Relearning the art of focus for greater productivity

Relearning the art of focus for greater productivity

One of my favourite albums of 2015 (and a favourite of many it seems) was by Melbourne artist Courtney Barnett. It also has a ripper title: Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit.

'Sometimes I just sit.' Imagine that.

When did you last just 'sit', as opposed to 'sit thinking' or, more likely, 'sit staring at your phone'?

I tried to do it the other day, while killing some time before picking up my daughter. I left my phone in my pocket, so I succeeded in avoiding that last one, but I found it almost impossible not to have the brain churning over my to-do list while I watched the world go by. 

Perhaps it is the modern malaise that we are destined to be 'always on'.

Posted by

'Likes' are worthless. It's time to get real.

'Likes' are worthless. It's time to get real.

By now you’ve probably heard the story of Essena O’Neill, who made headlines after very publicly ‘outing’ herself as having been paid for numerous posts to Instagram, Youtube and other sites. After building up a base of over half a million followers on Instagram – a dream for many Instagrammers young and old – she has now left it all behind.

Essena’s story touched a nerve for many. Even for those of us who are much older, much less attractive and much less likely to attract the attention of potential sponsors, there is something alluring about being ‘liked’ on social media. I count my own Instagram following in the tens rather than thousands, but I still enjoy it when a picture I post gets noticed. I also can’t help but feel a little miffed when another photographer posts what I think is a mediocre image and it is ‘liked’ by hundreds or even thousands.

The problem with all this is that we (by which I mean those of us who have a blog or post to social media sites) have started to equate the level of attention we manage to garner as an end in itself. When – as Essena obviously worked out – it simply isn’t.

Posted by

This year, give your seasonal greetings some heart

This year, give your seasonal greetings some heart

The silly season is upon us again. Amongst other things, that means swinging into those annual routines around the office. Dusting off the decorations, planning the parties ... and composing the greeting cards or emails. Now that last task might sound fairly ho-hum, but it is a good example of how even a small amount of thought can make a big difference to your writing.

Most people approach Christmas cards and their kin as mass produced fodder. A pile of cards is circulated; signatures are scrawled in writing that would make a doctor baulk; the cards are fed into mail merged envelopes and sent off. Job done. At the other end, each greeting card is pulled out, glanced at, and slotted onto the venetian blinds.

The effect of this process, whether in cards or emails, is the same as the effect of using words like ‘outcome’ and ‘going forward’: that is, nothing sticks.

Posted by

Are you keeping your creative side at arm's length?

Are you keeping your creative side at arm's length?

Last week I found myself sitting through a full day’s worth of corporate presentations, each of them supported by the usual array of PowerPoint slides. And when I say ‘usual’ I really mean it. Amongst the dozen or so presentations, there was not one that stood out in any way. Putting aside the fact that most of the slides broke the cardinal rule of including far too much text, there was simply no evidence of any creativity on display at all.

The speakers themselves were fine. They all seemed comfortable behind the lectern, were properly prepared and presented structured information. They all, thankfully, were conscious of the time.

It’s just that there was nothing vaguely memorable about any of them. 

The myth of the non-creative type

Superficially the reason for this lack of inventiveness could be sheeted home to the fact that most of the presenters were public servants and all worked in a science- or engineering-related field. They were likely the kids who did science and maths at school, not art and music. 

But I’m almost certain that wasn’t the reason for the blandness. The idea that engineering types aren’t capable of being creative is simply wrong.

Posted by

5 ways to ensure your company's story lives on

5 ways to ensure your company's story lives on

This year my wife has been studying family history, most recently doing a subject in which she had to collate a series of pictures of her mother at different stages in her life and tell the stories behind the photos. Joan died 16 years ago so my wife was totally reliant on any notes on the photographs along with existing family history, insofar as there is any, and the recollections of surviving members of her mum’s generation and their offspring.

Watching her pull this information together was a good lesson in the importance of keeping notes and records of our lives – in how what seems trivial today could be of deep interest to those who follow us. There were many frustrated hours spent trying to decipher some images – work that could have been avoided had those images been labelled. 

This applies as much to the business context as it does the family one. In fact you could argue that it is even more important in the business context.

Posted by

Don't kid yourself. There are no shortcuts to writing a good book.

Don't kid yourself. There are no shortcuts to writing a good book.

They pop up now and again, either in my email inbox (as uninvited guests) or floating around social media. ‘They’ are the latest wonder solution to writing a book. ‘They’ are usually accompanied by a very long sales-pitch website featuring long lists of benefits, numerous glowing testimonials and, right at the bottom, an ‘order now’ button and a money-back guarantee. Either that or a great ‘limited time offer’.

The promise is to help you get a book written, easily and in quick time, by following a secret formula or revealing some other shortcut such as recording yourself speak and having those recordings transcribed. A bit of tweaking and … voila! It’s a wrap!

Unfortunately it is not that simple, and it can’t be. Not if you want to write a good book.

Posted by

Don't undermine your message by disregarding the small things

Don't undermine your message by disregarding the small things

Over the weekend I was reading an extract from a new independently published book by two photographers. The subject of the book is largely irrelevant to the point I want to make, however I do want to discuss its extent. The finished book is a tome: over 400 pages covering everything from the philosophy of the authors’ approach to highly detailed discussion of their techniques.

It is obvious that this book has been a labour of love and that an immense amount of work has been involved in pulling it together.

However, the book falls down in one critical area. Despite all the time and effort invested in its creation, it is clear that the authors have not had their book edited nor the final layout proofread. As such, they have undermined their whole project and, more importantly, undermined their expertise.

Posted by

If a picture's worth a thousand words, why write?

If a picture's worth a thousand words, why write?

It was the power of a single image, writ large. A picture’s worth a thousand words? More like millions. The recent photograph of drowned three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi lying face down on the beach came after months of news reports about other drownings, including of children, in the Mediterranean and the ever-growing toll of the Syrian civil war. Yet none of those previous reports ‘cut through’ in the way that the picture of Aylan did.

And of course it’s not the first time this has happened. The picture of a terrified, naked girl, later identified as Kim Phuc, in Vietnam in 1972 is credited with shifting the world’s response to the war in that country. And there have been numerous other examples of iconic, opinion-changing images going back through history. 

It makes you wonder. Why write at all? Why not just tell our stories with pictures? Imagine the effort that could be saved. All that ploughing through writer’s block, all that tedious editing.

Posted by

In the Facebook era, it's okay not to share

In the Facebook era, it's okay not to share

Remember when Twitter first arrived on the scene? No one could work out what it was for. It was marketed as a means of quickly and briefly sharing what you were up to with friends, and originally that’s what people did. Its early reputation was as a fairly inane way of telling people what you were eating for lunch – whether they were interested or not.

Users quite quickly adapted Twitter to their own needs. It became a platform for sharing far more than personal trivia and grew into a pretty handy way of keeping up with things you’re interested in. Before long the ‘what are you up to?’ concept appeared at the top of Facebook streams and ever since we’ve been inundated with platforms for sharing our lives, from Instagram to Pinterest to Snapchat and hundreds of variations and imitations. Almost every smartphone app offers ‘share’ functionality, as does every website.

Somewhere along this journey the tail started wagging the dog.

Posted by

#BorderFarce. Shooting the messenger 101

#BorderFarce. Shooting the messenger 101

Inept. Unfathomable. Hopeless. I’m not sure my thesaurus has enough words to describe the complete and utter shemozzle that was last week’s Border Force debacle, aka #BorderFarce, in Melbourne. The coals of this event-that-wasn’t have been well scraped over by now but there is one aspect of the story that deserves a little more fanning.

It has to do with writing or, more specifically, writers writing on behalf of other people.

The fuel of this issue was a media release issued by the Australian Border Force on the morning of Friday, August 28. Australian Border Force is the new militaristic name of what used to be Customs and Immigration – the people who work in airports and ports making sure that people entering Australia have permission to do so via their passport and/or visa and don’t carry potential nasties in their luggage. Presumably the name change is designed to make visitors to this country that little bit more wary of trying to enter without having their paperwork in order, lest they incur the wrath of the Force.

But I digress.

Posted by