When was the last time you were bored? Are you too distracted to be creative?

I recently watched this video by Kyle T. Webster entitled: Make Time for Boredom.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to be bored? We live in a world of constant distraction, spending hours interacting with our screens, mostly doing nothing at all.

We flick from Instagram to Message to Email to Twitter to Facebook to Netflix to YouTube and back again hoping that something there will distract us. Apart from wasting time, have you ever wondered what all of that time-slicing is doing to your brain? Perhaps, if your brain wasn’t doing all of that stuff it would be bored, but perhaps that boredom would help you to be more creative? That’s what the video is about, and I think it’s a message many of us need to hear:

Header Image: a rather dull, yet pleasing seascape across Morecambe Bay from Silverdale. I stood for a while and pondered.

“Time can be an ally or an enemy. What it becomes depends entirely upon… Zig Ziglar

“Time can be an ally or an enemy. What it becomes depends entirely upon you, your goals, and your determination to use every available minute.”

Zig Ziglar

Header Image: This is the water and rocks below Birks Bridge in the Duddon Valley. It’s a great place for a STORIES adventure, particularly for a swim.

I’m reading… “Time and How to Spend It” by James Wallman

I really liked this book, it met so many of the criteria for a good book for me:

I like books with practical advice that is communicated as principles rather than prescriptions.

I like books with stories, we are made to remember stories.

I like books based on evidence, particularly when the author acknowledges that the evidence is indicative rather than definitive.

I’ve spent much of my life with a couple of quotations about time ringing through my head:

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Which I didn’t realise until writing this post was simply an extension of Albert Einstein’s quotation “Time is an illusion”.

“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

C.S. Lewis

These two quotations are, in some regards, contradictory. Time can’t be both an illusion and a constant ticking of minutes and yet, for me, this contradiction speaks volumes. We each have the same number of minutes in a day, that is true, and yet, each of us recognises that how we use those minutes greatly influences how we perceive our day. The spending of minutes is where this book is focused, but not where most of this type of book focus their study, on our work life and how to get ahead, this book is primarily targeted at all that time you have when you aren’t working.

James Wallman begins Time and How To Spend It with a couple of quotations:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Annie Dillard

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

William Penn

How do you spend your time? Yes, you spend a lot of it asleep and, probably, another huge section at that thing you call work, but what about the remaining minutes? Have you ever received any training on how to spend that other time? Do you know what type of activity in your free time would enrich the whole of your life? How do you avoid those times where you feel like you’ve wasted your time? How do you get the best value out of your free time? Can you really call time free?

As I look around my friends, acquaintances and colleagues I see so many different ways that people use the free time that they have. Some people appear to achieve so much and have such amazing experiences while others have little to show for the time that they have spent. What are the things that separate these two extremes? Does it matter? Well it does if we can enrich our whole life and even extend them by investing our time in particular ways.

James Wallman’s hypothesis is precisely that, apply a set of principles to spending our leisure time will greatly enrich our lives.

The reality is, though, that many of us have a very uneasy relationship with the free time that we have. A quotation from the opening chapter of the book:

“The popular assumption is that no skills are involved in enjoying free time, and that anybody can do it. Yet the evidence suggests the opposite: free time is more difficult to enjoy than work. Having leisure at one’s disposal does not improve the quality of life unless one knows how to use it effectively, and it is by no means something one learns automatically.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Why are we so uneasy, particularly now? This is a summary of the reasons that James Wallmam gives:

  • We are earning more which makes the cost of time seem higher and feel more scarce.
  • We think that busyness is status.
  • We have too many incoming messages and too many demands on our time.
  • Instead of helping, multitasking creates ‘contaminated time’.
  • We have more opportunities than ever – endlessly scrolling online, more new places to go and events to attend – and end up feeling FOMO (fear of missing out).
  • Smartphones and all of our digital devices now eat around 60% of our leisure time.
  • Leisure isn’t taught, and has become trivialised, belittled.

James Wallman likens the different ways that we spend time to the different foods that we eat, some foods being empty-calories, like all of that endless scrolling, and others being super-foods, like a walk with a close friend along a beach. The aim of the book being to teach us how to recognise and consume super-food experiences rather than flopping into an empty-calorie existence.

The structure of the book is based on an acrostic of the word STORIES with each of the letters highlighting a characteristic of great experiences:

  • Story – understanding the hero’s journey and what makes a great story.
  • Transformation – creating personal growth leads to happiness.
  • Outside and Offline – there’s huge power in being outside and away from all of those interruptions.
  • Relationships – loneliness isn’t healthy, we are made to do things together.
  • Intensity – this is about flow, which is a huge subject in its own right.
  • Extraordinary – creating a balance between novel and ordinary experiences.
  • Status and Significance – creating significance by investing in others.

With a combination of stories, evidence and anecdote each of these chapters creates a set of principles that define those super-food experiences.

I normally leave this bit until the end, but it’s appropriate here:

Header Image: Today’s header image was taken on a recent holiday when I was contemplating many of the principles in this book.

The picture was taken at the Low Wood Bay, Windermere, UK – this place has been a special place in Sue and I’s lives for over 30 years, so returning was extending an already significant story in our lives.

We are stood on a jetty from where we left our wedding reception in a speedboat. As with the day of this picture, it had been a lovely day that we would remember for the rest of our lives. There are many parts of that day that I don’t remember the detail of, but I remember the feeling of stepping into a speedboat that had been kindly decorated by the staff with trailing buoys and a Just Married poster. We kept this part of our wedding a secret, so it was a surprise to nearly everyone and the look on their faces as we zoomed off across the lake is etched into my memory.

Having taken a few picture we put out phones away and we stood and remembered, together, outside, in a kind of flow as we thought about our children, the things we had enjoyed together and the blessing of seeing them both in loving relationships of their own. We thought about some of the adventures that we had been on and looked forward to adventures to come, even the very next day. We looked across the lake at the beauty of it all and held hands.

We used STORIES to extend and enrich our story.

For a slightly longer summary of the information in the book the following is a good podcast:

The 6 Whiteboard Writer Archetypes

Whiteboards have become a vital and ubiquitous member of the office environment since their invention in the 1960s. They hang on walls and partitions around the world ready to serve owners of marker pens around the clock. So vital have they become that in some locations the entire wall has become a whiteboard.

As I observe, and take part in, gatherings around the whiteboard I’ve observed a number of different archetypes of marker pen usage. I wonder if you’ve noticed the same ones?

The Stabber

It’s easy to tell when The Stabber has been present at the whiteboard, the tell-tale sign is the state of the pens, once beautifully crafted nibs have been reduced to a stub of their former glory.

The resulting calligraphy on the whiteboard is bold and brash, it has to be, the state of the writing instruments leaves no option. If there was a font name for this type of writing it would be something like “Drawing with Crayons – Extra-Extra Bold”.

I’ve also observed that they prefer to start in the middle of a whiteboard, but they really aren’t bothered about where they write.

It’s also worth noting that The Stabber rarely wipes anything off a whiteboard.

The Detailer

The Detailer carries their own pens with them. The thought of getting to a locations and having to use pens that have been subject to a Stabber regime fills them with dread.

Their creativity is governed by strict rules of precision and neatness. One of these rules governs where they start a creation, generally in the top left-hand corner of a whiteboard.

Not only do they carry their own pens The Detailer always knows how to get a whiteboard clean and regularly re-craft their visual musings. wiping and redrawing. They often go so far as to carry their own cleaning apparatus.

The Ghostwriter

Offices around the globe are littered with dried-out pens, they are placed there so that The Ghostwriter has the required instrument for their markings.

The Ghostwriter is happiest when they stand at a whiteboard and faintly craft, in broad strokes, a resulting design that is unintelligible. Their favourite colour of dried-up pen is red, the resulting pink hews seem to hold a powerful influence over them and add to the sense of mystery.

The Ghostwriter doesn’t need to worry about cleaning their whiteboard, there’s little to clean away.

The Overwriter

You are sitting in a meeting room and the whiteboard is mostly full when the Overwriter stands up to try and communicate through a diagram that, in their mind, needs to be on the whiteboard. Rather than clearing the necessary space on the already partially occupied whiteboard they will start in a section where some space is available.

It’s obvious from the start that there is never going to be enough room for the expansive design that the Overwriter is, slowly, formulating in their mind. As they encroach on the creations of other they could clean some space for their plot, but they don’t. The Overwriter has reached a creative flow that would be broken by the inconvenience of wiping, and so they carry on drawing, blending together different outlines as they go. The resulting mess means something to them.

The Hand Cleaner

Some people, I don’t know why, must love the feel of whiteboard against their skin. That’s the only reason that I can think of for wiping a whiteboard clean with your hand.

One of the joys of the whiteboard is its resilience to all sorts of harsh cleaning treatment, yet, people still clean them with their bare hands. Hands are amazing general purpose instruments, intricate and uniquely skilled at a myriad of intricate activities – I have no idea why you would choose to use it to wipe down a whiteboard.

The Post-it Noter

Why write when you can write and stick.

The post-it note was conceived in 1974, I wonder whether it would have been as successful if it hadn’t been for the already ubiquitous whiteboard. Most whiteboards are magnetic and can be adorned with all sorts of magnetic paraphernalia, but this feature is rarely utilised. Perhaps the most common magnetic thing that gets put onto whiteboards is a wiper. The utilisation of whiteboards as a repository of post-it notes must outstrip the use of magnetic features by many multiples. I suspect that there are many whiteboards that long for the long forgotten day when they knew the caress of a pen.

A Thought

In a world with so much collaboration technology, why are we still spending so much money on whiteboards?

The global traditional whiteboard market was valued at USD 2,450.6 Million in 2016, and is expected to reach USD 3,026.8 Million by 2023

Global Traditional Whiteboard Market Outlook, Trend and Opportunity Analysis, Competitive Insights, Actionable Segmentation & Forecast 2023

Because it’s Friday: A People Map of the UK (there’s also a US version)

What would a map look like if the places were named after the “famous” people from that locality. That’s kind of what this interactive map is:

A People Map of the UK, where city names are replaced by their most Wikipedia’ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place.

A People Map of the UK, The Pudding

I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of most of the people attached to the towns and cities near where I live. Perhaps that’s part of the fun of this site, seeing that these people clearly mean something to someone around here. I can’t say that I’v ever heard of the footballer Steven Walsh, I have heard of Les Dawson though:

Via @Yorkie71 and @robingissing

I’m reading… “Nonviolent Communication – A Language for Life” by Marshall B. Rosenberg

I’m always on the look out for books that people are reading and finding helpful, interesting, entertaining, etc. Sometimes people recommend something to me, at other times I see a video or a talk by someone and decide to read their book. I found this one via a different route.

One of the subjects that I find interesting is organisational change, particularly in large organisation. The change at Microsoft since Satya Nadella become CEO has been on of the most dramatic organisational changes in recent years. I read his book Hit Refresh a little while ago and was fascinated by the definition of the organisation as a group of warring factions. What I missed from that book and only understood later on was that he had made his entire leadership team read a book as part of changing the warring factions situation – Nonviolent Communication is that book.

This isn’t a new book having been first published in 1999 based on research and experience that dates back to the 1960s. Nor is this a “Business Management” book of the type that you may expect the leader of a large enterprise to be giving out. This book isn’t a business management book at all, really, it would be better to describe it as a “tools for life” book.

As the name suggests this is a book about communication, another subject that has fascinated me for a very long time.

As the introduction to the book says:

“NVC (Nonviolent Communication) is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions. it contains nothing new; all that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries. The intent is to remind us about what we already know – about how we humans were meant to relate to one another – and to assist us in living in a way that concretely manifests this knowledge.”

Nonviolent Communications – A Way to Focus Attention

In these posts I normally give a bit of an overview of the book; I’m not going to do that this time because this is a book that deserves to be read and not consumed as a summary.

The other thing I normally do is provide some personal observations; I’m not going to do that either. Many of my personal observations are very personal and require a bit longer to become part of who I am before I write about the. What I will say is that reading through this book has helped me to see a number of things that I do when I communicate that I need to change, it’s also given me some tools to make those changes.

What I will do is to say what this book isn’t. This book isn’t a how-to prescriptive manual for counselling conversation, although much of what is in the book would be helpful for those situations. Neither is it a book of listening skills, although it includes many great insights on how to be a great listener. It’s not even a manual on how to be politically correct, although some of the examples could be read that way if you were so inclined. This book isn’t just about giving good communication, it’s also about receiving it well.

I started reading this book part way through a series of posts that in my head is called “fascinating conversations”. Once I’d started reading this book I felt that I needed to finish it before continuing those posts for fear of simply adding to my catalogue of poor behaviour. I haven’t yet decided whether I will restart those posts, I probably will, but I need to change some of the language.

Having read it I can understand why Satya Nadella made it mandatory reading for his leadership team.