Right now I’m on a ferry heading to Ocracoke Island, NC. If you don’t know Ocracoke, you should. It’s a…

Look, just Google it. This isn’t Trip Advisor.

It’s been a stressful few months, and when I said I wanted to come here, Jean made it happen. She knows how much I needed it.

But it’s not just a week at the beach; it’s an unplugged week at the beach.

Well, sort of. The parameters aren’t ironclad. I think I hit on what I’m after when thinking about it this morning: you can use a device for creating, not consuming.

But we are going to watch one movie a day. And listen to music on the iPad.

Okay, basically we’re just not going to sit around all day staring at our respective screens. We’re going to get out, ride bikes, swim in the ocean. Pick… crabs, or something.

Basically I’m just going to try not to check email very often.

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I’m getting interested in new productivity tools and looking at GTD, mind mapping and Chronodex. So far I’ve learned that YouTube videos posted by other people are not the best way to learn.

I just watched a “how to mind map” video in which the presenter created a map that apparently helps her remember she is a business owner, wife and mother who likes to jet ski.

I’m now watching a “how I use Chronodex” video posted, apparently, by a disembodied pair of Australian hands. The hands used Chronodex to record that they had waffles for breakfast and are planning to have spaghetti for dinner.

I’m doing all of this, mostly, because I’m always off on some harebrained scheme, and because in the last two weeks I’ve discovered fountain pens and the Traveler’s Notebook.* In about three days, if things go as they normally do, I’ll be selling handmade paper notebooks on Etsy.

But seriously, I’ve tried at least half a dozen different note taking and productivity apps and none of them has been nearly as satisfying, focusing and tactilely rewarding as writing on nice paper with a nice pen.

If you have any good resources for GTD, mind mapping or Chronodex, let me know.

The most efficient way, of course, would be to pay Christopher S. Penn to teach me how to do pretty much everything he does.

*I couldn’t just buy one, though. I had to get a handmade notebook from a leather crafter in Hong Kong. Because simplify.

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I spend a lot of time thinking about productivity tools and apps and devices that might make my daily life more efficient. The irony, of course, is that I would probably get all the efficiency gains I need if I just stopped trying new tools every week. But what fun would that be?

I’ve been using Siri’s speech-to-text dictation on my iPhone for probably a year, and it is definitely a keeper. For instance, I find I reply more quickly to emails, whereas in the past I might’ve waited until I was at a keyboard.

I use it for making lists and recording ideas. There’s something about pacing with the iPhone in hand, talking off the top of my head, that feels more like brainstorming than if I were typing into a document.

I use it in the car at stoplights. I can dictate a quick email or text without taking my phone out of its holder.

I use it to write blog posts, including this one. I had to go back and correct some words that Siri misunderstood, but far fewer than a year ago. Not only do I think the service has gotten better, but it definitely seems to get to know your words and speech patterns.

Unless I’m totally imagining that. I suppose I could stop now and go research it, but another one of my new productivity techniques is to just write a blog post when I have an idea and not let anything distract me from finishing it.

Just what the world needs from me; more frequent vagueness.

I do need to guard against my tendency to ramble. If you’ve ever talked to me in real life, you know that I am an aficionado of the tangent. If I don’t watch myself, an email or blog post I dictate can run on and on and on. Being aware of that, however, helps me focus and try to stay concise.

I’ve talked to a lot of people who tried the dictation feature once and gave up on it. If that was your experience, it’s worth another try.

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When I was setting up my home office, I bought a big butcher block slab from IKEA and turned it into a desk. I bought pre-made table legs and applied several layers of urethane, sanding between coats to make it smooth. I did it with the garage door open on a warm day, and it was very satisfying. It reminded me of making things out of wood with my father.

In the end, I had a desk. Not only was it a functional item I needed, but it was something I made myself. It certainly wasn’t a difficult or complicated project, but it was one of only a few things (that didn’t get eaten) that I’ve made with my hands in many years.

I did help make a baby, but that’s not really germane.

This morning on Facebook, a friend showed a picture of a table leg he had made to replace one broken in a move. I realized how satisfying it must’ve felt—not only the physical process of creating the object, but also the feeling of self-sufficiency.

I create things every day. At work, I create ideas and solutions to problems. Or, to put it cynically, I create slide decks and emails. At home, I cook meals and make up bedtime stories. I take pictures and post them online, I occasionally write blog posts and I blurt out ideas and random thoughts on Facebook. I have plenty of outlets for intellectual creativity.

But I feel like I’m missing out on something by not creating more things with my hands—tangible objects that can be touched and held. Physical representations of ideas and thought and effort and expertise.

I wonder if a farmer fixing a plow 150 years ago got the same satisfaction I got from making my desk. Did his wife get more satisfaction from making clothes for her family then her modern counterpart gets from watching TV?

My son loves nothing more than making things out of Lego. So do lots of kids. Is that a manifestation of an innate desire to make and build? Is that something we need to nurture to keep it from being lost as kids get older?

Actually, come to think of it, what he loves most is watching TV.

I think we may have discovered the crux of the issue right there.

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I just got an email from a freelancer who said she was writing a piece for a major national publication for men who really, really want nice abs.

We want to include advice from people who have made a lot of money, or know about people who have made money from social media. Obviously, you fit this article perfectly and we’d love to feature you as an expert to offer some advice to our readers.

The quotes need to be precise and exacting. For example, the following is good: ‘Set up four accounts with XXX and promote XXX, XX times a day. Say ‘XXX’ to your followers’ to entice them in. Once you get up to XXX followers, then you can start to earn.’

First of all, I can think of several people who would be surprised to hear I was an expert in getting rich quick through social media. Me, for instance.

I also realized I can’t name a single person who I can say for sure has gotten “rich” through using social media. (Obviously I’m not talking about Zuck.)

I remember going to dinner at BlogWorld a few years ago and seeing a table of eight or 10 people who seemed a bit shinier and better dressed than the rest of the bloggers. Someone in my group told me that was the “Million Dollar Club,” for people who had earned more than $1 million through blogging. If that was true, I didn’t know those people then and I don’t know them now.

Also, it would probably have been more accurate to describe them as affiliate marketers rather than bloggers.

Here’s my response to the journalist:

This is not at all what I do with social media, this is not what I recommend to people and, frankly, the idea that people can quickly set up accounts and make lots of money with social media is what is destroying social media. Feel free to quote me on that.

For once, I think I was justified in riding a high horse. But I don’t think it will make any difference. I’m sure we will see some ridiculous clickbait headline soon about how social media can earn you more money to buy protein supplements.

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“I don’t want to go to school.”
“Why not?”
“It’s not fair that we have five days of school and two days of weekend. It should be the other way around.”
“But you have so much to learn now. You’re learning to write, and to read. And pretty soon you’ll be learning about science, like where plants and animals come from.”
“Plants come from the earth. Animals come from other animals.”
“And you’ll be learning about history. Like who was the first man on the moon.”
“George Washington was the first man on the moon.”
“No, George Washington was the first president. Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.”
“George Washington was the first man on the moon, and Neil Armstrong was the first man to play a trumpet on the moon.”

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I’ve been a content marketing and social media professional for roughly the last six years. I was, and continue to be, excited about the potential of social media and content marketing to change the business world for the better. But these days, I cringe when I go on Facebook or Twitter. I find myself pondering a strange and uncomfortable question:

As human beings, are we ultimately unsuited to social media?

Self righteous indignation has become America’s national pastime. (Schadenfreude is a close second.) I’m not just talking about people complaining on Facebook about bad service. People really enjoy piling on when someone else makes a mistake. And a lot of websites and Facebook pages seem completely devoted to amplifying and broadcasting those mistakes.

Here’s an example: a few weeks ago I saw a status update from a young woman who said something disparaging about people who join the military. It was unfair, unwarranted, disrespectful and showed no gratitude for the sacrifice that the volunteer military makes to help keep us safe.

But ultimately, so what? I doubt more than a handful of people would’ve seen it if it hadn’t been picked up and spread. Of all the people I’ve met in my life who give less of a damn what idiots think of them, serving military personnel and veterans are at or near the top of that list. Regardless, one young woman said something stupid and thousands of people piled on, to the point where I was genuinely worried she might be getting death threats.

Is this really how we want to use a worldwide network of information and connection?

As for content marketing, we may as well replace the word “content” with “linkbait.” Yesterday, I saw a video showing people they were using little paper ketchup cups the wrong way. As I said when I shared it on Facebook, “If you’re creating content for people too stupid to use ketchup, how long are you going to stay in business?”

Marketers are seeing the value of content, but predictably have galloped right past the point of diminishing returns to the point of absurdity and eventually, destruction. How tired are you of headlines like, “This one guy did this one thing and what happened next is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened, and maybe somebody exploded, but actually they didn’t”?

Does anyone really think this is sustainable? Does anyone care?

We do know what is sustainable. We’ve known it in our hearts and in our guts, and we can finally prove it: giving your audience useful, interesting, well-written content that amuses and engages them while at the same time helps solve their business problems.

Why don’t more people do that all the time? Again, there’s a simple answer: because doing it is hard. But it’s the only thing that works if you want to build trust, build a reputation and build relationships.

I hope we can survive the coming backlash. Social media went through a backlash because it never lived up to the hype piled upon it by people who really didn’t know what it was. The same thing is happening with content marketing, and I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

If you want to do one thing to help, share good examples of useful, interesting content. The more we do that, the more we can all help prove that quality will win in the end.

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“Hey look, buddy. That’s called a luge.”
“Can I do it?”

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And time is Lego.

2013.12.08

Me: “Thank you for coming with me to the grocery store.”
The Boy: “It was a waste of time for me.”

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“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“This isn’t a joke. It’s just annoying.”

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