behavior · creativity · happiness · health

How To Schedule Your Day For Peak Creative Performance | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

I have been struggling, STRUGGLING!, lately with fitting play and relaxation into my new life structure and creating space in my life for everything that needs to get done. I’m curious how other people manage it, so I found this article intriguing:

About four years ago I started working for myself. I wanted the freedom and flexibility to own my schedule and the space to bring my ideas to life.

One of the biggest challenges was structuring my time so I was fully experiencing the benefits of working for myself while also being as creative and productive as possible. At first, the idea of systems and planning made me cringe. I felt like they would hold back my creative potential. Eventually, organization and effectiveness challenges pilled up and I decided to give structure a try.

I wondered:

How do I balance client service with working on my own ideas?

How do I avoid interruptions that mess with my creative flow?

How do I stop putting off the stuff I hate but still have to do?

Behold, her solution…

How To Schedule Your Day For Peak Creative Performance | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

Find out more via How To Schedule Your Day For Peak Creative Performance | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

anthropology · behavior · environment · Social

Letting the seasons influence work hours

English: New York, New York. Newsroom of the N...
Do you find yourself more or less productive during certain times of the year? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this blog I often talk about play and creating space for play in our busy lives.  A recent article in Good magazine discussed the idea of changing our work habits to match the seasons, making more room for play (or at least less work time) in the summer:

Jason Fried, CEO of 37Signals, recently wrote for the New York Times that his company’s work schedules change with the seasons.

“For example, from May through October, we switch to a four-day workweek. And not 40 hours crammed into four days, but 32 hours comfortably fit into four days. We don’t work the same amount of time, we work less.”

We work less, he says. I can imagine it’s pretty easy to get buy-in for that idea around the office.

“When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.”

This is a pretty rare set-up, but I have worked at places where they did offer 4 10-hour days in the summer, or 4 9-hour days and a half day on Friday, or some other kind of flexibility so people could take advantage of the nice weather. Europeans will often take a month off in later summer for vacation.

First, I think this is a great idea, and I think Fried makes a good argument that with less work time, people will prioritize work and really get the essential stuff done. From an anthropologist’s perspective, however, this dichotomy of summer equaling less time in the office, and theoretically less work, I find somewhat interesting, since as humans we traditionally tend to be MORE active and alert when we have more sunlight. In winter there was traditionally less food and worse weather conditions, so we would stay inside, hunkering down with our tribe or family, and maybe catch up on repairing clothing or tools. Late spring (when it stays light the longest) and late summer/early fall (just after the hottest temperatures) was a time of planting, hunting, gathering, harvesting, and getting stores up for the long winter months.

Today, we still hunker down inside during the colder months, but I find it interesting that this has translated into a tendency to stay inside busy over paperwork or computer work while summer, our traditionally busier work time, has become a time associated with leisure and play, or at least that’s what many of us would like it to be.

What are your thoughts? Do you like the idea of having work schedules that adjust with the seasons? Do you find yourself more or less productive in summer or winter, ignoring factors like kids home from school, etc.? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

behavior · brain · community · culture · emotion · environment · happiness · health · Social · technology

Crowdsourcing Quiet Spaces in the City

For the past month I have been staying in a surprisingly noisy apartment. The neighborhood itself is very quiet, but just my luck to be staying over a night club and all-night grocery store. After this month the importance of being able to find quiet, peaceful places in a city rings all the more true and important to me (and it’s not just the ringing in my ears). From Inhabitat:

Cities have always been bustling environments, and with more and more of us living in them it can be difficult to find a quite place to relax or contemplate. Sound Artist Jason Sweeney‘s winning proposal for the TED Imagining the City 2.0 Prize is a crowdsourcing project that seeks to locate and map the places that provide silence in the urban din. The Stereopublic Project will be a public guide for those who crave a retreat from the crowds.

Based in Melbourn’s city center, Sweeney found himself attracted to tucked-in corners, where the city’s sound fades into the background and where the built environment is experienced as a sound environment. Inspired by his own experiences, he’s looking to create a platform where others can geo-tag and share their favorite quiet space. Sweeney is interested in helping those who are sensitive to noises, with disabilities, or just seeking respite from the constant din of the streets.

The TED City 2.0 prize will help his team develop a digital tool for crowdsourcing those places, adding a new layer of awareness to the cityscape for its occupants.

Cities are large, complex environments and the project is a unique way to understand the acoustic dynamic of city life. Stereopublic is based on active users sharing their findings, but ironically, the project’s success will likely make those quiet spaces busier, further pushing inhabitants to explore new places. The idea may become a failed experiment if it becomes too successful, but it also very well might help create new venues that improve the “sonic health” of a city — adding a vital resource to urban life.

Know of a quiet place in your city? Add it to the list, or leave it in the comments below and I’ll add it for you and if it’s in the Pacific Northwest may just try it out first. You know, for research).
community · creativity · Social

Storefront Seattle: taking art to the street (window)

Before and After example of Storefronts Seattle project.

With the down economy a lot of stores and businesses have gone out of business, leaving a lot of empty store fronts, at least in places around Seattle. But rather than let those places stay dark and dormant, one woman is spearheading an effort to get local Seattle artist’s work installed in these vacant storefronts:

Storefronts debuted in late 2010 as an experiment in activating vacant spaces with art, creative enterprise, and performance… We also revitalize neighborhoods. And we beautify blocks. And we make areas safer at night, and we market real estate, and we paint walls and mop floors and install lighting and turn desolate half-empty blocks into the hippest, happiest, and hottest real estate in town.

Storefronts Seattle leases storefront space from neighborhood property owners for the nominal rate of $1 per month. We can program up to 15 storefronts in any given neighborhood at any given time, and we fill these spaces with art installations, with creative businesses, and with artist’s studios. These projects are proposed by artists throughout the region, and are chosen by a panel that includes neighborhood representatives, local museum curators, arts professionals, and our programming staff.

At full integration into a neighborhood, Storefronts Seattle is programming up to 60 arts installations per year into your spaces. That’s enough to instantly turn any neighborhood into a walking destination, an arts and culture destination, and a shopping destination. It’s enough to generate regional press. It’s enough to get the city’s creative class and cultural leaders to pay attention.

More at Storefronts Seattle

This is a great project where everyone benefits: property managers get free positive attention for their site, artists get their work exposed, and normal people get to benefit from the art for free!

It also involves a lot of local Seattle neighborhood organizations, bringing attention and buy-in from various communities around Seattle. There are quite a few installations in place right now through May.

What a great opportunity to improve and enrich everyone’s environment. Know of other groups out there taking advantage of empty spaces like these in other cities? Share them in the comments below!

anthropology · community · education · happiness · school

Creating tribe through education

Students at Washington High School at class, t...
Working on a project together with a group can create a sense of "tribe." Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Having a community or “tribe” is one of the essential things all humans need in order to be happy, healthy, and really survive. In the predominantly urban, mobile environment most of us live in now, it can be hard to develop and maintain a tribe.

The UW Professional & Continuing Education Program recently published a blog post addressing the idea of tribe, and how we create that in modern, usually urban settings through education. One of the most common ways we create tribe is through what we spend time learning; taking Yoga, getting certified in Fiber Arts, sharing this knowledge, love, and in a way a rite of passage with others definitely creates a sense of community and tribe.

History defines tribes as groups united by shared ideas, values and goals. Godin and others put a 21st century spin on the term to empower ordinary people to lead big changes, including the pursuit of a new career.

For Tammie Schacher, the big change was to transition out of the architecture profession and into the nonprofit sector, where her goal was to align her values and passions with a new career. To get started, Schacher enrolled in the UW Certificate in Nonprofit Management where she joined a cohort of fellow students who would go through the program together.

“At the beginning the instructor told us that these groups become very tight knit and that we’d start relying on each other,” she says. “We didn’t necessarily believe that, but by the second quarter we realized we had not only started to rely on each other but that we’d become a family.”

The blog post goes on to discuss how to get the most out of putting yourself in this new, tribal situation:

Both Matthews and Schacher believe that getting the most out of being part of a tribe that starts in a continuing education classroom is fairly simple. First, say both, be open. “Have a little courage and put yourself out there,” says Matthews. “The structure of a classroom is a great place to try something out.”

Read more at: Find Your Tribe, Foster Your Future

There are lots of opportunities to create a tribe based on shared knowledge, and to create new ones based on group learning. We can also create tribes online through forums and blogs, as well as allegiances to sports teams or other athletics. Anything from military service to attending a concert can create a sense of tribe.

What are some of the surprising places you have found and/or created a tribe of like-minded people?

anthropology · behavior · community · creativity · environment · health

Making money off the land

A swaledale ewe on the rolling fells of the La...
You may be looking at a model of your next lawnmower. Image via Wikipedia

After the last post about dumpster diving, I thought we could focus on something a little more fresh, like growing your own food. Or your own sheep.

From renting out goats and sheep in order to naturally trim lawns and hillsides, to teaching other people how to raise chickens and bees, “urban homesteading” is becoming a way of life that is not only natural and makes people feel good, it’s also profitable.

As an uncertain economy and a stagnant hiring climate continue to freeze people out of the traditional job market, a number of entrepreneurs like Mr. Miller, many of them in their 20s and 30s, are heading back to the land, starting small agricultural businesses. And in the process, they are discovering that modern homesteading offers more rewarding work, and possibly more security, than entering the white-collar fray.

Mr. Miller, who supplements his income by working on a local farm, has resisted raising his prices because he wants his services to be available to all. And while Heritage Lawn Mowing is not yet in the black, he says he has found a better way of life.

“It’s a gateway to that whole rural dream,” he said. “And with the type of recession we’re having, there’s stability in it.”

Other yeoman start-ups are charting a more traditional path to profits.

Carrie Ferrence, 33, and Jacqueline Gjurgevich, 32, were in business school at Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Washington State when they noticed that many local neighborhoods were “food deserts,” without easy access to fresh local produce and other grocery staples.

Their answer was StockBox Grocers, a company that repurposes old shipping containers as small grocery stores. The company won $12,500 in a local business plan competition and raised more than $20,000 online in a Kickstarter campaign to finance its first store, which opened in the Delridge neighborhood of Seattle in September.

“It’s a tough job market, and you have really few instances in your life to do something that you really love,” Ms. Ferrence said. “It’s not that this is the alternative. It’s the new plan A.”

Read more: Sheep Lawn Mowers, and Other Go-Getters (New York Times)

What is it that is so appealing to this (my) generation about growing gardens, knitting, and owning a sheep-rental mowing company? Why are we so drawn to this idea of keeping bees, growing our own vegetables, and sewing our own clothes? I have some ideas, but I’d be curious to hear yours in the comments below.

community · culture · design · technology

Smashing the Cubicles – Technology Review

Typical rolltop desk
The workplace is changing. Image via Wikipedia

I just wanted to share a nice article from Technology Review discussing some of the different ways that people are adapting the typical work environment. The way we work is changing, so why not the way our workplace looks? I used to work in a cube with poor lighting and no view of the sun, so BOY let me tell you how important a good work environment can be.

The quick expansion of social and mobile technologies is creating a widely distributed workforce. To better suit employees who come into offices more sporadically, some companies and design firms are testing radically new—and more efficient—configurations for physical offices, and betting that improved technology will make the experiment more successful than similar ones in the 1990s.

A project at the headquarters of Cisco Systems in San Jose, California, for example, overthrows decades-old conventions about office space. Called Connected Workplace, it replaces individual cubicles with open clusters of wheeled desks that belong to groups, not individuals; personal belongings are largely confined to lockers.

There are no PCs at the desks, because the employees who use the space use mobile technologies, including the Cius tablet, which Cisco recently began selling to businesses. Rick Hutley, a Cisco vice president, chooses his desk according to which colleagues are present and what’s on the day’s agenda. Then he docks his Cius to a port on the desk that includes a phone handset. The tablet handles voice and video calls whether it’s docked or mobile, and it can be used to share documents at meetings.

more via Smashing the Cubicles – Technology Review.

community · design · technology

Summary of National Building Museum’s “Intelligent Cities” symposium: Change Observer: Design Observer

Red, yellow and green (unlit) LEDs used in a t...
LED traffic lights in Sweden. Image via Wikipedia

What does it take to make a city “smart”? Not intellectual, but make traffic lights respond to traffic, have buses alert people if they’re running a few minutes behind, and large corporate buildings comfortable for all its occupants. Journalist Phil Patton offers a nice review of the takeaways from National Building Museum‘s “Intelligent Cities” symposium which looked at these questions and more in order to design a better, smarter future city; among the many takeways:

What is critical in making cities “smart” is not just data, it seems, but clear, accessible data that is often used for purposes government may never have dreamed of. Early in the symposium, Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, said that information to make cities smart was about “making it easier to do the right thing.”

Once-utopian ideas are now feasible, such as notions dreamed up at the MIT Smart Cities program, formerly headed by the late William Mitchell, author of City of Bits. “Smart parking places” that are RF-tagged could cut the energy wasted by circling vehicles. And systems that allow for hailing taxis and jitneys by mobile phone can provide “infill” transportation between private car and mass transit.

At the same time, there is concern about data that can make cities smart: fear of information used to justify policies imposed in a top-down way, and fear of loss of privacy.

more takeaways via Summary of National Building Museum’s “Intelligent Cities” symposium: Change Observer: Design Observer.

I’ve covered smart meters and “smart” monitoring of bridges and in cars before, so I’ve always thought of this kind of municipal monitoring exclusive to roadways or utilities.That last takeaway brought up a tough question for me: What data are you comfortable sharing with a municipality in order get a better experience navigating through and functioning in your community?

anthropology · behavior · community · culture · education · health

Different reactions to urban farm economics

Downtown Bellingham as observed from Sehome Hi...
Bellingham, WA, which prides itself on buying, selling, and producing locally. Image via Wikipedia

The question of how to connect us back to our food is commonly asked these days, from local communities to big companies like IDEO and their Open IDEO challenges. One way to do this is through urban farms, or bringing the farm and local food production to the people. But the logistics of doing this can take on very different looks and feels.

I came across three stories in the past couple of days that all showcase a different reaction to the concept of economizing on local food growing and selling. The different styles seem to be very pro, con, or “social wellness” focused:

For example, in Bellingham, WA, local farms are offering kids classes on local farming practices, and make more money locally through education than actually selling their produce:

Common Threads’ goal is to connect children to food, their community and the environment through what she called seed-to-table education.

At Farm Camp, that included plenty of hands-on stuff for the 3- to 10-year-old children, who split into groups and take turns caring for the turkeys and chickens – do they have enough food and clean water? – as well as the garden.

“Growing stuff takes work and attention,” Plaut said, which is what the camp’s workers and volunteers emphasize to the children.

more via Bellingham program teaches children where their food comes from – Top Stories – bellinghamherald.com.

In Seattle, WA, the approach is definitely more entrepreneurial focused with backyard egg sellers and bee keeping:

CORKY LUSTER is hard-pressed to explain why his beekeeping idea turned into a full-time business and then some.

“People are interested in pollination and food . . . and honey bees have become the poster child for environmental concerns,” he muses.

Luster had a German roommate in college who introduced him to the idea of keeping a few chickens and beehives in the backyard. So when Luster heard about bees dying off and colony collapse disorder a few years ago, he decided to do his bit and set up a few beehives in his garden. Friends were fascinated with the bees — but not so much with all the work involved. The Ballard Bee Company was born, and two years later Luster doesn’t have time to remodel houses anymore.

more at Keeper brings bees to Seattle gardens.

In Missoula, MT, regulations make it a little bit tougher to sell wares:

Owners of small food enterprises continue to face hurdles doing business in Missoula even as the local food movement grows. At the state level, an effort is beginning to methodically review food safety laws and regulations. Leaders in Missoula say it’s time for some scrutiny on the local front, too, and one food vendor is already on the move.

Kim Olson, the “Empanada Lady,” is working to change at least one rule she said is arbitrary and hurts food vendors. Olson said the Health Department is obligated to enforce state laws, but the rules favor big franchises and leave homegrown shops adrift.

Which approach makes for a better experience of community food selling overall? With the E. Coli outbreak in Germany recently I understand the need for good food regulations, but what if they accidentally favor one kind of business model over another? I’m also curious if a more education focused approach works better than throwing local food sellers into the deep end with all the other commercial ventures? Thoughts? Experiences?
behavior · culture · happiness · Me · psychology

Study Hacks: Rethinking Passion

New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York T...
What are the real keys to a fulfilling career? Image via Wikipedia

As a child growing up smooshed in between the “Me” generation and the Millenials, I have always been told that I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, and to follow my passion; pursue my dreams and the money will follow. After going to college, getting a real job, going back to college, and getting several other jobs, it started to dawn on me that this whole “pursue your dream” thing might not be the best strategy after all, (although I wouldn’t say I’ve completely abandoned the idea). So I was intrigued when I read this post from the blog Study Hacks by David Shenk, full-on condoning this sneaking suspicion I’ve had for awhile.

For the past couple years I’ve been advancing a controversial argument: “follow your passion” is bad advice.

I’m not against feeling passionate about your work — in fact, I think this is a fantastic goal. But from my experience studying this issue, passion is not something that you discover and then match a job to; it is, instead, something that grows over time along with your skills.

In other words, working right trumps finding the right work.

This viewpoint was also supported recently in a The New York Times article by David Brooks:

“College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to.”

more via Study Hacks » Features: Rethinking Passion.

It’s nice that “grown-ups” are finally acknowledging that we’re not all going to grow up to rock stars or astronauts. That there needs to be more behind “finding your passion” in order to succeed in a competitive capitalist market structure.

However, my vision is slightly skewed, because of how many people in my family DID follow their passions. My mom, my dad, two of my cousins, my husband, my mother-in-law, and multiple siblings-in-law, all of them made money at one point in their lives (or continue to) doing what they loved, following what was their “passion” at the time. Only a couple of them have made much money doing it, and many of them eventually got “real jobs.” But still, many of my family members were able to turn their passions into a career.

So I think there IS a part of the equation where passion is important; if the subject matter doesn’t interest you, then you’re asking for a looooong slog. The difference between their success and others’ failures, I think, is that they weren’t just “following” their dream; they all actively pursued it! They wrote up business plans and proposals. They sold their cars and slept of friends’ sofas and lived off of beans and rice while they got started. Maybe they were only able to pursue it part-time because they had to take a “real” job to pay rent. When more training was needed they got it. When long nights were needed, they put them in.

I think the idea is we are more motivated to put these long hours in if we are passionate about something. However, I do think both Brooks and Shenk are also right in that it is NOT always fun, it is NOT always easy, and there is realistically more value in dedicating yourself to what you are doing right now!

Another factor is prioritizing what’s important to you, including your time. In the world of the desk job and remote access, there is more flexibility. I think it is harder to be dedicated to something than simply passionate about it. Stenk has a great post from last year about how to love your career. I’m sure I’m butchering the message, but basically it comes down to

  • feeling like you have control of your own destiny,
  • you’re making a difference (in any small way),
  • and that you’re good at what you do.

That certainly matches up with the most successful entrepreneurs in my family. They valued the autonomy over their lives, and they were GOOD at what they did, but it came from years of training and hard work.

It definitely adds some much-needed perspective to the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”