All posts tagged Creativity

Stop filling your mind with random stuff. It’s time to go on a high-quality, low information diet.

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By Brad Beckstrom

I thought I had this all figured out. A few years ago, I decided to get on a high quality low information diet. I would avoid traditional news sites and only follow a small group of highly trusted writers, using a RSS feed reader. I would update and pare back this list regularly and categorize the writers I followed by interest. The feed reader I use is called Feedly and allows me to group my favorite writers into categories like business, family, personal development, photography, comedy, sports etc. The feed reader is very effective at stripping out distractions, especially all of that click bait, and fake news, you see at the bottom of many websites, even on many major news and network websites. My plan worked well. Each evening my feed reader presented me with a personally curated news stream from a group of writers I trust with very little distraction. No clickbait, no banner ads, no fake news.

Then two things happened. Apple launched an app called “News” that I started playing with after a recent iPhone upgrade. Then the election cycle began. This news app is comes set up like a feed reader for the big news sites. I found myself following multiple networks, major newspapers. Any spare moment I had, standing in line, having some lunch, I started filling up with this news app. Then I felt I needed to share things on Facebook or Twitter which led me to click on more stories shared by friends. There was so much garbage out there about both candidates, I’d quickly spiraled into a news consumption addiction. I’d gone from high quality, low information to just information and way too much of it. Not only did my other feed reader start to fill up with unread articles, I also found myself thinking less about what I wanted to create.  I was too busy absorbing all of the news to think about much else. As a dieter might say, I fell off the wagon.

It’s Over

The election is now over, so it should be easy for me to walk away from all those network news sites, walk away from all of the name-calling and breaking stories and move on. Unfortunately it will be hard, and I think many people won’t walk away at all. They will want to be up-to-date on the latest political shit show playing out in Washington DC. Others will want to follow all of this news as they feel some responsibility, sense of urgency, to know what is going on as it may impact their jobs, family, their daily life. What’s the harm anyway?  You’re just filling up some dead time by looking at your phone.

I believe there is harm. You have to look at what you’re missing by spending so much time keeping up with so-called “news”. You’re filling your brain with a lot of fleeting stuff ( I could insert 100 examples here from Twitter alone) that you have absolutely no control over, and has very little impact on what’s important to your daily life.

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Change the way you consume information

For me this doesn’t mean shutting out traditional news entirely. It means immediately changing the way I’ve been consuming news and going back to what works. So, what do I mean by a high quality low information diet?  Everyone’s different so what may be high quality to me may be garbage to someone else. The good news here is that we can use the same technology that’s been bombarding us with click bait, fake news, sensationalism to filter those exact things. Here are six high-tech ways I’m doing that and two very low-tech ways.

  1. Use a good quality RSS feed reader. Basically, the way a feed reader works allows you to follow trusted blogs, specific topics, and writers that are credible. Instead of typing “CNN” or clicking on FoxNews in your browser, you can take a few minutes to follow feeds from sources that you know are legit and won’t fill up your screen with clickbait and banners next to every article. I use Feedly. My feed updates on my phone in a browser or on iPad. All of them stay in sync and I don’t miss a thing from my favorite writers like Seth Godin or James Altucher.
  2. If you’re more visual, and like a magazine style presentation on your tablet, I recommend flipboard.  You can follow the same feeds as on other apps. It syncs across devices and is especially great on tablets.
  3. Once you setup your feed, don’t follow the major news sites. This will simply just fill up your screen with all of the random latest news stories that you want to cut back on.
  4. Update your feed readers regularly, cleaning out blogs, topics, and writers you used to follow that no longer interest you.  If you’re on your iPhone a lot and still want to use Apple News or Google News just simply delete the major sites that come preloaded and add your favorite writers, bloggers, or reporters. Just like on Feedly.
  5. Turn off any breaking news notifications on your mobile device. These all lead to the “hot stories” and are a big part of the news addiction distraction. Just because Google adds newsfeeds to your smartphone home screen doesn’t mean you can’t turn it off.
  6. Stop listening to network, commercial talk radio and start streaming or downloading podcasts.
  7. Cash in some left over frequent flyer points for a few good magazines. Believe it or not high-quality magazines like Fortune, Wired, and Fast Company still use fact checkers. A well-written article that’s going to press gets more eyes in front of it than something that is rushed out online as a “breaking story”.
  8. Rediscover the Sunday paper and a hot cup of coffee. If I added up all the time I spent checking CNN and other sites during the election cycle, I could probably free up four hours a week. Use a fraction of that time to learn about what’s going on in your local area as well as get a summary of world events that have at least been vetted by an editorial staff. If there’s a writer you really like, you can follow them in your feed instead of following the whole newspaper, as many people are tempted to do with major news sites.

The most important thing here is to change how you consume “news”. End your need to have the latest information. Wait for quality. Try going on a major news diet, just start following a few writers that look interesting in your feed readers search results, then grow from there.  If anything big happens, trust me, the Internet will make sure you hear about it. The rest of it can wait while you get on with your life.

The Frug

 

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11 Big Life Things I’m Sharing With My Son Before He Leaves For College.

Followed by a 11 things I really wish I knew my freshman year. 

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By Brad Beckstrom

I came of age and entered the working world in the 80s and 90s when self-help books, CDs, and personal improvement seminars were all the rage. Classics like The 7 Habits, What Color is your Parachute? And many others from authors like Napoleon Hill, Tony Robbins that are still popular today. They were full of exercises and to do lists, charts and graphs, but what I really remember where the quotes, many of them decades or even centuries old. The ones that lasted. The knowledge these writers returned to again and again.

Self-help books are full of knowledge from a diverse group. Here  I’ve quoted Maya Angelou, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bruce Lee, Frank Zappa, Calvin Coolidge, Joe Strummer, St. Augustine, and Marcus Aurelius.

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It was the quotes, the short sentences with powerful meaning  that connect, that I would highlight or write down. When things got difficult, I could go back and look at some of these words that writers, artists or leaders I admire have said. I’ve tried to incorporate them into core principles and a life philosophy. Some of them are pieces and parts of other quotes that spoke to me, so I decided to share them with my sons. My oldest is leaving for college and the youngest is beginning high school. I believe I’ve tried to live these, but just in case. After all we live 3 miles from Washington, DC, a city full of self-serving politicians, spin doctors and general corporate obfuscation. Today, standing for basic set principles can help one rise above the fray.

11 Big Life Things Read more…

8 things I’ve learned after 1 year on a 10,000 hour creative quest.

By Brad Beckstrom

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Just over a year ago I embarked on a creative project I called my Big Audacious Quest. My plan for this ambitious creative project is to master something I’d walked away from years ago, photography. The idea was to have this quest be about more than just photography. I felt that I had gotten into a creative slump over the years and wanted to create a body of work that would not only help me breakout creatively, but also write about it, and share what I learn. I also wanted to see what kind of impact things like photo sharing sites, digital cameras, social media, and photo management tools would have on my efforts. These are all things that were not around when I was first passionate about photography in the early 80s. So, after a year at this, here are a few of the things I’ve learned.

  1. How to define mastery on my terms.

To start I needed to define what becoming a master photographer would look like and put some clear goals and milestones in place along the way. In many ways, my quest is an actual journey so I also wanted to add some geographic elements to my goals as well. First, I had to address this whole mastery thing. In his book Mastery, Robert Greene talks about the origins of master craftsman guilds as far back as the early Middle Ages. Green gives examples of journeyman apprentices and masters on their own 7 to 10 year journeys. Green, Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) and others talk about the 10,000 hour rule as the time investment required to truly master something. There are plenty of people who poke holes in this theory, especially as it relates to creative fields, but I feel these authors at least defined mastery and gave readers an idea of the type of time investment required.  For me, it was a great place to start. There’s no guarantee that investing 10,000 hours in something will make you a master but it allowed me to put some goals in place and begin the journey. So, I took the core elements of my quest: photography, geography, creativity, and time and put the goals down on paper. At the end of some crazy back of a napkin calculations on what 10,000 hours would get me, this is what the quest looks like.

100,000 photographs

10,000 photographs published

1,000 places explored

100 cities

10 years in the making

1 amazing journey

  1. How to hit walls

Sometimes going gangbusters at the beginning of a project can be the kiss of death, especially when you hit a wall. I knew if I was going in to stay on track, I would need to publish about 1,000 photographs a year from 100 places in at least 10 cities per year. Publishing can include, blogs, websites, photo sharing sites, and photo books.  After my first year, I’m ahead of my goal on certain items and behind on others. Over 2600 photos published, from 90 places, in 27 cities. Starting out I purposely kept the number of photos to publish goal relatively low as I knew i’d likely get ahead of the goal and later hit some obstacles that would slow me down, like a big work related project or the 3 months of crappy weather that we’ve had recently. Dealing with some of these obstacles has helped me put a daily practice in place so I can keep a few balls in the air and pivot between projects as needed.

  1. Don’t compare your beginnings to someone else’s middle or end

Read more…

The Art of Living Dangerously. Using Risk as a Tool to Improve.

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By Brad Beckstrom

I hadn’t heard this quote in years, but when I heard it repeated in a recent interview, it stopped me in my tracks. I quickly scribbled down the first and the last part of the quote. A few weeks later, when I was looking back at my notes, I’d written.  “Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Over the years I’ve read hundreds of quotes about risk, but this one was epic. Just the first or last sentence could stand alone as memorable with anyone who takes risks. Not just the skydiving over volcanos type of risk, but all kinds of risk. Risk to your reputation, risk to your retirement account, risk of rejection, major downsides, and business failures.

If you’re doing work with no downside, no risk, working just to reach an imaginary finish line that may be the most dangerous work of all. Whatever your vocation, whatever brings you fulfillment, it can be enhanced with risk. Risk requires that we act. When we take action on any endeavor, we learn more.

Doing something that scares us heightens all of our senses. It forces us to look, listen, absorb, and retain knowledge. When skydivers are learning how to open their back up parachute, you know they are listening. I believe risk comes in all flavors. It does not have to be the life and limb kind, for many it could just be the courage to stand up in front of a large room of people and share your dream.

I watched a Ted talk the other day and the speaker was clutching a stack of index cards so hard his hands formed a sort of vice that was bending the stack in half. He was obviously nervous and the index cards bore the brunt of it. What’s interesting is that he had filled out the cards with important notes about his speech, but he got through his speech without ever having to look at them. Once he pushed through his initial fear, “risk of giving a poor Ted talk seen by millions of people” or worse by no one, he slowed down, he found flow.

The next time he gives that speech it will get even better, cards or no cards. He had used risk as a tool to improve, instead of something to be afraid of.

 

The Frug

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Spring cleaning for the mind.

8 lasting ways to devote attention, time and energy to what’s most important to you.

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By Brad Beckstrom

When most of us think of spring cleaning, we think of cleaning our home, maybe the basement or some closets. The weather is pleasant so we can open up some doors and windows, maybe haul some crap to the curb that’s been accumulating around the house for years.

When we’re done and hang up that broom, we’re beat, but it feels good. We’ve given some stuff away, we’ve lightened the load. When we get rid of stuff and don’t run out to replace it, the stuff no longer requires our attention.  The need to clean it, move it, store it, discard it goes away, freeing up time (and the to-do lists in our head) for more important things.

Mental Clutter

When we think of stuff, most of us think of physical things, but what about mental clutter? The reason Steve Jobs wore the same thing every day wasn’t because he was trying to become a minimalist or a monk, he just wanted a few less decisions to make every day.  He wanted to reduce mental clutter.  

Reducing mental clutter is simply following a daily practice to clear our mind allowing us to focus on what’s truly important.  Our minds are actually trickier than a cluttered basement or apartment because, unlike inanimate objects, your brain constantly responds to outside stimulus like email, notifications on our phone,  “service now” lights in our cars, “upgrade today” alerts for every piece of software on our computers.  Think of it like a warehouse full of smoke detectors whose batteries are going dead randomly one at a time constantly beeping at us requiring us to find and fix the complaining piece of technology.

This gets at the core of simplification. If we can slowly and steadily reduce the number of inanimate objects, devices, media outlets, emails and stuff that will (ever) require our attention we will free up time to focus on our families, our health, our experiences and what’s important to us. When we use our smartphones and tablets it will be on our terms, distraction free.

Here are 8 habits that will have lasting benefits and reduce mental clutter. Read more…