Inspiration from Michael Jordan and Garry Kasparov to Start Your Work/School Year

I hope everyone had a fantastic summer! Let's get the work/school year going with a great quote from Michael Jordan:             I quoted chess champ / democracy activist Garry Kasparov saying something similar in my book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: "Years ago, I was fortunate to hear one of my heroes, former world chess champion and current Russian democracy activist Garry Kasparov, discuss important lessons he had learned from chess. Here’s how he began his talk: “I have won hundreds of chess games, and lost thousands. You have to have the courage to fail." The courage to fail. What an amazing phrase—and coming from a hypercompetitive chess champion it takes on a special meaning. Kasparov probably hates failure more than just about anyone—in fact, as his use of the word “courage” implies, he probably fears it—but he had to develop a tolerance for it to reach his goals. That he chose to begin his talk with this point only underscores its … [Read more...]

You’ve Got Time…

Our society tend to fetishize early success, but lest we forget... Toni Morrison: 40 Mark Twain: 41 Marcel Proust: 43 Henry Miller: 44 JRR Tolkien: 45 Raymond Chandler: 51 Richard Adams: 52 Annie Proulx: 57 Laura Ingalls Wilder: 65 Frank McCourt: 66 Harriett Doerr: 74 Harry Bernstein: 96 No, you’re not too old to publish your first book. — Allison K Williams (@GuerillaMemoir) August 19, 2018 Perfectionism is impatient, but it's never too late to start a project that's important to you. My number, by the way, is 48. (And thanks to D. for sending me the tweet!) … [Read more...]

Why an Anime Girl (or Raccoon!) Might Be Your Next Productivity Buddy

Back in Cambridge, MA, where I used to live, a group of writers used to meet regularly to get some work done. After a quick hello - no chit chat, latte ordering, or other delays - they all sat down and started working. It was so quiet you could hear the proverbial pin drop, and everyone got tons done during those sessions. That's all it takes to do your work, in many cases: someone sitting next to you doing theirs. They don't even have to be doing what you're doing. Someone could be sketching or doing their travel receipts while you're writing or studying and it's all good. While it's okay to check in with your buddy once in a while, or gently offer advice and encouragement if they're stuck, mostly what you, and they, are providing is presence. My theory about why this works is that we're such intensely social creatures that, for many of us, the solitude needed to do our work is itself an obstacle to productivity, raising feelings of isolation and even abandonment. Add to that a bit of resentment--as … [Read more...]

Productivity Secrets of a “Supergenius”

A friend was discussing her fears around her writing, and, in particular, of taking on bigger projects than she could handle, when she came up with a great comparison: "I feel like Wile E. Coyote when he goes off the edge of a cliff. Then he looks down and realizes he's gone too far, but it’s too late, and down he goes." She was conveying a real sense of fear. (Falling off a cliff, even in a cartoon, is scary!) And yet...something about the comparison felt off. I thought for a moment, and then pointed out: "But he always survives the fall, doesn't he?" She paused. "Uh, yes. I guess he does." "And then he goes on with the chase?" “Yes!” I think it's fair to say my friend's attitude shifted at that moment. In fact, her comparison was more apt than she realized. As a creator, it's actually your job to “run off the cliff”—i.e., take risks. And that, by definition, means you’ll fall (a.k.a., fail) a lot. It's essential you not overreact to those failures when they happen. Even better, stop … [Read more...]

Let’s Talk About “Situational Perfectionism”

“Situational perfectionism” is when something causes your perfectionism to spike above its usual levels. (Which usually, in turn, causes your procrastination to spike!) It’s a common phenomenon, with many causes. Here are a few: A prior failure. Often, when we perceived we’ve failed, we get more afraid of future failures. (The solution is to not make such a fuss over failure.) But, paradoxically... A prior success can also do it! That’s because you feel (often rightly) more scrutinized. Second Novel Syndrome is a classic example of this type of situational perfectionism, and even J.K. Rowling experienced it after the success of the first Harry Potter book: “For the first time ever in my life, I got writer’s block...The stakes seemed to have gone up a lot, and I attracted a lot of publicity in Britain for which I was utterly unprepared.’” Fortunately, she got over it, but many writers and others, alas, never do. Labels can be a problem! Labeling your project “urgent,” “important,” or “difficult” … [Read more...]

Some Thoughts on “Genius” – a Not-Very-Useful Concept

There's been a spate of writing about "genius" lately. Here, in Tweet form, are some of my thoughts on that concept. Hope you like them, and I welcome your comments, on Twitter, Facebook, or below. - Hillary For millennia #genius has been gendered male, and used to justify everything from boorishness to rape and murder. Women were relegated to the role of muse and we were all expected to celebrate and exalt the female suffering that enabled some guy to do his thing. — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 10, 2018 So in bios of #DavidFosterWallace, his ongoing abuse (including assault, death threats, and stalking) of #MaryCarr were relegated to interesting, "illuminating" anecdotes. https://t.co/x4msfpSUMk — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 10, 2018 So what is "genius?" What a boring-ass question - albeit one that obsessed me when I was younger. Now I know that you just do your work with as much integrity and spirit as you can, and hope for the best.— Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 10, … [Read more...]

Does Writer’s Block Exist?

A coupla tweets for your delectation: Lookee here! Another guy--and they almost always seem to be guys!--claims #writersblock doesn't exist. They seem to come out of the woodwork every once in a while. https://t.co/Eb5deQQdG1 — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 7, 2018 "Writer’s block is a delicious myth" How callous and condescending, not to mention, #clueless, can you get? #writersblock #writers — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 7, 2018 Here's the full quote from the original article: Writer’s block is a fiction. That’s not to say I always feel like writing, or that I have some big idea percolating. I don’t know if you can force out good sentences or great ideas, but that doesn’t mean you cannot write. You can always write garbage; goodness knows, I write plenty of that. Sure, there are days I don’t feel like looking at my computer or picking up a pencil. Such days, I read; reading is inextricably linked with writing, so you can grade yourself on a curve and say that counts. And there are … [Read more...]

Stuck? Lose Your Label!

Here’s a useful piece by Austin Kleon on How to Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Chaotic Times. I like #3 a lot: “Forget the noun, do the verb.” Calling yourself a “writer,” “artist,” "activist," "scholar," “entrepreneur,” or any other label can invite procrastination if you use that label perfectionistically. For example, if you think of a writer as someone who is supposed to: write many hours every single day sacrifice everything else to one’s art happily starve / live in a garret be smarter about all things writing-related than anyone in the room (or anywhere!) write fantastically all the time, and, enjoy writing all the time Then you’re inevitably going to fall short, and feel miserable about it. Here are some other labels that get people into trouble: “good parent" (if you think "good" means you must sacrifice everything for your kids) and “dutiful child" (if you think "dutiful" means you must do everything your parents ask). In these cases, you should forget … [Read more...]

Dogs Don’t Like Perfectionism Either!

This piece by Nancy Tanner on how impatience ruins dog training is brilliant: When I am asked what is the biggest problem I see in dog training today, it is the same problem I saw fourteen years ago, and thirty years ago, it is the misunderstanding of time. It takes time to learn how to be a teacher to another species. It takes time to learn how to learn from another species. It takes time to build understanding. It takes time to learn how to observe and how to apply what you observe. It takes time to build a relationship with trust. It's not just dog training! Ask teachers of any craft or skill what their #1 challenge is with students, and the answer will inevitably be, "getting them to slow down." While (speaking generally) you want to do your work at a steady clip and not get bogged down on any one detail, you also don't want to rush through the important details--and they can take way longer to get right than many of us think (or want). Even now, after decades of serious writing, I'm … [Read more...]

The Welcome Debunking of “Grit”

I'm happy to report that "grit," that awful, victim-blaming concept, has largely been debunked. An Education Week piece by University of San Francisco psychology professor Christine Yeh reports that Grit author Angela Duckworth has been forced to walk back some of her book's key claims: “Much Ado about Grit: A Meta-Analytic Synthesis of the Grit Literature” by Marcus Crede and colleagues analyzed 88 separate studies on grit and raised three main concerns: The effect sizes in Duckworth’s research were inaccurately presented to appear larger, the influence of grit has been overstated, and the characteristic grit is not much different from the concept of conscientiousness—a concept already well-known and well-researched by psychologists.In a email exchange with NPR in which she responded to these criticisms, Angela Duckworth agreed that, although the statistics in her paper were factually accurate, the language was such that the effect of grit could be misconstrued as greater than it actually was. Secondly, … [Read more...]

When a Success Leaves You *Less* Able to Do Your Work

I use the term "situational perfectionism" to describe circumstances that cause your perfectionism to spike. A failure (or perceived failure) can do that, but so, paradoxically, can a success, especially if it causes you to feel more visible or scrutinized. J.K. Rowling experienced this after the exceptional success of the first Harry Potter book, but fortunately was able to move past it. Other writers aren't so lucky. From this week's obituary of writer Bette Howland: "In 1984 Ms. Howland received a MacArthur Foundation award — the so-called genius grant. But her literary output dried up. Jacob Howland sees the two things as related."“I think the award may have sapped her confidence,” he told the website Literary Hub in 2015. “If people don’t expect great things from you, it’s easier to please them. But people expect great things from a writer who has won the MacArthur.”" It's always best to approach projects with a "clean mental slate," as free as possible from past history and future … [Read more...]

How to Interrupt a Social Media “Ludic Loop”

"Ludic" is a cute word, and it means "showing a kind of spontaneous and undirected playfulness." A "ludic loop" is less cute, however. That's when you get stuck bouncing from one procrastination-enabling activity to another: e.g., from email to the Web to your social media feed to YouTube, and then back to email again, etc. Ludic loops can be really difficult to defeat, for a couple of reasons: They're not just fun--or, at least, distracting--but give you the illusion of productivity. And, They reward you intermittently--just like slot machines! So, every once in a while, you DO get a "worthwhile" email, Tweet, etc., and that keeps you hooked and waiting for more. Not all time spent on social media, etc., is necessarily ludic; and even if you do wind up in a loop sometimes it's not a big deal. Still, if left unchecked, ludic loops can eat up your time and life and happiness, so let's look at some solutions: 1) Figure out how much ludic stuff you want to do. When helping people budget their … [Read more...]

Research Agrees: You Should Use Money to Buy Time

Loved this piece from a couple of weeks ago, describing a study in which researchers found that people who pay others to do work they don't want to do are happier for it: "New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can't buy happiness. "The study, led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, suggests that using money to buy free time -- such as paying to delegate household chores like cleaning and cooking -- is linked to greater life satisfaction. "People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they're being lazy," said study lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School who carried out the research as a PhD candidate in the UBC department of psychology. "But our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money." I've been preaching this for years, often getting pushback about the whole "laziness" thing, or from people who believe that … [Read more...]

Thank you Fast Company!

I'm kvelling! A few weeks ago a wonderful Fast Company writer, Stephanie Vozza, approached me for input into an article on how to be as productive as possible during the summer. I told her that I actually thought the opposite: that summer should be for relaxing, and, moreover, that in summer people often relax into their authentic selves. So the goal should really be to carry one's summer productivity habits and attitudes into the rest of the year, so one can live more joyfully and authentically all year long. It was a pretty contrarian view and, to be honest, I didn't expect Stephanie to rework her entire article around it. But that's exactly what she did! Huge props to her and also to her editor for approving the switch! The result is this article and I couldn't be prouder or more honored. I hope it inspires many people (including all of you, my FB friends) to live their summer life all year long. Many thanks to Stephanie and Fast Company! Also, here's a blog post in which I also explored this idea. … [Read more...]

Parenting Is Not a Zero Sum Game!

From Evelyn Tsitas, an exceptionally useful blog post about what it took for her to write her thesis: Admit it, if you are a mother, there is always that nagging voice somewhere – yours or some critic – that says ‘intense focus and study at the expense of much of everything else in your life will be bad for your young children.’ Rubbish. Low expectations, complacency and laziness* are limiting. Constantly pushing your boundaries and challenging your comfort zone, on the other hand, teach children not to be limited in their aspirations while at the same time reinforcing that anything worth achieving takes hard work, and sacrifice.If you are completing your doctorate and fretting about your children taking a back seat, don’t worry. The mum up late studying, turning down social invitations, spending holidays at the computer or university library may be absent from her children’s lives in some ways, but she is abundantly present in ways which matter in the long term. I can tell you first hand that far … [Read more...]