- Brian Millar in Fast Company on how to do great work when working for a terrible company.
We’ve all slept on a problem and had it sort itself out by morning. But that’s only a small part of what the brain on nighttime autopilot can do. Paul McCartney famously said that he came up with the melody for “Yesterday” in a dream; Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine, is said to have solved the problem of the machine’s needle when he dreamed of an attack by warriors carrying spears with holes in the tips.
If you’re wrestling with a problem, prime your brain before you’re about to hit the hay:
Barrett’s studies suggest that engaging in some type of pre-bedtime priming—contemplating a problem you’d like to solve—increases the likelihood that sleep will bring some answers. Up to a third of the subjects in her sample group reported that priming had helped them find a solution that had eluded them during the day.
In a wide-ranging interview with GQ Ricky Gervais, comedian and creator of The Office, discusses dealing with notoriety, critics and how fame has (or hasn’t) changed him. In this excerpt, he’s asked how he dealt with one particularly seething critic writing about his show Derek:
GQ: It did get some fairly savage British reviews.
Ricky Gervais: It was the usual suspects, the same four or five journalists who have hated everything. It bored me, but it didn’t bother me. I could have predicted what they’d say.
GQ: But when someone says “vile, cynical, and dishonest”? Or an “appalling piece of comedy hackwork”?
Ricky Gervais: [chuckling] Both of those made me laugh when you said them. “Vile, cynical…” [laughing more] That’s something you’d say about Charles Manson, not a bloke who made a twenty-three-minute sitcom! “Vile, cynical, and dishonest”! “What’d he do?” “Did a sitcom…” [falls on his side to the sofa, he is laughing so hard] Cunts!
GQ: But can you just brush it off?
Ricky Gervais: Yeah. Who said it?
GQ: I can’t remember specifically right now.
Ricky Gervais: Right. But who wrote and directed Derek?
GQ: [puzzled] You did.
Ricky Gervais: You remember that, don’t you?
Lots of us are willing to work when we’re feeling inspired, but what about when you’re not? According to Seth Godin, the true creative professional distinguishes himself by doing work even when he’s not in the mood.
Here’s what Godin has to say in an interview for our new 99U book:
Everybody who does creative work has figured out how to deal with their own demons to get their work done. There is no evidence that setting up your easel like Van Gogh makes you paint better. Tactics are idiosyncratic. But strategies are universal, and there are a lot of talented folks who are not succeeding the way they want to because their strategies are broken.
The strategy is simple, I think. The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.
There are many ways you can signify to yourself that you are doing your practice. For example, some people wear a white lab coat or a particular pair of glasses, or always work in a specific place—in doing these things, they are professionalizing their art.
The notion that I do my work here, now, like this, even when I do not feel like it, and especially when I do not feel like it, is very important. Because lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby.
This is an excerpt (and interior photograph) from Manage Your Day-to-Day, the new book from 99U, with contributions from Seth Godin, Leo Babauta, Steven Pressfield, Dan Ariely, and many more.
In 2005, David Foster Wallace gave a painfully honest commencement speech, urging listeners to live life mindfully and to have empathy for our fellow humans. Above is a ten-minute excerpt of the speech which you can read in its entirety here. Some choice excerpts:
Most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible.
It just depends what you what to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options.
You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.
via Daring Fireball
Overcoming procrastination isn’t as simple as keeping a todo list. There are often significant (and often hidden) mental hurdles that can prevent us from doing our best work. Scientific American interviews Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, to explore why we sabotage ourselves. One of the culprits? Comparing ourselves to others. From the story:
Carefully consider the motives that are driving our decisions, and examine whether they are driven by the bitter feelings resulting from where we stand in comparisons to others.
On a wide range of dimensions, from how trustworthy we are to how good looking others find us to be, we often compare ourselves to our peers to evaluate where we stand. These types of social comparisons can lead to irrational behaviors. For instance, we may accept a job offer paying a lower salary than another that pays more but where other people like us make more money than we would.