Disappearing Ideas: Capture your creative bursts

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you noticed that when you are thinking about moving, all the ideas about decorating your new place flow, but when you move, you forget everything?  The same thing happens in the car and in the shower.  It seems to happen everywhere and at random moments except at the exact moment you need it.  This is a real big deal for writers.  Whether you are writing a personal development blog or the next big blockbuster screen play, ideas are the life blood of creative thinking.  The “bad timing” of ideas may be a matter of mental flow and outside influences.  For example, I get a lot of my ideas while running.  Usually I’m listing to podcasts or audiobooks and focused on nothing but running and listening.  My brain is flooded with positive brain stimulating endorphins at the same time I’m being influenced by motivational and idea filled TED talks and podcasts.  The shower is another unique place in our daily life where our mental focus changes from what’s being “thrown” at us to slowing down and not thinking much at all.  Most of us have showered thousands of times and don’t need any mental energy or focus whatsoever to complete this task.  Driving to work and often even grocery shopping is similar in this effect.  Although the level of mental focus needed for these simple, mundane tasks varies per person and task, these are opportunities for your mind to tap deeper “creative” sources in short bursts.  This is different from a “flow” state in which you are building upon one of these ideas such as hours of easy creative writing.  I am talking specifically about ideas coming at you in bunches.

Good ideas are gifts from God not to be wasted or filed away for safekeeping.

     What do you do with these ideas? Anytime the “idea gods” throw their wisdom your way, capture, capture, capture.  I utilize square space notes (attached to my Evernote account) on my iPhone for quick idea capture on the go.  Notepad, or good old-fashioned paper works as well.  Do not wait any longer than it take to safely stop and capture the idea.  It will disappear quicker than it appeared.  The beauty of capturing the idea for future use is that it frees up your mental RAM energy to dig around for more ideas.  If you find yourself coming up with ideas in a certain setting, take advantage of it.  Repeat as necessary. Of course, these ideas are useless unless you intentionally create time to do something with them.  Bad timing, as I wrote earlier, is better than “no timing” or no ideas.  Write, build, create and inspire with your ideas. 

Rocco
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The Voices In My Head Are Really Distracting: Find your Mute Button

Distractions are everywhere.  Usually we don’t see the distractions because we are too distracted to notice.  I recently read that the average person is bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of advertisements per day.  That’s astonishing.  I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t get my mind of toaster streusels the other day, I think I found my answer. A couple of weeks ago, I was leisurely laying in bed catching up on The Following on my DVR.  I don’t watch much TV, but I am hooked on The Following.  As Jamie began asking me a few questions from the other room, I realized that no matter how much I attempted, I could not focus on our conversation.  Unfortunately, the remote was on the other side of the room, so a quick “pause” was not an option.  Understanding, that much of this was happening subconsciously, I tried to “muscle through”, much to Jamie’s dismay.  It quickly became  obvious that I was not paying attention to her and she was rightfully upset.

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With all the noise being thrown at us, it is a wonder we can focus on anything.
Luckily, my life is not dictated by noise, and I am able to quiet the distractions.  I love podcasts, audiobooks, books, talk radio, and many other “consumption” media.  While these mediums don’t have as much advertisement as traditional media, they still contribute to the sound of a noisy world.  Turning off the sound on the drive home, or a run without my iPhone usually does the trick.  I clear my head and can get back to the work of thinking for myself.
As human beings, we were made to create.  The noise we consume is just the fuel to create.

The headline is that I am sometimes overwhelmed by the noise.  Sometimes the noise is  a loud radio, TV on, phone ringing, and kids fighting all at once.  Sometimes, it’s less subtle and builds up after a few days of content, commercials, billboards, and conversations.  I find myself unable to focus on a simple conversation with the most important person in the world to me. Does anyone believe that the growing noise in our world is going to begin to recede? Is there a chance that the world will realize that we are all reaching a saturation point?  Is there going to be a point were a quick run or an hour of mediation won’t quiet the noise.  I don’t think most of us are at risk of media induced schizophrenia, but I do sense Steven Pressefields infamous resistance finding new ways to attack the work the world needs from us.  Someday, the noise won’t stop.  It’s up to us to get ahead of that today.  As you seek your awesomeness, be intentional about the noise you let in.  The obvious stuff like TV is a starting point, but remember that the good stuff (this blog included), is noise when consumed  in abundance.  Don’t just be intentional about limiting the noise coming in, be intentional about welcoming the silence. Find the mute button on life and clear your head.  It has starting to work for me.  It will work for you.

Share how you quiet the noise.  I’m particularly interested in how busy commuters, and family people find time without sacrificing valuable family togetherness.
Rocco
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Life is a Shower, Now Go Sing!

Bohemian Rhapsody is a song for the ages.  It is perhaps the greatest shower singing song of all time. We all have our favorite songs to sing in the shower.  From ballads to rap to country music, the timeless art of singing in the shower is as human as eating and drinking. Solo singing when no one else is home has been scientifically proven (not really) to be the best as far as quality and loudness.  The shower has the almost magical ability to make any one sound like a Grammy award winning American Idol.  Of course, if this were the case, concert halls would look less like stadiums and more like showers.

d-203 singing

d-203 singing (Photo credit: azrasta)

The shower is a safe place to let loose and sing without judgment there’s no one there but yourself. Singing your favorite song is second nature and comes as natural as walking and talking.  You know the words without a thought and you sing with all the God given talent you have or don’t have. It sounds good and feels good because you are in the zone.  Imagine creating your art this way.

Art is what you do.  Cabinet making, marketing, driving a bus, or teaching a class; these are just some of the canvases of today’s artists. So many artists deprive the world of their masterpieces by listening to the Gremlins of self doubt. With an air of caution, they timidly “paint” within the lines, creating nothing remarkable and everything boring. They hold back and trip over doubt and perfectionism.  I tend to over think things.  Singing in the shower is coloring outside the lines.  You may not know the art better than the next guy, but you know the artist (YOU) better than anyone on the planet. Approach your work like singing in the shower.  When you let loose and get in creative flow, the art comes without a thought.  It’s almost like magic.  In a recent post, I wrote about how good the work is when you enjoy the work in and of itself.  When you know your stuff, and you enjoy it, life is a song. Have confidence that you will “paint” a masterpiece worth painting.

Do you have a safe place where everything simply flows without thought?  Share your thoughts.

Rocco De Leo

Doing Nothing is Productive: My 4 step system to productive relaxation

Sitting on the couch the other day, I had a sinking feeling that I was wasting time.  With so much to do, to hit maximum achievement in life, how can I sit on my couch and do nothing for over 3 hours? After a couple of minutes of stressing,

I realized that doing nothing was exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

Singing in the rain

Singing in the rain (Photo credit: John Fera)

I had given myself permission to relax. I had confidence that the work that needed to be done to achieve everything I had going was tucked neatly into my system.  I had built in a rest period.  It wasn’t a “cushion” in case I fell behind on work.  It was necessary in order to recharge the batteries.  I resisted the urge the to go into my office and write during this “free” time.  I had to remind myself that this wasn’t “free time”, it was, in fact, scheduled “chill-axing”.  I have a system to manage the balance of my day-to-day and big picture plan.   It works to  accomplish almost anything I want. Here is my 4 step system.

1. Have a place to “minddump”.  David Allen in Getting things Done still carries a little yellow notebook to write things down that “pop up” in his mind.  I carry a  Moleskin notebook and manage my mind dump on a weekly basis. .  From mowing the lawn to doing my taxes, the mind dump is the primary entrance into my system.  This is where I capture things as they come up. I intentionally schedule time to review my big picture plans (usually once a week and during my planning session) and add action items to this list. I’ll show you what to do with this information shortly.
2.Inbox. It’s so valuable to have a physical inbox that gives me assurance items will be managed.  I can’t tell you why, but I still put items such as bills, and kids school stuff on my mind dump to assure it will get completed.  This is a great example of tailoring YOUR system to what works.  My inbox assures that I won’t lose things and  assures they will get done.  Above all else, YOU must have confidence in your system.
3. Weekly planning: Choose a day that works best for  your season of life.  For me, Monday mornings at 5:15 am works for now.  This is a MUST!  Have all inbox sources open and available.  This is where you utilize the valuable minddump. Review each item and figure out what to do with it.  Typically I start with many of the same things, i.e., “write 2 posts per week”, “Run 3 times per week”.  These get fit in easily as these are recurring tasks.  Other items such as “review freelance opportunities”, “develop training class”, and “Schedule physical” must be fit in knowing my calendar weak spots for the week. Everything must be assigned to the calendar or trashed and crossed off the list.  Remember to plan everything including spontaneous acts.  For me, these things clog my creative pipes if they are sitting in the RAM memory of my mind.  From writing poetry for Jamie, to telling my kids I love them, there’s a place for all this in my system.  I find that the security of having the minimum safe and secure in my system opens my mind up for more “real” spontaneity. Know thyself and don’t over book your calendar.  You will quickly lose trust in your system of you do.  We will discuss how to develop long-term plans to pull from in a later post.
4. Weekly Review: Choose a day that works best for your season of life.  Friday afternoons before I go into weekend mode works well for me.  This doesn’t take long as this usually bridges over to my Monday morning planning session.  I review my calendar to make sure I haven’t missed anything. Any items that where left incomplete (things DO happen) are put back into the system for Monday morning’s planning session. I’ll close any loops such as emails or returned calls (if possible) so they don’t loom over the weekend. I will be implementing a quarterly review this month to help better manage big picture stuff.
When done correctly, a system clears your mind for better focus, clarity, and enjoyment.  The power of knowing you don’t have looming tasks and projects running out the back door is intoxicating.  Find a system and mold it to you.  If it works, it’s perfect! In my experience, most systems work if you are intentional and you periodically review the system (once or twice a year) for flaws based on your season in life.

When was the last time you did NOTHING?  Schedule some time for yourself, you’ll thank me later.

Rocco De Leo

You Are The Joyful Artist

My 8 year old daughter, Angelina, sang her heart out last year in the 2nd grade Christmas show.  The sprit of the season was alive and well  in that school auditorium.  While she may not be the next American Idol, she was in her sweet spot.  She was joyfuly creating art; her art and loving every moment of it.  No one was scoring her pitch or tone.

Kids painting

Kids painting (Photo credit: BarelyFitz)

No assesment of costume design.  Hair and make-up were what you’d expect from dad and ten minutes of prep time.  None of that mattered.  She was enjoying the experience and still giving it her all.  She did it because she loves to sing and make me smile.  The bible tells us to have faith like a child (Mat 18:3).  This is Belief with no strings attached, totally focused on one thing.  Can we, as artists, create in the essence of “faith like a child”? To create a sustainable flow of content, we must! Driving home late last night, I struggled to keep the car straight and lane changes felt as deliberate as speaking an unknown language.  I was tired and didn’t feel well, so what normally is  “mental muscle memory” needed specific focus and deliberatness.  Driving, like walking and chewing gum, is much more effective with an element of the “automatic”.  The same is true for creativity.  Whether writing a book or developing a marketing campaign, we are all creating something.  We will be judged for the quality of our work by our customers, peers, and bosses.  If, we can capture some of the “freedom” Angelina had singing Jingle Bells,

we can move ourselves from deliberate and forced content creation to intentionaly free creation:

“creativity in the essence of faith like a child”. This doesn’t come with a 10 step or even 5 step how-to.

Free creation comes from intentional practice.

Unnecessary creation, a term coined by Todd Henry of the Accidental Creative suggests giving yourself projects for you that give you the chance to develop skills.  Being intentional with creativity, as I am with this blog, gives me a low risk opportunity to practice writing.  Maybe you want to paint, or sing, or build cabinets.  Do something for yourself that won’t get any judjement or expectation. Enjoy the process of building.  You are the joyful artist. Find your canvas. If you can’t enjoy the process of your art, you might be creating the wrong art.

Rocco De Leo

Be Intentional or be Nothing

Running through the beautiful hills of Murrieta, California, I felt like I was running  underwater.  I couldn’t maintain a respectful speed and my legs were screaming.  I have been a runner for 4 years, and for 3 of those years, I progressively grew faster and gained endurance. This last year, however, I took a step backward. Running was never anything I thought much about.  I put on shoes and ran a specific set of miles and that was is. I had “big picture goals” such as completion of my first half and my first full marathons.  There were certain trials I wished to conquer. Once completed, I didn’t create new goals other than continual running.  Singular achievement goals are great goals to have, but they are achieved and forgotten.. For me, achieving these goals marked the end of key component to my training: intentionality.

Whether running, writing, parenting, or anything important to you in your life, don’t take for granted that you will always move toward your goal “automatically”.  Yes,  it does happen. Sometimes.  Why take the chance?  The tyranny of beginners luck or the honeymoon phase of new endeavors can fool you into thinking things will always be easy. Here’s a list to guide you toward maintaining intentionality and relentless forward movement.
A Marine undergoes water survival training

A Marine undergoes water survival training (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Differentiate the daily from the long term goals. Steven Covey pointed out the difference between tasks that are important and urgent (doing laundry, answering the phone, cooking dinner) and those that are important and not urgent (getting your Master’s Degree, exercise, writing a book).
2.  Align high energy (physical and mental) tasks appropriately.  For me, this is typically in the morning before the kids are up.  If you have a spouse, this time should be agreed upon as your time to focus on your high level tasks (writing, research, excersise, etc. ).
3.  Align the mundane tasks (important and urgent) that don’t involve high levels of thinking or creativity to times when you are less creative for you. For me, that’s in the evening after working and i’m distracted by kids’ homework and tired from work.  This is a great time to hang a picture, do dishes, or clean the patio.  Not a great time to research for my book.
4. Write it all down.  It seems as though the one thing all productivity speaker/writers agree on is the absolute necessity of writing things down.  Goals, tasks, ideas.
5. Create an internal sense of urgency.  Guard your quality time from internal distractions such as getting off task (Facebook, twitters, checking the weather) and outside distractions (phone calls, emails, unimportant tasks). You have to REALY want this!
6.  Keep perspective.  Baby cries, 9 year old is sick, wife had a particular bad night not sleeping.  These things happen.  Understand the difference between pause and procrastinate (click here to read my article on this topic). Sometimes the urgent and important trumps the not urgent and important.  It is up to you to maintain contingencies but also keep perspective on when to allow “intrusions’ upon your times. if you are in a positive and intentional workflow, you purpose can handle occasional interruptions.
What are you doing TODAY to be intentional?
Rocco De Leo