creating a little motivation

So. You’re low on motivation.

We’ve all been there. When those moments strike, it’s sure easy to come up with why we don’t *have* to do whatever it is:

“I’ll have time tomorrow.”
“I need to think about it more and really get some ideas flowing.”
“I should probably talk to [insert name of anyone even remotely associated with the project] before I get started.”
“The floor isn’t THAT dirty.”

Sound familiar?

There are a ton of tips and tricks out there to get you moving toward your goal again, but it’s always good to have another tool in the ole’ brain box, so I thought I’d share mine.

There might be a million reasons, but I only need three good ones.

Try to think of at least three reasons for getting going on the project/task: one that will impact you immediately, one that will have a short-term effect, and one that will affect you in the long-term.

Let’s take working out as an example. As much as I love riding my bike or going for a hike, I am NOT one of those people who is naturally predisposed to working up a sweat. Sometimes sitting with my feet up, sipping a cuppa coffee, and reading a good book sounds way better. (And sometimes you need to do that too.) But when my brain is throwing out flashcards of excuses why I can’t do it right now (it’s too windy, it might rain, I have to be somewhere in 6 hours and that just isn’t enough time…) I think of my three reasons and usually they’re enough to outweigh my inclination to stay put. So I might think of things like this:

Immediate reason – I always feel better when I get exercise. Or, I’m going out for dinner and I’m certain the Super Fries from Tav on the Ave will wipe out the caloric benefit of this workout so I better bank some sweat now.
Short term reason – it’s a lot easier to stay in shape than it is to get back in shape. Or, I like it when my pants fit.
Long term reason – when I get old, I want to be active and fit, not sedentary and unable to do the things I want to do. Putting the effort in now makes that more likely.

It’s all in your mind.

Most of the time, forcing my mind to think about the benefits rather than the excuses gets me moving in the right direction. Those pesky excuses might still be floating around up there, so I can’t always say I’m raring to go, but at least I can usually get enough motivation to get started. In my experience, that’s the hardest part; once I get started I can usually keep it going. I just need three reasons.

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What trick(s) do you use to get yourself going when your momentum has shifted the wrong way and you’re having trouble getting motivated?

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document design: “boring” but necessary

It’s back-to-school time, and for all who are parents, it means forms. So. Many. Forms. As I was filling out the same forms I’ve filled out each year for 7 years now, I got to thinking about how many businesses and organizations have poorly designed forms, or documents that just don’t take advantage of that small opportunity they have to market to their customer.

Our boring (but necessary) forms and documents are an important place to provide good customer service, and they can be an easy place make sure your messaging is on-brand.

Here are some simple pitfalls to avoid when putting together your more “boring” documents:

It’s Good Enough

When’s the last time you looked at your organization’s documents? Have you been photocopying the same ones for 10+ years? Even worse – have you lost the original so you’re photocopying photocopies? Maybe it’s time to review them, make sure you’re still asking for information you need and use (i.e. still asking for fax number despite not even having a fax machine anymore), and that the document looks fresh and in line with your current marketing, instead of like it’s been in use since the Reagan Administration.

No Branding

This one is simple! Make sure you include your branding on the form/document, including your logo. If the form is something that is printed in color, be sure to use splashes of your branded colors in headings and other design features. I recommend you use a consistent typeface across all of your forms/documents, even if you don’t have an “official” one with your branding. It helps bring cohesiveness into the suite of documents your organization uses, as well as provides familiarity and a kind of comfort for your customer as they move through your processes. Depending on the form and its use, you may also include your address, website, social media, etc., but not at the expense of keeping the document clean and simple.

Thinking about Your Processes, Not Your Customer

When you are developing your forms, think about the person using the form. Who is your typical customer? Under what context are they reading and completing this document: in your office or at their home to be sent in later? If it’s in your office, do they usually have a bit of time to fill it out, or is it just a few moments? When people use the form, do they typically have distractions: Do they have kids with them? Have they just gone through some kind of crisis or are they under stress? Is your service/organization a very small part of their otherwise busy life? (Answer to that last one: probably.) These are all questions to consider when deciding how much content to include and how to design your document.

Your own processes should also come into consideration of course – you want to be sure the work that needs to be done with the form afterward can be done efficiently. But, your processes should be secondary to the needs of your customer whenever possible.

Too Much Content

Think about the information you truly need. When putting together the content, don’t just throw things on the paper in order to have them; know your purpose of asking for the information. For example, if you ask for birthdate because you send out a promotional coupon to customers for their birthday, that’s great! If you ask for birthdate because that’s a thing that’s on forms and you might use it one day, consider omitting it. If possible, try to pare down the text to bullet points and brief sentences rather than lengthy explanations. Again, think about the customer and how much time they have to read what is included in your form or document.

Poor Design

We’ve all filled out forms or perused documents that have all of the information smashed together, there are no breaks or heading dividing the content into manageable sections, and the spaces are too small to actually write in your answers. This is a chance to provide better customer service! At best, a poorly designed document makes an already annoying task even more so. At worst, your customer will register a negative opinion of the service they are receiving from your organization.


Tying It All Together: Case in Point

When I worked for a local non-profit a few years ago, we had a form each participant had to fill out. We had a problem with many participants filling out the basic identifying information, but skipping some of the essential information we needed in order for them to participate in the program. We spent so much time tracking people down and calling them (often repeatedly), it was a huge drain on our human resources. We decided to do something different.

We talked about who our “customers” were, and what their lives were like. Then, we took a close look at our form and realized the information provided about our program was too wordy and used terms that a new participant wouldn’t necessarily understand. We found that we didn’t highlight the areas of the form that the participant needed to fill out; those parts were crammed in among informational text with little white space. We also realized we could cut out a couple of unnecessary questions.

I completely redesigned the form to significantly reduce the amount of text and call out each of the three steps the user needed to complete on the form. This increased the amount of white space and made it much more clear and usable. We saw a huge decrease in the number of forms that needed follow-up work, so that was good on our end. More importantly, because the forms were more complete when we received them, we could assume that they were easier for the user to fill out, which means they had easier access to our services. It was a clear win-win.


To wrap up, even those boring documents that we don’t think much about are opportunities to showcase your branding and serve your customers better. Give them a little love!

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What success have you had with changing a document’s design? I’d love to hear about changes you’ve made to an organizational document/form that improved your customers’ experiences and/or your processes.

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photo credit: user “myrfa” on Pixabay.com

space for getting things done

A few weeks ago, I wrote about John Cleese’s perspective on fostering creativity. (Get up to speed by reading that post first, if you want.) In that post, I wrote about time, but he also talked about the other necessary elements: space, confidence, and humor.

When he spoke about space, he said it’s difficult to be creative in your regular, day-to-day space, because you operate in closed mode. It’s hard to be creative when ALL THESE THINGS TO DO are staring you in the face. I would say this is especially true for a mom with a Type A personality (not that I know one): picking up those dirty socks, wiping off that counter, where do these papers go… etc.

Cleese said, “You must make a quiet space for yourself where you will be undisturbed.” I’m fortunate enough to have what I call my “yurt” – a space all my own. It’s basically a three-season porch that is detached from our house, set back in the woods on our property a bit. It’s peaceful, quiet, and it has necessary features like a ceiling fan, electricity, and it’s close enough to the house to still get wi-fi. I absolutely love working out there.

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my yurt; most of the time I work alone, but it’s nice to have company occasionally

But life is busy, and I don’t always have time for peaceful retreat. So, here’s where I slightly disagree with Mr. Cleese: I don’t know that the space absolutely HAS to be quiet. We’ve all knocked out a project in a coffee shop, and those are definitely not always quiet. But I would present another example: my daughter is a gymnast, and because of road construction, it takes almost 30 minutes to get to the gym from our house. If I drop her off, drive all the way home, then drive back later to pick her up, I will spend just about 2 hours in the car. I can use that time more productively if I stay at the gym and work. The gym has no AC, and Minnesota summers can be hot and humid. I sweat as I breathe in thick, muggy air, and I tune out the energizing pop music the gymnasts blast. I even suffer that distinct smell a hot building full of hard-working bodies can’t help but have. And I create. I create better there than I do in my air-conditioned dining room, despite the environment full of potential distractions, because I’m away from my other responsibilities that would pull me away and keep me in closed mode.

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it’s loud and often hot here, but I sure do accomplish a lot!

Indeed, my yurt’s physical environment is preferable to a hot, smelly gym, and the air conditioning my home offers sure is tempting. But when it comes to creativity, time AND space matter, so sometimes I have to weigh the options then make one of them work so I can keep creating.

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What are your thoughts? What space allows you to accomplish the most? Is that different from where you actually end up? If so, how do you make that work for you?

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**Special shoutout to K&G Gymnastics for the use of their wi-fi (and fan).

time to get creative

I recently saw something John Cleese, one of the brilliant minds that brought us Monty Python, said about creativity. He said that in order to really get into a creative frame of mind, you need to have about an hour and a half of work time available to you. This allows your brain time to relax and get into what he calls “open mode”.


“It’s a mood in which curiosity for its own sake can operate because we’re not under pressure to get a specific thing done quickly. We can play, and that is what allows our natural creativity to surface.”


The reason this jumped out at me is when I have design work to do, I hesitate to get to work if I have any less than about two hours to work. I haven’t been able to nail down why I get that bit of anxiety, because when I think about it rationally, an hour is a decent chunk of time to get things done. But after seeing that quote, I realized that’s what it is! I need more time for my mind to get into creative, open mode.

I wanted to learn more about what he had to say on the subject, so I read the transcript of the entire lecture and the whole thing is so good. Go ahead, go read it. Or watch it. I’ll still be here.

OK, in case you can’t go watch or read it now, here are the five things he says you need in order to truly get creative:

  • Space
  • Time
  • Time
  • Confidence
  • Humor

Yep, time is in there twice. He says that you need not only the hour and a half of work time carved out for yourself, but also time to consider the problem or project itself. Time to mull it over.  Time to chew on it. Time to come up with a solution that’s better and more original than the first thing that came into your brain. I’m talkin’ DAYS.

(I could go into the other 3 things too, because really they’re so true and worth talking about, but I’ll maybe save it for another post.)


“Because, and this is the extraordinary thing about creativity, if you just keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious, probably in the shower later. Or at breakfast the next morning, but suddenly you are rewarded, out of the blue a new thought mysteriously appears.”


I’ve shared on Facebook that thinking a project over while riding my bike or going for a walk allows my mind to open up, and that’s when the ideas come. I’ve also learned that when I’ve “finished” something, I need to leave it sit for a day or two. More often than not, I think of a tweak or something new to add that really changes the whole thing.

“…keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way.”

I love that.

So, now that I have Mr. Cleese’s permission, I feel like I can change my approach. If I only have an hour to get things done, maybe I’ll do more tasky, closed mode things like organize receipts, pay bills, or sort my paperclips.


“Because, as we all know, it’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking.”


I feel like I can change my attitude about it too. I shouldn’t feel guilty about taking time to think; I can’t view thinking, considering, pondering as doing nothing. Using time in that way can only lead to creating something better.

The last thing I’ll say here is that I think he means creative in the broadest sense of the term. I don’t think that being creative just means creating art, or writing, or engaging in other traditionally “creative” activities. I think you’re also being creative when you’re solving a problem, carving out a new approach to something you’re doing, or looking for a new direction to take. Solving a problem, no matter what it is, requires creativity. And the first solution you think of isn’t always the best solution.

Taking TIME to be creative.

If it’s good enough for John Cleese, it is definitely good enough for me.

 

If you didn’t watch the video or read the transcript, I hope you will later. It’s worth it.

 

cover photo credit: user “free-photos” on Pixabay.com

a push to achieve more

I know a couple who owns a local business. They are clients and friends of mine, and they live their lives in a way that shines light on all who come in contact with them. Their business is a fun one, and they make sure they operate it in a way that aligns with their personal beliefs. They give to community organizations, they smile and engage with everyone who walks in their door, and they truly live what they believe. They don’t do it because they want recognition. They do it because it’s in their hearts.

When I stopped in recently to drop off a completed project (read about that here), they said they had a “proposition” for me. Always excited for new ideas and projects, I was immediately intrigued and wanted to hear it. They “proposed” that I attend Christy Wright’s Business Boutique conference in November, and they would help fund the trip. That’s it. That was the proposition. No return favor, no quid pro quo. Just, “We want to do this for you.” This was weeks ago, and I still do not have words for how grateful I am.

If you know me well, you know I’m irrationally terrified of flying. I also have two very active kids to drive all over the place, two dogs to worry about, and a full-time job outside of this side-venture. It is also VERY MUCH outside my nature to accept help or gifts like this from anyone. I have a million reasons (excuses?) to turn down this most generous offer. But I have one big reason why I accepted it.

It is 100% outside of my comfort zone.

The whole thing: the travel, the leaving my responsibilities at home, the asking someone else to manage those responsibilities, the accepting a gift from someone, the taking a leap and investing in myself and my company in this way… all of it is beyond what is comfortable for me.

So, from my perspective, what they’re giving me is huge. They are not simply encouraging me to attend a conference to learn about entrepreneurship. They are pushing me to grow as a person; they are encouraging me to think bigger, to believe in myself and what I’m doing, and to take a risk. They’re also demonstrating what it means to live fully and completely in kindness and give to others.

Hopefully, the conference turns out to be worthwhile and I learn a ton; I’ll find that out in November. But the impact of this act of kindness has already begun.