Monday, October 17, 2016

"When you’re afraid to start, it’s usually because you’re afraid to fail."

When you’re afraid to start, it’s usually because you’re afraid to fail.

On my twitter feed today was an article The Best Productivity Habits of Famous Writers. To me, a great literary work is the height of individual accomplishment. It amazes me that someone can conceptualize and create a novel, let alone one that is in the canon of great works.

Right away, I was shocked by the author's summary of an interview with Toni Morrison - "When you’re afraid to start, it’s usually because you’re afraid to fail."

In your career search, are you afraid to fail? Is updating your resume on your to-do list, never to be started? Do you really know what you want to do but haven't taken even the first step?

Be brave and understand that failure is part of the process - especially for great writers.

Here is the whole text of the article:
LifeHacker - Kirsten Wong

The Best Productivity Habits of Famous Writers
Contrary to our romanticized notions, writers don’t just sit around all day, drink coffee and Scotch, and wait for inspiration to strike. Like any other job, they have to be disciplined and productive. While that does involve lots of coffee, it also requires hard work. Here’s how some famous authors have kept their nose to the grindstone.

On Getting Started

It’s not just writers; we’ve all struggled to create something from scratch. It’s overwhelming to stare at a blank page, spreadsheet, or presentation. The pressure to create something awesome makes the process it harder than it has to be.

Toni Morrison: Change Your Definition of Failure 

In an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, author Toni Morrison talked about failure. When you change the way you think about it, she says, it’s a lot easier to get work done:

“Pay very close attention to failure, rather than get depressed or unnerved or feel ashamed. As a writer, a failure is just information...I recognize failure, which is important; some people don’t – and fix it, because it is data, it is information, knowledge of what does not work. That’s why writers need rewriting and editing...What you do is you identify the procedure and what went wrong and then correct it. If you think of writing simply as information, you can get closer to success.”

This is solid advice for not just writing, but any project, really. When you’re afraid to start, it’s usually because you’re afraid to fail. When you think of failure as a necessary part of the process, you’re motivated to start because failure has a place and a purpose.

Plus, when you reframe failure as “gathering information,” you look at your work objectively and analytically, which makes it easier to improve.

John Steinbeck: Focus on the System, Not the Goal 

Sometimes it’s hard to get started because your project is so big, it’s hard to image you’ll ever finish. Here’s John Steinbeck’s trick to make a huge goal more digestible:

“Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.”

“Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.”
In other words, focus on the system, not the end-product. Steinbeck suggests that it helps to break up your work into smaller milestones, too.

Neil Gaiman: “You Learn By Finishing Things”

Perfectionism is another reason we find it hard to get started. We analyze our work to death because it has to be perfect, then we get paralyzed and never start at all, or we abandon a project halfway through. Neil Gaiman has some great advice to beat perfectionist procrastination:

“When people come to me and they say, “I want to be a writer, what should i do?” I say you have to write. And sometimes they say, “I’m already doing that, what else should i do?” And I say you have to finish things...You learn by finishing things.”

There’s a case to be made for giving up on stuff, sure. However, when you finish something, even if it’s not perfect, you gain some valuable experience. You know what works and what to fix. The process is easier the next time around.

On Staying Focused

Once you’ve started, you have to keep going, and that requires discipline. You have to power through distractions even when you’ve plateaued and lost your initial motivation. Here’s how three famous authors have done it.

Zadie Smith: Disconnect From Distractions 

Over at The Guardian, novelist Zadie Smith offers some straightforward, practical advice for writers. This one applies to almost anyone, though:

“Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­Internet.”

I actually stumbled upon this trick myself on a flight when I couldn’t connect to Wi-Fi. I worked on an assignment offline and was surprised at how much more quickly I was able to get it done without periodically responding to an email or checking Twitter.

Obviously, if your work requires Internet access, this isn’t doable. The point is, if you want to focus, it helps to do whatever you can to block out distractions.

Jerry Seinfeld: Don’t Break The Chain 

Software developer Brad Isaac relayed this Jerry Seinfeld story to us a while back:

“He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works. He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.” “Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.”

You can implement this advice for just about anything, from finishing a novel to launching a business. It helps nip procrastination in the bud with a daily, visual cue. It also gamifies your discipline.

Raymond Chandler: Write or Get Bored 

If you only work when you’re inspired, chances are, you won’t get much done. You have to make time for your projects, even projects that require creative thinking.

The problem is, we often schedule time for our projects, but then we just aren’t feeling it, so we use that time to go for a walk, check our email, call an old friend, or fiddle with some other distraction.

Raymond Chandler reportedly had a rule about this. He blocked time into his schedule for writing, and if he didn’t write, his only other option was to do nothing.

In other words, write or get bored.

On Warding Off Writer’s Block

Writers get writer’s block, and if you work in any other industry, you’ve probably dealt with something similar. It’s simply a mental block that gets in the way of progress. Maybe you’re uninspired. Maybe you’re just burnt out. Either way, here’s how a few famous authors have pushed through those blocks.

Colson Whitehead: Embrace Adventure 

Colson Whitehead’s advice for beating writer’s block is one of my favorites. In a satirical article at the New York Times, Whitehead suggests:

“Have adventures...Keep ahead of the curve. Get out and see the world. It’s not going to kill you to butch it up a tad. Book passage on a tramp steamer. Rustle up some dysentery; it’s worth it for the fever dreams alone. Lose a kidney in a knife fight. You’ll be glad you did.”

Obviously, it’s a satirical post, but still, this is good advice! I mean, you probably don’t want to get into a knife fight, but breaks can make you surprisingly more productive. A study published in Psychological Review, for example, found that the best violinists practiced no longer than 90 minutes at a time, took breaks in between, and also took a 20-30 minute nap in the afternoon.

Plus, when you break out of your comfort zone and say yes to things, you find different, smarter ways to work. It’s also easier to brainstorm and harness your creativity. You learn new things and challenge your confirmation bias.

Ernest Hemingway: Stop Mid-Sentence 

If you like closure, this tip might be difficult, but it’s incredibly effective: stop writing mid-sentence. Or, if you’re not a writer, stop while you’re on a roll with whatever you’re doing. Here’s how Ernest Hemingway put it:

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”

You don’t literally have to stop mid-sentence; it’s more like mid-idea, while you’re in the middle of your flow. This trick also makes it a lot easier to get started when you come back to your work. You eliminate the pressure of the blank page and you can just jump right in.

Anne Enright: Imagine Your Death to Find the Problem

Sometimes we get stuck when we feel disconnected from our work. Maybe you’re writing a book and you no longer think it’s worth writing. Maybe the project you pitched at work now seems stupid.

Here’s a trick author Anne Enright suggests to overcome this kind of block:

“Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.”

I love this idea because you don’t abandon the project; you figure out what’s wrong with it. Rather than give up, take a moment to think about why the project doesn’t work or doesn’t excite you, then keep going. This way, it stays out of that big pile of unfinished projects.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Finish these sentences....... and get some ideas of work that is right for you!

Finish these sentences....... and get some ideas of work that is right for you!

Zen and the Art of Making a Living made a huge impact on me and my career direction (I think I have owned 5 copies and still have 2 on my bookshelf).

Here are some of the key sentences I've modified from his work to ask people I coach.  Try them out!

……………… what I really want to do to create income for me to live like I want.

More than anything, I really want to do something about………. in my community.

More than anything, I really want to do something about………………in Canada/the world.  

The times I have been the most creative were……..

The times I have been the most committed to something were……….

 I want to serve …….......... (think ages, incomes, groups by interest, location, ethnicity, languages, et cetera).

If there are 10 of my best friends/coworkers in a room, I (do this)…………………… better than most of them

If there are 10 of my best friends/coworkers in a room,  I (do this)……………………worst than most of them

If I was a product on a shelf, customers would buy me since I'm……………………

The best job I ever had was…………………

In a perfect work day, I would:
-          Wake up at……………….
-          Wear to work……………..
-          Go to (settings for work)…………….
-          Work with tools like……………..
-          Spend most of my day doing…………………
-          I would work with people like……………..
-          Finish my work day at……………………….
-          I would earn, per year, about………………

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Great questions for your first weeks of work

First week of work

The first week of work can be very intimidating.  But be calm, enjoy the fact that you have started with a clean inbox and no phone messages, no assignment, no deadlines.....

But the first weeks of a new job are the ideal time to set expectations.  Once you know what is expected of you, there is a certain piece of mind.

So, if you don't know already, sit down with your boss in the first weeks and ask about your performance management. Since you have no track record with the organization, there likely are expectations but no judgments.  By figuring this out, you can set your internal systems to know what you need to do & if you have done it on a moment to moment basis.

Here are some good questions but there are more: 
- What is your short and medium objectives for me? 
- What are the metrics or KPI (Key Performance Indicators) for me/ for this position/our unit/our organization? Can I keep track of the numbers myself? Where is that information? How can I run a report?
- What does a top person do in the 30 days? 90 days? 1st year? 
- When will we meet to discuss my performance over the year (weekly 1-1, biweekly, 6 month review, 12 month reviews?). 
- What do great people do in this job different from average people? 
- What do I need to do to be considered a strong team player here?

Another great thing to explore is the decisions behind your hiring..way too many times is a detailed assessment done on a person (aka the hiring process) then all that information is never brought forward. Again, this is helps define the expectations they have for you and some of their judgments.

Here are some typical questions for that line of thinking: 
- What strengths did I have that led you to select me? (since this is what the organization is "buying" then you should know)
 - What gaps were exposed when i was interviewed, compared against others, and compared to the job qualifications? (since this is what you likely should work on).

Of course if you judge some of answers aren't in line with your own expectations, it might be time to review the resume again.....

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Top Tips for building a successful Linked-in profile

I just finished passionately lecturing some unwitting colleagues on my best linked-in practices for profiles and thought I share. Your comments are welcome.....
Here are my top 11 hints for a purposefully effective Linked-in profile:
1.      Linked-in is the blend of professional and social media. Balance your tone with professional and personal. The use of “I” (a faux pas in resumes) can be suitable in some cases. However, unprofessional posts, pictures, and comments can make your linked-in seem like a crass attempt at humour.
2.      Linked-in is primarily a networking device. Tell your stories (concisely) to attract the right networking opportunities. You need to understand your purpose to use this tool – more clients, a new job, networking in a large company, recruit workers– then create that content. You also need to understand your competitive advantages.
3.      Ensure your picture is professional & add a background. There are 6 pages of background choices but some stock photos from the internet that have meaning to you can be effective. I had cherry blossoms from Japan on mine since I visited there this spring. Now I have switched it to hockey on a pond.
4.      Add any credentials that matter to your name – such as PMP, MBA, Peng
5.      Your professional headline is likely the MOST important element of your whole profile. Make sure it tells the story you want. By default, it loads the title of your most current job and most current employer (formatted like Sales Manager at the Bay). Click the pencil icon next to the headline and customize it to position yourself (see point 2)
6.      Current employer and most recent education show up on in your profile main section. You can reorder employers/education in the relevant section to ensure to you tell the Linked-in story you want to tell (again see point 2, hopefully it is sinking in by now)
7.      Optimize your profile for mobile devices. Most web-hits now come from mobile phones. On those devices, your summary is only about 80 characters with spaces, then gets cut off. Make sure you use those first 80 characters with purpose. The vast amount of people will not expand a section to see the whole text.
8.      Optimize your profile with SEO (search engine optimization) principles. One of those is repetition of a key words and their synonyms. So if a headhunter is looking for a welder, the profile with the word welder and synonyms that occurs the most time in a single profile is likely to be the top hit. And the vast majority of people focus on the first three hits in search engines.
9.      Be connected with the right organizations. Usually this means when you search for employers or schools, the company logo comes up. There are many times a single person makes and error (Department of National Defense – instead of Defence) and others follow them. Many people like to switch from people to companies to see who you know in common so you need to be linked with the right organization. Some headhunters will run reports on who works for key competitors to look for talent.
10.  Back again to point #2, the summaries of your experiences in each of your current and previous roles needs to tell the story you want. THIS IS NOT YOUR RESUME! Maybe you indicate what you are interested in. Maybe you comment on a current project. Maybe you pick the experience that is the job you want to really do next. Be purposeful and concise – 2-3 sentences, maybe a short bullet list.
11.  Besides building a great profile, there are behaviours you must use to execute your purpose. If not, it is like going to a party and standing in the corner not talking to anyone.  But that is for another article.