If Your Creativity Needs a Kick, Seek Unusual Sources

You may have your new product or service up and running, or you’re in the process of getting your new business off the ground. It’s frustrating to lack new ways to be competitive and for solving day-to-day problems.  We typically rely on our experience, knowledge, self-help books and the wisdom of industry leaders for solutions, but sometimes we have to get out of our closed circle of reference and seek “a refresh” from unexpected sources.

As a coach, it’s up to me to offer fresh eyes and new perspectives for my clients to explore. When I feel even close to getting bored with my usual strategies and tactics, I’m curiously drawn to books like The Men Who Changed the Course of American History, Tripping Over the Truth, Stories From Shakespeare, The Alchemist, or collections of mystery stories. Movies like Midnight in Paris or The Darkest Hour remind me, in contrasting ways, that it’s okay to listen to my gut, change my mind and inspire others to do the same. Any books or movies that have to do with discovery or attempts to solve difficult problems of all sorts should be on your list. Perhaps these books and movies won’t give you any direct answers or solutions, but they will add enlightening bits and pieces to what you already know and re-kindle your creative spark.

Need some fresh eyes to help solve a problem in your company? Get COREageous and contact me at [email protected]        

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A Vacation Alternative for Entrepreneurs

As entrepreneurship becomes more widespread, I suspect that the nature of “vacations” will change. For example, for the last few years my business and my husband’s business have not allowed for regular 1-2 week vacation slots. Like many other entrepreneurs, long breaks are not feasible for us right now. To make a vacation worthwhile, you’re supposed to come back well rested and full of energy. Airport hassles, crowds, tight schedules, and money you’d rather invest in smarter ways make those expectations unlikely. Perhaps you have elderly parents or family members that may need some urgent attention, and you’ll have to be available for them. You/we are not alone. Here’s something that has been working well for us I’d like you to try.

Carve out one hour a day for a vacation break. Prepare the walking shoes, the sunhat and somewhere to go in your mind — whatever you’ll need to escape for just one hour each day. In that hour you’ll escape from the office and think about a great vacation you took or one that you hope to take one day.  Subscribe to a hard copy adventure magazine you can lose yourself in (not on your phone!)  Plan a fabulous dinner you’d like to prepare. Get on a bike and allow yourself to focus on the environment around you.  Find some simple activities, ideally with a health component, that will sweep your mind and body away for 60 minutes. Just as with meditation, when thoughts of work or projects come into mind, let them fly by like passing birds. If planned well, this kind of vacation can enhance creativity and open up pockets of energy you can instantly apply to your work. These kinds of no-hassle vacations can be tremendously satisfying.  Plus, don’t be surprised if a terrific solution you’ve been seeking pops into your head during your “time off.” You’ll be close enough to your desk to put it in motion.

Make downtime an investment in your business.  CoreFour coaching can help make this valuable time beneficial to your business. [email protected]       

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The Creativity of Constraint

Many of my clients are trying to start their ventures while maintaining full or part time jobs. A major complaint is finding the time to make progress towards their project. Their routine was so nice and neat before the ball wrecker of a startup came crashing in and challenged their time management skills. For a budding entrepreneur – it is now your “moment of truth.”  Do you cringe at the thought of keeping “a schedule” or being accountable for your time? I have a client who insists upon using the word “planner” because the thought of “a schedule” would constrain her spontaneity. These folks see a schedule as a tyrant, a force that denies their creativity and free-flowing nature. This must change.

Consider this: Some time constraint will make the best use of your creativity. When you block out regular chunks of time to work deeply on your project, that type of commitment will spur on a greater concentration of innovative thoughts and insights. With even small blocks of time set aside every day devoted to your project, your brainstorming will be more targeted. You will make small, but cumulative gains that amount to something tangible at the end of the week. An opened-ended “no plan” defies progress, invites distractions and draws you into the morass of Web-surfing and social media. How free-flowing will you feel when a year has passed without progress on your venture? Is it worth risking a little spontaneity to see your product or service taking shape? Create a structure that allows your true creative potential to emerge.

Do you need to be creative with time management? Would you like to be more thoughtful and productive with your time? Contact me at [email protected]   

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Getting to “NEXT”

Q: I’m an intrapreneur in my company. I come up with and execute revenue-producing ideas with little risk to me personally. But when a great idea goes bust, I have a hard time shirking it and moving on. I think this tendency will come to bite me when I’m my own boss someday. Transitioning is hard, what to do?  Dan R. Toronto, Canada

“Transitioning” has a broad definition. For those who have the gift of hyperfocus, breaking away from one activity to move on to something else is challenging. You know you need to stop, but you need a team of wild horses to drag you to the next activity. Others need lots of time to stop thinking about one task so as to start thinking about the next task. For example, you may find yourself in a meeting with your accountant, and as he points out the numbers, your “guy in the basement” (see blog from 5-8-18) is still stuck on the design of your packaging.

Dan’s transitioning concern is about moving on emotionally from a failed project to a new idea. Even though he experienced no personal financial loss, the time spent grieving, blaming and shaming wastes time and energy. Lots of hands go up when you ask founders if they know what Dan is going through. One solution is to step back and examine the situation like a scientist peering into a microscope − what went wrong and how you can avoid these mistakes the next time around.  Common missteps to avoid in your next project include:

  • communication failures between persons and departments
  • no “walk through” period to identify weaknesses or ambiguities in the process
  • identifying persons key to the success of the project who were not suited or not in favor of the project from the start– the stealthy saboteurs
  • a lack of oversight during the rollout; poor monitoring the money, service quality and customer feedback.

Swallow that “jagged little pill” and take responsibility for the failure. Even though others may have contributed to the project’s demise, release your grudges. These persons know who they are, what they did and realize they have let you down. You have learned something new about the people you work with. Be professional and remain cordial. Note that especially in small companies, you may need these folks again in the next project. Perhaps, next time, they’ll step up to the plate.

Emotional self-regulation is a core executive function that every self-starter needs to master. Learn about effective, non-medication ways to manage your emotions and make transitions easier. Contact me at [email protected]

 

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The (10 +2) x5 Rule?

A February 2017 Inc. Magazine article by Dan Scalco titled Four Ways to Stop Procrastinating Right Now provided some helpful tips for managing procrastination such as creating false (earlier) deadlines, donating $5 to a charity for every hour you waste, and moving tasks to the afternoon if you idled away your morning. His first suggestion, however, was the (10 +2)x 5 rule.  This process reportedly makes a work task “less intimidating.” The (10 +2)x 5 rule goes like this: do 10 minutes of focused work with a 2 minute break and to repeat this interval 5 times which results in 50 minutes of work. The (10 +2)x 5 rule will keep you on your toes, but it is flawed.

This rule feeds your distractible nature and discourages concentration on a task. The (10+2) x5 rule may come in handy for folding laundry or doing yard work, but not for work that requires analysis, processing, or integration of complex information. Here’s why:

  • As clock ticks closer to minute #8 there’s the tendency to start looking forward to the break or rushing the work to beat the clock, again wasting time.
  • If most of your work involves the computer, your 2 minute break will likely be spent on the Internet or on your phone (Good luck keeping those breaks to 2 minutes!).

The (10+2) x5 rule also assumes that you will make nice, clean transitions from the break to the task. Unfortunately, research shows that your brain will continue to reflect on the entertainment from break time for at least a few minutes before you can steer your concentration to the task. Therefore, if you factor in transition time, time needed to re-engage in the task, and time anticipating your break you may end up flipping those numbers – it’s more like 2 minutes of work and 10 minutes or more of break time!

A better system is to keep your phone and any other controllable distraction in another room. Allocate 30 minutes of work and 5-10 minutes of a break. Do that interval 5x and you’ll get close to a good 2 hours of work. Make your breaks screen-less – a brisk walk or some stairs will make the mental transition time shorter. Physical exercise will help you process the portion of the task you just completed, improve your focus and your attitude about the task you’re trying to complete. This (30+10)x5 is much more productive way to get things done.

Just as there are different brains, there are different ways to avoid procrastination. To learn more and to come up with a system that works for you, contact me at [email protected]                   

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Make Attention Training a Habit

Jordan, a student in a major entrepreneurship program in Massachusetts, had a rough first semester. He has trouble sustaining attention for the necessary, and often “less interesting tasks” that require planning, prioritization and writing. Like many entrepreneurs, Jordan reports having ADT (Attention Deficit Traits) and possibly ADHD. He recognizes that weak attention can mask the positive traits associated with ADHD and, consequently, affect his success in a startup (smart boy!). Jordan wanted ways to strengthen attention and focus.

I suggested several non-medication approaches known to enable improved attention. But these methods (exercise, better sleep, etc.) prepare the brain to perform at higher levels. What’s also needed is practice paying attention. Attention is like a muscle; it takes regular practice to develop. It behooves every serious student or entrepreneur pinged by chronic distractions to practice attention control on a daily basis. Every day set aside 30 minutes to an hour to pump up that attention muscle:

  1. Find a place with little or no distractions. Read an article or two and write down the major takeaways and how you might use the information (see my April 2018 MCM newsletter for more details). When you notice your thoughts straying to a new idea, jot down a key word regarding that new idea for later and return to your reading. How frequently you stray doesn’t matter. What matters is how often and how quickly you get back to the task.
  2. Attention training is a form of self-defense. Our control over our attention protects us from the ravages of distraction. Sign up for a martial arts class that will challenge your attention and concentration. It’s worth checking out different schools to be sure that aspect is a high priority. As a martial arts student and instructor, I know that this kind of training is one of the very best ways to hone extreme focus.
  3. Take up a musical instrument (I practice piano); learn chess or poker; memorize a prayer or an inspirational passage.

Your attention control is the most critical resource in your entrepreneur toolbox. Pump it up!

Need more help with concentration and focus? Getting things done well and on time? Contact me at [email protected]  

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Managing Your Time: Hey Big Spender! Part 3 of 3

In my previous blog on Managing Your Time, I urged you to look at “time” as you do “money.” I invited you to assign a dollar amount to each work task in your day. By the end of the day, ideally, if you did everything on the list, you’d figuratively earn a day’s pay. If you slacked off instead, it would reflect in your bottom line. In this blog I’m suggesting you think of every minute of your workday as a dollar. Periodically throughout the day, ask yourself: Am I wasting or saving time right now?

Time is more precious than money. There are many similarities: they are limited, have value, and are measurable. If you viewed your time this way, you might be shocked to see how much better you are with your money than you are with your time. The difference between the two is that you can earn money back, but not time.

Consider viewing time spent playing video games, surfing social media, consenting to interruptions, and worrying as “throwing time” out the window. If you “throw out” an average of four hours a day ( 240 minutes) with every minute at $1, it’s $240 lost a day, x 7 days is $1680 a week out the window! Would you throw $1680 out the window every week? Hell, no! If you’re conservative with money, thinking of “time as money” is a great way to think twice before you act.

Need some extraordinary ways to manage time? Let me know. [email protected]

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Do You Know an “At-Risk Entrepreneur?”

It is midterm. This is the time of year, between December and February, when many college students drop out. Depending on your sources, the annual dropout rate ranges from 10-35%. Many of these students are very bright and aspire to entrepreneurship, but they don’t fit into the square boxes of academia. I call them my “at-risk entrepreneurs.” Despite their high IQs and creative gifts, they do not succeed in college because they exhibit one or more of the following:

  • Task Procrastination
  • Lack of control over social media and electronics
  • Disorganization
  • Poor time management
  • Irregular sleep patterns*
  • Untreated ADHD*

During a probationary period they can learn core skills and routines via coaching, or if necessary, get medical consultation.*  They can return to school better equipped. College is more tolerable; they can graduate and eventually start their own ventures.

If these At-Risk Entrepreneurs do not take charge of these weaknesses as young adults , they become the 50% or more of founders or wantrepreneurs aged 30-60 who drop out of entrepreneurship. Many of them either denied or tried to push past the need to develop better habits, core skills and routines. Anxiety, depression and deep financial woes ensue. But, they too can “go on probation,” and get the coaching or medical help needed to re-engage with their passion more psychologically and cognitively equipped.

Do you know an At-Risk Entrepreneur? If they are a dropout, tell them they can drop back in! Read about my CollegeCore for students and my CoreFour coaching for entrepreneurs. Write me at [email protected]   

 

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Coffee, Tea and Productivity

Is bringing your work to a coffee shop (CS) more conducive to better focus and getting things done than at the office? Finding the right environment for maximum productivity doesn’t have to be a monastery or a round trip flight to and from Chicago (my favorite!). If you’re looking for a place that might make a big difference in your daily productivity, give a CS a try. Here’s what I gather from students’ reports and various articles on the subject:

Despite the ambient noise that varies as a function of the CS traffic, it is a negligible nuisance when compared to the more obtrusive interruptions at work.

At a CS there’s a different social dynamic in play: no cell phone calls (take it outside please), no loud talking and very busybodies. People, for the most part, respect each other’s need to concentrate. Several of my more introverted clients prefer a CS over the chronic expectations at the workplace to smile, greet and engage in small talk.

Most CSs have large windows and much natural sunlight versus the artificial office lighting that can have unhealthy side-effects.

CSs are less-stressful than the workplace. Discussions between people are more relaxed, and people feel freer to share creative ideas and say what’s on their minds.  A CEO of a startup in Boston likes to hold his performance reviews at the local Starbuck’s. He claims that his employees open up more, take criticism easier and offer more interesting solutions than if they had these discussions in the office. The mood is lighter and there’s a positive energy vibe in a CS that’s hard to duplicate in an office setting.

Even if you work at home alone without the office gaggle, just getting away from your desk and being around people and different sounds and scents can give you fresh perspective on an otherwise tired task.

Need a new boost to your productivity? Different minds need different ways to focus and get things done. Let me help you find it! Email me at [email protected]

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What “Disorganization” Sounds Like

Let me share some thoughts inspired by a recent Shark Tank episode…

A contestant demonstrated a very unique product that piqued the Shark’s interest. When asked about his background, he listed numerous talents, brainy feats and escapades that led to the development of his new product.  Instead of his colorful past being a plus in the Shark’s eyes however, his history raised a red flag. One Shark called him “too disorganized” so she was “out.” (For those of you new to Shark Tank, “out” means not interested in the deal.) The contestant appeared perplexed and somewhat taken aback by her comment. What might have saved him? A statement or two, immediately following his list of exploits, conveying a passionate and enduring commitment to the success of the current product might have kept him in the running.

Perhaps “disorganized” was not the best word choice. To most people “disorganized” means a cluttered desk or misplacing your keys. The Shark may have chosen that word to represent a few less obvious concerns related to disorganization that can doom a startup. Founders, it’s important to know the less obvious ways that you can appear “disorganized” in the eyes of investors:

  1. As much as creativity is an asset to an entrepreneur, having many simultaneous and disparate activities going on are liabilities. It suggests you have difficulty focusing in on one thing that requires deliberate, consistent and sustaining dedication like a startup. Problem: An Investor will see herself doing all the work or exerting too much effort directing and monitoring you than it’s worth.
  2. Indirect and lengthy answers to simple questions suggest a disorganized mind. Or, perhaps you introduce ideas into the conversation that are unrelated to the main point. Problem: An investor may sense the need to constantly corral your attention to the topic or task at hand. Exhaustive repetition, interruption and re-direction is too great of an energy expenditure for a busy Shark.
  3. Do you engage in too much levity when there should be seriousness? Problem: You may be a nice guy or gal and fun to be around, but when it comes to spending other people’s money and getting things done, joking around is a waste of time.
  4. Is your presentation delivered in a logical sequence? Problem: Potential backers do not want to work harder than you to figure out your plan from start to finish.

The bottom line: Examine your sales pitch and presentation. Make the changes necessary to avoid being perceived as “disorganized.”

Do you need an expert set of eyes and ears to identify the red flags that could discourage customers and investors from wanting to work with you? Contact me for Core Four Coaching [email protected]   

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