My mind-hack app/reading list

My talk focused mostly on mental habits for productive freelancing, rather than tools, but I do use some great tools — and took inspiration from some great books and blogs. My slide deck mentions some of them, but here are clickable links all in one place.


An essential part of every workday for me. Harvest is a powerful invoicing, time-tracking, and client-management webapp. But as I said in my talk, one of the most important things it does for me is give me an easy, intuitive, instant way to punch in on various tasks throughout the day — ie, own my attention. When you actively choose what you’re going to pay attention to throughout the day, you don’t wonder where the day went.

Merlin Mann’s “Undistraction”

This is just a simple webpage (which I set as my default home page in Chrome, so it pops up every time I launch my browser) that asks: “is this really what you want to be doing right now?” A super-easy way reminder to own your attention as you bounce around ye olde interspheres.

This is Merlin Mann’s home base of operations, where the Mind-Hacker-in-Chief gives helpful, no-b.s. advice on how to know the difference between productivity pr0n and Your Real Work. Mann has a prickly/arch tone that some people love and some people hate, but you can’t deny that he walks the walk as well as talks the talk.

A Mac app called Freedom gets a lot of love these days, but SelfControl is better. Instead of being a binary on/off switch for locking yourself off of the internet in order to “get work done,” SelfControl lets you temporarily black out only the sites that you treat like time-wasting crack — and leaves the rest of the internet open. (Or you can whitelist only your bare-minimum work-related sites, and turn off the rest of the internet.) I don’t know about you, but in order to get Real Work done I still need to be online, usually. SelfControl is free, and can’t be deactivated by restarting your computer like Freedom can.


This is an app in book-form, a miniature “Art of War” for running a lean, mean, profitable, meaningful small business. You can read it cover-to-cover in an hour. Literally everything in it will hack your freelancer-mind for the better. My favorite nugget of their wisdom: Inspiration is perishable. Their company blog, Signal Vs Noise, is great too.

This is Water, by David Foster Wallace

In this slim little book (also readable in an hour or less), Wallace brilliantly expands on the idea that I summarized at the end of my talk: fiddling around with your “productivity” is much, much easier than figuring out how to live meaningfully. The big “why?” questions he attempts to answer (without footnotes or any of his other usual literary tics) are directly applicable to being a successful, happy freelancer. If you don’t wanna buy/borrow the book, an Instapaper-able version is here.

And finally…

Here’s my own humble essay on freelancer mind hacks, working well, living well, and other sundry issues that made Jeff Perkel think I was worth including in his Productivity Panel.

That’s it… now, as Merlin would say, kindly get back to work!


About John Pavlus

I'm a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics.
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2 Responses to My mind-hack app/reading list

  1. Paul Raeburn says:

    Sorry, just catching up with my notes from SciWri10 (if I’d followed some of your hacks I surely would have done this sooner), and just wanted to tell all the panelists I thought it was a great session. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and, you know, it turns out I still have a few things to learn. OK, a lot of things.

    And besides that–it was fun.


  2. Thanks Paul, glad you liked it!

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