Wake Up 30 Minutes Early for More Ideas

Timer designed by Simple Icons from the Noun Project

Timer designed by Simple Icons from the Noun Project

On Lateral Action, Brian Cormack Carr explores the effect of disturbed slumber on his blog, using inspiration from writer Dorothea Brande. A counter intuitive idea: By waking up just 30 minutes early and jumping right into the work, we can block our mental editor from hindering the idea-generating process. Carr writes:

By jolting oneself awake earlier than usual, Brande contended, the creative juices could flow without the editor being awake enough to interfere with things. Quite why the editor would find it harder to struggle to wakefulness was never fully explained – but Ms. Brande obviously believed this to be the case, and my own experience seems to bear her out…

I think the same can be said of any creative thought we expect ourselves to generate. In this world of practicalities and problems, perhaps it’s natural to protect ourselves by keeping a weather eye on all the things that might go wrong and stop us. However, when we start giving undue credence to those possible limitations, we stop ourselves from fully exploring all the options that are available to us.

When we’re awake and alert our brains have ample time to enable our internal editor to interfere in our thought process, as Carr explains. That mental editor easily convinces us that our ideas need to be tweaked, adapted, or thrown away, before we’ve had time to fully explore them. By waking up just 30 minutes early and jumping right into your work, you don’t give that mental editor a chance to wake up and intervene.

Of course, this is great for generating and pursuing creative ideas, but not so much for being productive or working on detail-oriented projects. For those instances, you’re going to want to get more sleep.

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Size Doesn’t Matter

By Aled Lewis

By Aled Lewis

Everyone wants the next big idea, but creative writer Scott Berkun knows the power of small ideas. In his blog post Why Small Ideas Can Matter More Than Big Ideas, he explains you should be more concerned about the application of the idea:  

Rather than worrying about the size of an idea, which most people do, it’s more productive to think about the possible leverage an idea has. To do this requires thinking not only about the idea itself, but how it will be used. An idea can have a different amount of leverage depending on where, when and how carefully it is applied.

For example, the McDonald brothers had the simple idea of making their food process repeatable to improve efficiency. Not a big idea in itself, but when applied consistently to their now 35,000 locations, it had a huge result. Alternatively, you can take a small idea from one industry and apply it to another, such as the safety checklist pilots use and apply it to hospital surgeons. So don’t throw out your small idea; it may just need to be utilized differently. Berkun reminds us, “the basic logic we use is the bigger the idea, the bigger the value, but often that’s not true.”

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Step Away from the iPhone: The Case for a Paper Planner

By Jonas Löwgren

By Jonas Löwgren

Kat Ascharya, over on 2machines, makes a case for retiring devices and apps when it comes to organizing your schedule and to-do lists. She decided to try out a temporary switch from technological tablet to real notebook, and never changed back:

Using paper brought a surprising amount of joy back to my life. The advantages were practical: having a limited amount of space to write forced me to ruthlessly prioritize tasks. The process of checking my planner every morning created a sense of ritual and structure to my day. And the physical act of writing engaged me more — I remember things better.

A paper planner was unexpectedly fun, too. I would paste or tape interesting articles, images and quotations into my paper planner, turning it into a portable Pinterest-like inspiration board…. That fun and pleasure had a more efficient, effective impact on my life than any multi-platform functionality ever did. Planning and organizing became creative acts in and of themselves.

There are upsides abound for using modern technology to organize your time: it’s faster, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly (although technically, jury’s still out on that one). Technology syncs you up to your colleagues and clients—Outlook calendar invites aren’t going away any time soon. It’s more portable, requires less neatness, and needs no external implement beyond your finger. But there’s something to be said for the simplicity and artistry engendered by a pen-to-paper approach to managing your time and tasks. Many creatives Ascharya spoke with agree, citing the cognitive left-brain static that devices can create.

If it doesn’t work for your professional lifestyle to swap Google Calendar for a spiral-bound planner, consider turning to paper in other areas, like brainstorm sessions or note-taking. It’s better for your memory, leads to deeper thought, and offers less unproductive distraction.

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The Worst Stage of Burnout: “Brownout”

By Romain Laurent and BRANSCH

By Romain Laurent and BRANSCH

According to a report from the American Psychological Association, 65% of employees report that work is a significant source of stress in their lives and 41% say that they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday.

While we might be able to successfully recognize the symptoms of burnout, we’re often oblivious to the alternative: a more deeper, obscured type of fatigue that afflicts successful, high-performing creatives. Over time, we can lose our passion for work and our commitment to our organizations, despite appearing composed.

Michael E Kibler, CEO of Corporate Balance Concepts, Inc., calls this burnout’s slower, and more sinister cousin: brownout.

Brownout, a term also used to describe part of the life cycle of a star, is different from burnout because knowledge workers afflicted by it are not in obvious crisis. They seem to be performing fine:  putting in massive hours in meetings and calls across time zones, grinding out work while leading or contributing to global teams, and saying all the right things in meetings (though not in side-bar conversations). However, these executives are often operating  in a silent state of continual overwhelm, and the predictable consequence is disengagement.

Kibler notes that high performers experiencing burnout exhibit the following signs:

  • Feeling drained from continuous, 24/7 obligations.
  • Physical deterioration due to years of sub-optimal sleep and self-care.
  • Tenuous relationships with immediate family members.
  • Distant relationships with old friends.
  • The atrophy of personal interests.
  • A diminishing ability to concentrate in non-business conversations.
Burnout is temporary, but brownout can have long-term, lasting effects.
 

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Obtain Super-Focus by Switching off Your Brain’s “Fast Mode”

By Basil Tsedik

One effect the constant overstimulation of modern media has on our brains is what Leo Babauta calls “Fast Mode.” When you rev up your mind by churning through email, your Twitter stream, Facebook news feed, and back again, your brain is working on overdrive. That million-miles-a-minute pace leads to empty productivity. You’ll cross small tasks off your to do list, sure. But you won’t complete anything meaningful or truly substantive.

Why is that exactly? The limitations of your brain’s Fast Mode lie in the quick pace of thinking and decision making. Consider how quickly you flick through tweets, thumbing down each page, favoriting some, clicking on a link here and there, replying briefly to others. Or email: most of the time you probably plow through your inbox, filing and archiving certain messages, deleting others, dashing off a rapid response to those that require it. Any emails that require more deliberate thought undoubtedly languish longer in your inbox until you can find the spare time to address them. Fast Mode is harmful in its blockage of deeper thought:

Writing or otherwise creating when your brain is in Fast Mode is nearly impossible, until you switch to Slow Mode. You’ll just switch from the writing to some smaller, faster task, or go to distractions. Considering a tough decision long enough to weigh the various factors and make a good decision is also pretty near impossible while you’re in Fast Mode…. You can’t really exercise or meditate in Fast Mode, either, because those take longer than a minute.

Babauta encourages learning to recognize when you’re operating in mental Fast Mode, and pump the brakes to switch gears to Slow Mode:

Being in Fast Mode leads to constant switching, and constant busy-ness. It leads to overwork, because when do you switch it off? It leads to exhaustion, because we never give ourselves breathing room.

Learn to recognize when you’re in Fast Mode, and practice switching to Slow Mode now and then. It’s essential to doing all the things that are really important.

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Break Your New Year’s Resolutions into 90-Day Chunks

By Amy Streger for the To Resolve Project

By Amy Streger for the To Resolve Project

Think about the long-term goals that you’ve set for yourself this year. When you will know that you’ve achieved them? If your answer is “by next year,” you might want to rethink your approach. By waiting for December 31, 2016 to measure your success of your 2015 goals, you’re spreading yourself too thin and giving yourself a tiny margin for failure. 

Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, proposes breaking down your year-long goals into 90-day chunks: 

You may have lots of goals, and that’s a good thing. Giving yourself 90 days means you can focus on a few at a time, knowing that there’s another 90-day period coming up soon. Maybe during the first quarter you focus on launching a new product. Then in the second quarter you focus on finding a new and bigger space. At the end of six months, you’ll have the new product and the bigger space, whereas if you aimed to do both at once, you might get overwhelmed and figure out neither.

Don’t wait until the end of the year to assess your success. Break your year-long goals into shorter intervals so that you can fail fast and reset quickly if needed.

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How to Fine-Tune Your Intuition

Created by Till Teenck for the Noun Project

Created by Till Teenck for the Noun Project

In his new chronicle of The Container Store’s past and present, Uncontainable: How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives, Chairman and CEO Kip Tindell devotes an entire chapter to the concept of intuition.

Principle Six of The Container Store’s seven foundational principles is “Intuition does not come to an unprepared mind. You need to train before it happens.” In Tindell’s company, the cultivation of intuition translates to a robust training program for all employees from building maintenance personnel up to VPs. The Container Store trains its full-time people almost 300 hours in their first year, then additional hours day in and day out throughout their career. The retail industry average, says Tindell, is eight hours all told.

The justification for all this (expensive, time-consuming) training is Tindell’s firm belief in the power of intuition, and the absolute necessity of knowledge and experience to make that intuition possible. Container Store employees use their intuition to divine what a customer’s true needs are, to gauge whether or not a candidate is the right hire, and to channel their creativity to come up with interesting solutions to problems.

Tindell recounts a story that has stuck with him since he read it in 1986:

One day, Einstein was sitting on a train that wasn’t moving. As another train moved past, he felt as if he were moving backward. It’s an experience most of us have had. But unlike the rest of us, Einstein used the experience, in a flash of intuition, to help him conceive the theory that would change our entire understanding of the universe. Einstein wouldn’t have had this insight if he hadn’t spent his whole life studying physics and mathematics. In other words, Einstein was prepared to have this breakthrough observation.

Intuition is a strong instinct, crucial to creative discovery. Your intuition tells you whether or not you’re working with the right partner, whether or not a design looks or feels right, and whether or not you’re approaching burnout. But Tindell’s takeaway is that you have to fine-tune your intuition before it will be useful to you:

The better you are at something—whether it’s dancing, playing the violin, or Man in the Desert Selling [The Container Store's sales philosophy]—the more reliable, brilliant, and touched by genius your intuition will be. I’ve been fly-fishing all my life. So if I’m teaching you to fly-fish, and I intuitively think there’s a trout under that rock, there probably is. If you’ve never fished before and you think there’s a trout under that rock, there probably isn’t.

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