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Plan for a purposeful retirement.

The trouble with steady, full-time jobs for over 40 years or more is that we become associated with our job. We know as much about our fellow workers’ families as we do about our own. We make friends at work, learn skills at work, receive enjoyment and self-esteem at work – and for many of us, work consumes the greater portion of us – our time, our energy, our thoughts and our physical presence.

When we retire, we have a problem because all of that is suddenly taken away from us.

During your working days people ask “What do you do? After retirement, they ask “What did you do?”

Retirement is not as much an end as it is a beginning to a new stage in life where your increased freedom allows you to more fully examine your life purpose and to explore new fields of involvement.

People who retire, die sooner. It’s a fact. Researchers looked at employees of a global oil company who retired early at 55 and those who retired at the traditional 65. The early retirees were 89% more likely to die within the 10 years after retirement than those who retired at 65.

I would wager that most of those who survive longer are those who plan ahead, and have something to retire to – whether it is part-time consulting, a new business, an extensive travel itinerary or a volunteer position with a non-profit organization.

When you retire from a job; you should never retire from making contributions, whether through volunteering, mentoring or helping others in some other way.

The first two thirds of our lives, for the most part, have been a time and getting. Getting a job, getting possessions, getting a house, getting a family, getting new friends and new adventures. The final third of our lives needs to be primarily a time for giving. Giving our time, energy, financial resources, skills and talents.

Do something that will give you a reason to get out of the bed in the morning – something that will give purpose to your retirement. As Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. “It’s important to be actively serving others for your own mental, emotional and spiritual health and well-being.

It has been proven that when people feel they are making a difference, they are happier. Through MRI technology, researchers have discovered that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Helping others can make us healthier, happier, and more productive, more fulfilled and even increase our longevity.

A study published by BMC Public health concluded that taking time to volunteer could reduce early mortality rates by 22% compared to those who do not volunteer.

Retirement gives you the opportunity to focus on things that are really important.

If you have already retired, it’s still not too late to plan your future. But you must stay alive by participating in life. You are never old until you start spending more time on past memories than on future goals.

The trouble with having nothing to do is that you never know when you’re done. And if your job is doing nothing, how can you ever take a day off? Activity is one of the keys to longevity.

Finally, don’t become obsessed with the idea of being remembered. Some people seem to seek immortality by having something named after them, whether it is a building, scholarship, park bench or whatever. The people who really matter to you will never forget you. The people who do forget you are not the people who matter to you.

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Time is the currency of life.

Don’t make your job your whole life. If you become too focused on picking the fruit you may miss the flowers that are there as well. Always keeping busy at your work not only keeps you from working smart, it keeps you from fully enjoying life.  Participating in other things and enjoy what life itself has to offer. There is an old anonymous saying, “The work will wait while you show a child the rainbow; but the rainbow won’t wait until you do the work.”

You are not what you do. If you believe you are what you do, when you don’t, you aren’t. Someday you will no longer be able to do what you do now – either due to retirement, infirmity or whatever. Everyone should love their job; but not to the extent that they are unable to find happiness doing anything else.

Life doesn’t really begin at 40 any more than it ends at 65. I think as an octogenarian I am qualified to say this – at least as a personal observation. One thing I have observed is that some retirees adjust poorly to their new environment and lifestyle. And I believe that the reason that many of them do poorly when facing major changes such as retirement, moving to the country or taking up residence in a senior’s home is that they are unable or reluctant to change the way they use their time. They are too firmly entrenched in the work – sleep – work cycle. And when the work is gone, what is left to replace it?

For example, when I moved from a condo in the city of Toronto to an apartment in the small town of Sussex, New Brunswick, I didn’t expect I would be enjoying stage plays or attending the same church or taking the subway to an underground shopping mall or golfing with my best friend or taking in the odd afternoon movie. If I did, I would be miserable; because none of those things are readily available to me – not the same neighbours or same friends or the familiar coffee shop where I spent a lot of time or one of my sons who had lived just a few miles away.

But within a year, I had made new friends, participated regularly in new activities, joined a new church, volunteered in different organizations, and have a different favorite coffee shop where I do the biggest chunk of my writing.

You must be willing to change the way you use your time – not on worse things, just on different things. True happiness does not come from the things you do or the people you meet or where you live. True happiness comes from within, not from specific things that you may have spent your life doing.

It’s easier to get involved in other things after retirement if you’ve being more flexible with your use of time during your working years. I started my career as a workaholic – dedicated fully to my job to the detriment of my family life and social life. Books I read, workshops I attended, trips I took – all revolved around the career I was committed to at the time.

Perhaps it was the broken marriage, the bleeding ulcers and the failing part-time business that first got my attention – and prompted some major changes in my mindset.

That resulted in my lifetime purpose – my calling – to help others manage their time and their lives. But more important, it introduced me to the real source of joy – the happiness within – the one who does the calling – God Himself.

It didn’t take me a year to feel comfortable in my new surroundings. My faith is the source of my strength, my lifestyle and my attitude as well as my purpose in life. I believe we are all created for a purpose and it’s up to us to discover it. The bible tells us that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It’s difficult to discover our purpose by keeping our nose to the grindstone, working from dawn to dusk. That would only give us a flat nose.

We must explore life on a daily basis, open our minds and hearts to relationships, nature, hobbies and other outside interests as well as our spirituality.

Don’t spend all your time on one activity until the day you retire. Time is the currency of life. Spend it wisely.

 

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Customer service in the age of speed

In one the first books I wrote over thirty-five years ago titled “Making time to sell,” I told the story of how a successful advertising salesperson explained his secret of selling advertising space by saying that he was a “six-minute salesman.” In those days, at least, a major hurdle was just getting to see the prospect. He would do so by promising the prospect that he would only take six minutes of his or her time. “Seven,” he would add, “if you ask questions”. The prospect was usually impressed. He didn’t really want to see the salesman, but this he had to see!

When the appointed time came, the salesman would walk into the prospect’s office, place his wristwatch on the desk and start his presentation.

The salesman claims the time urgency put him in control of the meeting. It also forced him to pare down his presentation and make every word count. The prospect was indeed impressed, appreciated the respect being shown for his time, and generally took more than the six minutes just asking questions. In fact, the prospect would usually detain the salesman well beyond twenty minutes – yet would not have agreed to see the salesman at all if he had actually asked for twenty minutes or more of his time.

Selling skills have increased dramatically during the last thirty-five years, while time management skills have remained the same. There are certain principles in conserving time just as there are basic principles in selling. They may not be applicable to all selling situations, but it may pay you to review them. There are hundreds of books on effective time management, including a few of my own.

A poorly organized, unplanned, rambling presentation eliminates some of the inroads made by the company through advertising and promotion, thus wasting the company’s time and money.  And the prospects themselves may be missing a great opportunity to increase profits, cut costs or improve service.

If you are a professional or operate a business where the customer comes to you, don’t keep them waiting. A certain amount of waiting can’t be avoided – especially in the case of doctors, lawyers, accountants and so on. But research shows that customers perceive waiting time to be less if there are signs to read in your waiting room – or anything else that will keep them occupied. Always have something to read such as current magazines and signs as well as Wi-Fi. If appropriate, TV and a play area with toys for kids would also be a plus.

Waiting time also seems shorter if customers have someone to talk to. Paco Underhill, in his book “Why we buy,” recommends taking care of the customer within two minutes. This is not always possible; but any waiting without contact over a minute and a half creates time distortion in the minds of the customers.

Time waiting after initial contact seems to go faster than the same amount of time spent waiting before the interaction. So acknowledging that the customer is waiting tends to relieve time anxiety. It is a good idea to acknowledge the customer when they first arrive and at least every five minutes thereafter.

Even giving the customer an estimate of the waiting time is better than nothing. Underhill claims that being told the wait would be about two minutes makes an actual four or five-minute wait go faster.

In a supermarket or in some retail store situations, a single line leading to the cashiers ensures that people are served in turn. And impulse items placed where the line forms, not only distracts from the wait, but is also smart merchandising.

Customers hate waiting in line, and stores with long line-ups at the check-outs frequently encounter abandoned carts containing merchandise.

This “want it now” syndrome was evident in the studies described in Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology book. Students were offered either a $15 Amazon gift certificate right away or a $20 gift certificate in two weeks. They chose the $15 certificate. The students’ brains were scanned as they were made the offers, and the “$15 right now” offer caused an unusual flurry of stimulation in those areas of the brain responsible for our emotional life.

This could explain the popularity of such services as overnight delivery, instant Kindle book downloads, and express checkouts. So keep in mind that it might pay you to use priority mail for shipping, for example, where the packaging is provided. Or courier – even though it’s more expensive to do so. You could also build the shipping cost into the price of the product.

Time does make a difference to the customer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Does deep reading differ in digital?

Deep reading involves slowing down, concentrating on the meaning of what you are reading, highlighting key sentences, and sometimes flipping back to previous pages as necessary so you are sure to understand the information being communicated.

Reading is an active process in which you are searching out information with a highlighter or pen in hand while focusing fully on the task. I have recommended in the past, for instance, that to actively read an article, you might change the title into a question and search for the answer or answers as you read.

In order to focus effectively you must have adequate time to do so, and strong attention skills, one of the brain based “executive skills” that improves with age and practice.

The results of deep reading include enhanced comprehension and enjoyment of the text, improved memory and recall, and an increase in both your knowledge and your ability to think, analyse, and express yourself. It also exercises your brain.

This is not to say that you cannot participate in deep reading on screens when reading electronic books or web articles; but it is more difficult. The nature of the medium leaves you more vulnerable to interruptions – everything from advertising pop-ups to the notification of an email or incoming text message or a Twitter retweet. Also, people use the technology to save time, speed up work and get more done in an equivalent amount of time. The tendency is to grab snippets of information that appear relevant and ignore the rest. It is difficult to resist the urge to skim, skip ahead, and take quick side trips to check email or respond to a text message.

Most people find it difficult to slow down and focus on their reading when doing so on a computer or iPhone. Canadian author John Meidema refers to the web as a “distraction machine”, and indicates in his book, Slow Reading, that deep reading requires time, care and effort.

Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains, claims that studies by psychologists, neurologists and educators find that when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Links are particularly distracting, and studies show that jumping between digital documents impedes understanding. Comprehension declines whether or not people actually click on them.

According to Carr’s book, the depth of our intelligence hinges on our ability to transfer information from working memory (short-term memory) to long-term memory. But a bottleneck is created since working memory can only hold a relatively small amount at a time. When we are swamped with information, links, images, and advertising, the information spills over, so to speak, and doesn’t make it into our long-term storage. It’s like watering a house plant by continuing to pour on more water without giving it a chance to soak in. But when we read paper books for instance, we transfer information a little at a time into long-term memory and form associations essential to the creation of knowledge and wisdom.

That being said, we have to face the fact that the digital age is here to stay. Every year more bookstores go out of business, and only the megastores survive. E-books are easy to buy, readily available and less expensive.

I still buy hardcopy books; because I find them easier to highlight, make notes in the margins, and to reference long after I’ve gone on to other books and topics. I tend to remember more of the information – even its location in the chapter – and I find this essential when using information in my books and articles. The flipping of pages with a highlighter in hand seems to keep me focused. And I’ve yet to experience eyestrain or headaches when reading a hardcopy book.

I do buy Kindle books as well, and currently have over 150 of them on my iPhone; but many of them are duplicates of the hardcopy versions in my library. This allows me to refer to them while travelling, and in waiting rooms – anywhere away from the office for that matter. The bulk of them are the free or 99 cents or $1.99 specials announced daily by BookBub.com. I use many of these for reference only.

If you have chosen the e-book route exclusively, remember the importance of concentration. According to an article by Naomi Baron in the Washington Post, over 92% of those surveyed said they concentrate best when reading hardcopy. Reading is not a passive exercise like watching TV.

And don’t forget the human aspect of reading. How many family members gather around the fireplace with their e-readers in hand or take their iPhones to the monthly book club meetings?

Well, maybe that’s changing as well.

 

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You don’t have to throw a fit when you throw something out.

In the August, 2018 issue of Psychology Today, Glen Adamson, author of the book, “Fewer, better things” is said to believe that we should limit our purchases to things we find to be beautiful, meaningful or useful. Since at least two of these three requirements are in the mind of the purchaser, this tells me that anything goes. It may be a sensible suggestion; but does little to curb my spending habits nor reduce any clutter that may appear in my small apartment.

Marie Kondo, author of the book, The life-changing magic of tidying up and spark joy, urges us to get rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy. But depending on your mood at the time, this could prompt you to discard everything you own. And according to an article by Sara Eckel in the same issue of Psychology Today, at least one woman later regretted that she had parted with her beloved books and her late father’s favourite radio.

Stories like this that make me thankful that I limit my coaching of individuals to helping them manage their time as opposed to managing their possessions. The two are certainly related. The more possessions you have, the greater the demand on your time. But at least I feel no guilt in letting them make their own decisions when it comes to tossing stuff.

I have great respect for those professional organizers who help people make decisions as to what to keep and what to toss. We are complicated beings, and it seems impossible to get inside our heads and analyse our thought processes. For example, I couldn’t even begin to fully explain why I could never part with that vintage 1930s typewriter on my credenza even if I were offered $1 million for it.

I like Sara Eckel’s statement: “The key questions: is your stuff – or lack of it – interfering in your life? Does it make you feel overwhelmed? Are you aggravating the people you live with by leaving your possessions everywhere, or by tidying their things?”

Possessions do not necessarily equate to clutter. I have a locker full of possessions that I refuse to part with. I can visit them at any time – without them interfering with my efficiency or effectiveness while I am working in my home office. I realize they will be quickly discarded by my children when I’m gone; but they are my security blanket. They ensure me that I have led a life of significance. I will always have a past, even though I may someday be unable to recall it. I have had friends, experiences and accomplishments – and have loved and been loved.

This allows me to concentrate fully on the present, continuing to do what I love doing, and making new friends, having new experiences, and continuing to lead a life of purpose.

Having said all this, people should listen to all the advice they can get, and some of that may resonate with their own beliefs and help them make their own decisions. For example, here are a few thoughts and ideas I have culled from books and articles such as those mentioned above.

  • Living with less stuff has made many people more clear-headed and content.
  • Lugging bags of usable stuff to thrift shops such as those of the Salvation Army, might leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. It certainly provides a service to others.
  • You are not being disrespectful of someone, whether living or dead, if you toss something they gave to you. They live in your heart, not in the object.
  • Having less stuff in your home, all of which consume time and space, can improve communication and allow you to focus on what is truly important in your family.
  • For every item that holds special meaning to you, there are likely a dozen or more that don’t. If you made an error by purchasing something, don’t compound the error by keeping it.
  • A certain amount of clutter is normal; but its continued growth is unhealthy. Consider nipping it in the bud.

On a more personal note, I find that I work and live much better in an organized, clutter-free environment. And the few things I have tossed and later regretted were more than offset by the hundreds of things I got rid of and never missed.

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Bringing you up to speed.

27 years ago, I wrote the following article titled, “Don’t become obsessed with speed: save some time for the things you enjoy.” I thought I would reproduce it here in its entirety, complete with its outdated references to such things as speedy memos and videos. We had no iPhones, iPads, email or instant messaging in those days, and yet we complained about the fast pace of life. It had taken about 38 years for radio to be adopted by 50 million people, and when TV came along it took only 13 years. But it only took iPad two years and Google Plus 88 days. Speed continues to increase. How are you coping? Here’s the article.

September, 1991.

“Ever get the feeling you’re being rushed through life with little opportunity to enjoy its pleasures enroute? Stopping briefly at O’Hara international Airport in Chicago, I was confronted with the following fast food outlets for travellers in a hurry:

Speedy Buns and Rolls.

Ice Cream Express.

Hasty Pastry.

Deli in a Hurry.

Lightning Lounge.

Bun on the Run.

Mexican in a Minute.

Fast Far East.

These names seem to exemplify the prevailing atmosphere in North America. No longer is rapid transit a mode of transportation; it’s a way of life. People don’t seem to be as concerned with where they are going as with how soon they get there. Who has the time to set goals, plan and determine a course of action?

Get rich quick schemes, accelerated learning and rapid advancement are valued far more than quality relationships and the more tranquil lifestyle. Our society seems to place an unhealthy emphasis on getting things done quickly. We have fast foods, instant puddings and TV dinners. We are wooed by rapid transit, express lanes, fast checkouts and even quickie divorces. We use hasty notes, speedy memos and travelling requisitions. Fast living is in vogue.

We have electronic tellers, moving sidewalks and vending machines that dispense everything from nylons to videos. Escalators allow us to run upstairs faster. Self-serve service stations, bag-your-own supermarkets and stand-up restaurants help to keep us on the move.

Even company names reflect the value of this haste: Speedy muffler, Road Runner, Speed Queen, and Quickasair. Pizza parlours guarantee 30 minute service. Signs promise no waiting.

Time management courses are particularly appealing because they explain how we can get things done faster. Oh, they contain valuable counsel, such as the importance of family time, leisure and personal goals; but even the seminars are being conducted more quickly to meet the demands of people in a hurry. Three-hour and even one hour courses are becoming more popular. Most people seem to be after a quick fix for what ails them.

With speed seems to come a lack of control. We get the feeling we are being whisked through life as though there is a plan for our life, but we’re not in it. And just as to do lists create the impression that crossing off items is a measure of progress, so are we being conditioned to believe that speed is a measurement of accomplishment.

How is all this affecting the quality of life? Already liquid breakfasts allow us to skip time at the table, electronic games replace the need of a partner, and everything we could ever desire is being piped onto our TV screens, eliminating the necessity for social interaction. Where will it end?

It’s great to be able to save time. But to what end? Some people have become so obsessed with saving time that they are cutting time off those things they were trying to save time for. The objective of time management is to spend less time on meaningless activities and routine activities so we will have more time to spend on the meaningful activities. It is not meant to reduce the time being spent on those meaningful activities.

Some of us enjoy a leisurely meal with our family, a night out with their friends and conversation with other human beings. Some of us even enjoy shopping in person, dawdling in a restaurant, or getting exercise the old-fashioned way, walking.

Hang onto those things you enjoy. Don’t allow yourself to be swept along by the tyranny of the times. Make sure you are not shaving time from what you consider quality time.

There’s a story about a speeding motorist who gave this explanation to a policeman who had stopped him: “Officer, this road is so dangerous that I was hurrying to get off it.” He could just as well have claimed that life is so dangerous and that he was hurrying to get through it. Many of us behave as though this were true.

There is certainly nothing wrong with becoming more efficient at accomplishing more in less time; but let’s not be blinded to the fact that speed sometimes distracts us from our values and life goals. Efficiency is doing things in the best possible way; but effectiveness is doing the best possible things. Those things are activities which reflect our values.

During goal-setting sessions people were asked to list the personal activities that were most rewarding, enjoyable and productive. Most people were able to do this with little difficulty. When asked to record the date or month they last perform such activities, they had trouble recalling it because it had been so long ago.

It’s one thing to set goals. It’s quite another to ensure that our daily and weekly activities reflect those goals. This requires constant review as to what we are doing. And it is difficult to review while going at breakneck speed.

Let’s not keep pace with the crowd; but keep pace with our plan – constantly reviewing our progress towards the goals that we have set.”

July, 2018.

Well, it’s 27 years later, and life doesn’t appear to have slowed down any. Have you managed to maintain adequate time for those things that you really enjoy, and that reflect your values? Or has your iPhone just dinged, stimulating a shot of dopamine, which now compels you to access Twitter to confirm that one of your one-liners has just been re-tweeted by one of your 1200 followers?

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Writing things down improves your memory

An old proverb claims, “The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.”

And those of us still using paper planners can rest assured we are making the right decision, according to information contained on an article in the October 11, 2017 issue of Fast Company. The article references studies showing that taking notes by longhand helps you remember important meeting points better than tapping out notes on your laptop or smartphone. This could be a particular advantage for us older folks since most of us lose memory power as we age. It might also explain why some people are switching from smartphones to paper planners for their everyday planning activities.

We tend to understand and retain information better when we read from a hardcopy book as opposed to a digital version as well. In a study conducted by Anne Mangen, PhD, a professor at the Reading Center at the University of Stavanger, Norway, the researcher gave participants the same 28-page mystery story to read either on an Amazon Kindle or in print format. “We found that those who had read the print pocketbook gave more correct responses to questions having to do with time, temporality, and chronology than those who had read on a Kindle,” Mangen claimed. “And when participants were asked to sort 14 events in the correct order, those who had read on paper were better at this than those who had read on the Kindle.”

Writing down your “to do” list frees up working memory, imprints the items in your mind, allows time to evaluate their importance, and provides a motivational sense of accomplishment as you cross off each item.

People may think they are better at comprehending information when they read it on a digital screen because they can read much faster than those reading the text in paper format. But results of the studies show that the paper groups outperformed the digital groups on memory recall and comprehension of the text.

Mikael Cho, cofounder of Crew, claimed that “the separation from the digital space (where I do most of my work) to the physical, helped me feel less overwhelmed.”

The Fast Company article was quick to point out that this doesn’t mean you should start printing your emails in order to read them. Brief snippets of text don’t seem to make any difference.

A paper planner is a great tool for keeping more of your memories intact and slowing down the perceived passage of time. Not only does the act of writing in the appointments and scheduling the important projects and tasks help transfer them to your long-term memory, reviewing those pages after the fact helps solidify them in your  memory. Research shows that thinking or talking about an event immediately after it occurs enhances memory for the event. That’s why it’s so important for a witness to recall information as soon as possible after a crime.

The greatest loss of memory is in the first hour or so of the event. By reviewing it in spaced intervals, you are fixing it in your memory. You want as much of the present as possible to be retained so you will recall it in the future. I schedule every significant event in my time planner, even after the fact. In other words when we spontaneously drop into a restaurant or go to a movie or visit friends, I write the details of that event in my planner when I get home. If it’s a restaurant, I take out the receipt and copy the name, address, and telephone number into that block of time, including the names of the people we might have been with at the time. It was unscheduled time; but it becomes scheduled after the fact.

By reviewing my planner, I am in effect reviewing my life. And I can readily justify this strange habit by the number of times I have retrieved phone numbers of great restaurants we wanted to revisit or to confirm the name of the movie we saw three weeks earlier or to get the name of our friend’s cousin who attended the dinner.

The pen is not only mightier than the sword, it’s a lot easier to carry with you – and does a better job of writing.

 

 

 

 

 

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How to overcome writer’s block

What about writer’s block that you hear so much about?  Well if you know what you have to say, you won’t have writer’s block.  Some writers spend more time staring at a blank computer screen than they spend writing.  Others may freeze after a paragraph or two.  What some people call writer’s block is usually a lack of planning.

Studies show that professional writers spend 40% of their time planning, 25% writing, and 35% editing. If you plan – if you know what you want to say before you start – there is less chance that you will have writer’s block.  Start the article in your mind as you go for your morning walk, take a shower or travel to work.  It’s a similar process to rehearsing a speech or a presentation. That’s the advantage of my daily walk to the coffee shop. The article is almost written in my mind by the time I get there.

If you are still afraid of getting writer’s block, there is another technique that you could try. Before you start writing, have an outline of the article in front of you along with the materials you have accumulated for that article. That’s a common procedure for writing a book, so you could just do it on a smaller scale.

Minimize the opportunity for interruptions.  Have all your working tools in place before you start.  Pick a quiet place to work if possible.  Engage the voice mail.  Close the door if you have one.  Turn of your smartphone or put it on airplane mode.  Ignore e-mail.  Tell yourself it’s only for an hour or two.  Then stick to the task at hand.

Don’t stop to proofread or edit until you have finished the article.  Stopping to edit after every sentence or two is a form of procrastination.  Maintain the momentum once you start.  Scheduling shorter sessions of one or two hours usually result in fewer delays.  Few people can retain a high level of concentration without a break for more than an hour or two.  This could change once you are engrossed in your work but most of us have jobs besides writing and cannot afford marathon sessions anyway.

If you come to a standstill, switch to another writing project for ten minutes or so. Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov said he always had a number of projects going at one time. When he could no longer stand what he was doing, he simply switched to something else. He never stopped. In fact he wrote 460 books.

You might take a brief walk around your desk or table to do a few stretches.  If you just can’t get started again, write anything to start the flow as I described earlier.  Once you start writing, the creative juices will flow and you can edit out any superfluous material later.  Don’t wait for creativity to reveal itself.  If you stare at the computer screen, it will simply stare back at you.

When your time is up and you must stop, write one more sentence but don’t finish it, except in your head.  Reading that partial sentence and finishing it at the next session will help pick up your train of thought and build momentum faster than starting from scratch.  The best way to avoid writer’s block is to keep writing.

Note: The above article was excerpted from my eBook, How to write articles for self-promotion, published by Bookboon.com.

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Creativity and organization are not incompatible.

In case you haven’t read my last couple of blog posts, I have been discussing how some books, articles and other literature have been claiming that messiness aids creativity, while others claim the opposite.

Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, authors of YOU: On a Diet, claim that visual clutter slows down the brain. That’s why clusters of road signs double the chances of missing the one you’re looking for. It also explains why website designers aim for simplicity.

As we read more about the workings of our brain, we also learn even more about the importance of getting organized. For example, according to neuroscientist Torkel Klingberg, author of The overflowing brain, the more items on your desk, the greater the demand on your attention. And mental clutter is a suspect in the cause of age-related memory losses. Clearing clutter from your desk, office and home and leaving more wide open spaces also helps to clear your mind so it will be more productive.

There is a seemingly opposing view that mess is great for generating ideas, and many people (including a successful TV personality and producer) feel they are successful because of their messy environment.

I take the middle ground, and mentioned in my previous articles how professional organizer Clare Kumar had referred to “process mess,” an acceptable temporary mess, generated by the nature of the work itself. The accompanying photo shows a view of my office before I started work in the morning. (The photo last week showed it during the writing process.) I admitted that I do get ideas during the messier writing process; but when it comes to the large part of my time involving administrative work, an organized environment wins hands down.

I am a confirmed neatnik. (I have an almost irresistible urge to straighten pictures on the walls of someone else’s home when I am an invited guest.) Before I start writing, my materials are organized on and around my desk. Articles on the topic previously ripped from magazines, notes I have written to myself on the topic in the past, seminar notes on the topic, etc. are stored vertically in manila folders to my left. Books on the topic are within reach in an accordion bookcase on to the back of my desk (having been removed from my library of books in advance.) Electronic Kindle books on the topic are readily accessible on both my laptop and iPad, and articles, tweets and other items that I have written in the past are filed in electronic folders on my desktop. Everything is neat and tidy and ready to go – as depicted in both this week’s photo and the one posted two weeks ago.

But once the writing process is underway, the neatness transforms into “organized mess” or “process mess,” which sometimes may slip into the “disorganized mess” category; but not often, since I usually write for only 90 minutes at a time. I described this stage of my writing process last week.

If you want to have a working environment that is always supportive of creativity, try merging it more with nature. Richard Louv, in his book, The nature principle, claims that reconnecting to nature opens new doors to creativity, and that “creative people are often aware of being drawn to the outdoors for refreshment and ideas.” He mentioned that creative people like Albert Einstein and philosopher Kurt Godel used to take walks in the woods every single day at Princeton campus.

Louv also quotes Hilary Mantel, 2009 winner of the Booker Prize, as saying “I always work outside, if I can. It’s important to grab the instant thought.”

Florence Williams, in her 2017 book, The nature fix, adds more examples of creative people who believed in walking outdoors while thinking, such as Aristotle, Darwin, Tesla, Teddy Roosevelt and Beethoven. Williams laments that we’re losing our connection to nature

In choosing your office and decor, you should not overlook indoor plants and greenery, window views of nature, and even paintings of flowers and landscapes. The more we gravitate toward the cities and hole up in our offices, the more we withdraw from nature and its largely unrecognized or unappreciated benefits.

Studies have shown that the presence of potted plants, for example, improves not only creativity, but productivity, performance and learning ability as well. In the case of schools, the presence of plants improved scores in mathematics spelling and science between 10% and 14%.

So it would appear that walking, thinking and working outdoors would be the first choice for generating ideas, and if you can’t do your creating outdoors, bring as much as possible of nature into your work area – even if it is just painting the walls green, the color most associated with creativity.

In my eBook, How work environment impacts productivity, published by Bookboon.com, I relate some personal experiences with working environments. One of my most productive routines is to take a 15 or 20 minute nature walk, ending up at a coffee shop where I write the article dreamed up along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

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Creativity is all in your mind

Most of the articles associating a messy environment with creativity (mentioned in my last blog article) referred to the ping-pong study where participants were asked to write down as many uses as possible for ping-pong balls in a given time frame. Those participants in a messy room came up with the same number of ideas as those in a tidy room; but the ideas were more creative.

I assume this works because in a cluttered environment there are more things to associate with the ping-pong balls. This was mentioned in my e-book, Creativity in action, published by Bookboon.com. In creativity seminars, I have frequently used the old “How many uses can you think of for a toothpick?” exercise. If this question had been asked when I was in my “process mess” mode (see photo), I would probably have come up with uses such as:

  • To use as a spike on which to skewer reminder notes, etc.
  • To use as a writing instrument by splitting the end and dipping it in ink.
  • To use as a shim to sturdy a wobbly printer or desk leg.
  • To chew on – or to break into tiny pieces – when you feel stressed.
  • To separate stacks of papers.
  • To use as bookmarks to allow quick access to pages you want to refer to later.
  • To clean between the keys of your laptop.
  • To stir your coffee.
  • To scratch an itch, and so on.

You can see that the above list of ideas were generated, either consciously or unconsciously, by associating the toothpick with items on my desk or activities I was working on at the time. But if you have a vivid imagination, you could possibly come up with just as many or even more creative ideas while working in an organized environment.

In your mind you can be as messy as you like for as long as you like, and I frequently have brainstorming sessions with myself when my supply of new tweets, time tips, articles etc. start getting low. I don’t want to be writing in a panic at the last minute -although this happens occasionally when life has other plans.

What ideas did I actually get during my first few writing sessions while working on my stress book? Well, for one thing, while looking through the book Performing under pressure, I had the idea for another book on “staying on top of your job,” since getting behind in your work could create a lot of pressure on you.

I also got a few ideas for tweets. For example, the fact that some people are creative in a messy environment and others in an organized one, gave me the idea “Creativity is all in your mind.” I might be able to do something with that one – perhaps even as a title for this article. I was also reminded that I should revise and reissue my old stress resistance quiz.

I’m sure I’ll get more ideas as I continue writing my book. It always happens. And I’ll be sure to jot them down at the time so I don’t forget them – and continue with my writing. I use our Daily Priority Pad (available at our website) to do this. It was actually designed by my son Jason, who found he needed something to use in tandem with his iPhone.

It is ideal for my writing sessions since I can quickly jot down things I need to do, ideas for the future, people to call – and there’s even a “Back Burner” section for future book ideas or future plans. I don’t let ideas, creative or otherwise, distract me from my writing if at all possible. I even put my iPhone on airplane mode while I’m writing.

I’m not sure if you’re really interested; but in my next blog articles I will describe how I collect and store all the reference materials that I use in my writing and perhaps a few ideas on writing that have proven useful – and of course a little more on this creativity debate. When it comes to keeping information,  people may label me a pack rat; but it has helped generate 23 e-books, two paperback books, hundreds of articles, and thousands of tweets in the last six-years, not to mention material used in my newsletters, seminar notes and PowerPoint presentations.

Everyone has their own method of writing. There is no one best way. But I do agree with professional organizer Clare Kumar when she claims that “process mess” is natural occurrence, and not something that should label you as a messy.

Life is good. And full of ideas waiting to be harvested.