Assholes going boom in the night.

Happy 2014! I’m restarting this blog today, and the only way I can do that is write what I really want to write. And that means this morning instead of writing about productivity, coding or some other positive topic, I’m writing about the criminally stupid people who enhanced their NYE gala by firing off commercial-size fireworks over the tinder-dry subdivision I live last night.

These were not the usual leftover 4th of July stuff that goes pop in your driveway: these were rockets going up a couple of hundred feet, exploding in window-rattling bursts, for the delight of a private party of revelers at winery, and the consternation and fear of a neighborhood of people surrounded by bone-dry brush and grass.

Now I like fireworks. But running the risk of being burnt to a crisp to amuse a bunch of assholes, that I don’t like. You have to combine truly epic stupidity with a huge sense that somehow, for some reason, you get to do whatever you want because your Special. I’ve known a lot of great people who are far richer than I – good for them. But every once in a while you come across some who think their money gives them the right to pick and choose what laws they obey. Firing off commercial-grade pyrotechnics over a rural subdivision with one road out and hundreds of acres of bone-dry ground cover is criminally stupid.

The London Eye illuminated by London's New Year's Eve fireworks display Photo: Kois Miah

The London Eye illuminated by London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display Photo: Kois Miah

Motivation for creating over the long haul

One of my absolute favorite podcasters has hit a rough spot. If you do Rails, then you know Ryan Bates’s Railcasts that for six years have been absolute must-watch content. But lately, it’s clear they’ve become a labor, not a labor of love. “You have probably noticed there has been a lack of new episodes lately. I have found it increasingly difficult to produce content, and I’m not entirely sure why. The best way I can describe it is that I feel paralyzed under the pressures of work,” Ryan posted at Railscasts in the last day or two.

Maintaining your motivation for creating is way harder than creating, and creating is damn hard.

It’s the light at the end of the tunnel that turns out to be a freight train. How many great artists, writers, actors, musicians, developers become great, only to burn out, go dry, stop creating? Ever wonder why so many prolific, good bloggers who created great post after great post years ago have gone silent? Keeping your creative motivation going, day after day, creation after creation, is a stone cold bitch.

I don’t claim to be one of those great creatives, by the way, but I’ve gone through what they’ve gone through on a smaller scale. Still going through it, in fact. That’s why I wrote the following email to Ryan, and am posting it here, in the hopes that a) it will help Ryan, b) it will help other creative people keep creating and c) to remind myself about the perils of forgetting motivation is not something to take for granted or lightly.


Hi Ryan,

I and Patrick Foley did the Startup Success Podcast ( for nearly 3 years before burning out. The pressure of getting a show out every week, meeting the expectations of so many people is non-trivial. First there’s the weight, and the weight gets heavier and heavier, squeezing out fun, then time off, then anything but self-imposed guilt because you’re not keeping up. That weight crushes out of you motivation to do the show, and you stop.

Here’s a few suggestions re getting back into it, if you so choose:

  • Top suggestion: get 4 shows in the can first. Knowing that you can take a break is a huge stress reducer. Building in that reserve means you can take time off. It’s your secret weapon to take the pressure off.
  • Vary the format. While you can do fantastic code tutorial podcasts, you deserve some variety. Go interview another really awesome developer and find out their tricks and issues. Go do a show about tools you like. Host a debate. Talk about php. Go wild! Get out of a rut. You have so much credibility  in the Ruby Community, practically any door will open to you.
  • Double your price – and offload all editing. I and thousands of others would happily pay you twice as much if that meant you could offload editing, responding to comments, etc. I at least want to learn how and what you think; that’s the product you sell: the rest is non-core and can easily be outsourced.
  • Connect more with your audience. Do an open hangout on a regular basis, read online your email from admiring viewers answering questions you’re interested in. Don’t underestimate or ignore just how much as humans the heartfelt admiration and respect of our peers refills your creative gas tank.
  • Make it a priority to understand how motivation works for creative people over the long haul. At a minimum, go read Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work. Motivation to create is very, very different than what most people think, and that difference is all the difference when it comes to creating over the long haul.

Anyway, hope this helps and looking forward to you’re return.


Bob Walsh

Two words. Get it.

I feel absolutely compelled to share something that has over the past week tripled my productivity: Focus@Will. This “productivity music service” will. Rock. Your. World. It’s that good. I find that when I’m coding away on PetSitterApp or DevNewsApp listening to this, I effortlessly slip into Flow and crank right through what I want to get done. At about triple the speed. This is an almost scary improvement over the halfway focused but easily distracted state I’ve been in for years.

Focus@Will can explain the science behind the profound effect music can have on your mental state, concentration, and focus; but what you need to know is that you will be more productive, less distracted, more focused, less self-interrupted with it. For $3.99 it’s a steal. Get it.

Changing hosts – please let me know if anything is broken.

Since I finally posted today the last podcast of the Startup Success Podcast and moved it to a longterm home where it can digitally live forevermore, I decided it was time to cut the cord to WP Engine and consolidate to one host. While WPE is a premium outfit, has been my equally excellent host for a dozen or so sites.

So, please give me a shout at if you see any major holes here. And I expect to be blogging again in the the near future.

Use a checklist to control your email addiction

So what was your most terrible anti-productive habit in 2012? Mine was checking email. On my desktop, iPad and iPhone, morning, noon, night, between and during and before and after everything else.

Killing this habit in 2013 would be the #1 thing I could do to increase productivity. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve chanced upon an approach that will work.

Make a mobile checklist of your email checks and check off a check each and every time you check email.

A little unpacking is in order.

Having bought nearly every todo managing piece of software in the past 20 years for every platform I’ve used, I decided this year to separate enumerated lists of simple tasks into one software stream available and synched on my macs, iPad and iPhone. Simple tasks/things go there, project planning – figuring out how to accomplish and execute work that matters elsewhere (more about that in a future post).

I wanted the absolutely barest amount of overhead for managing day-to-day stuff: shopping list, what I need to do for our cats, daily routine todos, ideas. And it has to be utterly usable on my phone since I, like you, have my phone within 3 feet of me all of the time (relevant stats).

Enter Cheddar. Free on the web, Mac. If you need more than two lists, you’ll pony up $5.99 for 3 months to 19.99 a year. It’s the absolutely minimalist attractive checklist-making software experience I’ve ever seen, synching happens instantly and combined with Siri, a near-frictionless way to track simple tasks.

So besides a Daily Plan checklist, a Family with Fur checklist, a Store List, a Post Ideas list, etc., I added one more this morning: Allowed Email Checks. I’m starting with 5 allowed checks, and hope to par it down to 3. Every time I check email, I am forcing myself to check that off in Cheddar on my phone.

Email controls us because it takes literally no thought at all to stop what you are doing and see what’s in your inbox. By adding the commitment to check off each such self-inflicted interruption in Cheddar, I am forcing myself to think before I act. This new habit has already prevented a half dozen interruptions of whatever else I was doing this morning.

And, since all too often todo lists are places tasks go I’m not motivated to die, maybe some of that will wear off on my most anti-productive behavior. That would be a very good thing.

So how are you going to reduce your email bondage in 2013? Please share your ideas!


Hello Again!

After spending the past six months focused on two different Ruby on Rails contracts, I rebooting my site, clearing out the old, making room for the new and going mobile. 2012 is in its last hours, I’m really looking forward to 2013, and at least two major projects for me.

If you’re reading this on my new site, you probably noticed the tagline as headline above: “Living at the intersection of Startup and Productivity.” I mean it.

There’s easily a thousand times more startups now than when I started down this road in 2005, and we’ve become the darlings of the business world. From well-funded, “We’re the next Google!” enterprises to what the unstoppable Patrick McKenzie calls “solo entrepreneurs”, startups are remaking what we can do and how we do it.

On the other hand, being productive day in and day out still is more dream than reality for most people: it certainly is for me. Email is the monster that will not die, all the online distractions now live in a little black phone we never, ever are free of, and we’re being cooked in boiling information day in and day out. Our attention has been sliced and diced, monetized and commoditized into a thousand data points others use to market to us. This is not a happy state of affairs.

I hope in the year ahead to chronicle plenty of interesting stories about the startup world and being productive. Perhaps a useful insight or two, undoubtedly thanks to talking with some of the really smart people out there. Thanks for reading, and be seeing you here soon!



David Allen on GTD for Startup Founders

Just posted the interview that Patrick and I did with David Allen, founder of GTD. You’ll find it at

Speaking of things GTD, I’m now switching back to Things from OmniFocus. I just found myself too distracted by OmniFocus and its intricacies and not focusing on the actual things I want to get done. Now that Things has become Things2 and added cloud synchronization, I’m giving it another try, going with a lightweight approach, and will see how that works out. You might want to do the same.

Startup Idea Stuck? Spend a buck!

If you’re stuck for an idea to build your startup on, then I’ve got just what you need – and it will cost you a single dollar. Rene Andreasi-Bassi is one of those rare people who throw off great ideas like way sparks fly when molten steel gets poured. His day job is in the television industry where a thousand ideas live and die before lunch. And he’s done what every good founder does in the age of the Internet – design/define a way to monetize that uniqueness, reach out to build an audience and then a market and disrupt the status quo.

Rene built and is very effectively marketing, where you can go, browse his ideas and if you find one that makes you jump, buy it for a dollar and up. Pure genius, a clean intellectual property provenance and well worth a visit. Check it out.

Keeper emails from

For the past week or so I’ve been getting these absolutely great startup advise emails from 21times. First there was Spencer Fry on How to Bootstrap, then awesome Patrick McKenzie on Running a Software Business on 5 Hours a Week, and then today Jason Baptiste on going from idea to launch in 8 steps. First person, detailed, great stuff. The kind of content you seldom see. Highly recommended.

Startups, chickens, and eggs

Nick Brewer wrote in last week asking for suggestions dealing with a very common challenge he’s having with his startup: Tradeomics:

How do we encourage users to add items even though they may not find what they want right now?

Our biggest challenge is the chicken before the egg problem. We have been trying to get coverage on various blogs, to little luck. We’ve gained almost 400 members and only about 200 items (60% of our items are from friends or ourselves).

Though everyone tells us it’s such an awesome idea and service. Our biggest feedback on the item issue is that they are not seeing what they want so are apathetic about adding their own.

Nick, I think there’s (at least) three ways to beat this problem:

Get stuff out where people will see it. Right now you’re like a small store where people walk by, glance through your window and keep going. You need to get the stuff your selling out and visible. I’d replace the content below the very first graphics of how Tradeomics works on the home page with your Items page, and move the social badges into the footer. Let people shop without a cover fee of figuring out where on your site they need to go to see the goods. No one in their right mind keeps a mental list of everything they might want to buy (or in your site’s case, trade) – seeing is triggering.

Focus down. What are you trading? Creating several landing pages with just one kind of item (video games would be a good start) and then promoting each landing page to the people who care about that item is a proven strategy – just visit any mall.

Reach out to people who will care. You mentioned you’re trying to get various blogs to cover you, with little luck. Are you answering the question, “Your readers will get…” for them? Forget about the tech blogs for the moment – you want customers, not adoration. For example, I’ve got a nephew who’s very much into ATVs, and there’s stuff he’d like to trade off and stuff he’d like to get for less than retail. Find out what blogs he reads. Talk to those bloggers, give them credits to give away, give them a dedicated landing page for just the ATV market. Rinse, lather, repeat.

One other point – I read through your pricing – don’t understand it. It needs to be simplified – maybe a credit to post an item, one to buy an item. Three subpoints. Usually in a market one kind of participant pays – not both. If you’re going to make value for both buyers and sellers, add more punch to the buyer side with easy to customize alerts. And third, think about where in the shopping hierarchy your site fits (somewhere above Craigslist and below Amazon) and whose already at that level and how you can offer something people want that existing solutions don’t.

Thanks for the question Nick – readers, any suggestions for Nick?