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Op/Ed

The music you’re listening to may dictate your productivity levels

(EDITORIAL) Whether it’s a podcast, news, or music, most people are listening to *something* while at work – so what makes you the most productive?

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music for productivity

For some, productivity requires a state of concentration that can only be achieved in silence. But workplaces are seldom so quiet, and truth be told, most of us prefer to have some background music playing while we work. Some people swear they can’t work or study without it.

Personally, I find music helpful for encouraging productivity and creativity. It distracts the part of my brain that would normally be chattering away – the voice in my head worrying, wondering, and daydreaming. I find that music neutralizes this inner voice, freeing up my brain to focus on the task at hand.

More and more research backs up what many of us experience – a state of enhanced calm, focus, and creativity when we listen to music while working. Deep Patel at Entrepreneur.com has a list of the best types of music to serve as the soundtrack to your workday.

Typically, music without lyrics is best for working or studying, since lyrics tend to catch our attention. Research has so consistently shown classical music to boost productivity that the phenomenon has it’s own name – the Mozart effect.

But other forms of wordless music can work as well. Patel recommends cinematic music for making the daily grind feel as “grandiose” as a Hollywood epic. Meanwhile, video game music has been specially designed to help gamers concentrate on game challenges; likewise, it can help keep your office atmosphere energized. Soothing nature sounds, such as flowing water or rainfall, can also help promote a calm but focused state.

Music with lyrics is okay too, as long as it doesn’t turn your office into a karaoke bar. Cognitive behavioral therapist Dr. Emma Gray worked with Spotify to identify the characteristics of music that can actually change our brain waves. She found that music between 50 and 80 beats per minute can trigger the brain an “alpha” state that is associated with relaxation and with being struck with inspiration.

Really, any music will do, as long as you like it. Research from the music therapy department at the University of Miami found that workers who listened to their preferred artists and genres had better ideas and finished their tasks more quickly.

What styles of music help you focus during your workday? I myself enjoy the collection of “lo-fi” or “chill-hop” playlists on YouTube. This music has a consistent beat that is engaging without being distracting, and the accompanying video generally features an adorable cartoon character to keep you company.

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Op/Ed

Why men are called ‘creators,’ and women ‘influencers’ (or not)

(EDITORIAL) A sh*tstorm has been brewing regarding why men are supposedly referred to as “creators” while women are called “influencers,” and it gets complicated before it simplicity is revealed…

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creators v. influencers

According to a recent WIRED editorial, a woman is more likely to call herself influencer, while a man is more likely to call himself a creator, because, “Generally speaking, women consider themselves part of the product, while men separate their notion of self from their labor, considering themselves its “creator.”

Besides being no more founded than “generally speaking” though, this sort of notion first assumes creators and influencers encompass the same job description, with the only delineating factor being gender.

In fact, one of the earliest assertions made in the editorial notes, “Really, the only way to guarantee that people will think of your online celebrity as ‘influence’ is to be a woman.”

When ”really,” there is a world of women who identify as creators and men influencers; the differences can be seen in their varying job descriptions, history, and business needs that each fulfill. Therefore, the issue at hand should not be “why men are called creators and women are called influencers,” but “why we should call influencers ‘influencers,’ and creators ‘creators’.”

And that is what we will explore today.

First, let’s understand what an “influencer” is and what a “creator” is.

Before getting into explanations, and differences, it is important to note that influencer and creator are most always a term people use to identify themselves, so the true meaning of the word is specific to each individual.

Generally speaking though, today’s influencer is someone who has educated themselves enough to be considered an authority in their niche (or can at least present themselves as informed). They use this authority, along with their personal brand,to persuade and inspire their following for gain, which can be monetary, or in the form of free products, and/or free publicity.

Influencers often make their gains by partnering with brands to promote their product, or from creating a product themselves, and selling it to their following directly.

For an influencer, a larger audience or following is linear with gains, so a large amount of their focus is on the numbers – followers, website visitors, comments, and likes. The rest of their focus is in making sure those followers are influenced enough to consume whatever is being promoted.

Why businesses tap into influencers’ networks today.

The sole reason businesses hire influencers is for exposure. We’ve all heard “what good is your product/service if no one knows it exists?” or something similar, and for brands, that is exactly what influencers are hired to help with. They act as distribution channels by bringing more eyeballs which, if done properly, translates into more money.

A creator, on the other hand, is more concerned with the finished product of their work and the creation process it took to get there.

So, what is a creator?

Depending on what they are working on, a creator is an artist, producer, maker, writer, or composer who gets paid for captivating work. This person is usually more passionate about design, brand collateral, video creation etc. than persuading the people who will consume their work.

More followers, higher monthly reach, and increased engagement rates don’t excite the devout creator like strategy, composition, and contrast does. For them, one superior piece of work (think one overall cohesive brand package) is more satisfying than producing a mass of mediocre work.

Promoting themselves like an influencer isn’t as important as showing their work. Take my close friend, Chad as an example; he produces a podcast that boasts over a million listeners, and averages 20k views on each Instagram video, which you’d never know by looking at his personal profile. There, he has 2.5k followers, posts every four months, and gets most of his comments from old college friends – all of whom work for him. His virtue, like a lot of creators, is in the quality of his work.

Why businesses hire creators.

Creators do for businesses what a boutique ad agency would do, typically for a fraction of the cost. They use their art to build brand assets, establish brand identity, and create campaigns. While influencers are used as “the face,” a creator could be used as a “face” or the behind the scenes person who you never see. In a sneaker campaign for example, a creator might be tasked with taking cool pictures of other people’s street style, while an influencer would promote themselves in the shoes.

Creators and influencers are different and fulfill different business needs, but they are not mutually exclusive.

A creator can do influencer work, and there are influencers who create magnificent work without them in it. It’s a matter of self identity.

Influencers are also inherently tied to monetizing their content or, “…building a platform with he intention of being used by brands for marketing purposes,” according to Natasha Hunes, a Youtuber who self-identifies as a creator. Hunes adds that a creator is in for the self-expression, not money, adding “I don’t think the claim that most women don’t identify as creators is factual.”

Let’s dissect the history of the two terms.

The biggest factor in establishing the difference between creator and influencer is the history of the two. In a response to the WIRED piece, Taylor Lorenz gives an in-depth history of how “creator” predated “influencer.”

It all started in 2011, when YouTube wanted to replace the boring term “YouTube Stars” for a more inclusive way to describe their multi-talented content creators.

“These people were more than onscreen tales,“ said Tim Shey, a former employer of YouTube, “They could write, edit, produce, do community management, and were entrepreneurs.”

During the search, YouTube forged a partnership with Next New Networks, a multi-channel network specializing in viral content, and started a program called the “Next New Creators” program. This program was designed to help independent YouTube stars grow their audience to the point of monetization. The program became such a hit, the word “creator” stuck at YouTube and began to be the phrasing of choice for their press releases, and future programs.

They went on to open a number of “creator hubs” and studios for YouTube creators to collaborate with one another.

From 2011 to 2016, the video platform continued to promote their new world of creators and hit the sweet spot in 2015 after launching a massive creator ad campaign. This campaign plastered different creators’ faces on billboards, taxis, buses, and subway stops all over New York and L.A., as well as in magazines and commercials. All of the language referred to the people in the ads as creators, and that’s when the term became mainstream.

Not long after, other platforms caught on – in 2015, Tumblr also began referring to their power users as creators and launched a division called “Tumblr Creators Network.”

Influencers went mainstream in 2017, two years after creator did, and according to Lorenz, was the response to the rise of Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and sponsored posts.

As the “new kids on the block” influencers were initially stereotyped as less worthy than traditional YouTube creators, who had spent years establishing their base on an older platform, and a larger platform than IG, Twitter, and Pinterest. Therefore, Lorenz believes the distinction between creators and influencers are not gender related, but more so “platform-agnostic.” This means you’re more likely to find YouTubers identifying themselves as creators, while IG, Twitter, and Pinterest users typically identify is influencers.

And while I do understand Lorenz’s “platform-agnostic” argument more than WIRED’s position that it is a gender-based distinction, I believe that the differentiation as self-assigned terms are a lot simpler than we think.

Man or woman, YouTube or Instagram, people just want to be called what they identify with.

Creators want to be called creators because they relate more with creating, and influencers want to be called influencers because they enjoy interacting with and influencing their following.

Remember my friend Chat, the podcast producer? I asked why he identifies with creator and not influencer, despite some of his work being influencer-based.

His answer?

“I feel more like a creator.”

And I felt THAT.

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Op/Ed

How calendars can stop your procrastination, boost productivity

(PRODUCTIVITY) As the old method of pen-to-paper planning comes back in style, see how its use can help with time management.

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writing pen paper productivity

My favorite part of writing for this publication, by far, is the fact that it always has me keeping my eyes and ears open for inspiration. The simplest comment from a friend can snowball into an idea that becomes beneficial to others.

Such was the case this past weekend when my best friend, Haley, stopped by to help me unpack my new house. Haley is a graduate student, pursuing a master’s in interpersonal communication, and is a much smarter version of myself.

We got to talking about what was on tap for Haley’s final semester and she told me about a workshop she’s creating for the graduate school on the topic of how using planners/calendars helps with time management. The girl has an affinity for pen-to-paper planners, and has created an organizational structure for her daily life through their use.

Naturally, I thought, “hey, sometimes I attempt to give people advice on time management and planning, let’s bounce some ideas off of each other.” Haley then gave me a rundown of the bullet points she’s planning on covering for her interactive workshop.

1) Take everything as it comes. As a new task pops up, put it down on your calendar (whether paper or electronic) so that you don’t forget to do it later.

2) With these tasks, schedule deadlines for yourself. It can be tough to be self-motivate and have tasks completed by your own assignment. However, putting them down in writing will help you stick to productivity.

Only work on something if you’re being productive. If you stop being productive, you should take a step back and work on something else for a while,” says Haley. “This is why my personal deadlines help because it makes me work harder but I still have my own time.”

3) Schedule out your week starting with events that you cannot change. Start by writing down your work schedule, then appointments, meetings, etc. Then schedule in tasks that have more flexibility in time.

4) After doing this, take all of these tasks and prioritize what must be completed first and assess how much time each task will take. Be sure to give yourself an appropriate amount of productivity time for each task.

5) For bigger projects, considering breaking them down a bit. “For bigger projects I break it down into steps, normally using a concept map to understand the core aspects of my task and what needs to be accomplished within each of those to make it more digestible,” says Haley. “Once I have the pieces, I place the pieces into my weekly schedule of events I cannot change.”

All of the pieces of this puzzle come together to create a calendar that will help you juggle every aspect of your life and boost your productivity. By implementing these ideas in my own planning, it has definitely helped me to become more of a self-starter.

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Op/Ed

Looking for more focus in your life? We’ve got a book for that [Interview]

(Opinion Editorials) Here are some actionable items and considerations on how to focus in such an unfocused world.

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The Focus Project book with author Eric Qualman

In a crazy year of serious health concerns and many shifts in priorities, many of us have been grappling with where to focus our attention. Personally, I am a wife, mother of a toddler and two dogs, a full-time employee, and have a side business with consistent clients. I also was leading a women’s group monthly and have a couple of freelance/contract projects. Upon losing daycare in mid-March, I was drowning.

I felt like nothing was being given full attention and my to-do list was running away without me. I also realize now that all of the above is too much and I NEED to make time for rest and figure out where to focus my time and energy. I also was sad about losing some much needed human connection.

As a Career Coach, I’m constantly preaching the power of networking. While some think that word is icky, I want to share how I met Erik Qualman in a pretty cool networking way. He was a keynote speaker at a conference I attended in 2019. He had an interactive way with the audience where he asked you to email him the one word you wanted to be remembered for.

I wrote compassion (if you were curious). He ended up writing back later and we were able to coordinate a coffee meet up since we both live in Austin. Erik hires many of the students I work with as interns and this was a great opportunity for me to ask about his interview process, what skills he looks for in students, and any other nuggets of insight that could help me coach them better.

In the meantime, he’s been a very kind and generous person to answer my entrepreneurial questions. I’ve also enjoyed his podcast, Super U. It’s full of great insights about finding and living your super powers from a variety of people and backgrounds.

When I saw that Erik’s new book, The Focus Project, launched (a bit early than he had planned), I had to order it. I am currently working through it and emphatically believe this will help many people with solid advice and immediate and long-term action ideas.

The book also covers lots of food for thought on how you are living your life and where you may want to consider adjustments. Erik has also been kind enough to answer some of my questions while I’m working through the book. I truly hope these inspire you to check it out and work on your own priorities of focus.

1. In your own experiment, you took a month to focus on each of these categories in this order: Growth, Time Management, Family + Friends, Health, Relationships, Learning, Creativity, Empathy, Mindfulness, Giving, Gratitude, Your Story and Life. At the end of year after reflection, which one (or more) surprised you the most by focusing on that area? Did it have positive ripple effects to other areas or maybe seemed easier than you originally thought? Would you change the order after going through it?

The first month surprised me the most. I’d attempted to do the project 5 times over the course of a year, so I knew how difficult that first month could be. However, once it clicked I couldn’t believe the results! The focus was on growing our revenue so that I could afford to take the time to test the rest of the project for 11 more months. Just by focusing all of my and the team’s efforts around keynote speaking, we not only had a record sales month, but we almost made a year’s worth of revenue in that one month, leading us to our most successful year. In terms of order, I wouldn’t change the order, but a lot of thinking went into the order before I began.

2. Focus in 2020 is great because it is a metaphor for perfect vision. Do you think there’s any hindsight for individuals that would be important to consider as to why maybe they are feeling so unfocused right now (values they hold to be true, work hard/play hard messaging, etc.)?

Our inability to focus on what matters most is silently killing us inside. This silent killer is similar to the fable of the frog in the pot. Recall that the frog happily sits in a pot of water, unaware of the slowly rising temperature. The premise is that if a frog is dropped into boiling water, it will immediately sense the danger and jump out. But if the water is at room temperature and slowly brought to a boil, the frog will not perceive the danger until it is too late.

Our goal is to ensure that we don’t end up like the frog. Our goal is to leap out of the boiling water—immediately—and never look back.

How many times do we find ourselves thinking: “Oh, tomorrow I’ll start my exercise program, tomorrow I’ll start spending more time with my kids, tomorrow I’ll start writing my screenplay, tomorrow I’ll start my fashion company, tomorrow I’ll start spending less and saving more, tomorrow I’ll ask for a raise, tomorrow I’ll look for a new job, tomorrow I will finish that report, tomorrow will be better.” This is the slow boil! We are in danger of wasting our most precious commodity—our individual lives.

3. Can you share your philosophy/how you balance social media so that you’re able to make the most of it in a positive way versus it being a total time suck?

The key in digital leadership is always a balance between having digital tools work for you rather than you working for the tools. These digital tools should not replace face-to-face experiences but are designed to augment it when time and distance are an issue.

Essentially you need to strike a balance. In order for me, and many other digital leaders, to strike a balance we set time limits on the amount of responses on social media we will tackle personally.

We now have a method, a method we named cowboy scheduling: A calendar with wide-open spaces and fences. I still can’t ride a horse to save my life, but I can now schedule like Annie Oakley or John Wayne.

This week give it a try — try scheduling like a cowgirl or cowboy by fencing off specific times for certain activities and leaving wide open spaces for creativity, relaxation, and deep thinking (or in this case allotting yourself a set amount of time for social media).

4. If you could change one small thing in your community/neighborhood, what would it be? (Think about examples of small changes we can make for positive impact.)

It would be wonderful if your closest 52 neighbors each wrote one nice note per week to a different neighbor each week. This would be a small change with a tremendous impact.

5. You share lots of additional books that inspired The Focus Project. Do you have recommendations for people that may read all the things but have a harder time taking action?

One reason I started writing The Focus Project is that, in some strange way, it will serve as an antidote for my book, Socialnomics ®. It is an antivenom to the poisonous habits technology can manifest in us. For the purposes of this book, I’m most interested in BJ Fogg’s research and philosophy about developing powerful habits via small steps. Fogg, a Stanford psychologist and researcher, specializes in captology – a captologist studies the effect of computers and mobile devices on human behavior. Fogg first appeared on my radar when I was writing Socialnomics. Fogg’s work was relevant to Socialnomics because many of us using social media are unknowing participants in the world’s largest social science experiment—one being controlled by the data scientists at Instagram, YouTube, Weibo, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and others.

Fogg argues that we mistakenly try to will our way to habits around activities we don’t enjoy. For example, we get up early and drag ourselves to the gym to ride a stationary bike for an hour. Eventually, since we don’t like it, we stop doing it. We don’t develop the habit. Fogg believes this mistake is more detrimental to a major change in our lives than doing nothing at all. Instead, Fogg explains that we need to start with small adjustments that lead to little victories and to celebrate these victories.

Fogg’s formula involves a trigger. An example of a trigger might be doing 25 sit-ups every time you wash your hands. Washing hands = sit-ups. We normally associate triggers with a negative cause-and-effect relationship. In Fogg’s formula, however, instead of negative triggers, the triggers are positive influences.

Here’s the simple formula for identifying triggers.

“After I Establish Habit, I will New Habit.”

Fogg’s best-known example of this formula is:

“After I Brush my teeth, I will Floss One Tooth.”

This sounds preposterous—who would floss just one tooth? This is exactly the point! Once you put into motion the flossing of one tooth you might say, “What the heck, why not floss a couple more?”

Neil Armstrong got it right, small steps lead to giant leaps.

FAQ about the book from the Author

How would you describe your book in 2-3 sentences?

The Focus Project teaches us how to focus on what matters most in this digitally unfocused world. In some ways it’s an anti-venom to my first book, Socialnomics.

Explaining The Focus Project in 7 seconds: The Happiness Project (by Gretchen Rubin) and Essentialism (by Greg McKeown) have a baby with Amazon Alexa as the surrogate mother.

What distinguishes your book from others before it?

The Focus Project is unique in that each chapter is designed to provide a new area of focus, so the reader does not necessarily need to read the book chronologically. Each chapter is a month of the project. The blend of case studies and anecdotal elements are relatable and designed to help people at any stage in life, both personally and professionally. One main differentiating factor is Erik’s personal first-hand studies and stories. Due to his speaking schedule (55 countries and 35 million reached) and exposure to some of the world’s top thought leaders the book is less “dry” than most business books.

What problem will this book solve for the reader or what significant benefit will the reader get from the book? Why should the reader spend their valuable time reading this book? Why is the message of this book important?

The Focus Project doesn’t offer an overnight cure, but with time, patience, and persistence, significant progress is possible. This book will help to provide answers and solutions to the challenges of:

  1.  Focusing on what matters most.
  2.  Focusing in an increasingly unfocused world.
  3. Becoming a focus ninja.

The following is a guide to help lead us on our individual paths of personal development—pursuing less in order to achieve more: More happiness, more love, a more fulfilled life. We will realize that leading an overly busy life is a choice, but it’s not a wise one. Despite the perceptions of many, being over scheduled isn’t something to be proud of—it’s something to avoid at all costs. Instead, we should choose to focus on what matters most. This choice determines our success, happiness, and fulfillment.

The Focus Project solves the problem of prioritizing what matters most and confronting digital distractions to get the most out of life. Using both clinical science and street science this book helps the reader to better focus which, in turn, helps us reduce our stress and achieve our goals.

Some main ideas in the book:

  1. What items if I focus on them will bring me fulfillment? What’s preventing me from focusing on them? How can I focus on them first?
  2.  The power of saying no and how to say it.
  3. Making a Not-to-Do List is more important than your To-Do-List

You can learn more about Erik and the book here.

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