Golden Goals series: David Seah on clarity, creativity and productivity

This is the second article in the Golden Goals series of interviews with notable bloggers about their goals, habits and productivity systems.

I’m excited about the next blogger in this Golden Goals series because 1) he writes thoughtfully and insightfully on productivity and achieving goals and 2) I use one of his excellent productivity tools every day (the Emergent Task Planner). David Seah of is a freelance designer who writes about things that empower and inspire people, covering topics such as design, development, becoming productive, and the business of being a freelancer. He’s best known in the online productivity world for his Printable CEO series.

1) What would you consider your greatest achievement in the last few years? Feel free to add other achievements or goals if you’d like.

Personally, it’s been finding that I could overcome my own inertia, fear, and perfectionism to create a web presence that is a pretty authentic representation of myself. From that, good things have followed.

2) What was the key to achieving that success for you? Was there one thing, or were there a number of factors?

One of the greatest boosts was getting into the 9rules Network, which was huge to me because of what they represent: quality content. It was the first time in a long time that I’d been recognized for something I’d done that was of immense value to me, not someone else’s bottom line.

I feel I’m on a path now toward success, but I’m not sure exactly what it’s going to be. A commitment to following where this path leads, I think, is a key factor at work here.

3) What are the essential habits that you’ve formed to help you achieve your goals?

I automatically try to get to the essence of my goals so I can establish clarity in my direction before taking action. At times, this may actually mean taking action before I fully understand what I’m doing. Maintaining this dynamic balance between thoughtful planning and immediate action, I think, is helping me keep a stable perspective of what it is I’m doing.

I write a lot every day, because it clarifies my thinking and my reasoning, distilling a course of action into a few focused sentences. This creates continuity in my day, and a historical record for the next day.

4) How often do you think about your goals, review them, and take action on them?

I think about them often, though I could be more disciplined in reviewing them. The trouble is probably more like sticking to just a few goals at a time; this is something I’m working on. I’m also particularly bad at doing maintenance-type chores, unless it has something to do with keeping my computer running, so this is an area that I could certainly improve.

5) Describe how you overcome failure, how you pick yourself back up if you are struggling, and how you motivate yourself if your enthusiasm is lagging.

I’ve recently identified that I have two creative processes, one impulsive, the other methodical. The former energizes me, the latter drains me. When it comes to engineering-type goals, however, the equation is reversed: I find methodical development energizing, and impulsive implementation to be a source of frustration. By keeping aware of what mode I’m in, I can identify the frustration and shift into a different mindset.

I also like to figure ways around obstacles, so it’s pretty rare that I feel absolutely stymied. I will lose enthusiasm, though, if I’m not working directly with someone invested in the work I’m doing. I am energized by positive-minded, conscientious, kind, self-empowered people; I find that being in a community of people like this helps inoculate myself from that horrible feeling of failure.

It’s not always easy, but what keeps me going is a belief that I can do anything I set my mind to. I’m not saying that I’ll do it WELL or even correctly, but there’s very little stopping me from making a move in a direction I want to explore except my own attitudes. This applies to
everyone. I consider it a great victory when anyone tries to do something at all … bravo! Even if it doesn’t come out in the right way, there is always something to learn.

6) Could you describe your productivity system and any productivity tips you have for people?

I don’t really have a productivity system; it’s more that I have pieces of systems that I apply when the need is there. The various forms I’ve created target a specific kind of behavior that I have sought to optimize for improved focus, but they are not strung together into a system. I see the seeds of this in my current development, but it’s not in place now. I would probably say that my fundamental tip is to strive for concreteness and clarity in all activities, to make sure that you see tangible benefit as the only acceptable result from a given action. What a good productivity system does is provide a good accounting methodology so you can measure
your progress, and provide the methodological scaffolding for whatever creative processes you are engaged in.

I have, however, created a number of useful forms that could be integrated as a component of one’s personal productivity system. I think the most generally useful form I’ve made from a productivity perspective has been the Concrete Goals Tracker, because it does a good job of really focusing you on benefit-bringing activity … if you’ve taken the time to really pick
good goals. This form is particularly good if you’re defining yourself or your business. I like how it brings focus without overloading you with accounting.

The next most useful forms are probably the Task Progress Tracker [original and Destruct-o-matic versions], the Emergent Task Timer, and the Emergent Task Planner. The TPT is a top-down project tool to help you define and track what specific things need doing. The ETT, on the other hand, allows you to see what you’ve ended up doing without stricter planning. Each form applies to a certain situation or kind of work personality, I think. The ETP, finally, is more of a daily planning worksheet for more general use.

The concepts introduced by these tools and others, combined with the other various insights I’ve had, probably do form the basis of a “system” of productivity, and I look forward to putting this together over the next year.

Also read: all interviews in the Golden Goals series.

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