Creativity needs a balance of order and chaos

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Photo: Caspar Benson / Getty

One of my favorite creative tools is a kitchen timer. I set the timer for a few minutes — for a sprint through really boring paperwork or to get started on a big creative project — and then I press start. I give myself a window to work through. After that, I can choose to stop, and sometimes I do. But many other times, I keep going.

My creativity comes from chaotic energy. But left unchecked, the chaotic energy is a breeding ground for obsession, fixation, and compulsiveness. So I do what project managers do: I employ “timeboxing.” …

“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.”― Margaret Mitchell

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Image: Katie Barrett/Unsplash

In his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman recalls an art class when he was told, repeatedly to “loosen up.” He writes, “I figured that made no more sense than telling someone who’s just learning to drive to ‘loosen up’ at the wheel. It isn’t going to work… I resisted this perennial loosen-up stuff.”

Feynman was then instructed to draw without looking at the paper. He kept his eyes on the model, not looking at what he was doing with the pencil. The first time he did it, his pencil broke at the very beginning and he had nothing but impressions in his paper. …

Think of it as a regular check-in with yourself

Woman going through papers and writing things down.
Woman going through papers and writing things down.
Photo: Morsa Images/Getty Images

Last year, I spent a lot of time feeling distracted. I never seemed to have enough time to do everything I needed to do, and I didn’t have a strong grasp on the big picture of my life.

As I wondered how I could feel a greater sense of control over my days, I remembered a practice I’d heard about years back: The Weekly Review, popularized by David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity method. Basically, it’s the ritual of checking in with yourself every week and figuring out how to be more deliberate with your time.

Many ultra-productive people have written about their own versions of the weekly review: Michael Karnjanaprakorn, the founder of Skillshare, does one that ties into his New Year’s resolutions. Cal Newport’s weekly review is super flexible and matches the challenges of the specific week ahead (he writes that “the return on investment is phenomenal”). Lifehacker founder Gina Trapani’s review includes lots of concrete steps, and the productivity expert Tiago Forte keeps a weekly review checklist on a sticky note on his computer’s desktop. …

To avoid being crushed by Big Tech rivals, the collaboration and productivity platform can mimic Slack’s strategy

An Airtable screenshot of a sample product team org chart
An Airtable screenshot of a sample product team org chart
Image: Airtable

There are around 2 million apps on the iOS App Store, according to Lifewire. The market intelligence firm IDC bets this is just the beginning, estimating that by 2023, across all operating systems, “over 500 million digital apps and services will be developed and deployed using cloud-native approaches.” Citing this statistic in a September 14 blog post, CEO Howie Liu promoted his company Airtable — the workplace collaboration and productivity platform — as a tool that will help create many of these new apps. That same day, Airtable announced it had raised a $185 million Series D round at a $2.6 billion valuation, more than doubling its $1.1 …

“Draw, Antonio, draw and don’t waste time.” — Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

A person writing on a notepad
A person writing on a notepad
Image: Krzysztof Maksimiuk/Unsplash

When we were children, none of us needed to be told to draw. It was practically primal. We would naturally doodle. Yet at some point, most of us stop drawing. The same applies to writing — as architect and art historian Manlio Brusatin has said, “Writing is nothing but drawing.”

Our natural-born instinct to write is stifled and tamped down so we can deal with the unpleasant business of producing results. We live in a world of hamburger essays, content creation, and feedback — no wonder why we stop writing.

And yet, we can still feel our instinct to write. Perhaps it comes out when we read Julie Zhuo’s, Mauricio Estrella’s, or Michael Bierut’s words. Maybe it gives us ideas to become better at what we do. Thus, the key to writing more starts with rediscovering our instinctive joy at putting words together on a piece of paper. Here are some keys I’ve learned through years of writing professionally, as well as coaching teams at Shopify, Flipp, and Skillshare on how to…

In the race to quell our growing anxiety, Headspace may have a secret weapon

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Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Headspace and Calm share the same friendly mission: Headspace wants “to improve the health and happiness of the world” while Calm wants to “make the world healthier and happier.” But the two companies, which both make apps that guide people through meditation exercises, are engaged in a cutthroat competition, one that has only intensified as the nation faces a growing mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic.

Before Covid hit, both companies had raised a lot of funding. Calm raised a $115 million Series B round in 2019. In February 2020, Headspace raised its Series C round, $93 million in equity and debt. Just a few months later, it extended the round and added another $47.7 million in equity. Since March, the companies have both spent millions on television commercials: Calm spent some $15.6 million on TV ads between March and August (up from $3 million the year before) and Headspace spent $27.3 …

‘How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk’ might be the management guide we all need

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Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

While we don’t have to help our colleagues tie shoes or remind them to FaceTime Grandma (that’d be weird), parenting skills can translate surprisingly well in the workplace.

I don’t have kids myself, but I was curious when Julie Zhuo, a former vice president of design at Facebook and a mom of three, tweeted that she learns as much or more about improving teamwork from parenting books as she does from books about management. “I find kids present a more extreme version of the same kinds of interpersonal challenges that a colleague/friend/report would,” she writes.

On a recommendation from a parent, I picked up a copy of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, a classic manual of communication strategies — and found plenty of strategies I could use in my role as an entrepreneur. It turns out that whether we’re speaking to a team member or a child, the goal is often the same: We want to bring out the best in the other person. …

The company plans to make over $7 billion in revenue by 2024. But first, it needs to survive.

A man wearing a face mask walks past the front of a WeWork building in Tokyo.
A man wearing a face mask walks past the front of a WeWork building in Tokyo.
Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

As of December, WeWork was weeks away from running out of cash, according to Marcelo Claure, the company’s executive chairman. This was less than a year after WeWork’s valuation rose to a high of $47 billion in January 2019, before plummeting to $8 billion in October after a disastrous attempt at an IPO. After the pandemic hit, the valuation dropped again to $2.9 billion in March 2020, as WeWork warned that the pandemic would likely get in the way of the company reaching its 2020 targets.

The whole industry has suffered because of the pandemic. A May 2020 report from Research and Markets projects the global co-working spaces market will “decline from $9.27 billion in 2019 and to $8.24 billion in 2020 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of –12.9%.” Because of this, analysts at DBRS Morningstar were pessimistic about WeWork’s survival. …

It’s a more thoughtful way to make new connections

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Photo: fizkes/Getty Images

Let’s say you’re looking for a new opportunity. You’ve already scoured the online listings and put out feelers in your own professional network, and now you’re ready to take things a step further. You start asking around your social circle: “Do you happen to know anyone in my industry that you could connect me with?”

A friend might scroll through their contacts for you, but it’s likely you both know a lot of the same people already. …

In the war against distraction, it’s easy to close yourself off from new conversations, ideas, and opportunities

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Credit: MoMo Productions/Getty Images

For the past few years, I’ve blocked off large parts of my days for what the author Cal Newport calls “deep work” — the act of focusing, without distraction, on a cognitively demanding task. The case for single-tasking is clear: We’re lying to ourselves if we think we can effectively do multiple things at once. Studies show that interruptions create a more stressful work environment, and that our brains need time to recover from each one.

So for a while, I doubled down in my war against distraction. I avoided social media, kept only the most essential meetings, and deleted every unsolicited email that crossed my inbox. Deep work has been one of my most valuable practices — since eliminating everything I’ve deemed inessential to my productivity, I’ve been able to write hundreds of articles, build an editorial studio, and work on a bunch of fun side projects. …

About

Herbert Lui

I cover individual and company growth. Author ‘There Is No Right Way to Do This’ herbertlui.net/reps/

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