Having high personal drive will get you further, but only if paired with ownership, reflection, motivation, and other traits.

Stop Reacting to Robots: A Path to Mindful Work

The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles University of Washington professor David M. Levy who is on a quest to make us less distracted by our digital tools. His methods are fascinating and will force you to reconsider your own digital habits.

He uses several exercises to help demonstrate to his students how distracted they actually are (and what to do about it). From the story:

First, the students practice meditation:

The practice, as Mr. Levy teaches it, involves repeatedly bringing your attention back to your breathing as the mind wanders away. Think of it like lifting weights. Just as you can build up your biceps by doing reps, he says, meditation can strengthen attention.

Then, the students learn to clear their mind before approaching the task at hand.

But meditation works like an eraser that rubs out the mental chatter you carry up the stairs to class, says another student, Michael J. Conyers. “It opens me up to where now I can give my full attention to this guy.”

Next, they log their digital behavior:

[Meran] Hill was flabbergasted to find out how frequently she checked e-mail. She checked it right after waking up. She checked it riding the bus, crossing campus, climbing stairs, sitting in class, eating dinner. She checked it up to 25 times a day, just on her phone. For each new message, her phone vibrated. It stressed her out. Often the alerts concerned unimportant messages from e-mail lists. She was reacting to robots.

And lastly, using tracking software called Camtasia, they observe the way digital addiction affects physical appearance.

When students play back the Camtasia recording, they see what was happening on their screens with their own faces displayed in a corner. They watch themselves flit among Words With Friends, e-mail, Words With Friends, Spotify, Words With Friends, and that goofy video of a cat rolling up against a sake bottle.

“Look at my face—I do not look happy,” [Hill] says. “My posture is like this.” She slouches her shoulders, aping what she sees in the video.

All of this distraction, Levy reasons, can have a dramatic effect on our ability to learn and retain new information. The multitasking and constant distraction is what leads us to feeling overconfident in our own abilities.

What’s tricky is that someone who does surf the Web while listening to a lecture will very likely have the impression of doing just fine, Mr. Mayr says. That’s because our minds lay a trap. All content in long-term memory is represented in two ways: “as a sense of familiarity on the one hand, and whether or not you truly understand it.”

People often mistake familiarity for understanding. They open the textbook after getting home from a lecture, and they recognize the material. They think: I get this. Then they take a test—and bomb it.

Read the entire article here.

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Find New Clients the Creative Way

Binoculars designed by Luis Prado for the Noun Project

Binoculars designed by Luis Prado for the Noun Project

For many creatives, finding new clients can be challenging, and well, a real drag when all we want to do is work on our next masterpiece. Alex Mathers of Red Lemon Club developed a list of 50 ways for creative people to land clients. A creator himself, the list is both practical and creative-centric. Here are a few of his suggestions:

10. Shoot a behind the scenes film of your workspace and share it online.

15. Give a free talk on something that would truly benefit your target prospects and encourage people to connect with you at the end.

32. Create a free web-zine using collaborative writers on a topic of interest to prospects that generates leads for all of you.

34. Create a written tutorial on something you’re uniquely good at and share it online.

We have to face the facts: creatives, we’re also business people. Luckily, we have a unique advantage: creative energy that we can harness to land clients in innovative ways that align with our strengths. What better time than now to pick a new tactic from Mathers’ list and implement it with creative gusto?

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10 Science-Backed Ways to Spark Creativity

Child designed by Joey Edwards from the Noun Project

Child designed by Joey Edwards from the Noun Project

Research over the last decade has shown that there are proven methods for sparking creative insights. If you want to be more creative, author and researcher Jonah Lehrer explains at The Wall Street Journal, you’ll simply need to coax your brain into it. Lehrer gives us 10 tips on how to do just that, here are some of our favorites:

Get Groggy: According to a study published last month, people at their least alert time of day—think of a night person early in the morning—performed far better on various creative puzzles, sometimes improving their success rate by 50%.

Daydream Away: Research led by Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has found that people who daydream more score higher on various tests of creativity.

Think Like A Child: When subjects are told to imagine themselves as 7-year-olds, they score significantly higher on tests of divergent thinking, such as trying to invent alternative uses for an old car tire.

Laugh It Up: When people are exposed to a short video of stand-up comedy, they solve about 20% more insight puzzles.

While creativity has been viewed as magical concept for centuries, research like that Lehrer points to shows that it’s little more than a series of cognitive tools our brains use to solve problems. Learning how to hone those skills (as Lehrer explains) means we can spark it in ourselves and our work whenever we need it most.

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Werner Herzog: Tackle Your Ideas

burglar

Burglar designed by Designvad from the Noun Project

In filmmaker Werner Herzog’s book A Guide for the Perplexed, he describes his ideation process and how he selects which concept to develop first:

The problem isn’t coming up with ideas, it is how to contain the invasion. My ideas are like uninvited guests. They don’t knock on the door; they climb in through the windows like burglars who show up in the middle of the night and make a racket in the kitchen as they raid the fridge. I don’t sit and ponder which one I should deal with first. The one to be wrestled to the floor before all others is the one coming at me with the most vehemence.

When Herzog is overwhelmed with ideas, he selects the concept most avid in his mind. From there he works it until completion before moving on. He describes finishing a project like having a weight lifted from his shoulders. It’s not necessarily happiness, but an ease of ending one thing before starting the next. However your ideas find you, make sure you finish through to completion – whether that means writing it down in a notebook or following it through to realization.

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Run Your Race, Not Someone Else’s

race

Race designed by Takao Umehara from the Noun Project

When we see the impressive work of others, it’s tempting to change our game plan to follow theirs in our fear of being left behind. However, Todd Henry, founder of Accidental Creative, has learned that due to unique passions, skills and experience, we each have our own path to follow. Henry advises embracing the motto of one of his runner friends:

…the most important mindset principle for success in competitive running, especially in endurance races, is twofold: stay focused on the ground immediately in front of you, and work your plan.

Don’t sacrifice your drive because you are comparing your work-in-progress with someone else’s finished product. As Henry states, “Run your race. Execute your plan. Do your work, not someone else’s.”

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Five Traits You Need to Stand Out

Independent designed by Griffin Mullins from the Noun Project

Independent designed by Griffin Mullins from the Noun Project

Over at LinkedIn, entrepreneur James Caan gives us five important traits to have if you want to stand out in your career, including:

Self-motivation

There is an old saying that says if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards, and this is especially true in career terms. Are you somebody who is happy with your current skill set, or do you actively look to improve? If it is the latter, then you are exactly the sort of person most bosses look for…

Ownership

There is nothing better for a manager than to see his or her employees actively taking ownership of projects. Equally, nobody wants to be seen as someone who passes the buck. If something falls under your remit, ensure you are the one who sees it through…

Self-reflective

By having this ability to reflect – and sometimes criticize yourself – you are making sure lessons are learnt every step of the way.

What each of the traits Caan shares have in common is primarily related to personal drive. Those who are successful in their careers have the momentum to take full accountability and control of their efforts. Though, if they don’t have the momentum they need, they create it through self-reflection and focus.

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Move Long-Term Goals Forward with “Now” Deadlines

    Time by Cornelius Danger from The Noun Project

Time by Cornelius Danger from The Noun Project

Research indicates that we defer working on things based on how distant we perceive their deadlines. When we decide that something falls into the “future” category, we simply file it in our “someday” folder and eventually those goals are neglected. Unfortunately, that which is important is often inversely proportional to what’s urgent. To move priorities out of our “someday” folder, Amy Morin suggests imposing what she calls “now” deadlines:

Establish “now” deadlines. Even if your goal is something that will take a long time to reach – like saving enough money for retirement – you’re more likely to take action if you have time limits in the present. Create target dates to reach your objectives. Find something you can do this week to begin taking some type of action now. For example, decide “I will create a budget by Thursday,” or “I will lose two pounds in seven days.”

This is essentially a handy way of breaking down huge tasks into do-able, realistic bits. After all, time expands so as to fit the time available for its completion.

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