Eat regularly

This morning I went straight to the keys and wrote a Writers’ Guild email newsletter that had to go out. Then I had breakfast. So it was around 11am when I ate and now, a couple of hours later, I’m putting off getting lunch.

This could be why I feel a little ill.

You know that you should eat regularly and if you didn’t know it, you hear it often enough. But there is a reason you hear it often, there is a reason why it’s important and in case it takes just one more push to get you to do it, hello. I’m pushing.

I’m pushing you because eating regularly, even though it takes time away from your work, means you can work better.

And I’m pushing you because that will push me. Let us work together. Hey, let’s do lunch, okay?

Clickhole: This Incredible Sleep System has Maximised my Efficency

No comment.

The fact is, human beings just didn’t evolve to sleep eight hours at a time. They evolved to do something like this sleep block system I now swear by.

After work on Thursday, I go home right away and do 10-minute rest increments—10 minutes asleep, 10 minutes awake—on and off for 14 hours. Now, this sleep doesn’t officially “count” toward any block. In the system, it’s actually called independent sleep. But it’s crucial, because when I wake up, it’s Monday again. Not the next Monday. The previous Monday. All the work I did that week? Never happened. But do I feel rested? Very.

This Incredible Sleep System Has Maximized My Efficiency – Will Haney, ClickHole (7 November 2014)

Read the full and dizzying piece.

Short version: managers can cock it up, seriously

We’re creative, it’s what we do. We keep meeting people who say they aren’t creative and I think maybe we’re a bit guilty of reacting the wrong way. Sometimes we’re entrepreneurial – you don’t need to be creative, just hire me! – or, whisper it, we’re patronising. As we’re the creatives, we know what to do and everybody else is just a paper-pusher.

The thing is, people who are not creative do not understand us or what we do. And they don’t like that. They don’t like that one little bit. And what we don’t understand, we seek to control. So you get people like the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, telling our film industry that we should only make successful films. Idiot.

And you get people trying to structure our lives. Now, sometimes that is more than fair: I’m not saying a company that employs you shouldn’t object if you never bleedin’ turn up. But we get micromanaged. We get treated as resources. There’s the Hollywood Approach: if a project is good with one writer, it must be better with ten. Or the BBC Approach: if these creatives love their work so much, we can pay them less.

All you can do is get the work done and keep an eye out for places that think creativity comes in shrink-wrapped boxes off some shelves. But if we can’t fix the situation, we can at least be glad we’re not in this one. Bloomberg Businessweek reports on how 3M has gone from an innovative company to a far more efficient firm that just doesn’t innovate any more. It all happened when they hired a new CEO, James McNerney, and the firm seemed to take a collective “hang on a minute…” when he left again.

At the company that has always prided itself on drawing at least one-third of sales from products released in the past five years, today that fraction has slipped to only one-quarter.

Those results are not coincidental.

“Invention is by its very nature a disorderly process,” says current CEO George Buckley, who has dialed back many of McNerney’s initiatives. “You can’t put a Six Sigma process into that area and say, well, I’m getting behind on invention, so I’m going to schedule myself for three good ideas on Wednesday and two on Friday. That’s not how creativity works.” McNerney declined to comment for this story.

At 3M, A Struggle Between Efficiency And Creativity – Brian Hindo, Bloomberg Businessweek (10 June 2007)

It’s an ancient story and while the full piece is a long and deeply interesting read, would you mind going off to see how 3M is doing today? I can tell you that Buckley lasted at 3M until his retirement in 2013.

Another hat tip to the superb 99U for this.

Five personal rules by Swiss Miss

I’ve long been reading the work of designer Swiss Miss, aka Tina Roth Eisenberg. She’s clever and she has taste and I did not realise until this talk that she is also insane. Admirably so.

This is how – and why – she started a new business the day she gave birth to her daughter. Then she decided she didn’t like having clients, so she stopped.

Process stories – finding how you work

By coincidence, two friends talked to me about this lately: how we writers go about our writing, the way that we get it done. The process, the writer’s process. I was thinking that the short answer is a shrug: you do what you need to. But there is a comfort to having a system that works for you, specifically there is a comfort in that if you know you are always writing at the last minute and that always turns out okay, maybe you can stop beating yourself up about it now.

I can’t tell you my process. I can go on about the 5am starts (today was day 231 of that, by the way) but that’s less a process, more a stupidity. It’s 8:30 so now and I have written 1,200 words on one project, I have done a pile of emails about a couple of events I’m producing, I have drunk quite a lot of tea and gone through my To Do list. Including the stuff I found I’d done over the weekend, I ticked off about twenty items on that list. I think I probably only actually did six or seven of them this morning. But they’re done. And yet this isn’t a writing process, it’s a productivity one. Because it’s easier to be productive than it is to write anything down.

Maybe that’s my process: do everything else rather than write. It’s a rubbish process.

So I would like to find you a way to write that is efficient and quick and gets things done. But I haven’t found it because I can’t find it because I think the very notion is bollocks anyway. Not if the aim is to be efficient. If the aim is to explore your own writing and to end up having written instead of just thought about writing, that’s different.

One friend, Alex, says she’s still finding her system, her process. Then either by total chance or because we writers are all forever thinking about this stuff rather than actually writing, another pal, Ken, wrote a blog about it:

If there’s a point to this post. I think it’s this. I think there are lots of ways of writing and if you’re stuck staring at the notebook or the plotting software, consider letting it go for a while and just writing. Just write. See where you go and where you end up. Just don’t settle for what you write in that initial foray.

My Way is Not the Best Way but it’s Mine – Ken Armstrong Writing Stuff

He’s a smart guy, he writes very well and his blog was a key impetus in my making my own Self Distract be a weekly thing. Have a read of the whole piece, would you?

To Not Do list

We've had To Do lists. A lot. We've come up with Done Lists which are very satisfying: you write down what you did as you finish it and then looking back later is immensely cheering. That's pretty much the entire purpose of my month reviews (see That Was March 2014…). But maybe we could take a further step and write ourselves a To Not Do List.

It feels risky. Like it could end up as a kind of new year's resolution fad: I will not drink so much tea, I will not keep putting off the gym.

But it could also be a good guide. I keep reading headlines lately about the first app that people use in their mornings and I've been stopping at the headline because I don't want to find out the detail. Chiefly because I want to avoid thinking about mine.

Since you're here, I'll face up to it. My first app is email. If you don't count Awesome Clock, which I use to give me an old-fashioned analogue clock face on my iPhone all night. If you don't count my iPhone's own alarm. Then it's email. As I lurch to the loo and on to the kitchen and into my office, I am checking both my main or personal email account and my public one, the address that is your best route to talk to me about The Blank Screen.

I want to stop doing this. Funnily enough, I've been training myself to make sure I check my calendar every morning and that's going fine. (See I nearly missed an event today, though I suggest you bring a packed lunch with you because that is a long, long post.) So I want to keep that new habit going, I do want to reinforce my early OmniFocus use every day.

But I have to drop the email one.

Because too often now I've woken up at 5am to start writing and been derailed by a bad email. Usually a rejection. And at that time of the morning, most rejections matter. Later on, they wouldn't, but right there and then I am somehow more open to the slap.

I'm fine with being slapped. But it also saps. There are few things worse than getting up at 5am to write but one of them is getting up at 5am and not writing. I've seen this after big projects finish when the pressure is off and I have nothing that truly has to be done then. That's a horrible time. But yet worse is this paralysing that you can get from certain rejections, when they're strong enough, when they're important enough.

All this is on my mind now because I had a rejection that would've cut whenever I read it, but it did especially stop me one 5am start.

Or it should've done. It certainly did for a time. I certainly struggled to begin working. And I didn't do the thing I was intending to do that morning. Instead, though, I worked on fiction. You know how great it is when you are reading a book and you're completely into it. Writing fiction, at times, can be similar. For whatever reason, I hit that moment that day and by the end of 2,000 words on that project, I felt better.

And I had a solution to the rejection.

Without thinking about it, without brooding on it, my noggin' had found a way around the problem.

Now, that's good. And having been able to take my mind away for 90 minutes or whatever it was, that was also good. But the solution requires other people and it requires much planning, all stuff that I couldn't do anything about at 7am that morning.

So if I'd just put off reading the emails until, what, 9am, I'd have had four hours solid work done, I'd be far less prone to the rejection paralysis and when my head came up with a solution, I'd have been able to do something about it right there and then.

Top of my To Not Do List, then, is this: I will not check emails first thing in the morning.

Do we have a deal?

Much more efficient in 1965

Can’t resist one more British Pathé film – in part because this Business Efficiency Exhibition was in 1965, the year I was born. And partly because some of the whizzy new equipment looks a bit Professor Branestawm-like to me. But mostly because it tells me things are relative. Success and failure are relative.

You’ll hear the (still. terribly. formal. but. a. bit. more. chipper!) presenter say that the Post Office has to cope with 30 million letters per day. Right now we imagine the Royal Mail is dying –  or at least I have imagined it since I’m email-obsessed – but the latest figures available show it’s carting around 46 million letters per day.

(‘Latest’ means 2010. You’d think there would be far more recent data given the recent sell-off of Royal Mail shares but seemingly, not so much. Read Letters Delivered 1920-2010, a PDF from the Postal Heritage website’s statistics page. I did not know there was such a thing until I wanted to tell you. Note that the PDF lists annual figures, not daily. British Pathé or its source clearly just took the annual figure for 1965 and divided by 365 because if you do that, you get a total of 30,684,931.51 letters per day. The 2010 equivalent is 45,613,698.63.)

We now return to your regularly-scheduled video from the Business Efficiency Exhibition 1965:

Efficiency is Their Business

More from British Pathé (much more) here.