David Seah: Video Game Designer Turned Cult Productivity Guru
David Seah Episode Summary
His carefully-crafted, user-focused productivity tools help ADHD lawyers and non-ADHD lawyers alike grapple with their most important priorities and vanquish their most challenging struggles.
David Seah Episode Notes
Learn More about David Seah
Two Quotes from David Seah
“The big secret with productivity systems is you can follow any of them and they work… so long as you keep following them.”
“A Gantt chart is a way of visualizing how much time a set of tasks will take to complete a project… It's great at Thanksgiving when you're cooking all these things at the same time and only have four burners on your oven. So I actually make a Gantt chart every year for my Thanksgiving dinner. That's how nerdy I am.”
David Seah Show Links
- The JDHD Landing Page at DavidSeah.com! (Dave created a free version of the Emergent Task Timer with 6-minute increments just for JDHD listeners!)
- All of Dave's productivity tools in one place!
- The Emergent Task Planner StickyPad on Amazon
- The Emergent Task Planner
- The Emergent Task Timer
- Manual Gantt Charting in Excel
- The Concrete Goals Tracker
- The Task Progress Tracker
- The Day Grid Balancer
- The Task Order Up!
- Time Tracking in Excel
- The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande
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Work with Me
- Law Firm Consulting & The Small Firm Roadmap.
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- A Mastermind Group for Lawyers with ADHD.
David Seah Interview Transcript
This is probably why I want to be part of a community. Because when I think about one of the oldest desire loops in my life, it is the desire to be back in a good team.David Seah
David Seah: This is probably why I want to be part of a community. Because when I think about one of the oldest desire loops in my life, it is the desire to be back in a good team.
Marshall Lichty: Hey, this is Marshall and I'm so excited that you're here listening to The JDHD Podcast. This is a funny episode because long before I was diagnosed with ADHD, I had taken to the internet to find some answer to just hold it all together. And I Googled it and I Googled and I Googled it and I finally uncovered undoubtedly one of the most important coping mechanisms that I found before my diagnosis. We're going talk about that in a minute, but first, let's have a little update on JDHD. So, first of all, I've been busy. In January, I taught a course every single day at my undergraduate alma mater, Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. And my course was called “Marketing for Startups.” It was a hoot. I really enjoyed teaching it, had some great kids, and it really helped me clarify my worldview about marketing and marketing strategy and a whole bunch of other things.
Marshall Lichty: So it was lovely and I'm deeply thankful for the opportunity to do it. I've booked a couple of speaking gigs to give CLE talks to law firms and bar associations and other law organizations and I'm super excited about that because getting the word out is really, really important. I launched a new “Resources” page on the website and I also launched a survey for people who might be interested in a mastermind for lawyers with ADHD. That survey is available https://TheJDHD.com/mastermind-survey. If you're interested in taking the survey and giving me feedback, please do. I'm not selling anything there but I am definitely very interested in hearing the feedback that you might have.
Marshall Lichty: So, that's JDHD. And now we're going to turn our attention to a video game designer turned cult productivity guru, a guy who believes Groundhog Day is the best holiday that the United States has to offer. And I want you to listen for what I continue to be shocked and amazed by—the deep and profound insights that he offers in this interview but also in the work that he does with his productivity tools. This is a guy who can help us all lead better lives and run better businesses. He is an investigative designer and really, really interesting cat that I value deeply and I can't wait for you to hear his voice. This is David Seah. Hang on.
Marshall Lichty: David Seah, thank you for joining us on the JDHD podcast. I really appreciate having you and we will dive in later into why this is a big moment for me. I'm really excited to have you because I've known about you for a lot longer than you've known about me, so thanks.
David Seah: Thanks for having me. It's really great to talk to people about a subject that's close to my heart, which was I guess getting things done with people who are outside of my field of expertise.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah, so your field of expertise, if, if one went digging around on the internet, someone would just say that you are a productivity expert. I think you're a lot more than that. Tell me about your journey. Well, first of all, tell me what you really do for your day job and then tell me about productivity and why it is that you are widely known across the internets as a guru in the productivity space.
David Seah: I would say my real job… Let's split this into two parts. The first part is the personal part. Why do anything at all? Why do I get up in the morning? And that is to figure out my personal truth. And I know it sounds foofy, I know it sounds maybe kind of silly to people, “we need to put bread on the table!” but that's always what's driven me. Like what is it that's important to me? How do things work? How does the universe work? How do people relate to each other? How do I relate to all of that? And this might come from having grown up in a variety of different cultures that I didn't feel comfortable in. So like first, like I was like an Asian American growing up in 1970s rural road, New Jersey, which has, you know, certain connotations of like not quite fitting in.
David Seah: And then when I was nine, my family moved to Taiwan and I didn't speak Chinese or Taiwanese or anything like that. So I was there for 10 years going to what you started out as the armed forces school for the U S army. And then I came back to the United States for college and suffered like four years of reverse culture shock. Like, so “who am I?” has always been a question for me. “Where do I fit in?” has always been a question. What I ended up doing for a living, it was computer-y stuff that my salvation in Taiwan was. We lived in a theological seminary on top of a mountain.
Marshall Lichty: I was hoping you were going to get to that because that is pure gold.
David Seah: So there was not a whole lot to do other than ride bikes. But after I get to be 12 or 13 riding bikes kind of got, you know, you can't do that when you're older. And so that's when the microcomputers like the Apple two clones are starting to come out in Taiwan. So the computers are my salvation for giving me something to, to focus on. And the other thing was writing. I enjoyed writing in English classes in school and so forth. So I ended up to going into computers. Originally I went into computers because I wanted to make video games. Kind of long story short, I went into the video game industry. And so these,
Marshall Lichty: Hold on, let me interrupt you. I've mentioned that I'm not much of a sportsball guy with the exception of my beloved Minnesota Twins, but you did work on a famous franchise famous video franchise if I'm not mistaken?
David Seah: I worked on, I used to work for EA on a NCAA Football '99
Marshall Lichty: And a bunch of college kids listening to Dave Matthews Band just rejoiced. And at that time you didn't even think that you could make money making video games either as on the development side or on the retail side. Right?
Marshall Lichty: If you want to see some of Dave's binary brain creativity translated into magic we'll drop a link to that in the show notes. But in the meantime, you also have this other world that you live in, which for better or for worse, like it or not, you have come to develop a bit of a reputation as a productivity guru. And I know that you're allergic to that idea, but let me back up and just say, I have only known that I have ADHD for a short time. I have known for a very long time that I've had productivity issues and figuring out ways to get what's in my brain into a workable place that I can work through using a tool that I can rely on and that makes sense to me was a very hard challenge. And so very early in my legal career I tracked down tools for this and most of them were just, you know, unmitigated disaster is not because of the tool necessarily, but because of me.
Marshall Lichty: And I eventually found something that is called the Emergent Task Planner and it has been my constant companion since then. I used to print off reams of them and I would just have them on my desk and every day I would come in and I would put one down and I would, I would plan with it. I've since evolved to using it on my iPad. So I have a digital version that I use in my note taking app. So I still hand write it, but now it's digital and when I'm done I will take a screenshot and I'll save it to my phone. So it literally lives as my background image, my wallpaper every single day I look at a product that you built and so I've had an ambient awareness of you and your nerdery for a long time. And it wasn't until I realized that I do have ADHD that I knew that I needed to dive in deep into the other work that you've been doing because your brain works in a lot of ways that are supportive of mine. So what in God's name were you doing creating this thing while you're a video game designer?
David Seah: Well, I was, after I left the game industry, I was working in digital agencies for a while. So first I did freelance interactive design because that's what my strength was at the time. I found that I was working by myself all the time and I was having difficulty motivating myself. So after a few years I kind of got my footing and I had started doing freelance stuff. I, there was a one day, I can't remember when I wrote about this somewhere in my blog that I wish I had a boss. I didn't really want a boss. I certainly didn't want to pay anybody that was good because that would be expensive. That person would make way more than I was making. So I said, well, maybe I could just make someone on paper. And so I started doing that. And at the time I was joining, I had become part of a blogging network.
David Seah: This was one of the first organized group of bloggers who were making a content stand. The idea that content is King, the idea that quality content is worth pursuing. You know what we call it the day, the long reads, you know, that kind of stuff. I shared it on this network because I thought like, I made this thing that's kind of funny. This was not the Emergent Task Planner. This was the something I called the Concrete Goals Tracker. And essentially it was a list of things that CEO would tell me to do and I don't even remember what those things are you more, I've probably internalized to most of them but it was basically the list and it was like a, a weekly tracking form because I had all this extra room on the paper. I feel like it really made me ask what's worth doing and this is kind of a persistent theme in my life. Trying to figure out what, what is worth doing, what motivates me, why aren't I doing anything? I say I want to be an interactive designer. I'm on my own, by myself now and it's up to me to make my own tasks. Why can't they self motivate to do these things? It was really irritating.
Marshall Lichty: And this nagging feeling that you haven't done anything yet or built anything yet or achieved anything yet?
David Seah: Yeah. Yeah cause I was coming off of like you know… Several failures. Like the first failure was the the video game company. Although that's the second failure. The first failure that I really felt bad about was my first graduate school stint when I was an electrical engineer. And I was way out of my depth there. I was there primarily to do software design, but it was in a hardcore electrical engineering analog design research group. And I know nothing about analog integrated circuit design. Yeah. And so I got, I felt really bad so I kind of feel like I got like a degree just to make me go away. You know, there was nothing that I, I feel that I really earned about that.
Marshall Lichty: Well in the ADHD world, by the way, we call that either imposter syndrome on steroids or the itty bitty shitty committee. You might be right that you didn't do anything to deserve your degree, but you also might be wrong. Just FYI.
David Seah: Yeah. It wasn't a good fit, you know, certainly socially, culturally. The second stint was I went to actually went to art school. And so I went to get my fine arts degree in computer graphics cause when I was in the previous graduates program,
Marshall Lichty: All important because you eventually ended up with your butt in the right seat, which was a art school. And working on, on graphics and making things beautiful. But before that you were talking about sort of failures and, and we were talking about this nagging feeling that you had that you hadn't achieved anything. And this might be a good time to just step back for a minute because you've, you've said you, you really let out from the beginning. You never set yourself on the course of becoming a productivity person. When I hear you talk about yourself and about sort of what you're trying to do, a lot of times it has to do with what you said about self-discovery. Who are you, what are you, what are you meant to be? When are you your best self? Sort of some of these questions about figuring out your role in the world and learning things and then sharing it back with the world.
Marshall Lichty: And that has really resonated with me because I, what we see in your work is not so much a productivity is this and this is how you do it. Download my thing for $100. It is, “I am on a journey to get better at this stuff and I'm curious about it. I'm designing tools, I'm running experiments and then when I have output…” And I've seen your beta versions, I've seen, you know, I've seen version one, version two, version three before you even, you know, before you make them really very public, you are sharing and being vulnerable and saying, “here's kind of where I am with this. This is the, this is what I'm toying around with.” And it takes you, you, you invest so much time and energy into this process of discovery and then you have dedicated yourself to sharing it oftentimes for free. So not a productivity guru, but a productivity scientist and investigator.
David Seah: Yeah. I used to call myself an investigative designer because I liked the idea of having, you know, kind of like one of those film noir type doors and I'd be sitting in there with my desk and the light would be streaming into the side window and I was really hilarious smoking a cigar or something like that. But it really described the kind of design that I did. You know, a lot of times when you think like graphic designer or visual designer, you're thinking of someone who's good at ornamentation and that's not the kind of designer I am. I'm not very good at that. What I am good at is the other part of which, what we would call information design now or UX design. But I'm good at taking an idea of breaking it down and figuring out how they all should relate to each other visually.
David Seah: And it turns out like that communications aspect is what's more interesting to me than making a video game. I would say that I just, I tend to think of myself more as a personal development writer, but I, I try not to frame it in terms of of like you, you could feel good about yourself. I started taking that as a given. You already feel good about yourself. You already want to feel good about stuff. You don't need my help for that. What always bothered me when I was trying to learn things, I was like, could not find succinct information that said, “this is what this is supposed to do. This is how it's supposed to do it. This is how it works. Here's an example. Try it. This is what you should see.” And it's still like this. It's even worse these days on the internet. Like you cannot find someone that says something like “a dog walked down the street.“
Marshall Lichty: One thing that I love that you've said to me is that productivity is the means to live your values, right? Productivity is not an end in and of itself. It's an opportunity to figure out how you want your life to be lived and to make sure that your days are built around that. So say more about how someone can use productivity to live their values.
David Seah: Well, the first thing that comes to mind, this might be just overall processes to ask the question, well, what are, what do we mean by that? What are my values? And then now to ask myself what's important to me and what's important to me will be of course different than what's important to you. So this is, I had to translate this into my, my own terms. What's important to me is after 15 or so years of thinking about it is I don't want to be bored and to not be bored, I need money. And to have money, I need to actually do things and to do things that actually have meaning, that means other people have to see them. That means I have to share them and share them effectively. And not only the things I share have to be shared effectively. They had to be legitimately valuable to other people in the way that they could perceive it.
David Seah: And at the same time there's a desire to connect with other people who appreciate such things because that is not boring if you're around people who appreciate the things that you appreciate and even riff off of them. And so since all you will make something and they say like, Oh, that's really interesting, they'll help me out do this, this thing, we should talk and have coffee sometime and talk about other things that aren't boring. So if I were to be absolutely selfish and just express it in terms of “I don't want to be bored,” that's what drives me. It's not, it's not so much like, “Oh I want to make a contribution to humanity.” That would be a nice side effect of what I'm doing. But if I'm absolutely honest with myself, I don't like being bored. I don't like being feeling trapped. I don't like feeling that I have no options. I don't like feeling that I don't have the freedom to do anything that I've walked in and maybe this is an ADHD thing. I don't know. You tell me
Marshall Lichty: I think the logical link here is that in a lot of ways it sounds like you've built a life around yourself that's a very ADD or ADHD friendly, meaning you have these systems and tools that are driven by, I can't, you know, it's not that I'm gonna forget my keys. I'm not worried about forgetting my keys because I literally don't take my keys out of my pocket because if I do, they're going to be gone. And so I've built a system where I don't let things impact me in, in such a way. And that is what allows you to be efficient or productive or to make sure that you're spending your time in a way that is additive and lets you do the work that keeps you entertained and sort of your highest and best use. And that's, that's I think why what you create resonates with folks in the ADHD crowd.
Marshall Lichty: So you had mentioned just a second ago about people riffing on your work. And I want to, I want to take that thread for a second because what's interesting about your work is to me, I mean it has literally been a lifesaving set of tools for me and that has value to people and rather—and I don't mean to suggest that monetizing it is bad—but I think it is reflective of your perspective on this. When you say have this for free and take it, here's the, you know, here's the source document, use it, live with it, give me feedback. We see your name on. It's very common for people in the ADHD community to say, Dave has it figured out. Follow this tool. Dave has it figured out. Check this blog post. You give back into the community maybe without being intentional about it, but then those folks riff on it and they're writing blog posts about it or they're implementing that in their practices.
Marshall Lichty: I know that many ADHD practitioners around the country use your tools to help coach and give therapy to their clients because like you said, that user experience or that user-focused design allows our ADHD brains to compartmentalize things in important ways. And so if I, if I can be so bold to help connect that link between you being bored and why you resonate with the ADHD community and folks who are on the hunt for productivity, I think it is that, I think you've approached it in a way where you are generous and shareful and have encouraged people to use it and riff on it and grow and and then share it back into the community.
David Seah: Yeah. Well let me ask you a question: why do you think I would ever want to do that?
Marshall Lichty: Well, part of being curious about your own productivity and your own role in the world is a lot of reflection and you've made a comment to me about how at first you thought you needed to do that on your own and that you've realized that “community” is an important part of that. And I think part of building a community or being with people to sort of optimize your world has to do with vulnerability and sharing. And so what I suspect is that doing it on your own and for yourself was an interesting experiment that when it started to leak out the community saw it and said “you are not alone.” Your brain works the way mine does and your brain, you thinking this way, you creating this way helps me. And I think that experience of not being alone is good for all of us. So maybe that's my reflection on it.
David Seah: That's really what resonates with like my current thinking. You know like kind of going back to like the way that I designed the forms… that's really coming from, ah, that's the video game designer in me. As a video game designer, we're very careful about not creating, creating a feedback loop that doesn't diminish you too much. There's this idea that comes from game design. I incorporate it in the concrete goals tracker is that you don't want to double punish somebody and like as someone who suspects they have ADHD or has a challenge doing things, you're already feeling bad. There's no need to track reasons that you should be feeling bad. So I don't know if you've noticed this in my form design, but what we track is things that are done. We do not track things. We try not to track things that aren't done. If there are things that aren't done, the language on the forms themselves says it's our right for that.
David Seah: This is the part of the process. You know the one reason, the main reason that I share what I'm doing and it's imperfection, isn't to build community, isn't to monetize it. It's because there are so few examples of the reality of how hard it is to do these things, how long it takes to do this things. We see media when we read the read the internet and you open a web browser, you see a thousand amazing things that people have done that day and you look at what you've done. I screwed up making my cup of coffee, you know, and a thousand amazing things have happened. You forget that those thousand amazing things took those people 10 years to do and you all you see is I'm falling behind them, falling behind them, falling behind. And that demotivating emotion prevents you from doing anything.
David Seah: So I share what I do and I tried to share how I feel because that's relatable and then shared this is what I'm doing. And I tried to remind myself, particularly in more recent years that this stuff takes time and I need energy to do this. And so figuring out where the energy is going to come from to get through those difficult moments. I mean this is why I blog, I think. And it's always been, it's always been important to me to be authentic and sharing. Like I'm not this amazing designer. I'm not a guru. This is why I hate the whole guru thing. I don't have the answers to these things. These are experiments that have worked for me. Maybe you would like them too. In a way. I'm sort of sharing. I don't really think of it as making myself vulnerable. I think of it as like just being real about it and that's, that's really important.
David Seah: The expression of that truth of, of this human condition of trying to want to do something but not quite being able to do it for some reason. I don't know why this is, it's super important to me and probably it's because it's like this probably goes back to childhood. Went back, I didn't know how to order a pizza when it came back to the, to the United States because I had never had to order a pizza as a conscious living person before. And like it cause my parents spoke Taiwanese to each other all the time. I had no idea how to call plumber. I had no idea how taxes work. I had no idea how a lot of life things work. And it was always confused and always uncertain about the best way of doing things. And not only that, I was a huge fat nerd and, like you, I loved like computers, which back in the 1980s was not cool, you know, I kind of wanted to play D&D but you know, I didn't know anyone who wanted to play it cause that was frowned upon.
David Seah: And so there was always a sense like you, I can't be who I want to be and… or I would suppress myself. I'm also trans. So that's something that I'm coming out with to come to terms with now as well. What does that mean? Like Oh this is the last thing I want to do to deal with. I just, just, just when I was getting everything figured out, there's this whole other thing that's popping out of this. But yeah, the share the struggles realistically and then to, to be able to provide tools that calm ourselves and remind ourselves this stuff takes time. You had to find your own way. You could track these things and react to them and let's not make it so you have to do any kind of double entrance or punish yourself by doing these things. The big secret with productivity systems is you can follow any of them and they work so long as you keep following them. There's plenty of people doing that. I felt no need to like to monetize or sell systems like that. What was important to me is it expressed that truth of the experience.
Marshall Lichty: Well and what I love about that experience that really resonates with me and I think will with a lot of lawyers, particularly those with ADHD is you know, we grow up in an environment where our value is literally reduced to the number of hours that we bill or minutes that we bill on a task. It is there is a, there is a coercive element of tracking your time and then saying this is the output, right? It is how long did it take you to build that thing, which feels very different than what you just said. Right? You're tracking it in an in a way that is meant to be reflective. That's meant to be honest and true. That's meant to be…
David Seah: Yeah.I think I should mention that back in the late nineties, early two thousands, a lot of my thinking was driven by doing production for video games, which is like you're very deadline-oriented. You have your manufacturing date, you miss a manufacturing date, you've screwed, you know, because they had to press CD raw masters, it has to be bug free. There's no downloading patches or anything like that if you, it's, so it's really stressful. And after that, working in digital agencies like, you know, we had budgets, we had deadlines. And so the way I tended to approach creating things, which was, you know, graphics or code or interactivity was really by how long is it going to take me to do this, to get a good product that the client likes and that they're going to pay us on time for. And so I had a very much what I would call the manager mindset. You know, especially when I started doing the productivity thing cause I was thinking like I have all these things to do. I should be able to like I have no problem doing this in the context of another company, track track, track, you know,
Marshall Lichty: Be accountable to a boss or to a deadline or to whatever.
David Seah: I was the boss! But when I became my own boss working by myself, all that motivation to keep track of stuff vanished. And it was [inaudible]. It was aggravating and this is when I started like you're looking into like your what are some better ways of doing this? And it started like really examining all right, so what's different between the contact context I had before in the context ahead now what are the pros is the old situation of the pros is that the current one was doing the same project breakdown that they would do for everything. Like at the time it was all laid like I'm going to guess at least five years until I realized that it wasn't so much of a mechanical procedural issue. It was really more of of a kind of a personal heart type issue.
Marshall Lichty: What I would really like to do, because I mean, again, I know you're allergic to the idea of being a productivity guru and I, and I don't know that that's where we need to elevate you, but I do want to talk about some of the tools because they're useful and there are going to be people who want to touch on them. We don't need to do a deep dive into what each one of them does. You've written blog posts about them, they're, you know, they're available and, and you know, easily tracked and found. But what I would like to do maybe before we dive into kind of just what they are and what they're intended to do, what is, in your view, after these experiments and where you are right now, what are some of the keys to your productivity journey? What are some of the keys that, what are some of the things that you know about when you are at your most productive or doing your most and best work and your highest use?
David Seah: Hmm. How do I know when the most productive,
Marshall Lichty: I mean one, one of them, and I know you've said elsewhere is tricking yourself into action, right? Like sort of tricking your brain or, or creating systems or tools or processes or habits that allow you to just jump into action. Come what may. Even if it's a boring task or an exciting task, sometimes you need just a catalyst to jump in.
David Seah: So how do I measure productivity in the old manager style… It would be based on the deliverable. What is it that I have that's enough shareable way. And this ties in with the very first form I made, the Concrete Goals Tracker. Then like this has a point system and at that, at the very top, the 10 most, the most valuable things where I shipped something, I made something I should, I mean I made it and then I showed to someone cause it didn't have any meaning until you had showed it to someone cause that completes the loop to the universe. Otherwise that's just theoretical like stuff floating around your head. And then the other thing was like, did I break down? Did I eliminate uncertainty? A lot of times I started seeing is what prevents me anyway from doing things like I don't have enough information to make a decision.
David Seah: And sometimes if you're not used to training yourself through say like the only way to certainty is through the uncertainty you end up stay on that side of things that you never get the data you need to make actually make a decision. And so I would say like if I'm making decisions, like be based on good data that I've acquired which means I've learned something, something fundamental, or if and I've, I've delivered something and I've had done that like once a day, that would be incredible if I could tell that once a day. But sometimes you can't do it. Sometimes it takes days to get through the uncertainty, particularly with programming these days. I mean there's like so much, so much crap that's out there that you have to weed through to get to the good stuff that it's largely sifting through nuggets of like, that looks like it might be useful. Oh no, that's, that's from 2017 it's out of date now.
David Seah: That doesn't work anymore. Or you know, stuff like that. So it comes down to maybe a third pillar of being productive is, do I have, can I look at my system of, of nuggets garnished, created, delivered and understood and can I see how that leads to a sustainable, persistent process of producing the thing again? So there, there's two L, two ways to look at tasks that are on my list. If I, if I think of productivity as getting through the tasks that are on my strategic goals list, the first thing is like, do I already know how to do it? Yes. That's an easy optimization productivity problem because you already know most of the time the things I don't know how to do. And acknowledging that and then coming up with experiments or ways of breakthrough, the uncertainty to find those small steps that help build uncertainty and build that process to the sign that's known. You know, that's an important building thing, but there's a prerequisite for being able to produce the deliverables that you want and that maintaining one's morale in that process is something I've only really become aware of as being much more important than I thought it was.
Marshall Lichty: Particularly because there's no outcome in that. There's no outcome in learning. Right? It's very hard to look at a list and say I read, first of all, I did that sifting. I was able to sift out a thousand things that suck. I was able to find four that are important. I spent a lot of time with them. I learned from those and now I have to take that and convert it into something actionable or something beautiful or something deliverable and, and, and you don't get credit for that. You don't get credit for the homework.
David Seah: Probably why? I want to be part of a community. Cause like when I think about like the one by the oldest desire loops in my life. It is the desire to be back in a good team. The last time I was in a really great team was in high school when I was me and two other friends who were trying to figure out how computers worked. And every day we'd come back from home and said, like, I figured this out and we would show each other and we would learn from that, that loop, that creative loop discovery loop and being to appreciate, like I figured out how to do this thing. And people becoming like that was, that's amazing. Like, and like I've learned from that and this is why I did this. That's amazing. How did you ever think about that, that creative loop to create something that was bigger than ourselves? That was what I've been missing for a long time.
Marshall Lichty: Well, that loop really resonates. I mean, partly because I know that you've done work to do that. I'm interested in the virtual coworking community that you're sort of invested in right now, spending time and energy. They're building that community, but not in a traditional coworking space, but in a virtual one. And it, and it does seem to have a lot of those elements: working side by side, sharing successes, “Here's what I figured out,” hearing from people in different verticals, different expertises in different industries. And that sounds fascinating. I want to touch back on it, but before we do, I want to say that there's a lot in that when you say, I want to be back in a great team that I think will resonate with lawyers here. A lot of our audience is solo lawyers or small firm lawyers and even regardless of how big our law firms get, there's this sense that you are your own law practice.
Marshall Lichty: You have to start your projects from start to finish. You think about a project or a case or a matter on your own, sort of in a, in a, in a bubble without a ton of feedback or external input. There isn't a lot of vulnerability in sharing. There certainly isn't this, you know, euphoric opportunity at the end of the day to say, do you know what I figured out today? Boom, this is it. And so that sharing tends to be absent. And so what I do think is that a lot of lawyers are hungry for community in that same sense. And they might not know why, but I love the idea that that creative loop and that discovery loop being a part of a healthy community and businesses, law firms or any other kind of organization, are communities. And if your community is not giving space for that creativity loop or that discovery loop, it might be that your community isn't actually functioning very much like a community at all.
David Seah: Yeah. I think a lot of dysfunctional communities that it's really about, you know, measuring body parts and sees which ones, who has the biggest one or who knows the most about this stat or, or.
Marshall Lichty: Or which fungible unit of production is producing well today and which one is not.
David Seah: Yeah. And it's not really about moving everybody forward. Yeah. Yeah, that's true.
Marshall Lichty: Say briefly just a little bit about the discord community.
David Seah: Oh, okay. So I started this virtual community online and it kind of grew out of experiments on something with YouTube and playing around with live streaming. I just set it up and just posted on my blog that I'm doing this thing. And then to my great surprise, someone popped up into it that said that they had been watched, they did reading me for a long time. They thought they would check it out and then she was from New Zealand and Hey [inaudible], if you're listening to this. And then she stayed. And then another person from the Netherlands asked me like, like if I was making any more of those very long, boring coworking videos I was posting on YouTube. I was literally just coding and muttering to myself on it. People kept popping into the chat room one by one over time until we had like a small number of regulars.
David Seah: And for some reason, like just having the chat room there and just, and like, I know enough about SEO and there was no one really running about virtual coworking at the time. So I made an article and I keyworded the crap out of it. And people keep discovering it through this and popping up and it's not to everyone's taste. So it's much like my blog, my blog appeals maybe only two, I would say half of a percent of the people who hit it. But that half percent like stick around the other half, they say there's too much stuff to read and they just go away. They don't even leave a snarky comment because it was too boring to get through the whole thing for them. Yeah. Because it's like, Oh, I'm already born and they just leave. Like I just want to just yell at somebody.
Marshall Lichty: Well, let me say, so first of all if you, if you, if you are one of the half percent, first of all, I think it's higher than that. And I think that there, that there is a pretty significant overlap between the cohort of people who traditionally like your stuff and lawyers. I think there's a brain chemistry thing going on that lends itself to the type of work you do being attractive. But anyway, if you go to this website and find that it's lots words, there are also some incredible tools in there. And so if you just need to go leave a really snarky comment today at the bottom, great. Do that. But then go download the tools and start goofing around with them because there is gold in there. And so maybe what I want. And so maybe leave comments, maybe read the entire blog, maybe join the discord. Maybe you think about virtual coworking, maybe you think about community, but for sure, let's spend just a minute talking about some of the other tools.
Marshall Lichty: So we've talked about the Concrete Goals Tracker, the Task Progress Tracker, the Emergent Task Planner, the Daily Grid Balance, or tell me about what, what these are meant to do. Tell me maybe just in a couple of words, what do we do with a Task Progress Tracker? I get the sense that this is really built around what we've already talked about, which is I have a big task. Instead of thinking about that task as a box on a to do list that needs to be checked off, I'm going to spend I'm going to track the amount of work that goes into getting that box checked off. This is, I have a task, I'm going to build my progress and track it and pay attention to it.
David Seah: Yeah. The, the the way I taught, describe the Task Progress Tracker. It's instead of a to do list is an “I Did” list and it allows you to break down the things that you need to have ahead of you, but it allows you to track the time you spent and see that matters rather than having like you have a tyrannical checkbox at the end of it. It's a way of designing a to do list so you can see that you're doing something and it builds up over time. So this is a general feature of like a lot of the visual design I do. As you make a mark, it actually generates a report as you're going without having to run a separate thing or even add numbers. Cause I hate that. You see a mark, you see a lot of marks. That's good. You don't see a lot of marks. Well that's bad.
Marshall Lichty: And it is not an argument in favor of the idea that to do lists are bad or to do lists don't work. It's an argument in favor of let's make sure the to do lists are relegated to the right kinds of stuff, right? Reminders, I need to go to the grocery store. Here are the things I need to buy. Or when you think about the Checklist Manifesto, right? Being an airline pilot or a surgeon, having a checklist that says, make sure that you're cutting the right leg off. That can be a checklist. But if you're thinking about creative work or unknown work or a project of unknown duration or unknown depth, tracking it in a different way I think is really a, an insightful and and powerful way to approach it. Yeah, yeah,
David Seah: Yeah. It's that's a lot, I've heard that anecdotally people, youth of TPT for actually handing out assignments to people so they'll, they'll break down like this is the task of such glues. These are the things that we think are involved with it and these are the estimates of time we think it's going to take for this. So this, I made this one, I was still very much coming out with a production like mentality management mentality.
Marshall Lichty: And this is the nuts and bolts of what a lot of folks with ADHD are bad at, right? In my view, being a lawyer is really about project management. A matter or a case is really a project and a lawyer, a good one is a project manager and you figure out what your dependencies are, you figure out what your tasks are and your sub tasks, you figure out what of it is repeatable and automateable and delegable and all of those things. And you set some deadlines and timelines and you work back from it. Well, it turns out the folks with ADHD are like really, really bad at that. We're bad at estimating time. We're bad at taking the time in the moment to actually create a list and think through what those dependencies are or think through what we can delegate or think through, you know, how long it's going to take to do that first step. Or is there a part in here that we can automate? And so one thing I love about this tool is literally it forces folks with ADHD to think about their work as task, as project management and gives them a tool to help start breaking it down and leverage your creativity. But make sure you dump it into a spot right now that can be useful later.
David Seah: That might be an interesting way of describing all of my tools, like they are tools of breaking down a problem in a certain way so they can see it from a certain angle.
Marshall Lichty: And it's that blindness that I think is what hampers folks with ADHD. It is not the creativity. Yeah. Yeah. It's the capturing of the creativity and it's the capturing of a process by which to bring the creativity out and maximize its presence in your project that we struggle with. And then you'd beat your head against the wall when you say, man, at one point I had a great plan for how this was going to go and now it's three months later and I haven't really made progress on it cause it just disappeared from me. And if you can use tools to help you do that at the beginning I think you can break it up in, in really meaningful ways. So that's maybe a good segue to the Emergent Task Planner, which is different and the same. Tell about, talk about the Emergent Task Planner.
David Seah: The Emergent Task Planner is a mashup of all the previous forms in a way. This is not, this is not a form I designed by myself. It's a design, a form that came out because someone asked for it—probably someone with ADHD. The ideas, there's, there's three areas. The one area is like a, a layout of all the time for the day. And then on the right side is sort of like a mini task progress tracker form in which you can write down the things that you think you can do with this day and then that you can track some time in if that's a necessary thing and then you, because it's a single sheet for the day, you actually can see what blocks of time you have available visually and then fit in something from the list on the right. So in my perspective, it gives you two kinds of views of the day, the things I want to do and the time I have available.
David Seah: And because they're both in the same piece of paper, we can think on the paper. And we can see, do I have time to do this? I thought this took four hours. They wrote this down in the morning. Well let me do this thing first. There's a, you have a choice in there like you can, it's deliberately limited to a certain number of tasks like I generously provided nine cause although I never get nine done, so some people just like three and but it still gives you enough choice I think. I think I did deliberately design it with this way, but I think this is important for people with ADHD is that you get to choose the thing to work on next and I think it does in a way that's not very judgmental. The language prompts on it are, are trying to remind you to be nice to yourself.
Marshall Lichty: Yes. And, critically, the other thing that it does is it does build in choice, but it still limits your choice to a small-ish number. Right? It, it says you should get these three things done. These are your three most important things. A couple more. These ones, you're probably not going to get to, but if you want to put them down here, great. And then as you go through the day, you can kind of meander. But it is not a 700-item-long list that just feels absolutely unstoppable and overwhelming and oppressive and cruel. And, and I love that too. And, and I love the way that you talk about it. It's almost as though it's personified in the sense that it's talking to us. It's saying we're, we're, we're in this together kid. Let's do this. Here's what you're trying to do and I'm going to, I'm here to help you. Let's, let's put it over here. Let's block some time over here. Let's put it on a list over here and let's make some freehand notes down here. So I really like that.
Marshall Lichty: We've got a couple of others and maybe we don't have to go into detail or maybe we can, but you've got the Concrete Goals Tracker. You've got the manual Gantt chart….
David Seah: Yeah, let me, let me just run through them quickly. Like the Concrete Goal Tracker, like you pick what's important to you. There's a limited list of things that actually move your business forward and it scores you on points so you see how many points that you get during the day and then through the week. If you're doing the things on the list, which is specified specific to your industry, you are doing well in your business. You're booking, you're cashing checks, you're getting meeting, can you business. But you're also doing things like you're sending emails, you're following up things, you're making promotion or your car keeping contact with people constantly. These are the things that are fundamental to running a freelance business and to a lot of other ones. The Compact Calendar, this is a form that I designed just so I could communicate in person with people at a meeting and say, this is the dates that are important. Let's circle them. It's one continuous block of time so you can actually estimate visually how much time do I have?
Marshall Lichty: And, and again, great for people who like most ADH jurors are time optimists and they might say, Oh I think this is the date. And when you visualize your, Oh wait, that is not the date.
David Seah: Yeah, I used to print a bunch of these out and just have them available in our meeting rooms just so we could just have them. Because otherwise we talk about dates in a meeting. It's kind of a fuzzy thing. You don't really have a sense of it. The let's see, the Emergent Task Timer is sort of opposite of the Emergent Test Planner in that whereas the Emergent Task Planner, you are intentful about what you want to do. The Emergent Task Timer tells you where all your time went. So this is, this is, I'm told like talk with some grad student advisors because you wonder like you spend all day in the research group and nothing seems it gone done. So this forces you to just write down the stuff you want to do at the top and then the stuff that just happened, you start filling it in from the bottom. So you get a sense of like where your time actually went. Cause you're supposed to have a timer going off every 15 minutes to write down what you were actually doing in the field and the appropriate time bubble. And so this has been used also for people who are in very chaotic environments and they want to show their boss, this is the number of interruptions I've been having. This is why you told me to do, but this is what everyone else is doing it. So this allows them to do that. It's a good diagnostic tool.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah. And, and, and just you know, sort of editorial comment on that. This is a, this is a challenge that plagues lawyers. We have good data on the cost of an interruption. So for example, we know that the cost of an interruption is about 23 minutes. So if you're in work and you get pulled out of it, it's going to take you 23 minutes to get back. You can't afford very many of those in a day. And on average we have six or seven. And those are for people who are generally pretty careful about the amount of interruptions they get. You also have people who you know, are churning administrative tasks and they think they just spend a little bit of time on it, but they look at the end of the week and they said, where in the hell did all my billable time go?
Marshall Lichty: And it's gone and they can't figure it out. And they said, well, I don't only took me probably 20 minutes to send out those bills, but in fact, you know, but in fact it took an hour and a half. We have good data on that. We know that on average that the a solo or small firm lawyer probably bills only about two hours a day, which you know, that might be great if you're in charge of six hours worth of administrative tasks or marketing or sales or whatever. But if you are the sole producer of legal work and you're only spending two hours out of a day and you look at your billables every month, it might be the case that you are not optimizing your time. And this is a way to figure out and… Again without bludgeoning you, it's not a tool to to kick your ass or judge you. It's a tool to say, wait a minute, did I really take 20 minutes on that? Is it true? Is there data to back it up? And, and that's why I love that tool.
David Seah: Yeah. Yeah. This is the one form that like I became aware of that lawyers had six minute billable times cause a couple of them had contacted me about it cause the original one is in 15 minute increments. So there is a six minute increment version of it someplace.
Marshall Lichty: Oh there is? That would actually be super useful because almost all lawyers bill in six minute increments and we can drop that in the show notes too.
David Seah: Let me see if I can find it or I'll make a special version for you, too. Resurrect it.
Marshall Lichty: By the way, Dave has been kind enough to create a landing page on his website at davidseah.com/JDHD. So if you want to go there, he's going to have some stuff there for us. I will also have a bunch of links in the show notes to make sure you can grab all this stuff when the time is right.
David Seah: So the other things are things like the Day Grid Balancer, which is an experiment just to try to work life balance stuff.
Marshall Lichty: So it's really fun. Go play with it cause it's really interesting. But here's the title, “Satisfying things I want to do this week, dammit.” And then it's been toned down a little bit for public consumption but that's how it started and it's awesome.
David Seah: There are two versions. One says “dammit” and the other one does not. For like a Christian pastor. Like you said, they liked the form but he wish it didn't say that. So I made a version. There's a Task Order Up, which is a project and the card is like a ticket. It's, it was inspired by restaurant order checks. So they had the check rail and so you wrote down like kind of what the order of the day was and it was one project per thing and you could put them up and show what you're working on. So people around you would see, Oh, they're like, yo, she's working on these three tasks and my task is all the way to the right and she's doing the ones that are starting from the left.
Marshall Lichty: Would you do me a favor and educate folks about what a Gantt chart is and why it might be useful?
David Seah: A Gantt chart is a way of visualizing how much time a set of tasks will take to complete a project. It is a two dimensional grid that lifts the tasks to be done on the left and horizontally to the right or at least in the version of that I make. It shows you the days when things start so you can see when something starts and when something ends you can see what things are simultaneously happening. You can see when things are supposed to come together. It's a very typical way that project management software will manage projects, particularly ones that are, have multiple teams working at the same time. I hated the most project management software that I've used because it's ugly. I hate ugly things. And so, so I made like a, an Excel version of it. So essentially it doesn't do any of the Gannt tracking software real get soft magic project management software will track time or sum up hours where you can move things around. But it almost, they almost all do that in a very poor and cumbersome way.
Marshall Lichty: Well, and folks with ADHD stop doing them because they want to do it perfectly. And then they stop and they're like, well, I'm terrible at doing using Gantt charts. And so that's dumb and I should stop. But this is again, as with all things Dave Seah is a gentle prod. It's a gentle encouragement. It's a, it's a conversation with yourself that says this is a task. And if you think about it in a certain way, you can reduce it onto this form into a way where you can really visualize it. So, for example, if you're making dinner you know, dinner starts not when you turn on the oven, it starts when you think about what the menu will be and maybe you have to go to the grocery store and maybe your spouse or your partner is involved in this process and maybe he or she will go to the market while you go to the grocery store. And then when you're actually in the kitchen, there's somebody who's setting the table at the same time that you're you know, sauteeing some onions and a Gantt chart lets you create those dependencies and those timelines in a way that makes it visual. And so again, for people may have a hard time visualizing pro projects in their head. This can be a great tool. And again, remember, practicing law literally is project management. So this is the kind of tool that can help you visualize your job.
David Seah: It's also great at Thanksgiving when you're cooking all these things at the same time and only have four burners on your oven. So I actually, I make a Gantt chart every year for my Thanksgiving dinner. That's how nerdy I am.
Marshall Lichty: Well, there is a live, okay, here's how I want to wrap up. We're going to wrap up cause we're running out of time. I could do this all day. This has been magnificent, but, and we haven't even talked about your hypothesis that you might maybe have ADHD and how it doesn't even matter because you don't, you're not looking for the label you're looking for, you know, a scaffolding around yourself that makes it not matter. And, and maybe someday we'll have that conversation in person or in the discord or elsewhere. But until then I want you to say words that there is a lively debate in my world about whether or not Thanksgiving is the best holiday or the 4th of July. And most of the people who have the wrong opinion aren't listening to this. I mean, Thanksgiving day obviously is, is one of the better holidays, although I think you have a different opinion on what the best holiday is.
David Seah: Oh, are you talking about Groundhog day?
Marshall Lichty: Damn right I am. Tell me more.
David Seah: Well I like Groundhog Day because it has eroded predicting the future. And that's the kind of bizarre thing that I find amusing and maybe believe in just a little bit. Maybe it's true. Plus there's that great movie that came out. I started doing my yearly resolutions on Groundhog day, February 2nd because January 1st I'm too tired to actually make any decisions about the year. It takes about a month to clean up after the previous year, like if you're running a business and stuff. So February 2nd and then because like those I pattern to too, I decided to do reviews on the third of the third month, which were just March 3rd April 4th, May 5th so fourth until December 12th. And so I use that as a way remembering just to, when to do the reviews and that's all the Groundhog day resolution system is. But I've been doing it for, this is my 13th year of doing it and writing about it on the blog. And it's kind of fascinating to me and amazing that I've kept with it because I have, I have a track of all of my strategic goal planning and failures going back for 13 years in written form. It's like, it's easily a thousand or more pages of stuff that I had to go through at some point.
David Seah: That's amazing. But, but holidays, I love that data. I love the work that you've done. I love the habit. I love the ritual, but, but that really is what holidays are about. A day that we pick on a calendar and then we build rituals around them and we build habits around them and they resonate with us or they don't. And one thing that I can tell you for sure resonates with me is the idea that when January 1st runs around, the idea of building a new habit idea of creating a resolution that has any shot of surviving is, I mean, it's, there's, there's no chance of it. And so buying yourself a month by celebrating Groundhog day resolutions instead of new year's day resolutions is just tactically a brilliant strategy. Never mind the idea that we are doing everything over and over again.
Marshall Lichty: And the idea of building habits is a one day at a time sort of a thing. And the other thing that I would say is relevant to ADHD years is I've heard this quote and I, I don't have any you know, real data to back it up. But they say that for people with ADHD, it takes us 10 times as long to develop a habit and one 10th as long to break it. And if that is true, we need all the help we can get when it comes to creating habits and creating, you know, rituals. And that's why I love the Groundhog day ritual that you've created. Yeah.
David Seah: You've just made me realize that maybe part of the ADHD thing for me is that I'm actually like, I'm in the movie cause I keep seeing I have the same goals every year and nothing ever seems to happen. It's just like the freaking movie.
Marshall Lichty: What I want to encourage you to do is reflect at least every once in awhile on the impact that you've had on the world intentionally or not to make money or to develop a personal brand or to become a productivity guru. All that stuff aside, the work that you have done, the way that your brain works, the investigations you've invested in, the design work that you have done, all of these things are impacting communities beyond your own immediate space there in New Hampshire. They are resonating well beyond New Hampshire. They're resonating well beyond video game design and graphic design and you know, interactive, creative work and they are touching even some of the most staid and conservative professions in the world like law. And for that, I want to thank you and again, encourage you to know that these tools really do change people's lives. And that's why I want to make sure that I encourage everybody to visit Dave.
Marshall Lichty: You can find them on his website at DavidSeah.com. You can go to the DavidSeah.com/JDHD if you want to take a peek at that landing page. And you can find him elsewhere. You can find him in his Discord, he is nominally on a couple of other places too. But I think the website and the Discord are the two best places. David, any other places to you know, to meet with people or have them reach out to you and any other insights and bits of brilliance that we didn't touch on?
David Seah: Yeah. you can @ me at Twitter or on Instagram, but yeah, the Discord, the website and really like if you are interested in anything that I'm doing, I would love to hear about it. Like I have not, I get very little feedback by anything. It's fascinating to me to hear that there are people in the ADH community that are following my work and therapists and counselors are using it because none of them have contacted me. Maybe one, one person has mentioned it to me. So if they're using this stuff, like I would love to hear that you're doing this because that helps me tune what I'm doing.
Marshall Lichty: Right. And that's the part that resonates with me is that idea that you've built these systems to encourage communication, encourage reflection, encourage growth, encourage refinement, and we want to be a part of that. So Dave, I can't thank you enough. It really has been a pleasure and an honor and I you know, it was on a whim that I reached out to you on Twitter and said, Hey, I'm, I'm doing a thing. Would you be willing to pop in? And he said, yeah, I'll do that. And you know, that it shows a humility and a, and some other things that I not sure I can even put words to, but I'm deeply thankful for it and I've enjoyed our conversation very much.
David Seah: I have to thank you so much for reaching out and like, you're doing some awesome stuff here too. Looking forward to see where this goes.
Marshall Lichty: Well, thanks Dave. And make sure you go find Dave. He says he's not asking for money and he's not, which is why you should just buy it anyway.
Marshall Lichty: Thanks Dave.
David Seah: Thank you.
Marshall Lichty: So that was David Seah and like I said in the lead in this is the guy whose penchant for and passion for investigative design will benefit all of us and I think you heard it in his voice. He has created tools that allow us all to lead lives that are more intentional and really help us create the space to do what is important. And that is a thing that lawyers with ADHD need all of the time. I have a favor before we go. Listen, if you are still listening, that means if a few things. First, it means you deserve my thanks. I'm so glad you're still here and this was a long episode. I am thankful that you're here. I have some favors if you're still hanging around, here are three things that you can do.
Marshall Lichty: First, I'm really trying to get the word out about JDHD. And so if you have any connections to law firms or organizations or to websites that would benefit from the content that we're producing here, I would really love to have an introduction to them. And if you're willing to do that please do: links, speeches, CLE talks, blog posts, the whole nine yards. Second, I'm going to Podfest, which is a huge conference for podcasters in Orlando in March. I am working on trying to become a great podcaster. It is really important to me. The only way I can do that is to hear from you. If you have thoughts about how this podcast is going, whether you're hearing the type of content that you want, whether it is the kind of thing that you could imagine continuing to listen to. I want your feedback.
Marshall Lichty: You can get me by email or on my phone and you can also get me on SpeakPipe. If you go to speakpipe.com/JDHD, you can leave me a message there and I would love to hear your voice and I would love to hear your feedback and it would mean a lot to me. And then finally I am in the throws of designing a mastermind group for a very small group of people who are interested in beta testing a support group for lawyers with ADHD. If you're interested in putting your voice into that, please go to https://TheJDHD.com/mastermind-survey and we will collaborate together to build something that will work for all of us. We know this: law's hard enough. Let's make ADHD easier. We'll see you next week.