Making priorities a priority

I’ve spent the last two hours doing business planning and improving my structure, with the help of the intensely practical book The Accidental Creative. (I am following my own advice to DO THE MOTHERFUCKING EXERCISES. Who knew, it makes a difference! Oh wait, I knew. That’s why I give that advice. But it’s easy to forget.)

I had one Sledgehammer of Obviousness hit me between the eyes as I did this:

You can’t truly manage your priorities until they all live in the same place.

I don’t know about you, but I have a salad bar approach to systems. Especially systems for self-management. I tend to pick a wee bit here, and a bite of that, with a side of that other thing. Except this analogy isn’t perfect, because in a salad bar you put every bit of food on the same plate, and with systems I tend to put one in my pocket and another on my desk and a third in a spreadsheet and a fourth in my calendar and then I wonder why they don’t work together too well.

I’m a slow learner, not a no learner.

Now I have a Monday morning meeting to bring all of those priorities together, and get them to harmonise. Everything from upcoming projects to Date Night with The Dude – sounds like a bouffant 50s album – is going to be organised at the same time.

(So that I don’t, say, suggest we go out after a day with four hours of intense client sessions and then wonder why I cancel due to extreme poopedness. For example.)

From now on it’s all going to live on the same plate. I suspect this will make a dramatic improvement over time in my success at Getting Shit Done. I’ll let you know.

How about you? Do your priorities lead separate lives? Have you found ways to get them to play together? Tell us in the comments!

photo by: R/DV/RS

Two types of busy

Sometimes when you’ve got a lot on your plate, it’s like carrying a whole bootful* of shopping from the car to your door. You dramatically speed up in order to hasten the moment when you can put the burden down and sigh with relief.

*other parts of the world call the boot “the trunk” instead. I am a cross-cultural educator!

Sometimes when you’ve got a lot on your plate, it’s like carrying a slightly over-full cup of tea. You dramatically slow down in order to move more smoothly and keep all the tea in the cup.

The key is knowing when to run, and when to glide.

I know that I need to slow down when I start dropping things: forgetting details, making simple errors, losing the thread in a conversation.

I know I need to speed up when I have one big project that’s finished percolating, and is ready to get done, already.

When do you slow down and speed up? And how do you cope in those times when you have to move fast with a full cup of tea?

Tell us in the comments!

photo by: canorus

Announcing: Catherine’s Second Theorem Of Work Versus Rest

I wish to announce that I have completed Catherine’s Second Theorem Of Work Versus Rest.

Catherine’s First Theorem Of Work Versus Rest was stated thus:

There are three categories of work versus rest:

  • Working hard
  • Taking it easy
  • Taking a day off

The practice:

Since you have so much to do, taking it easy is preferable to taking a day off. Working hard is best.

But those classifications are inaccurate.

After extensive further testing, I have created a much more accurate model with its own corollaries. I am confident that this model is both more reflective of reality and more useful to the practical scientist.

Catherine’s Second Theorem Of Work Versus Rest

There are two categories of work, two of rest and one amalgam. They are:

Creative labour

High-end creative output, including writing, design, research, innovation, strategy, performance, development.

This work requires incubation, percolation and time.

(Credit to my colleague Lewis Hyde for his exploration of the difference between “creative labour” and “work”.)

Work

All of the other tasks of one’s business, from pressing seams to answering emails to marketing to customer maintenance.

Sorta-Kinda

A mixture of work and rest. This phenomenon is actually two similar events:

Sorta-Working, where the subject attempts to get work done but with constant distraction and attention drift to pleasure activities.

Sorta-Resting, where the subject attempts to relax but with constant distraction and attention drift back to work tasks.

Rest

Naps, sleep, play, dance, light exercise, social exchanges, and pleasurable activities of all kinds.

Unplug

Time spent without creating and without consuming, including meditation, walks (without headphones), cloud/fish/train-watching, swimming in the ocean, playing with the dog, and snuggling.

The implications of this new model

1. Unsuitability of the Sorta-Kinda activities for practical use.

The Sorta-Kinda category is not, as previously theorised, a clever way to get work done while conserving energy. It has become clear that it is actually ineffectual at both tasks – getting very little work done, while also delivering very little rest.

With prolonged use, subjects have reported the following symptoms:

  • restlessness
  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • lack of creativity
  • lack of focus
  • reduced pleasure in their work
  • continual fatigue
  • difficulty in problem-solving
  • reduced ability to persevere
  • missing deadlines
  • declining work standards
  • irritation

I have experienced many of these symptoms myself. Thus, I am now experimenting with removing this category entirely. I will either work (creative labour and work included here) or I will rest (unplugging and rest included here). Sorta-Working and Sorta-Resting will be discontinued.

I will document my results in a paper to be published later.

2. How to resolve problems in work and creative labour.

Work and creative labour (henceforth referred to collectively as “work activities”) both require energy – prodigious amounts, especially in the case of creative labour. Work activities burn this energy inefficiently, resulting in an overall decrease in the energy put into the system.

This shortfall in energy must be obtained from other sources, most notably rest and unplugging (henceforth referred to collectively as “rest activities”).

Thus, if one is experiencing a decline in output of work activities that is due to insufficient energy levels, attempting to do more work activities will only increase the problem. Under such circumstances, rest activities are the only logical solution.

Put succinctly: if you can’t work, you must rest.

3. Additional notes regarding creative labour.

It has been documented by other studies that a regular output of creative labour requires a regular input of unplugging.

This is logical, as unplugging is a time – for some subjects, the only time while awake – where the subject is not absorbing more data, and the mind is allowed to be fallow, contemplative, and make its own connections. These connections are vital to the formation of truly creative thought, and are considerably less likely to occur in a subject whose brain is constantly stimulated.

Thus, a regular practice of unplugging is as vital as regular rest for the maintenance of creative labour. I mention this to highlight a part of the model: rest and unplugging are separate activities. Some hyper-efficient subjects have attempted to combine them, but thus far all attempts have reduced the output of one – or both – of the desired activities.

I look forward to your peer review of this model. I am confident you will find it accurate and applicable.

Regards,
Catherine
Doer of Science

Status anxiety (and my internal voices find deerstalkers)

Yesterday, I spent an hour wrestling with cognitive dissonance.

One internal voice – let’s call her Sally – said, “Dyana Valentine is not that great.” The other – Bianca – said, “Dyana Valentine is pretty amazing, actually, I can see why she gets so much praise.”

Dyana and I had just spent twenty minutes chatting, as a result of me finally getting past the someday-I-would-like-to-chat-with-these-amazing-people-I-haven’t-talked-to-except-in-my-twitter-stream inertia, and starting to Make The Ask.

Bianca kept bringing up these delightful pings that were sparking in my head after Dyana had said something unexpected and insightful. Sally mostly just rumbled and muttered words like “disappointed”.

Why was Sally trying to convince me that Dyana wasn’t as good as she was supposed to be? I asked myself. The answer floated down: Because you weren’t as good as you were supposed to be, and it’s less painful to blame someone else. It’s called transference, or something.

At this point Sally and Bianca stopped arguing and put on deerstalker hats. “What do you mean when you say that you weren’t as good as you were supposed to be?”

“I… well, I said some dumb things. Of the kind that I winced about after, but she probably doesn’t even remember. I came across as unprepared, even though I had done some prep. And I was just kind of… flat. Not my bestest, light-yet-intense self.”

“Hmmm…” mused Sally. “Let’s find the culprit, shall we?”

Suspect number 1: The internet connection

Bianca noted that the connection was a smidgen laggy at my end, which resulted in not being able to hear some words and phrases. “Sometimes, you took too long to respond because you had to piece together what she said with the gaps.”

True, plus it was video instead of just audio, which I am never as comfortable with. But I don’t think that was all of it. I’ve been flat-out amazing over much dodgier connections than this.

Conclusion: accessory before the fact, but not the culprit.

Suspect number 2: Caffeine

Sally said, “I have it! We quit caffeinated soft drink on the weekend, after a decade of too much pseudo-sugar. This is day three without caffeine. Case closed!”

True, but I wasn’t having the big-time withdrawal symptoms. I was a little tired, and my concentration was definitely less than optimal, but I don’t think that was all of it. I’ve been fine during calls when I was on day four of a five-day flu. And besides, I’d done a client call an hour beforehand and that went pretty well.

Conclusion: accessory before the fact, but not the culprit.

Suspect number 3: Status anxiety

“Wait,” Sally said. “Hold up a second. Do you think we actually got a small dose of status anxiety? It’s been a while since that happened, but it could fit.”

Bianca and I pondered. I said, “Well, we do see Dyana as more important than us.”

“Did you just say more important?”

“Holy crispy crap, I did. I meant her business is more well-known and she charges more than we do.”

“Dude, we know what you really meant. You meant that she is more important than you. Wow, we totally have a bit of compare-and-feel-tiny going on.”

Bianca chipped in. “Admit it. We have been feeling pretty small lately. Look at all those top-minds-in-the-industry collaborations that have been going on and we haven’t been invited to be part of any of them. In a few ways we are actually smaller than we were a couple of years ago. No wonder we’re feeling insecure.”

“Right. And remember that neuroscience book we just read? That kind of threatened feeling plays all kind of merry hell with your limbic system, and completely messes with your ability to think lucidly, make connections, retrieve information – all the things you rely on to be your usual insightful self.”

Sally made a skeptical face.

“It must have been a subtle-ass amount we’re talking here. I mean, you didn’t pick up on it, and neither did Dyana. And both of you are good at that kinda thing.”

“That’s the funny part. It really doesn’t take much feeling of threat, like threat of rejection, to get the system running. It uses the same wiring as physical threat, and how long does it take for us to chill after hearing a strange noise in the night?”

“So it was small enough that you couldn’t notice it and fix it, and subtle enough that Dyana couldn’t notice it and assist, but big enough to drop you from 100% awesome to 85% awesome?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“That makes sense. It’s funny, I can’t think of the last time it’s gotten in the way.”

“Well, some of that is – problematically – due to how safe we’ve been playing it for awhile. But the rest of it is probably due to it being too subtle for us to use our usual response systems.”

“Ah well. It wasn’t that bad.”

“Nope, I learned a lot. That Dyana is pretty amazing, actually, I can see why she gets so much praise.”

At this point, Sally conceded defeat and agreed with Bianca and me.

So what do I normally do when I’m feeling status anxiety?

Any mix of the following:

  • take a few deep breaths
  • tell myself it’s normal to be nervous when talking to someone new
  • remind myself that they’re a human being, just like me
  • tell them, “It’s funny, but I’m feeling nervous talking to you.”
  • find something to laugh at
  • focus on making the other person comfortable and relaxed
  • review my words before I say them
  • get them talking
  • ask a question
  • make sure my shoulders are low and back

Usually that makes it go away well enough or long enough for me to build a genuine connection to the person I’m talking to.

And what do I normally do when I get the impression that someone is feeling that way toward me?

I deliberately drop my status.

I do this a lot anyway, as evidenced by this long-ass article about my brain and its wacky ways. Sometimes I still need to pull out the pants-on-one-leg-at-a-time moves to help whoever I’m talking to chill out.

Also, I make sure I’m staying calm, ‘cos nervousness is infectious and then everything goes to hell.

Right now I need to give myself applause, and a stern look.

Because this kind of will-she-like-me-I’ll-die-if-she-doesn’t-like-me fear used to kick my ass, but has not been a part of my life for some time. And there are two big reasons for this, one good and one very worrying.

Good: look at all the tools I have to deal with this when it arises! Booyah!

Bad: look at the tiny safe nest I have built for myself where I am not required to take any risks! Crap!

So there will be more conversations with people my brain has decided are More Important Than Me, a thorough exploration of that concept with my coach, and more articles like this one.

Has status anxiety caused you biz problems? Any tips for rocking on anyway? Share them in the comments!

photo by: w0arz