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Increase Your Powers of Observation

Increase Your Powers of Observation

    My husband and I were walking down a busy street in downtown Chicago.  Suddenly, my husband gasped.

    “What?” I said.

    “You didn’t see that?”

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    “No, what are you talking about?”

    “In front of us.  A bird just swooped down and tried to grab a sandwich out of that woman’s hand.”

    “No kidding, that’s crazy!”

    “You’re really not that observant, you know that?”

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    He was right.  Even though I’m a writer and have been told countless times that keener observation makes for more interesting prose, this is not my strong suit.  When I’m out and about, I’m usually in my head too much to carefully process what’s going on around me.

    You may naturally focus inward, but when you’re at work, being a great observer is critical to your success.  You will be better able to size up what’s working and what isn’t, and adapt your approaches to fit your environment.  It’s also easier for good observers to pick up on unspoken messages and cues, resulting in stronger and more empathetic relationships with other people.

    One of my New Year’s resolutions is to practice some techniques that colleagues and friends have shared.  Maybe they will help you too.

    Be mindful

    Once a day, pick a time to relax in a quiet, peaceful place.  Close your eyes and let the tension in your muscles go.  Try to stop all of the activity in your mind, instead focusing on your breathing and the sounds and smells around you.  Acknowledge how the space under you feels.  If your mind begins to wander, gently pull yourself back to the present and stay there for 15 minutes or more.

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    Sit in a public place and journal

    Take a few minutes to sit in the park, library, or shopping mall.  Really see the people around you and pay attention to what they’re wearing, how they’re walking, and the interactions they have with others.

    Record the details coming through your senses, such as the construction work that just began one street over, or a late customer banging on the door of a closed store.  Write whatever comes to mind, including how the scene makes you feel.

    Create stories

    When commuting on the train or waiting in line, observe the strangers in the vicinity.  Take note of their characteristics and behavior and imagine what their lives are like – where they live, what they do for a living, who their family members are, etc.  You can do the same thing with photos of people you spot in magazines or online.

    Eat consciously

    Instead of wolfing down your lunch while working at your desk, have a meal with no distractions – even conversation.  Eat slowly as to observe how the food smells and tastes, and its texture as you chew.

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    Walk instead of drive

    Walking allows you to interact more with your environment, which is helpful in honing observation skills.  Note the weather, the amount of commercialization and traffic, the influence of nature, and whether the scene around you is calm or chaotic.  Guess what urban planners, residential developers, or landscape architects had in mind when they designed the locale.

    Take off your headphones

    Similarly, while in transit on foot or in a vehicle, you can better observe your surroundings and listen to interesting conversation and noises if you aren’t devoting all of your attention to your iPod.

    Consume entertainment actively

    It’s tempting to zone out while listening to a favorite song or watching a great movie.  But once in a while, it’s smart to practice your observation skills by thinking about the meaning behind a songwriter’s lyrics, or what the director was getting at when s/he shot a scene a particular way.  This may also help you enjoy your entertainment more fully!

    (Photo credit: Macro shot of a woman’s green eye via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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