We had a week of summer weather here in July, practically a heat wave (we use the term loosely in the U.K.). I hope you’re enjoying your summer and taking a bit of time to refresh mind, body and soul. Here are some ideas I hope will be useful and inspirational:
1: Three ways to give your mind a summer mini-vacation:
Re-read a favorite book. With so many new books to read, this might seem like an indulgence. So what?
Watch a favorite classic movie. It’s true; they don’t make them like that anymore. Of course what "that" means may be different for you than for me. My favorites are the great screwball comedies like "Bringing Up Baby" and the noir mysteries like "The Third Man."
Skip school. If you’re not in school, skip work. Maybe not for a whole day if that would get you into too much trouble, but at least take a long lunch hour. Turn off your phone and any electronic devices and wander wherever the spirit takes you.
Action: Pick one of the three above to do this week and have fun doing it.
2: When it’s not working – Stop, Think of 3, Do One
This principle can be helpful in any creative endeavor, in relationships, in any facet of your life: when what you’re doing isn’t working, stop!
That sounds simple, but most people are so determined to make it work that they keep going until the frustration gets too much and then they give up.
Instead, pause. Take stock. Is it working for you? If not, generate three (or more) alternative ways to approach the task. Most people will generate one alternative and go for that. They may be settling for a good method when a great one is waiting in the wings.
Then evaluate which of the three is most likely to work and do it. Again, this works for a small task (e.g., "I’m not catching up with my e-mail") all the way up to a major one ("I feel like my career is stalled.").
Action: What’s one small or large aspect of your life in which you’re not making the progress you’d like? Use the "Stop, Think of 3, Do One" exercise to get yourself on a different path. If that one doesn’t work, do the exercise again. It might help to put a sticky note on your computer that reads, "Stop, Think of 3, Do One" to remind you to try this.
3: Two quick e-mail tips
Two quick tips that can help you conquer your e-mail. First, if you have let a lot of e-mails pile up in your in-box and have labeled some of them as needing attention but haven’t done anything about them, gradually those will be drowned by all the new incoming e-mails. I speak from experience.
Go through and forward all of the flagged messages to yourself. That will bring them to the top of the list. Then commit to dealing with them in a focused session. Second, if you have the habit of checking your e-mail list too often (anybody ready to confess to that?) link this to your to-do list. When you have completed a task, you get five minutes to check the e-mail. Use a timer to make sure that five minutes doesn’t turn into 30.
Action: If you need to become the master of your e-mail, give these two a try right now.
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4: Presentation tip: know when to shut up!
All of us have to present or pitch an idea at some point. One of the key skills is knowing when to stop talking. The secret here is paying attention to the response you’re getting rather than trying to rattle off every reason yours is a good idea. When they look interested, stop talking! From then on, be guided by their questions.
One terrible memory is burned into my brain: a producer and I pitched a series idea to the Fox Network. The executives loved the idea and said they wanted to discuss it internally but were inclined to make a deal. They added that they did have something vaguely similar in the works already but that there should be room for two projects on the same general theme. As a courtesy they briefly described their existing project. The producer then proceeded to tell them what a terrible idea that one was and that it would undoubtedly fail. The temperature in the room dropped about 20 degrees in that instant, and I was looking around for a sharp object with which to stab him. Needless to say, we never heard from the executives again. I never worked with that producer again, either.
Action: If you have a tendency not to know when to stop, put the words "shut up" in your notes when you present or pitch.
5: How to generate new possibilities for yourself and your life
One of my favorite books is "The Art of Possibility" by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander (that one is my choice for a summer re-read). Two of their key points are that what we perceive depends on our mental maps – what we have learned to look for – and that we always try to string events together into a story whether or not there really is any connection. Their conclusion: "It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us."
The challenge is to escape the bounds of the stories we are used to. The Zanders suggest two steps. First, ask yourself this question: "What assumptions am I making that I’m not aware I’m making, that gives me what I see?"
And when you have an answer, ask yourself this one: "What might I now invent, that I haven’t yet invented, that would give me other choices?"
Action: Take a moment to ponder these two questions. If you would like more detailed guidance on how to do this, I have recorded an audio track about this for you and parked it at my focusquick Web site. If you’re interested, go have a listen.
6. And a quote to consider:
"Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein." ——– “Life’s Little Instruction Book,” compiled by H. Jackson Brown Jr.
Until next time, Jurgen
PS: If you haven’t visited my blog recently, you’ve missed posts on the tragedy of Nikola Tesla, new book formats, why you may be asking the wrong questions about your challenges, how to change the size of your thinking, advice for my fellow networkingphobes, and much more. You can find it all by going here: timetowrite.blogs.com.