The Man Who Never Says “No”

Adam Grant is a professor at the University Pennsylvania and he almost never says “no.” He answers every email and accepts all requests for favors. Yet, the man is highly productive and, as a result, has thousands of people who feel indebted with gratitude. According to a profile of Grant in the New York Times he “has published more papers in his field’s top-tier journals than colleagues who have won lifetime-achievement awards” and routinely receives emails from people gushingly thanking him for his help. From the piece:

For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity. In some sense, he has built a career in professional motivation by trying to unpack the puzzle of his own success. He has always helped; he has always been productive. How, he has wondered for most of his professional life, does the interplay of those two factors work for everyone else?

Grant’s work on giving has mixed with his own personal life and has him thinking a lot about what makes a good “giver:”

[Grant] divides the world into three categories: givers, matchers and takers. Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf. Most people surveyed fall into the matcher category — but givers, Grant says, are overrepresented at both ends of the spectrum of success: they are the doormats who go nowhere or burn out, and they are the stars whose giving motivates them or distinguishes them as leaders.

And if you think all of that “giving” would tax one’s workday, you’d be right:

Once, when Grant was asked to give a talk on productivity, he confessed to a mentor that for all his research, he was still not sure what he did that was any different from anyone else. It wasn’t exactly a mystery, his mentor told him: He worked more.

It’s a long one, but we highly recommend settling down and reading the entire piece. It’s a fascinating look at someone who is an accomplished psychologist embodying their work, with the self-awareness to discuss its effects honestly. It also calls into question: giving to others is undoubtedly a path to happiness, but how much is too much?

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Emails Are Not For Real-Time Requests (and Other Rules)

Email by Christopher Holm-Hansen from The Noun Project

Email by Christopher Holm-Hansen from The Noun Project

You probably know of at least one person who uses emails for real-time requests. They annoyingly ask if you’ve read their emails, sometimes instantly after sending them. This expectation puts unnecessary pressure on you to interrupt your productivity by incessantly checking your inbox.

For those of us working with such people, consultant Cyrus Stoller has come up with some rules on using multiple channels to reach each other instead of just email. With smartphones, we’re able to create a simple system of sorting and escalating priorities.

He says that if you want a response from him in…

…30 minutes, you should call him. “This gives you an opportunity to make sure I understand exactly what you need done and you know exactly when I received your request. If you don’t feel comfortable interrupting what I’m doing to make a request to me directly then it probably isn’t that urgent and can wait a little while.”

…two hours, you should text him. “This gives me time to gracefully wind down what I’m doing and call you back.”

…sometime today, you should IM him. “Instant message works well for slightly more asynchronous communication. You’re interested in getting a short response promptly, but it doesn’t need to be right away. This is less disruptive than calling or texting. This works well when you need to find out a concrete piece of information before you can proceed.”

…a day or later, email him. “Most people I know feel like they have too many emails to deal with. Think twice about whether email is the right way to communicate your information. You should expect email threads to be truly asynchronous.”

With our workdays more fragmented than ever, we need such rules to keep our systems running smoothly. Read Stoller’s full blog post.

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Discover How You Really Spend Your Time

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Are you spending your time on the right things every day? We often misunderstand how we’re spending our time, which leads to lost productivity or overlooked routines. On The Daily Muse, Erin Greenawald presents a useful way of seeing just how you spend your time: draw it on a handy chart. Greenawald writes:

The first step in becoming more productive is understanding where your time is going now!

It’s simple—grab the [included] visual and then either print it out or open it up…using the paint tool (or your colored pencils), give each activity a unique color, and then color in each hour of the circle based on the activity you usually fill that time with.

 …You’ll quickly be able to see how you organize your day, the things you’re doing well, and the things you could probably improve upon.

I tried this exercise the other day, but instead of guessing how I spend my time I set a reminder on my phone to go off every hour. The alarm would go off and I’d write down how I spent the hour. At the end of my day I was able to see some spots where I clearly was spending time on things that don’t align with my higher objectives.

It’s also interesting to compare your chart to those of creative geniuses, something Greenawald highlights in her post.

Drawing out your day like this allows you to quickly see where your time is going and where you might have more free-time than you think. Be sure to download the chart and try tracking your own hours today.

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How One Man Went From IT to “Late Night with Seth Meyers”

Moon designed by Sebastian Langer from the Noun Project

Moon designed by Sebastian Langer from the Noun Project

For 20 years, Bryan Donaldson worked 9-to-5 as an IT Guy in Illinois. At 40, he had a wife, a kid, and a house with a big backyard. He also had a wicked sense of humor and a Twitter account. Two years and 40,000 followers later, he also has a new job as staff writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers. A recent piece for Vulture explains how he made the jump: 

One of Donaldson’s longtime followers is Alex Baze, head writer and producer for Late Night With Seth Meyers. Last fall, when Baze began hiring for the writers’ room in anticipation of a February premiere, he had the notion of looking beyond the piles of packets coming from managers and agents and scouting for raw talent on Twitter. “If I go to somebody’s Twitter, I can see what he’s been doing the last two years — you get a much more complete sense of how he writes,” he says. “It’s like you get to flip through somebody’s comedy notebook.”

Donaldson had no idea he was auditioning for a job when he was tweeting. “Being that it’s Twitter, maybe I just couldn’t take it that seriously when those people were following me,” he says. “I never felt that I was at that level, as far as comedy writing.” A direct message from Baze was the first professional contact Donaldson had ever had with anyone in the comedy world. The Peorian greeted it skeptically. “I wasn’t going to consider uprooting my family at age 40 and starting a new career in New York, where I’d never even been before,” Donaldson says. “But my wife basically said I’d be an idiot if I didn’t give this a shot, because it’s such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The world is a meritocracy now more than ever: never be afraid to put your work out there. You never know who might be watching.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Stop Trying to Be Hemingway: The Myth of Creative Routines

Designed by Dmitry Baranovskiy for the Noun Project

Designed by Dmitry Baranovskiy for the Noun Project

The creative routines of famous creatives has been popular internet fodder this year. The Pacific Standard thinks this obsession and trend of emulating famous artist’s habits is problematic, to say the least. The larger picture, says Casey N. Cep, is that most artists did not always followed these routines they’re known for anyways. In the end they would have still produced genius work regardless of the kind of breakfast they ate, hours they worked, or whatever office supplies they used.

The idea that any one of these habits can be isolated from the entirety of the writer’s life and made into a template for the rest of us is nonsense. What none of these lists tell you is that sometimes these highly creative people weren’t waking so early on their own, but were woken by domestic servants. Or that some of these highly productive writers also had spouses or children or assistants enlisted in the effort. Or that often the leisurely patterns of drafting and revising were possible only because generous familial support made the financial demands of everyday life irrelevant.

Some of the more scandalous aspects of these artistic routines are also tragically stripped of context. The writer who never wrote without a few gin and tonics died young from cirrhosis. The journalist who relied on barbiturates died of an overdose. The painter who once said it was impossible to paint while listening to music married a violinist who then played constantly in his studio.

We often talk about process at 99U, so we think this is a great debate. Are we interested in the routines of great artists because we think replicating parts of their process will be what we were missing to succeed all along? While we believe strongly that the creative process matters, it’s worth contemplating whether it’s our process that needs tweaking or the work itself. It’s easier to put the fault on something we can change easily and control, like a routine, than it is to dig into the deep, personal issues within the work we’re putting out.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Top Weekend Reads: The New Skills Required to Nab Top Jobs

Designed by Yazmin Alanis for the Noun Project

Designed by Yazmin Alanis for the Noun Project

As we do every Friday, we’ve collected our most-shared Twitter links for your weekend reading pleasure.

From around the web:

From 99U:

For more, make sure to follow us on Twitter.

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Fight Productivity Paralysis With the 2-Minute Rule

hourglass

Hour Glass designed by Bohdan Burmich from the Noun Project

 

The feeling that you get from crossing things off your to-do list can be addicting. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of adding absolutely everything to your system, including things that can be done in two minutes or less. With enough small and insignificant tasks, you can clog your system and lose considerable time and focus. And if you overwhelm your system enough, you might even paralyze your productivity completely.

Management consultant and author of Getting Things Done, David Allen, has a two-minute rule that can not only make your projects move forward incessantly, but it can also prevent many small things from overloading your system in the first place:

If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it the first time you notice it.

Thinking of your time in two-minute increments will allow you to get a lot of things done.  When you simply do something, you eliminate all of the prioritizing, scheduling and picking of tasks. As Allen put it in a recent interview with Success magazine, the rule “is actually tricking you into making an executive decision about what is the next thing that needs to happen and that’s really the training people need.”  The two-minute rule is in essence, a mind-trick. 

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