How to Avoid Stagnation and Find your Zone of Creativity

We live in an age of preoccupation. You might have noticed this. Everyday is almost similar. You keep working harder and more things pile up for the next day, next week and next month. We all know that preoccupation is a never ending phenomenon. Yet, we fool ourselves. [Read more…]

Crisis Vs. Creativity

Our work swings between crisis and creativity.

The thing about crisis is, if dealt frequently, it becomes a thought pattern and begins to hurt.  I call this pattern – ‘Crisis Mindset’. Those having crisis mindset breed crisis mentality and infect others with it. The types of conversations in crisis mindset are –

How do we do it fast? What do we do to fix this now? Why are people not performing?  

If you notice, there is always something urgent or immediate to deal with. The crisis mindset does not realize that it’s inside, not outside. In the past few years, I had the opportunity to work with many entrepreneurs. Some have surprisingly relaxed and productive life, while some keep struggling to get things in control.

I noticed that high performance entrepreneurs exhibit creative mindset. They don’t look for short term fixes.  Instead, they work like artisans. They shape every aspect of work and life using their ingenuity. When Steve Jobs started out to launch the legendary iPhone or 37signals created a wildly successful web app, creative mindset was in action. And it isn’t about the numbers or the fame, it’s about the work attitude that constantly focuses on creativity and bringing change that leaves a trail.

The conversations in a creative mindset are about making an impact, creating value, getting into the details and contributing to success of others. It’s still work, but of a different shade.

Creative mindset lives richer, meaningful existence. Crisis mindset leads to more crisis and fire fighting!

Which category do you belong to?

It’s easy to tell. Just ask yourself right now and the answer will come out. If you are somewhere in the middle, then you are not playing a bigger game.

Crisis mindset isn’t bad, it’s just unproductive. It is easy to deal with it if you are willing to climb up the ladder. Here is how you can transition from crisis to creativity.

The transition from Crisis to Creativity

Here are a few actions for you to get a head start:

  1. Crisply define your work before doing it
  2. Keep your mind clear, do not use your brain for remembering and reminding
  3. Think ahead about your work/life and chart out well-defined goals
  4. Align your day-today activities with your larger goals
  5. Develop the habit of deep practice and uninterrupted work

It takes conscious effort and practice to develop a creative mindset. In my upcoming course, I take this to a much deeper level. Once you practice it enough, crisis will start to fade from your life. The more you get into the creative mindset, the less and less you will see crisis happening. A new cycle of productivity and performance will begin.

How much percentage of creative mindset is involved in your work? Who are your favorite creative entrepreneurs?
Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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Double Your Productivity Using this Simple Technique

I recently encountered an interesting question from a programmer – “I have 50 books to read on programming, how do I read them all

My instant reply to that question was – Choose what you don’t want to read and eliminate. Then choose what you want to read.

But that’s not such a useful piece of advice anyways because making choice is the hardest part of all. We have so many options these days that making choosing itself can be a skill to master.

Choice is a classic problem faced by everyone, from programmers to president Obama. The good news is – choosing can be simplified by using a simple technique –  Identifying guiding principles

Here is an example from President Barack Obama: 

President Obama simplified his choice of outfits by choosing a pre-defined set of colors for his suit. Everyday, he do not have make a choice of what suit to wear, because each suit color and style is pre-defined based on his guiding principles. 

Now back to the programming guy. You are naturally faced with the choice of 50+ programming languages which can be possibly learnt. The challenge is to choose that ONE programming language to focus on. Here is where your guiding principles come into play.  You define guiding principles by asking some key questions to yourself. Here are those questions:

  1. What programming language I am least interested in or rather skip to learn? (20 languages eliminated)
  2. Which three programming languages I am most interested in? (3 languages identified)
  3. Which is the most popular programming language in demand these days? (1 identified)

If you closely look at those questions, first step was elimination, second question was narrowing down based on your interest, and in the third question choice was zeroed in based on specific needs. By answering these three simple questions, you created some guiding principles around which you can easily make a decision on the language you want to master. These questions can be changed and more can be added but the core principles behind these questions remains the same:

  1. Eliminate what you are not interested in
  2. Narrow down based on what you are interested in
  3. Zero in based on external needs

The single biggest reason why each one of us struggle to make choices is because we have not determined the guiding principles.  Once you have the guiding principles right – your choice can’t go wrong. And guess what, when you make powerful choices, it’s so easy to focus on it and start getting things done. Productivity doubles up when you eliminate the unnecessary.

Now I want you to get started and implement this principle right away (there is no point in learning something and not implementing it). I want you to do the following and post in the comment below:

  1. Identify the area where you are faced with making difficult choices
  2. Frame your questions around the core guiding principles and answer them
  3. Write your final choice

Once you post your choice in the comment below, I will coach you to help you arrive at the right choice.

How to Develop a Focused and Relaxed State of Mind

developing relax and focused state of mind

how to develop relaxed and focused state of mind

I am a big fan of Bruce Lee and grew up watching his movies. It was fascinating to see his power packed punches and near perfect round-house kicks. While learning martial arts, I used to imitate him, dreaming to become like him – “some day”. That day never came. But, there is a profound learning from what he did and showed to the world about the power of Relaxation and Focus.

Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax

The more focused and relaxed we are, the better is our experience of life. An ideal state of focused and relaxed mind much resembles still water  – often referred as “mind like water” in GTD system.

What happens when you throw a pebble in a pond of still water? It responds in the exact proportion to the force and mass of the object thrown in it. Neither more, nor less.

In a “mind like water” state, you respond appropriately to the situation in front of you, neither overreact, nor under-react.

You can also learn to be focused and relaxed like a martial artist by following these three practices:

1. Take everything out of your mind

Your mind is a focusing tool, not a storage device to hold the large number of agreements you have made to yourself and others. Such commitments (often referred as “open loops”), take up unnecessary mental energy and attention – no matter how small they are. Unless these “open loops” are handled appropriately, your mind isn’t going to give up bothering you about them .

Here are the steps to handle your “open loops” – 1) Take them out of your head on a piece of paper  2) Determine what it is and the next action to be taken 3) Store them physically in an external system where you can come back to refer. Once you start doing this regularly, your mind will stop bothering you about those open loops. You will immediately experience a relaxed state of mind. More on this here.

2. Organize 

Life is full of uncertainties and staying disorganized adds one more layer to it. To me, being organized means keeping everything going around you in perspective and being fully aware of all the moving parts in your world. An organizing system comprises of – 1. Your projects and associated to-do’s 2. Reference material and inventory of ideas 3. Time specific commitments (calendar) 4. Action items to be done by you 5. Tasks you have delegated to others. Having a clear picture of all these five aspects will allow you to experience relaxation and a sense of control in your life.

3. Meditate

Meditating is like slowing down and cleaning up your mind so that it works optimally. In today’s demanding world, meditation is not optional, it is an important need. Here is a simple method to meditate (There are hundreds of ways to meditate and the one described below is probably the simplest method you can start with):

  1. Choose a quite place where there is minimum noise and zero distraction
  2. Sit down in a relaxed position either on a chair or on the floor
  3. Keep your posture straight and relaxed
  4. Close your eyes
  5. Focus on your breath

As soon as you close your eyes, your mind will start wandering aimlessly . Don’t try to force yourself to focus on breathing. Gradually your internal noise will start settling down and you will become calmer and calmer. Once you make a habit of meditating daily, you will begin to experience a greater sense of relaxation and focus. Start with 5 minutes and gradually increase to 10-15 or 30 minutes. You can learn more on mediation in this excellent book.

These three practices are simple, yet very profound in their impact. It takes only a few minutes everyday to practice them. Once you do, it will open up a new world of productivity  – the one where you are relaxed and focused, every moment.

What are your ideas to develop a relaxed and focused state of mind?

Productivity Practice #1 – Take it all out of your mind

One of the key reason of low productivity are the distractions triggered inside our mind. These internal distractions are quite natural because there is too much going on in our lives all the time. Here is a simple example of the internal distraction I am talking about.

Imagine, you are working on an important project report that needs to finished today. Suddenly you thought about the promise made to your wife for planning that long pending vacation.  You did not think of it consciously, but your mind popped it up – out of nowhere. What now? You might start Googling or call your travel agent. Or you might just try to forget it so that you can focus back to your current task. Either ways, your mind got distracted impacting your productivity right away. This brings us to the first principle of Productivity.

The Principle: A clear mind is source of powerful actions

The Practice: Clearing your mind like an empty container

Take at least 2-3 hours off from your day, preferably on a weekend so that you are least distracted. Tell everyone that you are not available during this period. Take a compact spiral notebook or some blank sheets of paper and start writing down all “stuff” that needs to happen in your life. This is not your traditional “to-do” list.  The “stuff” can be a variety of things that needs to done either by you or by others. It should have happened in past or it needs to happen in the next few minutes or in distant future.

Here are a few pointers where your “stuff” can come from:

  1. Official tasks such as documenting, organizing papers, storing references
  2. New hobby idea or a business idea you need to work upon
  3. Calling list – Includes calling to family members, office, interview, appointment or socializing
  4. Planning for that trip, vacation or holidays
  5. Sorting out issues with someone or taking a decision on something
  6. Stuff related to finance, banking, investment or mortgage
  7. Commitments made to yourself
  8. Commitments made to others
  9. Unfinished tasks or projects
  10. Shopping or selling something
  11. Home or office improvement work
  12. Following up with someone on something

Out of these items, chances are that you might find some tasks that are really urgent. Do them on the very same day or the very next hour once you are done writing your stuff. In the next 24 hours, make it a conscious habit to write all your stuff on a piece of paper.  The moment you think about something that needs to be done, write it down. Don’t do it without writing it down first. Initially, you might find it a bit unnatural but as soon as you start doing it, you will find yourself much more free and focussed.

Keep practicing until you make it an integral part of your daily life, like brushing your teeth. If you stop doing it for a couple of days, don’t beat yourself, start fresh and keep going. Use one single place to collect all your stuff so that you can come back and reference it later.

We are building a solid foundation for amazing productivity and creativity…keep it up!

Once you have collected everything in your physical and psychological world that is pulling your attention, it’s time to process and organize it. Head over to the Productivity Practice of Staying Organized.

A clear mind can boost your productivity

In the previous blog post, I showed you a very simple way to supercharge your productivity. If you have done those five steps, you might have felt better and a bit relaxed. The reason why you could overcome the stress is because you gave your mind the space it needed.

Let me elaborate it some more.

Our mind has a temporary memory that keeps reminding things which are open and not handled. Even right now, while you are reading this article, you might have certain thoughts that keep coming back. What are those open items? A majority of us has many such open loops, not just one or two. In fact, if you sit down and start writing about all your open items, they will run into may be 50 or 100 items at least.

The reason why these ‘open item’ thoughts come again and again is because your mind does not know when to trigger these thoughts. It only understands that there is something ‘unhanded’ and you ought to do something about it. It could be either doing that task or simply doing something about that task.While it is next to impossible to do all ‘open items’ we have immediately, it is certainly possible to do something about them. So, we wrote them down on a piece of paper (or screen). The moment you wrote them down on a piece of paper or screen, your mind was free from it because it got handled somewhere. Now your mind got the message that it need not to worry about those open items any more. As a result, you started feeling one more bit relaxed and focussed. How magical that is?

If you look at the most productive people around you, you will find that they are clear about a majority of their ‘open items’. As a result, they are much more relaxed and focussed on the immediate task on hand. So next time, when you get the thought of an ‘open item’, immediately write it down somewhere you will reference later. And see how your  mind works to your advantage!

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