An overflowing inbox. A full voicemail. A crisis, or two, or three.
The idea of coming back from a summer vacation, or even a long holiday weekend, can fill even the most organized among us with just a slight sense of dread.
To get physically and mentally into the swing of things on your return, try putting the B.A.C.K. method in place:
1. Big picture
Before getting caught up in the raging river of small details, you will want to begin by catching up on what has happened while you were away. Answer these two questions:
- Is there any recent news regarding your department or company you need to know about?
- What is the status of that major project you were working on when you left?
Although it seems like a short time, a lot can happen over a week or a long holiday weekend. One executive I know came back from a four-day vacation to an email informing him that the company had been sold.
Before you leave, put one or two staff members in charge of preparing a big-picture report to be presented when your return. No staff to delegate to? Ask a co-worker to keep tabs on the happenings at work, and offer to do the same for them the next time they are out on vacation.
What important requests that require action came from your boss, peers, staff, or clients while you were gone? Make a list in order of priority, and then email or call each person to:
- Acknowledge that you have received their request
- Provide a timeline of when it will be handled
- Inform them who the item has been delegated to or where the request should be redirected
Remember, for every day you were gone, it takes an hour to catch up. This means a 7-day holiday away will require seven hours’ worth of work upon your return — just to catch up. You may not be able to get everything done within the first two days back, but by scheduling the actions you need to take over the next week, you will get it all done.
While you were away, it’s likely a ton of snail mail, email, and phone calls piled up. Not all of these incoming communications warrant dropping everything and responding right away. Try organizing your communications into the following priorities:
- Handle right away.
- Can wait a few days.
- Handle next week.
The first one or two days back, respond to the first group. Schedule the second group for your third and fourth day back, and put the last group off until the following week.
4. Keep taking breaks
You will be more focused and effective if you can avoid getting stressed and overwhelmed on your first few days back. One practical way to do this is to force yourself to take a morning, lunch, and afternoon break on your first few days back. Studies show that taking a few breaks at work gives the brain a chance to take the equivalent of a cat nap and return to the tasks at hand more focused and refreshed.
Ultimately, it’s the simple things — a short walk to Starbucks, a few well-placed phone calls, a schedule of prioritized to-do’s — that keep the stress of getting back from ruining all the relaxation from your time away.
This article first appeared on Inc.com.
On a typical morning, you may find yourself posting a tweet, sitting in on a Skype call, typing up a proposal, and reaching across your morning cup of joe to answer your cell phone — all at the same time.
According to some studies up to 50 percent of us say we accomplish only half the work we have planned for that day. Is it any wonder, then, that we have trouble finding the time to gain ground on our most important branding and marketing efforts?
Still as a branding and marketing strategist, I firmly believe that the degree to which you promote your own business, book, product, or cause determines the level of success you achieve. If want more brand awareness, you must learn to make time for marketing.
Here are four easy ways you can avoid distraction and find the time to focus on getting the word out about your business.
1. Capture all marketing-related ideas and actions.
Just think about what happens when you are running too many programs on your computer — it usually slows down or even freezes up. The same is true for your brain; there is a limit to how much you can focus on at one time. Getting stuff out of your head and onto PDA or paper helps keep your mental space freed up to focus.
Take a few minutes — right now — and do a brain dump of all the marketing and branding items you have been holding in your head, and capture them. Just taking the time to capture all the open marketing items in your life and write them down can dramatically improve your ability to focus and get things done.
The best practice is to use a tool that helps you quickly capture all these things, even before you decide what to do with them. The tool can be a yellow pad, a sophisticated software program, or a simple To Do file in your computer.
2. Use time planning for marketing and branding activities.
Earlier this week, I needed to get my email newsletter out to announce a series of personal branding and thought leadership teleclasses I was going to be leading. I’d been putting this off for weeks and knew if I did not do it soon, I’d miss the boat. So, I opened my calendar and blocked off a period of one hour on a Wednesday, between 9 and 10 a.m., to get the work done.
To make more time for marketing and branding, go through your calendar and schedule a specific day and period of time when you will work on a marketing or branding item you have been putting off or need to get done. Time periods ranging from fifteen minutes to one hour are the most effective.
And don’t just plan your time in your head — write the plan down. Studies show that 75 percent of individuals who set a specific time and date to complete something, do complete it.
3. Engage the power of your to-do list.
Marketing mavens know that resisting trivial distractions and facing the more challenging and significant tasks before them leads to a greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Making those more significant branding and marketing tasks “A” priorities, whether they are time sensitive or not, helps bring them to the top of the heap.
Here’s how to do it. Write down and review all the items on your to-do list for the day. Next, determine which items would move you closer to achieving your marketing and branding goals. Assign those items an “A” priority — regardless of how time-sensitive or urgent they may or may not be.
Every workday for the next week, do at least one “A” priority item from your list. At the end of the week, you will have focused your energy (five times at least) on achieving your marketing and branding objectives.
4. Break down your big marketing and branding projects into smaller pieces.
If you find yourself procrastinating on a large marketing or branding project, try breaking it into smaller pieces. This will help you act more quickly and easily, while at the same time countering the overwhelming feeling of too much to do.
For example, one of my clients was doing a total overhaul on her website, but every time she went to work on it, she became like a deer in headlights. It was just too much to confront at one time.
Her solution was to pick a simple, single, easy action she could do every day and do that. It became a series of smaller mini-tasks, including: Ask the programmer to create a “Contact Us” page, rewrite the bio on the “About” page, and add client testimonials to the “Services” page.
This article originally appeared on Inc.com.
According to one study from Microsoft, US workers spend an average of 7 hours a day on their computers, while still another survey from Accountemps found that workers spend an average of 6 weeks a year looking for things.
While these two statistics may seem unrelated, think about this. One of the places we undoubtedly look for things is our computers. How much time did you spend this past week searching for a file you stashed somewhere on your laptop?
My recent experience hunting and pecking for a client contract on my computer led me to the conclusion that just as I give my closets a good cleaning from time to time, I was due for a computer decluttering. Here’re the steps I followed to give my laptop a new lease on life.
Clean up your hard drive.
Since computer memory has increased exponentially over the years, storage is not in general a big issue; however, the bad habit of dumping info on our computers is. A few ways to keep your hard drive clear of the clutter include:
- Delete any old working drafts of documents that have since been updated or are no longer useful.
- Dump files that are so old, the information in them is outdated and never used.
- Empty files that you created but never did anything with or that have no documents in them.
- Eliminate files that have different names, but contain the same duplicate materials.
- Delete all those hundreds (or thousands) of non-usable digital photos from your last trip.
Set up a logical filing system.
Try to mirror your paper filing system on your computer. The more your main folders resemble the names and categories you use to file paper, the easier it will be for you to both find and file various documents.
In addition create a ‘working file’ or ‘pending’ folder that lives on your desktop and can hold anything you are currently working on and need to access quickly and easily. While much of your computer may be used for the archiving of information, the ‘working file’ folder can hold the most relevant information and projects.
Finally, organize and update the bookmarks on your browser. Just as you may have random files floating around your hard drive, you more than likely have a ton of bookmarks that are not organized in any particular way.
Go under bookmarks and choose the organize feature. This will allow you to make folders with logical names that you can group and move your various bookmarks into.
Get control over your email.
For most of us our email inboxes have become the dumping ground for all our unhandled to-do’s. To begin the process of email cleanup, start by going through your mailbox and deleting all old messages you no longer need. Then be sure to delete the messages in the trash file.
Because most people have enough room on their computer to keep old email, they often skip this step. However, it has been my experience that the more current and up to date your email, the less time spent searching for what you really need.
Next, establish an email filing system. One method is setting up your email folders the same way you classify your work. For example, if you generally reference your work by client, then set up folders by client name; if you generally reference by product, then set up by product name and so on…
Finally, don’t fall into the trap of using ‘ignore’ as an option for dealing with the items on your computer. In the same way that a junk drawer, closet, or even room can become a loose end that drains your energy, random floating files, in an unorganized fashion, become the clutter that clogs up your computer.
This article originally appeared on Inc.com.
One of the great things about the global economy in my opinion is that it leads to an opportunity to have meetings, attend conferences, and gather groups in locations far and wide.
In between the marketing meetings and business opportunities, many groups are looking for an activity that combines experiencing the culture, seeing the city, and improving team spirit. Here are a few short, easy, and fun team-building activities to consider on your next business trip abroad.
Learn to make traditional foods with a local chef.
Every country in the world is famous for some type of food and cooking schools in every city, offering classes where your team can learn to make traditional dishes from a local chef. Almost all the schools focus on the classics.
For example in Spain, your group can whip up a seafood paella, while improving their communication skills. In France they can try their hand at making a warm, crusted bread – while bonding over a nice Bourdeux.
Most classes include the meal, a glass of wine, and a trip to the local outdoor market to select and buy fresh ingredients.
Create a group work of art, craft or performance.
In the same way that each country is famous for its food, each nation proudly offers an art, craft, music or dance specialty as well. From lei making in Hawaii, to Bollywood dancing in New Delhi, private group workshops are available to teach your team the local culture, while they bond.
I recently ran across a unique offering in Barcelona based on creating mosaics. The Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí is well known for his use of broken tiles to create art and sculptures.
Your team can create their own mosaic masterpiece by doing a group smash of big, vibrant tiles into small, colored pieces and then placing them to create a large group mosaic.
Go climb a rock.
The typography of various parts of the world offer an almost unlimited number of options for outdoor team building activities. Rock climbing in Yosemite, kayaking in Alaska, horse back riding in Scotland, take your pick.
While their are limits to what your HR Department will let you do (and not do), physical, outdoor activities can be a powerful bonding experience between co-workers.
Take an off the path tour.
Instead of taking your team on the typical guided tour of a cities main sites, why not go beyond the expected and do something a bit more unique. For example, try a fragrance and aroma tour through Le Marais in Paris. Here your nosey group will be guided to the local smells of fresh baguettes baking, Parisian perfume, and intense French cheeses.
One of my personal favorites this year was a Game Of Thrones tour in Girona, Spain. This hit TV series is famous for among other things shooting in cool, beautiful and interesting locations around the globe including Spain, Iceland, Croatia, Ireland, Morocco and more. Most of which offer a tour of where the show was filmed.
I’ve spoken at enough conferences to know that while it’s tempting (and typical) to plan team activities around eating out, it’s been my experience that taking people just a bit out of their comfort zone creates a better bonding experience.
The rich abundance of food, culture, and art, offered around the world provide a chance to take your team beyond the ordinary sit-down dinner, to a stand-up experience they will long remember.
This article originally appeared on Inc.com.
“Honestly, I’m surprised at the difference that my personally being on social media makes.”
“I had no idea how much more of a public face I would need to show.”
“I’ve stopped fighting the idea that I need to fully embrace having a personal brand as part of being a CEO.”
These are just some of the comments that have come my way from new CEOs in the past few months. Many, if not most, are surprised to learn just how necessary it is for them to create a strong CEO brand in their new role as the chief brand ambassador of their companies.
Those who do catch on, realize that creating a CEO brand is a powerful way to position their leadership and build the brand of the business. Here are three important ways to pursue your personal brand as a new CEO.
Find your flavor of thought leadership.
One of the challenges every new CEO faces is in defining their thought leadership style. This requires thinking through the three distinct tones of thought leadership and determining which one would best suit your CEO brand.
Celebrity. These CEOs are best known for their personality. In a very real way, their character and style are the essence of the brand. Examples include: Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, and Oprah Winfrey.
Cerebral. At the heart of their CEO brand these leaders are best known for their thinking and ideas. Examples include: Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
Consequential. This thought leadership is centered around results and the CEOs are best known for their accomplishments. Examples include: Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Determining which variety of thought leadership, you want your CEO brand to be known for, is critical to generating the tactical strategy you plan on putting in place.
Get your social on.
One report by BRANDfog reported that 75 percent of those surveyed perceive that C-Suite and executive leadership is improved by participation on social media. Being a social CEO keeps you from getting left in the online dust. At a minimum you need to decide which social media platform best suits your style. Take some time to think through which site matches your time and talents best. For example:
- If you’re a good writer, consider a weekly blog on either your company website or as a contributing writer for an online site that fits your industry.
- Does your business or industry lend itself to an ongoing stream of information that can be broken down into short bits? You may want to create a CEO Twitter profile or regularly weigh in on your company account.
- Looking to connect with other senior executives in the B2B space? Consider writing a weekly article on LinkedIn and pushing it out to your contacts and groups.
Get out in front of the news media.
The more reporters covering your industry who get to know you, the greater the chance they will call you when they need a source to interview. The typical approach is to hire a PR firm to write up and send out a press release promoting you as a new CEO with the latest and greatest information on a given topic.
The smarter action, however, is to do a more proactive campaign based on a carefully crafted story, opinion, or specific content pertaining to a relevant and timely topic. For example is there some event, trend or happening in the news that you should be weighing in on? Just remember that before you jump headlong into media interviews, you want to get your sound bites down.
Almost every executive who contacts me about establishing a new CEO brand knows it’s something they need to do, but are usually at a loss for where to start. The basics – an up to date LinkedIn profile, a current headshot, and solid bio that shows your achievements and commitments are key. Beyond that, the smartest new CEOs know that establishing an active online presence and becoming a media go resource for media are an important way to plant your flag and say “I’m here and ready to go.”
This article originally appeared on Inc.com.
Recently a new branding client called me in a panic saying, “We have to get on Snapchat. It’s the hottest thing. We can’t miss the boat.” I gently pointed out to the client that their core customer was women age 45-60, more likely the Pinterest — not the Snapchat — crowd.
This intense pressure to keep up with the online Joneses has led to a flurry of action, but not necessarily impact. The idea that you should be on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, and more leads many business owners to join each and every social media network–but do none of them well.
Instead, I encourage my small-business clients to think through the following three critical questions before choosing which social media sites to focus on:
1. Where and how does our ideal audience(s) consume their information?
Are they more likely to be reading blogs at Inc.com or surfing their Twitter feed three times a day? The answers help determine the social media site(s) that makes the best use of your resources.
2. What are the demographics of the various sites?
It’s important to take into consideration the details of each site you are considering. For example:
Facebook. According to the Pew report, 72 percent of female and 63 percent of male Internet users are on Facebook, equaling over a billion users a month. The site also has a strong presence across several age groups with a majority being 18- to 29-year-olds, but with solid users in the 30-49 and 50-64 brackets as well.
For businesses that have a strong business-to-consumer component, Facebook is a great place to showcase your brand personality since the site supports posting pictures, quotes, and fun updates–all opportunities to present your brand narrative to followers.
Twitter. Twitter has an estimated 250 million unique monthly visitors but according to the Pew report is marginally more popular with males and with users ages 18-29. Unlike LinkedIn, where status updates can be weekly, successful Tweeters post at least 2-3 times a day, but no more than 8-10. Businesses using Twitter as a main social media strategy need to have a significant amount of how-to and informational tips, ideas, strategies, and suggestions they can tweet.
LinkedIn. Considered the top B2B site for professionals, LinkedIn tends to attract an older, more educated and higher earning crowd than its competitors. One report by Royal Pingdom reveals that 79 percent of LinkedIn users are 35 or older. In short, LinkedIn is all about business. According to Lab42, top-level executives primarily use LinkedIn for industry networking and promoting their business.
Pinterest. Pinterest is best known for appealing to a mostly female audience, with 72 percent of users being women at an average age of between 25 and 54. Twenty-five percent of Pinterest users have earned a bachelor’s or higher degree, and the majority have a household income of between $25,000 and $75,000.
3. Do we have the time, talent, and/or money to pursue this social media tactic with excellence?
Another client I was working with–the CEO of a mid-cap high-tech firm–felt strongly that writing a regular blog would be of great benefit to his CEO brand and his company brand. The problem? He wasn’t a very good writer.
I suggested someone from his staff might take on capturing his ideas and turning them into initial blog posts. Sadly, no such person existed. As for hiring a professional writer, the costs–given the quality the client wanted–were prohibitive.
In the final analysis the client settled on a strategy featuring a monthly, rather than a weekly, blog. He also went whole hog on his Twitter strategy–reaching out to influencers in their space to gain brand recognition.
Regardless of which direction you decide to take your social media strategy in, the most important aspects to building your brand online are consistency and quality. Don’t let your social media accounts go idle, and don’t bombard your followers with promotion-only posts.
Let the particular medium dictate what and how often you tweet, post, or pin, and you will be on your way to branding your business like a pro.
This article originally appeared on Inc.com.
I was sitting in a charming cafe in the El Born area of Barcelona last week when my cell phone started ringing a mile a minute. The first message said, “We just heard about the van incident in Barcelona. Are you okay?”
I looked up to ask my friend if she knew what they were talking about. She, however, was too busy looking at the flood of texts she was now receiving. We shortly realized that a terrorist attack had occurred a mere 800 meters from where we were sitting. A van had plowed into a group of tourists, already killing 12 and injuring dozens of others.
Within a few minutes, the entire city was on lockdown. Taxi service was suspended, helicopters were flying over century-old churches searching for the culprits, shops were sliding their aluminum doors shut, and we were requested to move inside — and stay there. We had no idea when we would be able to leave, how we would get home, or even much about what was happening.
We quickly ducked into a hotel on the square and grabbed a spot in the bar lounge, where we sat sipping sangria for four hours. The roads back to our hotel were closed, so even walking back to our Airbnb was not an option.
It was a tense, emotional period of time, and honestly I wasn’t prepared for it, but I walked away with these six important tips about how to handle this situation when it occurs:
1. Find a spot inside a hotel bar or cafe ASAP.
Within ten minutes of our sitting down in an almost empty hotel bar lounge, tourists with nowhere else to go streamed in. Many were turned away.
So your best bet is to find a cozy chair, claim it as your own, and hunker down. While you’re at it, you may want to make dinner reservations nearby as well, since those fill up in a hot minute as well.
2. Update your Facebook status.
One of the things we soon discovered was that in the social media age, information travels around the world at the speed of light. To avoid the stress of getting back to everyone who reaches out, put a general status update on your Facebook letting friends and family know that you’re okay.
One other tip: Don’t burn out your cell phone battery texting and calling everyone back home. Instead, ask one key contact person to let other people in your important circle know how you are.
3. Make a hotel reservation for the night.
In these types of situations, the amount of time you may be stuck and unable to get back to where you are staying can be hours and — in extreme cases — even days. Hotels fill up fast in these situations, so it’s a best practice to Google a few of the hotels close by and start calling to book a room for the night. You can hopefully cancel the reservation if things resolve sooner rather than later.
4. Locate a walking route to where you are staying on your GPS.
As we soon learned, walking back to where we were staying was going to be the likely outcome. Your best bet is to locate a walking route on Google Maps. Make sure to snap a screenshot of it, so you can access it later even if you don’t have an Internet connection.
5. Make friends with your fellow travelers.
There is a wonderful musical playing in NYC that was nominated for a Tony called Come from Away. It’s the story of tk passengers whose planes were diverted during 911 to a small town in Newfoundland and the townspeople who took them in. We had our own mini-experience of this. During our lockdown we met and talked with people from all over the world. We shared drinks, stories, photos, and critically, cell phone chargers.
6. Keep a level head.
The final thing I learned about these situations in Barcelona last week was to keep it all in perspective.
At one point we went to eat at the restaurant in the hotel. The staff were gracious, but understandably stressed. Meanwhile, the couple at the next table were complaining that they’d had a hard time finding a taxi to the hotel and didn’t understand why no IPA beer was being served.
Was it inconvenient to be on lockdown? Yes. But compared to those hurt and injured, or the suffering of their family members, a few hours sipping sangria in a bar lounge on lockdown is a blessing.
This article originally appeared on Inc.com.
One of my longstanding traditions has been to leave a few days on either side of a business trip to a city, or country, I’ve never visited. But like most business travelers, I still experience the occasional pop-in visit, a short trip for a single meeting or daylong conference.
Even in those circumstances, I still try and get in a few hours of the local culture. On a recent trip to Barcelona, I discovered just how much one could sneak in over a short break in the action.
Here’s an easy two-hour itinerary to give you just a taste:
Start at the Placa de Catalunya.
Begin your short sojourn at the center of the city, the Placa de Catalunya. This central square is well known for its grand fountains, neoclassical and avant-garde sculptures, and the massive flocks of pigeons roaming about looking to be fed.
It’s the jumping-off point for some of Barcelona’s most interesting neighborhoods and important streets, and a great place to start when you’re short on time. A large Apple store sits on the corner of the plaza, so if you have any Mac or iPhone related issues while on the road, you can kill two birds with one stone. Estimated time: 15 minutes.
Stroll Las Ramblas.
Walk across the Placa de Catalunya and arrive at a tree-lined group of streets known as Las Ramblas. Here you can wander down the pedestrian-only center of the boulevard admiring the architecture.
One note: Avoid eating at restaurants directly on the street — the food is expensive, and touristy. If you’re hungry, don’t worry. The next stop will have your mouth watering. Estimated time: 15 minutes.
Snack at Mercat de la Boqueria.
Even if you are not a foodie, the sheer shock of color, movement, and crowds makes this a worthwhile stop. Located right off Las Ramblas, the Mercat de la Boqueria is where tourists and locals alike come to buy fresh seafood, fruits of all kind, and the Spanish staple: Jamón ibérico. Small stands are peppered throughout the market, where you can sample the wares or sit down and have a meal. Estimated time: 30 minutes.
Marvel at Casa Milà.
No trip to Barcelona would be complete without a viewing of at least one of Antoni Gaudi’s world-famous buildings. Gaudi, Spain’s most famous architect, is best known for the Sagrada Família church–but it’s a bit far afield if you only have a few hours to spare.
Instead, catch one of the many taxis available in the city and go straight to the Casa Milà — also known as La Pedrera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hot hint: Be sure to buy your ticket online beforehand so you won’t have to wait in a long line of tourists to get in. Estimated time: 30 minutes.
Have a rooftop drink at Hotel Majestic.
Having had your fill of culture, walk a few blocks down from Casa Milà and duck into the Hotel Majestic. Head straight for the rooftop bar, where you will be rewarded with a well-made cocktail, a strong cup of café, and an uplifting view of the beach shoreline beyond.Estimated time: 30 minutes.
Find yourself with a bit more time? If you’re lucky enough to have an entire day to spend in Barcelona, add these great finds to the above itinerary.
Shop in the El Born neighborhood.
Tucked away in the narrow alleyways of these backstreets are some of Barcelona’s most stylish shops. The El Born area plays host to boutiques featuring unique home ware, clothing, gourmet foodstuffs, and more. If you’re looking for a special something to bring back home — this is the place. Estimated time: 60 minutes.
Visit the Joan Miró Museum.
Barcelona plays host to several great museums, but my favorite by far is the Fundació Joan Miró, located on Montjuïc overlooking the city. The building houses a comprehensive collection of Miró’s paintings, drawings, sculptures, and works on paper. Save time by taking a taxi there and getting your tickets ahead of time online. Estimated time: 60 minutes.
Dine at Cera 23.
I can think of no better ending to the day than the pleasure of dining at this local Spanish restaurant. Cera 23 is located down a small alleyway in the El Raval neighborhood, this eatery’s food has a great depth of flavor made from simple ingredients.
So if foie gras ravioli with cream quince sauce or black squid-ink paella with saffron cream sounds appealing, then this might just be your idea of heaven. And as it is with all great restaurants, the mouthwatering food is matched only by the excellent service. Estimated time: 2 hours.
We’ve all read the articles on how to spend three perfect days (or 39 perfect hours) in a city. While that’s always optimal, more and more businesspeople find themselves in and out of a place within a 24- to 48-hour period.
In a city like Barcelona, it’s a shame not to at least take a few minutes to stop and smell the café.
This article originally appeared on Inc.com.
I recently attended yet another in a long series of professional time management & productivity workshops I have been to over the course of my career. And while each has its own spin, they all promote some version of the same holy grail of an efficient work life: be focused, be persistent–and above all, be on time.
So it was with pleasant surprise that I read Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman’s new book A Mind at Play (Simon & Schuster). The book chronicles the story of Dr. Claude Shannon, a modest, quirky mathematician and engineer who was one of the founders of the information revolution, and arguably one of the lesser-known geniuses of the 20th century.
While you might not know Shannon’s name–you have benefited from his work. That’s because Dr. Shannon developed the idea of the “bit,” and it’s these millions of bits traveling through space that make this blog post possible.
Shannon wasn’t just a brilliant math mind, he was also a unicyclist, an inventor, a juggler, a stock picker, a gambler, a chess player, a pilot, and the co-creator of the world’s first wearable device. He was someone who passionately followed his interests, wherever they led him, and he built a life out of doing what he loved. It’s a life that has a lot to teach us about the prevailing wisdom of productivity, and why we just may have it all wrong.
Here are a few of the unconventional (and even counterintuitive) lessons from this 20th century genius:
In his graduate school days, Shannon would find himself in the middle of working on some thorny math problem, and rather than double down and focus even harder, he would step away–and play the clarinet. Later in his life, Shannon would come into his office and spend the morning engrossed in long games of chess or juggling.
He’s not the only one who used the distraction strategy. Albert Einstein would famously play the violin as a way of working through some challenging physics problems, and Darwin took long walks.
These breaks, as it turns out, are part of brilliance. Top-level minds treat their mental capacity the way a sprinter treats his muscles: with brief bursts of activity, followed by periods of rest. Today’s science confirms our instinct to pause after intense work. But geniuses like Shannon, Darwin, and Einstein knew it well before the experts proved it.
The right distraction (often considered a dirty word in the world of work) might just provide the important break you need, before your next eureka moment.
Be an amateur.
Dr. Claude Shannon had a PhD from MIT, worked at the hypercompetitive Bell Laboratories, and ended his career with a dual appointment in MIT’s world-renowned math and engineering departments. He won nearly every major prize in his field and was given the National Medal of Science by President Lyndon Johnson.
And yet, for all his professional accolades, Shannon was comfortable being something that we too often take for granted: an amateur.Shannon was “an amateur unicyclist” and “an amateur juggler,” and could often be found tinkering away at his home, building things from scratch such as a robotic mouse that could navigate a maze.
Successful entrepreneurs, experts, and businesspeople often feel the pressure to be successful in all parts of their lives. But one lesson from Shannon’s genius is his willingness to not be a genius–his willingness to try and test and play.
Walk away from your successes.
Shannon experienced a brief flash of fame after the publication of his seminal work on information theory in 1948. Life Magazine wanted him. He was put on national television. He even got a spread in Vogue magazine. If he wanted to, Shannon could have ridden the wave of his popularity for a long time.
But instead, he wrote a 350-word piece letting his colleagues know that things had gotten out of hand. A document–that flies totally in the face of Shannon’s self-interest. Shannon took it even one step further: He walked away from the field of information theory almost entirely and pursued other lines of research and inquiry. That decision led to some of the most imaginative, out-of-the-box work he ever produced.
How often do we feel the pressure to repeat ourselves, doing the same thing, the same way, for years, just because we are good (or great) at it? Shannon’s brilliance shows us that we shouldn’t be afraid to walk away. Our best work might just be right around the corner.
A Mind at Play show us that you don’t need to be a genius to learn from a genius. Claude Shannon’s inventive, vibrant life demonstrates how vital the act of play can be to making the most of work.
This article originally appeared on Inc.com.