The Daily Heartbreak of Failing My Calendar
Apr20

The Daily Heartbreak of Failing My Calendar

There is so much I want to do, and only so much time in the day. I’ve gotten really good at using my calendar for managing a lot of projects at once. However, I’m consistently falling short of getting everything I have scheduled done in a day. I might book 10 things to do, and only finish 7. That is still pretty good. I can just move the scheduled items to another day and time. The only problem is I can’t help but feel like I am failing each day. The weight of incompletion No matter what I accomplished, all I see at the end of the day are the things that are left over. Small failures that really don’t matter that much individually, but add up to a life of falling short a little every day. What I’m doing wrong All my reasons why I don’t get everything done boil down to these two things: the amount of time I scheduled is insufficient to complete the task; I ignored my calendar. Both of the items listed above have an easy solution: set aside a more time for things; don’t ignore my calendar. But it’s not that simple. It’s difficult to be honest with myself about my own limitations as I’m scheduling tasks. Two out of three ain’t bad A few years ago, I tracked everything I scheduled and kept a record for months of my progress. I was averaging 65-70% complete per day, regardless of how much I tried to pack in or how open I kept my calendar. If I booked in 14 things, I might finish 9. If I scheduled 3, I’d likely do 2. What I decided was that it’s best to schedule more, so that I’d complete more. But why can’t I just do everything that is on my list and enjoy the peace of mind that would come with that? Competing factors There are other factors competing for my time. Some of them really matter to me. If a family member calls me with a request, I’m likely to drop what I’m doing because family is more important to me. I also have housework, dinner to prepare, shopping to do, and fun distractions like unexpected conversation with friends. Even good weather is sometimes reason enough to set aside my calendar. The biggest competing factor is often invisible. It’s how I feel. I might have a lot done so far, and feel like I deserve a break. Or I might be tired and want to veg out on the sofa. Balancing competing factors while being honest with myself about what I will actually do is the hardest part of effectively managing my schedule. So what’s missing?...

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Get It Out Of Your Head: Siri & Evernote
Apr19

Get It Out Of Your Head: Siri & Evernote

Stop trying to remember anything! If it needs to get done, get it out of your head. We’re not machines. Our ability to remember is hit and miss at best. Technology is making us more forgetful, not necessarily more effective. We’re buried in emails, texts, social media, invitations to events, marketing, and more. Too much information for anyone to remember. We need to forget most of that stuff. Let’s put the few things that are truly important somewhere we can count on. Not in our memory. In 2002, after doing a productivity seminar with Mission Control in New York City, I started to carry a mini-notepad with me to keep from forgetting anything important. I kept it in my back pocket. Whenever I told someone I would do something, I would immediately take out the notepad and write down the details of my promise. The next morning I’d transfer all yesterday’s notes to my calendar. This system worked really well for a decade. In 2012, I bought my first iPhone with Siri voice interaction. I specifically bought it because of Siri. By speaking my notes into the phone, I was able to retire my paper notepad. What’s really awesome is that the iPhone eliminated the time I took each morning moving my notes to my calendar. I would just tell it, “Create a calendar event for next Thursday at eight thirty a.m., speak to Joe’, and it put my note right in my calendar for me, with an alarm. Siri saves me 30-45 minutes a day that I used to spend reviewing and scheduling my notes from the day before. That’s how technology is meant to be: less work for me, same result or better. Capturing Creative Ideas The above equally applies to the creative process. I’m paraphrasing academic music educator and music journalist James Linderman… “The first difference between an amateur and a professional songwriter, is that the professional is diligent about capturing creative ideas. He or she doesn’t trust that they’ll remember the lyric, melody, chords or rhythm later.” Simple creative moments can seem insignificant, but what if the melody you just came up with has hit song potential? Or if an amazing plot twist for the book you are writing just comes to you in the middle of the day? Don’t just hope to remember it later. For my creative process, I found a simple way to capture ideas in multiple formats and file them together, so that they are easy to reference later. I use a free app called Evernote that lets me make notes, dictate voice to text, and record low quality audio. Evernote syncs up between my iPhone, my iPad, my desktop at home, and my computer at work. If I have a creative idea, it...

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The Creativity-Productivity Paradox
Apr13

The Creativity-Productivity Paradox

In last week’s post, “Are Creative People Mentally Ill?” I explored new brain science that indicates creative people have a few extra ways of looking at problems, which can make their personal perspectives interesting to others. The corollary of this special thinking is that they may also experience some limitations that others don’t. For example, it’s not uncommon for creatives to have serious challenges with time and scheduling. Task list thinking vs. open exploration With many productivity models and tools to choose from, you’d think getting stuff done would be as easy as: Make a goal schedule milestones create a task list do what you planned That would pretty well cover everything we need to know about becoming prolific if it weren’t for one small detail: we don’t usually think like that when we’re being creative. Creativity is more like an open exploration. Focused, but not task-related. Engaged, and at the same time, relaxed. Picture a toddler playing with blocks, deeply immersed in activity and oblivious of time or results. Instead of blocks, as adults we assemble thoughts and materials in different ways until something new exists that wasn’t there before. Here’s an excerpt from Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman that illustrates this kind of open exploration… “…Physics disgusts me a little bit now, but I used to enjoy doing physics. Why did I enjoy it? I used to play with it. I used to do whatever I felt like doing – it didn’t have to do with whether it was important for the development of nuclear physics, but whether it was interesting and amusing for me to play with. … …I was in the cafeteria and some guy, fooling around, throws a plate in the air. As the plate went up in the air I saw it wobble, and I noticed the red medallion of Cornell on the plate going around. It was pretty obvious to me that the medallion went around faster than the wobbling. I had nothing to do, so I start to figure out the motion of the rotating plate. I discover that when the angle is very slight, the medallion rotates twice as fast as the wobble rate – two to one. It came out of a complicated equation! Then I thought, “Is there some way I can see in a more fundamental way, by looking at the forces or the dynamics, why it’s two to one?” I don’t remember how I did it, but I ultimately worked out what the motion of the mass particles is, and how all the accelerations balance to make it come out two to one. …I went on to work out equations of wobbles....

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What Stopped You?
Apr11

What Stopped You?

This wonderful sunny weather after a seemingly endless winter makes me feel like I could do almost anything. So why not do something creative? That’s a good question. I’m interested in finding out what stops us. Me, you, our group. We’ve all had a goal that we wanted to pursue, but stopped. Maybe we quietly considered our goal and didn’t take it further. Or we told people about it, or we even pursued the goal in one form or another. But we all stopped somewhere. It may be that we gave up, or that we have been failing at our goal for years and we keep coming back to it. If you can relate, then thinking about that loss might feel like a dead weight in the pit of your stomach. A missed opportunity that you’ll never get back. I can see it on the faces of musicians who really went after their dream and failed. It’s literally painful. My question for you is: In the past, what has stopped you from completing a creative goal? Since I’m asking you to answer this somewhat personal question, I’ll get things started… I have three things that get in my way when taking on a creative project: The creative process can feel vulnerable, and I sometimes have a hard time trusting others when working together. I doubt my talent. Being decisive about what I will spend my time on is a challenge. I stop work on one thing when I’m distracted by another. Please respond with a couple of sentences to tell me what has stopped you before. I hope you are enjoying the sun as much as I am, and I look forward to your comments....

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Are Creative People Mentally Ill?
Apr05

Are Creative People Mentally Ill?

No, but they are likely to be related to someone who is. I know, this blog is a dialogue about creative productivity, so why talk about mental illness? Well it turns out that neuroscience is proving that creativity and mental illness are, well… related. Creative people may have inherited ‘good’ traits from mentally ill relatives. Traits which allow them to approach problems in highly creative ways. Schizotypal traits According to Scott Barry Kaufman, creatives are likely to possess ‘Schizotypal’ traits. (Schizotypal is not schizophrenia.) Findings show a link between Schizotypy and creative cognition. “What was striking, however, was that the siblings of patients with autism and the first-degree relatives of patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anorexia nervosa were significantly overrepresented in creative professions. Could it be that the relatives inherited a watered-down version of the mental illness conducive to creativity while avoiding the aspects that are debilitating?” From “The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness“ Reading this made me smile. Although never diagnosed as such, I grew up with a family member who exhibited bipolar behaviour. She was brilliant and highly creative, but extremely volatile. I appreciated her thinking process and equally feared her. And I was concerned that I would grow up to be the same, because I could relate to the good and bad in her more than others could. “Schizotypal traits can be broken down into two types. “Positive” schizotypy includes unusual perceptual experiences, thin mental boundaries between self and other, impulsive nonconformity, and magical beliefs. “Negative” schizotypal traits include cognitive disorganization and physical and social anhedonia (difficulty experiencing pleasure from social interactions and activities that are enjoyable for most people).” Thankfully I don’t exhibit the negative schizotypal traits, while I do draw on the positive ones. Extra brain activity in creative thinking Creative people are sometimes accessing part of the brain that non-creative people do not. The precuneus is a section of the brain that is typically active during rest. However, the more creative the individual, the more activity is found in the precuneus during “effortful working memory tasks”. It is possible that this unnecessary brain activity is enabling more creative thought connections. The wonder of everything Kaufman goes on to describe something called ‘latent inhibition‘, which is a filtering mechanism. Reduced latent inhibition allows us to experience wonder and newness, even with objects and situations that are familiar. As well as creativity, reduced latent inhibition is also tied to hyper-activity and schizophrenia. Mental adventure Just like travelling to a new part of the world is an adventure with potential risks, creative people push the envelope when travelling to new places in their minds. “It seems that the key to...

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I Was 15 Years Old When I Failed As An Artist
Mar30

I Was 15 Years Old When I Failed As An Artist

Yup, I was 15 years old when I failed as an artist. I had a creative idea and the best intentions to follow through. …But I just didn’t. What I did do is make up a reason why. “I can’t count on myself to come through” is what I decided. And it became a cosmic fact, which was as true to me as the sky is blue. I was a smart kid, and I had been able to keep some promises to others, so I saw the loophole which became the solution to my problem: “…partner with someone else and I am more likely to succeed.” My strategy became to seek out people with similar interests, and get behind their ideas. I may not get what I want, but I could have something pretty close. The good news was that my strategy worked pretty well, and made me a good backup musician and freelance graphic designer working for others. The bad news is that I still felt that I couldn’t count on myself to come through when no one else was involved. After years of thinking this way, I continue to have a hard time being decisive without someone else’s blessing. Even though the 15 year old kid who originally decided that he was unreliable to himself is a distant memory now, I’m still thinking like I am that kid. How can I be that kid who is sure he can’t count on himself, and just do the things I need to do anyway? I don’t have an answer. I suspect all there is to do is notice these thoughts and just keep moving forward. The Creativity Meets Productivity conversation I’m initiating  is about becoming prolific. Being the kind of artist that has work spill out of them at a rate that is incomprehensible to most. That’s what I want. The first thing for me to deal with is all the reasons that I can’t be that artist, starting with the voice in my head saying, “I can’t count on myself to come through.” I want to know If you relate, please leave a comment below. Tell me about your 15 year old self, what he or she decided, and how that decision affects your creative output...

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