Strings & focus by Evan La Ruffa

Strings - when we relate to, truly hear, or have something resonate in a way that inspires us to focus. Focus - when we let all the irrelevant, untimely, misguided or disempowering squirrels in our mind run off without the slightest of chases.

Strings and focus feed off one another, and having people in our lives that are attuned to what might resonate makes all the difference.

If you're reading this newsletter regularly, you're someone that cares, works hard, lives for others, thinks strategically, is compassionate, and wants to grow. And you know people who are similar.

You also have antennas. We all do.

And to be our fullest selves we rely on relationships in which antennas are functional. You know, the kind where you communicate with someone in multiple ways - through conversations, interactions, and a 6th sense that relies on understanding how that person views their own experience.

Whether a helpful word or a bit of perspective, we have to remember that what we offer shouldn't be about us. Imposed views rarely do well, better to harness what's already there & not one-size-fits-all this thing.

But antennas need practice and relationships worth having put in that work.

We know we're doing OK when we feel the strings and focus.

What is the one thing you can't automate? by Evan La Ruffa

In an increasingly interconnected economy, everyone is the maker and the consumer at the same time. The entire world has opened up to competition, and if someone on the other side of the world can do it better and cheaper, you had better watch out. Whether American manufacturing or any other sector from a bygone era, it makes zero sense to hold on for dear life.

The worthwhile pivot is to be creative. But how could making art actually be more economically viable? 

Well, I'd say this... what is the one thing you can't automate?


Either make something unique or watch your market value tank. Make something creative or watch a machine take over. Make something creative, even if it's a service, an experience or a digital offering. The better bet is to flex our creative muscles and add to our artistic toolbelt.

The only thing that will survive automation is creativity. We might as well dive in.

Idea infatuation by Evan La Ruffa

We tend to be biased in favor of the latest "item" when it comes to our ideas. That latest flash of inspiration that blinds us to everything, much less how we'd actually make it happen. That's probably a bit harsh, because the digital revolution has certainly created more ways to make "it" happen yourself.

Even so, it's incredibly important that we not only fully revel in that moment of inspiration, but that we also foster the ability to be practically critical of our idea once the high wears off.

As someone who is self-diagnosed as having SIS, Shiny Idea Syndrome, I've found that the time I put into growing my strategic chops pays off exponentially.

Idea infatuation is about being absolutely strategically blind.

Can we make "it" happen without learning how to know when, how much, and in what order?

There are way too many variables to consider, but if strategy means thinking 5 moves ahead, I'd be hard-pressed to minimize it.

How about you?

I need my time by Evan La Ruffa

One of the things I've realized over the last few months, is that mornings are a very potent creative time for me. Something about daybreak, the sunrise,  & the smell of freshly ground coffee, all puts me in a creative state. Between a son who wakes up early and a variety of projects, it's even more incumbent upon me to carve out the time I need to write, take photos, edit, work on graphic design, etc.

I'm working to block out 1.5-2 hrs each morning for creative work.

No emails. No calls. No running to meetings.

Once afternoon arrives, I'm better suited to emails and handling the admin side of things. By batching my meetings on one day a week, I'm also able to reduce wasted movement that produces time I can use creatively instead.

One thing we can always ask ourselves is, "are we creating the conditions to do our best work?" The part of us that wriggles & fidgets when that question is asked is exactly why it's worth asking.

I've settled into the fact that I need my time. I need my morning creative time to make art, think without parameters, and write.

So, which chunk of time do you need, and for what?

What time of day? For how long?

Perhaps most importantly, how will it make you feel if you get that time to yourself?

Good enough v becoming the bottleneck by Evan La Ruffa

For anyone who builds things, there's the temptation to let perfection get in the way, especially when we're talking about building things that are digital, community-based, social, or artistic. There is always something we can do that would marginally improve some aspect of what we've built without actually making it more effective. An aesthetic tweak here, a conceptual afterthought here, etc etc.

There are times when our creative spirit can work against us. These are the times when we jump down that rabbit hole to make or "improve" that thing when the upside is very small, despite the fact that it allows us to scratch some itch.

Creative expeditions can be hugely helpful, but they have to be well timed.

If they function as a distraction from the high value work we should be doing, the result is a treadmill. If they arise from a strategic buffer we've created for our project, then we're actually going somewhere.

As we look ahead to a new year of accepting good enough and avoiding becoming the bottleneck, the question looms, what's the highest value thing we could be doing right now to ensure that our project will flourish?

How might we? by Evan La Ruffa

The other day I read a really great article (long after it's 2012 publication date) that talked about a phrase companies like Google and IDEO employ to get brains thinking creatively and collaboratively. How?

As in, we need a new solution and we are open to it.

might ...

We are open to big ideas, off the wall ideas. We're removing the 'dumb idea' option from the table. Let's think big.


Together. We're building this together, inherently.

To this point, how might we foster spaces, dialogues, and communities that truly embrace the 'how might we' prompt?

... By asking it of ourselves every time something doesn't work.

Don't be the bureaucracy by Evan La Ruffa

If the answer is NO before we actually know that to be true, we're the bureaucracy. If dragging our feet makes us feel powerful, we're the bureaucracy.

When creating roadblocks "because we've always done it that way", we're the bureaucracy.

When we pass along ideas we haven't tested, we're the bureaucracy.

If we only spring into motion when it benefits us directly, we're the bureaucracy.

When we assume better can't be done, we're the bureaucracy.

The greatest antidote to red tape is selflessly disarming impediments to progress that we construct ourselves. Hell, we can't rag on the bureaucracy if we're helping it subsist.

Don't be the bureaucracy.

The cost of deliberation by Evan La Ruffa

Waiting to make a change means incurring greater costs down the line. Larger organizations process decisions so much that they end up lowering productivity dramatically by creating a bureaucracy that is unable to move swiftly. If a project costs 10k to implement but we spend 4x as much effort as we should evaluating, jockeying, positioning, and deliberating, we just upped the cost of the project by the following equation: cost of labor multiplied by time spent deliberating.

Whether the project is renting a vending machine or launching a volunteering initiative, we're better off basing our evaluations of success on data, not notions of control.

If we're honest with ourselves, we know when those respective entities are steering the ship.

When we deliberate too much, we rob ourselves of an opportunity to let data determine efficacy.

If we make decisions quicker, speed up iteration cycles, and reduce the cost of launching, over time, we'll have spent much more of our days working on the aspects of creation and collaboration that move the needle forward, instead of gumming up the gears.

Deliberate too long and data takes a back seat. As a feeling man, this is something I'm learning myself.

Don't know = huge costs by Evan La Ruffa

We don't have to be experts in everything, but we do need to know enough about everything to avoid getting taken. A CEO must know how everything works so she can pull in the reigns on her VP of Digital when he's building something that's way too expensive, unnecessary, or hard to pivot from.

A homeowner must know how the furnace works, where the fusebox is, and how much it costs to fix the roof.

Being conversant in many things because we've done the research that enables meaningful participation, prevents us from paying top dollar, whether in time or cash, for someone to solve our blind spot.

Blind spots are dangerous. The bottom line is, 'don't know' = huge costs.

Phases and identity by Evan La Ruffa

It's so easy to have our identity wrapped up in what we do. Often times that's how we earn income, support families, and build our lives, so it makes sense that we take pride in that.

I keep on telling myself that life is so much more about phases than one persistent identity. Who I am has changed so much over the years, and how I've spent my time has often reflected the existence of a phase, not a single identity that goes on unchanged.

If we think about jobs as projects and careers as a list of those projects, then maybe we can create more opportunities for ourselves and fall softer when the disappointments come.

The flexibility of phases make identity dynamic. Looking at it that way is also interesting, creates upside, and often yields independence.

So... what's next?

Does this idea suck? (A gift for you) by Evan La Ruffa

It can be hard to tell. We often get started on building an idea before properly taking stock of the idea's HOW. What I mean by that is, we often glaze over key portions of implementation and start making. This can lead to frustration, false starts, and stalled projects. For folks like you and I, we always know our WHY, but we can't let that passion thwart tactical implementation.

This is something I experience often. I've also talked to a bunch of you about needing a way to vet what we're doing, which prompted Levi Baer and I to create something that we hope helps many of you build your next project by thoughtfully going from idea to reality.

Does This Idea Suck: A Framework for Evaluating Ideas and Making Greater Impact was the end result.

It's free and it's for people like us, who think, care, and make.

It could also help you decide not to undertake a certain project. If we're being realistic, that has to be one of the options. To that end, we built something honest that will help you be critical about 'the how'.

If you like it, all we ask is that you share it on social media, or send the link to a few people who it might help.

Thank you for being on my list, and for giving me permission to share with you.

It's been fun. Onward.

Life pie by Evan La Ruffa

While I don't believe in fixed pies with respect to good will, effort, community, and connection, I do think that time is a fixed resource. While I've certainly absorbed ideas from people like Tim Ferriss and Jonathan Fields with respect to how living in alignment and focusing on value can hone one's efforts, there are still only 24 hours in each day.

That said, we have to make decisions. Some things need to happen, and thus, some things need to get cut.

Part of the inspiration behind Does This Idea Suck was needing to figure that equation out.

The pie of each day does not literally expand unless we're officially moving to longer days. (I think my sister in law, Kelly Fox, finds a way conjure up 30 hr days but I still don't know how she does it.)

To be honest, most of us could use some help discerning, strategizing, and figuring out what our top 3 priorities are for our morning, much less what activities, projects, products, and businesses deserve our time & effort day after day, and year after year.

Some of the questions might be, who else is helping or why do we think this will work?

Most importantly, what will our life pie support? How much can we give?


End of the year freebie by Evan La Ruffa

Lately I've been doing a lot of work triangulating the digital marketing buckets for IPaintMyMind, making sure we're doing everything we can to offer value to our partners, communities, supporters and artists. No matter who we serve, there's a specific way that we'll activate them, and there's always room for improvement.

The thing is, whether a nonprofit, freelancer, or small business, we have to not only be able to specialize in a high value vertical, we also have to be proficient in various other areas to rock it out and not leave important growth areas neglected - email marketing, social media, PPC, SEO, copywriting, web development and others, like digital organization tools (Slack and Trello), valuable apps & chrome extensions, and more.

That said, I've learned a lot in those areas over the past few years and am happy to offer a FREE 30-minute consultation to the first 5 people who reply to this email. When I did this 6 months ago, I had a few great chats, including a great session with James T. Green, a multidisciplinary creative who just became a podcast producer at MTV News.

He had this to say about our time together, "Thanks to Evan, I was able to properly visualize what it was I needed to focus on for the upcoming week, month, and year. Sitting down with him was essential for getting my projects in order and a great value add for my businesses. Cheers!"

If I can help you up your game in any of these areas or others, I'd be happy to.

I also have another project launching soon that I'm looking forward to sharing with you.

Be well.

The learning economy by Evan La Ruffa

We should always be pushing out to make ourselves the obvious option once an opportunity arises. The thing is, standing pat never gets us there. Even though it's less than obvious, the least risky option is to try something, develop skills, and get to the point where we can make great websites, sales letters, or marketing strategies for the people who want a beautiful, functional solution.

This includes making some bad stuff as we hone our craft. We gotta get good before we get great, and as someone with a patience deficiency, this is something I'm always trying to internalize.

The learning economy rewards people who are constantly expanding their scope of knowledge, iterating, reassessing, and staying relevant. To that end, Udemy is one great way to add skills to our toolboxes.

We can rage against outside forces, demand that the clocks get turned back, and go kicking and screaming into a future with less options... or we can saddle up and get our learn on.

Time saved multipled by the number of times we save it by Evan La Ruffa

Every time we create a better system for doing what we do, we save time exponentially. It's not just about the one hack that saved 20 minutes when we didn't have a second to spare, it's about what systems can do for future efficiency. All of a sudden, one solution multiplies time saved by the number of times you save it.

Ts = time saved, TsF = time saved in future.

The equation is... Ts x # of TsF = X (total efficiency)

Now we're talking about total efficiency continuously expanding because of one solution or system.

If we've solved a problem once, why put ourselves in a position to have to solve it again? Whether email templates, chrome extensions, lists, workflows, calendars, or anything else, we have a lot to gain by eliminating wasted movement.

If you've come across any systems, solutions, apps, or anything else that has limited the need to solve for an issue again, please, hit reply and let me know about it!

I'll get us started with one...

Over the past few years I've become a huge fan of Boomerang for Gmail. It allows you to schedule emails as well as have them 'boomerang' back to your inbox after a designated period of time. Instead of juggling who you need to follow up with in your head, Boomerang does it for you.

Getting data quickly by Evan La Ruffa


Recently I've thought a lot about getting data quickly and the massive advantage in doing that. It's about reducing the possible options to a more manageable number, and then being able to clearly discern a new way forward based on distilled information. I recently drove around Chicago to potential locations for IPaintMyMind's Shared Walls™ loaned art program. Instead of sending 4 emails to 6 locations over the course of 4 weeks, I was able to immediately eliminate three options in a single afternoon.

I reduced the time it took to figure out what locations were viable options from 4 weeks to 3 hrs.

Getting data quickly allows us to exponentially save time by efficiently discerning what we shouldn't be working on.

This article talks about getting big data quickly, so it's focused on the insights analytics provide us about our web traffic, but the same logic applies to any data set that helps us build or provide better solutions for our communities & customers.

How much more strategic impact can we affect if we're obtaining vital data 2x, 5x, or 10x faster?

That said, let's get our data fast, and soon.

How processes help you create greater impact by Evan La Ruffa

Over the past year and a half, I've become obsessed with how IPaintMyMind does what it does. We're a small organization, so most of the time that translates to, how I do what I do. For every deliverable, event, piece of content, or communication, there's a process.

The question is, is that process on paper somewhere?

Creating a document that outlines every step in a process not only provides a way to communicate uniformly with team members, but it allows everyone involved to make those processes better. At IPaintMyMind, we've changed our processes constantly since first creating our Process & Procedure documents, and that's fine. In fact, they're supposed to change (if you've got your eye on the ball).

Most entrepreneurs hate to spend time mapping out these processes, but the fact is, doing so can increase impact, efficiency, and revenue significantly. Hell, I think we can all agree we'd like to be less scattered and more tactical.

It seems obvious, but it's hard to improve what we do when we don't know where we're at. Taking stock and recording processes is one of the better ways to streamline, save time, and kick butt.

After all, making greater impact is about refinement.


Umm, what is digital strategy? by Evan La Ruffa

Facebook amassed users, then sold our eyeballs to the highest bidder. At first people thought that social media was this massive microphone, but decreased organic reach has significantly turned the volume down. The idea went from getting "Likes" to figuring out how to make sure the people who had "Liked" your page could actually see what you were posting. The page turned, and people who had thought ahead were already creating great content via newsletters that were chock full of value.

I, personally, am annoyed at how long it took me to see the light with respect to this exact pivot.

The takeaway for me has been about making sure we're agile enough to understand the platform (whatever it is), how it fits into our overall strategy, then see where it's going and adapt preemptively.

The questions for any business owner with respect to digital strategy are:

  • What is our digital strategy?
  • What components does it include and in what proportions?
  • How often do we evaluate the strategy?
  • What indicators will we use to measure effectiveness?

And perhaps most importantly, how will this work best connect us with interested partners, collaborators or clients?

Outreach, marketing, and advertising are never free, and the cost goes up without a strategy.

Strategy starts by stepping back by Evan La Ruffa

I tend to work on various projects at the same time and getting organized about how I create for those endeavors has been a process. In the nonprofit world, resources are usually at such a premium that a near frantic pace ensues.

Whether as an entrepreneur, a nonprofit, a small business owner, or an employee in a larger company, the tendency can be to feel like we don't have enough time to stop, analyze & strategize.

We have to act, and now! But maybe we should rethink that........

Whether taking a walk, stopping to read something for leisure, meditating, or setting certain schedules for tasks that help anchor our day, there are various habits & rituals that can help us back away for a moment, only to come back to our work with fresh eyes and renewed energy.

What habits and rituals help you decompress?

Hit the button below to Get In Touch or just reply to this email, I'd love to hear what you do to step back.

Habits and rituals that help refresh the mind are hugely valuable because they help us do better work in smaller amounts of time. Have you ever felt like you HAD to get something done, then basically tied yourself to the laptop until it was completed (even though you were creating way less potently and the flow really wasn't there)?

I sure have! But I'm trying to do it less and less. I've been trying to convince myself that it's OK, even better, to stop for a minute or 15, then jump back in.

And it's true. Creative potency up, time spent down.

This allows us the space to slow down long enough to have a plan. And here's the thing... the plan can change. In fact, it has to if it's going to work.

But having a plan is about how our different projects function (whether in one company or various companies), how much time they require, how we're going about implementing them, and most importantly, how having new data about what we've done can help us improve it.

Let's be skeptical of anyone who says something can't be done better.

The ripple effect is: Step back for mind breaks -> Create more in less time -> Use saved time to strategize more effectively.

I suspect that strategy starts by stepping back.