creativity

Write It Down

 

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One of my three notebooks.

 

Fresh ideas are powerful currency. New thinking can lead to renewed energy to tackle gnarly issues. Flashes of insight can spur new actions and new results. When you want to make change happen, your ideas are the starting point.

And, for most of us, life is super-busy. It flies by like your view from a rushing train. Ideas appear, and in the blink of an eye, they can quickly zoom out of view again, lost to us, as we fly ever onwards down the track.

The good thing is that we have this amazing technology available to us to help us capture those ideas as they emerge before they rush past and visit some other passenger further down the line. And that technology is cheap and easy to use. It’s called pen and paper.

If you write an idea down, the more likely you are able to do something with it.

There’s actually a bit of a debate about whether writing stuff down helps or not. Some research asserts that it helps us remember the important stuff. and it contributes strongly to our wellbeing. On the other hand, reaching as far back as Plato’s day, there’s a line of argument saying that note taking makes us lazy. I reckon it’s the wrong debate. Like all good practices, it’s about your intention behind the doing. Let’s look at that a bit more.

To my mind, there are two basic types of ‘writing down’. Taking notes, and creating ideas.

Taking notes (of a conversation, a lecture, or making a shopping list) is good for ‘storage’ purposes. It’s akin to taking a photo of an interesting slide you see at a conference, or grabbing an online article and adding it to Evernote. You’re grabbing the content, but you’re not really thinking too hard about it. You simply do it so you can retrieve it later. It gives your brain a break from having to remember everything and helps you stay organised.

The other purpose of writing down is to serve a creative process. Isaac Asimov said, “writing is simply thinking through my fingers.” The act of picking up a pen with the intention of “thinking through my fingers” forces your brain to work harder. You have to think about what you want to say or create. In that creative process, you bring into being something new.

My blogs are my creative ideas written down. I’ve had to think about what I want to say, and how I want to say it. The process of writing creates both the form and the substance of something new.

Leonardo Da Vinci is generally regarded as the epitome of what it means to be curious, and I suspect that was enhanced by his propensity to ‘write it down’. He carried a notebook with him everywhere and wrote down anything that moved him. For example, here’s one of one of his to-do lists that would put most of us to shame.

Here are a couple of ways I apply these ideas:

Notebooks: I carry three notebooks around with me: one for taking notes of client conversations, one for my daily to-do lists, and one for capturing and developing my own occasional flashes of brilliance and insight. I also have one in my car’s centre console, so when I’m listening to podcasts, I can write down ideas that grab me (when I’m stopped at the lights of course!) I’m always writing in some form or another.

Insights and Actions Log: In my workshops, I have participants use an ‘insights and actions’ log to capture relevant ideas as they arise. It’s simply an A4 piece of paper with a line drawn down the middle. The left-hand column is called ‘Insights’, and that’s for the ideas. The right-hand column is called ‘Actions’ and that’s for writing down what they are going to do with the ideas. Because an idea is more useful if you act on it in some way.

Ideas are everywhere. The trick is to capture them so you can use them.

Sound like a good idea? Great. Write it down.

 

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Find Your Rhythm

Are your days ‘lurchy’ or ‘flowy’?

For many of us, it’s more often the former, when we’d love it to be more of the latter.

Let’s get some definitions down:

‘Lurchy’ = you’re moving from one thing to another, feeling fragmented, scattered and often ending feeling unproductive and shattered.

‘Flowy’ = stuff feels effortless, you’re in sync, you can get deep into your work and nail it, it’s fun and energising. You’re not trying too hard.

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For most of my adult life, I’ve struggled with getting more into ‘flowy’ and staying there. More recently, I’ve learned a few tricks about how to do that. It’s all about finding your rhythm.

Finding your rhythm is like when you’re doing exercise, and you get that ‘click’ moment. When you’re walking, running, riding, in the gym, whatever. You hit a certain rhythm, a certain flow, where it feels ‘right’ for you, your performance lifts and it all becomes effortless. You know the feeling.

You can find your rhythm in how you structure your time, too.

Cal Newport wrote a powerful book called Deep Work, which argues that if you want to produce anything of value, you need to carve out uninterrupted time to do it. He builds on the ideas of Paul Graham, who wrote about two types of schedules: The Maker’s Schedule, and the Manager’s Schedule. They are both quite different: the first needs unstructured time to be effective, and the second is all about structuring your time. If you’re trying to do ‘Maker’ work (wrangling new ideas, writing, deep problem solving) you generally need big blocks of unstructured, focused time. And, we all need Manager time as well. That’s when you allocate your time into segments to hammer through your do-list, hold meetings etc.

I’ve learned:

  • I need to allow time for both types of activities if I’m going to be effective.
  • If I don’t deliberately carve out the Maker time, Manager time takes over. And I get into ‘lurchy’. And that’s frustrating.
  • It works for me to allow for Maker time across different time spans: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually.

Here’s how I structure each of those time blocks with my Maker time:

Daily: first thing in the morning for at least an hour, I journal, scribble or listen to an interesting podcast.

Weekly: every Friday is a ‘client free day’ where I write, think, and create (including my blogs).

Monthly: I build in three to four concurrent days for ‘Making’ work every month, which is often when I design a new workshop or programme.

Quarterly: I take a week off from any sort of client work to decompress.

Annually: I take all of January off (holidays, yes, and also it’s also a great time for reflection, deep thinking and writing). And, of course, my annual two-week windsurfing trip in October, which keeps my edges sharp. You can learn more about my annual approach in my post Your Year By Design.

Does it always work perfectly? Rarely. Life gets in the way all the time! However, without a structure like this, I reckon I’d always be in Manager time, and I’d feel like I’d not be doing my best work, or producing anything of value. I stick to my structure about 80% of the time. As a result, I get into plenty of ‘flowy’ experiences, create good work, and feel good about how I’ve spent my time.

We all need to experience more ‘flowy’ times. Especially when we need to create new ways for our teams and organisations to be more agile, more innovative, and more bold. More lurchy meetings aren’t the answer.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you or your people follow my exact schedule. I am suggesting you think about what works for you across each of these time spans, and what’s possible for you given your current situation. And then take the first step, however small, to make it happen.

Go well.

 

Art: Tim Borgman

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Your Year By Design

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People often say to me “you’re so lucky, you’re always on holidays!” Well, it’s probably true that I do take more time out than most people. But it has nothing to do with luck. It’s by design.

If you’re like a lot of people, you can get to the end of the year and wonder, “where did the time go?” Perhaps with some regret for the things you’d intended to do but didn’t quite get around to. Perhaps you suffer from ‘one-day’ syndrome. You know: “one day, I’ll [fill in the blank]. Robert Fritz, in his book The Path of Least Resistance, says that the hardest thing in the world for many people is to honestly answer “what do I really want?” and then stay true to that.

The way I see it, it’s smart to take charge and design your life in a way that works for you. Otherwise, everything can be just a jumble of things that happen to you in between being born and dying.

Here’s how I design my year so I can have the greatest chance of making sure I am living ‘on purpose’. Every January, I sit down and do the following:

First, I do a ‘year in review’. I go through the things I did from the previous year, reviewing my calendar, journals and also my Facebook page. Any place where I’ve recorded my events and activities. I’m looking for two things:

  • The most positive experiences I’ve had during the year
  • The most negative experiences I’ve had during the year

These might be things I’ve done, places I’ve been, things I’ve bought, or people I’ve spent time with.

I’ll have two columns (one for positive, one for negative), and as I review, I’ll write things down.

Next, I look for patterns. What seems to be the common theme? For example, one theme I noticed for my 2016 was that the ‘positive’ people seem to all be very generous with their time and ideas, while the people I had more ‘negative’ experiences with tended to be time-poor and/or somewhat selfish. Interesting. I find that the most positive experiences speak to and reflect my deepest values, and it’s worth you reflecting on this too. The Schwartz Values Model is a useful tool here.

Then I ask myself: “What do I want to have happen this year?” I’ll take the themes and values, and build from them. Useful sub-questions for me include “who do I want to hang out with?” “What work will be really interesting and engaging for me?” “What adventures do I want to have?” “What do I want to achieve?” “What could I do that would cause me to grow?” and, crucially, “what do I want to drop, or dial down?” Ya gotta make room for the good stuff. Tim Ferris also suggests asking people close to you “what should I do more of this year?” and “what should I do less of?”

Next, I schedule the good stuff. Steven Covey calls this putting the ‘big rocks in the jar first’. I’m a big picture kind of guy, so I’ll make a big calendar and put it up on my whiteboard in my office. Here’s what that looks like:

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It’s colour-coded as follows:

Blue = creative pursuits, adventures and time out. These are based on my values of adventure, learning and creativity. These are all really important to me, so they go in first. The ‘blue time’ includes adventures like my annual surfing and windsurfing trip, family snowboarding trips etc. as well as less intense activities where I’ll take some time out to read, write and think.

Green = ‘delivery’ work. This is the time where I’m earning money, but more importantly, it’s also time spent where I have a chance to make a difference using my talents. Scheduling the green time serves two purposes: it shows me my cash flow (am I earning enough?) and it also gives me a sense that I’m spending enough of my time doing worthwhile work.

Orange = professional development. This is structured time for me to reflect on my work and practice, and plan ahead. I happen to be doing a programme that forces me to build in these days, which really helps.

The three categories reflect the types of activities that are both a) important to me and b) able to be scheduled in advance.

When I step back, I can see that I’ve got ‘enough’ happening in the blue space, I’ll need some more green going on in the latter half of the year, and there’s lots of ‘white space’ that I can use how I want (which might include spending time with good people, booking in quality work, or finishing my book!)

I’ll book all of these activities into my Google Calendar, which my Business Manager and family can see, and I can access easily from anywhere.

Finally, I’ll make a list of the people I enjoyed hanging out with last year, as well as new people I would love to connect with. I’ll make the list visible. It’s currently posted up on my wall next to my computer. Every week or so, I’ll have a look at it and make contact with someone on it. That ensures I’m getting the people connection that is important to me.

A few important things to note about this process:

  • My year by design is just that: mine. It’s based on what’s important to me. You don’t need to replicate the colour-coded categories that I have. Go do your own 🙂
  • This process applies to anyone, not just those who are self-employed like me. The fundamental idea is about deciding on, and committing to, the stuff that you want to have happen.
  • When you book in the ‘good stuff’ first, you make less room for the crappy stuff. If your time is spent doing good stuff with good people, it’s hard for the other stuff to find a way in.
  • 90% of the value of scheduling something in is in the anticipation of it happening.

That’s it. As you can see, it’s not really about luck. There’s quite a bit of work in it. Although I wouldn’t call it ‘work’ – it’s a fun, energising process that helps to ensure I am making the most of my time on the planet. Go do it.

(Here’s my-year-by-design-template for you to use).

 

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Header Photo: Pixabay

Evolution of A Blog Post

Here’s how I take an idea and turn it into a useful post.

Let’s take my recent post Opportunity and Agency

This one started as a random idea in a lecture I was giving for my Auckland MBA cohort. During the class discussion, the idea came to me, so I drew it up on the whiteboard, and explained it to the class:

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The next day, I transferred it to my little black book that I capture all of my ‘interesting’ ideas in. Some of those ideas might sit there for a day or two,before I act on them. Some for a year or more. Some, never. But they’re all there, in one place:

opportunity-and-agency-journal

I’ll flick through my little black book once a week or so. When one of those ideas jumps off the page at me (sometimes it’s when I write it in there), I know it’s time to flesh it out. The question I always ask is “what will help make this idea more useful to people (including me)?” I’ll often scribble more notes on my whiteboard at home for this:

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Once I feel I’ve got enough to work with, I’ll start writing. By the way, in my home office, I have separate spaces to create, and to produce. Create = couch + coffee table, or whiteboard. No computer. Produce = standing desk with computer:

opportunity-and-agency-writing

My structure varies, however it usually includes a lead-in story to set the context, then the key point, then a model (usually schmicked up in a simple PowerPoint, converted to a jpeg), then some tips to make it useful, followed by a leading question or a call to action. Just like in the finished post.

Hope that’s useful!

 

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