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

How To Remain In The Zone: Care About What You’re Doing

Superhero designed by Moriah Rich from the Noun Project

Superhero designed by Moriah Rich from the Noun Project

Being in the zone means that you’ve become so absorbed in the activity at hand that it’s impossible to concentrate on anything else. It’s when code seems to flow from your fingertips, when words seem to fly out of your pen, and when your stylus seems to take on a life of its own.

But a common misconception about the zone is that it’s some some elusive, magical place. It is not. The founder of  the language training app Yakk, Martin Rue, has a simple two-step process for tapping into, and remaining in, the zone:

1) Give a shit about what you’re doing. This is so often ignored when talking about productivity in general. Remember back to the days of high school when the nerdy kids would get awesome grades at difficult subjects. They got awesome grades because they enjoyed it. People rock way more at things they enjoy, and enjoyment is much easier and far more effective than discipline. We need to be excited about the problem and feel like all we want to do is work on it right this minute.

2) Know how to do it. The overwhelming desire to start work is useless if we can’t because we don’t even know where to start. We’ll jump into the work and be idle 10 minutes later as we uncover many of the finer details we skimmed over when thinking at much higher level earlier.

There are several factors that influence our ability to get into the zone, chief among which are focus, energy, no distractions and music. As Will Smith once said, “If you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready.”

Read the rest of Rue’s blog post on how to remain in the zone here.

RelatedNot Too Hard, Not Too Easy: Finding Flow In Your Work

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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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The Single-Most Powerful Attribute All Geniuses Share

Creativity pie chart by James Clear

Creativity pie chart by James Clear

What separates the likes of Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, or Pablo Picasso from the rest of us? Over at Entrepreneur, James Clear argues it comes down to pure grit:

How do creative geniuses come ups with great ideas? They work and edit and rewrite and retry and pull out their genius through sheer force of will and perseverance. They earn the chance to be lucky because they keep showing up…

No single act will uncover more creative powers than forcing yourself to create consistently….For you, it might mean singing a song over and over until it sounds right. Or programming a piece of software until all the bugs are out, taking portraits of your friends until the lighting is perfect, or caring for the customers you serve until you know them better than they know themselves.

It might seem like an unfortunate answer, nobody wants to hear that the best way to do anything is to “work for it,” but the advice also shines as a reminder that genius-level ideas are obtainable, they just take work. Of course, knowing when to quit and when to grit are important as well.

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