Focused, hosted by David Sparks and Micke Schmitz, has quickly become the podcast I wish I made. Over the past few months, Mike and David have explored what it means to be truly productive. I used to be obsessed with this stuff, and I thought I had a lot of it down pat, so I don’t say this lightly: I’ve learned a lot on the topic thanks to these two.
I want to point you to their latest two episodes: Moving the Needle and Intentional Constraints. The two of them are best listened to together, in the order of their release. If you’re looking for a new perspective on Getting Things Done, you could do much worse than spend a couple hours listening to these.
The massive takeaway for me is that not all work is equal in value. If we want to do good work, we have to be laser-focused (there’s the title!) on what will move the needle forward for us. After listening to these episodes, this really clicked for me, and I don’t think I could give this topic the same clarity and justice these two gentlemen have. Go listen to their show! I can’t recommend it enough.
Sony is plugging some of the last holes in their mirrorless lens lineup today with the announcement of their new 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 and 600mm F45 lenses. These lenses look quite nice — at the very least, they’re competitive with the offerings from Nikon and Canon.
I’m not the target market for the 600mm lens, but the 200-600mm lens looks great. The variable aperture isn’t extreme, which is fantastic. (I’m aware this isn’t the first lens of this kind, but it’s the first for the Sony system, so let me be happy.)
With that telephoto, you could now buy the trinity from Sony for pro work, and get a large telephoto for wildlife and birding and be good to go. The pricing on that model is fair too. Altogether, a much more sensible lens than the 70-300mm Sony’s had for a couple years — so long as it will fit in your camera bag. Plus, if you’re a crazy person who needs a 900mm focal length, the lens is compatible with tele-converters.1
I thought $13k seemed a little high for the 600mm lens, but it’s in line with Canon’s offering (and I bet it’s just as good). I want to complain about the price, but both these prices are more or less what I’d expect from Sony: pricey, but fair (for the 200-600mm) and eye-watering, outrageously expensive (for the 600mm).
Also, don’t miss DP Review’s interview with Sony’s Yasuyuki Nagata about the optical design of these lenses. As usual, the editor’s note after the interview is a well-written analysis of the playing field.
Out of all the obvious focal lengths, this just leaves us without a 35mm f1.8. Sony’s lens design team has been on fire recently, and I’m pretty stoked on what they can pull off.
I’m a Mac fanboy, and the new Mac Pro looks astounding. The Afterburner card, as Apple’s calling it, makes it possible to render three 8K video streams of RAW footage in real time. Mind-blowing.
Of course, the Afterburner is a module that can be installed after purchase, or when you order a Mac Pro. Every Mac Pro can be configured to the user’s needs. So while I don’t need to edit three 8K streams of video without proxy files, I definitely need a ton of RAM and some solid GPU options (seriously, Lightroom turns every machine into a jet at takeoff). I could see a future version of myself relying on a version of the Mac Pro Apple unveiled this week.
The display looks incredible too. The Pro Display XDR (seriously, why didn’t they just call it the Pro Display?) looks amazing. But it’s going to cost nearly $10k in Canada to get the display and the stand — because the stand alone comes in at $999 USD. And that’s without the Mac Pro. That’s just the monitor.
For some professional environments, that cost is minimal. But for me, it’s more than it’s worth.
And I get it: I’m not necessarily the target market. The freelancing creative pro is not the upper echelon Apple is going for. But despite that, I miss the days of the Thunderbolt Display. I’d love to see Apple take the 5K display out of their iMacs and put that in a nice enclosure again, just like the old times.
There’s a serious gap in the market where a Retina-resolution, well-designed monitor could exist.
If you wanted a standalone Retina 27”-class monitor, you’d better order the LG UltraFine 5K display. Before it sells out. But it’s also nearly $2000 Canadian, and it frankly isn’t that great of a display. (The screen is lovely, but the enclosure is garbage. I’m currently rocking LG’s similar 21.5” 4K display, which is nice, but cramped. Its enclosure is also garbage.)
This all causes a problem: currently, there is no good way to live a single-machine lifestyle. Back in 2012, you could buy a quad-core 15” MacBook Pro and a top-of-the-line display for a few grand. That was a great setup: you got an excellent, fast machine with a great (Retina) display, and a nice way to get work done at a desk, all without the hassle of syncing files across machines.
There isn’t a great way to do that today. The current lineup of MacBook Pros are largely lacking (thanks mostly to the keyboard), and there are no great low-end external monitors. Most professionals who can afford it will likely end up with a desktop in their production environment and a laptop on the go. In between, you’ll be syncing everything between a combination of Dropbox/iCloud/OneDrive, Git, and external disks (hello again, Lightroom). It’s not ideal.
We always say things were simpler back in the old days, but 2012 wasn’t that long ago, and frankly, things were simpler then.
Austin Kleon just wrapped up a tour for his latest book. During a stop in Chicago. Eddie Shleyner asked him a great question: “Do you ever feel like no matter how much work you do, you can or should be doing more?”
This question immediately resonated with me; it’s an issue I’ve personally struggled with and am currently struggling through.
Thankfully, Eddie recorded his answer and transcribed it on his blog:
“Yeah, always,” he said. “If you get into that productivity trap, there’s always going to be more work to do, you know?
“Like, you can always make more. I think that’s why I’m a time-based worker. I try to go at my work like a banker. I just have hours. I show up to the office and whatever gets done gets done.
“And I’ve always been a time-based worker. You know, like, ‘did I sit here for 3 hours and try.’ I don’t have a word count when I sit down to write. It’s all about sitting down and trying to make something happen in that time period — and letting those hours stack up.
“So that’s sort of how I get over it.”
I love this. I love that the answer is simply to sit down and try and get some work done. If you don’t make it, that’s okay: try again tomorrow.
I think most people — certainly creative people — put a lot of pressure on themselves to deliver every day. We aim for perfection. I think the pursuit of output, rather than the joy of the chase, keeps us from doing our best work. Perhaps even more dangerously, it leaves us worse off as people.
A friend of mine told me that Cormac McCarthy, the author of No Country for Old Men and The Road (among many other popular novels), had to stop hanging out with other writers after he stopped drinking. All of his writer friends drank until inspiration hit, and he thought that was a poisonous attitude.
That idea, of creativity beholden to vices, keeps us from doing our best work. It keeps us from facing the blank page and making something. The fear of perfection will literally drive us to drink.
So what can we do instead?
We can sit down, measure our hours rather than our output, and make something. As Shawn Blanc says (and I love this), we can create without overthinking.
I’m the sort of person who needs a list of goals in order to accomplish something. Early every year, I come up with a theme for the year and a few goals to help me keep my focus.
This year, my theme is about hunkering down and fostering my creativity. With that in mind, I’ve got a few goals that I think will be useful for anybody who wants to do something creative in 2019.
Grab life by the balls. if you’re going to do something, do it wholeheartedly. Not halfway. Doing something halfway is worse than not doing it at all.
Consume less. Create more. For me, this means spending less time on YouTube and my Nintendo Switch, and more time making things. This isn’t a challenge to work more. It’s a challenge to spend more time playing your favourite instrument — even if you play poorly. You don’t, and won’t, always make good things. That’s okay.
Be aware of your needs. Do you need a new camera? Find the right one for you and buy it. Don’t waste hundreds of hours on research or the comments on DPReview. Just figure out your needs, go get the thing, and start making stuff. One day, we’re all going to die. Don’t waste time.
Read more books. This is a notable exception to Goal 2 because it encourages slow thinking in a fast-paced world. We need more of that.
Say no to that which limits your creativity. Like bad clients, Netflix binges, and hangovers. This one is hard. You will fail. Get up and try again.
Act in the face of fear. I’m borrowing this from the great Steven Pressfield (The War of Art is amazing and you should make it one of the books you read for Goal 2). Fear is what keeps us from being creative and becoming who we’re meant to be. Stare that fear in the face and make the thing you want to make. Then you can declare victory, but not mastery, over the fear. Remember, the fear can fight again at any time. It wants to crush you. It knows no limits. But, then again, neither do you…