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How to Fuel Your Idea Machine

How to Fuel Your Idea Machine
A stack of books

    “Reading fiction is a waste of time.”

    Have you ever heard someone spout this line of complete and utter bollocks? I’ve rarely heard anything so ridiculous said in my life. Fiction, like all the arts, is an important part of culture; both a reflective distillation of it, and the base elements that form it. Society’s collective attitudes, values, beliefs and the public memory have a symbiotic relationship with the arts.

    Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business.

    – Henry David Thoreau

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    But a practical lifehackista may not be so interested in the importance of the arts in society; what exactly is the point of reading fiction? You may be thinking, “now that you’ve brought it up, it really is unproductive to read novels! How could I have wasted so much time?”

    Well, if you’ve stopped reading, start again – and if you never did start, now is the time. Here’s why.

    Fuel Your Idea Machine

    Since these are the words used in the title of this article, you may have come to the conclusion that this is the most important reason (for me, at least). That’s true, and I find the “save the best to last” trick that some writers and marketers use a bit gimmicky.

    Before you tell me that you don’t need ideas, think again. Not everyone is an artist, but everyone inherently must be creative. It’s a necessity of a life in which you face problems on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps you need to park your car in a full carpark, or perhaps you’re losing your job, your house and your family. While the scale of these problems are totally different, they share one commonality: they can often be solved with the use of some creativity.

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    Maybe you won’t get the optimal result. Maybe you will. But solving problems is the application of creativity to reality, and in almost every instance there is a workable solution of some sort. You just have to find it.

    Sometimes you’ll find the solution and sometimes you won’t. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you haven’t found solutions in the past means that this principle is rubbish; if you deny the power of ideas, how are you supposed to use them powerfully?

    Reading books, fiction and non-fiction, fuels your idea machine. It gives you fodder to think with. The brain is essentially nothing more than a computer (albeit much more complicated); it takes an input, processes it and produces an output. In other words, you can’t create ideas without inputs. Life experiences and memories are your starter inputs; books allow you to branch out into the experiences of others, in the non-fiction section, and fiction allows you to reach the realm of fantasy – experiences nobody has really had. Fantasy breaks all the normal rules, and so do the best ideas and solutions, so what better place to start?

    If you’re worried that by sucking down other people’s ideas your somehow being unoriginal, remember that this is just fodder for your own ideas – and also, if you have any knowledge of literary criticism, remember that authorial intention and a reader’s interpretation are never the same.

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    Escapism is Good

    I’ve heard it said that all escapism is a bad thing. It’s probably what the woman who recently left her husband because of his World of Warcraft addiction muttered as she slammed the door. Everything is a bad thing in over-the-top quantities, but to say escapism is inherently bad is like saying water is poisonous. It’ll only kill you if you drink too much.

    Books allow you to escape the real world and head into another, and grok knows we need it. The proverb life is a bitch, I always imagined, was probably uttered by a wise man in a turban meditating on a mountaintop when he achieved enlightenment. The originator of this phrase found a way to sum up the ultimate truths of the universe in one line. So why not escape?

    Escaping into fiction is a fantastic way to cope with a stressful life, relax, and lower your blood pressure for a while. It’s better than some forms of relaxation and/or entertainment because it allows you to de-stress without actually turning your brain off. Unlike your physical body, your mind can be stimulated and rejuvenated at the same time!

    Enjoy a Story Without the Mind-Rot

    I love a few good television shows – Battlestar Galactica, Boston Legal, the Sopranos. Unfortunately, the advantage film has over other art forms is the same thing that is a disadvantage to your brain if you over-consume. It’s realistic; your brain doesn’t have to do any work. You just take in what has been created for you.

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    Books, on the other hand, are words on a page; there are no voices, no moving images on a screen depicting reality as if you were right there. Your mind has to create the visuals and sounds all on its own.

    If you swap out just one of your regular television shows for regular fiction reading, then you can exercise your creativity on a more regular basis. Like self-discipline, creativity can be compared to a muscle and in this particular analogy we are talking about the process component of the input-process-output model of our thoughts.

    You Can Consume More Books and Still Keep it Green

    Don’t forget, in keeping with this month’s green theme at Lifehack.org, it’s a simple and painless procedure to switch to eBooks. In fact, it’s a heck of a lot more convenient to carry around hundreds or thousands of books in your pocket on a PDA than to bring one thick novel anywhere. I think a good principle is that anything you do that leads to living a greener life will have many benefits for you, not just the environment, and this is certainly a case in point.

    The other benefit of eBook reading is that you can whip your PDA out whenever you have a spare five minutes, no matter where you are, and get more reading done that you could before. I’ve been doing this for something like six or seven years and it’s allowed me to read more than if I stuck to paper.

    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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