Monthly Archives: June 2015

Writers’ and Artists’ Deadline Problems and What To Do About Them

vincent-van-gogh-74018_640Writers and artists are almost always marvelously productive human beings able to generate huge quantities of work, amounts of work which put people in other walks of life to shame. They are concerned with their production and pay close attention to it—did you write your 500 words today; did you finish painting that corner of the canvas before quitting for dinner? If production falls off, they want to know why, and if good work pours out of them fluently, they want to know why that is happening too.

Hard as I try, I find it difficult to imagine any writer or artist—amateur or professional, novice or expert–who hasn’t had  production deadlines to meet, and it’s not unusual for them to have had problems meeting them at least once or twice, and possibly more frequently than that. You’ve heard it said, and maybe you’ve said it yourself when you’ve been under the pressure of a tight deadline and are having trouble meeting it: “This deadline is important. It’s in the contract, and it’s very clear.”  Think how ominous the word is. It’s not a “lifeline,” but a “dead” line, as though if you exceed it you’re a goner.

You have a task that you’re supposed to finish by 2:00. Or it may be by next Tuesday, or one year from Tuesday. There’s some kind of principle or another—Murphy’s Law–that goes, “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Let’s say you start to work and encounter a setback. You begin thinking, “I’m falling behind.” You’re not worried and you continue on, but you run up against another snag or block that slows you down more. More work, another snag; the ideas just won’t come, or you can’t find a concept for the drawing, or your computer crashes, and it will be a long time before it’s fixed. (I had that problem once and was told there was a backlog and that I’d have to shut down for ten days while I waited for a repair person. But I had a deadline to meet, and I really couldn’t wait ten days. So I called the national president of my internet service provider at that time, calendar-148598_640 (1) AT&T, and had a nice conversation with his personal assistant. I explained to her that I was an author and had a book to get out to the publisher right away, so I needed my computer to work. She was an avid reader which I think helped. A repairman was ringing my doorbell at 8:00 the next morning. By 8:20 I was back at work, everything copacetic, things under control.) Or you move out of your old place into a new place or have a baby, and your work comes to a standstill.  A crack in your confidence then appears. You soon begin to conjure up a grim chain of possible events: “If I don’t finish this assignment-story-novel-report-painting-lithograph on time, this might happen and that and that, and that would be very bad.” And then there are other slowdowns and still more. Eventually you think, “Oh, God, no matter what, I can’t possibly finish on time. My butt’s in a sling. What a predicament.”

Strategies for Freeing Yourself from Deadline Difficulties

  1. Pay not the slightest attention to the deadline. You have only so much attention. It’s not divisible. If it’s on one thing, it can’t be on another. Resist any inclination to worry about the deadline. Fix it in your mind once, enter it on a calendar, then get to work immediately. Whatever attention you devote to fretting about it is that much less you can devote to the job at hand. Yet that’s where your mind should be totally focused. It will be helpful if you are able to be dispassionate and non-attached. Perfectly unworried.

archer-160389_640Archery contests are held at a temple in Japan and the best archers compete. The object of the contest is to see how many arrows the marksmen can shoot from one end of a 128 yard long veranda into a target on the other end in one day. The ceiling of the veranda is very low, and the archer has to shoot without much arch. That requires considerable strength and is exhausting. The record is 8,133, or about five arrows every minute for twenty-four consecutive grueling hours. Now how many arrows would the archer have shot if he stopped to fret about the deadline? Certainly not 8,133.

No matter what, we must refuse to let our mind waver from the job at hand, agonizing less about the deadline, absorbing ourselves in tasks, just shooting our arrows, just punching away at the keyboard, just drawing lines. The more we remain firm and focused, shifting our minds again and again persistently to what is in front of us that needs doing, the higher the quality of the work we produce will be and the sooner the work will be accomplished.

  1. Remember that some time pressure actually enhances performance. There are many things we would never have completed if we hadn’t had a deadline to prod us. In school you had papers to write or a drawing to do. You were forewarned: it was due in four weeks. If you were like most students, you put it off for three weeks, six days and 19 hours. You stayed up the night before and, bleary-eyed and rendered useless the rest of the day, turned it in on time. There you are; you obeyed another principle: work tends to expand to fill the time available for its completion. So had you just one week, you would have finished it in one week, and would have finished it on time had you had only five hours.
  2. Bear in mind, however,  that unrealistic deadlines create too much pressure, and too much pressure interferes with performance. You worry. You tighten up. You lose focus. After a while when you’ve fallen behind, you find yourself beginning to pay more attention to the deadline than to doing well what needs doing. The need to finish on time gets more urgent and you start taking shortcuts. You really don’t want to, but you’re lowering your usually high standards and getting sloppy and the work’s quality is falling off.
  3. If you have any say in the matter make the deadline reasonable. Realistic deadlines motivate performance. I’ll confess: I’m a naturally excitable person, and I used to get very stirred up and to be too optimistic about reaching any deadline that I set. At times my staff had to work ridiculously long hours and on weekends and holidays and even while they were sick to meet them. So I devised a simple precaution which I called “the kick.” When I was asked by a client to estimate how long a job would take, an associate would kick me under the table. That was the signal to increase my estimate by 30%. Never let your enthusiasm exceed your better judgment. Can you use some version of the kick?
  4. Choose deadline-beating thoughts, not worry-creators. You are inwardly free to replace one thought with another whenever you want. Instead of, “I’m losing ground,” replace it with, “I’m making progress. I’m whittling this baby down,” or “Every time I stop to look at the clock (or the calendar) I’m wasting time.” “I’m going to have the focus of those archers.”
  5. Accept the deadline as an exciting challenge. When I was working on a particular book, as I turned in one chapter after another, the editor thought, “This is pretty good stuff, and it’s getting better and better. This book is going to make money.” She told the publisher, “I think we have something.” The publisher then said to her, “The longer his book, the larger the cover price we can charge. Have him double the number of words we contracted for (from 60,000 to 120,000 words). And let him know since the book is so good, we’ll want an earlier pub date. Finish with it as soon as possible.” So the length was doubled and time pressure increased. Rather than the usual “cut, cut, cut” I had to think “add, add, add.” I could have renegotiated, but accepted the new terms as a challenge and didn’t ask for any more time. I just worked longer hours (an extra writing shift every night), and everything went well.
  6. In some cases, renegotiate the deadline. When you do not see the time constraint as challenging, but rather as completely unrealistic, renegotiation makes sense. No one wants you not to meet the deadline.
  7. Overcome the causes of the snags and slowdowns. For example, often a person’s failure to meet a deadline isn’t that person’s fault at all, but of someone else’s failure to meet their deadline. If you can help them overcome their snags it will help you overcome yours.

I don’t think American novelist Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)—that master of language–ever met a single deadline his entire career. When you’re as talented as Wolfe, you can get away with murder. Until you can get away with murder too, you will have to find effective ways to handle your deadlines, striving never to be late.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Filed under Artists, Blocks to Action, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Motivation, Success, Work Production, Writers

Leadership: The Effective Leader’s Mind

David J. Rogers writes for artists, writers, performers, and creative people of all kinds and has also provided consulting in strategy and leadership to some of the world’s largest corporations. He has lectured on these subjects extensively in North America and Europe. His best-selling book Waging Business Warfare: Lessons from the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority–now a new, revised, and updated E-book–has been called a business masterpiece.

“The responsibility for a host of a million lies in one leader who is the trigger of its spirit.”(Ho Yen-His)

alexander-the-great-35767_640The greatest competitive leaders in business, whatever the industry, are exceptional. They may be anywhere in the organization—as is also true of leaders in warfare. They are out of the ordinary because they combine a complement of qualities that equip them perfectly for a leader’s life but that are only rarely found together in one individual. They are knowledgeable, talented, creative, intelligent, energetic, flexible, and driven. They are obsessed with the need to take direct action and mix it up with the competition, and they are savvy strategic thinkers.

Hannibal, the Carthaginian (247-183 B.C), was a true master of strategy. In fact, he is called the father of strategy. Napoleon considered him superb in every aspect of warring, and the Duke of Wellington thought him to be the single greatest soldier in all of history. To this day Hannibal’s victory against the Romans, commanded by Varro at Cannae in 216 B.C., is considered the most perfect tactical battle ever fought. Hannibal’s army of 50,000 annihilated the Roman army of 86,000.

Before the battle began, Hannibal, knowing the importance of a leader keeping his people informed, called his army together and addressed them. He told them that at a certain point during the fighting it would appear that they were about to lose, but to have courage and have no fear because what would be happening then was part of his plan, and soon the tide would turn. It has been said that the mind of the leader is passed on to ten thousand subordinates.  A great leader is an inspiring leader.

How could a much smaller army beat a larger one, and so deci­sively? The historian Polybius provides an important answer: it wasn’t Hannibal’s soldiers or order of battle that made the Carthagin­ian army superior to the Romans. It was Hanni­bal’s superior personal skills. Then Polybius makes a matter-of-fact comment that carries immense implications for businesses vying for com­petitive excellence: “As soon as the Romans found a general who equaled Hannibal in ability, they immediately defeated him.”

And how could a little pipsqueak of a company like the WD-40 Company with its minute work force consistently outcompete giants Du Pont, 3M, and Pennzoil the way Hannibal beat the Romans?

In short, a contest within the contest between the Carthaginian and Roman armies was the contest between leaders. The better leader won; the less capable leader lost. More than 135,000 men took part in the battle of Cannae, each pitting his abilities against his counterpart on the other side. Yet it was the qualities of just two human beings—Varro and Hannibal— which stood out and dominated the day.

startup-594126_640 (1)The situation is precisely the same in business competitions. Many companies have had all the material resources necessary to gain the advantage over competitors but weren’t able to do so until the right leader with the right vision, right strategy, right plan, and right insights into how to manage people took charge. We should guard against becoming so accustomed to discussing competitions between businesses that we forget that businesses don’t run themselves: people run them. We shouldn’t forget for a moment that behind the corporate names GE, Procter & Gamble, IBM, McDonald’s, Toyota, GM, Microsoft—and behind their every strategic and tactical move are the leaders who are pitting their quality as leaders against the quality of competitors’ leaders.

CEOs know how integrally leadership ability bears on the well-being of their corporations. When 300 of them around the world were asked what they would look for in their successors, “personal leadership style” was the most sought-after attribute. “Aggressive competi­tive outlook” was second. Who a leader is and what he or she is made of and how clear a thinker may be more important than all the other company resources, including size and wealth.

Every strategic and tactical move reflects the minds, the spirits, and the personalities of those leaders. However much information the business man or woman or entrepreneur has in hand–studies, reports, analyses, anecdotal stories, scenarios–strategic decisions require problem-solving under shifting, loosely-defined, ill-structured circumstances. They are made in a kind of fog and because of the fog always require of leaders qualities of decisiveness, courage, and clear thinking.

Man thinking-23838_640Effective leader-strategists are thinkers with a two-pronged ability. First, they are sensitive to the complexities of the problems they are facing and able to process multiple perspectives. They try patiently to understand the situation objectively and to penetrate the problem to its core.  They also consider a range of goals that are sometimes inconsistent before considering a number of solutions and arriving at a satisfactory answer. Then, second, they are equally adept at integrating the perspectives into a coherent viewpoint, in this instance, a strategy. They are not conservative in their thinking, but are independent, open-minded, and flexible.

People with little strategic ability, being less complex thinkers, think simply. They work with only a single, simplistic perspective, and are generally unwilling or unable to consider alternative solutions. They are impatient and evaluate quickly and then turn to other matters. Their thinking tends to be rigid, dogmatic, and inflexible, a world removed from the more active, quick, alert, and subtle mind of the superb leader-strategist.

French colonel Ardant du Picq (1821-70) made highly detailed and scrupulous studies of the factors leading to success in battle. His most fundamental conclusion was that “It is the mind that wins battles; that will always win them, that always has won them throughout the world’s history.”

In his Art of War, Sun Tzu (400-320 B.C.) put the issue quite simply: any commander will be able to forecast which side will win by answering the question, “Which of the two commanders has the most ability: me or him, (or her)?”

It is minds that win business competitions—often one woman, one man sitting in an office alone, thinking.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

 

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Imagination and Creative Success

The mind imitates what it first imagines.

Writers and artists often reflect on their careers and wish they were doing better—were more skilled, had made more progress, and were experiencing important successes more often. All the while they are wishing, they are in possession of a highly refined ability that may hold the answer to their wishes. When we possess the potential to perform something, if we vividly and in detail imagine ourselves performing it successfully, our potential will be released and we will perform nearly the same way during the actual performance as we did in our imagined performance. This insight—this technique—can help a writer or artist achieve greater success.

Nadejda Sarbatova2

Painting by Nadejda Sarbatova

If there is one unique skill writers and artists possess in abundance, it is making vivid visual images. Images are the basis of the writer’s and artist’s work. They think in images, and the central problem is how to put the image of the thing—the poem, the book, the play, the painting, the sculpture, the building—into a tangible form that satisfies the creator and also appeals to an audience. Can you write a description of a character’s face or of the leaves on a tree or paint them without the ability to visualize images of them in your mind and then to make facsimiles of those images in words and pigments, words and pigments that will recreate for the reader and viewer the very images you had salvador-dali-32079_640imagined? Surrealist Salvador Dali liked to use in his work images that came to him when he fell asleep—you can understand why–so he would sit at a table while sleepy, prop his chin with a spoon, and then wait to be awakened when he fell asleep and the spoon fell.

Images also affect the writer’s audience because the audience thinks in images too. Even the smallest image is like a photograph the audience mentally sees. In poetry the just right image can make a poem, but just one wrong image can ruin it—that’s how sensitive readers are to images. In her book, The Creative Habit, dancer/choreographer Twyla Tharp tells the story of the difficulty director Mike Nichols was having getting Annie ready for Broadway. A scene that was supposed to get laughs was failing, so Nichols asked famed choreographer Jerome Robbins to fix the scene. Robbins looked at the stage and pointed to a towel hanging at the back of the set. He said, “That towel should be yellow.” The change was made and thereafter the audience laughed at the scene.

Remembering is at the core of a writer’s repertoire of skills, the writer’s stock in trade. And it is composed of images—remembrance of things past. Artists who paint in studios paint from memory of the landscape, the sunset, the garden. Images, imagination, and intuition go hand in hand. Novelist Thomas Wolfe’s ambition was to turn even the most minor experience he had ever had in life and every image he remembered into words—“those thousands of things which all of us have seen for just a flash…which seem to be of no consequence…which live in our minds and hearts forever.”

table-92514_640So it should not be difficult for you to use your highly-developed image-creating and image-remembering powers to help you achieve your goals—to visualize yourself working diligently to achieve them, and then achieving them with great success. What first occurs in your imagination is a rehearsal for reality. Turn that to your advantage.

The research and practical experience showing that imaginative practice—mentally visualizing performing an action the way you wish to perform it—can actually improve performance—and substantially–is overwhelming. That your mental images can do that is a stunning insight. I can vividly imagine myself running a mile in 3:47, but I will never be able to do it, nor will I ever sing a Puccini aria on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera though I can picture that too. They are beyond my physical capabilities. But when something is within the range of our capabilities–and that range is much broader than we usually believe it to be–the images we hold can have a startling effect on actual performance such as becoming a better and more financially successful writer and artist.

There’s no arena in which the effects of inner images on performance is as widely recognized as athletics. In one landmark study that looked at the effects of imaginative practice on actual performance, basketball free throw shooting was looked at. Participants were divided into three groups. The performance of each participant was measured on the first and last days to see if the experiment led to any improvement. One group practiced shooting for twenty minutes each day for twenty days. A second group didn’t practice at all. The third group spent twenty minutes a day not actually shooting–not touching a basketball at all–but just imagining themselves shooting free throws successfully; standing at the free throw line, looking at the rim, bending their knees, etc. When they “saw” themselves missing, they imaginatively corrected their aim. The group that practiced actually shooting improved their performance by 24% over the twenty days. Not surprisingly, the second group that hadn’t practiced at all didn’t improve at all. But the group that hadn’t actually shot one ball, but practiced in their imagination alone, improved in scoring almost as much as those who actually shot the ball—23%.

golf-163637_640(1)Golfers were divided into three groups. Before putting, Group I imagined the ball rolling into the cup. Group II practiced every day, but made no use of imaginative practice. Group III imagined the ball missing the cup. The performance of the group using imaginative practice of the ball rolling into the cup improved 30% between day one and day six. The group that practiced every day, but made no use of imaginative practice also improved, but only 10%. The group that imagined the ball missing the cup showed a decrease of 21% over the six days. These experiments weren’t really “about” free throw shooting or sinking putts at all. They were about the impact of practicing in your mind on your actual performance.

Mental patients have improved their condition by imagining that they are perfectly normal and then behaving in exactly the way they imagine. Hospitalized patients took a personality test. Then they took the same test a second time. The second time they were instructed to answer the questions not as they normally would, but as they would were they a typical, well-adjusted person on the outside. To do that they had to form and hold in mind an image of how a well-adjusted person would act. Seventy-five percent showed improved test performance. Some of the improvements were dramatic. Imagining how a normal person would act, many began to act like, and feel like, a well-adjusted person functioning in the outside world. That affected their recovery.

The famous concert pianist Arthur Schnabel took lesson for only seven years compared to the twenty or twenty five years many pianists take. And while even the most successful concert pianists generally spend hours every day piano-302122_640practicing, Schnabel hated practice and spent little time on it. He was asked how he could practice so little and be so great. “I practice in my head,” he said. Mozart made very few corrections on his compositions. Before he began to put notes on paper he already had a complete mental picture of what they would be. He wrote:

…provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance.

  • Hold clearly and steadily in mind throughout the year, throughout the day, images of what you aspire to—the writer or artist you wish to be; to produce exceptional work, to write beautiful or persuasive or moving text, to draw or paint more skillfully than ever. It is first in your imagination that you launch yourself toward your highest aspirations. Decide what they are, and then vividly imagine what you want to have happen. Then pursue them with determination in the way you have vividly imagined them.
  • Regularly, for fifteen minutes every day (weekends included) imagine the actions you want to take:

Vividly

In specific detail

Step by step

Over and over.

Repetition fixes an image of the ideal performance in your mind.

  • Imagine that writing or painting come easily to you—the ideas are clear, the words and brushstrokes come out of you without effort, fluently, as if on their own. Now there they are on the page and canvas exactly as you want them.
  • Imagine you’ve found the solutions to artistic problems that till now you haven’t been able to solve. Imagine that you have overcome obstacles that have been blocking you.
  • Delete from your mind every image of failure such as imagining yourself receiving a rejection from an editor or gallery and add only images of success. Do that continually and relentlessly. Get rid of images of yourself as a failure, not competent, not up to the writer’s or artist’s tasks—discouraged, disappointed, weak.
  • When an image of failure enters your mind—as it will (you are human)–replace it with a more optimistic image of success. If you visualize yourself failing, you sabotage yourself and increase your chances of doing that, just as putters who visualize themselves missing the hole are prone to missing the hole. You are actually practicing failure.
  • It isn’t necessary to be relaxed when you’re visualizing. In fact, some tension, some excitement, makes you more alert and focused.
  • Visualize yourself working as skillfully as you would like in the ideal work setting you would like, during the hours you would like, for the length of time you would like.
  • Then, focus your mind on the task ahead of you often. Think of it again and again. Then, immediately before you perform it, clearly visualize yourself performing the action perfectly—the right words, the right imagery, the right form and technique, right style, the meanings you intend.
  • Do it–whatever it is—precisely the way you have imagined doing it. Images, no matter how vivid, will come to nothing unless you translate them into actions that conform to the images, so let the images guide you.
  • Be enthusiastic and confident. Enthusiasm and confidence add zest to your images.
  • Combine your images with thinking aloud. For example saying aloud as you are visualizing, “I will work smoothly and efficiently. Everything will go well. I don’t anticipate problems, but if there are any, I’ll be able to solve them.”

Add Feelings

youth-570881_640The technique of adding feelings is adding emotions of successful achievement to what you have visualized as though you’ve already succeeded. This is a very effective motivational technique. You’re not interested now in the mental images of the way you will achieve the goal. Rather you’re letting yourself feel what you will feel when you have reached the goal—or solved writing or artistic problems or made progress. Having done those things you’ll feel satisfaction, pleasure, pride, a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence; you’ll feel relieved, and possibly excited, overjoyed, elated, and thrilled. Whatever you imagine you will feel then, feel it now in anticipation. Don’t wish and hope you’ll succeed, but treat success as an accomplished fact. It’s done, and you have already succeeded and are glowing with positive emotions. Feel the physical sensations of that glow, that sense of warmth, the excitement, the energy, the heightened perception, the sharpness. Imagining what you will feel when you succeed fuels your motivation to succeed because that is how you want to feel. Congratulate yourself: YOU DID IT and now you are enjoying the feelings.

Every day—once, twice, three times, four times — let yourself feel the strong emotions you’ll feel when you’ve succeeded.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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