This is our summer double issue, written in the middle of something we normally see only once a decade or so here in England: a hot summer! As you take off some time to enjoy the sunshine wherever you are (even if you have time for only a half hour in the park), I hope you will find the following useful and inspirational.
You have probably heard the saying "Work expands to fill the time available." The question is, can it also contract to fill the time available? In other words, if you set yourself stringent time goals, can you still deliver quality? One inspiration is Aaron Sorkin, creator, executive producer and writer of the hugely successful American TV series "West Wing." He writes roughly 70 pages of dialogue for that show every week. He recently told Fast Company magazine: "Logistically, there are not enough hours in the day. Even when I finish a script, that just means that I am late in starting the next one." But somehow he does i– and so does David E. Kelly, who serves the same functions for "Ally McBeal."
Action: The next time you have a deadline, try cutting it in half. Do the work with full concentration, and evaluate whether the quality has suffered. If it does suffer a bit, is it still good enough?
The latest in technology
How would you like to have a tool that can allow you to record your thoughts in words or graphically, in a medium that will last hundreds of years, yet it weighs under an ounce and requires no batteries? Let me introduce you to the pencil (with optional eraser). Okay, this may sound like a joke, but as I see people battling with expensive PDA's that almost recognize handwriting, it reminds me that sometimes simpler is better (Mind, you sometimes I have trouble recognizing my own handwriting, too).
Action: The next time you have an idea, pick up pencil (or a pen) and quickly draw a mind-map, a doodle or a note that allows you to expand and explore it later. Try it out as a storyboard — one little sketch for each part of the notion — or come up with a logo or symbol that captures the essence of the idea. Pop these notes (written on that other technological breakthrough, paper) into a folder, and each time you take them out, add to them. Representing visually what normally you only put into words can lead to new insights.
Improv your life
In my writing workshops I use an improvisation technique known as "yes, and." We go around in a circle, making up a story one sentence at a time. The only rule is that after the first line, each subsequent addition must begin with, "Yes, and " This overcomes what seems to be a natural tendency to start sentences with the word "but" and leads to validation of the previous idea, rather than saying "no" to it. We are so conditioned to hearing and saying "no" from early childhood that re-orienting ourselves to say "yes" can take some effort.
Action: The next time you have a business or personal meeting, make it the rule that response sentences can start only with "Yes, and " You will find that exchanges that might normally run like this: "We need to hire an additional person." "But we don't have the money." turn into: "We need to hire an additional person." "Yes, and we will have to find the money somehow to do this." Or "Yes, and we might also consider asking Louise to do overtime." The "yes, and" makes a subtle and important shift toward respecting other opinions and thinking positively about solutions.
The inner critic (care and feeding)
Another thing we discuss in the workshops is the "inner critic" — that voice or feeling or image that tells us that we are not good enough, that a particular project or activity is not right, or maybe that we do not really deserve success. (In 20 years of teaching, I have never met anyone who said they did not have an inner critic). In a recent issue of HOW magazine, artist Marshall Arisman revealed that he actually has three entities in his head: "Naming them is very useful because it allows me to recognize them," he said. "The critic is Frankie. The ego is Jimmy; he gets me down to the studio (to start working). The part that actually makes the picture is Steve." He suggests not fighting the input of the inner critic: "The only reason to see it is to make friends with it so you get more comfortable with it. I am less harsh on myself because I am aware of my own process. When Frankie or Jimmy gets more important than Steve, the process gets lopsided."
Action: If you find the inner critic is hampering you, explore the idea that you may have other aspects of yourself which are more appropriate to call upon at that stage. For example, writers who develop writers' block usually are allowing their inner critics to make their contributions too soon — before the first draft is finished. When you are starting a project, call upon your "Jimmy" — the part that believes in you and remembers your past successes. When in the middle of the work, the main one to pay attention to is your "Steve" — the part of you that knows how to get the thing done. Only then is it appropriate to call upon and listen to your "Frankie" — and to remind him or her that what is to be evaluated is this particular project or activity, not your entire life or your right to be doing what you are doing. (Giving these inner selves names is optional but might be fun.)
Last call: There is still a little time left to sign up for the two-week Create Your Future workshops on the beautiful Greek islands of Skyros and Atsitsa in August and September. For a color brochure, e-mail BstormUK@aol.com.
Lots of time left to buy "Do Something Different," an enjoyable look at how 100 people or companies have called attention to themselves in today's crowded marketplace — and how you can do the same. Written by Jurgen Wolff, it's available in the U.K. and the Commonwealth now, and will be published in the United States in October. It already can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com.
Are you lying?
I am currently enjoying reading the book "Seventeen Lies that are Holding You Back & the Truth that Will Set You Free" by Steve Chandler. One of the lies: "I would love to do that, but I do not have the time." Here is what he says about that: "It is never time people lack; it is always purpose. So it would be more honest to say, 'I think I should say I want to, but I don't have the commitment.' " In his work as a business consultant and corporate trainer, Chandler says, "I see people become weak professionally from trying to work on too many things. Soon they are going too fast from thing to thing as if they were playing a wild game of tag. They are just barely tagging, quickly touching everything, running away from it, back to it, and then away from it to something else. They screw up their business by not taking time to pay attention to any one thing."
Action: Take 10 minutes to write down everything you do now, everything you think you should do but are not doing, and everything you would like to do but are not doing. Then go over all these things and underline the ones that are completely aligned with your values. These are the activities that go to the core of your being. If you eliminate or greatly cut down the time you devote to the remaining activities, will you have time to do the underlined ones? Consider how you can adjust how you use your time to achieve this.
And a quote from Aristotle (one of the earliest self-development writers): "Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it. People come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the ha
rp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just. By doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled, and by doing brave acts we become brave." Til next time, Jurgen
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Editor's note: Requests to subscribe (or unsubscribe) should be sent to BstormUK@aol.com. We also welcome your comments and suggestions, and we do not sell or share our mailing lists. (Contents copyright 2001, Jurgen Wolff)