Tag Archives: personal time management

Take the time to be creative

Smell the dasiesOne of the most overlooked aspects of creativity and learning is simply taking the time needed to reflect and think.  Professor Manfred Kets De Vries suggests that the fast paced, continuous access, instant response culture we operate in is eroding people’s ability to reflect and create innovative solutions to problems.  The pressure to ‘just finish this’ or ‘find out about (and hit Google on your smart phone)’ is usually too great to resist. But working quicker and harder is not necessarily working smarter.

De Vries believes that deliberately slowing down  and setting aside regular periods of ‘constructively doing nothing’ may be the best thing  you can do to induce a state of mind that nurtures imagination, creativity, and improves your mental well-being, by giving ideas time to mature.

“Learning without reflection is a waste, reflection without learning is dangerous” – Confucius

Business may be all pervasive, almost everyone seems glued to their PDA and feels compelled to respond to virtually every email received instantaneously but being busy and being effective are not the same thing unless you work in a customer service or support role!

If you are in a management, problem solving, or creative role a significant part of your job is developing new ideas or concepts that have been though through  and optimised. This requires thinking time.  But is creatively doing nothing really acceptable? Most of us feel guilty if we don’t have something to do, and we get a buzz when we feel really busy. And these busy behaviours generate their own reward by stimulating the brain to shoot dopamine into the bloodstream giving us a rush that can make stopping being busy so much harder. It really is nice to feel wanted, busy and in demand.

The problem with being busy is that if you don’t allow yourself periods of uninterrupted, freely associated, thought then personal growth, insight and creativity are less likely to emerge. And taking the time to ‘smell the daisies’ has multiple benefits……

The world of multitasking and hyperactivity helps us to delude ourselves that we are productive. The reality is that social media is reactive and not very original. It contracts creativity and can impact mental health. If we don’t know how to calibrate the balance between action and reflection we may become a casualty of information overload and psychological burnout.

Similarly, in many contemporary organisations work addicts are encouraged and rewarded; the behaviour is superficially useful to the organisation. Unfortunately, a workaholic environment can contribute to serious personal and mental health problems including low morale, depression, and above average absenteeism. The most effective knowledge workers are those who can both act and reflect, which means unplugging themselves from the compulsion to keep busy.

Deliberately doing nothing creates valuable opportunities for unconscious thought processes. Unconscious thought excels at integrating and associating information; we are less constrained by conventional associations and more likely to generate novel ideas. As well as being good for our mental health, doing nothing may turn out to be the best way to resolve complex problems.  Italian painter Giorgio Vasari summed it up well when he said “Men of genius sometimes accomplish most when they work least”.

Some of the ways you can create time for reflection include:

  1. Maintaining your relationships. We all need meaningful contact with people to feel fully alive. Maintaining our relationships needs interaction, engagement and time out from work. Conversation is also a powerful stimulant for creativity (just make sure you have a notebook handy).
  2. Saying No. Being able to say no is a key skill. Simply saying no to unimportant requests can free up time for more important things (see more on personal time management).
  3. Managing your sleep habits. In a perfect world we should all sleep around eight hours a night. Good sleep is essential for personal growth and creativity.

The challenge with taking time out to be creative is the good ideas always come ‘from nowhere’, usually at the most inappropriate moments (eg, in the shower). If this happens to you, you are not alone; from Archimedes in his bath, to Newton in his Lincolnshire garden (but no ‘apple’), brilliant ideas just seem to just appear. So the final element in creatively doing nothing is being able to trap your ideas when they surface.

ProductivityIn summary, a walk around outside or time spent with your feet on the desk can be more productive than working through a lunch-break – now all you have to do is convince the boss.

For a different take on productive laziness see: http://www.thelazyprojectmanager.com/

Don’t procrastinate about your goals for 2013!

The strategies for achieving goals were purported to have been defined in the “1953 Yale Study of Goals.”  But, as it turns out this study is little more than an often-quoted urban legend that, it appears, was never actually conducted.

However, what’s even stranger is a recent study by professor Dr. Gail Matthews of the Dominican University of California, backs up these ‘mythical’ strategies for achieving goals! The legend is based in fact!! (Read the full report)

So based on real scientific study if you want to fulfil your New Year Resolutions and achieve your goals for 2013 the verdict is in – write down your goals, ensure they are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-framed) and tell your friends or colleagues.

The research shows that that people who write down specific goals for their future are far more likely to be successful than those who have either unwritten goals or no specific goals at all; and that people who wrote down their goals supported by ‘action commitments’, shared this information with a friend, and sent weekly updates to that friend were on average 33% more successful in accomplishing their stated goals than those who merely formulated goals.

Unfortunately, the research did not identify a way to prevent us procrastinating about getting started and actually writing some formulated goals down …… but there are some useful ideas in our White Paper on Personal Time Management that can help.

Procrastination is Genetic

We appear to be hardwired to procrastinate! Without an effective set of countermeasures, we almost inevitably delay difficult or uninteresting work until the last minute when time ultimately makes us choose the undesirable and risky.

A couple of interesting posts I’ve read on this are firstly by Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he specializes in the study of procrastination (presumably as a theoretical concept; see: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay). He suggests:

  • The brain is built to firstly minimize danger, before maximizing rewards.
  • Too much uncertainty feels dangerous so we avoid it.
  • We are not good at predicting what might make us happy.
  • Our capacity to regulate emotions is limited and our intentions and goals alter the information that the brain pays attention to.

In combination all of these traits make if far preferable to do something simple now for an immediate reward, or nothing at all, in preference to something more difficult and therefore risky for a more valuable reward in the future. This is called Hyperbolic Discounting; most of us will take $100 tomorrow in preference to $1000 in a year’s time.

The other source was posts by Dr. David Rock; http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-work . The overall consensus is we procrastinate by design but we can also manage this tendency by effective negotiations with our self. Brute force attempts to suppress procrastination by ‘force of will’ are doomed to failure; smart tactics that reward yourself for necessary achievements and accept the inevitable relapse from time to time are far more effective. Some ideas on personal time management are in our latest White Paper Personal Time Management.

Probably the most focused comment I found on getting stuff done though is a very short video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P785j15Tzk&feature=player_embedded