On Juggling Work, Passion and Happiness

Passionate about something other than the thing you toss 40 hours down the drain for every week? It’s possible to balance them and be happy. 

I’ve been falling down the Apple hole lately.  I bought my MacBook five years ago as a college freshman, and it was a whole new world compared to years of Windows XP.  It was love at first sight, probably at the edgy video intro where it says “welcome” in a bunch of different languages.  My palms were sweaty before I even made it to the incredibly utilitarian OS X.

Apple has since brought this same functionality to the iPhone first, and now the iPad, in the form of iOS.  After my HTC Droid Incredible crapped out on me, I decided to give the iPhone 4S a try - the iPhone 5 had just debuted, so of course it was much cheaper - and I love it.  Now that my aging, faithful MacBook is starting to come down with computer dementia, coupled with the fact that someone recently broke my Kindle, I decided to try to recoup these losses in the form of the new iPad Mini.

Initial Skepticism

As with all things, I was initially skeptical about the iPad Mini.  True, I was amongst those ridiculing the original iPad when it came out, calling it an oversized iPod Touch, which at the time was basically true.  But things have changed; processing power has been contained into much smaller chips, there are several thousand more apps, and now the iPad is a genuine productivity tool that’s on it’s way to rivaling many laptop models in what it can do.

But this was the iPad Mini, and essentially just the iPad 2 in a smaller package with an improved camera.  Surely Apple is just making it smaller in hopes that the drooling masses will pounce on it for that novelty alone, quickly increasing their profit margins.  But no, this is Apple finally targeting the market that Amazon and Google have been breaking into with their 7” tablets.  Keeping that in mind, the Mini is pretty awesome.

Entertainment

This is the main reason I picked up the Mini.  My MacBook has one foot in the grave, and running Adobe Creative Suite on it for various design projects is all the strain it needs right now.  I now limit my Netflix binges and unintentionally long YouTube sessions to the Mini.  In fact, I actually spend more time on YouTube now than I did before, so clever and intuitive is the app’s layout.  The video quality is good.  If you want superb, you’ll have to drop $500 for the new iPad with Retina Display.  The take-away message is that instead of having my laptop nuke my bits while I’m laying in bed hungover and watching Spartacus reruns on Sunday mornings, I can now hold the very light and non-invasive Mini.

News Consumption

Watching/reading the news and digesting current events is a big hobby of mine; yes this is life as a dork.  In particular, the NPR News and Slate apps flow very easily.  I was glued to them during the crazy events over the last two weeks in Boston.  Part of my consumption includes YouTube-based shows such as The Young Turks and Secular Talk Radio, both of which are informative and hilarious.

Reading

Although my Kindle is done for, all of my books that I bought on Amazon remain in the cloud, and I can access them through the Kindle app for iPad.  While you’ll never beat the Kindle’s electronic ink, I don’t have a problem reading on the Mini, and at 8” you can take in an inch more of Westeros at a time than you can on the Kindle Fire or the Google Nexus.  I’m talking about words, not penises by the way.

Productivity

Sometimes I’ll just leave the laptop at home and whip out (there we go again) the iPad Mini and my old Bluetooth keyboard at the coffee shop.  Although I have no issues with the fluidity of switching between, say Google Drive and WorkFlowy, the fact that I actually have to touch the screen makes me less likely to leave my keyboard, and therefore less likely to watch crazy Russian dash-cam videos in the middle of writing something.  If you’re a writer on the go, the Mini and Google Drive are going to make you very happy.

The Bottom Line

Okay, I’m not even close to attempting to write up a massive review to rival something on cNet that will satisfy you technophiles out there.  Simply put, if you want an e-reader/personal entertainment center/productivity tool that fits in a small and light enough package to be perfect for travel, then this is for you.  

Rating: ★★★★

Check out the product website for more details and tech specs.

NOTE: Currently, I am not affiliated with any of the companies who’s products I review and do not receive incentives for reviews.  Whenever I find a product that makes travel easier and lighter, or if it’s terrible and I don’t wish it on anyone else, I review it. 

We are all masons, in a way.  We all have the capacity to build.  We only need the right tools, and the right vision to see into the materials we’re working with.  Most of the time we’ll need to start out with stone.  These are our rough ideas that need to be blueprinted.  Once we have an idea, we can use the appropriate tools to fashion these ideas into bricks, or a solid product that we are ready to share with the world.  And how do we do that?  Mortar, of course!  Come on, you saw where this analogy was going.

Stone

You stumble over some rough, unhewn stone in the forest of your mind.  It’s your neat, innovative idea that needs only to be pinned down and planned out.  It’s the first step toward building something.  Some might be rougher than others and require careful planning.  I always start out by making a list, or writing a well-thought out proposal to myself so I can actually understand what I want to do.  Yes, it’s possible to have an idea without fully understanding the aim until you pull the thing out of your head and lay it out in front of you on paper.

Stone for this post:  The idea to compose a long, drawn out, possibly asinine metaphor comparing an antiquated profession to making creative work in the 21st century.

Tools

Now you need to look into your toolkit to find the best tools for cutting the stone and working your idea into something recognizable.  Each individual has different skillsets and tools to put to work in order to draw out a physical manifestation of their ideas.  A designer’s skillset may include a particular knack for slick typography while they may number Adobe Creative Suite, a beastly MacBook, and a Wacom tablet among their tools.  

Tools for this post: Moleskine journal, iPad Mini, Apple Keyboard, Google Drive, Adobe Photoshop, photos from travels.

Brick

A well-shaped brick arises out of careful planning and the use of the proper tools.  It is our final product.  From our rough ideas, to a first draft, to final editing, we our using our tools to slowly shape our stone into a perfect (or so we hope) brick.  However, we are not finished once we have this finished product.  It has to be effectively integrated with other bricks in order to make a standing structure that can be seen by the rest of the world.

Brick for this post:  A complete, articulated thought/opinion on productivity that could be beneficial to others.

Mortar

The final products of our ideas cannot be seen by the world without some type of support.  Nor can they stand on their own these days.  In the past, you had to go through the gatekeepers of the world - publishers, A&R people, agents, etc - if you wanted to push a book, album, or work of art through to the public.  Now we can do most of these things ourselves.  That’s where the mortar comes in.  Blogging platforms, social media, digital portfolio sites like Behance - they are the mortar by which we can assemble our brand and our products in a way that some may find valuable and/or helpful.

Mortar for this post:  Tumblr is the platform by which the post was published while my social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedInAbout.me) represents my personal brand and draws people into the content I’m publishing.  

Go Forth and Build

The next time you find a stone, try to plan out your workflow from start to finish in this way.  Clearly articulate your idea on paper, the tools and skills you will need to use in order to realize it, what you want your final product to achieve, and how you will stand it up for the world to see.  You have the ideas!  You have the tools!  Go out and build something!

You are so busy that you feel like you are going to have a panic attack and/or brain aneurysm.  The worst part is that you don’t really have a concrete idea of what you’re supposed to be doing; you just know you’re busy.  We’ve all been there.  The solution is literally thousands of years old!

That’s right, some of the earliest writings (that archaeologists surely enjoyed weeks of excited banter over when they were discovered) amount to nothing more than grocery lists.  Do as the ancients did and prioritize by taking the stress out of your mind and putting it on paper.

When it comes to the list, it is a matter of personal preference.  Some people don’t like looking at a monster with twenty things and counting on it.  I personally think it can be therapeutic.  

When I’m stressed, everything is bouncing off the walls in my head and it’s hard to know what to do first.  When I have a visual representation of that stress, I can develop a plan of attack and I know I can conquer it.

I have a strategy when it comes to lists.  Sorry if I’m over-complicating something simple, but this really works for me!

1. The Weekly List - This list is for the short-term.  I make it every Sunday night, including every due date (that I’m aware of) for class assignments, meeting dates for group work, and mundane chores like paying bills.  I hate this list, because it takes up the majority of my time, time that could be spent working on…

2. The Creative List - Here, I organize my design work for clients and any creative project that I have decided to go forward with, whether it be music, art, or writing.  In an ideal world, I would love to concentrate on this list and hone my creative skills.  Unfortunately, that is not the case as long as I am in college and classes are in session. I would say that these are somewhere in limbo between short-term and long-term goals.

3. The Life List - This is where I put my long-term life goals.  It is essentially my bucket list.  Currently, I have things ranging from learning a foreign language to writing a full-fledged novel to creating my own roast of coffee.  Diverse, I know.  Whenever I am able to cross just one item off this list, a celebration is in order.

4. The Budget List - I am a strong proponent of not buying crap you don’t need, which more often than not, is the majority of things I want to buy.  So I make a list to keep my consumerism in check.  I try to keep this one as short as possible and never, NEVER deviate from it (i.e. going on a random clothing splurge, or impulse buying anything).  I need these things.  Right now I’m considering hosting for my graphic design site as well as new business cards.  In other words, these are investments.

Knowing When It’s Time to Drop Weight

Sometimes we make the mistake of taking too much on at one time.  We stress ourselves out so much that we find we are not enjoying life for days, weeks even (months?!), at a time.  During this time, it may be necessary to table something and just forget about it for a while.  

If you try to broaden your focus too much, you will start seeing mediocrity in several areas of your life, and it sucks and is very disheartening.  I know this from experience, and I know how to recognize it.  There is as much of an art to knowing when it’s time to let something go than there is to making the list in the first place.

Recognizing an overfilled plate is a key discipline in the art of the list.  Sometimes we just have to put some Saran wrap over it and stick it in the fridge for a while.

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