by Dorie Clark
What’s the best productivity tool you’re not taking advantage of? Evernote? MeetingWizard? Dropbox? Think again. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile says it’s journaling. In her new book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (co-authored with Steven Kramer), Amabile argues that keeping a journal is one of the best strategies for learning about yourself and improving your professional performance over time.
“One of the big reasons to keep a diary is to record small wins that otherwise might slip through your memory,” she says. “You can leverage the progress principle and allow yourself to get that boost from realizing you are making progress. And it’s also helpful to record major setbacks – or minor ones that recur – so you can think about how to get rid of inhibitors blocking your progress.” Here are four tips from Amabile on how to start improving your productivity today.
Start Small. Keeping a journal – fortunately – isn’t like starting a blog, where you face public humiliation if you slack off. You can try out journaling for a set period of time – Amabile suggests a month – to see if you like it and find it helpful. And don’t set yourself up for failure by chaining yourself to your desk interminably. “It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Write for five or ten minutes a day,” says Amabile, who is also Director of Research at Harvard Business School. “You can focus on one particular project or issue you’re dealing with, and use it to help clear your mind.”
Create a Ritual. When you’re tired after a long day, journaling might seem like the last thing you want to do. That’s why Amabile suggests leveraging the power of habit to help you keep your commitment. “Try to do it at the same time each day, when you’re not likely to be interrupted,” she advises. Whether it’s before work with your morning coffee, on your lunch break, or just before bed, find the time that works for you. The format (electronic or paper) doesn’t matter, says Amabile: focus on consistency.
Don’t Overlook the Positive. It’s easy to use a journal as a venting tool – and that can be useful at times. “But even if the day was frustrating or difficult, try to pull out at least one positive thing,” says Amabile. “Then you can write about the difficult things, as well.” Remembering something good – even if it seems small – can help you shift your perspective and break out of a rut.
Review the Past. Simply writing down your experiences can be cathartic. But, says Amabile, “it multiplies in utility if you use it to review your personal history. You can find insights or pieces of ideas beginning to emerge that you might not have realized if you look back a week, a month, or a year ago.” That was certainly the case for Charles Darwin, who – as profiled in Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation– developed a “slow hunch” that built over time and turned into his theory of evolution.
If you want to improve your performance and productivity, sometimes the simplest solution is also the best. “A journal can help you learn things about yourself, and help you see patterns in your own reactions and behaviors,” says Amabile. “That can help you identify your greatest strengths – and weaknesses you might want to work on.” You can hear Amabile speak about journaling at Behance’s upcoming 99% conference, which – per Thomas Edison – honors the “99% perspiration” that makes innovation possible. (You can read my interview with fellow 99% conference speaker Jonah Lehrer on “How to Stay Creative at Any Age”.)
Have you tried journaling? What are your strategies for monitoring and improving your performance?
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the forthcoming Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.
April 12, 2012
I have this friend. He’s brilliant and funny….and damn near blinded by negativity. It’s kind of amusing, in a Rain Wilson on ‘shrooms sorta way, but it wears on you…..and on his clients.
I, for one, can’t stand it. Not anymore.
I don’t know for sure, cats, but I am pretty positive that focusing on the idea that at any moment a SAFE can fall on your head nearly ENSURES that it will happen.
So – I steer clear.
And you should, too.
There are many, many professionals out there who use the language of fear to market their services. There are plenty of entrepreneurs who spend their days shoring up the castle walls, only to have a butterfly drop an A-bomb in the middle of their plans. There are many gifted people who believe in all kinds of mayhem – and you know what? They’re RIGHT. It happens to them….because that is the vision of reality they PREFER.
This idea that we attract what we put out there is not just some conspiracy theory to get us to buy more Birkenstocks or VW vans. It’s just a decision on each and every one of our parts: do we want to wallow in our negative thoughts and act like Eeyore? Do we want to beat ourselves up, beat our heads against the wall — and then congratulate ourselves for being “warriors”? Do we want to live our work-lives (and WHOLE lives) in that kind of crap-rific-yuckiness….Or….do we want try something new.
I, for one, choose NEW.
One thing needs to be very clear for all of us entrepreneurial types: a positive mindset = prosperity mindset. Simple. But not always easy. You need to begin to train your brain to start thinking differently — about everything. It’s not a trick – it’s been proven in dozens of studies that focusing on a thing draws it to you. And if positive thinkers attract more of what they focus on, why not go in that direction? Our minds are more powerful than we think. Pun intended.
OK – here are some quick tips on how to shift your perspective:
1. Change your vocabulary. Remove words like “can’t”, “won’t” and “never”. These words just drain any possibility out of a conversation, an idea, a project or program with a client. These words also affect your own ability to accomplish what you hope to accomplish in life: the minute you tell yourself that you can’t, you’re right. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. Try using phrases like, “I’ll find a way,” or even better “I will.” It may take some time to train yourself, but it’s worth it.
2. Live in an Attitude of Gratitude. No matter what’s going on, we can all find some bright spots even in the toughest moments. This is another “train your brain” exercise and it’s about being appreciative of what you have and what you’re being offered. Finding that “appreciation switch” raises your energy and trains your brain to see the good and the gift in everything. Take a moment each day to write a list of all that you’re grateful for — your car, your home, your family, your life. Nothing’s perfect – but appreciating those gifts will truly elevate your energy – in a good way. This attracts more good stuff into your life – more good people, good clients, happy times and World Series Titles to your favorite teams. Oh, well, maybe.
3. Remove Negativity and Replace it with Positivity. This is about internal thoughts. Take some time to listen to your internal dialogue. Scary, huh? When I did this, I was amazed at how much negative stuff I would think – without even thinking about it. Again, train your brain. And when you hear these negative thought patterns, just say STOP. And then, try again. Eventually, you will talk yourself out of those negative thoughts and it will reflect in your face and your demeanor – even if you don’t say a word.
4. Put Your Plans Into Action. All of these positive words and thoughts don’t go anywhere without you adding a little fuel to the fire in terms of ACTION. Do something about those dreams, those positive affirmations, those good conversations with clients. List your new goals, show your self the path, and then DO IT. Just like Nike says. The power of positive thinking needs some legs for it to truly draw more prosperity to your practice — and your life.
OK, cats? School is out….
February 21, 2012
Like most of us, I started out my working life learning. I was hired by a TV station to be the new weekend producer and after one weekend of training with the previous weekend producer – who was now the 11pm producer – I was on my own. It was the kind of job that went by you like a freight train on fire. But – you learned.
The next thing that happened was I “did”. For many years, I wrote, ran tapes, edited stories, assigned reporters to cover stories and managed the “children”. I was a doer. Next thing you know, I am teaching. Teaching the next weekend producer who came in when I was promoted. And so it goes.
Each of us are a combination of doers and teachers – which one do you like best? If you can zero in on which makes you the happiest, perhaps this is a bit of knowledge you can follow – right into a new career.
Are you a teacher or a doer? If you’re a doer, you’ll probably charge by the hour – if you’re a teacher, you’ll charge by the lesson. Think about it.
February 17, 2012
I know most of you – if you’re anything like my clients – are overwhelmed by the new social media marketing options. And that’s on a good day. So – let’s really throw you in the deep end — VIDEO.
Before you get scared — you can do it. It’s NOT painful. You won’t lose consciousness. AND – best of all – you can do it YOURSELF.
But why, MJTVgirl? Why are you killing me with more “to do’s” on my already huge marketing to do list?
Well, because. It’s literally 50x more effective at getting your website to the top of the Google search engine. That’s why. And – it’s a great way to broaden your reach, engage your clients, customers and potential customers; AND (breathe) it’s really helpful in starting and engaging brand new people in your conversation.
So….want to get started? Check out my video on video….of course
February 17, 2012
Many thanks to Darla LaDoux for this gem of wisdom.
When I sit down with my clients, I ask them “who is your perfect client”. After working through a few “must haves” we usually get to “my perfect client is one who can afford…..”
Stop right there.
I’ve got news. They can never afford you. I don’t care what business you are in – if you are selling a product or a service, or if it is cheap or expensive. No one is sitting around with a pile of money that they are waiting to spend with you.
It’s only when they connect with the benefit of what you are selling in a way that is beyond a transaction that they will be willing to invest. They buy for their reasons Do you know the reasons your prospects buy from you? What is the bigger “why,” that is the true benefit in their life? If you design websites, what does your client really get from you? Is it more sales and profit? Is it the peace of mind that comes from finally getting it off their to-do list? Is it personal pride and enthusiasm about their brand that really drives them even more than money? You’ve got to know the motivation of your people. When you describe your ideal client, it should never be about what they can afford. It needs to be about what they believe.
January 17, 2012
What is it they say? “There are only seven stories in the world and Shakespeare wrote them all”. Are there any new stories or have they all been told? Boy sees girl, boy chases girl, boy catches girl, Bruce Willis steals girl. You know…the standards. If we are all doing the same things – how can they be different?
For example, if I am a carpenter, I learn my trade and the accepted methodologies. But after a while, I begin to learn from my own experience as well. I start bringing myself to the task. I may even have my own way of doing, changing, improving on what I do and this body of knowledge and skill called “carpentry”. It may be technically the same as other good and accomplished carpenters, but I bring that unique piece to the table to make it just — well, completely unique.
In the big picture, this is how a craft evolves. In the more immediate, more personal picture – this is called a key differentiator of the first order. These bits of “special” you bring to the carpenter world are what your perfect client will become attracted to – and ultimately what will be responsible for the most important growth of your business. Bar none.