2013 is over.

2013 Insights

School:

My 3rd calendar year of courses at Uvic is now complete. This year I successfully transitioned from a Fine Arts Diploma student to a Creative Writing Undergraduate student (2nd Degree program). In total I’ve engaged in seven semester equivalent classes, 4 of which were in Writing, and I’ve learned that:

  • I’m energized by creative writing
  • despite my enthusiasm, creative writing is harder than it looks
  • 2 classes every semester, on-top of everything else, is ambitious
  • I quickly grasp concepts – but always require more practice
  • (Critique) Workshops are essential to improve as a writer

Blog:

In an ode to irony, while my interest in writing has skyrocketed, my posts on exploring-art.com have plummeted. Only six posts in 2013, but I’ve learned that people like:

  • Pictures (select, not too many)
  • Cocktails (or maybe that’s just me)
  • Concise observations on writing (and life)

Looking Ahead:

2014 is going to be great! I’m registered in two classes next semester, I’m committing to at least one exploring-art.com post a month (including either a picture, cocktail, or concise observation), and I’m going to play more squash this year (this shouldn’t be hard I’m pretty sure I didn’t play any squash last year).

Happy new year’s – here’s to the year ahead, and turning over new leaves. Cheers!

 

Habit List – Personal Commitments and Visual Management

I struggle to keep up with my chores. I procrastinate. I spend my time practicing escapism rather than being productive. My nature of sensible hedonism could typically be expressed in pseudo Spanish as “mañana”. It’s terrible… I know.

I also know that I am, like most people, exceptionally malleable… just look at my visual management, willpower and weight loss post… it’s 5.5 months later and I’m still down 18.1 pounds, simply by weighing myself daily on a fancy, graph generating scale… scary!

But what to do about all those commitments I most recently refactored in my post on personal commitments, “The Speed of Trust”, and poster art? Is there something I can do to help with them? Fortuitously after a few search attempts I happened upon Habit List an inviting, balanced, skeuomorphism rich app.

Habit List elegantly adds visual management to your recurring to-do list. Red dots along the left margin indicate you are not delivering on your commitments. Green dot’s mean you are doing well. The number centred in the dots indicate how many times you’ve either made or missed your commitment in the current streak.

Each habit has its own exploded calendar view where details of your best streak, your current streak and your current completion rate are displayed. After just a week of using Habit List I’m addicted. Scratching items off the list feels rewarding. Daily reminders are much needed motivation and I’ve already grown my list of personal commitments. I am pleased to bestow 4.5 out of 5 stars on Habit List. There’s just one or two things missing.

Though the app has flexible scheduling options it’s still not enough. Working 9 out of 10 weekdays, and having some commitments that are only applicable when I am at home mean I either artificially pad or compress my streaks. I think there needs to be a “Not Applicable” option, perhaps only accessible from the calendar view, that allows the user to opt ad-hoc days out of the calculation of streaks for a specific habit. Also the ability to “snooze” reminders would help me procrastinate… I mean meet my commitments!

Habit List is well worth the $1.99. Do yourself a favour, get this app and start a routine of completion, you’ll be more productive and have fun while crossing things off your list.

Personal Credo and Commitments

I’m reading yet another personal improvement book, similar to my adventures with The Happiness Project and The Element, this one is called the Speed of Trust and is written by Stephen M.R. Covey, the son of the gentleman who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The Speed of Trust contains a number of exercises for the reader. I will share some of the results of these exercises over the next several months here at exploring-art.

The first exercise is to create a personal credo then make and document some personal commitments to yourself. The Speed of Trust approach to these commitments is simple, so it captured my attention after the somewhat convoluted exercise of resolutions, goals and strategic outcomes that I proposed earlier this year. Basically the Speed of Trust way is to start with small, simple commitments that you actually 100% intend to fulfil, slowly train yourself to keep those commitments and build up to more challenging commitments.

This could potentially have been quite a dry, boring and un-visually appealing post. In an effort to avoid that, I took some photo’s from Photo Excursion 2, Posterino software from the Mac App Store and mashed up my very own Personal Credo and Commitments motivational poster.

Visual Management, Willpower and Weight Loss

As you know from my Learning to See post I’m currently working towards another professional designation. What you don’t know is that the credential being pursued is Lean Bronze Certification (LBC).

One of the many Lean tool philosophies is Visual Management. Visual Management is about using visual indicators to affect people’s behaviour and the overall performance of a system or value stream. I recently adopted a visual tool to incentivize my personal goal to lose weight.

To understand my weight loss predicament you should be aware that I live in the present. In a recent personality survey, the Maieutik test, I was roughly attributed to spend 25% of the time in the past, 50% in the now, and 25% looking forward. This seems intuitive to me – one of my personal credos is of sensible hedonism. Bringing us to the problem of why I’ve rarely been able to lose weight. The notion of weight loss and better health is sort of abstract and the immediate pleasure of a snack is far from.

A friend and colleague of mine listens to many audio books, and one day during a coffee or cocktail, he was telling me of one of the case studies in the Influencer, where a set of research indicated that the number one thing you could do that would help you lose weight was weigh yourself daily. It sounded interesting, but inwardly I was skeptical. I could not make the connection as to why measuring yourself daily would make such a dramatic impact. I also knew that for me I would tend to forget the exact measurement anyway; I’d have a rough idea but not the exact numbers in my mind, thereby making exercise moot. Would I really have the will power to get out the scale every morning? Too many obstacles. Nevertheless, weight loss came up amongst my foundational vitality goals within my happiness project.

Then at long last came a solution, the Withings Wi-Fi enabled scale! Using my love of gadgets to get me on the scale daily, leveraging the principles of visual management to keep me inline, and the promise in the Influencer actually worked! The desire to keep that line trending down the next morning, this real goal as opposed to some abstract good health goal made all the difference in my commitment to eat better.

Eat better you ask? A different colleague of mine has cracked that code – cut out carbs after 2pm (assuming a 10pm bedtime). 4.2 pounds in a week? For me the proof was available if I could forgo the pudding. Previous to this experiment, I would not have thought I was a big snacker. I don’t stop at the store on the way home to buy chips… but if they are in the house… well, not anymore! My morning date with my Withings scale is, strangely, enough of an incentive to practice restraint, which is paying off for my vitality and my waistline.

I’ll update my progress and the graph in a few weeks, to keep you up to date on progress towards my goal to lose 10 or more pounds.

Gallery / Status Updates

One month in and I’ve lost 7.1 pounds. My third week set me back a little bit,  I was seduced by thin crust gluten free pizza after 2pm… twice… how bad could that be? Apparently bad enough. However all is now well, I’m back to my  lowest weight and the trend line is once more pointed downward.

Final Happiness Project Rumination

Now that I’ve identified an additional shortcoming in my set of 2012 resolutions and established a new framework to fix it, it is time to further detail my resolve. Also I am inverting my modified Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs because a foundation must come first.

I’ve also generated a mission statement for my mini happiness project:

Pursue my happiness by being attentive to my vitality, my wife and home and by creating an atmosphere of growth in the pursuit of writing.

Vitality

Resolutions

  • Drink a litre of water every day
  • Wake up before the alarm
  • Exercise daily
  • Restrict myself to two cups of coffee a day
  • Weigh myself daily

Goals

  • Lose 10lbs

Strategic Outcome

  • Increase my energy

Home

Resolutions

  • Do kitchen clean up every night – Don’t procrastinate
  • Set the coffee pot auto start every week night
  • Complete one thing from the backlog task list every day
  • Make the bed everyday
  • Buy my wife a romantic gift every month

Goals

  • Keep a structured, tidy living space and a jubilant wife

Strategic Outcome

  • Increase my happiness

The Element

Resolutions

  • Write everyday (Journal, Blog, or a Project)
  • Read everyday
  • Read one page of the dictionary every night

Goals

  • Promote and maintain Exploring-Art.com
  • Distribute 100 Exploring-Art.com business cards before the end of the year
  • Starting immediately personalize every Exploring-Art.com “publicize” tweet
  • Get published in another format
  • Take Creative Writing 100 @ Uvic next year
  • Find my tribe

Strategic Outcome

  • Increase the quality of my writing

Conclusion

From time to time I’ll post an update to how I’m doing living up to my new mission: Pursue my happiness by being attentive to my vitality, my wife and home and by creating an atmosphere of growth in the pursuit of writing. I believe this concludes my rumination from reading The Happiness Project. Exploring-Art.com will now return to it’s regularly scheduled posts.

Poetry vs. Strategic Outcomes

Earlier this week I acknowledged that there was something lacking in my SMART News Year’s resolution model. By adopting the SMART technique it means that some of the overarching, higher level, bigger picture goals aren’t explicitly captured… these north stars are relegated to the land of the implied.

In my professional world of suits and ties here is how we would tackle this problem. We would take my list of SMART goals and categorize each of them under a heading, probably called a “Strategic Outcome”, so for instance you might do something like this:

Strategic Outcome: Increase Professionalism of Writing

  • Join Victoria Writing Society in January
  • Get published somewhere other than Exploring-Art.com this year
  • Complete a writing portfolio submission… by December

But that would not be very artful! So instead what I did is I wrote a companion poem to go with my SMART goals. Defy pigeonholes, embrace individuality and explore your passions – be brave! Without further ado, here’s my poem:

Three hundred and sixty five days make a year
Fear as always
Is the predominant barrier
Be brave – profess your goals
I must pursue writing with a professional rigour
I will spend effort, resources and time
transforming Exploring-Art
into a noteworthy cultural endeavour
I shall romance my darling wife and will also
pursue a healthy and nonjudgmental life.

Creative Challenge: SMART – New Year’s Resolutions

In love, life and work it seems to me that it is often the simple things that carry the most truth and capacity for change. Take SMART Goals for instance, a relatively simple management principle that has been talked about ad nauseum, has had many iterations, and yet really works as a framework for setting meaningful goals. A meaningful goal can be defined as a goal that is likely to be achieved. So what’s SMART?

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed To
  • Realistic
  • Time Dependant

With this management 101 proverb dusted off let’s talk New Year’s resolutions. Like Christmas wish lists, and blogs in general, New Year’s resolutions are often looked down upon as frivolous – But I say this is not so! Having a list of things you want to accomplish, cast using the SMART Goals principle, might just help you be more accomplished, and what’s frivolous about that? Here’s mine for the new year – what’s yours?

  • Join the Victoria Writers society in January
  • Attend Word Camp in January
  • Distribute 100 Exploring-Art.com business cards before the end of the year
  • Starting immediately personalize every Exploring-Art.com “publicize” tweet
  • Rewrite and resubmit my Fine Arts Diploma Program (FADP) learning plan by Monday (tomorrow, gasp!)
  • Complete my 4th course in my Fine Arts Diploma Program by April
  • Complete my 5th course in my Fine Arts Diploma Program by December
  • Complete a writing portfolio submission for the UVic MFA in creative writing by December
  • Get published somewhere other than Exploring-Art.com this year
  • Get my taxes up to date by April
  • Buy my wife a romantic gift every month (flowers, champagne etc.)
  • And the obligatory – lose 10 pounds!… by… September
  • Lastly report out on my resolutions progress at year end.

What are your resolutions? Create a list of SMART resolutions and share them here!

Unfulfilled Visions and Machinations of Change

My father recently read my post on Soliloquies and Utopian Visions, during our Christmas get together he commented that the counterculture of the 60’s was largely interested in doing away with work and promoting “leisure” as well. I knew this of course, with the cliche of “working for the man” being a hallmark statement capturing the sentiment; however the comment led me to think of two things I’d like to add as a philosophical tributary to the earlier monologue.

In his book The Element, Sir Ken Robinson differentiates between three types of pursuits that people spend time on: Work, that which you do professionally to make a living. Leisure, that which you do to relax or take your mind off things. Recreation, things that you are passionate about that you pursue with the rigour of professional. I think of this last category as extra curricular activities. It is in this category where peoples’ “Element” often lives. It is here where the path to self fulfilment lies – Meaning just hanging around and having a cocktail won’t lead to self actualization. Indulging in libations would be categorized as leisure and is fine in moderation; however it is not going to lead to a positive transformation of the individual and by extension society.

There’s a problem here that a skeptic will quickly surface. Recreation, or extra curricular activities require effort, and quite possibly blood, sweat and tears. If people aren’t getting paid to do it, how do you get people pursuing their passions instead of just lazing about? There’s two high level answers, one at the individual level and one at societal level.

In the RSA Animate clip of a Sir Ken Robinson speech they do an excellent job illustrating the first contributor to the individual’s motivation. Following your passion feels good! It wakes you up, you like it, you’d do it even if you didn’t have to. So what’s the problem? People get busy, have other priorities, get dissuaded and generally lose sight of whatever their favourite extra curricular activity is. So once you’ve found it, you still have to make time for it and practice it, which can be hard especially in a culture that is skeptical of the inherent rewards. Making and keeping a schedule for your activity is a good place to start. Finding other people who share your passion can also be an important part of routinizing it into your daily life. Robinson reuses “finding your tribe” to describe this important facet of successfully cultivating your passion.

The societal level answer is culture. If a country’s culture can create a sincere outpouring of grief over the loss of a not so benevolent dictator, or an impassioned defence of a “democracy” where only one party is allowed to field candidates, then surely it can also create an environment where pursuit of one’s passion is more highly valued than having 500 television channels. Culture is a complex emergent entity… Where do we start? We start with ourselves as individuals and as Sir Ken Robinson rightly indicates we start with our public education systems as well. Why schools? They have relatively less for profit corporate vested interest. They are a common starting place for much of the worlds population, and they are very clearly broken.

As a New Year’s resolution and a commitment to practice what I preach, I will be seeking out my tribe at the Victroria Writer’s Society General Meeting, and the Victoria area Wordcamp. What are you doing next year to enrich yourself?