How To Achieve Creativity On Demand

A few weeks ago I made a significant change in my life.  I’ve always been a proponent of morning writing because that is when my creativity is at its highest.  Unfortunately, I found my mornings too busy to write and had no choice but to cultivate the creative process later in the day.

Cultivating Creativity

The more writers and artists I meet, the more frequently I find out that the creativity well often runs dry even for the greatest talents.  The difference between failures and achievers is often the ability to synthetically cultivate creativity on demand.   You can’t wait for inspiration to find you.  You must often create you own inspiration.

As my days grew crazier and I began my biphasic sleep schedule, I knew I’d have to force the creative process.  I adopted a Tim Ferriss approach to creative release.  A concoction of well-timed creativity drugs follows.

Yerba Mate – I wrote a post about Yerba Mate in the past.  It’s just cool.  Imagine drinking five coffees and taking a muscle relaxer.  The caffeine in Yerba Mate is absorbed through the muscle tissues causing an increase in energy with a mellowing effect that allows you to still focus.

Music – I’m a big fan of Pandora.  Big is an understatement; I’m a huge fan.  I pay for Pandora One.  I listen to stations I’ve created but also stations others are in control of.  As I write this, I’m listening to a Tim Ferriss created station.  Writing at midnight requires less native flutes and more Linkin Park.  You can listen to the same thing I listen to by clicking on the Pandora Stations to the right.

A Movie – Right now I’m watching Skyfall for the umpteenth time.  The movie plays on mute in front of me creating a mental break when I need it. I’ll look up when I’m at a loss and let my mind wonder for a moment.  I feel the cinematography of a creative film helps my mind mimic the art it is absorbing.

Stand Up – I use my stand up desk at work or at home any time I need more energy.  Standing helps my blood flow and creates a sense of urgency.  When I am standing, my body is more active and my mind follows suit.

Sleep – Sleeping allows your mind to organize the information that has been piled into it all day.  At the end of a long day, the last thing I want to do is attempt to spur an outpouring of ideas.  Thanks to my biphasic sleep schedule, I sleep for 20 minutes just before writing.  This allows my mind to organize my thoughts and opesn up much needed bandwidth.

Glucose – Without getting too scientific here, the brain is the largest consumer of glucose in our bodies.  I consume glucose in the form of pasta, potatoes or whole grain breads two to three hours before writing.  Consuming fats will delay how quickly this glucose is created so stay away from high fat foods before you write.

The best writers in the world appear to posses an endless stream of innovative ideas.  The truth is, they’ve honed their creative process so that creativity peaks at just the moment they need it most.  Follow these few steps and you too can cultivate the creative process on demand.

How could you benefit by timing your creativity for when you need it most?

Organize Your Outlook Email Using Folders

The first time I learned that Outlook had folders that I could use to organize my email, my mind melted.  I’m a neat freak so folders excite me.  When my wife first met me she thought I might be gay because I was thin, neat, and single.  I can’t help it, I was born that way… neat I mean.

organize your email using folder

Finding a way to organize your email can be a learning process.  Email is the single largest disrupter and time waster in the modern day paperless office.  Unless you can effectively manage your inbox, your inbox will manage you.

 

Rewind 2 years and the scene is all too familiar.  1,409 items in my inbox, most of them I don’t need or will never use.  They are left to fill my inbox the same way old sweatshirts fill my closet.  I never wear them, but I think one day I might.

 

The To-Do list is staring at me and it makes me feel uncomfortable because the items on it are going to take some real effort.  Unfortunately, my default effort level is the same level I exude watching my favorite Seinfeld episode, very little.  But since I’m at work and work should be done, I open Outlook and spend 2 very busy hours accomplishing nothing.

 

Fast-forward to today, my inbox is empty and for the first time ever, Outlook has become a productivity tool.  The system I follow I suggest you follow to organize your email using folders is based on my Paperless Office approach.

 

  1. Create Projects – Michael Hyatt advises against this but I find it the only way to organize your email using folders.  In his post he uses just one folder, “Processed” for everything.  Might as well call it “inbox” and save a step.  No, you must create a folder for every ACTIVE project you have.
  2. GTD – Apply the Getting Things Done method to your email.  I check my email only twice daily.  When I do, I take one of three actions for each email.  If I can complete the task in less than 2 minutes, I do.  Then I file the message in the appropriate folder.  If I can’t do it in 2 minutes, I flag it and make an action item in Nozbe.  Everything else, I delete.
  3. Storage – No matter how much of a minimalist you think you are, you will have emails that you just can’t delete, but don’t really need.  This is where the “Processed” folder would fit.  Drop the things you just can’t make yourself delete into this and use the search feature to find it later.
  4. Activities – Create a folder for items that don’t fit a project but interest you.  This for me is updates from blogs, authors, industry newsletters, ect. Basically all these are interesting but should be reserved for free time.  I circle back and browse them when I have time.  I purge the folder monthly.
  5. Waiting For – Every email that I send to someone else and am waiting for them to reply, I put in my waiting for folder, even if the item applies to a project.  When they complete the task, I then move both emails to the project folder.
  6. Delete – When a project is completed I delete every email in the folder that isn’t critical.  The messages then go into the project folder on the server or my Dropbox.  Just like with my Paperless Office process, this closing of the project creates a good opportunity to reflect.

 

Outlook can be your biggest friend or your biggest foe, the choice is yours.  Organize your email using folders to achieve a zen-like email relationship and stop wasting time.  Below are a few more articles I’ve written on becoming an email ninja, and one on fitness, just incase you’re single.

Minimize Your Lost Time With Outlook

Using a Calendar To Conquer the World

Run a 5K This Weekend

 

How is your relationship with Email?

 

How To Use Dropbox For Leaders

A few months ago I began looking for an easy way to share my resources with others across multiple devices.  I learned how to use Dropbox and I haven’t looked back.  Dropbox allows me to lead my team virtually while keeping our ideas, files, media, and work centrally located.

dropbox

I thought I’d share my workflow and best practices with you since I’ve become such a big fan of Dropbox. I used to think Dropbox was just for the trendy or for creatives. I’ve used the service many times when sharing files with my web team, video producers, ad agency, ect. Never before have I used Dropbox as a leadership tool until now.

Dropbox is simple to install on multiple devices and even simpler to set up. Additionally, it is easy for your colleagues to download and use. I have found Dropbox to be an invaluable tool that allows me to share work and resources. Dropbox allows me to:

  1. Sync with my EA – I send Wendy documents to work on, artwork for my blog and most recently images and clips that she used to help create an incredible video that will be showcased in the lobby of Allied Equipment.
  2. Sync with my Business Partners – We use Dropbox to store documents and work sent to us by our vendors. Additionally, everything we send out is stored in Dropbox. This gives each partner an instant look at the current status of our work, keeping us all on the same page. This is critical since none of us work within 500 miles of the others.
  3. Share my Devices – My work goes with me where I go. Dropbox has been the only real file management tool that has enabled me to leave the office and work where ever I want. I use my iPad to read over contracts at home and pull media from my home computer for a posts I’m working on. Then I can access them all on my workstation at the office.

I’ve learned to follow a few rules for using Dropbox as a leader;

  1. Divide Folders – Create your personal folders and shared folders separately. This way you know that the documents in your folders will only be changed by you. Additionally, you know anything in the shared folder is subject to being edited by others and thus is always the latest copy.
  2. Share Folders Individually – I like to create a folder for each project but give different people access to individual documents not the entire folder. This way you can have multiple employees working on the same project at one time while keeping responsibilities divided. This helps your team divide and conquer.
  3. Recycle Documents – To save space, have others remove files when they work on them, then upload the newest version when edited. Dropbox is a free service up to 2GB. To prevent your colleagues from having to purchase an upgrade, load a file to the system and have them remove it to work on it. This serves two purposes. It lowers the amount of space you are using and allows you to know when they commence and finish their work.

Dropbox has quickly become a household name because of the flexibility it affords individuals who want to access information on multiple devices.  This multi-device access can also help teams become more productive and cohesive.  The ability to adopt new technology that brings teams together virtually is key to achieving success as a modern day leader.

How does your team share information effectively?

Amaze Yourself Today – The Process of Growth

I recently did something amazing, I walked.  It sounds much easier than it really is.  So many other people around the world are walking so well that it seems to be no big deal.  But when you consider just how hard the process of growth is, you will understand how amazing walking really is.

 

process of growth

 

Of course, it isn’t difficult for me to walk now, but it once was.  I struggled for months trying over and over, only to fail.  With each failure came a lesson.  Walking is easy now, I’ve been doing it for 27 years.  I was reminded nearly a year ago, however, just how hard the process of growth really is.

I had the privilege of watching my son Ryan learn to walk. It was so difficult for him to do something, that to the people around him, just seemed natural.  It was something new and he didn’t really understand the mechanics of it, until finally he’d done it.  Then it was simple.

I watched him struggle and I watched his amazement when he let go of his couch and took two steps toward me.  I watched as he’d look from the coffee table to the couch, only a few feet,  as if he were about to attempt to cross the Grand Canyon on a high-line.  This is how I feel every day going through the process of growth.

If you’re like me, you enjoy reading success stories of those in your industry.  A close customer of mine recently sold out for $600 million.  He’s done it before and to him it seemed easy.  To me, it seems like a high-line across the Grand Canyon.  But fortunately, I’ve learned to enjoy the process of growth.

  1. YDKWYDKUYKI – Try remembering that one!   You don’t know what you don’t know, until you know it.  Just like Ryan’s first steps, he couldn’t really understand walking until he walked.
  2. The Law of Process – Maxwell’s Law of Process is about the length of time and input required to succeed.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  If you’re going to do something as simple as walk to the fridge, it will take months of practice.
  3. PerspectiveMicheal Hyatt makes blogging look so simple!  The fact of the matter is, he has put in more than 10,000 hours into his craft. You want a successful blog, it is going to take years.
  4. Embrace The Process – Everything you do each day compounds every day afterwards, if you are doing what matters.  I’ve seen businesses fail because they can’t stop dealing with the now long enough to do something that will actually lead to success.
  5. Embrace Fear – Fear is what keeps up from falling on our face.  Fear is what forces the process.  Without fear we’d skip crawling all together and go straight for walking.  Do not fear fear, instead embrace it, for it will force you through the process of growth.

The number of muscles that must work in perfect unison make walking an amazing feat!  I look around and it just seems so simple!  There are so many people performing this amazing act each day.  Every single one of them had to go through the process, but now look where they are.  If we can all learn to walk, we can learn anything.

 

How can embracing the Process of Growth benefit you in your goals?

 

Power of Perspective

At a moment’s notice the world can close in on you.  As the four walls around you are closing in fast, there is one characteristic that can pull you from peril.  One thing that will never fail you is perspective.

Power of Perspective

We are creatures that desire success always.  We are not content accepting the world around us as it chooses to be. No, we choose to direct our own lives.  There are positives and negatives to this innate characteristic about human beings.

On one hand, this kind of thinking has gotten us to become the smartest, most evolved animals on earth.  On the other hand, we are causing stress to ourselves that is literally, killing us and for what?  Our ability to control the stress around us is often the key to controlling our successful outcomes.  I have found one sure-fire way to control my stress – by changing my perspective.

Look at the big picture – I was recently invited to play in a golf tournament.  As I drove to the course, I was stressing because I was running late and wouldn’t have time to properly warm up.  Then I realized, I’m not a PGA pro. I was showing up for fun with friends not prize money, although we did win a little of that too.  Changing my perspective cured my stress and opened my mind to fun, which fueled a win.

Remove emotion – Look at a situation analytically first. Reduce stress by removing consequence. Ask yourself does this really matter, pride aside, what does this really affect? Mind like water – David Allen is the person I first heard speak of this.  The principle is to control your reaction to perfectly match the situation.  When a big rock is thrown into your day, you can create big ripples, and then return to calm, just like water.

Enjoy the process – Don’t get hung up on the outcome and results of things, instead find joy in the process.  So what if your post didn’t receive any comments, it was still fun to write. I’m sure Babe Ruth hated strikeouts but loved home runs.  Unfortunately, he struck out way more than he hit home runs. It was the process, the game of baseball that kept him playing.

Find the positive – Ask yourself what good can come of this? If nothing else, you can always chalk up a failure as something you learned from and improved yourself. Nothing is 100% bad.

Take a longer view – Consider how this impacts you 20 years from now. If it doesn’t really have an impact on you further down the road, it’s not worth stressing about now. The right perspective cannot only lead you to success, but also enrich your life.

Keeping perspective reduces stress and allows you to enjoy the process.  Learn to control your perspective and you will control your destiny.

 

Could you benefit from a change in perspective today?

Yes, You Can Have A Paperless Office

The idea of a paperless office came around a few years ago.  The idea is sexy and daring.  But is it plausible?

 

Yes, You Can Have A Paperless Office

 

 

Ever since the idea of a paperless office came around, it seems I’ve only added more paper.  If people in the past saw more paper than the average office, we must have had a serious tree problem.  To most of us, the paperless office seems more like myth than a reality.

The truth is, paper will never go away.  The simple reality is that you can’t spread 100 pages on your monitor effectively.  There is hope however for a nearly paperless office.

 

Why a totally paperless office is impossible:

Notes – Unless you’ve found a way to effectively type with one hand while using the other to hold the phone, or sift through a book/document you can’t go paperless yet.

Ongoing Projects – You’ll need a place to store documents that relate to an ongoing project you have.  While I often keep this on my computer, I also have a folder for any necessary paperwork.  I’m currently using this system for a contract that needs ink copies.  I cannot avoid this paper.

Quick Access Items – You should keep papers that you use frequently and often to assist your computer work.

Legal Hard Copies – When was the last time a mortgage was signed on an iPad?  I’ve never heard of such a thing.

There are apps that will help you go paperless for many useless papers.

Dropbox – If I need to take something home or read it away from my computer, I can add it Dropbox and read it on the iPad.

Evernote – File away things I think I’ll need later, take pictures of papers and scan them in.

Tripit – All my travel reservations and itineraries.

SignEasy – For any document that does not require an original ink signature, I use SignEasy.

 

Things you’ll need to set up in your office to manage your paper process to make you, nearly paperless.  This is my process to shorten the life span of a piece of paper.

File Folders – Stuff everything that must be on paper into these folders and label what projects they are.  This keeps everything organized and allows me to flip from one project to another while staying organized, essential to clearing paper from your desk.

File Holder – I use a few file drawers on my desk to hold long term project folders and a wire folder holder on my desk to hold current projects.  When I finish the project, I scan in any documents I need to keep and file them on our server.  I then recycle everything else.

Inbox – To prevent clutter from the endless barrage of people throwing paper grenades at you, direct them to an inbox that you process daily.   Apply the GTD method to this box, either act on an item, file it, or trash it.

Apps – Once I finish actively working on a project, I pull all the files off the apps mentioned above and file them on our server for future reference.

While you can never escape paper entirely, you can certainly minimize its impact on your office by using the tools available to us today.  Come to grips with the fact that you can never have a completely paperless office.  Instead, learn to direct the flow of paper so that it lives a short life of usefulness then disperse with it.

What can you gain by having a paperless office?

 

Where Businesses Fail

When I began working at Allied Equipment we were walking a tight rope.  On one side, complacency, where businesses fail.  On the other, a brave new world full of risk and reward.

I’ve always been a student of business history.  I read biographies of successful business people.  I listen in on share holder calls.  I even read transcripts of business minutes when I can find them.  I love to study what makes businesses successful and what where businesses fail.

succeed in business

Moreover, I love success stories.  But not all businesses can write a success story.  Most businesses I’ve seen hit a point of critical mass, then fizzle into obscurity.  What makes a small business turn into a large success?  That moment on the tight rope.  This is where I see most businesses fail.

Inflection Point – They hit an inflection point and back off.  They get to the point where all employees and all finances are maxed out.  It is here that critical mass makes a leader feel nothing more can be done and they fail to make the moves that free them to lead.  The resulting lack of leadership will make businesses fail.

Avoiding Risk – They don’t take risk when it matters.  At Allied Equipment, we landed two jobs.  One gave us immediate cash, the other gave us cash flow. Leadership could have enjoyed the spoils and went home with a nice bonus, but we didn’t.  We threw it all back at the wall, even some borrowed funds.  It all stuck and our gamble paid off.

Dealing Only With The Now – There’s a wall one year in the future.  Unless you stop looking at the now and start building a ramp, you’re going to hit that wall.  This creates the two problems that follow and causes businesses to fail.

Failing to Learn – Businesses fail when they never stop to reflect.  They continue making bad decisions and waste resources.  They continue wasting man hours on low profitability work.  Learn to take the lumps and stop the bleeding.

Failing to Plan – Each percent of growth creates a new problem.  You must address them before they address you.  As our output grew I realized we were headed for max capacity.  I saw a point in the future where we could only produce enough goods to equal a profit less than our goal.  I had to find a new revenue stream and I had one year to do it.  That year made the difference and we were able to double revenues while increasing our impact on man hours by less than 2%.  Without a year to develop and put in place the resources needed to achieve this task, we would have fallen short of our growth goals.

We still have much work to do and many more challenges ahead.  Fortunately for us, we fell off the tight rope in the right direction.  We fell into a brave new world full of risk and reward.  We’ve reflected, planned, risked, and pushed against our workloads to expand and grow.  Busting the seems can be painful, but it is the only way to get out of the little box and into a bigger one.

 

What are you doing now that could cause you to fail to grow?

Lead Your Team To Bigger Fish

To land more high quality deals, you have to be fishing where the big fish are.  Every business wants to land more fish, bigger fish, or both.  To achieve success as a leader, you must lead your team to a honey hole.

Leading Your Team to Bigger Fish

My brother is an incredible bass fisherman.  He learned to fish from our grandfather who won many tournaments across the country.  Anytime you’re talking fishing with the old timers the inevitable “honey hole” will come up in the conversation.  A “honey hole” is a place where a fisherman finds big fish, in large quantities, consistently.

In the competitions my brother competes in the objective is to bring in five fish who, together, weigh more than the other fishermen’s five fish.  In order to win, my brother must be a good navigator and lead his boat to where the fish are.  Then he must be able to execute, using the correct tools, to reel those fish into his boat.

Business operates much the same way.  We have to navigate our teams to the honey holes so they can catch the big fish.  The only problem is, we need more than five fish, we need thousands of big fish.  In order to do this, you cannot rely on one man in one boat with one pole.

Define Objectives – The first step to lead your team to bigger fish is to define your objectives.  Do you want to catch more fish, bigger fish, or both?  Due to the nature of my company’s products, we’re able to have a banner year by only catching 20 big fish.  Apple on the other hand, must land millions of sardines to have a successful year.

Create Positions – What positions will you need to execute your plan?  Think of a football team, – you can’t have all wide receivers or you won’t have anyone to block or to throw the ball.  Group positions by skill set.

Define Results – What will each position be responsible for?  What is their stake in the company’s ultimate success?  For example, fisherman are to catch the fish; hook baiters, on the other hand, will have to put the worm on the hook in a manner that looks tasty to the big fish.

Choose Your Driver – Your driver is the leader who will lead your team to the honey hole.  This is often the CEO or Vice President of a division.  In order for the team to be successful the leader must be able to drive the team.

Delegate – Create a “Not-to-do” list for each position, especially the driver.  Unless you lead your team to the honey hole, they’ll never achieve the own individual success and neither will the company.  You success truly rises and falls on leadership.  You must delegate away all activities that do not accomplish the singular defined results for each position. Learn to delegate without fear.

If your driver is trying to bait hooks and cast a line, he’ll never be able to lead your team to the honey hole.  You’ll be stuck with 20 fishermen standing on a dock all casting for the same fish.  Until you as a leader are able to focus only on driving your team to the honey hole, you’ll have no other option but to fish from the dock, catching nothing but small fish.

How can focusing on your strengths help you find your team’s “honey hole?”