Tag Archives | creativity

How to Unblock Your Flow for Optimal Productivity

Photo courtesy of Drew Coffman

For optimal professional productivity in our lives, we must be in a free “flow state” – which essentially means that we love what we are doing. Time flies when your flow is open and your creativity is sparked.  Everything else in your world becomes background noise as you focus in on the task at hand.

As a writer, when I experience a loss of flow, it’s called “writer’s block,” but this problem definitely presents itself in a wide variety of professions.  Even what appear to be the most mundane and routine jobs and tasks can be engaging and fun as long as you enjoy what you do.

To develop good flow and to keep it unblocked, you’ll need to have clear professional goals, good concentration skills, an established pattern of feedback, and the appropriate skill level to accomplish what you’ve set out to do.

Tips to Open Your Flow:
Always have a conclusion in mind. (When will your task be “finished?”)
Stay focused by practicing concentration every day. (Form a healthy, positive habit.)
Know where you can get reliable feedback.
Stop while you’re ahead (or excited.)
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Find a new location, even if it means simply moving to another desk for awhile.
Unformat your regular task process and come at it from another direction.
Never forget to have fun! As soon as the fun stops, your flow becomes blocked.
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Find new ways to constantly challenge yourself.
Love what you do.
Open your thoughts. Live and work mindfully.
Work productively, feel satisfied, and be happy.

 

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How Small Changes Can Rejuvenate Your Productivity

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Photo courtesy of Theophilos Papadopoulos

We’ve all been there at some point in the past—one day we’re working fine, efficiently, and then the next, without explanation, we discover we can’t work anymore. Writers get writer’s block; artists find they can’t decide where the next brushstroke should go. For whatever reason, something in our brain clicks and we lose that spark that tells us we’re good at what we do.

This condition of ‘being stuck’ is often attributed to feelings of inferiority as a professional. Sometimes the effects can be trivial, lasting mere hours or days, but in worse cases they can lead a person to go years without successfully returning to work, or sometimes giving up their craft altogether.

I’ve been in this situation several times in the past, and it isn’t pleasant. I was frustrated with myself because I just wasn’t feeling motivated to work. So I decided to change things up. Instead of working at home like I was used to, I went out and tried working at a local coffee shop. At first, nothing seemed to change. In fact, I found the new environment distracting. Then over time I started to work again, just a little at first, but enough. Then I returned home, and astonishingly I was able to work more efficiently than I had before. I’d killed my artistic block.

If you really want to get out of your creative rut, I would suggest changing something in your workflow in order to rejuvenate your productivity. Change your environment – go outside, work in park, a coffee shop, wherever. Change your tools – your paints and brushes, your software. Change the people you surround yourself with on a daily basis. Change your hours. Change everything about your workflow if you think it’ll help.

And make the decision to take time off too. Listen to music. Watch movies. Play video games. Read. Study the work of other professionals in your craft. Just because you’re not working at the time doesn’t mean you won’t take something positive away that will benefit your workflow later. Inspiration can be found in absolutely anything, so enjoy yourself while you’re not working.

It’s surprising how a little change can make all the difference to your workflow. If you’re stuck in a rut, try changing something in your day-to-day life and see your productivity flourish.

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What’s in a logo?

Bottles
Photo courtesy of Roadside Pictures

How important is a logo?

A few weeks ago, I decided to renew my membership at my local gym. To my surprise, (and later, my disappointment) the gym had completely changed during the months I’d been away, beginning with a bold new logo that was stretched out across the front of the building. I soon learned that the gym had been acquired by a larger company that was going about making several changes to ‘improve’ the quality of the fitness studio, and the new logo was the first of many steps in making those changes.

But let’s backtrack a little. I first joined the gym a couple of years ago. When I signed up, I was instantly sold on the relaxed, friendly vibe I felt as I passed through its doors. In my experience, gyms tend to be too clinical, catering more toward the fitness freaks and bodybuilder types that bring in the bulk of the revenue. But this was a different place. It seemed to be I could be sitting at a rowing machine next to a 75-year-old gent as much as, say, a lean twenty-something with perfect abs. And that was what originally drew me in. It was a place where everybody felt welcome. It was more about improving health in a relaxed, encouraging way that simply made you feel good. And what more than that do you need? Apparently a lot, according to the new owners of the club.

Staring at the new bold sign on the front of the building, I could tell that my once warm and inviting gym was gone. The logo, built in large red and black letters, was sheer-edged and pumped up (like the kind of bodybuilder they want you to be, apparently). It looked like the kind of blocky font you find on almost every bodybuilding supplement.

Unfortunately for me, the changes didn’t end with the logo. Despite already being a pretty slick facility, the new owners promised a complete refurbishment of the building over six months, with upgrades to machines, weights and other equipment. After renewing my membership, I also learned of a more immediate change: tie-in fitness merchandise. From apparel to bodybuilding supplements, advertisements were now being blasted through the gym’s overpowering sound system while you work out. It can certainly be argued that these are all good things in terms of business expansion (and other gym goers may even embrace these changes), but in implementing them, the spirit of my old gym had been killed.

I’m sad to see my friendly gym replaced with a cold, clinical place much like thousands of other fitness studios on the planet. But I must give kudos to the company for their new logo, and here’s why: before I’d even entered the building the logo told me everything I needed to know about the new direction they were taking, with a single glance. Okay, so it turned out to be a negative association for me, but that doesn’t change the fact that the logo was perfectly clear in what it was selling. Not every business can claim to do the same.

Building your brand from the logo up is a smart way to inform people of exactly what it is you want to sell them. If you’re about to set out on a new creative venture, be mindful of your intended target when designing your logo, and it should get you a long way.

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How Building Upon Existing Ideas Can Lead You to Greatness

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Photo courtesy of Ramunas Geciauskas

Most of us are familiar with those boxes of jumbled text on web forms – officially called reCAPTCHAs – that are used to tell humans apart from spam bots. They’re a necessary (albeit slightly annoying) level of protection on sites such as Ticketmaster, where a computer could attempt to hack in and order thousands of pairs of tickets in a row. But the other day I came across a video that revealed the full functionality of reCAPTCHA, and how it built upon its predecessor to make something far more useful. Which then got me to thinking – how easy is it to build upon existing ideas?

As Luis von Ahn, creator of CAPTCHA, put it in his recent TED presentation, there’s a load of potential energy and brainpower that can be harnessed out there. While discussing how he and his team repurposed CAPTCHA to help in the digitization of books, von Ahn pressed upon a really interesting topic for me – how do you make people do a job for free without even realizing they’re being productive?

That was the spark that led to the formation of reCAPTCHA – a security system that uses human-typed responses to help digitize books. Each time you fill out one of those text boxes on a web form, you’re actually identifying a word from a scanned image that has been taken from an existing print book. Humans have a far greater ability to decipher words from images that are slightly askew than, say, a computer dictionary, (the very reason for reCAPTCHA’s effectiveness as a spam bot detector) so it takes a human set of eyes to translate some older books from cover to cover.

According to von Ahn, people were collectively spending 500,000 hours a day filling out CAPTCHA boxes, and he saw the potential for something more useful. reCAPTCHA is currently digitizing the archives of The New York Times as well as books from Google Books, and utilizing the input of over 100 million CAPTCHAs every day.

In the digital age, we are surrounded by opportunities to improve upon systems that are already set in place. Some have argued that Facebook, for instance, simply built upon the idea of online journaling; and Netflix, then, is offering the same media rental service that Blockbuster was a few years ago, only in a way that is more appropriate and convenient for the current times. Sometimes we just need to look at ideas that are right in front of us to see the potential for greatness.

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