It disappeared as quickly as it came. My mind screamed 'Dear God, make it stop!'
One moment the space was empty. I was all alone staring into the quiet void. And then - without any warning at all - there it was! Again! And again! What did it want from me?!
The aptly named 'Cursor' simply appeared and disappeared over and over. Taunting me. Reminding me of my inability to think of a single thing to write with its unrelenting blink.
I closed my eyes to sob silently and escape - if only for moment - the truth that I was the latest victim of Writer's Block.
It happens to everyone. But it doesn't have to be a scary thing. In fact, it can be overcome. Like turning on the light to prove to yourself that the Boogeyman in the corner is just the jacket you draped over the chair earlier, there are a few simple things you can do to render the cursed Cursor harmless.
What we call "Writer's Block" is nothing more than temporarily stunted creativity. There are 3 roadblocks to creativity and 3 habits of people who are consistently creative. Understanding each of these will go long way towards avoiding "Writer's Block."
Roadblocks to Creativity
1. Noise in your environment
2. Chaos in your schedule
3. Clutter in your mind
You simple cannot be effectively creative when you have distractions in your environment. At the kitchen table with screaming kids running in and out is a terrible place to expect any juices to flow...other than what those kids just knocked over.
Likewise, if you have zero margin in your day (perhaps shuttling said kids to a dizzying number of activities, or trying to squeeze in one more meeting or call), you shouldn't expect creative lightning to strike during the 10 minutes you have between whatevers. Lightning has a tendency to show up only when conditions are right. Not when you tell it to.
Finally, if you have a noisy space and a crowded schedule, you're most certainly going to discover that your mind is also quite cluttered with dozens of competing thoughts. And since is humanly impossible to focus on more than one thought at a time...sorry, there's no such thing as "multitasking", only "rapid switching"...that creative idea you're trying to get out onto your screen or paper is going to suffer. It may even refuse to show up at all. Hello, Writer's Block!
But have no fear...there's hope! Here are 3 ways successful creatives overcome those roadblocks.
Habits of Successful Creatives
1. Dedicated space
2. Protected time
3. Predictable process
First, they get away. Carve out a protected place where you know you can go for the express purpose of creating content or ideas. A porch swing. A spare bedroom. Heck, find a walk-in closet if you have to. Lock the door. Ban the hoodlums. Silence your phone. Turn off email alerts.
Next, successful creatives make regular time to be creative. Set an appointment with yourself that is every bit as important as soccer practice or that sales meeting. If creating something of value is valuable to you, find the time and don't compromise.
Then, successful creatives develop predictable repeatable processes. When you go into your dedicated space at your regular time, get in the habit of doing things the same way every time. The less energy you brain has to spend thinking about what comes next or where something is, the more energy it has to be creative.
There are certainly more steps you could take, but these will go a long way towards fighting off the curse of the dreaded Cursor.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have juice to clean up.
Why You Need a Thought Bubble
My wife has an interesting theory that life would be so much easier if God had created us with those little thought bubbles you see in cartoons.
We were having a discussion the other night in which I really wish I had been able to deploy my bubble.
It all started with a travel show I had heard on the radio. The hosts were talking about a really neat place on the island of St. John called Cinnamon Bay Resort (www.cinnamonbayresort.com ... not a sponsor). This resort is not the typical all-inclusive, bring-me-another-drink-with-an-umbrella kind of place. Instead, guests stay in bunk houses, campsites, or their newest offering: Eco-Tents.
Eco-Tents are the definition of "glamping." These big fabric structures remind me of the patio pavilions for sale at Lowe's or Home Depot (not sponsors). Except these are much nicer. They're on platforms, have walls that roll down for privacy or roll up for views and breezes, and include a king-size bed or a couple of twin beds.
Cinnamon Bay Resort has an area with several of these Eco-Tents arranged next to each other on individual sites. In addition to the usual shower facilities, etc. you'd find at a campground, they have an onsite restaurant serving 3 meals a day and a place to rent all kinds of adventure gear (kayaks, paddle boards, and such). I'm ready to go!
Why I Needed My Bubble
lSide note: my wife and I spent our honeymoon in St. John.
Side side note: despite what appears to be an article encouraging travel to St. John, do NOT go there! We'd rather keep its uncrowded pristine beaches and miles of hiking trails (75% of the island is a National Park) to ourselves. There are some lovely malls nearby on St. Thomas. Go hang out there and get a henna tattoo or something.
Anyway, fast forward several years and two toddler boys later. I hear about the Eco-Tents and say, "Hey, it would be fun to go there with the boys! We could get two Eco-tents next to each other!"
Her response (hands on hips): "Are you serious?! You'd put our boys in a tent. By themselves. Away from us. With people all around. ... You've got to be kidding!"
If I'd had a little bubble over my head she would have seen that our boys were clearly muuuch older than 4 and 2 in my mind. I figure they'll at least need to be teenagers to be able to do all the hiking and water sports that would make the trip truly epic. But because I didn't have a bubble and wasn't very clear, she pictured them alone in a tent surrounded by strangers as little kids barely older than they are now! And her mommy gene nearly blew a gasket when I kept saying "Sure! It'd be fine! They'll be right next to us! What's the big deal? People do it all the time!"
Why This Matters to You
Ok, so you may not care about our travel plans, but the lessons here actually can apply to you and your business.
You don't have a bubble either. So you can't afford to be unclear with your customers.
What you're saying may not be what they're hearing. Your brilliant marketing may be a brilliant (and expensive) flop. Unless your customer is absolutely receiving your message, you are missing out on sales and the opportunity to improve their lives. I guarantee it.
Financial guru, Dave Ramsey, goes a step further. He often says, "to be unclear is to be unkind."
Marketing circles for decades have talked about "the curse of knowledge." You know your company and your product better than anybody. So your knowledge of you is a 10. You naturally "dumb it down" to around a 6 or 7 when you talk about it, and think you're talking to customers on their level. However, their level of understanding about you is probably closer to a 2 or 3!
You are clearly (or should I say "un-clearly") waaay over their heads!
To be unclear is to be unkind. - Dave Ramsey
UnlSo the key is to be ridiculously simple in your marketing and communication. Don't be insulting or condescending, though...people aren't stupid, they just aren't experts on you quite yet. They'll get there once you can grab their attention and they realize you can add value to their lives, but those first impressions need to be so clear that you almost feel stupid saying them.
Questions to ask yourself to check for clarity:
1. Can my customer see my thought bubble?
2. If not, when my customer looks at my material, could they tell who I am and what I do in 3 seconds or less?
On a website, for instance, you have about 5 seconds to grab someone's attention before they move on. The first block of text on the top of your page should be one (maybe 2) lines that pass what Donald Miller at StoryBrand calls "the grunt test." If you showed your website to a caveman, could he tell you what you do?
We kill weeds and make grass green.
We build great websites.
We make furniture that lasts for generations.
We sell Thought Bubbles!
Its the easiest change you can make that will make a big difference! Give it a shot!
And if you'd like someone to work with on it, I'm here for you. Contact me and let's talk about ways I can help.
Unless I'm in my Eco-tent.
In the movie The Princess Bride, also known as The Best Movie Ever (and I only say that because my opinion and millions of sensible people agree), Vizzini keeps using the same word..."Inconceivable!"...over and over to express his amazement at a boat that seems to be following them as they attempt to sail away with the recently kidnapped Princess Buttercup. His hired swordsman, Inigo Montoya, is kind enough to point out "I do not think it means what you think it means."
Please allow me to be your Inigo for a moment.
If you are like many small business owners, you are sailing along in this little ship you've made...perhaps escaping with your own captured princess. You have this really cool idea/process/widget/whatever. You are marketing as much as you can, telling anyone who will listen about all the cool things your cool thing.
If you are like most small business owners, you believe that you are in the business of selling [insert whatever it is you do].
You are wrong.
You aren't selling what you think you are selling.
Customers don't buy "the thing." They buy what "the thing" will do for them. The problem that it will solve. The time it will save. The pain it will relieve.
If you take just a minute to think about ANY product or service, you can easily get to the root of what that "thing" is really providing.
Brian Clark over at Copyblogger.com suggests 4 things to help do that. They are basically:
We're not as logical as we'd like to think we are...most of our decisions are based on deep-rooted emotional motivations, which we then justify after the fact with logic. - Brian Clark
So whenever you tell customers about whatever it is you are selling, get past simply talking about the features. Start talking about the benefits. Those are the things that will meet "the need behind the need." If you do, I guarantee you'll start doing a lot less selling and a lot more helping. And the dollars will follow.
But it's really as you wish. You can take the advice or not. I'm just your helpful sidekick with a sword and a fantastic accent.
Contact me if you'd like some help. I can help you craft a message on your site or marketing material that will let your customers be clear on exactly what you can do for them.
(Just remember to never get into a battle of wits with a Sicilian.)
When Yes Means No
Are you consistently choosing "the best" in every area of life?
Every choice has a consequence.
And every time we say "yes" to one thing, we automatically say "no" to something else.
So to help in those moments of decision, here's a little trick that can bring things into clarity. When confronted with a choice between two things, stop and finish this sentence:
If I say "yes" to (blank), I will be saying "no" to (blank).
Yes to turning left = no to turning right.
Yes to sitting in on that meeting = no to actually getting work done.
Yes to working late = no to time with the family.
Yes to the donut = no to success on that diet you'll start over tomorrow.
Yes to donuts at late night work meetings = ... you get the idea.
Sometimes we'll decide to go ahead and say "yes" anyway. But at least a few extra seconds beforehand will help keep things in perspective so we don't end up saying "no" to the good things in our life too often.
3 Things Every Customer Wants
Horst Schultze is a fascinating man. I heard him discussing excellence in customer service when he was the guest on The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast (www.andystanley.com) recently. He is currently the CEO of Capella Hotel Group, but most famously ran the Ritz Carlton Hotels for 19 years.
So that probably qualifies him to know a thing or two about the subject.
The entire interview is a must-listen for anyone in a service-related role (...and who isn't, really?). But what jumped out to me was his discussion of the 3 things every customer wants. I love universal truths...principles that work for all people everywhere all the time. These are things you and I can put into practice today!