A way to breathtaking truth and discovery

A way to breathtaking truth and discovery

Header image source: Unsplash

So often the daily practice of writing can seem frustrating and lack purpose. There are the days that the words flow and there are the days that my brain goes missing in action. One of the ways that I jolt my writing into action is by typing up my post it notes from the books I read. The process serves many purposes. I re-engage with the ideas of great authors and do so at a pace that allows the words to percolate as I type them. I start to see patterns between ideas from one author and another and from there I start to create new meaning. I use the great thinking of others to look further.

Continuing my sticky note addiction

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders [sic] of Giants
Isaac Newton

Newton’s statement is pretty famous and one I thought was his own original quote. It comes from the latin “nanos gigantum humeris insidentes which means “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries“. This is exactly what I try to do with my writing process. I try to discover truth by building on the previous discoveries of intellectual giants. So much of what we learn starts with riffing on the ideas of others. In education, intellectual giants like John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Seymour Papert, still influence modern day thinking on pedagogy, curriculum and technology. This “copying” of thinking is not plagiarism. Austin Kleon calls this “reverse engineering”. There is a reason the words and thinking of giants jump out at us. There is a reason I sticky note particular passages in the books I read. The words are speaking to me. Unpacking the words is the first step towards new truth and discovery. Copying is our mirror neurons in action. We imitate when we first start creating.

“Start copying what you love. Copy, copy, copy, copy. At the end of the copy, you will find yourself.”
Yohji Yamamoto

Being a guitar player, I copy riffs that I love. I learn them not to pass them off as my own but to influence my own style. I learn them because they connect with me musically and emotionally. These discoveries are allowing me to discover new truths, and to see further. Once you have seen further, then it is your duty to allow others to stand on your shoulders and see further. This is the often the part where imposter syndrome kicks in and start to think like the two wise men below.

Image source: http://www.okmoviequotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/3-Waynes-World-quotes.jpg

Creating starts with copying. Our influences drive our initial thinking. The key part is to delve deeper and to explore those who influenced your influences. Read the books they quote or the research they highlight. Delve deeper into the giants they stood upon. Doing this will allow you to develop your own voice.

Just remember…

If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, If you copy from many, it’s research.
Wilson Mizner

Enjoy the research. Enjoy the view. You are worthy.

Great learning happens when teachers get out of the way of students

Great learning happens when teachers get out of the way of students

Photo by Jens Lelie
I’m hearing this constantly on Twitter following some powerful student Ignite speeches at the recent ISTE conference in San Antonio. The implication that great student learning only happens when teachers get out of the way is a false dichotomy. It implies that the students succeed despite us. I bet behind the scenes for all of those amazing students, there was a powerful and passionate teacher and supporter. Whether this is a school teacher, a parent, a friend, a brother, a cousin, whomever, everyone needs a supporter, coach, or teacher. A great teacher will impact learning. A great teacher doesn’t put a ceiling on a student’s potential. Students need great teachers. I am a massive advocate for learner-centred pedagogy and curriculum but there must be a balance. In the “The Child and the Curriculum”, John Dewey calls for a balance between the curriculum and the child. Neither should dominate. It is a democratic balance. Too skewed in the child direction “minimises the importance of the content as well as the role of the teacher.” 

The role of the pedagogue

Pedagogy is defined as “leading children to a place where they can learn for themselves”. This leading can be done from any position. By their side, in front, behind or from afar. Great pedagogues use an arsenal of tools to lead students to a place where they can learn for themselves. Pedagogues provide a hand up. They throw learning curveballs. They meddle in the middle. They sage on the stage. They guide by the side. The key is knowing when to switch the roles. Knowing what toolset to pull from the pedagogical toolkit to assist students in learning for themselves. 

Do great teachers get in the way? Yes…when they need to.

Do great teachers get out of the way? Yes…when they need to

Want to actually have breakthrough success? Develop a daily habit!

Want to actually have breakthrough success? Develop a daily habit!

And just like that, it was gone!

It had such promise. It had been on your mind forever and you were determined that this time you had its measure. But it eluded you…again…as it always does. As the excuses pile up; “Life got in the way”,  “I ran out of time”, “It just wasn’t meant to be”, you reflect and are downtrodden.

Why does this happen every time?

Why can I not achieve this?

 

If this sounds like you, you are not alone. 

The path to mastery is long and winding. It is a blank canvas filled with hopes and dreams and no matter what your goals are, you begin with zest and determination and work hard for the first few days and/or weeks.  Then the motivation wanes, the determination disappears and the temptation takes over.  Sound familiar? What if you are going about the process of reaching your goal the wrong way?  What if you are setting yourself up to fail?  According to Art Markman, a cognitive scientist, the author of Smart Change and co-host of the “Two guys on your head” podcast, the process that most people use to try to achieve their goals is the perfect recipe for failure. Gyms, personal trainers, companies who sell weight loss products rely on this formula. So how do you set yourself up for success? The key to success according to Markman is to understand how your brain works, especially the motivational system.

 

How motivation works

Our brains are primed to allow us to succeed but are also on the flipside of that are primed for energy preservation and efficiency.  This is achieved by automating behaviours in the form of habits. Ever arrived home after a familiar drive remembering nothing about it? It felt like you were on autopilot. You may take the same way home every day on your drive and as a result, you don’t need to make conscious decisions about this. It is a habit. It is our brain’s autopilot. An incredibly efficient system designed to reduce the workload of our brains to preserve energy. Now, what happens if there are roadworks blocking your normal route home? All of a sudden, your brain needs to engage and make decisions on the fly and this requires energy to do this.  The autopilot is disengaged and you take back the wheel.  Habits allow us to use mental energy in the right spaces.

 

Positive habits to achieve your goals

Markman says we have two circuits that assist with motivation and sustainable behaviours.   He calls them the “Go system” and the “Stop system”.  Understanding the key components of our motivational system and how to utilise them to use our energy in the right spaces is essential to achieving personal goals.  The Go system has two parts – one which outputs effort to allow us to develop new behaviours and the other which automates the behaviours we do often in a more energy efficient way by way of habit development.

The Go system associates certain times and places with certain behaviours.  Do you go pull your phone out while riding on the train or put your bag in a certain place when you walk in the door?  These frequent patterns of behaviour are on autopilot and help us with decision fatigue. The Stop system is our ‘brakes’ system. This system requires mental energy and mental energy is a finite source. This is why all of our hard work comes apart in the afternoon. Our brains are tired and so the mental energy required to make the right choice is not there.  Trying to change a pattern of behaviour by constantly riding the brakes is not sustainable. We run out of energy this way. The key, is to find ways to make the behaviour we wish to develop, a habit. Create a trigger that prompts that behaviour. Build an environment which promotes this behaviour.

 

Move from aspiring to practicing

The Go system is all about habits. The Stop system is all about goals. In this great Farnam Street blog post from Shane Parish, he highlights the power of habits over goal setting in the pursuit of excellence. Goals have “endpoints and require willpower and self-discipline”. Habits once formed are automatic. They are easy to complete. This is so on the money. Writing for me has always been a passion. I was, like Joshua Fields Milburn from the Minimalists, an aspiring writer. Always aspiring to write but never actually getting it done. I set myself goals of one blog post a week which seemed like a pretty reasonable target but I rarely achieved it. The #youredustory challenge helped me do it for one year but I dropped the ball after that. The writing was hard. I would sit down and nothing would come out. I struggled for content. Since I started writing 750 words daily, I have written over 50,000 words in two months. That’s a book worth right there. Through the habit, I have written two and sometimes three blog posts a week. My work writing is easier. The words just flow. Now, not all of this writing is brilliant but there are speckles of gold in there and it feels natural every day. To start writing is easy. To finish is easy. I sit down and it just happens. This was not the case when I set goals to write. My dream has changed from aspiring to write a book to writing a book. I have applied the same changes to exercise, meditation and reading. I do them daily at the same time (most days) and it feels unnatural not to do them. I have harnessed my Go system and made the process easier. It is the power of incrementalism. One step, every day and you get to where you want to get to.

Books that have rocked my thinking this year

Books that have rocked my thinking this year

I love books. Since I could read I have had my head buried in a book. I read anything I could get my hands on. When I ran out of books, I reached for anything. Not sure there are many nearly 40-year-old males who have read all the Babysitter’s Club books (Thanks sis). My local library was my haven when I was a kid and I’m stoked that I have a great local library in my neighbourhood now. My reading preferences have changed a little over years. I don’t read much fiction anymore. I prefer biographies and books on education, personal development and sport. This post is a little share of some of my favourites from the past year:

 

Peak by Anders Ericsson

Ericsson’s 30+ year dedication to studying the habits and performance of expert performers is what Peak is all about. After hearing him explain his work on so many podcasts, I was bursting to read this one. In Peak, Ericsson lists ‘deliberate practice’ as the reason why expert performance is achieved by some and not others. Deliberate practice involves deconstructing the performance of elite performers to determine the vital components required for superior performance. From here, the development of mental representations, short intense feedback looks and targeted practice of the components are used. A short paragraph doesn’t do the book justice. A definite must read.

 

Beyond Measure – Margaret Heffernan

This little gem was inspired by Margaret’s Ted Talk and there is so much wisdom packed into this one. Heffernan shares insights on building great organisational culture and practice. She explores the topics of social capital, conflict, productivity, creativity and structure. Some of my favourite pearls of wisdom are listed below.

 

3 qualities of great creative problem-solving teams (p24)

  1. Giving each other time to talk

  2. Social sensitivity – tuned into each other’s moods

  3. More women

 

“Network nodes – real influences of organisations; the people who intersect with the most people” (p30)

How many people do you intersect with at your school or business?

 

20 Hours – Josh Kaufman

An afternoon of TED talks led to Josh Kaufman’s book. I read this one after Ericsson’s book because I was instantly intrigued by the seemingly opposite approach to mastery. Kaufman references Ericsson’s work quite significantly. The difference is that Kaufman is not on a pursuit to excellence, just a pursuit to being good. In the book, he deconstructs skill acquisition and learns a range of new skills in just 20 hours. The three-stage model of skill acquisition he outlines is:

  1. Cognitive (Early) stage – understanding what you’re trying to do, researching, thinking about the process, and breaking the skill into manageable parts.

  2. Associative (Intermediate) stage – practicing the task, noticing environmental feedback, and adjusting your approach based on that feedback.

  3. Autonomous (Late) stage – performing the skill effectively and efficiently without thinking about it or paying unnecessary attention to the process.

Kaufman’s Ted Talk is a good place to start for those who are interested in checking out more.

 

Show your work and Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon


These little gems were discovered via my local library. They are really easy to read and this is brilliant because you jump back into them over and over again. In Show your Work, Kleon lists ten reasons why you need to let the world see your work. He talks about ‘being an amateur’ and having a beginner’s mindset. He also talks about volume being key and that using Jerry Seinfeld’s chain technique is a great way to keep the creating streak alive. Don’t break the chain. In Steal like an artist, Kleon lists ten strategies to help you create original work. My favourite is below:

Step 1: Wonder at something.

Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you.

You should wonder at the things nobody else is wondering about.

What do you wonder about?

 

Smart change – Art Markman

I discovered Art via a podcast and found his insight into how the brain works fascinating. Smart Change really helped me understand how habits are formed and the conditions required to change them.

“It is crucial to make daily progress on long-term goals. A contribution is not made in one sprint.”

Markman outlines some really effective and simple to use techniques to help you change your behaviour.

 

Ted Talks – Chris Anderson

Who better to share tips and techniques for improving your public speaking than Chris Anderson, the curator of Ted. Anderson uses Ted examples to share different techniques to help speakers of all abilities improve.

“Overstuffed equals under-explained” – So often we try to say too much and in the end all we do is leave our audience confused or unsatisfied.

“To say something interesting, you have to take the time to do at least two things 

  1. Show why it matters…what’s the question you’re trying to answer, the problem you’re trying to solve, the experience you’re trying to share?

  2. Flesh out each point you make with real examples, stories, facts

    (p36)

A really insightful and practical book.

 

Smarter, faster, better – Charles Duhigg

I discovered this book as I have a lot of the books I read via a podcast interview. Srinivas Rao and his Unmistakable Creative podcast is a gold mine for great new books and authors. Duhigg’s book analyses the following areas; Teams, Decision making, Focus, Goal setting, Motivation and Managing Others. I really enjoyed the hero narrative he used to introduce and conceptualise each area. The story of the world’s automotive plant being turned in the world’s best through the use of lean manufacturing was by far my favourite. The power of process and people shining through.  A true strength-based approach to working.

“Lean manufacturing – built to exploit everyone’s expertise”.

 

Originals – Adam Grant

I have Hamish Curry to thank for putting me on to this one. In Originals, Grant explores original thinkers and dissects their practices to discover how they come up with original work. I really like the way Grant writes. He can make the incomprehensible accessible. Practical and insightful, Originals is for anyone interested in creating. Start creating now as the volume of work you create helps increase your capacity for originality.

 

Tools of Titans – Tim Ferris

I am a huge fan of the Tim Ferris show podcast. The quality and diversity of Tim’s guests are second to none. In Tools of Titans, Tim shares the habits and insights of these famous, infamous and downright amazing people. This book is huge but easy to read. I find that I just dive in randomly and read a few pages. Tim’s interviewees for the podcast/book are so diverse that you can’t go wrong reading the book in any direction.

 

Deep Work – Cal Newport

As is evident by my recent writing, this book has had a profound impact on me. Deep work is “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” Newport provides evidence, strategies and anecdotes to support his push for people to explore deep work. In a world where distraction is rife, being able to block it all out and concentrate deeply is becoming in Newport’s words, a superpower. A read for anyone currently questioning their current ability to connect with their work.

 

Shoe Dog – Phil Knight

This book was a gift from my sister and I probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nike as a brand is the epitome of confidence and high performance. I had no idea their beginning was the complete opposite of that. Phil Knight writes with a vulnerability that I really liked. It made his story really accessible.

 

 

The Rise of Superman – Steven Kotler
This book I discovered once again by podcast. Podcasts sure are the new book tours. I love it because I am constantly exposed to new ideas and authors to read. Kotler’s book is about the rapid rise in performance of extreme adventure athletes due to flow state. This book meshes two loves of mine: sports and performance improvement. Kotler provides a window into the mindset and psyche of athletes who push the boundary to achieve beyond what man believed to be possible. Take for example, Tony Hawk. He was the first to complete a 900 (a skateboard trick that requires two and a half spins in the air). Nobody thought this trick was possible. Tony is arguably the greatest ever. A few years later, a 12-year-old named Tom Schaar completes it. Schaar has even gone on to extend the trick and the new bar is a 1080. For those interested in the world of optimal performance, this is a must read. Inspired by this book, I am currently rereading “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

These books have helped shape my thinking over the past year. What books have done the same for you?

Four strategies to help you build your writing capacity

Four strategies to help you build your writing capacity
Your laptop is ready. A cup of freshly brewed coffee sits next to you. You’re ready. You sit poised. You start. Then nothing comes out. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Sound familiar? Writing is challenging. I’d like to say that the words flow from my fingers but I would be bullshitting you. There are days where it does and there are days of tumbleweeds. The thing I have learnt over the past two months of writing every day that it does get easier to write. But those two scenarios don’t disappear. Writing is equal parts cathartic and despairing.
 
This post will share a few strategies that I have borrowed or concocted to build my writing capacity. The first one is the maintenance of a daily habit. I have written here about this. A daily habit is the engine room behind consistent writing. I have written some work I am proud of over the past few months and some work that may not pass Year 7 English. I liken it to my guitar playing. I have riffs I have written that I love and then a whole lot of crap. The joy of writing a great riff is what keeps me playing. Same goes for writing.
 
The next part is feedback. It is sad to say but in the hyper-connected world we live in, this is not as easy as pressing publish. There are a few people who I can always count on to engage with my out loud thinking (Thanks Aaron!). Medium is a great space to reach an audience that lives outside the world of my PLN. To get feedback on my writing structure I use an app called Hemingway app. This has helped to improve the clarity of what I’m trying to say.
 
The hardest part is figuring out what to say in a post. This is where we battle ourselves for original ideas. Don’t. Austin Kleon says it best in his book “Steal like an Artist”,
“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.”
The Beatles and Rolling Stones began as cover bands. Be inspired by the work of others. If we continue with the music analogy, most of my blog posts riff off of the original ideas of others. I write to understand them further. I write to engage with the opinions of others. I attribute their work but in essence, I’m borrowing their ideas. I’m intrigued by their work. Kleon also says that “if we copy from one artist, it is plagiarism. If you copy from many, it is research. Copying is reverse-engineering”. The key is to connect with a multitude of angles and ideas. Be a cover band of many artists!
 
The next strategy I use I have borrowed from a multitude of people. In “How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen”, Ewan McIntosh calls it the “Bug list and Idea Wallet”. Kleon calls it the “Swipe File”. McIntosh’s Bug list is a space (digital or physical) where you gather “things you notice that just don’t work as well as they could do.” The Ideas wallet is a space to capture inspiration as it happens. This is similar to Kleon’s Swipe file. A Swipe file is where you swipe ideas you connect with. To achieve this, I use a Trello board. Trello is a huge part of my daily workflow and it works with so many modes of media. I like that I can send items via email. I can copy links via the browser. I can type ideas straight in. It provides me with a great space to revisit to find an item to riff off. Often this leads to a rabbit hole of inspiration and then I’m off.
 
My bug list and idea wallet
I also read and read and read (a post coming shortly discussing some my recent favs). As I read, I sticky note the heck out of the book. Quotes, research, other books to check, important facts, interesting stories, anything that jumps out at me. I then revisit these notes once I have finished the book and type them up in OneNote. I started this practice for two reasons. Firstly because I wanted to continue to connect with these thoughts and insights. I wanted access to these thoughts when I was writing. Secondly, I didn’t own the books, having borrowed them from my awesome local library. It is a practice I wasn’t sure I would sustain but I have. I enjoy it because it is like compiling a mixed tape of my favourite parts of the book. I often find myself jumping back into the book to continue to explore. I then revisit these ideas long after I have returned the book. It is an interesting way to connect with the ideas. Typing them out connects me physically to them. The ideas roll out around in my head as my fingers pound the keyboard. While it may appear a mundane process, it does work.
 
Continuing my sticky note addiction
My mix tape collection of ideas in OneNote
Having these strategies in place helps with the conditioning required for regular writing. Like stretching and eating right work for exercise, these strategies work for my writing. For the regular writers out there, I would love to know what you use to help you with your conditioning. As always, thoughts and feedback welcome.

Take control and find out where all your time goes.

Take control and find out where all your time goes.

Where does all your time go? What has the greatest impact on your daily energy and is it the right use of your time? I have long pursued living a deliberate life. A life where my energy is used in the right places. Where conscious decisions lead to a better home and work life. We are all driven and ambitious. Wanting to live a life that is rich and fulfilling. The challenge is often time. While it is often a legitimate hurdle, sometimes it can be a ‘get out of jail free’ card. There are so many things we could do with our lives if we just had more time. Oh, the skills we could master, the projects we could complete.

So where does all your time go?

I have spent the past two weeks figuring this out. On episode 7 of Design and Play, my co-host Dean Pearman put me on to an app called Toggl. Toggl is a time tracking application that allows you to capture where you spend your energy and time. It is available via a browser, desktop (Mac & PC) download or as a mobile application. It is free but you can upgrade via subscription for some more features. The free version is more than enough.

Toggl’s default screen

To start, you create projects. These are broad categories like Meetings, Ordering, Email, etc…. You then specify the details of the category. For example, if your broad category is Meetings, then your subcategory would be what that meeting is about. When that meeting starts, you press the green play button and a timer starts for that meeting. When the meeting finishes, you press the stop button. It’s that simple. Consciously recording your time for your tasks during the day really changes how you view your time allocation. There are so many times when I reach for my phone while waiting for something. It’s just habit. I recorded all of that time. It was really interesting to see how much time I spent each day looking at social media. It also stopped me many times from just checking it randomly. Instead, I would consciously check it. I would batch check in with my PLN. Instead of constantly responding to messages as they came in, I would wait until I deliberately chose to respond. I would then check all social media. Batching tasks together has been a game changer for me. This deliberate approach allows me to focus my attention and to be more present and productive.

Batch email – Working on taming the email beast

Times can be collected automatically by pressing play or by manual entry. This is a great feature as it allows you to add entries you may have forgotten. As I started using Toggl more, I started to add in categories that I have never logged. Informal meetings and ordering (like you Dean) took up a fair amount of time. The interesting thing about these new categories was when they took place and how often they would cut into a period where I was working deeply. In Toggl, you can see this by enabling the timeline feature. This feature allows you to see when in your day these items took place. Your energy is the best at the start of the day so this is the time that should be devoted to the most demanding tasks. This insight led me to adjust my environment. If I needed to work on a project that required intense concentration, I would find a quiet spot away from my team until that was complete. Once I was back in the office, I was present and ready to chat. This deliberate choice allowed me to feel like I was giving each of these important elements the right attention. Cal Newport calls this the ‘hub and spoke’ approach. Solitary work with large periods of concentration mixed with communal conversations. In David Thornburg’s words, cave time mixed with watering hole time.

Using the timeline to see when you complete deep work

This approach then lead me to utilise another feature of Toggl. Each recorded time can have tags added which can provide another filter to view your data through. I started to categorise each task as shallow work or deep work. I classified items such as email, ordering and social media as shallow work. Deep work examples are daily writing, teaching and staff professional development. Using the Report section of Toggl, I could break down each day into how often I worked in deep concentration on cognitively challenging tasks. I could then compare this to how much shallow work I was completing. This data really does open a Pandora’s box of questions. Deep work needs to be scheduled for the morning and in large chunks of time. Shallow work should be scheduled for the afternoon when my brain is slowing down. Toggl’s timeline feature also allows you to visualise this. You can see where your time goes throughout the day and see if you are setting your day out to fully optimise your body’s natural energy flow.

My deep work for the week
My shallow work

By using Toggl, I am being more proactive in how I decide to use my time. I reflect on the days that work better than others. Sleep is a big factor in how the day will pan out and so I am deliberate in my sleep routine to allow for a good night’s sleep. Measuring where my time goes is a conscious and deliberate decision. I want to feel like I have accomplished something with my day. I want time to work on the projects that make me feel alive. I don’t want the excuse of time to dictate how I live my life.

You have more time than you think.

The first step is to find out where it goes in the first place.

The next is to analyse it.

Are you spending your time wisely?

The power of being present

The power of being present

How do you power down?
What strategies do you use to switch off from the pressures and pull of work?
What conscious steps do you take to transition from work to home?
What routines and habits do you have that allow you leave work at your front door step?
How are you present at home?
What conscious choices are you making to leave work at work?
You decide.
You set the expectations.
You create the precedence.
You set the standard.
You create the habit.
You choose to be where you are.
Take the time to build a routine that allows you to be present at work and at home.
You decide.