Work in Colour Blog

Check out the Work In Colour blog for practical tips, ideas and musings on ways to stop working in black + white and start working in colour everyday.

Could You Use A New Mindset?

Last week I talked about changing your mindset to see the world as a friendly place. Whether that was one of your challenges - and whether we realise it or not - we all see the world through filters formed by our temperament, our personal history, education, culture, gender and life circumstances. We may think we know the world 'as it really is', but of course this is only our personal reality and there are many other ways to look at life than we believe, or have even encountered. Hamlet was right when he told Horatio that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy.

These filters help us order our world, make sense of new information and reach decisions in accordance with our beliefs. However, they can be a real hindrance to creative thinking, because they shut off so many possible avenues of thought - often without us even realising they exist.

What can you do?

Trading places: if you have a problem and you can't see a way through it, put yourself in the place of someone else, and ask: how would that person solve this problem? For example, how would a man (or woman, or ten-year-old child) solve this? What would the Dalai Lama do? How would an alien see this? Your favourite animal? We all have access to many more paradigms than we may believe we do, but tend to fall back on our default setting. By contrast, this technique helps access that part of you that can see the world like Mother Teresa or Attila the Hun - it will give you access to ideas and ways of thinking you may never have been aware of before.

Different angle: if you have friends or colleagues who see the world differently to you, seek them out, ask their views and actively collaborate. One of the great powers in teams is that the combined perspectives on a situation can shed far more light than any one individual could hope to.

In the mind: if you reach a dead end, ask yourself if you are limiting your options by your mindset. This may sound difficult, but with practice we can become aware of our 'blind spots' and be alert to the possibility that we are just not seeing a particular angle. Maybe you don't see the wood for the trees (or vice versa); perhaps you tend to downplay emotional aspects of a situation, or maybe you just can't believe that an older person could have deep insight into your life?

What are your filters?
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Acting As If The Universe Was Friendly

We often get into a mindset that the world is out to get us. From that perspective, life feels like a struggle, and everything (including our creative thinking processes) starts to go into survival mode - hunker down, close off the doors to the outside world and brace for impact. These habits can become entrenched very easily, often without conscious effort on our part, but the consequence for your creativity can be dire - it is very difficult to do good, creative work in a hostile place. Not impossible, but very difficult.

Do you have a sense that you might be one of the many people with a siege mentality? If so, for 10 minutes, or an hour, or a day, adopt the perspective that the universe is actually a friendly place. If necessary, just pretend...

Don't risk your personal safety, of course, but smile at people in the street, say hello to the shop assistant, pat the puppy walking by, whatever feels right - you may find it changes your experience of your day.

Albert Einstein said that the most important decision any of us will ever make is whether or not to believe that the universe is friendly. I think he may have been right.
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Do Sweat The Small Stuff

I'm a fan of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. I love his version of the Bowie classic Space Oddity (recorded when he was boss of the International Space Station) and I had the great privilege of seeing him live in Sydney a couple of years ago.

His book. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth gave me a rich insight into the life of an astronaut - particularly the years of planning that goes into just a few days or weeks in space. And his account of life on a space station was funny and compelling, though his detailed account of the month (yes, months) of nausea and disorientation suffered on return from the space station was enough to kill any residual desire I might have had to pop in for a visit.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable read. However, it was his stories about how he manages the inevitable fear and uncertainties of life in space that had immediate relevance to my (happily earth-bound) life. As you can imagine, the stakes are pretty high on a spacecraft - press the wrong button, forget a step in a critical procedure, and maybe it's all over.

What Hadfield (like all astronauts) does in constantly imagine every small thing that might go wrong, then spend hours and hours (if not weeks and weeks) over-preparing, over-learning and simulating every scenario NASA can come up with. Then they debrief, and start it all over again. And they learn how to do the most complex procedures, just in case two other systems fail, and they suddenly need to know how to replace a particular valve, or remove someone's infected tooth, or rebuild the station's toilet. They call it 'What's the next thing that could kill me...'. He reckons that it is precisely this utterly rigorous obsession with potential disaster that allows him to relax as he hurtles into space.

Popular psychology would have us believe that we should stop 'sweating the small stuff', and in Australia we regard 'she'll be right' as a bit of a mantra, but I wonder if in fact it is more reassuring to over-prepare when the stakes are high, then proceed in the knowledge that whatever happens, you'll know what to do.

Hadfield's story reminded me of the first really big presentation I gave, when I spent days developing the content and the slides, then rehearsed the entire 45 minutes at least 15 times. (I know that it's not life and death 330 kilometres above the earth, but it meant a lot to me...) That kind of preparation might seem like overkill, and it would be if I still did it today, but it allowed me to give a reasonably polished performance rather than fleeing the scene to hide in the bathroom. It was worth every minute.

Of course, it's not useful to obsess about trivia, but in a work context it is often the small details, the final proofread, the extra 30 minutes of preparation, that make all the difference between success and failure.

So, maybe we should sweat the small stuff sometimes. What do you think?

Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Have You Tried Timeboxing?

Are you busy at the moment? Making up for time off over Easter, maybe, or just lots of different things to get done?

I'm overcommitted at the moment in work and life, so I have lists and lists of things, big and small, that need to be done. It's meant I have revisited an old fave productivity technique, called timeboxing. I love it for its simplicity and its sanity-saving properties.

Basically you divide your day into time periods and slot a task into each box at the start of each day, with the aim of just spending that section of time on the project, then stopping. If the task isn't finished, you add another slot for it. That's it. No unrealistic 'to do' lists, no sense of failure at the end of the day...

It's excellent for stimulating creativity and keeping up focus and interest in open-ended projects. It kills procrastination stone dead (well, almost...) and it lets you be very efficient with smaller amounts of time.

It also links nicely with 'batching', another great technique. This is where you store up similar little boring tasks, like paying bills or doing minor admin, then spend 30 minutes knocking it all off at once. Very satisfying.

Of course, you need to prioritise as well, so the urgent tasks get done first.

There are other benefits (I know this is starting to sound like a 'six free steak knives' promo, but...). You get very clear about time - how you spend it, and how you waste it. You feel great at the end of the day. You also get to create a structure and break up your day, which can be most enjoyable.

Want to give it a go?

  1. Make a list of the things you need to get done this week, or of current projects - whatever works for you.
  2. Divide your day into periods such as 30 minutes (or longer or shorter depending on your natural focus length or types of tasks). You may also have varied periods, such as longer (45 to 60 minutes) in the morning then short and snappy (20 or 30 minutes) as the after-lunch slump takes hold!
  3. Fill in the boxes with tasks.
  4. When the time is up, switch to the next box and task on your list. You will need to keep track of time - there are plenty of free online stopwatches which make a sound at the end of your time, and count down in your browser header, but you could even use a real old-fashioned egg timer or alarm.
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Can Random Connections Help You Think?

Are you stuck in a thinking rut?

We are hardwired to notice patterns in our day-to-day life, which is generally a very useful adaptation - it helps us get through our day efficiently, without constantly having to reinvent the wheel.

But of course, when you are trying to solve a problem and have gone through all the usual ideas, it's great to have a way to interrupt this default 'pattern-seeking' thinking style. That's where random connections come in.

Many creative thinking experts rate 'connecting the previously unconnected' as THE essential element of creative thinking, even as the definition of creative thinking.

Here are some principles of connecting:

Read widely: Why not buy a magazine you wouldn't normally consider, or surf the web and see where you end up?

Talk to people in different fields: Share your dilemma, pick their brains for new perspectives, or just find out what are the big questions in their field.

Try something (anything) new: Anything will do - drive home a different way, swap music collections with a friend, cook a new dish, take a course.

Step sideways, see it from another angle: What would the Dalai Lama do here? How would Kim Kardashian solve my problem? If I were a fish, how would I handle this?

Curious to try some random connecting? Here's a technique I teach in most of my workshops and talks, because it's really simple but very effective:

Grab a book, one with lots of words - a dictionary or other thick book is ideal. Open it to any page and select a random noun (choose something that can be seen or touched - for example, 'umbrella' or 'butterfly' - rather than an intangible thing or a concept, such as 'psychology'). Or pick a picture book, and do the same thing but with an image. Another way is to close your eyes, turn around and then open them again. What is the first object you see?

Use your word, image or object to start off a mind map or a brainstorm about your problem. How could you connect your problem and this new thing?

For example, say you wanted to find ways for people to keep their keys safe when they go swimming. You've thought of all the obvious things such as Velcro® pockets and taping the keys under the car.

  • You open the dictionary and see the word 'telephone'.
  • You could tape your key to the back of your phone
  • You could use your phone number for a code for a keyless safe deposit box in the surf club (so you don't just swap one key for another...)
  • You could pay your young cousin to mind your keys and meet you at your car when you call them on your phone
  • You could keep your key on a ring round your neck - yes, this one isn't about 'telephone', but telephone might lead to ring which might lead to key ring and then to chain around your neck...that's how it works sometimes!

First ideas are usually pretty rough, even silly. But one of them might spark a line of thought that leads to something clever and practical. At the very least, it can free up your mind and send it along fresh channels of thought.

Why not give it a try?
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Declutter Your Space, Declutter Your Mind

When I say the word 'clutter', is there a corner of your life, your office, your house that comes to mind? (Or maybe more than one corner?)

Most of us have no trouble thinking of some part of our life which contains clutter (definition: a confused or disordered state or collection; a jumble). The benefits of removing this clutter from your home and work environments are obvious - a sense of order, being able to find things, no more junk lying around, and that feeling of deep satisfaction that comes from rendering order from chaos.

It can also have a parallel effect on the mind - clearing out a cupboard can also help your mind feel refreshed and more ordered as well... try it, it's true. If part of your life is in chaos, or even the rest of it, decluttering just one room in your house can restore a much needed sense of control, albeit over one small corner of your world.

Occasionally I have days when I feel really very uninspired. I have that mix of tiredness, inability to settle, inability to focus that leaves you restless and just blah. I should be working on a couple of projects, but can't stay with it. (I'm sure most of you can relate to this!)

On days like this, I often end up tackling a heap of small tidy up projects - cleaning out my wardrobe, polishing a wooden chest of drawers, loads of washing and tidying up the garden. Result - clean house, settled mind, refreshed and ready to re-engage with the world.

What about you? Here are some ideas - I have deliberately not included Marie Kondo and her spark of joy because I do tend to rave on about her (but she is fabulous...):

How to declutter

  1. Why not set aside a whole day to declutter the house (or office, or shed, or...)? If others are involved, such as work buddies, partners, flatmates, or children, it's best to involve them in the project, or send them right away. You can move from room to room, with a set time allowed for each space or major task. If it helps, phone a friend or coach every hour to report progress...and reward yourself at the end of the day.
  2. You could also do a certain amount, say 30 minutes, every day - or 3 times a week or whatever, until it's all done. Break your overall plan into tasks that will take about 30 minutes each, and just pick whichever you feel like on the day. Mark the successfully completed task off your list, and be sure to give yourself a small reward.
  3. Another way that can work very well is to tackle a room a week.
  4. Why not do it with a friend - maybe you could both do your house this month, then his or her house next month?
  5. Sort possessions into 4 piles - keep, give away, sell or chuck (then follow through and do it!).

Radical Ideas

  1. When in doubt, throw it away - you don't need it, you had forgotten you even owned it and you can always replace it if necessary. Do not ever put things into a junk drawer 'just in case...'.
  2. For really serious hoarding problems, consider a 'one in, one out' rule. A friend of mine throws out one shirt for every new one he buys, so that he always owns the same number of shirts. It keeps the house uncluttered, and also forces you to think whether you really value the new potential acquisition more than at least one thing you already own...
  3. If necessary, get help (enter 'Declutter' into Google and you'll see a myriad of free and not-so-free tools and services).
  4. Don't be held prisoner by your clutter - just because Aunt Gloria gave you that chair years ago, does not mean it needs to remain in your life forever. Give it to someone who will love it - take a photo of it first if you need a memento.
  5. Keep a part of something, rather than the whole baby outfit, not all of them, 3 essays you wrote at school not every piece of homework from 20 years ago.
  6. For every object, ask: Is it beautiful? Is it useful? Do I love it? If you can't answer yes to at least one of these questions, get rid of it NOW!
  7. Don't wait for spring - autumn or winter is the ideal time to be indoors and cleaning out spaces, so when spring comes you can grab a picnic and head off to the wild blue yonder (or your local park) with that smug feeling that your house is entirely in order.

What are you prepared to tidy up?
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

How Coffee Can Help Your Career...

Have you ever wished you could buy a coffee for someone who has your dream job, sit them down and then pick their brains for tips and inspiration? Well, why not?

I'm always researching new and innovative ways to help people change careers, find work or develop a strategic plan for their work. A few years ago I came across a blog by a young woman in the States, who was in transition between careers, and had set herself the task of having fifty coffees over the next year, with people who could offer ideas or advice about where she could go next. It's here if you want to check it out.

It reminded me of an exercise that I suggest to many of my clients, where they identify their 'job role models'. In this exercise, you look at other people whose careers you admire, or who have jobs you admire. They might be friends, colleagues, people you've read about or seen on TV.

The key question is: 'Whose job would I most like to have in the whole world?'

Then do some research to find out as much as you can about what it would take to get a job like that, or what skills or experience you'd need to acquire first.

If the job or field still seems interesting, try to set up 2 or 3 'informational interviews' with people who you've come across in your research, or with companies that look interesting. Good questions to ask might include:

  1. What's a typical day/week like in your role?
  2. What do you love about your job?
  3. What are some of the things you'd change if you could?
  4. What are the three most important qualities needed to excel in this field?
  5. Are you a member of any networks or professional associations? How do they add value to your practice?
  6. What are the possible career paths, opportunities to learn and advance, options for specialising...?
  7. What is the main reason people leave this industry?

In my long experience with this tool, I have found that people are generally willing to help, if you:

  • Make it clear you're just seeking information, not angling for paid work
  • Ask for 20 minutes only, and arrive and leave on time
  • Offer to meet at their office or the café of their choice (and if the latter, please pay for the coffee!)
  • Send a hand-written note thanking them afterwards (or a polite email if you must...)

That's it really. Of course, you can take this wherever you like - people who have skills you'd like to develop, people with cool hobbies, people who are wise...

So, who's on your list?
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

What Are Your Dumbo Feathers?

I'm always interested in the habits or rituals we weave around ourselves, the talismans that we develop to feel confident, safe, in charge or successful, especially in creative work. (And creative work includes doing anything that's outside your comfort zone, not just 'artistic' stuff...) I avoid extremes in this area, but when I have writing to do, I find being at my desk, with a cup of tea and Bach's cello suites playing very conducive to my work flow.

Some creatives wear a favourite jumper, or can only write with an HB pencil, or need to listen to particular music, or must start before 6am, or need a special space, or...

These practices sometimes sound a bit mad, but they do serve at least three useful functions:

  • The creative process can seem very chaotic, with few inherent limits and no safety nets between the writer and complete bedlam. A familiar habit can be a way of putting in a boundary, of restoring control - or at least resting in the illusion of control.
  • When people used to pump their water from a well, they had to 'prime the pump' by pouring a jug of water to get the water flowing. Familiar habits are a way of priming the pump, of getting the creative juices flowing and keeping it moving. They can also help fend off writer's block.
  • Perhaps the most powerful benefit is to damp down some of the inevitable anxiety that goes with any creative endeavour. By definition, the creative act involves unknown territory, risk and the possibility of failure, so if playing Back or fingering a rock you found outside Markus Zusak's house helps you find the courage to keep on going, this is likely to be A GOOD THING.

However, don't confuse the talisman with the talent. The tale of Dumbo the elephant serves as a caution to those of us who get caught up in lucky charms and rituals to ward off the mysteries of life and risk forgetting that is us who are driving force in our life, not a special mantra or a piece of red string or a magic feather. [Dumbo believed he could fly only because he had a magic feather, which of course he promptly lost...]

You can produce great work under less than perfect circumstances. Jane Austen wrote for years in her family's living room, quickly hiding her pages as soon as she heard the telltale sound of the door opening. Stephen King wrote his first best seller in a laundry - and PD James started writing on the train to and from work.

Are there any limitations you have placed on yourself that may not need to be there? Do you say, 'I can't start my own business until the spare room is converted to an office' or 'I must write in longhand' or 'it won't work unless I am wearing my stripy jumper'? Even workplace challenges can be relevant here, like 'I can't do a presentation without Powerpoint slides' or 'I need to have a coffee before I can think properly' (actually, though, that last example is probably the truth for many of us...).

While it is helpful to have comforting rituals that support your work, it might be time to look at them and check whether you have become overly dependant on some of your routines - you may find that your work even improves when you step outside your comfortable patterns.

As you will remember from the movie, Dumbo discovers that he doesn't need his feather in order to fly.

What about you - what are your Dumbo feathers?
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Want To Simplify Work And Increase Satisfaction? Here's how...

Is your work getting more complicated, more bureaucratic? Is there less connection between your work and your sense of satisfaction? Are your productivity and your engagement dropping?

I re-watched a fascinating TED talk the other day, by Yves Morieux of the Boston Consulting Group. I have watched it a few times now, as it resonates with questions asked by many of my career clients.

Morieux says that we base our business models on two pillars:

Hard - structure, processes, systems
Soft - feelings, sentiments, interpersonal relationships, traits, personality

And whenever a company reorganises, restructures, reengineers, goes through a cultural transformation program, it plays with these two pillars, and tries to refine them and to combine them. The real issue, says Yves Morieux, is that these pillars are obsolete.

Trying to draw more little boxes with more reporting lines just makes things more complex - and less efficient. For Morieux, it is 'basically the interplay' that is, it's about how the parts work together, the connections, the interactions, the synapses. 'It is not the skeleton of boxes, it is the nervous system of adaptiveness and intelligence. You know, you could call it cooperation, basically.'

He uses an example of a bank where the front office and back office aren't co-operating. The classic solution is to insert a middle office to help communications. As most of us know, generally all this does is add an extra layer of mis-communication between the two parties who need to sort it out.

The solution? 'Smart simplicity', with rules to guide us (summarised here, but watch the talk for the full picture):

Simple rule one: Understand what others do. What is their real work? We need to go beyond the boxes, the job descriptions, beyond the surface of the container, to understand the real content.

Simple rule two: You need to remove layers and have 'integrators' who understand how to bring people together.

Simple rule three: Empower everybody to use their judgment, their intelligence. Then they can take the risk to co-operate, to move out of insulation.

Simple rule four: Create feedback loops that expose people to the consequences of their actions. Show people 'the shadow of their future'.

Simple rule five: Increase reciprocity, by removing the buffers that make us self-sufficient. Then, as Morieux says 'you hold me by the nose, I hold you by the ear. We will cooperate.'

Simple rule six: Reward those who cooperate and blame those who don't cooperate. Don't punish failure, only punish failure to co-operate, failure to ask for help. 

This way, says, Morieux, you increase improve performance and satisfaction at work because you have removed the common root cause that hinders both - complicatedness.

Is it really this simple? I don't know, but it certainly looks like common sense. So, is there somewhere in your working life that you can implement even one or two of these rules? A process you can simplify, a team member you can empower?

Could be interesting...
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

How's Your Decision Making?

Do you struggle to make decisions? Do you have recurring questions about your working life, the kind that never quite get resolved - and never quite go away, either?

I found a nifty little book while at the airport a while ago, called The Decision Book, by Krogerus and Tschappeler.

It's a simple volume, just 50 models for strategic thinking. I always find these models very appealing, as they combine the lure of simplicity with a nice visual aid. Some of the strategies were familiar, some a really useful addition to my toolkit - and a few were plain silly, like mapping your taste in music or fashion so you can see where you fit in to society...

One that dovetailed nicely with one of my existing tools was a strategic thinking / decision making matrix. I use a matrix like this in my career change programs, with 'desire' on one axis and 'practicality' on the other. (Or sometimes it makes more sense as 'love' and 'money'.) Clients map all their career ideas on the matrix, and it can be a great aid to clarity to see a visual map of where they all fit in.

Often there are one or two possibilities that maybe aren't the top of the desirability list, but which are very practical - these are useful if you need to make money using your existing skills while you plot your career change. Also interesting are the things you love, but which aren't currently practical - is there anything you could do to make these more feasible, such as getting some skills, making new contacts, working up a business case? Of course, if you have one career that is high desirability AND practicality, your dilemma is resolved!

The Decision Book is also big on matrices. The one I liked is their 'project portfolio' matrix, for people who juggle a number of projects, either as a freelancer or within their core business. They suggest you can classify your project with cost (which includes dollars but also resources, energy needed, people involved) on one axis, and time on the other.

Or you could create a matrix where 'x' is how much the project is helping me achieve my objectives, and 'y' is how much I am learning from the project. Clearly, projects that don't score highly on either need to be ditched. If you're learning but it's not contributing to your vision, then it's either a hobby or needs to be tweaked for a better fit. If it contributes but there's no learning, maybe you can outsource it? And of course if it's tops on both, then you have a winner.

These are all good examples, but the best matrices are the ones that you create to reflect the dynamics that are the most important to you and your current work issues. What are your big questions?
Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permalink
  1. Could You Use A New Mindset? Joanna Maxwell 22-May-2017
  2. Acting As If The Universe Was Friendly Joanna Maxwell 16-May-2017
  3. Do Sweat The Small Stuff Joanna Maxwell 05-May-2017
  4. Have You Tried Timeboxing? Joanna Maxwell 26-Apr-2017
  5. Can Random Connections Help You Think? Joanna Maxwell 18-Apr-2017


{tag_blogtagcloud} {tag_blogtaglist}