Sod the fear and do it anyway

I’m pretty sure I was actually at this TEDxManchester talk: it was a few years ago and the presenter’s doubtlessly done it many times, but it stands out to me. Actually, it stands out most for the opening 90 seconds or so. Among all the other things that Carrie Green discusses in her talk, I took away the very first point about just doing something.

We are all remarkably hesitant about things we don’t know, experiences we haven’t had and about how we will appear to others. About whether we will cope with something. I can’t put words into Green’s mouth but what I believe she’s saying is that the time we spend hesitating is wasted and the fact that we hesitate blocks us from things we would enjoy.

Plus, if we then don’t enjoy them, we’ve got ‘me over with quickly instead of stewing about it.

Have a look at her whole talk but especially the opening minute and a half or so.


Talk more – it helps your productivity

Also, everybody is so interesting. But as well as that, nattering is a way of thinking and focusing and learning and listening. And this all helps us as people, it very helps us as writers despite this contorted sentence. It even helps our productivity:

Increase your social life by talking to everyone

It doesn’t take a group of scientists to explain that spending time with people is beneficial for our health. Our emotions alone remind us of how relaxing and joyful it was to spend quality time with someone. Psychologist John Cacioppo once mentioned in his book, Loneliness, that, “loneliness isn’t some personality defect or sign of weakness. It’s a survival impulse like hunger or thirst, a trigger pushing us toward the nourishment of human companionship.”

We’re not immune to the feelings of isolation and despite what we think, it’s necessary to speak to a variety of people throughout the day. (Even if it has to be the weird store clerk who gives us a blank stare).

If you have a hard time expressing your thoughts to people or experience shy behaviors, become interested in what they’re saying rather than focusing on being an interesting person. Don’t concentrate about impressing someone with your intellects and instead, listen to what they have to say. Most of the time, people will always prefer talking about themselves when given the chance and you can learn a lot about them by asking questions and being genuine.

12 ways to boost your productivity – Michael Gregory II, Self Development Workshop (4 March 2015)

This is actually number 1 in a series of 12 suggestions for being more productive. I don’t know what the other 11 are yet because I came straight here to talk to you about this one. Read the full piece for the rest.

Important presenting tip: don’t press buttons

If it’s a speech or a story, I like to memorise what I’m going to say so that I can look at the audience and perform rather than just read. Fine. But I do bring the speech and I bring it on my iPad where I will have been making changes along the way. Also fine.

Just be careful, okay?

I gave a performance last night reading from a script I had in Drafts 4 on my iPad. I’d changed the settings so that the text was extra large and that it was white text on a black background so that I didn’t have an unearthly glow about my chin.

All very, very fine.

But Drafts 4 is for writing and doing things with text, it isn’t for reading. And at one point, about a third of the way through, I smoothly scrolled down to the next paragraph – and my finger caught an on-screen button.

With two hundred people staring at me, this button highlighted half the script, ran a macro over it all, inserted URL links and pasted whatever in the hell I last had on the clipboard. I watched this thing doing rapid-fire editing changes in front of me and saw my script reduced to unreadable rubble.

I realise now that I could’ve picked up the iPad and shook it to undo but have you ever done that in front of a capacity crowd in a theatre? I’d look like I was twitching.

I’ve listened to the recording and I can tell you the moment it happened. But I did have the speech memorised enough that I could carry on. And it worked out. One woman from the audience told me afterwards that my speech had made her cry. I thanked her but I was actually thinking “yeah, me too”, though probably for different reasons.

Lesson: don’t press buttons. More practical lesson: lock your script early and save it as PDF rather than keeping it as editable text.

Take a year off every seven years

So there’s this fella named Stefan Sagmeister, right, and every seven years he closes his design business for the next 12 months. The obvious first thought is that this is nice for him, a second obvious thought is that you hope it’s nice for his staff if he has any – he’s not all that clear on this point – and maybe a third obvious thought is that this idea is bloody expensive.

I suspect that last, least, most unlikely obvious thought is that you’ll do this too or that you could do it too. Still, he’s very convincing about the benefits and actually rather convincing about the necessity too. Enough so that it’s making me wonder whether I’d benefit from closing my business for a minute.

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.

If strangers talked to everybody like they talk to writers

I think the video one about If Gay Guys Said the Shit Straight People Say is funnier but I do recognise a lot of this…

There is something unique about the way people talk to writers. Strangers seem very willing to offer career advice — “self-publishing is where the money is!” — literary advice — “People love vampires!” — or to oddly ask you to guess what work they’ve read in their life and if any of yours is among it. It got me thinking about what it would be like it people talked about other professions in this way.

“Ah, a middle school teacher? Have I met any of the students you’ve ever taught?”

“Cool, I always wanted to be a car salesmen. Maybe when I retire I’ll settle down and just work on selling that Buick I’ve had in my head for years.”

“Huh. A chef. Do people still eat food?”

“An accountant? Wow, I haven’t even looked at a number since high school.”

If Strangers Talked to Everybody like They Talk to Writers – Lincoln Michel (6 June 2014)

Do read on.

Take a breath. Or a holiday. Or something in between

A couple of weeks ago I got an email that so annoyed me, I wanted to reply instantaneously. But instead I calmly made lunch, watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother – and then exploded.

It was going so well until the end there, wasn't it? I sounded so calm and professional. Once in a very long while, though, it is fun to make the ground shake – and that's not what I want to talk to you about. It's that 45 minute break I took before replying, that's what's key, that's what you and I need to talk through.

Number one thing: just because someone has emailed you, that doesn't mean you have to reply at all, let alone that you have to reply right away.

I'm a scriptwriter and the analogy I leap to is when you read a script that has a character asking a question. In a bad, tedious script, the next character will always answer it. In good scripts, they won't. For at least three reasons, the greatest being that it is extremely boring. Then there is also the fact that we don't tend to talk like that in real life. And there's also that often the answer is a chore to get by because you've done all the work with the question.

Follow. Here's a bad line of dialogue:

DAD: Do you really think I'm going to keep being a taxi for you? That I'm going to pick you up at 6pm, drive you to this “Sally's” place and wait outside until 1am?

You know that the next line belongs to his son. You know that this happens a lot, you know that his son uses the Dad Taxi all the time. You know the father doesn't like Sally. And you even know what time the next scene is going to start and end. It's not that bad a line, since it gives you all of that attitude along with all of those facts, but it is a question that does not need an answer. In real life, the kid would sulk. In scripts, bad writers automatically write him an answer and that answer will be rubbish. It will be an answer because of course he must reply with one. It won't have any value, it will just be a delay before the next thing happens.

Just let me stay on scriptwriting dialogue for a moment. This is an aside, I know, but even in an example, I want to be clear that there is a difference between an answer and a response.

This is how that exchange would go in a bad script:

DAD: Do you really think I'm going to keep being a taxi for you? That I'm going to pick you up at 6pm, drive you to this “Sally's” place and wait outside until 1am?
SON: But you promised you would! I've told Sally I'm coming and everything.

And this is it in a better one:

DAD: Do you really think I'm going to keep being a taxi for you? That I'm going to pick you up at 6pm, drive you to this “Sally's” place and wait outside until 1am?
SON: I can go over to mom's, she'll drive me.

It's a response and it also tells us that the mother and father are divorced.


Back to the point about replying and responding instantaneously. We do think we have to, we feel bad if we don't. It's as if it's a phone call to us, we feel the pressure to reply, the pressure that the other person is waiting. And they are.

But still: train yourself to not automatically reply to emails.

I'm not saying be rude, I'm saying avoid kneejerk reactions by avoiding replying. Maybe just for a short while, maybe forever.

A few days ago, a friend asked advice on a technical thing and I didn't know the answer. I was replying instantly to say this when the phone rang and I had to go off doing something. I felt bad leaving her hanging, leaving her thinking that I might be able to help. About an hour later, I got to reply to her – and in the hour I'd thought of something. Completely unintentionally, completely without planning or even conscious thought, something had whirred away in my noggin and popped out when I was ready to reply. It didn't solve her problem, it didn't save the day, but it was useful and I got it because I took time before replying.

That was an hour. The lunch and HIMYM was about 45 minutes.

Jo Warwick writes on the Dumb Little Man website that maybe you should take a break that is proportional to the issue. Have a coffee, take a walk – or even take a holiday. Seriously.

Take some timeout and let the dust settle, before you do something drastic, that you just might regret…
The expense of replacing some things in life and starting again can be too costly, heart-breaking or sometimes impossible and you could end up losing the one thing that it’s totally irreplaceable….
So walk away, take some space and give yourself however long you need to breathe, calm down, relax and gain a little perspective on the situation.

How Not To Make A Drastic Mistake You Will Regret – Dumb Little Man

It's not like you can just take a hike whenever you feel like it, she's not arguing that. But she is arguing persuasively that time out saves lives. Read her whole piece on the Dumb Little Man site that, actually, I'd never heard of before ten minutes ago. I'm off to have a look around it.

Video – designing how we use computers

This hits me in so many interests. Design. Computers. Or more specifically, how we use computers to get our work done. How the efforts of software designers enable every single thing I ever do. And this video grabs me because it's about the history of the user interface. It still feels weird using the word history about a time I went through, but there you go.

John Gruber talks history, design, computers, software and people in this talk primarily about Apple's operating systems. It's from 2011 so it's already lagging behind but I just enjoyed the lot over a late breakfast:

Webstock '11: John Gruber – The Gap Theory of UI Design from Webstock on Vimeo.

Go the fuck home

No apologies for this: you’re right, it’s a very old productivity video tip. It’s, like, two years old now. And no apologies for the fact that I only know about it because just plucked it back up out of their archives. Pam Selle gives a very persuasive argument about not working long hours: I mean persuasive, I’m can feel myself being persuaded. And I love this stuff. I also work from home, so, you know, the detail may not apply to me but I’m suspecting the idea does.

You’ve got the idea now: she is nothing if not clear about this. But read more about it, about that particular event and about her on Pam Selle’s own website.