"Externalizing our ideas on paper makes it easier to restructure them, transforming the initial structure into a new one."

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Overcoming procrastination isn’t as simple as keeping a to-do 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.

Read the entire interview here.

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Confessions of a Client: Writer Edition


Money designed by Shmidt Sergey from the Noun Project 

One off writing jobs are nice, but some of the more sustainable money comes from working with larger clients with steady work to offer. Last month, freelance marketplace Contently held its annual content summit, where the best of the best in brand publishing gathered to share ideas and tips for freelance writers looking to pick up more work from corporate editorial platforms. Lucky for us, they found time to discuss top qualities that make freelancers stand out giving us a look into the mindset of clients:


I have to see what they actually write and also how fast they write. What we’re looking for is people that are able to turn really great content really efficiently.”

          – Laura Mignott, Co-Founder/Managing Patner, Digital Flash


The most critical thing is that all of our freelance writers do the research, so they have to discover really interesting stories. They have to have a knack for discoverability.”

Tarek Pertew, Co-Founder, Wakefield Media 


The most important thing is that the’ve read the site that they’re pitching to and they know what kind of stuff we writeWe get a lot of emails from people emails from people who say, ‘I’m a freelance writer who writes about X and I would like to write for your publication.’ Well, if you write finance, we’re not going to put it on a fashion site, so you’re just kind of shooting your foot with that. 

          – Meghan Graham, VP of Women’s Content, DEFY Media 


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In Praise of the Personal Mission Statement

Long Road

Road designed by Claire Jones from the Noun Project

At Fast Company, Lisa Evans discusses how aligning your values with a mission statement can have powerful results:

Finding joy in your career and life means knowing what your passions are. If you have trouble coming up with your list of passions, think about the best experiences you’ve had, what you do when you’re procrastinating, or what you daydream about.


Think of something you’re particularly proud of–a stellar presentation you made, a major donor you secured for a fundraiser, or a party you organized that people are still talking about two years later. Next, examine the skill sets that made you successful in that instance. Creating a mission that aligns with your natural talents means success will likely come easier.

Your mission statement directly effects everything you do with your life, both personal and professional. It should operate  like a north star, allowing you to frame decisions based on your values instead of just your feelings. Start small by writing out your priorities and what you care about, then check to see if your actions are aligning with your beliefs.  You might be surprised by what you find, and where it takes you.


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Lessons from Working with Moguls


Teacher designed by Juan Pablo Bravo from the Noun Project

Professional matchmaker and author Paul Brunson has worked for both Oprah Winfrey and Enver Yucel: Two succesful entrepreneurs from completely different backgrounds. Despite his years of “formal” education Brunson says that he learned the most observing his two friends. Mainly:

The Power of Leverage

From afar, a billionaire appears to be someone who is a master at everything. But, in truth, they’re specialists in one or a few areas and average or subpart at everything else. So how do they get so much done? Leverage! They do what they do best and get others to do the rest. 

Focus on Experiences

I recall one time at dinner with Oprah, I spotted a table of about 20 girls off to the side. I later found out that Ms. Winfrey was treating some of her graduating girls from her school in South Africa to dinner in NYC. Experiences create memories, and memories are priceless.

Invest in Yourself

I saw them both spend a significant amount of time dedicating their resources to self-development (whether it be a new language, exercise, social media classes, etc). The moment you stop investing in yourself is the moment you have written off future dividends in life.


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The Woody Allen Effect: Worrying Could Make You More Creative


A little more stress can help you produce more creative work, new research from Singapore Management University shows. On Pacific Standard, Tom Jacobs explores the findings to explain why:

274 Taiwanese university students…filed out a questionnaire designed to measure intrinsic neuroticism. They were then asked to recall a happy, worrisome, or neutral experience…The result: Under the heavy cognitive load, neurotic people displayed more flexible thinking after recalling worrisome events. This was in contrast to people low on the neuroticism scale, who displayed the most mental flexibility after recalling neutral events.

It all suggests that, in the researchers’ words, “Individuals vary in their preferences for experiencing happy or worrisome emotions prior to performing a creativity task.” If worry is your default state, intensifying it slightly may actually prompt more flexible thinking.

As Jacobs explains: the results of this study are entirely personal, preferences vary by each individual. But if you’re an anxious person, embrace your natural tendencies rather than getting in the “perfect” mindset to create.  


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The Benefits of Sketching by Hand



When it’s time to prototype your new idea, you may want to hold off on firing up Photoshop right away. Over at Smashing Magazine, author Laura Busche highlights the benefits of hand sketching as opposed to digital sketching:

Extends memory: “The better you become at translating imagery from your mind to paper, the more visual resources you will have to draw on and the easier it will be to retrieve them in the future.”

Aids concentration: “Sketching stimulates us to a comfortable level — enough to keep us awake, concentrated and engaged… Some believe that we reach deeper levels of concentration and develop richer concepts when our own hands are the hardware.”

Allows for flexibility: “Because of our brain’s limited processing capacity, externalizing our ideas on paper makes it easier to restructure them, transforming the initial structure into a new one.”

As technology advances, it will become easier to directly translate our ideas from our mind to the computer. However, approaching a problem hands on will always provide advantages. Remember to work with all the tools at your disposal – including your own two hands.


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Manage Your Mood, Manage Your Output

Hulk by Nefi Florián from The Noun Project

Hulk by Nefi Florián from The Noun Project

Here at 99U, we talk a lot about pushing ideas forward and getting things done. But we never forget that we’re still human, and that we must factor in a key variable into our systems that strongly affects our work: emotions. Not being in the right mood can have a dramatic impact on productivity. Conversely, studies demonstrate that happiness increases productivity and makes you more successful.

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantageshares a list of activities that not only give us a quick boost of positive emotions, but can help permanently raise happiness if performed habitually over time:

  • Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness – “Acts of altruism decrease stress and contribute to enhanced mental health.” To get the most cognitive benefit, acts of kindness should be deliberate and conscious. Pick a day and commit to five acts of kindness. Buy coffee for the person behind you in the drive through. Send an encouraging email.
  • Infuse Positivity Into Your Surroundings – Make your place of work a positive space, take a break mid-day, avoid negative emotions. Even just “spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boost[s] positive mood, but broaden[s] thinking and improve[s] working memory.”
  • Spend Money (but Not on Stuff) – Research shows that spending money on experiences and activities rather than on material purchases makes us happier in the moment and over time. Go to a concert, bring donuts to the office, send flowers to your spouse.
  • Exercise a Signature Strength – When we do the things that we are good at and that are tied to our character traits, we reap lasting benefits and again, increase our baseline happiness level. This is more than just “pursuing your passion.” It’s the daily practice of the very strengths that make you you. If you’re unsure, take this free survey to find out: www.viasurvey.org

For more ideas, read Anchor’s blog post over at The Huffington Post.

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