21st Century Work

21st Century Work

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21 JULY 2017

written by Mike

21st CENTURY WORK

 

“Survival of the fittest.” A phrase that originated from Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Is it a strange topic for an entrepreneur?

Perhaps, but let’s dissect the phrase. “Fittest” does not necessarily mean the strongest, the biggest. It rather describes one who is the most adaptable. One who can thrive in any environment.

I think it’s safe to say that the old Darwinian saying fits well into any industry. 21st-century work is all about being adaptable, being able to make changes in people’s lives. It can be podcasting, production, audio work, anything else. The idea is to push for a change, inspire to not only survive but to thrive in our lives.

Let’s take podcasting for example.

It’s not a secret that podcasting is a highly competitive business. Easy to get into, hard to sustain. Especially if you are just starting out. On the other hand, you have people who build massive empires in this environment. Joe Rogan, Ricky Gervais are the obvious ones.

But why them and not others? What makes them different?

“Survival of the fittest” is something that they understood. The need to innovate, to be flexible and open-minded to the markets and ever-changing customer needs. And of course, new technologies which help to facilitate the changes.

Let’s think how design and technology will help you to stand apart, to be the fittest. For starters, look at the latest trends.

Where is people’s attention?

Where do they spend most of their time?

 

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The first answer that comes to mind is smartphones.

Looking at the latest statistics is evident that mobile internet surfing has passed desktops. And the trend is still going upwards. Same goes for podcasts. It’s mobile, convenient method of content consumption. Easy to start for anyone.

It all sounds amazing. In theory.

And that’s the problem that most people face. It’s easy to say things like ‘podcasting is so hot right now, let’s jump in!’ But not everyone is a narrator; not everyone knows how to edit and produce a podcast. It’s so easy to sell an advice such as “release an episode each week and grow your audience.”

But record what? Where do you find the content? What do you say? How do you edit?

That’s why having a clear vision for your podcast, for your business, is so important. To understand what are your strengths, to prioritise the features and strategy. To be clear on the direction you and your business partners want to take, and to look for help.

“Survival of the fittest” in 21st-century work does not mean that you have to do everything yourself. It means that you understand trends towards mobile and you look for someone who can help to adapt your digital identity.

It means that you can convey your message, your products, your services in any place, at any time. That the technology is just a tool, but a tool you cannot ignore.

Yesterday it was a mail order and newspaper ads; today is online and mobile; tomorrow it will be virtual reality.

And it’s ok; you just need to be ready for it.

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What is your Podcast Idea?

What is your Podcast Idea?

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16 JUNE 2017

written by Mike

WHAT IS YOUR

PODCAST IDEA?

 

Everything starts with an idea – podcasting is not an exemption from the rule. It’s important to understand the basics of recording and audio editingbut without an idea that gets you excited, even best sounding podcast won’t be enough.

But ideas are everywhere; you must have a new one ever few minutes.

How do you focus on one?

When it comes to podcasting, you can follow a simple system of elimination, selection and market research. It’s all about being prepared, being ready. The worst thing is to work on something for weeks and only after the release to realise that no one wants to listen/watch/buy your product. It happens when you think that what you like, others will enjoy too.

Don’t worry; I’ve been there many times. There were a few ventures that I got excited about, dived in without market research, worked for months and after the final release was struck with disappointment.

I thought to myself – why?

The production, the graphics, the package was so much better than other products, and yet no one was interested. Lessons were learnt, market research and planning is as much, if not even more, important as the production itself. 

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 Let’s go back to the podcasting, let’s hone on the ideas you have. Make a list and write things that you are passionate/excited about.

What topic can you talk on for hours?

What, in hindsight, is something that could never bore you?

The question should be at the core of your plan. Podcasting is hard; you will need a subject that excites you. It’s easy to jump on the latest trend, but people notice if you are not genuine, especially in podcasting. When you are done with the list, mark the topics that you are an expert in.

You want to be seen knowledgeable and insightful. You may be excited about a particular subject, but if you don’t do enough research, you can make a mistake. And once your podcast is out, it is available to criticism and any shortcomings will quickly be exposed. Best bet is to combine passion and expertise.

Another point is that podcasting (as any other content medium) will cement your expertise in the eyes/ears of others. Let’s say you are an expert in graphic designWithout marketing or broad exposure you are on the same ‘level’ as another experienced graphic designer. With a podcast, perceived expertise grows, and you get additional exposure. It doesn’t matter if your podcast gets 100 downloads if 10 of these turn into well-paying clients.

Another point to consider is the depth of the topic you choose. Podcasting is a long game, and it will take months, sometimes years to get the momentum going. It’s crucial to have enough material, to be able to produce engaging content for an extended period. Otherwise, at some point, you will start repeating yourself.

I find that with a lot of personal development or business podcasts. After a while, the topics start to repeat itself, even if the podcast is built around interviews. How many times can you listen to advice like:

Just go for it

Be different

Take massive action

Learn from failure

And so on and on.

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I don’t want to diss these kinds of pods; I admit that I listen to some and from time to time I need a motivational kick from a successful entrepreneur. But it’s easy to see that after a while the creators run short on original content. One thing I always do, before starting any content-oriented project is to sit down and write at least 50 topics as fast as I can.

If you can do that with your idea, it means that you may have something with enough depth to do a podcast about. Otherwise, at some point, you will struggle.

Podcasting is fun, but it’s not easy. Having an idea is easy – testing it is not something that many people do. Time and time again I find podcasts that had a lot of good info and then just stopped.

Did their steam run out?

Wasn’t there enough content to go on?

Imagine yourself two years from now.

Would you still want to do the podcast then? Week in and out?

Even if it doesn’t get too many downloads? Even if it doesn’t bring any monetary return?

If the answer is yes, then there is no need to wait anymore.

Time to start is now.

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Defining Feedback

Defining Feedback

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26 MAY 2017

written by Mike

DEFINING FEEDBACK

 

We are afraid to give constructive feedback, and we are afraid to receive it. “Afraid” may be a wrong word. We just don’t like it.

The thought of being average, making mistakes at work, gives me chills. So when someone dares to criticise and correct me, I go into a defence mode. Well, I used to. Now, as you can see, I’m chilled.

 

Why is feedback important?

Learning curve

“I don’t need an assessment. I know my skills.” “What does he/she knows? I’m the one doing the work!”

Does that sound familiar?

It does to me. I used to be like that before I learned the value of a helpful comment. The first benefit is obvious. A strong feedback will speed up your learning curve.

Why would you want to spend hours figuring something out if you can just ask for help?

I remember when I first started on a big job as a trainee. I was quite anxious; that was my big break! The last thing I wanted was to mess it up. So when I didn’t know how to do something, I would spend time on the internet browsing for answers.

“Couldn’t you just ask someone?”

Yes, I could. I just didn’t want anyone to know that I don’t know stuff.

“So clever!” I thought to myself when I found an answer after twenty minutes of searching. And asking my colleagues for help would take twenty seconds. Once you learn the value of asking for feedback, your learning will shoot up. You will understand that it is the best way to progress. And the quickest.

Mistakes

You will make mistakes. It is not an assumption but a fact. Now, the question is, would you want to know about them?

We tend to live and work in environments where perfection is everything. And the truth is we are not perfect, far from it. When someone tells you about your blunder, you should thank them. I’m not even joking.

 

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New people and criticism.

 

Learning curve

Let’s have a look at learning curve again. This time from a perspective of a new staff member. We all know that when we start learning something new, we gain skills exponentially, then comes dreaded plateau.

You need someone to help you. Someone who will boost your skills. No, you won’t progress like you did in this first couple of weeks but you will keep moving forward. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

In the beginning, you will make a lot of mistakes. Constructive feedback will help you to adjust, correct and learn from them.

Training

What if you are on the other side? What if you need to train new people?

Fortunately, I have some experience in that, both good and bad. When you have someone under your wings, a definition of feedback can quickly change. We tend to judge others from our perspective. We expect from others the same output as we do from ourselves.

Couple years ago I had a responsibility of training a new member of staff. The new guy was a bit older but had a lot of previous experience. In the beginning, he struggled to catch up with my workflow. He kept making the same mistakes; he was slower than the rest of us.

Until one day I understood. It is not him; it’s me. From someone that has just started, I expected the same output as from myself. And it wasn’t helping anyone. We talked a lot; I changed the way I spoke to him. He told me that he was so stressed about making a mistake; he couldn’t focus on other stuff. And my authoritarian rule did not help. See, I thought I was giving him constructive feedback; he saw it as a constant criticism.

In the end, communication is the key.

 

Difference between feedback and nasty comments.

 

Ok, so we talked about why constructive feedback is necessary. Let’s have a look at the differences between feedback and criticism.

Constructive feedback

When you receive feedback from your family, friends or colleagues, they mean to help you. That is the first thing you need to understand. And the hardest. Definition of constructive feedback is simple – it’s a good will. It is there so you can grow. So you can understand your mistakes and learn from them.

Nasty comments

So it is all good and nice. That’s how the world works, right?

Well, unfortunately not.

Sometimes it feels like we are giving constructive feedback, but in reality, we just want to criticise others. It makes us look good. What are the main characteristics of nasty comments?

They will make you feel stupid. Like you don’t know what you are doing. Like you don’t deserve the job. They will make you feel small.

They will embarrass you. You know a thing about nasty comments? People will make them in a group. When you are defenceless. When you are weak. They are not helpful. Nasty comments are not like constructive feedback. They won’t help you grow. They won’t help you learn. They are there just to make you feel sorry.

The minute you understand the difference, you can prepare.

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How to deal with feedback and nasty comments.

 

So now you know what others mean when they talk about your work. It is time to return the ball. How others perceive you depends on how you deal with feedback.

What can you do to look the best you can?

Constructive feedback

Well, the first thing you should thank the person. Someone just took time out of their day to look at your work, and they want to make it better. You may not agree with them, but it doesn’t matter. You should be gracious for the act.

Next, you should take notes.

You see, it is easy to take offence. It is harder to admit imperfection. And the last point, you should learn from the feedback. Even if you don’t agree with it, maybe there is something you overlooked. Maybe if you go with the changes, your work will end up much better.

Nasty comments

Now, there is a different way to deal with nasty comments. Sometimes you want to take the higher road. Sometimes you don’t. First and most important – ignore them.

Don’t bother. Think about it in this way. Someone just took the time out of his or her life to look at your work, to think of the way to criticise you and to make a comment. Who is the bigger loser there?

You haven’t wasted your time; it is the other person. So don’t give them a satisfaction of your attention.

The second way is more direct. If the comments don’t stop, say you don’t appreciate them. Say you don’t like the tone and if there is something wrong with your work you can schedule an official meeting to talk about it. Don’t get cornered at your desk. And have a witness if you can too. A colleague, maybe another line manager.

And the last point. If someone harassed you, speak up. Take it to a higher management, take it to Human Resources. If it’s not possible, contact a professional advisor. And leave. You probably won’t change the environment and life is too short to spend it in toxic places.

 

How to give feedback

 

People have different ideas, different approach. Acknowledge that. First of all, when you talk to someone about they work what do they say?

“I’m so sorry.”

Well, tell the person that they don’t need to apologise. Everyone makes mistakes. Failure is a part of life, a part of learning. There is no reason to worry about it.

Also, don’t pick on little mistakes. Yes, you can mention them when you talk about something bigger. But there is no need for a meeting every time you spot something. It makes you look like you are watching every step of everyone around you.

Make sure they know about it, though. If people don’t know that they are making mistakes, they will keep doing them. Sit down with them and go through their work. Take your time, explain why it matters. Don’t just call someone and expect him or her to change right away.

Invest a little time. It will be appreciated.

A proper feedback platform should exist. Where staff and managers are not afraid to speak up, to talk about each other’s work. And not behind people backs. There are interesting examples of openness in a workplace. Ray Dalio and his investment firm Bridgewater Associates are an example of that. They record every meeting, and everyone is welcomed to watch the tapes. Every time someone mentions your name, you get a notification, and you can look at the video of it.

Extreme measures?

Maybe, but his firm is one of the most successful in the world. I’m not saying that we should be filming our every step. I’m saying that we shouldn’t take so many things so personally.

So next time, don’t attack the feedbacker, welcome him/her with open arms instead.

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What is Stress Part III – What NOT To Do

What is Stress Part III – What NOT To Do

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22 APRIL 2017

written by Mike

WHAT IS STRESS?

PART III – WHAT NOT TO DO

 

 

I want to move onto practical side on things, how do you fight stress?

I’m going in two directions here. What to do and what not to do.

The latter is important because there are things that will only add fuel to your situation. I know because I’ve done a lot of them. It was because of my ignorance and lack of understanding the subject. If any of these things work for you, then great. I can only give opinion drawn from my experience and advice taken from people close to me.

NOT TO DEAL WITH STRESS

Smoking

– apart from obvious health related risks, smoking does not help with stress. Believe me. I know, because I did find myself smoking in stressful situations. And I would say to other people:

“I’m not a smoker. I just have one, max two a day.”

Yes, good one. You either smoke, or you don’t.

I realised that I didn’t crave the cigarette as much as the five-minute break. I hated the smell, the taste, the feeling after. But I would do it again and again.

Once you understand it’s just a habit, and you replace the cigarette with something else, it becomes easier to quit. It is still hard, because of the physical addiction to the nicotine, but you can do it.

Drinking

– “It’s just one glass to relax, it’s fine right?” Yes, one glass of wine or beer may be ok, but it’s the conditioning of your brain that can lead to a trap.

The moment you link drinking alcohol to stress relief you should watch out. Alcohol should never be a solution for anything.

With insomnia, I would depend on alcohol as an answer to my problems. It was a long time ago, but not only it didn’t help, but hangovers weren’t pleasant either.

Sleeping pills and other drugs

– another great experience I had.

Sleeping pills are good until you can’t go to sleep without them. They can help when your sleep pattern is all over the place but be careful with them. It can take few weeks to wean off them. And the effects are not as powerful when you take them often.

Same with soft drugs. They can help you to relax but the moment you depend on them with your stress or insomnia, it’s hard to reverse that conditioning. Especially when you say to yourself stuff like:

“I’m not addicted. I always had problems with sleep, and this is the only thing that can help me.” Dangerous route.

Sleeping too much

– I never had problems with that, but I know people who did. You spend all your time in bed. Just want to go to sleep and forget about the day. Too much sleep is bad for you and will not solve anything.

Also, it can have a negative impact on your relationships with other people. And it will make you more tired. It is crazy when you think about it.

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Junk food

– you are stressed, you don’t want to cook. I get it. But snacking, sugar or takeaway food can lead to stomach problems. And you will run to the toilet every five minutes. Yes, soda will give you a quick rush of energy. But the crash half hour later will be as fast.

Procrastination

– I love video games. I always did. But I haven’t played on my PS4 for over two years now. Why? Gaming became my escape. A bit of wine and an evening with Battlefield or Dragon Age was my way to relax.

“What’s wrong with that? It’s not harmful.”

Yes, you are correct. Until you start to neglect other stuff.

For now, I cut it out, I needed that. Binge-watching Netflix, gaming or just surfing the web without any goal is the easiest and cheapest solution to stress. But in the long run, balance is needed.

Is there something better that you can spend your time doing?

Maybe instead of watching four hours of TV you can watch one hour and pick up some other activity too. I still love games, though. I just don’t play them anymore.

Cutting off your friends and family

– when you are stressed you don’t want to talk to anyone. Why would you? They don’t understand your problems.

I have a big family, so it is harder for me to do that. But I still had a few months when I withdrew from social interactions.

I mean, you still talk to people at work right?

You need outside contact too. It can give you an awesome perspective, and you can start seeing the “big picture” again.

There were a few weeks when we worked on a big project. Everyone at work was so stressed, nothing else existed for me. After the project has ended I went to see my family and friends; we had a nice afternoon barbeque.

All I wanted was to talk about this project.

“Hey, so have you guys seen XYZ yet?”

“Yeah, it’s alright.”

“I didn’t like it.”

“No, haven’t seen it yet.”

And subject changed to something else in five seconds.

What?!

Why don’t they care?

For the last few weeks, it was my whole world. In a second, I was grounded again. The stress bubble has swallowed me whole, and I lost the connection with the real world. Don’t neglect your friends or family, they will often help you in indirect ways.

Taking out stress on others, mood swings, grumpiness – it will affect everyone around you. Then a few hours later you will be thinking to yourself

“Why did I say that? Why did I do that?”

Stress can ruin the best relationships. You may think to yourself “They don’t understand the pressure! They would do the same in my situation!”.

Well, for starters everyone else has their problems too, and you don’t know how other people would act in your shoes. Also, it doesn’t matter, taking out your problems on others is never the solution.

These are just a few thing that in my opinion do not work.

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What is Stress Part I – Causes

What is Stress Part I – Causes

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12 APRIL 2017

written by Mike

WHAT IS STRESS?

PART I – CAUSES

 

Stress.

The term used every day by millions of people to describe their feelings and anxieties.

We all get stressed out. And overcoming anxiety in a workplace will help you do a good job. You may dream of an awesome music career or start a design business. It does sound good on paper but with creative media, there are stressful moments too.

I would argue that small dose of stress can be good and will keep you on your toes. But prolonged condition will reflect on your work in a negative way. I know, it’s not the lightest of subjects, but I feel it is important to understand it so you can prepare how to deal with stressful times.

Let’s start with a classic, what is stress and why is it so bad for you?

Stress is your body’s defence instinct. It makes you turn the wheel just in time to avoid car collision or catch your mobile phone mid-air.

“Well, that’s good then, because of stress my smartphone’s screen is perfect!”

Yes and no.

Small doses of stress are good for you, but when it goes on for too long, it can result in bad physical, mental and social symptoms. In my case, it was insomnia, chest pains, and general distress. One of my close friends took a sick leave for depression related to stress. Another friend has mood swings and “grumpy” days.

On stressful days, your body consumes more energy. You get tired faster, but you can’t sleep. You want to do more, but you can’t focus. To the point, it starts to affect people around you. And it is bad.

According to the latest research from Harvard and Stanford Business Schools stress leads up to 120,000 deaths every year in the United States alone.

The study also looks at the negative impact on health care services and productivity.

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I want to give you a little background about myself. I see myself as a calm guy that can approach problems with a strategy and plan. I don’t panic; I don’t sweat the small stuff. But I still found myself in a “stress-trap” not so long ago. A couple of years back we were working on a big film with tight deadlines.

It didn’t take too long before I started having chest pain, had troubles sleeping and begun to doubt my listening skills at work. Small problems become enormous, little mistakes seemed massive. As the stress bubble grows, it swallows more people with each day. We began to be short with each other; we lost the big picture of the project.

Your mind won’t shut; you think about your tasks before falling asleep and when you wake up. You dream about your job. And not the good kind of dreams either. When it all ended, we were drained. There was no energy left in any of us. But wait! The new project was around the corner. And the dance began again.

To me, it was a breaking point.

Lack of sleep, depression and anxiety had a big impact on my mental abilities. I could not understand why I was feeling so bad when in reality I had a good job, awesome girlfriend, and was in good health. I knew that something had to change.

Right, enough with my self-pity.

I started to research stress and techniques of fighting it. I realised two things:

Stress fuels itself.

It will make you hate your job.

You are stressed, your co-workers are stressed, your bosses are stressed and on and on and on. It is quite hard to detach from the situation when everyone around you is running like a chicken. You will hate going to work. Well, hate is a strong word, but it will be hard for you to get up every morning knowing that you will not enjoy your day.

And I don’t care how cool your job is. Stress will ruin it. In my case, I didn’t want to watch any movies anymore, even at home. The worst bit is that you worked so hard to get to that place, and now you don’t even enjoy it. Don’t worry though. The minute you realise that the job is the same, but it is stress that affects your perspective, you get out of that hole.

But we will get to that.

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CAUSES OF STRESS

 

So what are the biggest causes of stress? According to that research paper, there are a few main ones.

Health Insurance

– or rather the lack of it. When you don’t have the health insurance, it affects your financial and family situation. You stress about things like not having enough money to cover healthcare or costs of treatments. Unfortunately, is can be a closed loop as stress will have a negative impact on your health.

Unemployment

– it is easy to see how it fuels anxiety and depression. I remember after I finished college and moved towns I couldn’t find any job. Not even waiting job at a restaurant. It was winter and the weather did not help. I spend few weeks on a couch feeling sorry for myself. So I agree hundred percent with that point.

Job insecurity

– it is a big one when you are on your own. “Will I get another client? What about my mortgage and family? Maybe I just become a teacher.” Sounds familiar? I bet it does. Job worries can cause a lot of stress especially when you are just starting out as a freelancer. It helps to have some extra income stream on a side.

Shift work

– again a good one in our profession. Long hours anyone? Tight deadlines and last minute changes result in longer work days and stress. A couple of years ago I had to supervise night shift freelancers on a project. It was three weeks, and it completely threw me off my sleep patterns and balance. It took some time to get back to the routine.

Work-Life balance

night shifts I mentioned earlier meant that I wouldn’t see my girlfriend for three weeks as she worked weekends. The funny thing is, we live together. We don’t have kids, but I can only imagine how stressful it can be when you don’t see your kids because of all the overtime. No wonder it is on the list.

Job control and demands

– one day you are a trainee, next you are supervising a team of people. With great power comes great responsibility. And with great responsibility comes great stress. You are not only in charge of your output but also of other people’s work quality. It can get tough.

Social support

– lack of mentorship, training, and general well-being support. We can find that in most big corporations. And yes I know there are HR department and yearly reviews and silly online tests. But in reality, a lack of proper social support means that sometimes you can feel like a number or a small gear in a big machine.

Work ethics

– favouritism, gossip, and other office politics. If you are not on good terms with your managers and colleagues, it can get stressful. No matter how good your work is.

These are of course just major causes of stress. Your situation may be different, but it doesn’t matter. Stress will make your life miserable. Well, maybe I’m too dramatic but it for sure won’t make it better.

Thanks for reading, in the next part I will talk a little about signs of stress.

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