Choose Already, Would You?

“Not committing to a goal is as exhausting as committing to a goal” — Penelope Trunk on why keeping your options open is a bad thing.
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Two Time-Tricks to Help Avoid Creativity’s Rabbit Holes

By Yasmine Gateau

By Yasmine Gateau

Creative blocks are an obvious foe to work; however, getting lost in creativity can be just as inefficient. Although we strive to reach those moments where we can get completely lost in our work, we also lose all sense of time. We usually don’t view this a problematic as we deem the time as productive. However, when we use our creativity as our profession and have multiple clients, losing track of time can be a huge pitfall. During the FITC Conference, director and illustrator Ash Thorp explains how he avoids getting trapped within his own creativity:

I set a timer, an alarm on my phone. I just sit there and tell Siri, ‘set an alarm for 8:30, set an alarm for 9:00, set an alarm for 11:30.’ Basically, every moment that I have to break a chapter. So at 11:00 if I have a call, I set an alarm on my phone. We’re creative people, so when I get in the mood of creating, time flies. When you’re creating, time doesn’t exist, so I have to bring myself back to reality. I end up really hating my phone because it’s always pulling me out of these really fun experiences. But it’s part of discipline, if you want to be professional, it’s part of the practice, at least for me. So I set alarms and it gets me back on my tasks that I need to do and I just smash through it. It’s crazy, but by organizing and having this process, I am easily able to double how efficient I am in the past six months.

It’s so easy to become totally consumed by a project. The challenge is to turn that creative energy into a tool that works to your advantage. Thorp challenges us to carefully examine our creative process and find pitfalls so we can avoid them in future work. This includes writing down daily habits into a physical document as a way to track performance. In an article for Fast Company, Bryan Collins explains that this is already a common practice for athletes and business professionals, so why not creatives? In Thorp’s case, he organizes his time into specific chapters depending on his daily schedule. Collins suggests breaking it down into 25 minute work periods so you have an equal time value to compare your accomplishments. For example, Collins records when he started, what he wrote, and his word count to find ways he can improve his writing:

This self-quantification will help you identify blocks in your workflow and figure out the times and occasions when you’re most productive as a writer. It will also help you see the types of writing projects you’re good at and those that take longer. I thought I was at my best writing at night, but this tracking helped me figure out I write best first thing in the morning before I check email or the news.

Both methods include a timer to pull you out of your creative dimension and back to reality. You may need to take time to focus on another client’s work, or simply be aware how long a particular task takes to complete. Managing your creative time will allow you to accomplish more. Remember to use your creativity and not get lost to it.  


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Why You Should Wear the Same Thing to Work Every Day

by Donghyun Lim

by Donghyun Lim

Each work day we’re confronted with roughly 35,000 micro and macro decisions. Whether its choosing between #0099FF and #3399FF, or deciding to entirely change careers, you’re likely familiar with the feeling that experts describe as “decision fatigue.” With every decision you make, you’re using up the finite supply of mental energy allocated to you each day. According to Roy F. Baumeister, co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, the act of making decisions for work uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, or even things like drugs or illicit sex. And so your ability to choose the right vendor, or make the right hiring decision, may be reduced simply because you expended some of your willpower before you even got to the office, when you wrestled with a choice you do every single day: what to wear.

Consider that between the ages of 6 and 60, an average woman will spend roughly 287 days rifling through her wardrobe. It’s a time-consuming process for men too; they clock in at approximately 13 minutes per day (women average 10 minutes/day). If you accept that time and energy are finite resources, choosing what to wear each day seems to be counterproductive. If you want to reduce your decision fatigue by simplifying this process, you’re not alone. As a matter of fact, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Albert Einstein, and Barack Obama have been known wear the same outfit every day. A Sweden-based art director, Matilda Kahl, has become an overnight sensation for wearing the same outfit every day for a year. In an interview with Adweek, she reflects on the power of her work uniform:

Adweek: What was your main motivation behind adopting a work uniform of a white blouse, black trousers and a black blazer?

Kahl: The main motivation was that I understood how much time and energy I’d save if I could just take out the clothing aspect of my working days. We have so many great creative challenges at Saatchi that I’d rather spend my time on that, not picking out a new outfit every morning.

Would you say the work uniform has changed your productivity at work?

Kahl: Absolutely. It’s not until you don’t have to care about clothing anymore that you realize how much energy it actually took up before. Before I had a uniform, I reevaluated my outfit throughout the day, wondering if what I was wearing really did a good job of reflecting me as the creative I want to be. Now, when I have an outfit that I once picked out and that I’m happy with, I can lay all my good energy on my work instead. To only be judged on my creative ability at work and not how well I dress really is a real confidence boost.

This is hardly an original idea. Consider that men have been wearing suits since the 1920s. A capsule wardrobe takes the idea of wearing the same thing every day and gives you the freedom to express yourself. It’s about what makes you feel confident. Gaining confidence with how you dress will influence your day – it will impact your prospects, your personality and the way the world perceives you.

But for all its benefits, you might have to overcome some initial resistance to kickstart your capsule wardrobe. In a piece for Harper’s Bazaar, Kahl talks about some of the questions she had to confront:

More distant co-workers have even asked if I was in some sort of sect—religious or otherwise…Other than the burning, “why?” the most common question I get is whether or not it gets boring in the long run. It’s a reasonable question that probably has a lot to do with the fact that office style is commonly informal in my industry. We have been given the opportunity to reflect our true personalities in everything we wear, every day—to extol our “creative spirits” in everything we do. As if all of that wasn’t enough, let’s add to the mix the extensive pressure on women to uphold a flawless appearance. Here, we ultimately end up with an unscalable mountain of high expectations. No wonder many people walk around feeling that the world owns them, when it really should be the other way around.

As creative professionals, you should feel empowered to adopt a work uniform. Once you remove outfit-picking decisions from your morning, you free up more time and mental energy to focus on the success of your work.

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Expand Your Thinking, Not Just Your Skillset


by Sébastien Thibault

Often when we set out to better ourselves in our chosen creative field, the first place we turn is to our core skillset. If I am a painter, I will learn a new painting technique. If I am a designer, I will learn a new rendering program. We are taught that the better we are at our job, the further we will go in our career. However, this can only take us so far. Yes, your skills are very important. For example: if you have an amazing idea, but cannot communicate it through your sketching abilities, the idea will be lost. Yet, what good are your sketching abilities if you have no ideas to share? For that you need to develop your thinking, as IDEO partner Michael Hendrix explains in a How Magazine interview:

There are so many avenues. There are lots of online training sites that are great for learning new software — if you need to learn Adobe Premiere so you can create animations, for example. But that doesn’t change your thinking. When it comes to these more complex skills, you have to start thinking entrepreneurially. You’re starting to ask why something exists in the world, how it might live, how people might interact with it. And by asking those questions, you find you have to learn new things — like psychology, or basic financial skills, or how the supply chain works.

Entrepreneurs are required to have a general knowledge in everything. Unlike a large corporation, they do not have the luxury to assign tasks to specific departments as they are running entire businesses themselves. They still have a greater knowledge in their specific area of expertise, but they also know about human resourcing, raising money, and marketing. IDEO partner Tom Kelley describes how the same idea can be applied to expand your thinking and make you a “T-shaped” person.

At IDEO we like T-shaped people who have a strong core of expertise, but combine it with a genuine respect for, interest in, and preferably experience with, other areas as well… A T-shaped person might be an engineer who does fine art in their spare time, is interested in anthropology and maybe took some under-graduate courses in it, or some other esoteric combination of interests. T-shaped people have more attachment points. They are more likely to make a contribution to a team, and build on the ideas of others.

While Kelley encourages an ‘esoteric’ combination of interests, Hendrix references the designers Charles and Ray Eames who expanded into other design fields. Their core expertise was based in architecture, but they also designed furniture, produced films, invented toys, and created graphics. Hendrix himself is well-rounded in the fields of design, cultural studies, linguistics, psychology, and cognition. This multifaceted design is a combination of being both a specialist and a generalist. It allows you to expand your thinking as you have more ‘attachment points,’ as Kelley notes. These are points of connection between different industries and ways of thinking that will lead to new ideas. Ideas which you can then communicate with your skills.


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We Need Your Help: Take The 99U Reader Survey


Here at 99U, we often write about the importance of being adaptable and seeking out feedback. In the spirit of taking our own advice, we’re asking you to tell us more about what you’d like to see change around here with our first-ever reader survey.

We’ll use what you tell us to develop the next generation of 99U topics, products, and events. The survey takes four and a half minutes, and will have a huge impact on 99U moving forward. 

As always, a hearty thanks for reading 99U. And if you have any bits of feedback that are too long for our survey drop a comment below or contact us here

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It’s Not About You: The Right Way to “Sell” Yourself or Your Product

By Kate Bo

By Kate Bo

No matter your field, you undoubtedly have a home-base somewhere on the Internet where you describe your products or services, be they under the umbrella of your personal brand, your company, or an organization you work for. Whether it’s a website, blog, e-newsletter, or Twitter feed, there’s surely some corner of the web in which you’re trying to sell something, even if it’s just your resume.

In all those cases, writing strong online copy is key. You can’t convince a reader of anything (buying your e-book, reaching out with a job interview, or sharing your article on social media) without effective, compelling writing. Writer and graphic designer James Greig has some interesting insight into the mental shift required to write great online copy. Namely, stop making it about you. Rather, focus the lens on your “customer,” whatever that means in your work.

What superpowers does your product give people? Have a read of this opening paragraph from the description of a new cycling jacket:

“We’ve gone all out to produce the finest waterproof in cycling. We’ve re-thought how to keep you comfortable. When the rain comes and doesn’t stop, this is the jacket. We have spent the greatest amount of R&D time ever on the Gills Jacket, and we’re hugely proud of it.”

Count them: four mentions of “we”… and only one of “you”. This is the copywriting equivalent of shouting “Me! Me! Me!” Yes, it’s reassuring to know how much R&D time has been put into the jacket. But the reader is more interested in how the jacket will make him feel, not how the company who made it feels about it. I see this problem with a lot of copy on the web… It’s back-to-front. So how do we fix it?

Basecamp’s Jason Fried nailed it with this 3-sentence blog post: “Most copywriting on the web sucks because it’s written for the writer, not for the reader. Write for the reader. That is all.” Improving your copywriting really is this simple: construct your sentences with the emphasis on “you” rather than “I” or “we”. Make it about your reader, not yourself.

This isn’t just about being selfless (“the customer’s always right,” and all that). When you keep the reader firmly fixed in your mind, whether that’s your site visitor, Twitter follower, client, buyer, or whomever, you start thinking about the implicit reasons for people to engage with your work, rather than the explicit ones. That makes for a much stronger sell. As Greig writes,

The first iPod wasn’t marketed as “a 5GB MP3 player” (boring/techy) but as “1,000 songs in your pocket” (wow/that’s cool).

Whenever you’re writing something online that you want to have some sort of actionable effect, engage with the problems and desires of the people who you’d like to be reading what you’re writing. Selling a WordPress template targeted at lifestyle bloggers who don’t know how to code? Think, and write, about how simple the template is to install and how it’ll showcase their photography and juice their traffic stats. Marketing your services as a social media consultant for small businesses? Focus your pitch on how much time you’ll save your clients so they can focus on their sales strategy. You’ll give yourself an instant advantage over “me”-focused competitors.

Your awesome work deserves eyeballs online. You just have to sprinkle it with a little copywriting gold dust.


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Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Contribution

It’s What You Can Contribute from Andreessen Horowitz on Vimeo.

Ben Horowitz, cofounder and partner of famed venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, delivered the commencement address at his alma mater Columbia University last month and offered up some pretty unconventional career advice. The gist: don’t follow your passion.

If you poll a thousand people who are successful, they’ll all say that they love what they do. And so the broad conclusion of the world is that if you do what you love, then you’ll be successful. That might be true. But it also might be the case that if you’re successful, you love what you do. So which one is it?

Horowitz broke down a few reasons why blindly following your passion in hopes of finding success and fulfillment can be inadvisable:

Passions are hard to prioritize. Are you more passionate about math, or engineering? Are you more passionate about history, or literature? Are you more passionate about video games, or K-Pop? On the other hand, what are you good at? That’s a much easier thing to figure out.

Passions change. What you’re passionate about at 21 is not necessarily what you’re going to be passionate about at 40.

You’re not necessarily good at your passion. Has anybody ever watched American Idol? Just because you love singing doesn’t mean you should be a professional singer.

Following your passion is a very me-centered view of the world. What you take out of the world over time, be it money, cars, stuff, accolades, is much less important than what you put into the world.

And so my recommendation would be, follow your contribution; find the thing that you’re great at. Put that into the world. Contribute to others. Help the world be better. That is the thing to follow.

His advice is a variation on the classic Venn diagram for business success, which aims to identify what business idea satisfies the following three requirements: what you’re good at, what you love, and what there’s market demand for. Passion is just one third of that equation. Honing in on what you feel fired up about is important in internally searching for a career path that will sustain you financially and intellectually, yes; but it shouldn’t override factors like what you’re the most talented at and what there’s a need for in the world.

You know that saying “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”? Here’s the thing: what makes you love what you do isn’t just a deep-seated passion for the work. It’s also a certainty that what you’re doing is making an impact and is a positive contribution to the planet.


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What to Do With Feedback About Your Work

Review by Hugo Heneault for the Noun Project

Review by Hugo Heneault for the Noun Project

It can feel uncomfortable to show unfinished or freshly-made work to others, but that kind of peer-review research plays an important role in the creative process. It’s a way to get our work out in front of those who will actually see and use it, regardless of whether that means asking a friend or family member for their opinions or conducting a professionally-run lab study with a one-way mirror.

Unfortunately we often mistakenly believe that feedback can only prove or disprove immutable truths about the work. We present our ideas to a few people, then take the opinions we garner (good or bad) to be the gospel about what it is we’ve created. If those we show the work to don’t like it, we throw it away. If they do like it, we consider that a sign we’ve done a good job and are finished.

In actuality, this is a constricting perspective to have, because design research isn’t meant to be a science. When it comes to creative endeavors, like design or writing, the value of any type of feedback is less about defining the hard truths and more about gathering meaning from what it is we create. As Jon Freach writes in The Atlantic:

If we don’t study the world, we don’t always know how or what to create…Design research is not ‘a science’ and is not necessarily ‘scientific.’ It gives (us) and (our) clients a much more nuanced understanding of the people for whom (we) design while providing knowledge that addresses some of the most fundamental questions we face throughout the process.

Freach goes on to explain that what we should expect from research is for it to help us identify patterns in the work we do as well as the behaviors of those who encounter our work. Paying attention to how someone interacts with what you’ve built, or if they reference similar things they’ve seen or experienced, are good ways to draw-out patterns we can then either build-off of or try to deviate from. He also believes that it should be used to better understand the relationships between what we do and who it’s for. Not only should we pay attention to how people react to our work, but what their reaction means for them: will they remember our work, and does our work make something in their lives easier or more entertaining? French writes that the best feedback works by “providing knowledge that addresses some of the most fundamental questions we face throughout the process.”

In order to get that knowledge and discover new ideas for our work, we must always seek simply to “ask simple questions about obvious things [that] can lead to unexpected answers and rich insights.”

Your work isn’t meant to always live in your computer or notebook. But you won’t really know that unless you take the work and put it out into the world.


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