Prioritize Your Creativity

Hello my fellow creators and faithful readers,

I have a confession to make. I have not been prioritizing my creativity. We’ve talked about how there is a growing creativity gap in our society. And in my last post, I explained why we are in a new age of creativity that we need to take advantage of and embrace as creative entrepreneurs.

There’s just one problem – I haven’t been taking my own advice.

Unleashed Creativity by John JunsonThrough this blog and my book, I’ve spent two years talking the talk. But now it’s time that I start focusing more on walking the walk. This new age of creativity is as much mine as it is yours, and I’m not going to let it pass me by. So as we approach the New Year and resolution time, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on this past year and where I’ve been spending my creative energy. And the truth is, I haven’t really given it a chance to take center stage and really shine.

And I strongly recommend you do the same!

Now is the perfect time. We are entering the insanity of the holiday season, and that means our schedules are bombarded with family gatherings and festive events. But at the same time, this is also a time to take a break from work, to reflect and relax, and be surrounded by loved ones. And above all, it’s a time to give our left-sided brains a much-needed break from the daily grind of the year past. So now is also the perfect time to take a step back, refocus and prioritize your creative mind.

Let your creativity out!

For myself, this will involve taking a break from the weekly task of blogging, and explore whether this is the best outlet for my creativity and impact on the world. That does mean you won’t have much to read from me here for a little while. But then I’m sure you’ll have plenty else to keep you busy this holiday season – so hopefully you won’t miss me too much! 🙂

For you, I hope this involves taking time from your own nitty gritty work routine to explore where your creativity best thrives, and where you find the greatest reward. So take a break, take pause and really listen to your creative voice – take a walk, let yourself daydream, doing a brain-dump writing exercise, put on your favorite music and dance around your room – whatever it takes to tap into the purest form of your creativity and its truest desires. You may be surprised with what you find and how much that hasn’t been reflected in what you’ve been spending most of your time and energy on this past year.

So go on, get in the holiday spirit this chilly season and light up a warming fire inside your own creative heart. Prioritize your time on some serious soul searching, and I promise you will come away a stronger and more focused creative entrepreneur – ready to take on the New Year with extra creative gusto!

Happy Holidays!

Get Ahn With It! And Action!

I like to say that I’m action-oriented. I have a bias for action. I realize there’s a joke in there somewhere about how I also make action films.

But in every aspect of my life, this is a mantra I’ve always strived to embody. I’ve always been a get-shit-done kinda girl. I don’t waste time. Life’s too short. No reason to dilly dally or beat around the bush. I’m like Nike – I just do it.

Or, as I’ve been saying more often, I just get “Ahn” with it.

Get it? Coz “Ahn” is my last name! Haha, I’m so clever!

That’s why I’ve decided to give this and my life’s work a dose of re-branding, with a more catchy (and admittedly cheesy) name. Because everything I do, and everything I help other people do, is about getting on with it – on with the show, or the project, or whatever it is you’ve been dancing around, over-brainstorming, thinking too much about and not putting into productive action.

Ever since I made my own daring career shift 2 and a half years ago, leaving the cushy corporate world for the uncertainty of the arts and entrepreneurship, I’ve continued to learn that bold steps can be rewarded boldly. I’ve learned that sometimes the best therapy is just having the courage to put your shit out there, and share all that crap bottled up inside of you with people who care. And I’ve experienced (sometimes the hard way) how unhealthy it can be to keep it locked up inside, doing nothing but stewing and simmering dangerously.

You’ve got to get it out of you, out there in front of other people, and let them make up their own minds about it – it’s the only way to give it the chance it deserves to stand on its own feet and make a difference. This is true for relationships and personal health, but it’s also true for projects and businesses too.

Tina Fey wants you to take action!

It takes action to make any kind of progress. Every film, video, play, event or book I’ve produced has taught me that. Sharing with you all has taught me that. Living my life the way I have, and the way I intend to keep living, has taught me that. It’s made me a stronger and more reliable partner to work with. And I’ve found that I’m simply just stronger and happier when I’m being productive.

So it’s a win-win. What have you got to lose?

You’re more likely to regret the things you didn’t do, than those you tried and did poorly. Because even if you fail or make mistakes, you can learn from them, and improve because of them. But you’ll never know that growth if you never take the chance, and try something scary and new. And what is the point of living if you can’t keep growing and learning? What good is a life without challenge and adventure?

So what are you waiting for? The right moment? Having all the answers? A sense that it’s all going to work out beautifully? Because chances are it won’t, and that’s a good thing – otherwise it wouldn’t be worth tackling. No one ever made history, or changed the world, or found great success and fulfillment by playing it safe. (And if they did, they are definitely the exception and not the rule.)

As Paulo Coelho, one of my favorite authors, once said:

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.”

So quit monkeying around, and just get on with it already. Buy my book, subscribe to my blog, and let me help you start putting your ideas into action. Comment below and tell me what you need to get started, what’s holding you back, or where you could use an extra push. I’d love to hear from you and learn how you think we can help each other power forward and get some more action.

So lights, camera, and “Ahn” with the show!

Creativity = Chaos

“Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth.” -Tom Barrett

As I’ve continued exploring this new path as The Productive Artist, I’ve discovered something vital about both who I am and what it means to be The Productive Artist.

It’s all about creativity and finding ways to let that thrive.

I have always preferred working in fields related to the arts and creativity, although not always actually an artist myself. I’ve tried my hand at various creative pursuits within widely varying degrees of success. But the one thing that’s always been stable is my ability to navigate the logistical side of creative business.

You see, I have always been more of an implementer than a creator, though a great deal of creativity and artistry exist in both. I’ve never been a big ideas person, and I don’t frequently have those lightbulb moments. But when an idea does come to me (from myself or someone else), and it’s fresh and original, I do know how to really get it in motion. I am a do-er, a progress-maker, an organizer and achiever. I’m at my best when taking a big wild idea and breaking it down into its executable form.

That’s really why The Productive Artist was born. Because with creativity comes its own kind of chaos. You can’t have one without the other. And all those ridiculously creative people I admire so much often struggle with the more logistical elements of their work – the time management, the business development, the finances.

And that’s exactly what The Productive Artist is here for – to help identify simple systems and tools that those wonderful creators can utilize right now to help better manage their creative workflow.

You don’t have to drastically change the way you do things. That’s not what I want. I want to help you find applicable solutions to the most common chaos that comes with your creative pursuits, and help you integrate these techniques into your existing routine.

I’m not just going to give you motivational advice on being more productive. There are plenty of other sites that do that. The Productive Artist is less about having more willpower, and more about having the right systems for your kind of creative work – navigating the clutter and mess you accumulate when you’re busy creating, and finding simple solutions that help you focus on the things that need your creative attention.

So if you feel like your creativity could use a productivity boost, then subscribe and check back for more of these tips and words of wisdom.

Your Weekly Sanity Hour

We’ve not covered the benefits of grabbing a quick half hour power nap in the middle of your work day. But what would you say if I told you that one whole hour per week can save you endless stress and insanity?

Let me explain.

You no doubt have an incredible busy life and a to-do list a mile long. And the longer it gets, the harder it is to get anything done. As you add new tasks, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to give each the proper attention they need.

That’s why it’s so crucial to give yourself one hour each week for a sanity check-in. It gives you time to get a pulse on all your To-Dos in front of you at once, take stock of the big picture, and keep track of everything that’s on your plate. It also gives you the time to think about how you can work smarter and more efficiently through that list, instead of slaving away everyday.

It’s easy to do. You just need to incorporate a weekly sanity hour into your regular routine. Here’s how I recommend you do it:

Schedule a recurring event on your calendar every week, whether on your online calendar (I recommend Google Calendar) or a paper one, preferably an hour or two. Then dedicate that time to getting yourself organized for the week ahead and ensuring that nothing is slipping through the cracks. This could mean organizing your tasks, making lists of people you need to follow up with, arranging your priorities so you can always focus on the tasks that are most important – whatever you need to do at that time to get your head and vision back on straight.

Now don’t you dare go spend this time working on the actual tasks. This is your chance to take a break from working, take a step back from it all and see it on a macro level. Here are some examples of things I utilize this time for:

  • Clean up my workspace, put stray items away and toss excessive clutter
  • Empty out my email inbox, make sure my Gmail filters and labels are working properly, clean out any outdated or superfluous ones
  • Review and update my high-level projects & goals, and the bite-size steps I’ve laid out towards each for the coming week, or whatever next approaching deadline
  • Look at my calendar for the week, take note of any important calls or meetings that will need preparation, and schedule extra time for that preparation
  • Take stock of any projects I’ve been wanting to tackle but haven’t had time, such as redesigning my website or updating my resume
  • Think about how I can be more efficient with my time, and consider one new tool to try out this week that might improve my productivity

Now it’s your turn!

What can you do to improve your work sanity with one hour a week? Schedule yourself some time and try it out – and then let me know how it goes!

And don’t forget to subscribe to my email list!

Take a Power Nap

If the Offbeat Breathing exercise I went over in my last post doesn’t work for you, try simply taking a quick cat nap. It may not seem easy to take a nap in the middle of the day, but if you time it just right, a quick nap can boost your productivity more than you’d think. I’ve told you about the mid-day slump between 1:00 and 3:00 PM in the afternoon. Well this also happens to be the best time for a power nap.Power Nap Power!

You should keep it to about 15 to 25 minutes for maximum benefit. Any longer than 30 minutes, and your brain will start to fall into the deeper REM cycle that will make you feel groggier when you wake back up.

Try this snazzy trick to get in a quick, concise power nap. Drink a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea (whichever you prefer), then immediately lie down in a dark quiet room and take your nap. The caffeine you drank will kick in about 20-30 minutes later, waking you up with a nice boost of energy. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to jump back into productive mode.

As many people have found, a well-timed nap has all types of benefits, including boosting your memory, your cognitive ability, and enhancing your overall performance. In short, a power nap gives you more power. That’s why they call it that (I assume, I really don’t know much about how “they” think).Power Nap Wheel

Now finding the right time of day for your power nap is a bit more complicated than just when you feel tired. The particular timing of your perfect power nap depends on the time you woke up in the morning. So try using this interactive nap wheel to help you identify the right time for you.

The power nap may perhaps be one of the laziest way to boost your productivity, but it’s certainly effective. And when done right, you’ll wake feeling rejuvenated and more powerful.

Happy Power Napping!

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please comment below and tell me how you take your power naps, and if you find them an effective way to rejuvenate.

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Take an Offbeat Breather

In my last post, I gave you some tips on how to trigger those happy feelings that keep you going. But if your work day is just too often interrupted with negative triggers and unavoidable frantic or spazzy feelings, it may be time to take a beat, get out of your skin and off your beaten path, and take a breather break.Feeling stressed out?

I used to get panic attacks on a regular basis. Years ago when I was still working in a corporate office, chugging away at that old familiar 9-5 job, I developed anxiety disorder and found myself taking frequent trips to the bathroom to panic, hyperventilate, and often throw up.

Now you may not have quite the same intensity of symptoms, but I know we all face a little frantic overwhelm from time to time. So if you’ve ever felt this on some level, and wondered what to do, let me try to share some of my favorite practices and advice to help get you back on the Productive bandwagon with minimal energy and time wasted.

You’ve probably tried deep, slow breathing to calm yourself down. But there’s actually a more useful technique I’ve found — one that can reduce stress, decrease pain, increase concentration, prevent panic attacks, and even stop headaches.

Take a Moment to BreatheHere’s what you do: Breathe in while you count to 4. Exhale while you count to eight. Repeat for at least a minute. In for 4, out for 8.

Why it works: Breathing at this rhythm increases your “heart rate variability.” That means there are slight differences in the length of time between your heart beats, from one beat to the next. The more variation, the better. High heart rate variability protects against stress, anxiety, inflammation and pain. So think of this exercise as your own personal army that can help protect you from the negative feelings and stresses that threaten to slow you down.

Next time you’re feeling anxious or angry or just plain unmotivated, try this slightly more structured breathing exercise, and see if you can feel the difference in your heart’s rhythm. It just might be the key to helping you get your mind off those negative triggers and anxious feelings, and realigned with your heart’s true rhythm and inspiration.

Happy Heart!Happy Breathing!

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please comment below and tell me how this breathing exercise worked for you, or any other calming or centering practices you find useful.

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Concentrate on Cuteness

I’ve shared with you my personal 11 Productivity Tactics to help you find greater clarity and energy around achieving your goals. But in my own journey, I’ve stumbled upon some useful tips from others that have proved equally valuable, and sometimes also excessively amusing. This particular tip hit on both of those, and so naturally caught my special attention. In fact, it was just hilarious and original enough that I knew I had to share it with you.I Can Haz Productivity?

Here’s the secret – looking at cute baby animals can actually improve your concentration and productivity!

Who woulda thunk?

Apparently, there was a study conducted by Hiroshima University in Japan which found that looking at positive images triggers positive emotions (well that seems pretty obvious). But then they took it a step further to understand which kinds of positive images prompted which kinds of emotions and behaviors. After experimenting with various pleasant images, including cute animals and yummy foods, they concluded that the cute baby animals had the most significant affect. In fact, these particular images of baby animals gave the participants a narrowed attentional focus induced by the cuteness-triggered positive emotion. They found that the participants were able to perform tasks requiring focused attention more carefully after viewing the cute images.

The conclusion? In short, cute images increase concentration. After looking at cute animals, these participants increased their performance in concentration tasks by an astounding 44 percent.

But why do they? Well the researchers of this study have a theory:

Caring for babies (nurturance) not only involves tender treatments but also requires careful attention to the targets’ physical and mental states as well as vigilance against possible threats to the targets. If viewing cute things makes the viewer more attentive, the performance of a non-motor perceptual task would also be improved.

Cute productivityDo you agree? I think it has some merit for sure. And while it’s an unusual study, it does echo of similar theories, such as that temptations like reality TV and cute YouTube videos are conducive to productivity as well.

So next time you are feeling a little tired or unmotivated, take a few minutes to do a quick search and pull up some photos of your favorite baby animals. Then just let yourself soak in their cuteness for a spell, and see what happens! It might just be the key you were looking for to help you power through those less enjoyable tasks on your To Do list, and get back to focusing on your creative work that much faster.

Happy cuteness-consuming and productive-doing!

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please comment below and tell me whether this cuteness concentration tip works for you, or if you have any other awesome productivity-inducing tips to share!

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Beat the Mid-Day Blues

“The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

Ever suffer from the mid-day slump? From 1 P.M. to 3 P.M. in the afternoon, your body’s core temperature drops, sparking the production of melatonin, which is what signals your body to sleep. And for most of you, that time window falls right smack in the middle of your work day. So how do you beat those blues and stay productive through this slump?

Winter makes it even worse, as we deal with overcast weather and lost daylight so much earlier. But even during the summer, it’s still important to arm yourself against this dreary condition.

I am actually very focused on this myself, having a somewhat irregular sleep pattern, which makes me even more tired and susceptible when this slump hits. So while I’m working on this, I thought I’d share what I’ve found with you, in case you likewise find yourself extra weary on any given afternoon.

Here are some tips I’ve found that can perk you back up when you’ve hit the mid-day daze:

  1. Get some sun! Sunlight actually halts the production of melatonin in your brain. The best thing you can do is step outside for a few minutes and catch some rays. You’ll even get some vitamin D while you’re at it.
  2. Take a nappuccino! If you can’t get yourself outside, the next best thing you can do is grab some quick shut-eye – though no more than 30min or you may affect your ability to fall asleep as usual that night. Try this tactic: pound a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage, and then snooze for 20-25min. The caffeine will be just hitting your bloodstream as you wake back up.
  3. Stop and smell the mint! The peppermint scent will stimulate your trigeminal nerve, which is connected to the part of the brain which induces wakefulness. So grab a breath mint, chew a piece of mint gum, or just take a quick sniff from a Vicks vapor inhaler. Any of these will do the trick for a easy mental perk-me-up.
  4. Drop and give me 20! A quick burst of exercise will also get your blood pumping and mind more alert. So if you don’t mind getting just a little sweaty, grab some floor space and pump out 10-20 push-ups or crunches, or put on your favorite song and dance around a bit – as long as you’re moving for at least 5min.
  5. Optimize your bedtime! As I said above, your previous night’s sleep can have a huge affect on how well you function the next day, especially through this rough afternoon patch. Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep, but the average American only gets 6.9 hours a night. So I know things get in the way, and it can be hard to prioritize this, but it’s so important to make sure you are getting all the sleep your body needs. That’s the best long-term solution to beating these mid-day blues.

OK good luck and see you on the battlefield! And feel free to let me know if you find these tips helpful, or if the battle is only getting worse.

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please comment below and tell me what methods and measures you can take on to avoid losing valuable productivity to that mid-day slump!

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The Write Time

“Chaos is the score upon which reality is written.” -Henry Miller

It’s easy to get weighed down with all the hustle and bustle of work and daily to do lists. But it’s also important to remember to take out time for yourself and your self expression.

This year, I want to put extra focus on developing my voice as a writer and creator. So I decided to make good use of my Google Calendar as a time management tool (which it’s been extremely useful for) and schedule myself some specific time to spend on all this.

I’ve begun blocking off a few hours each week as a recurring event in my Google Calendar for what I call “Write Time”. I then use that time to blog here on The Productive Artist, as well as flex my writing muscles for my personal writing, developing new story ideas, writing poetry, or just scribbling in my journal. And even if the placement of that time shifts around within its week, I never let myself skip or delete my regular “Write Time”.

So if you’re like me and need an extra reminder to take time for yourself, or want to set aside some special time for something specific, I highly encourage you to use your own calendar (be it through Google or any other system) to set aside time to do the things you want to do, not just the things you have to do.

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell me what kind of recurring time you want to set aside for yourself, and how you plan to use your Calendar to do it!

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Reset the Clock

“A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.” -Annie Dillard

I’ve always been jealous of those people who can get 4-5 hours of sleep every night and still seem to function perfectly every day. Alas, I’m not one of them. I’ve come realize I rather need at least 8 solid hours of sleep every night or else feel my sanity rapidly decline. I end up thinking slower, reacting slower, even moving slower, and I definitely notice a swifter tendency to grumpiness.

What’s more, as long as I can remember I’ve had trouble falling asleep. It can take me anywhere from 1 hour to 8 hours (yes it happens) to get that rapid eye movement going. So not only do I need a lot of sleep, but it also takes me an extra long time to get started.

So naturally this has been an area of concern that I’ve been meaning to address for some time now, which made it a perfect goal to work on this year as The Productive Artist.

This year, I intend to reset my internal clock to hopefully address my insomnia and start getting a consistently solid night’s sleep. After reading much on the subject, and consulting doctor’s advice, I decided the key ingredients I need to conquer are my sleep pattern and my routine before bed.

My Sleep Pattern

Studies have shown it is essential to commit yourself to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time every day. Doing so would not only help your body realize it is sleep time sooner, but will also increase the quality of sleep you get once asleep, and help ease you into the following morning more smoothly as well.

So my first step was to decide on a set bed and wake time to stick to. Given that a lot of my creative moments come later in the day, and that I’m really not a happy morning person, I decided to aim for a 1am bedtime every night, and then set my wake-up alarm for 9am every morning.

Now the difficulty is sticking to that schedule, especially when there are always anomalies such as parties or special events that keep you out later, or an earlier-than-normal morning meeting. But as long as I try my best to stick to it, and manage to do so the majority of the time, I know it will still be a vast improvement for me. And that’s part of the benefit of setting goals isn’t it? Because even if you don’t reach your full goal, you’ll still have accomplished something more than if you hadn’t set the goal in the first place. Shoot for the moon and you’ll at least reach the stars.

My Pre-Bed Routine

That decided, the other difficulty is how to be able to fall asleep faster. This will partly be addressed as my body adjusts to the more consistent bedtime, but that won’t happen immediately. So I’m going to need some help in the beginning to conquer this.

Upon further study, I uncovered a few key daytime practices that can affect how well you fall asleep that night:

1. For one, you should avoid eating less than 2 hours before bedtime, particularly spicy or fatty foods, to give your digestive system time to relax and settle down. Drinking lots of liquid too close to bedtime can also disrupt your sleep cycle, when you get up to use the bathroom. If you must drink something however, researchers have found that tart cherry juice may contain a high content of melatonin, the sleep chemical in your brain. And if you get the late night munchies, an empty stomach can actually keep you awake. So try to eat a light snack that’s high in tryptophan – which can also boost your brain’s melatonin levels – such as pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, eggs, meat (why do you think you get sleepy after eating turkey at Thanksgiving?), cheese or chocolate (that’s right, chocolate).

2. Along the same lines, you should avoid any other consumable stimulants, such as caffeine or nicotine, at least 2 hours before bed, since they can linger in your system for that long. I have a pretty strong relationship with caffeine, so that’s what I need to focus on here.

3. You should also avoid strenuous physical activity or exercise too soon before bedtime. Like the other stimulants above, this will elevate your heart rate, making it harder for your brain to slip into the calm of slumber.

4. Lastly, and possibly most importantly for me, you should avoid computer and phone screens at least 2 hours before you hit the hay. These types of electronic screens are lit with a blue tinted light, which falls into the daylight side of the light spectrum and will thus trigger your brain to stop producing melatonin, the chemical that signals your body to fall asleep. So it’s important to avoid the blue light at nighttime.

Now if you’re like me, and find it very hard to put down the laptop and avoid the phone for that long before bed, there is a solution for us! It’s called the F.lux app, which you can download for Mac, PC, or even your iPad or iPhone. What it does is removes the blue hue from the light in your screen at sunset, leaving a more yellowish glow that may look a little odd but certainly does the trick.

Your screen will then return to its usual blue brightness at sunrise, which is also a very useful thing for your sleep schedule for similar reasons. Since blue light halts the production of melatonin, it has also been recommended as a good way to help your brain wake up faster in the morning. Exposing yourself to either a blue light machine or the blue light in your computer screen will have the same affect as if you stepped out into the sunlight first thing in the morning, since all fall into the same daylight spectrum.

You can now also have that big glass of water you resisted drinking before bed. Since most people are dehydrated first thing in the morning, coffee would only worsen the problem. So water is the best bet to boost your hydration, and in turn, your energy.

So now that I have my newly set bedtime schedule, and new ways to better prepare myself for sleep the few hours before bed, I feel confident I will see improvement in my sleep quality and quantity. And hopefully, I’ll see an improvement in my insomnia as well, though that may be a bit longer of a battle.

I hope you found these suggestions and ideas useful for your own sleep schedule as well, and can find ways to reset your own clock for better results.

Sweet dreams!

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please comment below and tell us about your sleep routine and how you can make sure to get a consistently good night’s sleep.

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