning’s abstract expressionism.

With all his talent, even Paul McCartney can get stuck. In Paintings, he shares a fun, creative little strategy he has devised for dealing with stuckness. Read the rest of this entry »

In Brief: Screen Capture Tools

Find something on the web that inspires you in some way? Make a screen grab and throw it into your digital inspiration folder. Grace Smith has a nice roundup of 15 (digital) tools for making screen grabs, which can be useful for capturing design inspiration for creating moodboards/styleboards.

Make Something Already!

As you can tell from what I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve come to the conclusion that “productivity” is not the point. And being organized is not the point, either, although it can be tremendously helpful in a number of ways (that we’re not going to delve into today).

The point is whether you are making anything at all. You can plan and plan and plan all day long and have little to show for it, except for a bunch of plans. I’m reminded of the Beatles song “Nowhere Man,” which is about this indecisive head-in-the-sand guy who makes “all his nowhere plans for nobody.” In fact, “isn’t he a bit like you and me?” Read the rest of this entry »

The Mystery Box

Note: This is a piece I published for the site earlier this week.

A plain, ordinary box. With magic inside. (Image from BoingBoing)J.J. Abrams loves boxes. As a kid he would take things apart, telephones, TVs, what have you. For a TED talk he gave a few years ago, he brought in a Kleenex box he had dismantled just to look at how it was constructed, the scoring, the printer registration, etc. In his talk he spoke about this magic mystery box he got from Lou Tannen’s magic shop when he was a kid. [Recorded March 2007 in Monterey, California. Duration: 18:02. Transcript available here.] 30 years later, he still hasn’t opened it. That’s a lot of restraint for an eager, energetic guy who ripped apart a Kleenex box in a hotel room the night before his talk.

J.J. Abrams talking about his mystery box. (Image from

Personally, I’m not sure I would have had that much self-control with such a great magic box. I probably would’ve ripped the thing open as soon as I got home. Or sooner. But what’s important here is the idea of mystery, peeling away layers slowly until one arrives at the core of the thing they’re looking at. Or the core is never found. To use a worn-out cliche, I think many times with things in our lives the journey is far more important than the destination. Slowly unveiling mysteries and living off that suspense seems to be what has driven Abrams, informing his life and his work. Aren’t his shows Lost and Alias exactly that, all about mysterious, seemingly un-knowable things that are only revealed (or further obscured) bit by bit, layer by layer? Whether you like his work or not, it’s still compelling.

Do we have to have all the answers?

Sometimes you never get to the core, but I think that’s OK. Sometimes it’s better to not have the answer handed to you. What would be the fun in that? There’s no opportunity to explore for yourself, to use your imagination and be full of wonder about the possibilities that may exist. If we had all the answers, what would compel us to dream big? You can probably think of someone (perhaps yourself!) who failed to act because they didn’t bother to consider what possibilities existed.

My takeaway

For me the biggest takeaway from Abrams’ talk is this: how can I inject what I do with suspense and mystery? Abrams talks how films like Jaws and Alien build suspense and sometimes don’t even show what the big scary thing is. And sometimes the real gold is in the small, quiet moments between the big momentous ones.

That’s what that makes great movies, books, films, artworks compelling. Even when things seem plain as day, there’s always a little more to it than just that. What can you leave “unsaid” to be more compelling?

Feel free to comment here, or comment on the forums. If you don’t have an account there, we’d love to have you.

Productivity is Dead… Long Live Productivity!

Friday night before last, I was talking with Jason Echols on IM about how the whole “productivity” scene has lost steam lately. Not long after the forums started this past summer, a thread emerged called Life After GTD? which is about a sort of post-GTD attitude. Then in September, Mr. 43Folders himself, Merlin Mann, announced that he is “done with ‘productivity’ as a personal fetish or hobby ” and promptly disappeared from 43F. A number of other blogs dedicated to the idea of productivity and GTD have stagnated.

Those of us who have gotten really excited about it in the past few years and blogged about it have ceased to do so, or at least slowed down to a trickle. While MF is a relative latecomer the “productivity” scene (although it has never really been just about productivity in and of itself in the first place), I let this site go stagnant, due partly to technical difficulties and partly to my own blocks. I’ve seen some other productivity-focused blogs start out all gung-ho and then fall by the wayside. Brett Kelly at Cranking Widgets announced last week that he is done with productivity blogging, and then over the weekend posted a rant about how GTD sucks. This past summer I helped launch with a bunch of other guys who saw an overall decline and therefore a need for something new in the productivity arena. Then we posted less and less frequently, and eventually became victims of that same decline ourselves. Most of us jumped on the GTD bandwagon in the past 3-4 years, but we are starting to get off and stay off. People aren’t getting back on. They’re straying into other systems, developing their own. Even my own personal productivity system has evolved quite a bit from “kosher” GTD to something a bit different. While I think that’s standard for anyone who has practiced it for a year or two, I don’t think GTD as a system is really “sticking” anymore.

I think the movement, if you can call it a movement, if you can call it that, is dead. That’s right: (GTD) Productivity (with a capital “P”) is dead. Read the rest of this entry »