Make A Plan For Your Day Before You Start It

Far too often, I begin my day by walking into my office, sitting down, signing in, and jumping straight into the fray. I need the reminder (read the quote and article below) that we greatly benefit from building a plan for our day before starting the material work.

There are times where I spend a few minutes filling out a 3×3 post-it note with the day’s tasks before digging in, and not surprisingly, those days always feel more fulfilling. There’s a greater sense of accomplishment when you say, “I’m going to do these 5 things today, come hell or high water,” and then check them off one by one as the day progresses.

Writer and consultant, Ron Friedman, Ph.D. suggests the following on a recent post for the Harvard Business Journal:

“What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at your desk? For many of us, checking email or listening to voice mail is practically automatic. In many ways, these are among the worst ways to start a day. Both activities hijack our focus and put us in a reactive mode, where other people’s priorities take center stage. They are the equivalent of entering a kitchen and looking for a spill to clean or a pot to scrub.

A better approach is to begin your day with a brief planning session. An intellectual mise-en-place. Bourdain envisions the perfect execution before starting his dish. Here’s the corollary for the enterprising business professional. Ask yourself this question the moment you sit at your desk: The day is over and I am leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?”

As Friedman points out, “the single most important ingredient of any dish is planning.” Get planning!

Read the full article, and hopefully you’ll find it a useful read. It’s quick. Two to three minutes, tops…

HBR: How to Spend the First 10 Minutes of Your Day

Enjoy.

Why Does Your Content Have A Gatekeeper?

Why do news websites like NYTimes.com, FinancialTimes.com, and ESPN.com continue posting articles on social media that require you to be a subscriber to view the entire article?

A recent exchange I had with @FTcare (Financial Times’ customer support Twitter account):

And their response, which to me offers an unintuitive and clunky experience:

Subscription gates make sense, but entice a little better

Of course, everyone is concerned with the bottom line. You need money to keep the doors open and the lights on. While subscription rates continue to decline for most major news publications, we’re beginning to see an increase of those news organizations keep their content behind a subscription gate, which makes perfect sense.

It’s an understood, and expected evolution. Digital subscriptions replace doorstep delivery. Display media replace print ads.

But you’re not going to convince me that I should pay you (sometimes a hefty sum) each month for your content, if each time you send me to an article, I have 100 words to judge the quality of your editorial. It’s just not going to happen. In fact, in many cases it will plant the seeds from which will grow a wall distancing the common user from their voice.

They just need to allow for easier access to shared stories, especially when the publication is the one doing the sharing. It’s the gateway drug. Let’s say there’re 1-5 articles a day that’re the cream of the crop. Share those, and make them free. You’ll have a much higher likelihood of converting the casual reader into a paying customer if you allow them to see the power of your editorial staff first.

Here are the options, as I see them

  • Allow all content to be freely accessed. Commence littering your site with ads, small and large, as well as bogging your videos down with pre-roll. Oh, and don’t forget the interstitials…
  • Ensure that all content shared out directly from the official social media accounts of the company / organization are able to be freely accessed. Cookie users and block their second page view, if needs be. Just don’t create the experience described above.
  • Make all content that’s shared by anyone free to view, again, putting up a subscription gate on the second page view. If you need to, put an interstitial. Forbes does this, and while I hate the interstitials, they are very easy to close out.
  • Let users access a limited number of articles per month, but require that they register. This is reasonable, but still the experience is prohibitive and unintuitive.
  • Screw everyone, and make your front page a login / register screen. I suggest painting subscribers on the company walls if you take this route, because there won’t be any new subscribers joining your ship. Also, all employees should take their vacation days and sell their stock. This vessel is going down.

Hell, what do I know?

What do you think is fair? What’s the best user experience? What helps conversion the most?

Discovering Your True North, Your Primary Purpose

It sounds so official, I know. But if you intend to live a life examined, it’s probably a good place to start. If you don’t intend to do so, please carry on.

“The unexamined life is not worth living. ―Socrates”

What is my primary purpose?

I’ve asked myself this question many times. And at different times in my life, there have been variations of the answer. At times, there have been two. Other times, none, if I’m being honest.

But since as early as I can remember, I always wanted to be a father. My father was always there, and both of my grandfathers, too. I suppose it was their impact on my life that planted the seed. Who knows, maybe it was my nurturing mother who fostered it in me. All I know is that if you asked the five-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I smiled and said, “A dad. And, a baseball player.” And while I played high school and college baseball (and later competitively in adult leagues into my early thirties), it became clear that being a great father was really my primary purpose.

And since my late twenties, it became my true north.

For the better part of the last ten years, being a better father has been the focus of each and every day. I fail at times, as we all do, but always work towards raising my three wonderful children. And while I have a ton of interests, when everything shakes out, the number one purpose in my life is to raise my children well, graduating them through the stages of development with love, attention, and care, to the best of my ability.

Your primary purpose can be anything, but it should be something

Are you driven by the conviction that you’re going to be the one to cure cancer? Is being the best American bobsledder what drives you? Do you have your sights set on winning the student-voted award for the best teacher at the high school where you teach?

Do you just aim to be kind to everyone you meet? Or to do one thing nice for someone every single day, without getting caught? Or, are you aiming to become the richest person on Earth?

It doesn’t really matter. All that matters is finding your true north.

This seems kinda serious

It’s not. Well, it’s not any more serious than living a life where you feel challenged, alive, and contented.

More than anything, this is a reminder to pay attention to where you are right this very minute. Look at where you are. Is it where you want to be? If not, are you on your way (both literally and figuratively) to where you want to go? Are your shoes pointed in the right direction?

Don’t let your breath go wasted. We only get so many days. Don’t just occupy space and file to and from your work. Put your action where your heart is.

What’s your primary purpose? I’d love to hear from each of you what makes you tick. Cheers.

How To Find The Right Talent For Your Team

For years, I have relied on the various and sundry job boards to supply quality creative candidates. Whether it’s Krop.com, Coroflot, Behance, AIGA, Dribbble, AuthenticJobs, or any of the other competitive and viable job listing sites, that has always been the foundation of the candidate search.

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve turned that idea on its head, and to great effect.

Create the team you want

I’ve been doing the search myself. Instead of sitting back and waiting for quality candidates to reach out, HR sifting through applicants, HR forwarding potential candidates to Creative Services, weeding out the candidates we want to talk with, and then HR reaching out to set up phone interviews, now we go directly to the source. Aside from being much less time consuming, it is wildly more efficient.

For each open position, I create new (private, if possible) lists of designers and prospective talent on Dribbble.com and Behance, and keep a spreadsheet of potential talent to reach out to via LinkedIn. I send a lot of emails, which yes, is time consuming, but I try to keep them short, just introducing myself, our company and team, and expressing interest in a further conversation.

Much higher yield on time spent

I’d say the response rate is a bump over 50%, and we probably have constructive conversations with half of those people, roughly yielding a 25% candidate return. In addition, many of the designers that respond, but whom aren’t interested in a full-time position, often turn into freelancers that we reach out to when we’re overbooked on projects (which happens consistently for us all, right?). So, the time and effort we spend on this method of candidate development really is a quality investment in the overall future and health of our team.

Reinforce your efforts

My company still posts on job boards as one prong of the approach, as well as listing the position on our corporate site (the yield of which is a total crap shoot), but three of the last four people I’ve hired, I found myself (two on Dribbble, and one on LinkedIn). It becomes more of a safety net in the process, rather than the go-to approach for culling quality designers from the ether.

This process isn’t going to work for everyone, of course. And for others, it just isn’t realistic. But for me, as the Creative Director of DEFY Media‘s in-house agency, it’s what needs to be done. While our company is buzzing and in the news left and right, it’s hard for an in-house creative services team to have the same allure amidst all of the startups and name brand digital shops / agencies.

If you’re HUGE, Google, Big Spaceship, Facebook, F-I, Deutsch, etc., the talent seeks you out. And while we’re building towards that day, of course, this process will have to do, for now…

Please, share your tips and strategies for how you’re finding great talent.

Build Space For Your Creative Process

When my co-workers try to schedule meetings with me or my team in the morning, they nearly always find it impossible. Given that I run a small, internal creative agency inside a growing digital entertainment company, there are a lot of meetings throughout the day; kick-off meetings, brainstorming sessions, meeting to cull and collect reviews and feedback, etc.

Without a way to keep them in check, without a way to put up some barriers, meetings can overrun our designers’ days. My team has been given the greenlight (by me, and only me), to block off their mornings to focus on actual work. Meetings often add value, but they also can stand in the way of the work that we hire our creative staff to contribute and create.

Put some structure in the day

We get in, by 10am at the latest (we can talk about that another day), and start things off with a daily standup meeting. It’s short, 15 minutes max, and let’s us all connect on what we’re working on, identifying obstacles, and outlining our goals and deliverables for the day. Then everyone jumps into a block of work that’s at least 90 minutes.

140620-iCal-morning-work-blocks

The door shuts to the design office, producers have been instructed to leave everyone alone, email is closed, and they get to dig in and really make progress on the day’s work.

Afternoons are a different story. We have to make room for meetings, but even then, you have to limit them if you intend on being productive. Don’t tell anyone here, but I’ve also told the team to decline meetings if they already have 90 minutes of meetings scheduled on any given day. How can we be expected to hit deadlines if our designers are consistently locked in meetings.

How other historic creative people have spent their time each day

I think it’s always interesting to see how other people spend their time. Take a look below at how some of (recent) history’s minds have split up the hours in their day.

You also need creative space

Overhead fluorescent lights, loud talking, foot traffic; these are all the bane of anyone trying to focus.

We fought and fought and fought for it, and finally, our design team has their own office. No producers, no creative director, just designers who are given the freedom to shut their door and focus. Rarely will you find overhead lights on in there (still don’t think I’ve seen them on, except for an errant flipping of the switch here or there). Ninety-five percent of the time, all of the shades are drawn. And it’s completely up to them to set a mood that works for the collective.

You have to be comfortable in your space. You need certain constants you can control, things that can become habitual, to help create the creative rhythm.

I like how Sarah Lewis terms it in her presentation at the 99U Conference (below):

“Putting out something that’s new in the world, requires a temporary removal from it.” – Sarah Lewis

Sarah Lewis: Creativity and Privacy Go Hand in Hand from 99U on Vimeo.

Clearly, what we create out of passion, and the work we do for income are not always married. We may strive for iconoclastic status with our personal projects, art, or passion work, while our goals might differ when we’re building for our clients and/or our day jobs. Of course we strive for success and greatness in everything we do…

But the space required is very, very similar.

And, it’s not just creative people that require this level of focus and directed attention to task. Everyone at our company, be they in finance, production, engineering, or human resources; we’re all open to meetings, and can all suffer at the productivity they potentially inhibit.

It’s on you, and no one else to create the space

Personally, I like to get in earlier. At least 3-4 times a week, I’m one of the first people through the door for the entire office. I can get in, turn on the music, and get to work without the distractions that arrive with the rush hour.

Find balance in your day. Create space for creativity to bloom, whether it’s in your personal home studio or in your corporate cubicle. And if you find yourself consistently overbooked…book yourself time for the following week before someone else does. Give yourself the time for the work that you’ve been tasked to complete.

As always, if you have any tips, please share. I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts.

Crowdsourcing Is Poison to the Design Community

Pawning sites like Crowdspring, Bootb.com, GeniusRocket, Worth1000.com and 99designs off as “crowdsourcing design networks” is covering the wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s one thing to run a design contest online – a true contest where there’s an objective, a prize or prizes, and most importantly a singularity of purpose.

sheep
Don't get stuck moshing around for the scraps

It’s a completely different thing to build a contest factory that milks a large group of eager and hungry individuals for their best ideas with no promise of compensation. It, simply, is against design business ethics. This is spec work, plain and simple.

If you are a hungry designer, I promise, this will not keep you fed well. They say that they “pay cash for real work”, when in fact the client will pay a pre-determined amount of money (in other words, a budget set by someone who might have no clue what design budgets should be) to one (or more) winner(s). This is not “work”, this is a circus. This will not create a career for but a few people. Perhaps it’s a short means to an end for some people keeping food on the plate, but this it completely counter to the ethical guidelines for designers.

What these sites will do is drive the prices clients pay for design down, and allow companies to receive tons of unpaid-for design comps. Companies have an eager audience and can set low “prizes” for the winner, but are receiving tens if not hundreds of submissions – while they only own the winner’s concepts, do you think that they don’t take and incorporate other ideas they see in unselected submissions?

Hopefully you’re able to find work. Hopefully you don’t have to resort to throwing away great ideas for a chance to sit at the client’s table. I’m not judging anyone – times are tough and work is much more scarce than in years past – but I have little problem judging the companies who have the money to be paying proper rates and budgets to designers.

While the design contests will continue for sure, I hope that more designers take a long, hard look at their involvement in such practices. It runs counter to all of the groundwork designers have been laying for decades.

I pray the tides change, or who knows, in the future we all could be making our living through such competitions. With a bit of despair, I feel like I truly understand the feeling behind Murrow’s famous “Good night, and good luck.”

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Thank you kindly.

Unfreelancing – Letting Go Of The Attractive Freelance Life

For years and years I worked on my own. Two months shy of six years, to be exact. I gave up all of the freedoms and self-employment perks in exchange for the shackles of servitude and obedience.

But I also left behind the stresses of the EDD, corporate taxes, business development, and operations management. Those management concerns all happened on top of designing and developing interactive applications and websites; usually at nights and on the weekends.

Making the switch definitely had it’s perks.

However, the transition was not easy at first. Soon though, the sense of confinement and control lifted and soon I came to enjoy the freedoms that accompany working for someone else:

  • My family is first priority, and now, when I’m not working, I’m not working. Being in management, I always need to be reachable and I do sometimes work long hours, but that is all up to my discretion. If my son has soccer practice, or my daughter wants me to read books to her all evening…that’s where you’ll find me. Overtime happens, but only if I want it to.
  • My job comes with a description, and while I tend to wear a bunch of hats, I know that I’m not responsible for everything. I don’t own the company, and that is just fine by me.
  • I don’t have to worry about making sure we’ve got enough projects or revenue to pay the employees.
  • They hand me checks twice a month. Look, I may have made more money as a freelancer, but I don’t ever need to experience another 3-month dry spell waiting on delinquent clients. I’ll gladly exchange a little dough for piece of mind. So will my wife, I’m sure.
  • I have 10x less paperwork every day. I really should repeat this one like Bart Simpson on a blackboard.
  • My office isn’t the spare room in my house, and my co-workers are actually a nerf football to the head away. I do not miss the solitude of freelancing, and I doubt I ever will. Collaboration is king.
  • When I need technology, software, fonts, resources, hardware, etc., my employers purchase these things…I don’t have to worry about mapping out purchases, and such. It’s not my job.
  • I can take sick or personal days off, delegate my work to my team, and know that things will be done. While I could take days off whenever I wanted to before…if I wasn’t working, things weren’t getting done.

Look, you can always make a very strong case for the freelancing life. It can be wildly lucrative, can allow you to work on a ton of great projects, travel, collab with a variety of different teams and agencies, and give you the ultimate scheduling flexibility.

But for me, it’s a lifestyle so much more befitting a single guy in his 20’s than a married father of 2 in his 30’s. I was so scared when I took my first job in July 2007, but in the past 18 months have really grown to love this balance I’ve found which was much more difficult to attain (and maintain) when I was running Go Farm or freelancing as 417north.

I’m a strong advocate for returning to the office. I have grown so much more as a designer, and as a creative director for heading up design teams for companies other than my own. I’m now directing an in-house design team (the in-house design life, that’s a whole other post), and that has brought even more lessons and growth.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Thank you kindly.

Blog formatting, a redesign, and another job change

I go through times where I post a lot, and then times where I find it difficult to do so. I have like 10-12 blog posts in draft status, and it’s probably because the current design of this site nearly requires the posts to be a minimum length; and that length is not too minimal. I know I’ve needed a redesign for a long time, seeing as this site is just a modified version of someone else’s joint, but I think more important than the redesign, is the rethinking of the blog format that fits me the best.

Over the last year (and really the last couple of months), I’ve fallen back in love with Twitter. It’s an ideal format for someone who is busy from sun-up to sun-down, and while I love to write longer and meatier posts, I just rarely find the time to tackle them. But Twitter leaves very little room for expansion, which is a good thing most of the time, as it keeps thoughts short and to the point. But what if I want to say a little more than 140 characters? Now I need a new blogging platform, and I’ll have to try to wrangle a new audience (as if circling up your twitter followers, Facebook friends, MySpace cohorts, IM pals, and frequent emailers isn’t hard enough). So while I have a Tumblr account (notice my “must haves” back on Nov 5th), like the idea of Posterous, Pownce, and all of these million interactive mediums, it’s all a bit tiring.

The plan is to find a blog format that serves as a bit of a catch-all for the various social tools, bringing it all under one roof, and be designed and structured in a way so that the length of a post won’t really matter. I’d like to create a plugin that suggests I’m talking too much when I go over 200 words, or something to that effect. In any case, changes and a redesign / redeployment are in the works for early ’09.

With that said, I’ve left Real Pie Media, amicably of course, and am now heading up the creative department at a mid-sized startup in Venice, CA, Musicane. My wife and I have also been working very hard on her new clothing line: WeWe Clothing. It’s been great so far, and I’m finding myself pushed on a daily basis, and learning a great deal. I’m learning new programs, new software development methodologies, and have a great budding creative unit. You’ll see more about these guys and gals as time rolls on. But just know, the ones I’m working with now are beasts.

So, here are some of the places I’m playing lately. Come and join me in the fun. Until later:

  • Twitter – micro-blogging at its finest, and using Twhirl to manage multiple accounts
  • Last.fm – my favorite music charting and suggestion site
  • The Hype Machine – the best way to find new, relevant music
  • iLike – drop the iLike Sidebar on your iTunes and watch the magic
  • GetSatisfaction – forward-thinking proactive customer service
  • Backpack – a GTD app, in a sense…but just a bad-ass tool altogether
  • Facebook – I have a love/hate relationship with the facebooks…we’re on right now

Portfolio: Steve Mason

Steve Mason
You may not know Steve. But you know Steve’s work. You may think that other people started trends, but I’ll bet you Steve did it first. There are so many things that I’ve seen people geek over in the last few years that I saw Steve doing years prior. The guy is nuts. NUTS.

You know, I’ve only met Steve a couple of times, back during his tenure at BionicArts alongside my buddy Erin Staffel, who can be found at either of these great domains: CtrlSubstance or Die Skeleton …neither of which, of course, has a website there. I wish he’d show you how great he is, too.

In any case, the point here is…well, I’ve only met the guy a couple of times, but every time I look at Steve’s Portfolio, somehow I walk away feeling inferior. As Erin so eloquently put it today, “makes you want to pack it up and play video games.” Speaking of video games, check out Steve’s insanely sweet Soccer Pong game at the bottom of his portfolio.

My next domain is fuckpeoplewithbrainsdesignskillsandcodingknowhow.com. I really do think that Steve is one of the most talented cats around. So impressed, as always. Kudos Mr. Mason.