BQ&A: Sven Fechner of SimplicityBliss

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Who are you, what do you do, etc.?

I like to refer to myself as a business harlequin, but in actual fact, I am a Sales Manager at Cisco Systems. Joking aside, I am fortunate to have a very diverse background and career. While finishing school many moons ago, I funded an event magazine (like in paper & print) of which there are still remains existing today. After some years in a startup company, I went into management consulting and enjoyed a career in that industry for quite a while. For 6 years I am with Cisco in various roles, currently managing a sales team across Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

My "other" identity, if you like, obviously is mainly influenced by the writing I do on my blog SimplicityBliss. Next to the blog I enjoy writing in general and am working on my first ebook for a while now. My educational background is actually in communication and design — which makes my professional career look even more weird, I guess — and I love fiddling around design-wise, but rarely get to do it. Podcasting could be something I'll consider in the future.

I live in the greater Stuttgart area in Germany — yep, right there where the HQs of Mercedes and Porsche are — with my wife, two kids, and two cats. Free-ride Mountain Biking is the thing I enjoy if I have any time left in the day.

What tools do you use to get your job done? Software, hardware, etc.

My current gig is a 13" MacBook Air (2GHz i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD) which I got a week before the new ones came out at WWDC — isn't it always like that? When working from home it gets hooked up with a 27" Apple Thunderbolt Display, an Apple Bluetooth keyboard, and a Magic Trackpad. But since I am on the road through Europe quite a bit, I also have a well developed travel setup.

I certainly rely heavily on my iPhone 5 (Black 32GB) and the iPad Mini (Black 32GB with Cellular + Wifi), in particular when on the go. For the future, given the amount of travel I do and the nature of my professional work, I am even considering to go iPad-only when away, and leave the MBA mounted at home. Could well be that I'll start that experiment later this year.

Application-wise my setup is not particular thrilling. The work that I do happens in what many people would call a traditional organizational environment. Although large corporations have made their efforts to keep up with the small and agile startups, role profiles remain different. Mine is dominated by managerial and conceptual aspects which is reflected in the applications I use.

  • Microsoft Office 2011 — Working in a huge corporation this is just the default standard. And while Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook are not my friends, I get along with them well.
  • OmniOutliner, OmniGraffle & MindNode Pro — When I do my thinking and conceptualizing, these three application help me a lot to bring it down on paper, either graphically or with words.
  • Evernote — keeps all my brief notes, meeting minutes, and long-term reference material; Using Doxie Go with it made me practically paperless some years ago.
  • Dropbox — My life. In Sync. Together with Unbound it even replaced iPhoto for me.
  • Sketch & Pixelmator — when I feel a little more artistic.
  • Byword, Marked & Marsedit — for most of my writing and blogging which happens largely in Markdown (powered by Brett Terpstra's Markdown Service Tools).
  • iBook Author & ScreenFlow — still working on my ebook.
  • OmniFocus — which does not come as a surprise, I suppose.

I certainly have a number of small utilities and helpers — including things like TextExpander, 1Password , Alfred, Moom, etc. — installed that get me through my work more efficiently. You can read about my entire setup in my recent post about my Fresh Mac Install.

What first made you start your site, SimplicityBliss?

I wanted to see what I can get away with. Seriously. I started SimplicityBliss a long time ago to simply write and see if anyone would be crazy enough to read it.

People, to my surprise, did read it and started to interact with the content. At some stage, I realized that I had found an audience, which was an incredible moment. The blog grew on me and the readership grew over the years.

When I started to write, personal productivity and tools that helped with the concept — in particular, OmniFocus — have been the focal point of my writing.

How have things changed since you first started?

I did, and still am, getting away with my blogging including a pleasant, loyal, and increasing readership even though I do not post on a daily basis. Some incredible things have happened as a result, including my trip to Macworld earlier this year speaking at the OmniFocus 2 event and meeting many US nerd friends of mine.

The most interesting thing that seems to change lately is the direction of the blog. I have been practicing GTD for over 10 years now and blogging about personal productivity for more than 6. It'll be wrong to say that I have by now reached a "higher level of productivity", but my relationship with the subject has changed quite dramatically. This is, and will be, influencing my writing going forward. The blog is going to take a different direction, but I do not know which yet. However, productivity and technology will always play a role in my writing and I will not start publishing cupcake recipes all of a sudden, I promise.

Technically, the blog has been on nearly as many blogging platforms as years it has been around. Eventually, I settled with what I had started on: Wordpress. A nice example on how fiddling and endless optimization consumes time and distracts you from truly important things.

As you've mentioned, your site is geared towards productivity — quite a buzzword online these days. How do you differentiate your site from the hundreds of others out there, and how do you keep yours truly useful?

I simply do not care about differentiation. I hear things like "Unique Selling Proposition" and "Differentiators" every day in my job and they rarely exist if only you look close enough. In blogging it is very similar. The thing I really care about is authenticity. I write about the things I like writing about and I feature applications, services, and products I personally like and use. People (or "the market") decide whether they read or follow you in the end. I am trying to write for the right audience — not for the biggest one.

Blogging and podcasting are much more of a commercial business than most people think. I am very fortunate that my blog does not need to earn me money and allows me to be as candid, naive, controversial, and weird as I like.

The moment you focus on the "competition" and how to differentiate from it is when you start neglecting your own genuine vision and product. I am still trying to get away with doing my own thing and not the thing that attracts the most clicks, subscribers, or followers.

Having said that, the fact that I work in a 50,000+ people organization and have management responsibilities should yield some very different views on workflow and productivity topics discussed. At least in comparison with many of my respected peers who work in either small companies or as freelancers.

According to your colophon, you live in Germany. How do you speak English so well?

Do I? My spoken English is definitely better than my written one since it is the latter that causes regular embarrassment due to typos or screwed up grammar on the blog.

Like all Germans of my generation, I had English in school from the 5th grade onwards. It is great to see that my son has now had it from the 1st grade already. But the "secret" to my English skills is that my entire professional career of the last 15 years has taken place exclusively in international environments and that there was not a single day during that time where I did not speak or write in English. As with so many things in life, it is about practice — a fact that no productivity methodology will ever change.

If you could only install one third party app on your iPhone, what would it be? Mac?

I'll try to make this a little more exciting by removing OmniFocus as an option, which otherwise would have been the default answer everyone expects from me.

Since the iOS stock apps can actually take you quite far, it would need to be an application that provides additional functionality (or enjoyment) as opposed to improve existing. Therefore I'd be settling with either Tweetbot or Runkeeper on the iPhone.

The first thing I miss on a Mac that is not mine is typically Alfred. While a few things Alfred does can be achieved using Spotlight, a huge number of truly time saving hacks would not be possible without it.

Any plans for the future, or projects in the works, that you'd be willing to divulge here?

My "day" job is quite busy these days and I am also transitioning into a new role in August which typically means some intense time ahead. This currently keeps me away from progressing my OmniFocus ebook project which is ultimately the thing I want to finish first before moving some other ideas I have forward.

Sitting in Germany but being connected to some great nerdy folks in the US, I am working on some ideas on how to intensify this transatlantic tech relationship for the benefit of the bigger community. And once the first book is out a second one might become easier to do as well. Who knows?

Single favorite movie?

After some years of disappointment, I have seen some good movies lately, for example the Dark Knight trilogy or the 2008 RockNRolla by Guy Ritchie. However, my all-time favourite remains Michael Mann's Heat from 1995 with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. From awesome action scenes, an engaging plot to character actors this flick is simply prefect. This is maybe also because I am a big De Niro fan owning every movie with him ever released on DVD.

If you could have any single super-power, what would it be?

Cannot decide between 'melodic farting' and 'cognitive television channel zapping', I am afraid.