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2×4: An Interview with Randy Murray

2×4: An Interview with Randy Murray
    2x4: The Interview Series

    (Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first 2×4 interview here on Stepcase Lifehack. 2×4 is one series that examines two topics — creativity and productivity — by asking those who make things on the web the same four questions on both subjects. This regular series of interviews began on Michael Schechter’s site as a way to better understand how those who create for the web approach their work. Participants to date have included Eddie Smith from Practically Efficient, Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, writer Yuvi Zalkow, Social Media blogger Danny Brown, Lifehack.org editor Mike Vardy and more. Going forward, Michael will be offering up regular 2×4 posts from an array of developers, designers, writers and artists from around the web. To learn more about the series or to read the previous interviews, check out the archives.)

    You can find just about anything on the internet. No matter what you’re interested in, chances are there’s someone out there telling you how you can do it better. What’s rare is someone who tells it to you straight, who says things you probably don’t want to hear, who makes you question things you’ve always assumed to be true. No matter what you’re looking to do, you need one of these people in your life. If you’re looking to write, you need Randy Murray.

    Randy is a writing machine. In fact, this very interview came back the same day that I sent it (after an already impressive day of writing). He splits his time between several interests including his corporate writing, his books, a well-liked personal blog, his recently launched book publishing venture and his love of playwriting. In other words, the man has a passion for words and the way we use them.

    I’ve only recently started to get to know him and could easily go on as to why you need to start following his work, but I’ll spare you and let Randy’s words do the talking. Without further ado, here’s a look at one of my favorite writers about writing, Randy Murray:

    Creativity

    Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

    Yes. But it wasn’t always about writing. Some of my earliest memories are of singing. I’ve always had a strong, room-filling voice. I remember singing “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain” at a school assembly, probably in the kindergarten or first grade and being surprised at how astonished everyone was. Singing and music came naturally and performing followed. I was also a voracious reader and dreamed of a life filled with books, maybe even as a writer.

    In high school I really blossomed as a performer, especially singing and acting. I even traveled with a Christian music group in the summers, not because of the religious aspects, but because I loved performing.

    In college I started off studying biology and chemistry with the intention of becoming a doctor, but found myself spending all of my time in the theatre. So I switched programs and followed my heart. That lead to graduate studies, initially in directing, but morphing into playwrighting. I wrote some plays, one really decent one, and earned my MFA.

    But earning a living as a playwright is somewhere between difficult and outright impossible. So I used my acting (auditioning) skills and landed myself a job as a technical writer and trainer at Bell Labs and spent the next 25 years in various roles in high tech, from writing thousands of pages of manuals, to running marketing, and eventually, as a Vice President of Operations. But the further away I got from writing, from creating, the less I enjoyed it.

    For the last two years I’ve done nothing but write. I’ve got a play in production, I’ve published one book with a 2nd on the way, and I’ve created a successful business writing practice. It’s the creative that drives me and I can only really be happy when I’m in the middle of writing, creating, or building.

    What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate toward to realize your creative goals?

    I write every day, sometimes just for pay, sometimes for my web site, First Today, Then Tomorrow, and sometimes on creative projects. Plays, the theatre, is where I believe my true, core creative spirit lies, but I’m tempted to write both short fiction and novels.

    If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creations are you most proud of and why?

    My play, “Grimaldi: King Of the Clowns”. It’s almost like I didn’t create it. It was thrilling to see it performed in Texas earlier this year and I’m looking forward to going to Scotland to see a new version I’ve written performed (it’s a short, one act version designed for street performance).

    And I’m digging writing and publishing on First Today, Then Tomorrow. One of the favorite pieces I’ve done there are “Look Up From Your Screen” and “Things You Cannot Convey To A Young Writer (Or Any Other Calling)”.

    Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative enough to unlock their inner artist?

    Get to work. If you love something, want to become an artist, go and hook up with those who are already doing it. Study, get training, do it. Suck a lot, but get better.

    I have a friend that tell me “Every writer has a lot of bad writing they have to get through to get to the good stuff.” I strongly believe that applies to all of the creative arts. You have to work at it.

    My oldest daughter is a jazz musician and my youngest is a visual artist. I’ve seen both spend literally thousands of hours practicing, experimenting, and learning. For years I hauled my daughter’s string base to lessons, listened to her play, badly, but slowly get better. And I’ve hung a lot of ugly pictures on the walls. Each of my girls started with a core drive and talent, but the artist was unleashed in them, as it was in me, through the work.

    Productivity

    Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

    I’m an independent business writer. I work with clients, typically through marketing agencies, and write all forms of business materials, mainly marketing, web sites, books, white papers, and presentations. Over the last 2 years I’ve worked with businesses of all sizes, including the biggest telecom, retail, and software companies.

    So basically, I write. I also consult, do speaking and training, and occasionally manage projects.

    I’ve also started a small publishing company, First Today Press LLC. This last year we published two books, my own Writing Assignments and Patrick Rhone’s Keeping It Straight. This next year we’ll publish More Writing Assignments, Patrick Rhone’s Enough, and books from at least four other authors. I’m very excited about this and I’m hopeful it can bloom into a stand-alone business.

    How do you go about balancing the personal, professional and digital?

    It use to be more difficult, but it’s much easier now that I’m working on my own and a bit more, um, mature (older). I do client work no more than 4-5 hours a day, unless I’m under deadline pressure. The remainder of the working day is for my own projects, keeping connected digitally, and running about. I keep my weekends and evenings free for time with my wife, and when my girls are around, I take off all the time I like. It’s sweet.

    I understand my situation is ideal. I make a good living, my wife works a regular job that had excellent benefits, and we’ve saved and invested wisely. Not everyone can do that. But if you can do it, even if it takes you twenty-five years like it took me, find a way to make it happen. I’m having the time of my life.

    What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?

    Solitude and quiet are my main tools. I can write with anything. I find I write best early in the day, at my desk, alone in my office, writing on my iMac. I am, and always have been, a complete Apple fanatic, although I can easily handle PCs, Linux, and Unix systems. I’m never more than a few feet from an iOS device, including my ever-present iPhone 4 and my 1st gen iPad. And I always have at least my Fischer Space Pen and a 3×5 card in my pocket, if not a full notebook or journal.

    I am a practitioner of Getting Things Done, but I’m not a fanatic about it. I also use the strategic planning and management practice called Structural Tension to quickly build goals and plans and execute them.

    What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us who are looking to get more organized?

    Clear yourself a little space. That’s the best way to start any project.

    Other than that, ask yourself what you really want. If you want to be entertained, that’s what you’ll be. But if you want to do something, prepared to be bored, to work hard, to become frustrated, and to make a mess.

    I hear people say, “I want to write, but I just end up playing games all night.” Maybe that’s what you really want. If so, cut yourself some slack and play. But if you want to write, to do anything creative, put the games and distractions away. If you can be tempted away that easily, you don’t want it enough to actually do it.

    More by this author

    2×4: An Interview with David Sparks 2×4: An Interview with Myke Hurley 2×4: An Interview With CJ Chilvers 2X4 Interviews 2×4: An Interview With Gabe Weatherhead 2×4: An Interview With Brett Kelly

    Trending in Productivity

    1 How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace 2 What Am I Doing with My Life? Find Your Answer Here 3 How To Use Goals and Dreams To Achieve Personal Success 4 Easy Tasks or Difficult Tasks First? Which One is More Productive? 5 7 Reasons to Dare to Dream Big

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    Last Updated on June 3, 2020

    How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

    How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

    We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

    However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

    Let’s take a closer look.

    Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

    A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

    Builds Workers’ Skills

    Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

    Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

    Boosts Employee Loyalty

    Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

    If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

    Strengthens Team Bonds

    Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

    However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

    Promotes Mentorship

    There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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    Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

    Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

    How to Give Constructive Feedback

    Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

    Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

    1. Listen First

    Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

    Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

    You could say:

    • “Help me understand your thought process.”
    • “What led you to take that step?”
    • “What’s your perspective?”

    2. Lead With a Compliment

    In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

    You could say:

    • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
    • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

    3. Address the Wider Team

    Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

    You could say:

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    • “Let’s think through this together.”
    • “I want everyone to see . . .”

    4. Ask How You Can Help

    When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

    You could say:

    • “What can I do to support you?”
    • “How can I make your life easier?
    • “Is there something I could do better?”

    5. Give Examples

    To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

    What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

    You could say:

    • “I wanted to show you . . .”
    • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
    • “This is a perfect example.”
    • “My ideal is . . .”

    6. Be Empathetic

    Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

    You could say:

    • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
    • “I understand.”
    • “I’m sorry.”

    7. Smile

    Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

    8. Be Grateful

    When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

    You could say:

    • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
    • “We all learned an important lesson.”
    • “I love improving as a team.”

    9. Avoid Accusations

    Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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    You could say:

    • “We all make mistakes.”
    • “I know you did your best.”
    • “I don’t hold it against you.”

    10. Take Responsibility

    More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

    Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

    You could say:

    • “I should have . . .”
    • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

    11. Time it Right

    Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

    If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

    12. Use Their Name

    When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

    You could say:

    • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
    • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

    13. Suggest, Don’t Order

    When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

    You could say:

    • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
    • “Try it this way.”
    • “Are you on board with that?”

    14. Be Brief

    Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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    One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

    15. Follow Up

    Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

    You could say:

    • “I wanted to recap . . .”
    • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
    • “Did that make sense?”

    16. Expect Improvement

    Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

    By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

    You could say:

    • “I’d like to see you . . .”
    • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
    • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
    • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

    17. Give Second Chances

    Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

    You could say:

    • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
    • “I’d love to see you try again.”
    • “Let’s give it another go.”

    Final Thoughts

    Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

    More on Constructive Feedback

    Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

    Reference

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