Front flip to roll to double axel to triple toe spin move, etc etc. Gymnasts, at their best, are in a zen-like flow. Never do they appear to think: “hmm..what should I do now?” Even if they stumble or fall, they jump back up, without a moments thought, and continue the routine—with grace.
Olympic gymnasts perform miraculous displays of acrobatic flips, twists and constantly challenge the idea of what we think is humanly possible. They do all this with the entire world watching. They have spent countless hours practicing and perfecting movements and techniques. However, once they have a strong foundation of movements and stunts they can preform, they queue them up in a sequence of events. Come competition time, there is no wondering “what should I do?” Their mind is clear of those worrisome questions. They are just locked in on the sequence and routine at hand.
What can we learn from this?
For years, I spent my days with very few things queued up. I got up, showered, got dressed, made breakfast, drove to work and then, it was time to react. It was time to REACT to work requests, REACT to unforeseen interruptions, eat lunch, REACT to more work needs, leave the office, commute home, react to home needs, prepare for next days routine, sleep. My days where being designed by the world around me and not from my own goals and aspirations. Desperate to break this cycle, I began to proactively queue the activities and tasks of my day. I was determined to design a life that I envisioned or at the very least, gain a bit more control over it.
For instance, I have my grand list of items I need and WANT to do, some driven by outside sources such as “complete client website” while others are driven by my personal aspirations such as “get fit” or more specifically, get artist representation. Using the three steps rule, I chose three major tasks to complete the night before. I then preschedule my day in advance to ensure I meet my time commitments but also to carve out space for the non-urgent, aspirational items.
The next morning, I wake up knowing that I will make significant progress on my business newsletter (task 1) by 11 a.m., a huge dent in the website redesign(task 2) by 2 p.m. and will have visited the gym before doing any of these. I move with purpose from morning until night versus jumping from task to task like a caffeine-loaded Mario Brother.
I have also queued up the steps I take within a specific major task. For example, while at the gym, I have a series of workout routines that I follow depending on the day and focus. Monday is pushing exercises, Wednesday is pulling, and Friday is legs. Each days workout has the specific sequence of exercises, rep ranges and sets all queue’d up in advanced. So whether I’m at the MacBook or the weight bench—it’s business time.
My Ideal Work Day Que’d Up
5:00: wake up
5:05: Make french press coffee!
5:10: Write or Sketch
5:45: Make breakfast (queued up option): veggie egg white omelet with avocado
---------------<personal development/ thinking/>-----------
6:20: Personal (read books on subject of current interest, write in note book or sketch)
---------------<school day rush/>---------------
7:00: wake up child
7:10: Make breakfast for son (queued up options: oatmeal or peanut butter banana toast with hard boil egg)
7:20: serve up the chow
7:30: get dressed while Lucas eats
7:45: brush our teeth, comb our hair
8:00: walk to school
8:25: return from school walk
8:30 prepare for day and email
---------------<task 1: business development/>---------------
9:00: work (marketing: newsletter writing, blogging)
9:45: work on new products (secret project one: research, secret project two: prototypes, etc)
10:30: break, email & más café.
---------------<task 2: client work, flexible/>---------------
1045: Work Client (always in flux but always scheduled ahead: design homepage and content page, draft user stories, etc.)
12:45 Gym (monday-wednesday-friday: strength training, tues-thursday: free time)
1:30 eat lunch
1:45 email, phone calls, etc
---------------<task 3: client work, flexible)/>---------------
2:00-3:30: Continue client focused work
(options, continue first client task or switch to another depending on need)
3:30: break (free, errands, walk,)
3:45 Work MISC (phone calls, emails, errands, filing)
---------------<back to home life/>---------------------------
5:00: work done
5:05 pick up son
5:45 return home
5:55 prepare meal
7:00 free family (homework, play Mario Chess, or family exercise, etc.)
---------------<end of day/>---------------------------
8:00 prepare bed
8:30 books (Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants)
8:45 lights out for son
9:00 prepare next day (tidy kitchen, dishes, laundry, lunches)
---------------<bonus personal task/>---------------------------
9:45 free personal (sun Tuesday thursday read book, monday watch Netflix documentaries)
10:45 my lights out
Like the gymnasts at the mat, I try to take out as much of the guess work as possible, in as many things as I can by setting up the sequence of the days events before it begins. Despite the rigid appearance, I try to allow a degree of flexibility to it. If an opportunity or unforeseen mishap presents itself, I can address it and pick up where I left off. Yes, many days are choke full of interruptions, but I am always able to find a way back to my routine if I have all of my tasks queued up. It’s not perfect, but it feels purposeful and has left me feeling more fulfilled and accomplished at days end compared to the confused, “where’d the day go,” feeling I had when I simply let the day just unfold.
So, give it a try.
Take one or two things you HAVE to get done and then, throw in one thing you WANT to do and schedule them in your day. Try it for 5 days and notice the difference. Now, back to your email, I’m sure there is a fire brewing in that inbox of yours.
Do you ever talk yourself out of a deal?
I do, more often than I realized or like to admit. Should I take a class, buy new gym shoes to replace the sole-less ones I'm currently sporting, put creamer in my coffee or upgrade my laptop? Everyday there are countless decision to be made that affect our health, wealth and overall quality of life. More often than not, the answer is no to these questions. I am pretty good at restraining on indulgences which comes in handy when trying to get in shape. However, it also keeps me from investing in things that could improve myself, my work and/or my health. Such was the case with the project I am sharing with you today.
I've always admired brands like Paul Frank back in the day, TokiDoki back in the recent day and creative start ups like Threadless.com. It just seemed like the coolest job to have. Create character-filled, design-driven products and apparel while having a blast.
So why the heck not? After all, I've spent many a commute daydreaming of product ideas while sitting in the brake light parade that is the 405 freeway. I have a ton o' character art hidden in various folders on my MacBook. Plus, I'd always have something cool to wear.
This is when the story takes it's turn. Whenever, I'd have a free moment to create this new business endeavor, I'd conveniently find a way to chicken out. No, I didn't run and hide under my desk. I just conveniently found ways to fill that extra time. The mischievous jawas in my head would say things like: your inbox is full and needs to be cleaned out. Oh look, Johnny needs me to get that thingy over to his office stat! Sure it could wait but you don't want to look like a flake to him, do you? Throw in a few meetings, a slew of social media updates and one too many coffee breaks and my free time went "poof" gone. All in the name of business, or busyness. Sound familiar?
To continue, when I actually did work on these self-initiated projects, those clever jawas used new tactics to talk me out of that too. You've never done apparel much before, it'll cost too much, and do you know how to prepare the taxes for tangible products? Taxes is one helluva scary word, damn those jawas are good.
The truth is—I was scared to try. Despite always encouraging my business clients, students and peers to step out of their safety zone and be bold, this one dream project made me freeze up. After years of getting comfortable selling my freelance design services, products seem to up the personal ante. This makes for some real dragonflies in the belly.
So how does one resolve this? Well, it's a process. I had, over time, managed to get some product ideas together. I simplified those ideas into starting with apparel, mainly shirts. I reduced 20 plus shirt designs down to three. Took the three designs and simplified them down to two. I kept minimizing steps by simply eliminating them or doing them. Eventually, I had nothing in my way to take the plunge. At last this summer, I was staring at a large box full of my shirts. Happy day for sure. However, the story continues…
Was the mind-numbing chatter of those pesky jawas silenced? Well, not exactly. Despite all of the above, the real challenge, for me, has just begun. That challenge is to share it all with y'all. To put my own products into the world. My shirts are real but have basically remained a secret. This week I am sharing it with the world. The jawas saved the biggest sand dune for now.
So here is the 411 on these shirts:
· Designed by the award-winning Ambidextrous Studio (which is moí, which is me in Français).
· They are printed on 100% organic cotton, so it's good for a sustainable world.
· These shirts have been known to make people smile when they see you coming.
· They were printed by Cory and the good peeps at Kindle Kreative.
· They look good with jeans, a pair of Toms or Chucks and your favorite headphones.
· They promote the arts and creativity and I will donate a percentage of all sales to arts education charities.
Check them out at the Ambi Online Store!
What do you say?
Sigh...another unsettled day.
It started with a bang but ended with a thud. A quick glance at my days todo list reads: design home page, email Sara regarding the upcoming event, brain storm new project ideas, get client web host quotes, draft Tuesday's meeting agenda, buy milk, review sight words with son, and on and on and on.
This used to be the shape of my daily plan. I’d list all the urgent items and try to get them done. All in one day. The list, usually much longer then the sample above, proved to be a recipe for failure. I felt defeated and inefficient daily. Just a simple glance of my old list induced a tea kettle-like sigh. This wasn’t just stuck in a rut, it felt more like buried alive, under a bounce house, with a small army of toddlers jumping on top.
A, B, C, Not As Easy As 1, 2, 3
I’ve tried the A, B, C type methods (A=critical tasks, B=important but can wait, C=not important and can wait) with mild success. However, over time, I’ve found most things begged to be on the A list. This made the list too much to grasp in a single day and was rarely completed. In short, if a task wasn’t an A list item, it had absolutely no shot at getting done. This then made the B and C lists a constant, growing reminder of what I was not doing. Not the most accomplished way to view your day.
I have since devised a different method. I still create my lists of prioritized A (must actions) and B (niceties or maybes) list tasks but I have since dropped the C list. I then try to focus on one to three A list (must) tasks per day, no more. I still keep my grand list of things I want done, but my daily list is much cleaner with only three major tasks listed to get done.
What warrants an A list item?
I would say anything critical to your business, finances or relationships such as deadline driven tasks and assignments (the project launch, exhibit due date, bills, etc.). Include anything that will get you fired, divorced, in hot water, incur a financial lose or other high stakes.
However, I also include things that are important, but not deadline driven, such as business or personal development, future thinking, relationship building, networking, and so on. Think goal setting, designing your new products, lattes with a lost contact or writing an industry blog post.
Keep One For You
I try to save one of my three tasks for one thing that is for me. This can be a hobby, passion or simply something that makes me tick and energizes me. For instance, I have a few passions outside design such as teaching, fitness, reading, music and sports. So, I try to schedule one thing like: a visit to the gym during lunch, soccer with my son after school, or reading my favorite “how to” book before giving up the ghost. These are small items that make the difference between a regular ole day and a truly rocking day.
I can hear you saying: “not possible Eric, I just have way too many things going on to narrow down to three!” I find myself saying the same thing. I remind myself that most things we try to do in a day are not major tasks. A and B list items should never include reoccurring things such as regular meetings and email. Items like those are simply scheduled in windows around my A list times. Never let email, Facebook or the smart phone rule your day again.
Focusing on three major wins a day not only increased my ability to focus but it dramatically helped me feel more accomplished at the end of the day. If you ask me, feeling good at the end of the day is quantum leaps more important than winning a productivity award. Even just 30 minutes on one task just for you, could change your outlook and make the day feel a bit more interesting. A couple days like this in a row make for an interesting week. A couple of interesting weeks, could eventually add up to an interesting life. :)
Worth a try?
With a whiteboard full of world beating ideas, we run back to our dwellings high on the rush of accomplishing something bigger than ourselves (or at least bigger than we previously thought doable). However, that delightful buzz seems to putter into a sandpaper-like drag after a few days or weeks.
This happens for a variety of reason. Often, it’s life's commitments such as deadlines, the boss’s agenda or kids figuring back into the picture. However, the main reason I see the lose of excitement lead to an aborted project is the lack of breaking big ideas into smaller, easily digested pieces. Most great ideas worth chasing can appear too grand to act upon. They can cause us to get lost in “where do I startland” or “what to do nextville”. The smaller and more granular one can get with these big ideas and tasks, the easier it is to stay committed to their path. Moreover, the more likely the original idea will be realized.
Let me explain further.
Let’s say while looking at the white board of new potential projects, you’ve determined the one that reads: “Become an Interactive Designer” is the idea that sparks the most excitement. Before skipping off to check the Facebook feed, while the excitement is still with you, take that goal and break it into smaller actionable tasks.
It could look like this:
Become an Interactive Designer
Take a user experience design course
Revise portfolio to feature more interactive projects
Learn HTML & CSS
Volunteer to design a non-profits web site
Continue on until you run out of ideas or actions. However, don’t stop there. Again, while you’ve got momentum on your side, take that new list of actions and prioritize them in an order you feel best accomplishes the end goal.
Example numero dos:
Become an Interactive Designer
1. Volunteer to design a non-profits web site
2. Learn HTML & CSS
3. Revise portfolio to showcase more “interactive” work
4. Take User Experience Design courses
Now, here is key. Take those priorities and get granular with them.
Example numero tres:
1. Volunteer to Design Non-Profits website
Granular (child) tasks:
a. Research local arts-based non-profits in my area
b. Make list of 5 contacts
c. Contact 2 non-profits a day to inquire about donating my services
d. Email Jennifer to inquire about the non-profit she works with
2. Learn HTML and CSS
Granular (child) tasks:
a. Research 5 html/css books on Amazon
c. Buy one book or service by Friday.
List as many as you feel accomplishes the action or task. It should be items and actions one could accomplish in a day or an hour if possible. The smaller, the better. Remember, these big ideas are usually projects that need to fit into an already full schedule, so it is critical that they squeak in the few small cracks of free time we have. It may feel small at first but if done each day, you will begin to build momentum.
Lastly, try to be very specific with these granular tasks. Instead of saying “research books”, it says “research 5 html and css books on Amazon”. Get specific with the time of day to complete the task if you like. Apply some pressure in the form of a deadline while giving yourself a clear map to victory can be a potent mix.
Conquering Mount Everest-like plans always seem to set off a round of high fives in the office and a celebratory round of high balls at the pub. However, it’s at your own peril if you adjourn to happy hour before you break your big goals into small granular bits that can be acted upon and achieved on a daily basis. So, sharpen the saw and start chopping up them goals up.
I pranced in here with a purpose but somewhere between the coffee press and my desk, my mind raced about the upcoming conference call, the cancelled dentist appointment, the 2 p.m. new client meeting and by the time I reached the my desk (7 seconds later)—I’ve forgotten what I originally walked in for. With my purpose now buried, I move on to checking email and further burying any other inspired thoughts.
Sadly, this actually happened. However, this could be why: I own a design business, lead a non profit, sit on a city commission, coach youth soccer and basketball, teach design at night, produce arts events all while staying focused on my family and their needs. While I tend to lean on the overactive side, I think many of us find ourselves in situations where our mental hard drives exceed their capacity and start giving us error messages.
Make A List=Stop Losing Sleep
There are a couple of remedies to this. One, is to simply reign in the activities (which I do). However, there are times when normally manageable commitments seem to cross paths and vomit their needs all at the same time (can you say...holidays). When this happens, one thing that has helped me to get a grip on it all and stop walking up at night, is to make a huge, grand list of everything I need to do.
This grand list includes everything I have on my mind. Yes, everything, from work tasks and volunteer obligations to home repairs and what I need to get from my next visit to Target. It’s one giant mental download of everything in my head. Not only is it a great mental relief but it can be quite fun as I usually find some idea or exciting project that got buried underneath all of my mental clutter.
Like other tips listed here, this task is hilariously easy to implement and gives back a huge payoff of clarity and good ole fashioned piece o’ mind. I started with a couple pages on a note pad. I just listed everything I could think of as they came to mind. I found I enjoyed seeing the contents of my entire head on a piece of paper. I lived with just paper lists for a few weeks but quickly graduated to digital documents. While paper is always accessible, it tends to look like a 3 year old art project after a few days. Digital allows for a quick and clean copy-paste for prioritization and elimination.
My current method is a hybrid of sorts. Every 3 to 4 months I create a grand list digitally. Then, I take the list and put each task or item on its own sticky note. Then, I prioritize them on a white board under the categories: today, this week, this month and this fall (or whatever season is currently underway).
I then focus my week by taking just that weeks priorities and placing them back on a single sheet of paper or digital to do list. I simply move one or three items up daily and focus on only those.
“It’s no wonder you can’t sleep”, my wife often states after I list everything I have on my mind. While making a grand list isn’t a cure all, it has given me relief every time I take 30 minutes or so to list everything crammed in my dome. I try to make a new list at the first sign of a forgotten task, no matter how small the task is (like forgetting to turn on the dish washer). I take it as my mind giving me a subtle warning it’s reaching capacity.
However, don’t wait for a break down. Also, don’t let the complexity of what I do stop you as I just strongly suggest simply emptying your mind and making a grand list. Then, try to prioritize it and see if you can see a game plan emerge. At the very least, it will act as a mental release valve of sorts. So, clear your head and forget about being forgetful—for a little while.
Actions For You:
1// Make a grand list on paper. Take a week and write down everything single “todo” action you may have in your head.
2// Prioritize them by this month, this week and today (feel free to add whatever time frame that suits you).
3// List this weeks top priorities on a new document and focus on only 3 a week (sound familiar?).
Bonus: Resource to Check Out
My preferred digital tool for my grand lists and weekly to do’s is Evernote. This handy app has been a godsend as it allows me to create lists on my laptop or mobile device and sync nicely to all my devices via the cloud. It has “todo” check list capabilities, organizes all my lists (or notes) in order of most recently updated and many more features I have yet to use.
This book by Stephen R. Covey has some very powerful methods and tools to help you prioritize your roles and tasks. It bases your actions and decisions by what you value most. Franklin Covey also have very handy paper based planners. I’ve used them in the past and found them very effective indeed. It’s a must for new comers to organization or those who are extremely frazzled.
This book, by David Allen, seems to be for the more seasoned planner or organizer, in my opinion. It has some very helpful methods for filling and sorting your mental, digital and paper-based inbox’s. This book also advocates the use of a master todo list and provides some excellent questions to help trigger any forgotten tasks that may still be causing your mind to worry about unconsciously.
It was for a research assignment for a user experience course. The task was to pick an activity we did regularly, track it and record the changes, if any, it had on our behavior. So, I tracked every bite of food that went into my mouth for seven days. By the end of the week, not only did my food choices clean up but my weight went down by four pounds.
Prior to the assignment, I had already begun to rethink my relationship with food. However, the act of writing down every piece of food I consumed, seeing the macronutrient total and the ability to get into my pants with out a large inhale, transformed fleeting thoughts into lasting behavioral changes. I had suspected my diet choices could use some tweaking but now I had proof on paper (and on the belt loops).
Seeing=Believing + Sharing=Caring
As cliche as the title above sounds, the potent combination of seeing every food choice listed each day paired with the knowledge that I would have to share them to a group of classmates, made me clean up my act. Monday, I passed on the coffee creamer. On Tuesday, I had one less piece of toast. By Wednesday, I skipped the morning toast completely. Day by the day, seeing the small drop in my weight made a believer out of me. While the idea of having to share my entire weekly food intake made me care about it all the more. I didn’t want to look like Boss Hog, literally and figuratively (pun intended).
Food, Quickbooks, Exercise, or Facebook.
Almost anything task or activity can be tracked and transformed. I have also done this with my work day, tracking every task I did during business hours. I listed everything from actual work, to reading industry blogs, reacting to email, responding to call/texts, Facebook, Quickbooks, trips to the water closet, everything!
The results were a swift punch square in the nose. I discovered how much time was allocated to email, calls and other so called “work tasks” such as keeping up with industry news and connecting on social networks. It showed me where most of my time went and gave me a good visual guide to what tasks I was most productive and what times this seemed to happen.
In addition to tracking specific actions, like the food experiment, I’ve also tracked general behaviors such as all of my work day actions. I’ve tracked general behaviors these two ways.
One with a piece of paper divided into three categories: bad, good and better. I then recorded each action and intuitively categorized them by how it made me feel when writing it down.
I have also tried a Covey-esque four quadrant matrix on a piece of paper. I divided it by tasks that were important and urgent (deadlines and bills), urgent not important (many emails and reoccurring meetings), important not urgent (marketing, new product development and business strategy), and not urgent and not important (some emails, mosts chats, and 99% of everything Facebook).
I find both methods are effective but it’s the two simple actions of recording each behavior and making a note of how they made you feel being the most important. So whatever you do, just try to track those two at a minimum.
The first few days of work behavior tracking were rough as it showed me all my work day warts. However, like the food experiment, by day four my behavior began to change and my time choices improved. Gone was the ichat and email was regulated to only specific times of the day. Again, every small change and better choice made each day a bit more productive. Thus, more productive days add up to a more fulfilling week.
Tracking behaviors is a very simple method that anyone can implement immediately. It can promote change or simply discover the how, what or why behind a behavior . All you need is a clean sheet of paper, a competent writing tool and a chosen behavior or action to track. So, track the coffee habit you’d like to change or find out if Instagram is snapping up your free time. You can also have fun with it. Listen to jazz during the morning commute or actually take a lunch break away from the desk for a week straight. Each day, just track the action and how it make you feel. Whatever you chose, if done with regularity, you will see results and the results will make you believe—things can change.
Pick one specific behavior you’d like to change or at least find some insights behind it.
Track every time you preform that behavior. You can include the time and place if you’d like. Do it for at least a week.
Compare and contrast any changes such as frequency, elevated mood or shift in behavior performance (these will obviously vary depending on what’s being tracked)
Have fun with it. Pick something you’d be excited to change or learn more about.