5 Ways to Stay Sane During the Festive Season

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“And so it’s Christmas, and what have you done?” Sang John Lennon. Well the truth is, I’ve done bugger all over the last few days except for play the brilliant Walking Dead game on the iPhone.

Why? Because I get a bit overwhelmed by just the thought of Christmas. Here’s a few ways of coping that I find work.

1. Hide

Yes, you heard me. Run, run, as fast as your little legs can carry you and hide under the bed, or a table or something. Millie, the cat we adopted last year is a nervous wee soul who goes skittering out of the room at the slightest noise. I advise you to follow her lead this Christmas, and find a cardboard box or sock drawer to squeeze yourself into.

On a more serious note, if you are like me and you need time by yourself each day, make sure you schedule in some breaks when you can go off on your own for a while and read a book, meditate, go for a run or even maybe do something creative like writing or drawing – it will make a massive difference to your mental health, believe me.

If you feel refreshed from some alone time it can only help improve how you relate to your family and friends. If you start to feel trapped and overwhelmed, you could say or do something you regret (especially if alcohol is involved -see step 2).

2. Drink & Eat Less

Yeah right! Right? Don’t get me wrong, I love eating and drinking as much as you, but there’s nothing worse than lying awake for hours with heartburn because you ate the equivalent of a small tribal village’s annual dietary intake by yourself.

Or telling Uncle Frank where he can stick the remote control during the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special because he brought up that embarrassing incident from 11 Christmases ago in front of your fiancée.

However impossible this may sound, it is in fact entirely possible if you follow step one and be completely antisocial like me. It’s amazing how much of the Christmas experience revolves around the communal experience of passive aggressive social pressure, boredom and feelings of being trapped (or maybe that time I fell down a well with only rodents for company has soured my perceptions).

Of course the problem is, it’s nice to have an excuse to over-indulge once in a while and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem is many people already eat and drink too much throughout the rest of the year! Christmas then becomes an excuse to overindulge to Man Vs Food levels of ridiculousness.

This will be my first ever sober Christmas so it will be a novel experience to spend the day watching my wife getting slowly more drunk. Also, as its my first Christmas as a freelancer, I’ve not been invited to any Christmas parties which has been a bit of a relief to be honest. The likelihood is however that I’ll make up for being sober by shovelling huge lumps of iced fruit cake into my mouth with my bare hands.

3. Stop Spending Now

Never does the minimalist movement seem so sensible than at this time of year. Adverts make parents feel guilty for not buying their 5 year olds the entire contents of the John Lewis electronics department, and the extortionate prices in poncy Christmas party venues are too easy to ignore until you look at your bank/credit card balance in January with the same sinking feeling as the Greek Chancellor must have every day.

So, just stop spending. Not as easy as it sounds, is it? I for one have my eye on a Big Jambox.

4. Celebrate Christmas Early

The fact that everyone is travelling home for Christmas on public transport or driving (Chris Rea’s preferred method), means that it’s madness to try to do the same. Instead, why not visit family earlier in the month and do your own thing on Christmas Day?

My wife and I have done this for several years, and believe me it is GREAT having a quiet Christmas day to ourselves, and helps avoid all the traffic, expense and need to watch crap TV for hours. We can choose to watch whatever DVD boxset we want, and she makes us a “traditional” vegetarian Christmas dinner which is perfect and doesn’t come with the usual raised eyebrows of my unconvinced carnivore kin.

Yes, it is antisocial but it’s a great solution if you tend to get easily stressed out by big get togethers (sorry if this is too late for 2012, but keep it in mind for next year!).

5. Give January Gifts

It’s too much pressure to find decent gifts for everyone at the end of December when you have to fight your way through hoards of zombie like shoppers. Far better to wait until after Christmas when most things are reduced, and then surprise that family member or friend with a January gift.

This is a slightly risky strategy as they are probably holding a grudge against you for not buying them any Christmas presents, but if the gift is more thoughtful than the average socks & chocolate orange combination they’ll probably forgive you.

If you’re one of those talented crafty creative types, you can get handy with a needle and thread or some scissors, glue and discarded wrapping paper to make some kind of unique papier mache monster which will be much more welcome than another bar of soap or unwelcome ornament.

And with that bitter dose of “bah humbug” over and done with, I genuinely bid you a very merry festive season!

Do you have any tips for surviving the festive season or do you think I need to be less Scrooge-like?

Apocalyptic Accountability – A Conversation

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Photo by badjonni


If you’re reading this the likelihood is the world didn’t end on 21st December 2012 as the Mayans predicted. Although it’s still possible at the time of writing, just less than 30 minutes before the bells toll to midnight on the 20th. But assuming that it doesn’t happen, it’s still an inescapable fact that 2012 is almost over.

Time for some Friendly Accountability

My pal Fabian and I have been holding each other accountable in a friendly way most of the year so we thought it was a good time to discuss how things have gone, and look forward a little to how we can wrap things up and make improvements in 2013.

It’s a tester for a possible regular podcast where we would invite others to reveal their tips for people who want to be productive whilst still enjoying life, so it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on whether you would be interested in hearing more.

Hope you enjoy the conversation!

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p.s. I can still learn a thing or two about getting things done from Fabian, that’s for sure. His post went up much earlier today, and so I’ve copied the show notes from him:

4 Things That Make Instagram Special

Have Instagram signed their suicide note?

There’s a big hoo-ha today because Instagram have decided to change their terms and conditions from the 16th January 2013, giving them free reign to sell users’ content & activity within the app to third party advertisers.

And I’ll admit, I’m pretty upset. Like, I could kill a zombie scarecrow upset (see obligatory Instagram picture).

After all, I just wrote about Instagram in the Pimp Your Online Presence Microguide, and now I’ll have to update it already.

More than that, I really like using Instagram. But judging by some comments I’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook a lot of people have a negative perception of it.

In the same way that Twitter is seen by non-users as a place where people only share trivial details like what they had for breakfast, Instagram has become misconstrued as a place for hipsters to share what they had for lunch.

However I believe that as with any social network, the users are what make it. I get a lot out of the posts by people I follow on Instagram, and here are the three things which I think made it great prior to them deciding to shaft their users.

1. Immediacy

Instagram is incredibly easy to use from a smartphone, meaning you can share a moment while it’s happening or not long after. This makes for a much more compelling experience as a follower than being hit by 100 photos all at once on Facebook or Twitter. It also means you must choose photos more carefully. No one wants to see 15 photos from the same person in their Instagram feed.

2. Beauty

A lot of people turn their noses up at what’s been termed ‘iPhoneography’, as if it’s not possible to take great photos with a cameraphone. I say bullshit to that. Every day I see incredible pictures on Instagram.

Some people are also sick of seeing so many pictures with Instagram’s signature filters. They think that it’s somehow dishonest to change an original photo, or that the filters make all the photos posted look the same.

Personally I think they’re a great way to improve the look of my photos and add a certain amount of timelessness to them. It works for me aesthetically anyway, and it saves messing around with settings when your priority is to share something in the moment.

3. Community

On Instagram you don’t have to read a lot of nonsense to find out what your friends or the people you follow are up to. You can get a stronger sense of how their day is going from a well-chosen picture. There’s very little negativity or rehashing of tired internet memes either – just people taking a moment out of their day to be observant and a little creative.

4. Continuity

I personally use Instagram as a photo diary, sharing moments which I want to have a record of, and that I think might interest other people. I also use it to keep up with other people’s lives as they unfold. It’s a great way of telling a story over time.

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It’s Facebook’s Fault

Ok, I’ll admit, the writing was on the wall the minute Instagram was acquired by Facebook. But these terms and conditions are even worse than those on Facebook as there appears to be no way to opt-out. On Facebook you can adjust your privacy settings to stop them taking too much advantage of your personal data – but this doesn’t seem to be the case with Instagram as it currently stands.

What I’m hoping is enough people will complain that it will force Facebook/Instagram to back down, as has happened in the past with Facebook itself. If that’s the case, maybe I can justify keeping my Instagram account past the 16th January. I will use it until then but will probably look for alternatives (though I don’t think there are any that would provide the same community/continuity aspects).

The worst part of this is it proves just how bad Zuckerberg and Co’s attitude towards our personal data really is – and it’s likely Facebook will keep pushing us in this direction on all of their platforms.

What about you? Will you boycott Instagram and/or Facebook or are you still convinced Instagram was just a place for hipster posturing?

Update: 

Instagram have responded to the outcry from users and begun to ‘clarify’ what they really meant by the terms and conditions (thanks to Tim for the heads up!). Hopefully they will make it crystal clear so that I and others can continue to enjoy Instagram without worrying about our content being misused.

 

Pimp Your Online Presence in Six Steps

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Today I’m releasing the 3rd Microguide in the Career Masterplan for Mad Geniuses series. it’s packed with 58 phat pages making it the biggest and juiciest guide so far. And it’s completely free to download until Wednesday 12th December, after which it will only be available for subscribers. To get your free copy, subscribe to the Clear-Minded Creative Newsletter.

Not only that, but you can also listen to the Pimp Your Online Presence Official Soundtrack on Spotify. It’s Hip Hop through and through, so if you’re easily offended by that sort of thing, you might want to pass. It features the likes of cover star Snoop Doggy Dogg (or whatever he’s calling himself these days), Kanye West and er.. Betty Boo. Of course.

There’s loads in the guide, but basically it boils down to six key steps:

1. Determining Your Digital Identity

Choosing what domain name to use and who your audience will be, as well as personal branding.

2. Planning Your Platform

Which software will you use? WordPress comes out the winner, but will it be WordPress.com or WordPress.org?

3. All is Not What it Themes

Choosing a decent theme for your blog

4. Go Postal

Setting up an email newsletter

5. Social Media Smack-Down

Getting started with social media (and avoiding over-whelm)

6. Planning Your Publishing Strategy

Putting some thought into what you’ll be posting online and how often.

So if you want to know more, subscribe to the Clear-Minded Creative Newsletter.

If you like it, share it!

And let me know what you think in the comments, especially if I’ve missed anything.

p.s. Problogger currently has a great sale on blogging ebooks (all of them are just $10) if you want to get really serious about this schizzle (affiliate link) (sale ended Dec 2012).

 

Is Your Employer Exploiting Your Creativity?

An article by a former ad man who sadly died of cancer recently has been doing the rounds.

He concludes somewhat bitterly that he had been deluding himself throughout his career by thinking that working in advertising was some kind of higher cause. He suggests that the industry as a whole exploits employees’ natural impulse to create as well as a tendency to set themselves high standards and crave praise more than money. Below is a short quote but the whole piece, whilst sobering, is well worth reading.

“It is a universal truth that all artists think they are frauds and charlatans, and live in constant fear of being exposed. We believe by working harder than anyone else we can evade detection. The bean-counters rumbled this centuries ago and have been profitably exploiting this weakness ever since. You don’t have to drive creative folk like most workers. They drive themselves. Just wind ‘em up and let ‘em go.”

What do you think? Are creative people being taken advantage of by employers?

Original source:  Business Insider

Headspace

It’s a No-Brainer: Headspace is the Easiest Way to Start Meditating

Headspace

Meditation. What does that word mean to you?

To some it will be a bit too airy fairy, and only something for hippies or weirdos. Or you might have heard a lot about it, but are unsure how to even go about getting started.

Well if you’re willing to look past your preconceptions or fears around meditation, you might want to try Headspace’s free Take Ten programme, which offers ten guided meditations lasting ten minutes.

Headspace takes a very modern approach, using great web and mobile design to help people establish a daily meditation habit. Each day you are guided through the process by Andy Puddicombe. Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk, so he knows his stuff!

Update: I’ve now completed the full Headspace program. I speak a little bit more about it, and the differences between mindfulness meditation and transcendental meditation in this podcast:

Why is Meditation Useful for Creative People?

I’m sure a lot of people reading this are attracted to the idea of taking some time out of their day in order to calm their mind. After all, with all the ideas and thoughts floating around our minds, us creative types probably need it more than most.

In fact, given the title of this blog, it’s perhaps surprising that I haven’t discussed meditation in depth before now.

The fact is that both anecdotal and scientific evidence have shown that there are widespread benefits to meditating regularly. I’m already feeling the benefits! The Headspace site has loads more info on this.

Why now?

You might want to try it now in order to help calm your mind at a busy and often stressful time of year. Or you may want to start doing it in the New Year. Thankfully, 10 minutes a day for 10 days is very manageable.

The truth is that whilst I’ve tried different meditation techniques in the past, I’ve never made it a regular habit.

And having given up drinking alcohol for what I’m calling ‘a Year of Clarity’ it made sense to try and establish a new, positive habit of meditating to take advantage of those mornings without a hangover.

Here are some of the positives and a few drawbacks of the Headspace approach. Bear in mind that the main Headspace programme takes a full year and there is a charge for it, so this free programme is obviously designed to get you to sign up to the full programme. However whilst you need to sign up with an email address, there is no charge for Take Ten itself.

Headspace phonePositives

  • Beautiful and useful design of both the website and mobile apps.
  • Very well designed apps for both iPhone and Android mean if you have a smartphone, you can access the Take Ten programme for free anywhere with a 3G connection.
  • The Take Ten programme is an extremely simple ‘taster’. Each meditation is guided so you can’t really go wrong.
  • It’s free!
  • You can set up reminders in the app so that you don’t forget to take part
  • There are videos which help you to approach the meditation including the best way to sit, and the best time to do the practice. Puddecombe suggests first thing in the morning, and I’ve found that repeating it a second time each day works really well.
I only found a few, very minor niggles about the Headspace system. Nothing’s perfect, after all and I’m sure these are things they could improve in future.

Negatives

  • You need to give your email address and you will be sent about 3 emails prompting you to sign up to the full programme. I would have preferred to only receive one email at the end, but perhaps the repetition helps people remember and you do get offered a decent discount on the normal annual fee which helps. The ‘from’ field in the email also says ‘lapsed’ which was a bit off-putting.
  • On one of the days there was some downtime on the Headspace server, meaning I couldn’t access the meditation recording on the phone app. However this does seem to be a rare occurrence as I have now signed up to the full year and done 10 more days without any problems.
  • There are videos in the app, but annoyingly they can’t be watched in landscape mode on my iPhone so they are very small. Apart from this, the app is very well designed, but this does irritate me every time a video pops up (some of the recordings have an additional video intro from Andy).

If you do sign up for the full year, you’ll get guided meditations for every single day of that year, which go through a number of different themes. The first programme once you sign up is Take Fifteen. Things do gradually become a little more complex as the days go by, but it’s manageable so far. Also by the end of the year you will have received guidance on how to meditate on your own.

Of course you could just as easily learn how to meditate from someone you know who is already doing it, or from a book, but I love the Headspace approach because it is making establishing a daily habit extremely easy and pleasurable. As the title of this review suggests, as far as I’m concerned, signing up was a no-brainer.

Here’s a good intro video if you want to find out a bit more.

Sign up here: www.getsomeheadspace.com

Let me know in the comments if you are going to try the Take Ten programme. Or, if you already meditate, let us know what benefits you’ve experienced from your practice.

If you found this post useful, you might also enjoy my free ebook ‘Refresh Your Mindset’ which is available free when you subscribe. (You can read an extract here).

Unique Antiques (Instagrams)

I spotted these beauties walking home today. I have no use for such things, or space for them, and I can’t really afford them. But if I did have a nice big room to put them in I’m sure they’d make me happy and be great conversation starters.

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Do you have anything in your home that’s not particularly useful but makes you happy anyway?

Excited Man unboxes Seth Godin’s Behemoth of a Book

Wowzers – that is one big book! Loving the enthusiasm in this video.

I backed Seth’s Kickstarter campaign for the Icarus Deception and so this and a few other goodies should arrive at some point from the US. A bit worried that there will be custom charges though considering the size of that thing!

You can get a short preview of the Icarus Deception by downloading the free manifesto ‘We Are All Artists Now‘.