The Importance of Dabbling

Swiss Army Knife designed by MaxineVSG from the Noun Project

Swiss Army Knife designed by MaxineVSG from the Noun Project

Dabbling, according to neuroscientist Jeff Stibel, can make you a more interesting worker or entrepreneur:

While you might feel taking a personal-interest course in knitting, for example, is giving your brain a break from the problem solving you spend all day doing, Stibel says far from turning off the brain, taking a personal-interest course changes the challenge for the brain which makes you more efficient and productive when you return to the task at hand. “The way you’re recharging is stopping a particular problem and doing something very different,” he says. While the brain can only handle so much of one task before it starts to shut down, Stibel says it can handle a lot of many different tasks. “When you hit that breaking point and take a break and hit another one, your brain can ramp back up, so you’ll be twice as productive as you would have been otherwise by just doing a single task,” says Stibel.

Learn more on Entrepreneur.com.

See also: Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist

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Is This Meeting Necessary?

Illustration by Dean Falsify Cook

Illustration by Dean Falsify Cook

Incredible things can happen when great minds meet. Unfortunately, most meetings are anything but great. Organizations are generally reckless about how they use their scarcest resource: people’s time. Research reveals that half the time spent in your nearly 62 meetings every month is wasted – that’s nearly 31 hours of your life. With 73% of workers choosing to do other tasks during meetings, and 91% of workers simply daydreaming through them, the annual salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. businesses is approximately $3.7 billion!

It’s obvious that bad meetings need to stop. But justifying if a meeting is necessary is easier said than done. To help us confidently arrive at the conclusion that a meeting is required, Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of How to Invest Your Time Like Moneyproposes four easy questions:

“Have I thought through this situation?”
If not: Set aside some time with yourself to do some strategic thinking. During that time you can evaluate the scope of the project, the current status, the potential milestones, and lay out a plan of action for making meaningful progress.

“Do I need outside input to make progress?” 
If you find yourself in this place, don’t schedule a meeting; update your to-do list and take action instead.

“Does moving forward require a real-time conversation?”
It’s much more efficient for everyone involved if you send over items that they can look at on their own (while you’re not awkwardly watching them read during an in-person meeting) and then shoot you back feedback.

“Does this necessitate a face-to-face meeting?”
An online chat can help you answer questions quickly, or for more in-depth conversations, scheduling a phone call or video conference can work well. 
By the end of this sequence if you decide that you still need face-to-face, in-person communication, then go right ahead and schedule that meeting. It’s worth noting, however, that the responsibility for protecting people’s time doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of the one calling the meeting. The onus of asking “is this meeting necessary” should also be on the attendee. The questions posed by Saunders can be flipped as follows:
  1. “Have you fully thought through this situation without me?
  2. “Do you need my specific input to move this forward?”
  3. “Do we need to have this conversation in real-time?”
  4. “Do we need to meet face-to-face, or can we do this this online?”
Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, once wrote, “Just as you would not permit a fellow employee to steal a piece of office equipment, you shouldn’t let anyone walk away with [your] time.” With the right decision-making process, you can dramatically reduce the number of meetings you attend. And when you do eventually have your meetings, they be the necessary types of meetings: ones that promote alignment, unlock creativity, and help you and your team reach the epiphany moment (and get back to work) faster.
Further Reading: Think through in advance how you can make meetings as efficient and effective as possible.

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Nurture Creativity with Silence

By Ale Paul

By Ale Paul

We live in a noisy, hectic, crazy, loud world. Online and off, we’re confronted with a barrage of noise—literal and metaphorical—every minute of every day. It’s exhausting, and potentially damaging to our creative output.

Vyoma Nupur encourages us to incorporate more silence into our lives, for the sake of sanity, productivity, and conflict avoidance:

The best ideas tiptoe to the forefront in times of silence, when the receding tide of turbulent thoughts allow them to materialize into coherence. In this world of relentless noise, silence is a precious commodity, seldom found. All conflicts and struggles of humankind that result from over-communication and ego-fueled arguments may be resolved to a large extent by harnessing the power of the unsaid. If people adopt silence, conversations that they might come to regret lifelong may not happen at all. And since the balm of quiet calms the mind, it would allow actions to be taken with deliberation instead of in the heat of the moment, driven only by untram[m]eled emotion. Though considered unnatural in our daily lives, silence is a state of equilibrium, that should be adopted more so that the overheated, combative whine of busy minds can be replaced with cool contemplation.

When you welcome more silence into your daily routine, for example by beginning your day with a moment of quiet meditation or leaving the headphones off during your walk home from the subway, you make auditory space to hear the world inside your own mind:

[T]he unfathomable depth of the music of silence is only apparent to the quiet intellect—an unmoving abyss undisturbed and free of thought.

The quieter your mind, the better you’ll hear the sounds of introspection.

[via]

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No Degree Needed: When Networking Trumps a Second Degree

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by Martin Leon Barreto

Artist Alexa Meade knows that education can’t always be bought. After majoring in political science and setting herself up for a job in politics, she decided to follow her childhood dream of becoming an artist. Instead of continuing her education in art and design, she chose to explore the field and see where it would lead her. However, she did not go about this haphazardly. By forgoing the security of full-time employment, she fully dedicated herself to learning her new craft:

I decided to make being a full-time artist my job. Part of that was not only making artwork, but it was also learning what it meant to be a full-time artist. I went around to all of the art galleries in DC and wrote down names of all of the artists who I liked. I sent them emails saying I liked their work, was interested in hearing about how they became an artist, and would like to know any tips they had for someone starting out. Then I got coffee with dozens of people who gave me amazing advice. I quickly learned things that would have taken me years to figure out otherwise.

Instead of solely relying on formal education, Meade encourages us to seek out aspirational individuals within our own industries.

The first step is to research what others are doing and create a list of those who get you excited to be in your line of work. Find those who have achieved the same level and type of success that you are currently working towards. This can be working with a certain type of client, someone who has amazing work/life balance, or has started their own studio – whatever you are striving towards. Once you have your list, contact them. 

According to researchers at the Harvard University Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab, people love talking about their own experiences because it simply feels good. Why not take advantage of that vanity? There is so much to be learned from those who have already gone through what you are currently experiencing. Maybe they have a trick for getting promoted, or insider secrets about the industry that you never would have learned in school. Sometimes an informal education can be attained for the price of a cup of coffee.

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How to Let a Client Know If You’re Overwhelmed

By Ben O'Brien

By Ben O’Brien

As a creative professional, one of the primary benefits that you offer your client is expanded capacity. In exchange for your billings, the client leverages your time, energy, and attention to accomplish more than they could’ve done by themselves.

More often than not, however, a client doesn’t have a complete sense of how much is on your plate before requesting additional work. Especially if you’re a freelancer or have a small shop, it’s important that you learn how to respectful inform the client that you’re at capacity (and potentially use the opportunity to expand your operation).

When asked to add more to your plate, author and communication expert Alexandra Franzen suggests using the following script: 

Hey! Thanks for [writing / stopping by].

I can definitely help you with this. But first, let’s talk about the other items that I’m currently working on for you.

Right now I’m working on: [list them in order].

If we add this new piece to the list, I’ll need to bill you for an additional [$$$].

It also means that the timeline we initially agreed upon will need to shift a bit. [describe the new dates, timing, etc]

Are you OK with the additional cost and new timeline?

If so, [tell me / write back to say]: “Green light! Go!” and I’ll be off to the races like FloJo at the Olympic Games.

Save this template. If you’re good at what you do – and you are – you’re going to need it.

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You’ve Got 5 Seconds to Get What You Really Want

By Yevgeniy Moskalev via Behance

By Yevgeniy Moskalev via Behance

 Whatever it is you want in your life or career, you could get it if you were able to combat the excuses you keep telling yourself. Mel Robbins, author of Stop Saying You’re Fine,  explains the roadblocks we set up for ourselves:

“That thing you have up here [in your head]… you could walk into a bookstore right now and buy at least 10 books written by credentialed experts on how the hell to do it. You could Google it, and you could probably find at least a thousand blogs documenting the step by step by step transformation that somebody else is already doing… you can just walk in their footsteps, so why don’t you have what you want when you have all the information you need?”

The culprit holding us back from living our dreams and fulfilling our goals? The word fine.”

We use the word “fine” as a crutch against anything new or even slightly intimidating. For example, when confronted with the uncomfortableness of going to the gym we might say we’re “fine,” even though we really want to lose a few pounds. When confronted with the opportunity to attend a local meet up, to try an idea out, to speak up in a meeting, or to try something new, we simply say we don’t need to take a risk because, really, we’re “fine.”

But we’re not fine. Fine is a lie, and we don’t have to accept it every time we feel unmotivated. Robbins quotes a statistic on the odds of you (or I) having been born: 1 in 400,000,000,000. She states: “You have life changing ideas for a reason, and it’s not to torture yourself. You were born not to be just fine.”

So what do we do? To overcome habitually using the excuse of telling ourselves we’re fine, Robbins points us to “activation energy.” Activation energy is a chemistry term which means the minimum amount of energy that must be put into something in order for there to be a sustained action.

If you’ve ever tried getting out of bed in the morning earlier than usual, for example, you’ll undoubtedly know how difficult it can be to do. You hit the snooze button when the alarm goes off and right away you know there’s no chance you’ll be getting up that early. In that moment—when you hit snooze—you’ve subconsciously told yourself it’s “fine” to sleep in just a few more minutes (which, if you’re anything like me, you repeat numerous times until you’re late for work). Conversely, getting out of bed the moment the alarm goes off gives you a small amount of energy that is typically enough to propel you forward through the morning routine. That decisive moment of actually getting out of bed when the alarm goes off is activation energy.

Robbins says our window for using activation energy—to get out of bed, go to the gym, talk to an interesting stranger we see, or otherwise get what we want—is remarkably short. “If you have an impulse to do something, you have five seconds to follow through however you can,” she says. Five seconds before our idea, dream, or opportunity, dies.

The next time you have an idea, don’t try to think it out or justify: take action immediately. Write it down, create a plan, grab a friend and tell them about it, and follow through before five seconds passes.

[Watch Robbin's full (21 min) TEDxSF talk right here.]

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The Real Secret to Productivity

By Briony Stokes

By Briony Stokes

Google “productivity” and you’ll be dished up more than 200 million search results. Scroll around and you’ll find blogs, websites, apps, browser plug-ins, essays, subreddits, consulting firms, publishing houses, podcasts, and scientific studies devoted to productivity.

What’s the obsession? Our modern lives are inundated with more information than ever before, with pressure to do more, better, faster. There are productivity hacks (wake up early; develop a routine) abound to help us squeeze more high-quality work out of less high-quality time.

But here’s the thing: the secret to productivity is actually super simple. Ready for it?

Manage your willpower.

How do you do that exactly? Systems and routines. Omer Perchik, founder of Any.do, writes about how reserving your willpower for truly impactful decisions and activity helps safeguard your productivity potential throughout the day:

Willpower is not something that you just create more of. In any given day, willpower is a limited resource, and truly productive people make sure they preserve it for the things that matter…. When you learn how to manage your willpower, you’re not only able to cut out extraneous work and decisions, but also more adept at choosing the decisions that matter. That’s a key understanding that highly productive people live by.

Systems to minimize “ego depletion,” Perchik’s term for willpower, include The 10-Minute Rule (break down all tasks into 10-minute mini-tasks), the Pomodoro Technique (focus on one task for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break), automation of as many tasks as possible, and building smarter to-do lists.

Simply add a system, with an adjustment to your routine, for maximal willpower protection. Easily distracted by your open office environment? Make it a habit to take a laptop into a closed room at a certain time each day. Get sidetracked by email overload in the morning? Don’t check it until the afternoon, and set up rules in your inbox to file away messages by topic or urgency. It’s all about minimizing decision fatigue and knowing your habits and preferences well enough to adjust. Whatever works best for you, adopt it. Your willpower stores will stay fully stocked so you don’t need to dip in for anything that doesn’t move your work forward.

The best part is that the better you get at maintaining your willpower, it’s not only your work that will benefit; so will your personal life. With more willpower not being wasted on things like what to order at Starbucks or how to respond to someone’s cryptic email, you’ll have much more mental energy to tackle personal goals (read 100 books this year), make healthy decisions (make it to the gym after work), and carve out time for side projects. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Get after it.

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