To create, You Have to Face the Blank Page.

Blank Page
Blank Page

I have been staring at the blank page for at least 10 minutes. I do not know what to write. My mind is blank. I procrastinate by reading more. I do not dare to face the blank page. A blank page is a perfection. There is nothing to edit.  

Before you can create, you have to face the blank page. The is a page that challenges us to dig deep. It urges us to create. To put out our work and show to the world. 

We all now living in the age of information abundance. We have no more excuse for the need to know more before we start working on a project. 

“The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.

The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” ― J.K. Rowling

We cannot wait for inspiration to come. Every day, we have to show up to create. It does not matter how you feel, you have to show up. The process of creation is scary. You go from nothing to something. You are the creator of your world.

To face down the blank page, you have to sit down and do the work. What happens if you are not inspired or do not feel like doing the work? You still sit down and face that page. You are allowed not to do any work but you are not allowed to do other things. It is boredom or creation. The choice is yours. 

“…she (the artist, the writer) doesn’t wait for inspiration, she acts in the anticipation of its apparition.”

― Steven Pressfield

Start small. We dream of big dreams. Each journey starts with a small first step. Start putting one word on the page. Repeat the process until the page is filled with your words. 

Know your energy. When do you feel best and most creative? The hour belongs to you. It the hour is in the morning. You have to protect it with your life. The world can have the rest of the 23 hours but the hour of creativity is yours. 

It is not the tool it is you. My dream pen is the Pilot 823. I have never tried that pen but I want to own it. It is recommended by Neil Gaiman as his workhorse pen. I know I will not buy it. Having that pen does not make me a better writer. That pen will not give me the courage to face the blank page. I have to face the empty page. Do not blame the tools. It is never the tools. It is us who has to find the courage to start writing down the words. 

The journey is lonely. You can sign up for the mastermind group. A group of people who will encourage you to start work and keep going until you are done. They can lead you to the blank page but they cannot write it for you. You have to pick up the pen and start writing on the blank page. The journey of creativity can be lonely. The people around you can only be your cheerleader. Let the solitude help you to know yourself better. 

“I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.” ― Audrey Hepburn

It is all on you. The blank page, the work and the results, it is all on you. You have to be responsible for your work. It is scary. There is no one to blame but yourself. Take ownership of your work. Give your best effort. Most importantly, sign off with your name. 

Everything starts with facing the blank page. 

I try to Kick My Phone Addiction And This Happened

I am suffering from phone addiction. I use my phone to do most of my communications, listening to podcast, banking, note-taking and readings. I sleep with the phone and it follows me wherever I go.

A colleague once remarked that I would be fidgeting with my phone even though the screen is off. She called me I am suffering from handphone sick.

I never knew how much time I spent on screen. Or how much time I spent on the phone.

To fix a problem. I must acknowledge that I have a problem. To check my handphone usage, I installed the app Stay Focused.

As soon as I installed the app, I immediately become very mindful of my usage. There are a timer and a clicker to track both screen time and numbers of time I switch on the screen.

With that knowledge in the back of my head, I only switch on my phone screen when it is necessary. Here is what happened.

Time Spend on Phone
Time Spent on Phone

I have more time. For every hour I spent five minutes mindlessly scrolling through news portal or Instagram, I would have wasted 60 minutes after 12 hours.

I am less anxious. Every Monday, I would stay away from the news. With this app, I am consciously staying away from the news at all times. I feel better. I do not need to keep track of all the latest news. Looking back, none of the news that I have been following has been life-changing.

The phone battery last longer. I do not need to carry a battery bank with me. To keep my phone charged, I have to charge it twice a day. My bag feels lighter.

No phone at the dining table. Whether I am outside or at home, as soon as I sit down I would either busy finishing a message or reading a post. With the app tracking my usage, I made an effort not to use my phone at the dining table. I have more time talking to my dining partner and observe the crowd around me.

Limit social media usage. Every day, I allow myself 30 minutes on both Instagram and Facebook. I can only access social media between 830 pm until 830 am. Other times, the app would block my access. I do not have any withdrawal symptoms after cutting back on Social Media.

Sleeping better. I normally stay away from screens when is near bedtime. I find that I sleep better since I make a conscious effort to cut back on phone usage. It could be because of less news and Social Media.

Number of Launches
Number of Launches

From the captured data from the last 4 days, I have spent nearly six hours on the phone. Majority of the time spent on WhatsApp and reading on Google Play Books.

App usage
App usage Stay Focused

I could have used the hours to do something that is far more productive and creative.

My time sink is on WhatsApp and not Facebook or Instagram. I will have to review my time on WhatsApp and see what can I cut out.

I have only used the app for about four days. I am looking forward to seeing my stats on day 30.

As I am suffering from phone addiction. This is my story. If I cannot measure it, I cannot manage it. I cannot recommend enough of Stay Focused. Without the stats report, I would not have known how time I have wasted on the phone. I cannot gain back the time that I have lost. But I will make sure I will not waste any more time on the phone.

You may check out my reading list.

How to Prepare for Tomorrow, Today

tomorrow
tomorrow

One day gone is one day less to live. Our life is like a bus ride. The bus of life keeps moving forward and will not turn back. Everyone has a designated stop. One day, we all will reach our stop. No one can stay on the bus forever. We do not know when is our stop. We have to make every day count because it will never come back. Prepare for tomorrow, today. 

To be ready for tomorrow, you have to sleep well. Life can be cruel and uncertain. A well-rested body and mind will get you ready for anything. 

Before you go to bed. Do a brain dump. Write down everything that is bothering you. The brain dump helps you to sleep. Many of us have tons of thoughts buzzing nearing bedtime. These thoughts can affect your sleep quality. So, it is best to put it all out on a paper

Here are some guidelines.

  • What is the one must-do item? This item has to be both urgent and important. For example, putting petrol into your vehicle. The car does not negotiate with you. When he runs out of fuel it stops, no exception. What is your must-do? You cannot procrastinate, you cannot negotiate with it.
  • What are the three important items? The items may not be urgent but important enough that you need to get it done. For example, a report that is due next week or the medical check-up that you have been putting off. Put it all down on your to-do list.
  • What else is bothering you? Write down what is in your mind. The purpose is not about finding a solution. It is about putting things into perspective. Chances are the things that are bothering you are not real issues. This exercise is to help you to have better sleep.

Bonus tip — Do a check-in before meals. Before you have your lunch or dinner. Go through your list. Are you progressing as expected? If you are on the track, maintain the momentum. If you are behind schedule, did you waste time or your expectation is unreasonable? Recalibrate, reload and keep going.

If you are interested in my reading. Please check out my reading list.

How to Stay Focus

Focus
Focused

We only have 24 a day. To be productive, working longer hours is not the solution. Especially many of us have commitments and a life to live. The best way is to stay focused on our task and do a good job.

How to stay focused?

You cannot complete everything! Accept that our to-do list is never-ending. When you plan your day, only pick on items that are either urgent and important or just important. By accepting that you will only work on the most important and urgent task, you will stay focus until it is done.

Get enough sleep. People rely on caffeine or medication to stay focus. The cheapest and most effective solution is to have enough sleep. With a rested mind and body, you will be able to do what you need to do without relying on external remedies.

Prepare for a long journey. There is no such thing as an overnight success. This means you got to be willing to step up to the task every day. Staying focus is a mindset and a lifestyle.

Stay focus. The secret to staying focus is to focus. Use a kitchen timer and set the timer to 25 minutes. When the timer is set, you will dedicate 100% of that moment to do the task. No social media. No phone call. No toilet breaks. You will only stop when the alarm goes off. Give yourself 5 minutes of break. Re-set the timer and do it again.

There is no secret in staying focus. You must have the will to stay focus. There is no excuse. You are accountable for your action and results.

Do my suggestions work? I wrote this with Google Countdown Timer counting down from 25 minutes.

The One Mindset for Better Time Management

Time Management
Time Management

Have you ever let your motor vehicle run out of fuel and let it stranded by the roadside? You may have done it once or maybe twice but not always. Regardless, how busy is your schedule, you would find time to put fuel into the vehicle. Time management is all about getting the right things done.

You find time is because you know it is important to do it. It is non-negotiable. If you do not put fuel into the vehicle, you run a risk of getting stranded.

Whatever dreams that you are chasing now. You must know whether it is important enough for you to schedule the time. When it is not important, you will procrastinate. So if you have a dream that you have been putting off for a long time. Dig deep and ask whether it is important enough for you? Maybe you just like the idea of having that dream and never pursuing it.

If it is important? Schedule it and do it. That’s how you manage your time.

Never Use BCC in E-mail

I have no idea when the e-mail function Blind Carbon Copy was invented. Personally, I find this feature brings more problem than it solves. Whether you are a recipient of BCC or a sender, it creates problems down the road.

Lost of trust. I received an e-mail from a colleague providing feedback on how I do my work better. I accepted wholeheartedly and thank for the feedback. Later I received the same e-mail from my manager demanding me to put the feedback on my performance checklist and create a timeline. My manager was not on the mailing list. Thus, the manager was on BCC when this colleague sent the e-mail to me. Since then, I kept this colleague at arm’s length. I do not trust this person.

You do not have the full picture. I received my share of BCC emails. I am careful not to reply or take part in the e-mail discussion. If there is a follow-up discussion in the mail, I will not have the visibility, as I was BCCed! If you choose to respond. Your team will wonder how did you found out. Good luck in gaining their trust again. Your action may not even be appropriate as the matter could have been closed but you were not informed.

The only time I use BCC is when I need to send the e-mail back to myself for records.

Be careful of people who frequently use BCC. You are probably being manipulated without knowing.

Say this for a Better Discussion

A good discussion brings out the best the ideas. For any good leader, it is important to stay away from the “Yes” people. The “Yes” people may tell you things that you want to hear, but may not necessarily be the information that you need to know.
While sometimes, team members are too afraid or reluctant to share their thoughts, afraid of offending the leadership.
To make a good decision, you need to have someone to challenge the decision. Let the debate flow, listen to both sides of the arguments and make a decision. In the Catholic Church, there is a role called The Devil’s Advocate. The responsibility of this person is to argue against the decision to canonize the individual for sainthood. By studying both sides of the discussion, this allows the church to make a less bias decision.
We too can have the Devil’s Advocate in our group discussion. If you do not want to appoint a person to play that role. Set up the discussion by saying this: “Let challenge this idea.” This will set the stage and gives permission to the team to challenge the idea.
We must listen and allow our team members to share their opposing view. Through opposing views, we can make better decisions. As a leader, we have to encourage our team members without having them to fear any repercussions. But are you ready to listen to thoughts that disagree with yours?

Stop Asking “Why?” Ask “How” and “What” Instead

As a project manager, discussion plays a crucial role. Certain days, I may have up to seven meetings. When the meetings are all done, I have to prepare meeting minutes and take action on the agreed task. Having an effective meeting is important. All of us dread the meetings that go on forever and with no outcome.

To get the information that we need, we have learned to ask “what”, “why”, “when”, “how” and “where”. From my experience, I have stopped using “why”. I have replaced “why” with either “what” or “how”.
Here is an example of a discussion where someone did “X”. Regardless of the outcome, we sometimes need to understand the justification behind the decision.

There are three ways to start a discussion.

“Why did you do X?”
“What do you intend to achieve by doing X?”
“How to get our intended results, by doing X, ?”

See the difference? By asking a “what” and “how”, the question points towards the action or the topic that is being discussed. If you are asking a “why” question, it is perceived as confronting the person. This put the person in a defensive mode. The discussion will quickly turn cold and goes nowhere.

It is not easy to have a mind switch by avoiding the use of “why”. I have personally struggled with it. It is better to go into a meeting prepared. Besides learning the facts, but also prepare some questions. The questions should not be confrontational but focus on the discussion point.
All of us cannot avoid meetings. But we can make the best of it.
Our working life is not a reality show where every week someone gets voted out. There is no need to work with the person anymore. Good or bad, we will be working with each other on a daily basis. Therefore it is important to keep the relationship professional and positive. The less confrontational we are, the more willing are people to work with us.

Good luck.

How To Learn When You are Busy

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardour and diligence.
Abigail Adams

Like you, I wanted to learn as much as possible. Knowledge is power and power has to be seized. How do you seize that power? We are all busy. Where do we find the time?

Schedule learning. Having the excuse of not having time to learn is like saying not having the time to put petrol in your daily transport. No matter how busy, you will still find time to put petrol in your vehicle. Not having time is an excuse, not a reason. Rather, it is how badly you want to learn.

Just pick what you need. In school, we learned by reading a book from cover to cover. Was it effective? We probably retained less than 10% of what we read. Instead of reading from cover to cover, read the book’s chapter list and index, pick up the knowledge that you need. It is also okay that we do not finish a book. I understand books can be expensive. If a sentence in a book can change your life, it is already worth the price you paid for the book.

Listen to audiobooks. We are all busy. Carving out the time to read can be difficult. The next best way is to listen to audiobooks. Listening to audiobooks can be as effective as reading. Depending on the type of books, you can even speed up the playback. I would vary between 1.25 and 1.5 times of normal playback speed.

Listen to the author’s podcast or TedTalks. Instead of a book tour, authors now attend podcast or give TedTalks as a form of promoting their books. Some of the podcasts are long-form where podcaster would deep dive into the topics that the authors are interested. Through the conversation, you will pick up information that the author feels it is important. In TedTalks, speakers are given 18 minutes to present. As such, if an author has something to say. The author will have to present it in 18 minutes. That would probably be the best 18 minutes that you can ever invest.

You may not even need to pick up the book. To sell books, certain authors would expand certain ideas into unnecessary pages where it could have been more effective with a tighter writing.

Take notes. If you are read without taking notes, you are not learning. I find myself writing down my notes, I would recall better. Normally I would put all my ideas in a notebook. If necessary, I will transfer some of the ideas into a digital format. Sometimes, it can be time-consuming. Nevertheless, it helps with my recall and my understanding of the topics that I am studying.

Share what you have learned. Use the Feynman Technique to test your understanding. Pretend to teach someone no prior knowledge of your selected topic. If you are overusing words or paraphrasing sentences or paragraphs, you probably need to revisit the topic again. No one to teach to? Share your ideas on a blog. Let the world share your journey.

Learning is a lifelong task. You can only make your learning more efficient, but there is no short-cut. Live a full life by keep on learning. More importantly, you have to take action.

Lessons From Using 30 Years of Chopstick

How a Chinese person uses chopstick says a lot about the person’s home discipline. If the person holds the chopstick wrong, the family discipline is perceived as relaxed and unrefined. If the person holds the chopstick perfectly, it shows a good upbringing. As such, in the Chinese culture, not able to use chopsticks correctly is a shameful thing.
I have been using chopsticks all my life. Did I hold the chopstick correctly? Of course not! My parents have never corrected me on how I hold my chopsticks. I have probably hold my chopsticks wrong until I was 16 years old.
I was never interested in studying but pretend to study. While sitting at my study desk, I used pencils as chopsticks to pick up erasers. With the clear intention to improve and practise. I was able to hold proper chopsticks within two weeks. Before that, I was merely perfecting on how I hold the chopsticks the wrong way.
The same applies to work and life. A person may have 20 years of sales experience. If the person has been using the same method and only have marginal success. The real sales experience is far lower. The person is only repeating the same method that is proven to be ineffective.
I have been driving for more than 25 years. Have I improved since I received my licenses? Probably not. I have not taken further lessons or taken the additional initiative to improve.
If you want to improve you have to take the active initiative to improve. A clear goal towards what you want to improve. Think about the micro skills. If you want to play better basketball. Think about the skills in running, shooting, dribbling and much more. Break down each skill into micro skills. It is easier for you to train. It is easier for you to plan your goals.
Want to improve your chopstick skills? You must hold the chopstick right. You must move the right fingers. You must have good control of your fingers. Those are micro skills.

Call to action. Break down each skill into micro skills. Actively practise each skill. Improve 1% a day. By 72 days, you will improve by 100%.