Work First, Critique Second

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Have you even been so intently focused on what you’re doing that you lose track of time? This is of course what researchers refer to as “flow” or “getting in the zone.” In a recent FastCo Labs article, Leanne Butkovic explains the science of exactly what’s going on in our brains when we get in the zone:

The precuneus, the part of the brain associated with self-reflection and argued to be the most important for consciousness, is very active in these moments of creative output…[it's] also considered to be the hub of the ‘default mode’ network of the brain–the systems which work without you intentionally thinking about it. This mode is in contrast to the ‘executive faculty,’ which [is] what psychologists call our capacities for attention and reason. During states of ‘normalcy,’ we are in control of our focuses and thought processes. When you’re in the zone, this changes: Your inner monologue, co-opted by the default mode network, runs off in manic glee while the executive network effectively deactivates.

Getting in the zone is all about being in a state where our attention and thoughts are uninhibited. The best way to get into that state? Placing yourself into situations where the work can come about without much concentration. For example: writing quickly without evaluating what you’re writing or drawing without worrying where the pen is going. In other words: to experience flow, save critiquing your work for later, focus instead on freely creating first.

Explore all of the science about your brain in the zone right here.

Previously on flowNot Too Hard, Not Too Easy: Finding Flow In Your Work

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When to Quit Your Job

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When’s the right time to quit a job if it leaves you feeling hopeless, exhausted, or like you’re wasting your time? How do you separate a day-to-day struggle from a larger problem? According to Chris Coleman, there are three clear stages for when it’s a good time to quit. Coleman tells us not only the stages, but also provides questions to ask yourself to see which stage you’re in, over on the CreativeMornings blog:

The turnover rate in creative jobs is much higher than the national average. A lot of this has to do with the “I want it now” mentality. “I deserve it.” “All my friends work at Google.” The moral of the story? Don’t leave until you have done the job. Ask yourself:

[Ask yourself the] question: Is there anyone here who will tell me the truth when I ask for feedback?

  • Most bosses hate to give feedback. If you want to know how you’re doing, ask.
  • Don’t settle for mamby-pamby answers. You’re looking for specificity and a neutral, open conversation.
  • If there’s no one who will tell you the truth, go.

Knowing when it’s time to go and when it’s time to suck it up (because you likely still have a lot left to learn) can be hard. Coleman’s three stages — from competence to judgement and finally to influence — provide us with some nice stepping stones. Best of all: her numerous example questions can help you identify which stage you’re at (and whether you really should call it quits).

Get all of the stages and valuable questions to ask yourself on the CreativeMornings blog.

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The Importance of the Daily Check-In

Question Designed by Rémy Médard for the Noun Project

Question Designed by Rémy Médard for the Noun Project

On LinkedIn, entrepreneur Joris Toonders shares why taking 15 minutes a day to ask yourself these four questions — two first thing in the morning and two just before bed at night — is exactly what we need to improve ourselves. Here are the first two:

1. What are my goals today?

Most people have goals in the long term, but don’t translate them to the short term. If you want to grow your business by 20 percent in the coming year, what are you doing today to reach that long term goal? Are you really doing the right things today to reach those goals?

2. What are my challenges today?

Successful people set themselves challenges every day. It’s a way of living. You have to challenge yourself every day, to get the most out of you and become better, faster and smarter…

Try it yourself by setting an alert on your phone or computer to remember to answer the two questions in the morning and the two at night. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself thinking a lot more diligently about how you spend your time (and feeling better about the work you do) as a result.

Read all of the thinking behind Toonders insight (and get all four daily questions you need to ask) right here.

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How to Set Goals Like Google

What’s the best way to set goals? Google Ventures Partner Rick Klau says the best goals center aroundh Objectives and Key Results (or OKRs). Over on the Google Ventures blog, Klau explains the pillars for exactly how to set worthwhile goals using OKRs:

• Objectives are ambitious, and should feel somewhat uncomfortable
• Key Results are measurable; they should be easy to grade with a number (at Google we use a 0 – 1.0 scale to grade each key result at the end of a quarter)
• OKRs are public; everyone in the company should be able to see what everyone else is working on (and how they did in the past)
• The “sweet spot” for an OKR grade is .6 – .7; if someone consistently gets 1.0, their OKRs aren’t ambitious enough.

Watch Klau’s presentation in the video below to see how Google came to use OKRs and why they’ve proven to be more powerful than simply setting an average, to-get-done goal. Or read Klau’s story of how he first learned about OKRs on Google Ventures.

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Daunting Task? Take a Walk First.

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Chair designed by Loralee Barratt from the Noun Project

When faced with a daunting problem or large task, our instinct is to burry our heads until the job is done. On LinkedIn, Dr. Marla Gottschalk explains why that’s not always the best way of tackling problems. In-fact, she explains that we should occasionally walk away from the work:

You may not perceive fatigue, yet your mind may actually be exhausted. Rest of some form is required. In these moments, the brain may find the energy required to engage… Even at rest, our brains continue the quest to connect the dots.

Integrating periods of rest while you work on key problems is critical. You may find that a walk or meditation works for you….You might listen to your favorite pieces of music, read your favorite cartoons, game — but offer your brain the “down time” it needs. Whatever the activity you ultimately choose, the process is of no less importance. If you find yourself stressed and tired while working on a problem, take a moment to relax.

The brain is a fickle machine, but it’s fortunately one that continues to work on problems even while our consciousness is elsewhere. Stepping back to take a break might feel like moving backwards, but it’s often what your brain needs to actually move forward.

Dr. Gottschalk ends with a powerful reminder: “Above all, remember that the brain cannot be bullied into becoming effective.”

Read the full article on LinkedIn here.

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End Your Focus Drought

Crosshair designed by Phil Goodwin from the Noun Project

Crosshair designed by Phil Goodwin from the Noun Project

Between everything that nags at us during the day, it’s hard to stay focused on what matters most. Our lack of focus costs us time and lowers the quality of our work. Fortunately, Andrea Ayres-Deets of Ooomf has found a few ways to beat focus drought. She writes:

Do focus intensive tasks around your brain’s schedule

Your peak distraction times occur between 12 p.m.- 4 p.m. and you will find that you become sleepy at 2 p.m. Your brain’s energy reserves and alertness begin to slip during these times. You can work around this though.

Your brain handles tough cognitive loads best in the late morning hours (after 10 a.m.). At this point in the day your brain is fully awake, it’s (hopefully) fed, and humming along quite nicely.

In the afternoon try switching up tasks and going for a walk to snap your brain back into an alert and active state.

Chew gum

Yes, this sounds weird, but research shows that chewing gum increases the oxygen flow to the parts of your brain responsible for attention. It also improves your long term memory and injects a bit of insulin into your blood which may help give your brain that added energy boost.

Being able to find your ideal focus will allow you to not only get more done in a shorter amount of time, it can help you to produce better work too. Less distractions means your able to put all of your cognitive power into what you’re working on now.

Do yourself a favor and grab a pack of chewing gum then head over to Medium to read Ayres-Deets’ tips for getting your focus back.

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Top Weekend Reads: 35 or Younger? Traditonal Career Advice No Longer Applies

Designed by Ruben Sheep for The Noun Project

Designed by Ruben Sheep 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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