Demolish the 3 Types of Stuck

Plunger

Plunger designed by Maria Melkosyants from the Noun Project

We all get stuck. The idea well dries up, and we are left struggling to move forward. With creative projects especially, making progress is crucial to building up consistency that pushes you towards breakthroughs. Author and “creative arms dealer” Todd Henry explains the 3 ways we often get caught in a creative ruts:

Definition: You Don’t Really Know What You’re Doing

It’s hard to solve a problem you haven’t defined, yet we try to do it all the time. We jump into the work, but don’t make the effort to ensure that we understand the problem we’re really trying to solve.

Motivation: You Don’t Really Care, Do You

Well, maybe you do care, but only because your paycheck (or reputation) is on the line. However, this isn’t always sufficient to keep you bringing your best to the work. You have to have a well-established through-line that provides baked-in motivation to keep working when things get tough.

Systems: Old Dog, New Tricks

Finally, your progress may simply be limited by your existing system or workflow. Things like standing meetings and organizational hierarchies tend to stick around for years after they’ve served their original purpose, but so do personal productivity habits.

Getting unstuck takes uncomfortable questions and difficult conversations, usually with yourself. The solution, according to Henry, is all about perspective:

Stuckness” is, in many cases, a choice. You may not come up with the optimal solution, but if you stay diligent and commit to progress, you can always re-direct to a better place.

Read Henry’s full article to grab his insights on climbing out of creative ditches and emerging victorious, here.

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Avoid Over-Planning with #Now, #Next, and #Later Deadlines

Planes, wrecks, and space stuff by Tomasz Zaczeniuk

Planes, wrecks, and space stuff by Tomasz Zaczeniuk

Getting ideas off the ground requires careful planning; having a plan in the first place improves your chances for success. But there’s always a risk of falling into a trap that paralyzes ideas: over-planning. 

Over-planners focus too much on specific details, sticking to a timeline even when it no longer makes sense. This is especially problematic in team settings, when scoping out projects and aligning on deadlines can result in delays. And according to Noah Weiss (VP Product at Foursquare), the bigger the company, the longer the delays:

When your company is 1,000+ people, you probably need complicated processes and committees for any company-wide initiatives. Aggregating OKRs from teams across Google required numerous PMs working practically full-time for weeks per quarter. There are stakeholders across sales, marketing, support, and more to coordinate with. Between 20 people and 1,000 people is the sweet spot for a light-weight approach to product roadmaps. We have tried many at Foursquare, but none have stuck — including a few attempts at OKRs. The alignment from OKRs is great, but the measurement overhead is overkill for companies changing quickly and the quarterly cycle is too inflexible. 

For Weiss, it’s about taking steps forwards as quickly as possible without losing sight of long-term projects and goals. Weiss created a prioritized roadmap that was common across teams. He came up with a streamlined process that follows only three, very simple, timelines: #now, #next, and #later.

#now
Is the next 2–4 weeks. For many teams that use bi-weekly sprints, this fits perfectly into their planning cadence.

#next
Is 1–3 months out. Effectively, it’s the rest of the quarter after #now. This bucket has the most debate, because #now projects are usually already underway so this is the area where the next few months of work get set.

#later
Is 3+ months out. It’s a useful place to park ideas the team is passionate about. This is the most useful bucket, because it saves the team unending debates so they can focus on building #now and then #next projects.

While there are certain projects and endeavors that do take extensive periods of time to put together and coordinate before they can be launched, they are rare, few and far between. These ideas are also incredibly difficult to get off the ground. Is your idea one of these? It’s unlikely. There’s a good chance that you’ll be just fine with #now, #next, and #later deadlines.

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If You Want to Catch a Fish, You Have to Go Fishing

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by Max Temescu

British songwriter Noel Gallagher understands that if you want to benefit from your next big idea, you have to clock the time and catch it first. In an interview with the Rolling Stone, Gallagher discusses how his songwriting still has the same urgency as when he first starting out:  

I still think tomorrow might be the day that I write the greatest song of all time. It’s like going fishing. The guitar is your fishing rod, and if I’m not fishing for that song, f*cking Bono will get it, and if he’s not, Chris Martin will. And f*ck those two guys, because they’ve got enough. We’re all fishing in the same river, and it’s cutthroat, baby.

Independently developed ideas simultaneous occur all the time. For example, Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray filed a patent for the telephone within a mere three hours of each other. In 1922, there were 148 major inventions and discoveries accounted for that were separately developed by two or more groups. If you aren’t working on the next top of the charts song, someone else surely is. The only way to benefit from it is to catch it first, even if you have to stand in a freezing cold river. Go get your fishing rod.

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10 No-Fail Ways to Tame Your Email Inbox

By Gianluca Giacoppo

By Gianluca Giacoppo

Email is the scourge of the modern working world, but alas; it’s only becoming a more entrenched part of our daily routines. Over on Zapier’s blog, writer and entrepreneur Belle Cooper catalogues 10 helpful, and realistic, ways to actually conjure some semblance of organization and control in your most likely overwhelming, if not wildly jumbled, email inbox. A few favorites:

Action Emails When You Read Them

Instead of reading new emails and leaving them to be dealt with later, getting into the habit of “processing” new emails will save you the time and effort of handling each one multiple times.

Separate Your Emails into Zones

[Create] five separate sections that are managed manually using the Getting Things Done method.

-Inbox
-Emails that involve a task
-Emails awaiting a reply
-Emails that have been delegated
-Emails related to meetings, flights, etc.

Each zone is just a separate inbox set to search for specific traits in email messages…. Using zones means each email has an appropriate home, so you can get a quick overview at a glance, rather than looking at an uncategorized inbox list.

Keep Your Emails Short

The way you write your emails can actually influence the emails you receive. In fact, the number of emails you send can make a difference to how many you receive—after all, most emails will come back to you with a reply.

Don’t Write Open-Ended Emails

Another way to write better emails is to avoid open-ended questions…. The trick is to offer an option when setting up a meeting or a call, rather than leaving it open for suggestions.

Tackling the insanity of email isn’t a one-step process. But with some combo of Cooper’s tips, you’ll be well-equipped for the journey to inbox Zen.

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The Best Resumé Looks Like Leonardo da Vinci’s

By Charlotte Allen

By Charlotte Allen

We all know that your resume is often the very first thing to make an impression with a potential employer. But do you know exactly how impactful a resume can be?

Consider research done in 2000 by two University of Toledo psychology students. The researchers showed that any amount of time spent in an interview served only as a means to confirm whatever impression had already been formed. It takes just 30 seconds to make that first impression, and it’s your resume that undoubtedly sets the expectation.

How can you make sure your resume is creating the best first impression possible? Marc Cenedella recommends using the resume of Leonardo da Vinci as a template:

You’ll notice he doesn’t recite past achievements. He doesn’t mention the painting of the altarpiece for the Chapel of St. Bernard; he doesn’t provide a laundry list of past bombs he’s built; he doesn’t cite his prior employment in artist Andrea di Cione’s studio…Instead, he sells his prospective employer on what Leonardo can do for him.

…That’s exactly what your resume needs to do, too. Not the laundry list / standard bio that talks about you, but the marketing piece that talks about the benefits to your future employer and how you fit into his or her needs and desires.

This approach to resume-writing makes a lot of sense when we stop to think about it.

Writing about yourself and your accomplishments is tempting, but if you want to make the best first impression with your resume you’re better off giving details on how you can leverage your past experience in order to meet the needs of the company and provide value above and beyond those needs. The purpose of any job isn’t to impress, it’s to solve needs. Your resume should demonstrate that you are more than capable of filling those needs.

Creating the ideal resume requires researching first: the position, the company it is for, what problems/responsibilities you’ll be tackling in the role.

Giving explicit examples of how you achieved results in the past for similar needs is a good start (it’s the type of stuff Google looks for in a resume), but providing detailed examples of how you can apply the lessons learned from your past experience is what will help potential employers see exactly how valuable you can be for their business. Whether those examples come from work or your hobbies, as long as you can clearly describe how you can add value to the business, you’re bound to make an positive and impactful impression.

Remember: the best resume isn’t one that is about you, it’s about what you can do for the needs of the job.

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An 18-Minute Daily Plan For Finding Focus

By Jordan Pettitt

By Jordan Pettitt

You could take any of a million approaches to organizing your day. You could convert your to-do list to a Post-it system, ritualize a twice-daily prioritizing check-in, or wake up at 4 AM, work for five or six hours, then exercise and relax.

Shane Parrish of Farnam Street has a simpler idea. He describes a rock-solid 18-minute daily plan for managing your time and finding focus in your day, created by Harvard Business Review writer Peter Bregman. Here’s the gist:

Step 1 (5 Minutes): Your Morning Minutes

Bregman recommends planning ahead, [either] the night before [or in] the morning. Before you turn on your computer, sit down with your to-do list and “decide what will make this day highly successful.” Take the items off your to-do list… and schedule them into your day. “Make sure,” he writes, “that anything that’s been on your list for three days gets a slot somewhere in your calendar or move it off the list.”

Step 2 (1 Minute Every Hour): Refocus

Some interruptions help us course correct. “Set your watch, phone, or computer to ring every hour and start the work that’s listed on your calendar. When you hear the beep… ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour.”

Step 3 (5 Minutes): Your Evening Minutes

“At the end of your day… shut off your computer and review how the day went.” Ask yourself three sets of questions: How did the day go? What did I learn today? Whom did I interact with?

The beauty of Bregman’s 18-minute plan is that it’s crystal-clear in its formulation, leaving no room for idiosyncratic interpretation. You check in and reset purposefully at the start of your day, throughout your day, and before you go to sleep. The routine also, in its hourly refocusing time, controls for inevitable distractions during the day (hello, YouTube) so you can adjust as needed.

Here’s the main question, though: as you’re investing all that effort into calibrating your time, how do you know what exactly to focus on? In an environment more overstimulated than ever before, with hundreds of emails, social media posts, alerts, notifications, and pings vying for your attention every minute, how do you identify where to target your energies? As you’re taking stock of the day ahead, or the day that’s just concluded, it’s all well and good to ask yourself what you think you should prioritize or what went right, but how do you make sure those choices are on track on the macro level?

Bregman, in an interview for Fox Business, sketches out his three-step process to establish your life focus:

Take a personal day to get your head around what is it that you should be spending your time on, and where is your focus and what should your focus be…. Know your focus, then you have to sustain your focus. In order to sustain your focus, it means you have to be strong and deliberate and intentional about what you’re going to say yes to and what you’re going to say no to…. Then the third is to protect it. You’re going to sustain it day in, and day out, and you have to really be conscious and aware of: am I always blocking out time for me to get done the most important things to me.

In carving out time, above and beyond the daily 18-minute routine, several times throughout the year if not once a month or once a week, to actually pinpoint your focus, you’re setting yourself up for maximal success. As Sam Spurlin writes on 99U:

[Focus] becomes less about tips and tricks and more about making sure you’re allocating the most scarce resource in the universe, your attention, in ways that most closely align with who you are and what impact you want to have on the world. It’s about eliminating the unnecessary tasks and demands that are eating away at your 150 billion bits so you can focus on something that helps another person or creates a little more beauty in the world or solves an important problem or makes you feel like you’re on this planet to do something worthwhile.

Challenge yourself to keep dialing in to how you want to spend your time, by staying focused and organized throughout the day, yes; but also by constantly questioning what exactly you’re here for and how you can make that happen.

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Don’t Work Harder, Work Faster

By Veiray Zhang

By Veiray Zhang

Few people have the authority to admonish you to work faster, even when you’re wiped. Gary Vaynerchuk is one of them. The best-selling author and founder of VaynerMedia is not only CEO of said social media brand consulting agency, he’s also a successful video blogger, co-owner and director of operations of a wine retail store, and a prolific public speaker. His advice on getting more done:

I always tell people to start working harder, to hustle. I truly believe that people could watch an hour less of Scandal and instead do some fucking work. But there’s another variable that I don’t talk about enough: be much faster in the hours you’re already in. Train yourself to do a little bit more in each hour than you normally would. Every day add something, and get it all done. The first few days you may not get it all done, but keep adding on, and you’ll get there. It’s training for a marathon. It takes time, but once you’re done, you’ll see that you’re doing much more in a day because you’re moving faster.

To get more, and better, work done, push yourself to rev your engines a little more. Cultivate a sense of urgency so not one chunk of time is wasted:

There is not one second that I’m down during the work day. On my team, we fight for minutes on my calendar. Even seconds. Every second I am doing something.

I used to think I was the biggest workaholic that lived. From twenty-two to thirty, I really thought I was all in. But I had enough time to bullshit about baseball with friends. I had time. Now, I’m dramatically faster. And I’m working more hours. That’s how it’s happening. That’s how I got to where I am. I had to realize it for myself, and now I’m telling you.

If you do an honest audit of your time, you’ll undoubtedly discover hidden pockets—a YouTube video here, a BuzzFeed quiz there—that you could repurpose into productive effort to further your latest project or your career goals.

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