Start Stuff!

Seth Godin is funny, bright and gets to the point.  I learned today that human beings have an attention span of about seven seconds.  And that puts us bipeds behind goldfish who can pay attention for eight seconds. (Kudos, Michael Levin, for that insight.)  So for this reason, among others, you should read Seth or watch his TED talks.

Back to Seth.  In his book, Poke the Box, Seth talks about initiative.  In answer to the workplace question “what do you do here?” Seth points out that “almost no one says ‘I start stuff.’”

How do you start stuff?

Seth says you “poke the box.”  You try something out.  Sit at a piano and start hitting keys and listen to what comes out.  Initiative is something we take; it isn’t handed to us.  Failing to take initiative will tend to make us reactive rather than proactive.

I’ve learned the hard way that if I wait around for  inspiration to drop by my apartment for a cup of coffee, I will never write anything.  Inspiration usually shows up after I just start.

Okay.  What kind of stuff can you start?  Remember feeling and inspiration aren’t the most important variables in actually getting something rolling.  A decision is.  Try these and add your own:

  • A regular exercise program—weights, walking, cardio. Start small.
  • A blog. Write enough to fill one screen’s worth of space, about 200-400 words.  Or like me, start writing again in the blog you already have.
  • A well-crafted, eye-catching résumé. Put it together and post it on LinkedIn and Indeed. Or update the one you’ve already posted.
  • A regular, undistracted reading program.  “Regular” = every day. Start small—maybe all you can manage is ten minutes.  Start there and build it up.  And unhook your connections to the outside world so you can focus.
  • Teach yourself to write code and try it out (Seth’s suggestion, this). The reward center in your brain will light up when it works.

Go!

Suggested Resources:

Poke the Box: When Was the Last Time You Did Something For the First Time? (Seth Godin)

17 Anti-Procrastination Hacks: How to Stop Being Lazy, Overcome Procrastination, and Finally Get Stuff Done (Dominic Mann)

 

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Less Is More

Less Is MoreOne of the most fascinating books I’ve read over the past ten years or so is Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney.  In this book, the author unpacks some of the keys to the design and marketing philosophy of Steve Jobs and Apple.  Some of the chapter titles are provocative (Focus: How Saying “No” Saved Apple; Elitism: Hire Only A Players, Fire the Bozos).

Jobs was leery of trying to do too many things with Apple.  In fact, when he took over Apple again in 1997 after a twelve year absence, he slashed and mothballed a lot of projects in the works.  Apple was in deep trouble financially.  He made the decision to focus on a few key products and make them superior to anything in the market.

One of the gnats he had to dispense with early on in his second tour with Apple was feature creep.  “Feature creep” is the IT design practice of creating all sorts of bells and whistles for any new piece of technology, thus increasing the product’s versatility and, therefore, sales.

Steve Jobs had no patience for feature creep.

This impatience was an outgrowth of his Zen minimalism which, in design terms, meant making technology as simple and user-friendly as possible.  So he and his colleagues worked painstakingly to do a few signature Apple devices extremely well.  As Jobs’ famous mantra says, “Focus means saying no.”

In the summer of 2011, Apple passed Exxon Mobil as the most profitable corporation in our country.  Jobs really knew what he was doing.

As a musician, it’s taken me quite a few years to learn that less is more.  Young musicians tend to want to overplay, to “express themselves,” to get everything possible out on their instruments.  Over many years, however, I’ve learned that the spaces between the notes I play are as important, sometimes more, as the notes themselves.  Or, as Dan Fogelberg said as a young studio musician, “I learned that it’s not what you play, it’s what you don’t play.”

What have you been given?  What do you do well?  What can you pare down or eliminate to simplify and focus, bringing your contributions to a higher level of excellence? Some suggestions:

  • Social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.  All fascinating platforms but they tend to eat time the way SUV’s suck gas.  Limit your involvements–and unnecessary participation in the drama of others, something you really don’t have energy and patience for anyway.
  • News media: Consider some other outlet to get your news than the Big 5.  BBC or NPR are good places to start.  Again, do you really need five different viewpoints on a story?
  • Pour the extra time and effort thus gained from limiting your involvements in pointless, time-wasting pursuits into honing skills in your vocation and your avocations.  As the song from the Franco Zeffirelli film “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” (1971) says, “Do few things, but do them well.”

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