What do chains, Jerry Seinfeld and deep work have in common?

What do chains, Jerry Seinfeld and deep work have in common?

I’m reading Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work at the moment and in this book, he shares a strategy that Jerry Seinfeld uses to produce original comic content. The strategy is called the ‘chain method’. Each day, write/create/produce your content and then mark it off on a calendar when it is complete. Over time you will build a chain of crosses on your calendar and with it a volume of content. Over time that content will get better. With each unbroken day, you will get better at the specific area you are working on. It builds rhythm into the work. Like a shooter in basketball on a roll. Keep the flow going. A great quote Newport shares in the book further supports it.

“Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants.”

David Brooks

So much of what we create is just plain hard work and dedication to getting better. A-ha moments and overnight success stories are fiction. If you want to create amazing work, do it every day.

This is my 100th post on my blog and it has been an incredibly cathartic way to unpack ideas and share. To all those who have read, commented and shared, thank you. You have helped this learner so much along the way. Next challenge: Don’t take four years to get to 100 posts!

Enrich the world with your raw ideas. Ship your drafts

Enrich the world with your raw ideas. Ship your drafts

Seth Godin’s post yesterday about saving as draft really hit me. He talked about our default position to hold an idea, a post, a project and save it in draft mode. Tweaking it until it is perfect. Holding it, analysing it and critiquing it to beyond and back. He said to stop. Just ship it. Feedback on your idea is more important than perfection. The perfect piece, the perfect idea is a myth. Get it out there. Get feedback. Get used to sharing your drafts and you will benefit more than sitting on the idea and over cooking it. Once it is out there, it will take on its own life. Remember that the more you ship, the better you get at dropping your guard. The less self-scrutiny you will apply to your own work.

How many ideas, blog posts, projects have you saved as draft? Why don’t you share those ideas with the world!

750 Words A Day To Make You A Better Writer

The doing part is the only difference between an aspiring writer and a writer. The daily practice of sitting down and putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is what separates aspiring and practicing. Through habit, we develop our abilities. Incremental improvement every day. It is about quantity versus quality. Why? Theodore Sturgen, the famous science fiction author sums it up best.

Source: http://static.neatorama.com/images/2013-06/sturgeons-law.jpg

If we apply that to our own work, the volume that you produce then starts to play a key part. To get the gold, you have to wade through a sea of crap. Not every word that comes out of your favourite author’s brain is good. The same goes for us. The establishment of a daily habit where you sit and do is key. Volume is the driving force. Now for many people, the idea of sitting and writing 750 words a day will conjure up excuse after excuse. I know. I am that person too. I aspire to write more but life gets in the way. Sometimes life is the excuse. What we need along the way is some help. I set out to establish a regular writing habit. Commit to thirty minutes each until the habit was established. Challenge set.

I started a 5 minute morning journal habit a little while back and found it incredibly cathartic to sit and write. I would write down mostly what was on my mind. Work, home, health, personal, money, whatever was battling away in my subconscious. I wanted, however, to expand on this and start to create a larger contribution. I set myself a daily target of 500 words. The challenge with this was it was too far a jump for my will power. I also didn’t establish the right conditions to write under. I didn’t have a collection of ideas collated prior to sitting down (I know use Trello to compile any ideas that I would like to write about). I jumped between platforms. From Word to Pages to WordPress to Flow State and back again but always found that it never gelled for me. Another key factor was my process for writing. I tried to write and edit at the same time and this just doesn’t work. These are two different states of mind and phases of writing. I needed to blurt out whatever was in my head and then when I was finished, whittle away the crap to start to shape the writing. Writing is very much like ideation. The below graphic from Bryan Mathers, inspired by Tom Barrett sums it up best.

Image source: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CX3IlE5WkAI_M6V.png

Then I discovered www.750words.com

This website is devoted to exactly that. The daily writing of 750 words. No fancy editor, just a blank canvas. Your words are counted on the bottom and you work daily towards hitting the 750 mark. Now if I was struggling to hit the 500 words a day mark, what I was I thinking extending that to 750. I didn’t think that it was an achievable mark at all but when the mark seems so far away, I just started to write. I wrote about whatever was in my head. In essence, I merged the cathartic process of morning journaling with the professional writing that I was seeking to establish. I just kept writing. Like a runner puts one foot in front of the other, I just kept my fingers typing on the keyboard. The funny thing is that I spent less time overthinking things and more time just saying them. If it didn’t sound good, I would rewrite a sentence. Sometimes I would rewrite that sentence 5 or 6 times. Iterating on the words allowed me freedom to not care about the order but about the way the words were accessed by the reader. It also allowed writer’s block to budge.

In fourteen days, I have written 10,775 words. That’s an average of 769 words per day. I have missed four days mixed in there but have quickly jumped back into it. In fact, I look forward to it. Once you have finished your writing for the day, 750words.com also breaks down your writing logistically, mechanically, and emotionally.

Once you have finished writing, you can export your writing really easily as a text file. The export is a month’s worth. Nothing like seeing 10,000 words appear in flash. I then sort through the pieces to arrange them in OneNote for further writing or just simply reflecting upon.

750words is free for a month and then $5 per month after that. I’m still on my trial but I’m signing up for sure.

Design and Play – our podcast workflow

Design and Play – our podcast workflow

I have listened to podcasts for a long time. It is the medium that I get most of my learning inspiration from. I have written about my enthusiasm for podcasts here and here. Equally as long I have wanted to start a podcast but have been too… (insert excuse here). At the end of last year, I decided to stop with the excuses and start with the doing. The podcasts that I enjoy the most tend to have great banter between two hosts or an interviewer and interviewee so I set out to find a co-host. Dean Pearman and I had been exchanging great professional banter for quite some time (most of it in GIF form!) and so I asked Dean if he would co-host a podcast all about education and technology called Design and Play.

When Dean and I started recording the Design and Play podcast, we had no clue where to start. I had been collating articles and workflows that people had shared but we were total amateurs. From my reading and my experience working with media, I knew that having great audio was the key (D’uh!) but how do you achieve that when you physically aren’t in the same room. I hope this post sheds a little light on the workflow that we have developed to make Design and Play come to life.

Planning.
All of our planning is done in OneNote. We set out episode guides with information about who is doing what during the show (welcome, guest intro and outro, etc…), a list of key topics/questions that we wish to explore and a collection of resources and links to dive into as well as to share in the show notes. In our first few episodes, we were a little overzealous and tried to cram in too many topics but in the last few episodes, we have worked off two or three key areas and allowed time for the conversation to percolate. We constantly refer to this during the podcast recording but as you can hear during the show, we sometimes let the conversation go where it needs to go. We also have a permanent fortnightly booking in our calendars to record the podcast. We have found fortnightly to be a really manageable time to live our own lives, work, source guests, record, produce and then share the content socially. I would love to record every week but sustainability is a much more important focus for us at the moment.

Gear


I use a Rode Podcaster mike as my microphone of choice. I borrowed this from the library at work and find the sound to be fantastic. It is a USB mike so works brilliantly for recording straight into my computer. Speaking to our AV guy at work on ways to improve sound and he gave me a windsock to stop the popping and limit the heavy breathing during the recording. I record straight into my MacBook Air and compile everything on Garageband. We originally used Garageband as the sole recording tool but found some limitations. Dean and I use Skype during the process to connect with each other and our guests. After the audio in our first episode wasn’t as rich as we would like (Dean was stuck in a well), we did some research and landed on a great tool called eCamm Recorder for Skype. When we start a Skype call, the eCamm recorder window pops up. With a little adjustment of the audio settings, we are set up and ready to go. The reason I like the eCamm recorder so much is that it saves all recordings in an easy to access archive but more importantly, it allows you to export the recording as separate tracks. I’ll touch on this a little more when I discuss post production. Dean and I both use bucket headphones to listen to each other. We also try to find quiet spaces to record although if you listen carefully to the recordings, this isn’t always achieved. We also record a back up track using Garageband of our own audio. This is to prevent crashing and the loss of lots of hard work.

Dean, Terry and I in action on episode 4.

Post-production
The eCamm recordings are then dropped into Garageband and because they are on split tracks, I can adjust the audio levels to bring up the volume of each speaker. This allows the podcast to have balance and for the user to have a pleasant listening experience. The intro is prerecorded using music from www.bensound.com which is a fantastic site for (some) royalty free music. The post production phase takes a little while because there have been episodes with technical difficulty and so sometimes we need to split and cut tracks to edit out certain parts. To ensure quality, I make sure to listen to the track a few times which is time consuming just due to the fact that our episodes tend to run for 45-50 minutes. Once the episode is finished, it is exported as a Mp3 and saved to a shared Dropbox folder. This allows both Dean and I to listen to the complete podcast before it is uploaded. It does feel odd listening to yourself podcast but we want to make sure that the audio is of a high quality. From here, the file is uploaded to our Podbean site. We chose Podbean as a site as it is a site dedicated to Podcast hosting. As we were in the prototyping phase of the podcast, we wanted to be as agile with our solutions as possible. It meant that we also didn’t need to build a website initially. We do plan to do this and to blog to further unpack some of the episodes but for the start-up phase of the podcast, we wanted a site that could handle the hosting of the podcast, the RSS feed generation and the integration with iTunes. Podbean does all of this and as we move to our own website, we can still tap into Podbean to host the podcasts and simply embed the episodes on our site. The iTunes integration with Podbean make it really easy to manage the episode description, shownotes and iTunes specific requirements such as language, authors, etc…

iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher

Each of the spaces we make our podcast available have varying requirements to upload content. For iTunes, I simply followed the instructions found here and signed into PodcastsConnect. For every new episode, I simply refresh the RSS feed (there’s a link that I click in Podcasts Connect) and wait for an hour or so and the episode is live and available on iTunes. For Stitcher I had to sign up for an account which required a little waiting but it automatically updates now once the RSS feed is updated. SoundCloud is a little more manual and we are still operating with the free account, which unfortunately only has an hour upload limit. This means that old episodes are now not available. Podbean is fantastic because the analytics allow us to see where our listeners are from and how they are accessing our episodes. This really allows us to know where to target efforts to continue to promote the show.

Once an episode is live, we promote it via Twitter and LinkedIn. We have a Design and Play Twitter handle and this allows us to keep the word spreading.

The podcast is completely a love job. We love discussing topics of interest and have been overwhelmed with the response from people. We are still very much amateurs and I hope this workflow motivates you to get that podcast you’ve always wanted to start off the ground. Happy to connect and share to talk through any details.

 

A look back

It’s that time of the year again. A time to pause and look back. I have to say that this year has been a hectic one and a year jam packed right up till I finished at work on Friday. Heck the work is still spilling into holiday time. This post is about themes and lessons learnt, not achievements or failures.

Daily deliberate

A huge lesson this year was the value of volume through daily habits. Through podcasts, blog posts, books and then daily practice I learnt that writing, creating, making, learning, improving is a process of continued daily devotion through deliberate practice. I wrote a lot, in fact I filled four notebooks and have countless drafts and Trello boards of ideas but there was a lot of crap in there. There was also a lot of gold. Writing daily kept me coming back to ideas and often a different mode or headspace could take an idea in a different direction. I learnt from many inspiring people that the process of improvement lies not in a one off magical output but the repeating cycles of doing and reflecting. For those looking to develop their voice, I implore you to start. Write for 5 minutes every day in a notebook. Wake up, time yourself and get lost in the five minutes. Keep that practice up every day for a month and then come back to those ideas. You will be amazed with how much you can write and have to say. Once your habit is established, extend your time or if you want to deliberately improve, get someone to read them, either from your notebook or via a blog. Feedback is key to improvement.

The power of stories and narratives
Storytelling is how knowledge has been shared through generations and a great story compels us to listen with intent and interest. Unfortunately many presenters fail to see the narrative and bombard us with slide after slide of slotted together information, without a thread of narrative. I have spent time this year through speaking gigs, practice, sketch noting trying to develop my ability to tell a compelling story. The stories that need to be told are your stories and people need to hear them. I have had the pleasure of working with a few members of my PLN closely this year as they have developed their ability to tell stories and it has been amazing to watch. The world needs less quotes on a slide deck and more powerful stories shared.

Battle between distractions and flow

In this day and age, being a connected educator can be severely distracting. Notification upon notification just chips away at your ability to get anything done. The dopamine craving of a retweet or a thumbs up leads to a decreased ability to get into a state of flow (check out Cal Newport’s Deep work). It also leads to a battle to be in the moment and it is something I have wrestled with immensely. Living close to work doesn’t allow for a lot of debrief time and so I have worked to put the phone away until the kids are in bed…and you know what, the world hasn’t ended and people have sorted out their own shit or they wait till tomorrow. It is so easier to be in the moment when your phone is not within arms reach. I have also employed this strategy with regard to email. I don’t check email until about 10.30am. That first two and half hours is when I am at my sharpest and so I use it for uninterrupted work on projects. I wear noise cancelling headphones to let my team know I’m not to be disturbed and I listen a chill mix I made on Spotify. I thoroughly recommend people developing routines that allow them to get into flow.

Power of belief
I hit rough patches this year a few times and they largely revolved around the question of purpose. I spent time trying to uncover what my purpose was, where I was heading to next. In fact, I probably tried too hard to drive the conversation between myself and it led me to some really barren points during the year. Some great conversations with people I respect and plenty of thinking time while I work out in the morning helped me through there spots. What did I learn? You need to get lost in opportunity and the opportunity you have is the opportunity you need to use to create this. Instead of letting negative thinking or self doubt creep in, step out of your comfort zone (and own head) and walk on.

Incrementalism and persistence.
Incrementalism is an interesting concept and it was this great podcast my wife referred me to by the Freakonomics team (great podcast series) that led me to the concept. Throughout history, monumental shifts in human thinking were not the results of big bang overnight success but incremental steps. Often the initial steps are long forgotten but they were necessary for the change journey to begin. Stephen Dubner from Freakonomics sums it up best with this quote.

“It got me to thinking that incrementalism is to the moonshot, what maintenance is to innovation.”

In our schools, we have moon shots that we aspire to. Large scale reform and change is hard and slow but every day you can take steps towards this. Every step is a step and while it might sometimes be a step backward or a sidestep, it is action. Moving on this with the end in mind helps to keep the the moon shot alive. A key part to this is to share the journey. The best journeys are shared. You also need to stop and take stock. Persistence in the face of huge roadblocks can be daunting but the energy you receive when you stop and look back at how far you have come can provide wind in your sails and help you through rough patches.

What lessons have you learnt this year?  As always, comments welcomed!

Podcasts, podcasts, podcasts!

I have a slight obsession with podcasts. Since I first discovered them back in the good ole iPod days, I have been a regular listener. The EdTech Crew was the first education podcast to grab my attention and I would often extend my drive (the measure of a podcast in my mind) to finish an episode. I caught up with Tony Richards (@itmadesimple) recently and was hounding him to get the band back together so here’s hoping! Since then my listening tastes have shifted. I still enjoy education podcasts but find my interests lie now in more diverse areas.

For education, I personally can’t go past the TIDE (Today in Digital Education) podcast by Doug Belshaw (@dajbelshaw) and Dai Barnes (@daibarnes) or The Education Review (TER) podcast by Corinne Campbell (@corisel) and Cameron Malcher (Capitan_Typo). Both provide tremendous perspective and depth to all things education.

Podcasts that align with my values in life have been growing in popularity on my podcast list. This all started with the Minimalists podcast, a podcast about two guys who gave up six figure jobs and a live of gathering wealth and possessions to live a life of value, joy and fulfillment. The reason I love this podcast is that it makes you question where your values lie and then challenges you to do something about it. This podcast led me to 10% Happier by Dan Harris and Waking up with Sam Harris. Dan Harris is an ABC news anchor that had a panic attack on national television, which led him to take up meditation. Dan claims that meditation makes him about 10% happier, hence the name and he regularly talks to inspiring people about their meditation habits on his show. Being a Weezer fan, I especially loved the Rivers Cuomo episode. Sam Harris (not related) is unbelievably intelligent and his podcast challenges contentious issues in the world as well as discussing the most interesting of topics.

My latest favs are the Unmistakable Creative by Srinivas Rao and The Tim Ferris Show by Tim Ferris. Both Srinivas and Tim look at business, learning, creativity and innovation through interesting perspectives and by interviewing amazing guests. Local representatives on my list are the Huddle Show by Huddle, a human centred design firm based in Melbourne and Future2 by Steve Glaveski (@steveglaveski). I have had the pleasure of getting to know Steve through his coworking space Collective Campus over the past year and his knowledge as well as the calibre of the guests on his show are second to none when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship expertise. Although this one was a once off podcast series, Seth Godin’s Startup school was also a great listen. I find Seth to be an amazing thinker who can take complex topics and make them accessible through clear narrative and anecdotes. He always blows my mind.

Other great podcasts to check out are Finding Mastery with Michael Gervais, IDEO Futures by IDEO, Office Hours by Dan Pink, Stanford Entrepreneurship videos, Stanford Innovation Lab and Freakonomics radio.

What’s on your podcast list?

Lessons to learn from the naughty kids

Straight off the bat I’m going to tell you that I don’t believe there are naughty kids. There are kids that challenge us, that make poor choices, that rebel but as an educator I believe that all kids are inherently good.  I have taught my fair share of students that have given me grey hairs or have driven me to want to publically share my grasp of colloquial language but I believe that everyone can succeed in the right environment and with the right support. The bagging of students is one reason why I’m not a huge fan of staffrooms.  I understand the need to vent after a challenging lesson but I also believe that there are more productive ways to do this and number one is finding opportunities for positive encounters instead of conflict.  Anyway rant aside, the point of this post is about what we can learn from the “extreme” student.

The word ‘extreme’ is borrowed by IDEO’s Human Centred Design process where interviewing ‘extreme users’ can provide incredible insights and ideas for innovation.  Empathy is the driving force behind the Human Centred Design process and this method forms part of the inspiration stage.  It allows us to take a deep dive into all areas of a problem and look at the problem from all angles. Lets look at an example, getting teachers to use technology in their teaching.  We can instantly think of extremes at both ends.  Think of two people in your life or school that would qualify as either extreme users of technology or extreme non users of technology.  What about their behaviour classifies them as extreme?  When we analyse how they work, what jumps out at you?  When you speak to these people about how they work, what do you discover?  Extreme users often have unique work patterns or workarounds. For the hyper-connected extreme user, he/she might automate mundane tasks through IFTTT (IF This Then That) recipes and this workflow helps create time for more important tasks. For the analog user, their use of their diary to collect anecdotal notes might serve as a powerful formative assessment tool. We can learn new ways of working or highlight practices that are highly efficient.  On the flipside, we can also find new ways to connect the dots and work through our problem. Whatever the case is, there is much to learn here if we spend the time noticing.

Source: https://i2.wp.com/image.slidesharecdn.com/workshop1-digital-innovation-nesta-150206105315-conversion-gate02/95/presentation-by-nesta-on-designing-and-prototyping-made-at-the-oecd-conference-on-innovating-the-public-sector-from-ideas-to-impact-1213-november-2014-16-638.jpg
Source: http://image.slidesharecdn.com/workshop1-digital-innovation-nesta-150206105315-conversion-gate02/95/presentation-by-nesta-on-designing-and-prototyping-made-at-the-oecd-conference-on-innovating-the-public-sector-from-ideas-to-impact-1213-november-2014-16-638.jpg?cb=1423241786

You can find two great resources to help you learn from the extremes from the Stanford d.school and the IDEO design kit.  Being able to empathise with the extreme users in your class can allow you to see the world through their eyes and can help you discover new ways of thinking or design new ways of connecting. We have much to learn from the extremes in our life.

Thanks for reading.