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

You Don’t Need the Latest App

No Phone designed by Scott Lewis from the Noun Project

No Phone designed by Scott Lewis from the Noun Project

No matter what type of work you do, it’s hard to resist all of the new and shiny apps and tools that seem to popup every month. Over on the (now defunct) 43 Folders website, writer and GTD expert Merlin Mann explains why you don’t need the latest app or state-of-the-art tools to do your creative work:

My concern is that there’s a big difference between buying new running shoes and actually hitting the road every morning. Big difference. One is really fun and relaxing while the other requires a lot of hard work, diligence, and sacrifice.

Ultimately, the tools that we choose for any purpose will only be as useful as our ability to use them effectively and to understand what their improved quality means to the way we approach our work (as well as the challenges that led us to seek out these new tools). You can buy a successively more costly and high-quality series of claw hammers until you’ve reached the top of the line, but until you learn how to use them skillfully, you’re going to keep making ugly bird houses.

Sure, it’s tempting to want to test every new app or tool that gets released, but it is windup wasting more time picking out a new tool than you do actually using it to produce work.

If you want to write, for example, it doesn’t matter what app you use to do it: you still have to sit down and write the words. The same goes for designing, developing, speaking, and any other sort of creative work. Focus first on the work itself, then worry about finding a better tool to do the job.

Mann explains why our methods and reasoning for doing our work matters more than the tools themselves over on 43 Folders.

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How to Be a Happier Entrepreneur

Castle designed by James Christopher for the Noun Project

Castle designed by James Christopher for the Noun Project

Being an entrepreneur can mean a demanding, unpredictable schedule; spreading oneself way too thin; and trying to pull off tremendous, seemingly impossible feats. This sometimes leads to burnout, and even if we don’t want to admit it, unhappiness. Matthew Toren penned a piece for Entrepreneur about habits of healthy, happy, and wise entrepreneurs. One of the best practices that leads to happiness? Setting and enforcing boundaries. Sounds obvious, but definitely easier said than done when you’re trying to please everyone from employees to spouses. Toren recommends:

For example, if you commit to your partner that Friday night is date night, you have to enforce the boundaries of your business creeping into your Friday nights. If you set the boundary that every morning from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. you’re at the gym, you can’t let your staff infringe on that boundary with early morning meetings.

Boundaries are really about discipline. Exercising our power to stick to our word and values helps to minimize conflict, guilt, and that doing-too-much mentality.

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Find New Clients the Creative Way

Binoculars designed by Luis Prado for the Noun Project

Binoculars designed by Luis Prado for the Noun Project

For many creatives, finding new clients can be challenging, and well, a real drag when all we want to do is work on our next masterpiece. Alex Mathers of Red Lemon Club developed a list of 50 ways for creative people to land clients. A creator himself, the list is both practical and creative-centric. Here are a few of his suggestions:

10. Shoot a behind the scenes film of your workspace and share it online.

15. Give a free talk on something that would truly benefit your target prospects and encourage people to connect with you at the end.

32. Create a free web-zine using collaborative writers on a topic of interest to prospects that generates leads for all of you.

34. Create a written tutorial on something you’re uniquely good at and share it online.

We have to face the facts: creatives, we’re also business people. Luckily, we have a unique advantage: creative energy that we can harness to land clients in innovative ways that align with our strengths. What better time than now to pick a new tactic from Mathers’ list and implement it with creative gusto?

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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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