IAN MANN REVIEWS: 10-minute habits that (really) make people successful

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Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, 99U and Jocelyn K. Glei

The “99U” in the author ascription, is an Adobe resource for people pursuing a creative career. What undoubtedly comes to mind is the visual arts, writing, the various media and so on. The more I think about this topic the more convinced I am that today creativity is a critical requirement for anyone in any senior position in every corporation - no matter the size.

As such, this book is for most of the regular readers of this column, not only those in what we commonly call the ‘creative careers’.

In this book you will find a wealth of ideas for building the solid daily routines, “taming your tools” before they tame you, and finding focus in a very distracting world.

What convinced me of the usefulness of this book was the disclaimer: “Because we each have a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and sensitivities, it is impossible to prescribe a single approach that will work for everyone. The right solution for you will always be personal.” 

That  is a 180-degree flip from the 7 or 8 habits of the highly successful - type books. It is most likely that you will require an idiosyncratic combination that will meet your work demands, habits and preferences. This book is a series of accessible essays by thoughtful people, including Dan Arieli, Scott Belsky, Seth Godin, and Cal Newport. 

You need to start with the premise that only by taking charge of what the authors call “your day-to-day” can you truly make an impact in what matters most to you. This presupposes that you disabuse your mind of ascribing ‘blame’ for difficulties in the ecosystem in which you work. Our gravest challenges are more primal and personal. One’s individual practices are what really determine what we do and how well we do it. All else are simply the facts we must contend with, there are no perfect moments or perfect situations.

Leigh Michaels, the author of more than 80 romance novels, once said that “waiting for inspiration to write is like standing at the airport waiting for a train.” Waiting for the perfect context to achieve at your best is no different.

Steven Pressfield, (author of ‘Turning Pro’) suggests reminding yourself that a “professional shows up every day. A professional plays (even when) hurt. A professional takes neither success nor failure personally.” Then examine how you work. It is rare in business to be called to a meeting not to discuss what we are doing, but rather to discuss how we are going about doing it.

To create something great, whether it is a painting, a poem, a song or a business plan, you need to draw a line between the world’s demands and your own ambitions. This approach requires that you don’t spend the best part of the day reacting to other people’s priorities. The single most important change you can make in your working habits, is to focus on the creative work first and reactive work second. This is first and foremost a decision we need to clarify so that we can act on it - without exception.

Building a successful daily routine starts with the rhythm of your energy levels. When do you have the most energy during the day? Maximise this time by using creative triggers such as the same surroundings, stationery, background music and more, so that they become associative triggers for you to enter your creative zone. Avoid distraction by recording every commitment you make to do something so that it is impossible to forget later.

Establish hard edges in your day. These hard edges keep tasks from taking longer than they need to and encroaching on your important work.

Anthony Trollip, the 19th century writer, noted that “a small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” He managed a successful writing career while turning around the British Postal system!

“Usually I write for many hours during a day, though sometimes it might be a stint as short as fifteen minutes,” says Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Frequency makes starting easier. Frequency nurtures frequency.

Unlike computers, we aren’t meant to operate continuously, at high speeds, and for long periods of time. Here are some facts, well proven by good science. Our bodies follow what are known as ultradian rhythms, 90-minute periods that are the limits of our capacity to work at the highest level. 

And unlike computers we cannot even provide the illusion of multitasking. A study at Central Connecticut State University found that students using ‘instant messaging’ while reading a textbook, took 25% longer to read the passage (excluding the time spent on instant messaging), when compared with students who simply read.

Not only does performance quality suffer, but all activities take longer to do than when a single task is given exclusive focus. “Switching tasks sends us down a rabbit hole, pulling our attention away from our priority work for much longer than we anticipate.”

Sleep is more important than food: You can go a week without eating, but you’ll become completely dysfunctional after only a couple of days without sleep. Sleep deprivation takes a significant toll on our cognitive capacity. 

Our daily routines must include even short periods of solitude each day. 20 to 60 minutes can make an enormous difference. This will allow you to hear your creative voice, which is usually drowned out by the cacophony of our to-do lists and general work requirements. Set the time for your first block of solitude now—and make it an essential part of your daily routine. 

Since I believe this book is not only aimed at those in creative careers, it is worth reiterating for those not in this cohort, that it is impossible to solve every problem by sheer force of will. “We must also make time for play, relaxation, and exploration, the essential ingredients of the creative insights that help us evolve existing ideas and set new projects in motion. Often this means creating a routine for breaking from your routine,” the authors explain.

There is much to be gained on a personal level from this book. Improving your creative skills is no less critical if you are a professional manager or executive than if you are in the creative professions.

Readability       Light -+--- Serious

Insights           High -+--- Low

Practical          High -+--- Low

 *Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on strategy and implementation and is the author of ‘Strategy that Works’ and ‘The Executive Update.’ Views expressed are his own.

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