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Drawing Water When The Well Runs Dry: Maintaining Excellence In Your Projects

There are times when you’re working on a particularly difficult project when you might find you’ve worked yourself into a corner.  During those stressful times, maintaining excellence at your usual standards can be trying indeed.  It can feel as if the well of brilliant ideas you’ve been drawing from and pouring into your work has suddenly dried up, and you’re left with nothing but mud and grit in the bottom of the bucket.

There’s a moment of panic that goes with that feeling, particularly if you’re working under a tight deadline.  That’s fine.  It’s a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, and nothing to really worry about.  After a few slow breaths, the feeling will fade and your pulse will return to normal, so just let it run its course and all will be well.

When you’ve gotten back to something resembling a bit of calm, it’s time to tackle the real problem, which is how to go about refilling the well.  The ideas are there, buried somewhere in your subconscious, but during times when you’re tired or stressed they just aren’t as easily accessible as they normally would be.  The longer you go without being able to produce, the more stressed you get, and the less likely you are to be able to unleash the full power of your creativity when you need it.

So how do you go about breaking through that wall?

During a multi-course meal, it’s not unusual to be offered a palate cleanser to neutralize your taste buds between dishes, thus enhancing the flavor of the next delicacy.  These foods are generally along the lines of various fruit sorbets, pickled ginger, or really anything with a bit of tartness to it.  When having trouble completing a certain phase of a project, a mental palate cleanser can refresh your mind in much the same way.

Spend a few minutes taking a shot at finishing a puzzle.  Sudoku, crosswords, and other assorted brain teasers are excellent ways to relax while stimulating your imaginative capabilities.

You could always reorganize your workspace, which serves as a distraction that results in a removal of distractions.  That’s pretty deep if you don’t think about it too much, and if that’s what you’re doing, you’re probably a bit too distracted and should get back to work immediately.

You might want to try taking some time out to brainstorm ideas for use in other aspects of your project.  This in particular has the added benefit of cutting down on the chances of the same sort of struggles in the future.

Even something as simple as going out for lunch can work wonders when it comes to replenishing your creativity, and not just because of the calories involved.  As we’ve mentioned before, a change of location is sometimes all it takes to get things going in a positive direction.

It’s far better to take ten minutes out of your day to sweep out the cobwebs than it is to spend hours staring at the screen in the hopes that something brilliant will magically appear in the midst of whatever internal crisis you’re accidentally building up to.  Give it a try.  You might be surprised at how much water the well still has left to give.

Well That Escalated Quickly

Let’s talk about worst case scenarios for a moment, shall we?

Imagine you’re sitting at a desk.  On this desk is a small glass case.  Inside that small glass case is a large red button.  Around you, everything is chaos.

That one guy (and there’s always that one guy, isn’t there?) in some department somewhere on the other side of the building has managed to make an ID-10T error of epic proportions.  To be fair, his mind was probably on the previous night’s game at the time, but a good chunk of the blame can be levelled directly at someone not telling someone else something important.

Either way, madness ensues.  The thoom thoom sound of war drums can be heard echoing through the halls from the direction of the human resources department, the good folks down in IT are chanting in ancient forbidden languages, and you’re not entirely sure where the people in Quality Assurance managed to find all of those torches and pitchforks on such short notice, but that can’t be good.  A rumbling can be felt from the depths of the building, a sure sign that the CEO is about to pop his head out of his office and sing the song that signals armageddon.

The people down in the tech department may even have paused and looked around for a moment before going back to doing whatever they were doing.

Now grab that little brass hammer that’s attached to the side of the case on the desk in front of you.   Raise the hammer, smash that glass, and pound down on the big red button with everything you’re worth.

Time…  stops.  Everything freezes.

Resist the urge to go around taking people’s office supplies.  You have more important things to worry about right now, such as how exactly are you going to fix this mess?

Well, I know this is a little late, but this (and so many other problems as well!) could easily have been avoided by using Copper Project Management Software.  It would have streamlined the entire process from top to bottom.  It could have opened those all-important lines of communication.  It would have ensured that everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing and when they were supposed to be doing it.  It certainly would have kept an awful lot of time and effort from being wasted.  On a personal level, all that money you blew on fortifying your cubicle after the Great HTML Incident of 2012 could have been spent on something else.  Instead of barbed wire and a moat, you could have had a nice new chair, or a few posters, or possibly even some potted plants.

Oh well.  Hindsight is 20/20.  Good luck in your post-apocalyptic nightmare world.  Remember to carry a can opener.

Hey, wait a minute.  We were just pretending, remember?  All is not lost!  And hey, look at that!  There’s a free trial of Copper Project Management Software available!  You now have the power to prevent catastrophe with just a few clicks of the mouse, thus becoming the hero of the day.  Who doesn’t want that?

Joseph H is a guest author for Copper.  He once used a stapler, a small box of push pins, and what was left of a table to hold off a roving band of marauding technical writers for three solid days while waiting for rescue.

The Top 5 Killers of Productivity – Despite Your Best Efforts

You have your to-do list, your calendar, your awesome project management software, and your very own personal assistant.  You scheduled everything in, planned your wardrobe and meals for the week, and have a perfectly organized workspace from which you work your magic.  So, why can’t you get any of your magic spells to work?

Here is the simple truth:  there is more to productivity than organization.  Productivity means getting things done, but spending hours planning on getting things done doesn’t substitute, as much work as it is.  Let’s see what is actually killing your time…

5.  Quantity of Work over Quality of Work

You have a ton of work to do.  You want to get everything done.  Sounds typical, right?  Your to-do list is miles long, and can someone please schedule a vacation in sometime between 3:00 and 3:07?  It’s all you can do to make it to the coffee pot before the delicious medicine-of-the-gods is all gone.

This may be a sign that you’re trying to do too much.  Instead, go ahead and take a break to focus on what really needs to be accomplished today, and what can be put off or delegated to your helpful task elves.  Sometimes, you’ll never even get those less important things done, because they never needed to be done in the first place!  If you do all of the urgent stuff right away, you’ll feel much better at the end of the day than if you had run around trying to get a ton of pointless tasks done.

4.  Over-organization

Yeah, your desk may look super neat, and your color-coded calendar is the cat’s pajamas, but are you going to sit there and admire your handiwork all day, or actually get things done?  For those in the creative business where your ideas are liquid gold, all that organization may be stifling your creativity.

Despite what you may think, spending hours getting your things in a precise order probably does not pay off in the long run, especially if you’re a naturally messy person like myself.  It’s okay to have papers not in neat rows of folders.  It’s okay to have stacks of books in random order.  Leave a pen or two outside the pen organizer.  Better to be working than organizing!

3.  Lack of Habituation

The Random House Dictionary defines habituation as the “reduction of psychological or behavioral response occurring when a specific stimulus occurs repeatedly.”  What does that mean, and why is it important for productivity?

It basically means automation.  When you go through your morning routine, do you recite all the steps in your head and think about each step as you’re doing it?  Likely not.  You’ve done the same thing every morning for years.  Dress, brush teeth, fix hair, make toast, etc.  Do you need to think, “Okay, me.  Put right leg through right pant hole, then left leg through other pant hole, then button, then zip.  Okay, toast time!  You got this!”

Yeah, didn’t think so.  Same should apply to your work.  Automate the tasks you do on a regular basis, so you don’t even have to think about them anymore.  No more wondering if you paid the people you’re supposed to pay, or checked your email.  Do these things at the same time and in the same order every time you do them.  It’ll make you more productive.  Promise.

2.  Lack of Flow

Flow is a crucial state of mind for everyone.  Some achieve this through knitting, others through video games.  Any repetitive motion that requires your full attention can help you flow.  If there’s no way you can incorporate this into your work, pick up a hobby.  It will help you in all aspects of your life by making you mentally stronger, happier, and generally more productive.

1.  Perfectionism

Ahhh, the top killer of productivity at last.  Perfectionism.  Trying to do everything right.  There’s no shame in having pride.  But if you spend more time on perfecting one task than you do at trying to complete all the important tasks of your day, then you will certainly fall short.  You’re busy.  Let the small flaws slide.  It’s doubtful anyone will notice them anyway.

 

All that being said, you can’t go wrong by trying out Copper Project Management Software.  There’s a snazzy free trial right here that shows you all that it can do to help you and your business thrive.  Thanks for reading, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

 

Sara Border is a guest author for Copper, and she likes to use phrases like “cat’s pajamas” and “hunky dory.”  She can’t help it.  Check out her website over here!

 

The Secret to Making Your Projects Work

We live in a society that produces a constant stream of new innovations in business-based technology.  The same sales records and personnel files that were once meticulously kept by hand have now become the realm of automatically updating databases.  Organizational software that is both simple to use and easily adaptable to fit any sort of situation has streamlined the process.  Pen and paper gave way to keyboards and monitors, the endless rows of filing cabinets gave way to air-conditioned server rooms, and even now there are advanced products being designed that will make tablet PCs look like a chisel and stone in comparison.

Through all that shiny new streamlining however, sometimes the most important factor in maintaining a smoothly flowing workplace is taken for granted.  Any type of business, no matter how big or how small, is nothing without its people.

This is the big secret.  You can do everything right, have all the right methods and techniques, but you will still only achieve mediocre results unless you connect with those around you.

So take a moment to get to know your co-workers a little better, regardless of what position they hold in the structure of your business.  A happy and friendly workplace is a highly effective workplace.  An employee that has a conversation with another employee during lunch will be more likely to go the extra mile to make sure that person has an easier time of things than they would if they had spent that time waiting alone in the long drive-thru line at McDonald’s.

If you’re in a management position, remember to converse with the people on your team.  If you’re on a team, remember to communicate with those in management.  The more knowledge shared, the better the work will flow, and the more likely it is that any errors will be caught before they take that flying leap into problem territory.

Finally, remember that brilliant minds and inventive thinkers aren’t always found in window offices or think-tanks.  More often than not, they’re found in cubicles, in mail rooms, on mailing lists and in shipping docks.  Every advancement in business streamlining came about due to one person having an idea, and another person taking the time to listen.  The next great idea may come from the person down the hall, or in the next building over…  or from you.

What Creative Businesses Can Learn From Ping Pong

The Most Prestigious Sport Ever
Zimpenfish

Oh, ping pong.  What a strange game.  Two people, holding tiny rubber paddles, hit a small hollow ball at each other across a miniature raised tennis court.  How could it relate to anything that you do as a business leader and project manager?  Well, there are six main ways:

1.  Feedback, feedback, feedback.

Ping pong is all about back and forth, just like your relationship with your client.  The ball switches courts every time someone hits it with their paddle.  You have to try to hit the ball so that it bounces on your opponent’s side of the table.  If you don’t, you’ll lose the game or just make a fool of yourself.

So it goes for business!  You want to cater to your client, always throwing the ball on their side of the table.  You want to deliver great service.  But how do you know if you’re succeeding?  Well, your client will bounce the ball right back to you.

Feedback.  How the ball comes back at you will tell you exactly how good of a job you’re doing, and exactly how good of a client your “opponent” is.  If the ball falls short of the net, your client may be too selfish, wanting his or her way with things instead of compromising.  They’ll be demanding that you conform to all of their needs, even if they may be impossible or they go against your prior agreements.  If it falls off the table, that may mean that your client has no idea what they’re doing and doesn’t know exactly what to ask of you.  They may spout serious nonsense about what they need you to do, and may be confused or ignorant about how much to pay you.  If it lands perfectly on your side of the table, you have a good working relationship, with a perfect balance of compromise and a good sense of the project’s requirements on both sides.  Of course, account for speed and spin…they may be asking too much of you at times, or they may be frustrated with how you are doing your job.

The key here is good communication.  Ask for suggestions.  Ask if there is anything else that they want done.  Ask if your services have met or exceeded their expectations, and if not, how they could improve.  Oh, and be sure to give them feedback, too.

2.  Never drop the ball.

When first starting to play ping pong, it’s difficult.  The ball flies all over the place, and it seems impossible to hit it just the right way.  It falls off the table, bouncing away with surprising speed.  This game though, with your client, can’t go that way.  You cannot let the ball bounce away, watching with a slight wince as it goes (also, do not chase after it flailing;  nothing more cringe-worthy than that).

So don’t drop the ball.  Keep the game going.  Even if there’s a setback, work through it.  There is nothing worse that a business can do for a client than let a project go to the wayside.  Manage your time and priorities well, then make sure you make deadlines.  Don’t forget that you are being paid to do something that is of the utmost importance for your client.  Make sure the project means that much for you too.

3.  It’s not interesting to focus on winning.

If you focused on simply finishing a project, calling it done, and cashing it in, it’d be a lot like a game of table tennis where one party just smashes the ball at the other, and the other doesn’t ever get a chance to hit back.  Boring.  We don’t want to watch how good you are at being quick and shoddy with your work.  We want to see a game where you take deliberate, graceful movements, and there is a good amount of back and forth.  As said before, this particular game is important for your client.  Don’t ruin it simply because you wanted payday to come yesterday.  There isn’t any satisfaction or pride in a quick score.

4.  Be flexible and creative.

Come into the project with a flexible mind.  Ping pong moves quickly, so you have to keep your mind free to focus on hitting the ball back correctly.  The state that many table tennis athletes enter is very similar to the creative flow of artists.  Let that energy guide you through your projects, and they are sure to go more smoothly.

5.  Don’t get discouraged.

The ball is going to fall off the table.  That’s okay.  Pick it up and try again.  Not every project is going to go smoothly.  In these situations, it’s easy to get discouraged.  Realize that not everything can go perfectly every time, and try to pick out lessons from the situation and point out exactly where things went awry.  Then, for your next project, avoid making those mistakes.

6.  Have fun!

The most important reason that anyone has ever played ping pong is that it’s fun.  Even when you have a bad game, or when you have a sore wrist for a couple days afterward, it was great just to have the experience.  There’s no reason that work should be any different.  If you aren’t enjoying seeing the progress and completion of a project, you may be in the wrong business.  Take pride in what you do and have a good time as well.

 

Want to brush up on your game?  Try Copper Project Management Software free for 30 days.

And be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments!

 

Sara Border is a guest author who loves researching business management and is passionate about cultivating creativity while managing time to be efficient and productive.   She also likes to play ping pong, but she’s not very good at it yet.

 

Inspiration, how do you?

Ok, a post from left field. Lets talk about inspiration. I want two sentences from you, but here are a few more from me first.

My life over the last ten years has been predominantly focussed on liaising with creative teams who need our help getting themselves organized (hopefully with Copper). This has given me amazing insight into their creative process. I’ve been privileged to work professionally in the areas of design consultancy, software development, filmmaking, acting, and songwriting. Outside of my professional interests, I’ve traveled every year or so, studied the anthropological design and business nuances of the countries I’ve visited, and whilst at home absorbed all that the vibrant Melbourne art/design/fashion scenes have had to offer (Come visit sometime, I have a couch).

Such activities experientially flow back into the development and marketing of the Copper product and ensures the business and software is responding to the hugely varied cross-section creative types who use our little product. It’s not always easy, however this uniquely positioned lifestyle inspires me because I’m consistently and passionately inquisitive about the creative process, and fascinated in it’s delicious outputs. Often I’m surprised about how and where the best ideas come from, and more importantly, how they are successfully executed (and by whom).

Collective creativity inspires me above all else.

I’m privy to the secrets and processes of some of the worlds best creative teams (hint: they’re not all that different to the ones you and I would use), and have been blessed to be let behind the curtain of leading lights in online commerce, fine art, moving sculpture installations, music, acting, and filmmaking. Outside of these creative endeavours there are customers and friends in other industries such as banking, renewable energy, venue management, education, government and military who also inspire, be it a new way to service customers more humanistically, or a logo design project that costs millions but provides an output that most would seem to be “too simple” (hint: there’s no such thing).

Everyone I’ve ever encountered has had some indirect input into Copper Project, and now that I’ve also been privileged to be part of Copper for over a decade, I’m thankful to every one of you that has opened your head and heart to me and my humble little business.

Creativity, and those that create, inspire my creativity. It’s my own personal big bang (I still don’t fully understand it).

What drives your  inspiration? What tiny victories do you have in your day that get you to those brief glimmers of creative joy?

Ben.

Geek Squad, Great Branding.

Robert Stephens of Geek Squad,talks about being Remarkable, hiring smart and branding via the weird. Great stuff! be bold, and inspire your staff.

http://getsatisfaction.tv/2009/10/marketing-is-a-tax-you-pay-for-being-unremarkable/

Roundup: Solar Panels, Wireless Electricity, Honda Segway, Minimal Cam.

This week I thought I’d blog about some of the tech that’s floating my boat at the moment.

Solar Panel Roof Tiles

Let’s kick off with this from Springwise: Solar panels build right into roof tiling, just genius, and a truly interconnected grid of power generation is something sorely lacking in Australia.

http://springwise.com/weekly/2009-09-16.htm#solepowertile
Link: http://www.srsenergy.com/

Wireless Electricity

Witricity uses magnetic coupling to transfer power safely and wirelessly. Check out this demo where Eric Giler demos a wirelessly powered iPhone and TV. The tech is still at 45-50% efficiency (a few thousand time more efficient than a battery), but coupled with solar tiles above, we may just have ourselves some awesomeness!

http://www.ted.com/talks/eric_giler_demos_wireless_electricity.html

Honda unveils a Segway thingy

Minimallisimo, the sexy one-shot minimal digi camera

Just because it brings back the surprise element of not knowing how your shot is going to come out until you develop it.

Link: http://minimalissimo.com/2009/09/oneshot-camera/

– Ben Prendergast

Facebook sorry, Hulu the future?, New Airline Tech, 10 rules for startup success, Tetris iMaxMaxMax

Facebook Apologises
Facebook’s Beacon advertising model has drawn the ire of privacy campaigners since its announcement last month. The controversial Ad model, which effectively enables facebook users to share their web activities with friends and thereby give advertisers another viral marketing angle, was not able to be switched off by users until today. Via a blog posting from CEO Mark Zuckerberg he today apologised saying “About a month ago, we released a new feature called Beacon to try to help people share information with their friends about things they do on the web. We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it.”

Hulu the future of online video?
Still in Beta, invite-only stage, the joint venture between NBC and News Corp has offered high definition full-screen (H.264) video to its beta testers for the first time, without the need for standalone viewers (e.g. Joost) and using compression that is suitable for broadband speeds. With this kind of backing we might be peeking at not only the future of online video, but of home entertainment in general.

New Airline Tech
Courtesy of Engadget, Continental airlines will trial Mobile phone boarding passes from next month.

10 Rules for Startup Success

Courtesy of TechCrunch and the Financial Times, Loic Le Meur has released his Ten Rules for Startup Success. I couldn’t agree with them more, and they are:

  1. Don’t wait for a revolutionary idea. It will never happen. Just focus on a simple, exciting, empty space and execute as fast as possible
  2. Share your idea. The more you share, the more you get advice and the more you learn. Meet and talk to your competitors.
  3. Build a community. Use blogging and social software to make sure people hear about you.
  4. Listen to your community. Answer questions and build your product with their feedback.
  5. Gather a great team. Select those with very different skills from you. Look for people who are better than you.
  6. Be the first to recognise a problem. Everyone makes mistakes. Address the issue in public, learn about and correct it.
  7. Don’t spend time on market research. Launch test versions as early as possible. Keep improving the product in the open.
  8. Don’t obsess over spreadsheet business plans. They are not going to turn out as you predict, in any case.
  9. Don’t plan a big marketing effort. It’s much more important and powerful that your community loves the product.
  10. Don’t focus on getting rich. Focus on your users. Money is a consequence of success, not a goal.

Tetris iMaxMaxMax
This is genius. Those wacky Finnish students are at it again, converting an entire university dorm building into a giant Tetris game.

– Ben Prendergast

More gadgets for Christmas.

I had so much fun browser-window-shopping last week I thought I’d follow up with ten more favourites.This time, they may not fit under your tree or within your budget, but here goes:

1. Dreamcade Arcade Cabinet:
http://www.dreamarcades.com/100inch.shtml

Sate your inner 8-year old with this baby! Compatible with projectors and most consoles.

2. Star Wars USB flash drives from Mimoco
http://lab.mimoco.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWCATS&Category=13

3. Sphericle Speaker Set
http://www.partsexpress.com/projectshowcase/Sphericles/index.cfm

4. The Amazon Kiundle – eBook Reader – The Literal iPod.
http://www.amazon.com/Kindle-Amazons-Wireless-Reading-Device/dp/B000FI73MA

5. Another Sadistic Alarm Clock:
http://www.americaninnovative.com/products/neverlate-exec.php#

Set 7-days worth of specific wake-up times, including which station/buzzer to set off, and an anti-snooze function.

6. A Philips Hi-Res CT Scanner
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7112688.stm

At this time of year its time to take a look deep-inside ourselves.

7. Noon Solars Solar powered Backpack – Get your geek-on and your gadgets charged.
http://www.engadget.com/2007/11/26/noon-solars-stylish-bag-collection-charges-your-gizmos/

8. Akai Headrush – Guitar loop/memory pedal, for the digital one man (or woman) band.
http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/page/shop/flypage/product_id/5529
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIO2qpSsUTA

9. A hard core macbook metal jacket
http://www.kkshimura.com/export_pc_price.html

For when you’re designing, say, a logo for the Taliban.

10. Christmas night Carols, replete with plasma screen and surround sound.
http://www.engadget.com/2007/11/26/media-center-meets-piano-results-are-questionable/
“Gather round kids, and we’ll play oh come all ye faithful, followed by some Bluray Die Hard!”

– Ben Prendergast