I Pomodoro and you should too!



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Does this sound familiar…

…You have a gigantic to-do list and don’t know where to start.
…You have deadlines looming and can’t choose which one to meet and which one(s) to miss.
…You start your work with the best of intentions, but invariably find yourself distracted by email, social media, phone calls, dogs barking, hunger, thirst, and/or anything else that attracts your attention.

Excuses. We all have them. The fact is, it’s hard to work efficiently and effectively, given the dozens of lovely ways we can distract ourselves these days.

What if you could get your work done and enjoy all the things that distract you too?

That’s where the Pomodoro Technique comes in.

I encourage you to visit the website when you have time. In the meantime, here is the  quick and dirty explanation:

  1. Commit to work on one task, distraction free, for 25 minutes.
  2. Set a timer and get to work.
  3. When the time is up, set the timer for 5 minutes and enjoy a break.
  4. After 5 minutes, reset the timer for 25 minutes and get back to work.
  5. After 4 rounds of this, set the timer for 20 – 30 minutes and enjoy a longer break.
  6. Repeat.

Sounds simple, right? Trust me, it works.

There are a few things I do to maximize my efficiency. This helps my list loving brain and minimizes the “Oh, I need to do….” distractions.

Map it Out

I prioritize my day and map out how many Pomodoros each task needs. Email, for example, gets one Pomodoro in the morning and another in the afternoon. If I’m writing, I allocate different pomodoros for first drafts, edits, and so on. I find that working on one task for 25 minutes is very helpful, but you might start with simply working distraction free for 25 minutes.

Be Flexible

I build flexibility into the schedule by leaving every 6th or 7th Pomodoro  ”open”. I use this open time to finish anything I wasn’t able to do earlier. If there is nothing to be finished, I use the time to write, brainstorm, stretch, plan meals for the week – anything. It’s not a break because I’m not allowing the distractions of social media or online shopping sites to suck me in, rather I’m giving myself permission to spend 25 minutes on tasks that often get pushed aside.

Commit to Following Through

I consciously decide to do this everyday. Even after using this technique for a while, I still need to set the intention to follow through. It is very, very easy to get sucked into the rabbit hole of procrastination and there are days when procrastination just seems more fun than work. That said, when I procrastinate, I find myself thinking of everything I’m not doing and that  leads to feeling overwhelmed which leads to stress. That’s not good for anyone. So, each morning I ease into my day with a cup of coffee and a yoga class followed by mapping it out and a commitment to see it through.

What harm is there in giving this a try? What if it works and you become a super-efficient-time-management-ninja?

25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of play…

… You’ve got this.



Life is Practice



learn by practice

Blog by Jen Bebb

Lying on a yoga mat last week, it clicked. One word, heard thousands of times before, resonated and echoed and stayed with me for several days. It’s with me now…

…practice

The yoga teacher said something like “Remember, yoga is a practice and you will always have things to learn, to improve and to work towards.”

Further into the class she was leading us through a pose and shared that it had taken her years to reach this point and that she was still working towards the next level. The teacher admitted that she was still learning, practicing, and working to get better.

Let’s say that again: The teacher, considered a master of her craft by those in her class,  admitted she was still learning, that there were things she could not do, that she worked to improve everyday.

It’s a practice.

And there is was, everything that is wrong about our “leaders”, everything that is wrong about professional education, right there in my yoga class.  How many of our leaders, our educators, the masters of the craft, still take time to learn, grow and practice everyday?

It would be interesting to change our vocabulary surrounding success. In photography (the space I was in for 14 years), you reach a certain level and are considered a “master” of your craft, or “expert” in your field and you begin educating others. My experience is that this makes it challenging, especially from an ego perspective, to continue your own eduction and growth. You may choose not to attend class for fear that people will  question your “master” title, or for fear of not looking like an “expert”.

What if success was the journey, not the finish line?  After all, if we stop learning and growing, we’re done.

When we stop practicing, we are no longer growing.

We can’t be – we can’t stay on top and maintain our position in whatever market we are in without innovation and growth. Not today.

Life is about practice.
Success is about practice.
Innovation is about practice.
Growth is about practice.

We should flip the current ethos and call out those among who choose not to continue education and growth, especially those we hold up as leaders. Wouldn’t they be better leaders if they attended class,  advanced their own development, and continued practicing?

If I had known then what I understand now, I would have happily attended the classes taught by others, I would have sought out newcomers and chatted about process and craft. I should have gone to different courses just to learn how others do things, and I should have embraced people who were charting a different course, watching as they wandered into something different, but equally of value.

As leaders we are conditioned to believe we have to learn from leaders who are “better” than us. Maybe we look up to Seth Godin and consider him better than us. And maybe one day we rise to the same level as him – now where do we go to learn? Where do people like Brene Brown and Seth Godin go for new ideas and continuing education? Do they hold themselves above it all (I suspect they do not or they would have quickly become sidelined)?

What if we started to respect the practice that is life, business and everything else in our world? To use a sports analogy – the very best players in the world are still in need of a coach and still practice regularly. They never stop honing their skills and learning from each other.

Why do we, as leaders, feel that once we’ve been given that designation by others we no longer are in need of practice? How are we different than every other person on this earth?

Everyone needs practice.

I’m going to WPPI next week and I wonder how many instructors will sit in classes other than those taught by their friends, actively listening and taking notes. Beyond that, how many instructors will sit in a class taught by someone they disagree with or in a subject they already “know” and be open to the idea that they might learn something.

I encourage everyone to attend classes taught by people who aren’t their “heroes” or who might be controversial. Go learn from someone who has been doing this for 30 years, then someone who has been doing it for 3 years and see what takeaways you get. Deliberately sit in on a class you heard bad things about and form your own judgement. Before dismissing what someone has to say, listen to them.

I dare you, each of you, to get out of your boxes, your routine, and open your eyes to the possibility that there is a better/different/more efficient way to get things done.

Practice!


A pep talk to myself…and to you



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 post by Jen Bebb, co-founder of What If the Conference.

Past hurts haunt us. They stalk us in the dark and creep into our lives. We do not know they are there until they have entrenched themselves so deeply in our souls that we cannot shake them loose. In our unguarded moments, they infiltrate all aspects of our current life, coloring emotion with their sadness/anger/regret until we no longer separate then from now. At times we see them clearly for what they are and squish them back down where we think they belong, but that merely increases their power and causes us more pain.

We must pull our hurts and regrets out into the light and give them the attention they deserve. They are important and they can exist alongside all the good and positivity we also have. They simply want to know you remember them, that you acknowledge their existence, that you are willing to every-so-often be consumed by them, that you never forget about them. If you can do that, if you can embrace the sadness/anger/fear/regret/doubt of a moment that reframed you, you can also embrace to joy/potential/certainty/hope of your present and/or future.

It is when we hide the darkness in an even darker place that it thrives, it cannot grow in the light. It will not go away, nor should it, it is part of you, but it must be tamed and put into the context of a whole life. One moment should never define you – you are a whole person, living millions of moments, each with the potential for something incredible. Do not allow yourself to wallow in what might have been, or what was, rather embrace your past, love it with all that you have, for it made you who you are today. Hold it tight as you would an injured child, then let it go when it starts to squirm. Before you know it, it will hurt less, demand less of your attention and exist alongside hope and happiness.

You can do this, ______, I believe in you. You have the capacity and intelligence to understand what you are doing. You recognize it in others and know just how to help them. Help yourself – love yourself. Know that you deserve happiness and joy and know that you will only get that when you choose it.

*an excerpt from the 750 words project introduced by Dane Sanders at What If, 2014*

The Thinking Behind the ‘What If’ Rebrand



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Guest Post by Brian Buirge of GFDA

After our first experience with What If in the Dominican Republic in 2013, my business partner Jason Bacher and I knew the mission of What If was too important not to lend a helping hand. So while enjoying our week as innovators in the DR we plotted to win the favor of conference co-founders Jen and Steve Bebb. Lucky for them we didn’t have to resort to name-calling or other devious tactics to convince them of the value we had to offer.

Reflecting on our own experiences in 2013 with What If (both in the DR and in Bali), we fleshed out a strategy to help guide the process of the rebrand.

Starting off, we were sure that the voice of What If absolutely had to stay the same. So often companies and organizations struggle to artifically attach a voice and personality to their brand in a thinly-veiled attempt make it feel authentic. Fortunately this was not the case, Jen’s personality is omnipresent in the brand and we knew it was imperative to maintain her genuine voice throughout.

Next we needed to clearly define what makes What If distinct. Now, for any who have had the good fortune of previously attending a What If event, you know how difficult it can be to put this experience into words. While you could probably write a short play about this topic alone, we focused ourselves by limiting the distinctions of What If to three areas:

  • What If rapidly establishes a strong close-knit community at each of the events/conferences which then extends well beyond the experience of the event providing participants with a second family to support their creative life endeavors.
  • The atmosphere at What If provides an experience where individual innovators(speakers) and learners(attendees) are seen as equals, creating an environment that allows people to be vulnerable resulting in quicker, long-lasting, more genuine personal and professional growth.
  • What If offers a range of experiences, activities, and adventures from serious and meaningful to light hearted and playful which culminate in the exploratory experience of the individual’s own humanity.

As part of our process we also used words and short phrases to define what a successful design solution would look like as well as care words (our own jargon term meaning words or short phrases that evoke a desired response or emotive reaction from the audience). These helped to define some parameters for us and also helped communicate to Jen and Steve where we felt this whirlwind was headed.

After getting their glowing approval on our intended strategy, (they said we were pretty smart) we pushed forward with roughing out a variety of elements related to the brand. We sketched logo ideas, defined the site map of the website, crafted a variety of color palettes, explored a unique illustrative approach, and brought it all together in the form of the new website.

The logo was defined by the concept “Making Impossible Possible” which we felt captured the spirit of the conference. Much in the way viewing an impossible object requires a constantly changing perspective, so too are attendees challenged to change, shift, and adjust perspectives in work and life.

Based on numbers from previous What If events, we knew that that the audience for What If leans in a feminine direction, so we defined a color palette that has some feminine notes but in the spirit of being more gender neutral and all-inclusive, is decidedly earthy. These colors also played into the illustrations we developed. The illustrations were an opportunity for us to reinforce the personal and playful side of the conference while providing room to explore a visual language for all aspects of the brand. We wanted to focus on the various tools that bring innovators and attendees ideas into motion.

Creating a web solution for a nearly sold-out event meant we needed to address two things, both the design of the upcoming event and all future events to come. We needed the final design to be clear and easily accessible, but also flexible and scalable in both the visual design and backend to consider the transformation for future What If events.

Ultimately a brand is like a person. It lives and it is constantly growing and developing. We feel privileged to be involved in the direction of the What If brand at this phase in its maturity and look forward to unveiling the remaining visual components at the conference next week!


Waiting for Awesome



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You create.

You make something from nothing and you put it into the world. Maybe you share with excitement or maybe you let it quietly be. Either way, once out there, the waiting game begins.

It seems to me we spend a lot of time waiting for awesome. You know what I mean, right? We put something out there (anything) and we wait for people to respond. We wait for the outcome we want. We wait for awesome.*

But awesome is an elusive thing, and rarely appears without reason to do so. What reason do we offer, what work do we do to attract awesome to us? All too often  the answer is nothing. We wait and wait and wait and then we get frustrated or angry when awesome doesn’t show up. Then we quit. Or, at least, a lot of us do.

We wait.

We wait more than we realize. We choose waiting over taking action, over getting the thing done that needs to get done. We wait because not waiting (taking action) is a lot of work and that work can seem unbearable.

While we wait we look around at others and we watch them get the awesome we want. We envy, we copy, we malign, we judge and we resent people who get what we want, seemingly without the stress and the uncertainty that we feel everyday. We see awesome go elsewhere and we blame everyone else – everyone, but the one person who needs to be accountable.

If awesome doesn’t come to you, that’s on you. No one took it from you. No one “owns” awesome and no one gets awesome without effort. If awesome doesn’t come it’s time to reevaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it. It’s time to look within yourself and get really honest about what you did right and what you did wrong,  about where you fell down and why you got complacent.

As tempting as it is to blame others, if you are waiting you are not working. And if you are not working, it’s on you.

At the end of the day, you can’t succeed by waiting for others to give you something. You have to work, every single day and make it happen yourself. There is no easy way, there is no magic bullet and there is no overnight success.

There is only work and when you work, awesome just might decide to visit.

*”awesome” is a metaphor for all that we want…sales, attention, money, love, whatever it is that you seek.

 


Giving up control to gain success



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How often do you get exactly what you want, in exactly the way you want to get it? Really…how often?

If you are anything like the rest of the world, things rarely turn out exactly how you planned. Nevertheless, you spend hours and hours trying to control how things will work out, crafting a plan for every area of your life. Maybe you have a life plan that includes marriage by a certain age and kids a specific number of years after the wedding. Maybe you have a business plan that meticulously details exactly how many clients you are going to get this year and exactly how you are going to get them.

You follow your plan with precise steps, ensuring the outcome will be exactly the way you expect.

Except it’s not what you expected. It rarely is.

When you hold tightly to your blueprint, you become single minded and rarely look up, let alone sideways, to see what might be happening around you. You miss out on shifting market forces, changes in technology, and other things that will effect how your plan plays out. When you are afraid to let go, to leave questions unanswered, or to ask different questions,  you may find yourself missing the very opportunity you have been waiting for.

Keeping your eye on the prize is fine, but you have to look around once in a while as well.

What if you decide to let go, just a little bit, and relinquish some control? What if you allow for the possibility that things might not go the way you planned? What if you accept the idea that your goals might be achieved through other means?

Plans are important and I believe knowing where you want to go is key to actually getting there. That said, it’s equally as important to be flexible in the planning process and to allow yourself the room to adjust as necessary and explore as desired.

Rather than doggedly following one path, control what you can and allow the rest to happen fluidly and organically, leaving room for both what you think will happen and the opportunity for it to happen differently.

Why not try these things:

  • nurture yourself with good, healthy food
  • move your body each day (this not only helps with your health, but also your creativity)
  • rest each night
  • surround yourself with good people – the kind of people that will be supportive and honest with you
  • offer support to others without expectation of reward
  • ask for help when the answers aren’t obvious
  • listen before speaking
  • read a book that challenges what you believe
  • write something everyday – you don’t have to share it, just write
  • reach out to new people and introduce yourself
  • give someone a compliment
  • understand that it’s when things are hardest that growth happens

Make a plan, have goals and targets, and reach for them. But open yourself to the possibility that things might not work exactly how you expect them to.

When you let go, you may end up with more than you ever dreamed possible


The Test Kitchen



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Have you ever had an idea you were convinced was “the idea”?

You know what I mean – the kind of idea that consumes your thoughts, causing you to forget almost everything else as you explore what it is and how to make it a reality.  This is the kind of idea that you desperately want to bring to fruition, but you’re not sure if it will work, or if anyone will buy it, or how to take that final (or next) step to getting it done.

What if there was a place where your idea, in whatever stage, could be shared without fear of judgement? What if there was a place where you could get unbiased feedback ? What if  your idea/business/product/movement could be the subject of discussion for three days and  you could find potential collaborators to help you bring that idea to life?

Introducing the Test Kitchen, one of our newest What If Conference innovations.

On Tuesday, February 4th,  ideas will be shared. Each “test-er” will have 5 minutes to explain their concept to the What If attendees after which  they will have time to explore your idea on their own, offering feedback, insight, collaboration and more.

The Test Kitchen is designed to make a “What If” become a “What’s Next”.


What’s New at What If, 2014



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By now you all know that we sold out What If, 2014 in just a few days – no dates, no location and no confirmed speakers! It was an exciting thing to be part of, this massive outpouring of support, but when the dust settled, the dates and location were chosen and the hard work began.

We planned for months and months, choosing Innovators and designing an event rich in content and experience. We took what worked in the Dominican Republic in 2013 and “plus one’d” it as our friend Dan O’Day would say. We had it all figured out, and were getting ready to launch…

…and then we changed it. All of it. 

In October, 2013, after three daycamps and innumerable conversations with attendees and Innovators, Jen threw the entire plan away, convinced we could do better, do more, for each of you.

So we stared again, from the beginning, examining all aspects of What If, what it stands for and what we want it to be. We went back to “why” and redesigned everything.

First, the theme: COURAGE –  more specifically, the courage to take chances, to (in the words of Kenny Rogers) know when to hold them and know when to fold them, to change mid-stream or to push through when the slog begins. We know you can dream, we know you can get inspired, but we want to give you the courage to act, to explore, to really discover what you want and what you need.

Courage isn’t about being brave, it’s about doing what is right for you, despite what everyone else thinks or says.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. – Nelson Mandela

Once we knew that “courage” was our theme, we got to work.

We know that our full group sessions are important to give everyone the same information base. We know the small groups we introduced in the Dominican Republic and Bali are instrumental in coalescing ideas and fine tuning goals. We kept both these types of sessions intact for What If, 2014, but added a few more.

THE EARLY START: On Monday, Feb 3rd, a bus will pick you up from the Phoenix airport and bring you to the ranch. The conference, for you, starts on the bus. We don’t want to give away the details just yet, but it’s going to be awesome!

HANDS-ON: these sessions are designed to help you create something tangible that you can take home with you. We will have a variety of sessions to choose from – writing, drawing, making a short film, handcrafted wearables and more. Whatever you produce is for you – a talisman, if you will, to remind you that you are capable of doing anything you put your mind to.

QUICK TALKS: There are so many different things we can chat about at What If, and there simply isn’t enough time for each topic to be 90 minutes long. Our quick talks are short 15 – 20 minute sessions focussed on one specific topic. Some will make you laugh, others will make you cry, but all will offer something to get you thinking.

TEST KITCHEN: this idea deserves a whole blog post, but the gist of it is this: alumni and innovators are bringing their ideas to you. We will have up to 10 different products/businesses/ideas available for you to consider. The presenters are looking for unbiased feedback from you on ways to refine their ideas, ways to bring them to life, and ways you might collaborate with them.

FULL DAY SESSIONS: On Friday, we are offering a series of optional add-on sessions for anyone who wishes to attend. These sessions cover a variety of topics and will all be announced shortly. Don’t worry, they won’t be super-pricey either (they start at $79)! Some of the topics include: what’s next – goal setting and a tangible action plan for the coming months, lifestyle + balance, the power of writing and how to start, and more.

Over the course of the year, some people’s situations have changed and we’ve had a few seats open up. We would love to have you join us at What If and you can grab your seat here:  Sign Up and find out more information about the Ranch here! Our room rate includes food too!


the slog



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There comes a point, in every endeavour, where every road seems to lead nowhere and you begin to wonder if it’s even worth the effort.

This is the slog, the time when the desire to quit fights with the desire to persevere.

To keep doing something even though it is difficult or boring, to work at something in a steady, determined way. When we first start something new it is, of course, exciting.  Things often happen quickly and we are motivated to see things through in the hopes that success is imminent. But success often takes longer than we anticipated – the overnight success is rarely a quick one – and we are soon faced with the reality that is is going to be harder than we thought.

Once the initial rush of “new” has passed, the motivation to continue is harder to find.

This, it seems, is where we derail. This long, slow, exhausting part of the journey often causes us to quit. This is where our ultimate success may, in fact, be determined.

How do we keep going? How do we know this boring series of steps will lead to something more interesting and/or wonderful? How long do we have to do this before we can quit or see results?

The answer is this: “I don’t know.”

For some, the slog seems endless;  it becomes a tedious routine that leads to the maintenance of an idea, rather than innovation. For others, the slog becomes the catalyst for growth in an effort to break free. For many, the slog is the end, rather than the middle, and the idea is left to die in the minutiae of making it happen.

Where are you on your journey? Are you slogging along and just hanging on? Are you content to flounder there or are you making adjustments to speed it along?

To get through this requires patience and perseverance, coupled with the surety that this is worth it. Yes, slogging along is hard and yes, it can cause you to second guess all you are doing. But when you get through and come to a place where your steps speed up and the results of your work begin to pay off, you will know that quitting was not an option for you.

In every journey, energy begins to wane. In every journey, the act of taking the next step becomes, at some point, mental rather than physical. In every journey, doubt wages was with motivation.

This is where you find out what you are made of – keep slogging forward, friends, and see your idea through. Don’t quit because it’s hard- it will always be hard if you let it. Follow through, discover the finish line, then get ready to do it again!


Failure is always an option



without failure nothing changes. what if conference

Failure is a funny thing. We all try so hard to avoid it;  it’s a mark of embarrassment and shame. We hide our failures and hope no one will notice how badly we screwed up.

What if we changed that? What if we celebrated failure and embraced it for what it really is?

Failure isn’t bad or wrong or awful. Failure is inevitable, necessary and wonderful. Failure is how we learn and grow, it’s how we gauge what really matters and what doesn’t, and it’s how we discover the truth of what success means for us individually.

Failure allows us to reevaluate the path we are on and determine if it’s the right one. So many people walk an easy path having success after success. But that path, the easy path, isn’t always the right path, it isn’t always the path you would choose if had the opportunity to change your mind.

It isn’t always your path, this route filled with success, it’s often the path someone else chose for you.

I would rather fail on my own terms than succeed on someone else’s.

Look around you, look at all the wonderful things that fill your home. You have a phone, a computer, a TV, a car, food in the fridge, a home to live in…all these things exist because someone failed. Someone, somewhere in history, had an idea and they tried to make it come to life. And they failed. And tried again. And failed yet again. And tried again and again, learning from each failure and advancing their idea every time.

Without failure, nothing changes.

So go, get out there and fail at something. Fail hard. Then get up and do it again!


Being Average in a World that Demands Exceptional



the road at night by Jen Bebb

Most of us are average.

We are average in terms of professional and/or personal success. We live in average homes, drive average cars and live average lives. We are average in so many different ways: looks, weight, personality, ability, intelligence, athleticism and more.

Average folks work SO HARD and rarely get noticed. They feel like the back-up singers to those who are exceptional. They fly under the radar, accomplishing things, but always struggling to break out and achieve the success that is just out of their reach.

I confess…I’m average. And knowing that I am one of thousands, if not millions, simply trying to do the best I can, is both comforting and discouraging all at once.

I’m so used to being overlooked that when I’m looked at, it takes me by surprise.

I struggle to feel worthy of success, to stay determined and motivated when things don’t always come easy (they never come easy). I find myself wanting to stand out, yet feeling fearful when I do. I yearn for recognition of a job well done, but am reluctant to accept it when (if) it comes. I struggle with body image, a plain face and the legacy of unrealistic expectations in an airbrushed world.

I am average, just like you.

We judge others against our own experiences, not knowing their commitment to the work or the sacrifices they make. We take refuge in mediocrity assigning almost super-human characteristics to those who stand out. And we watch, all too often, with glee as they fall from grace, reaffirming the safety that comes from being one face in a sea of faces like ours.

Because I am, despite my averageness, an optimist, I believe that even those we count as exceptional are, in fact, average people who have worked really hard and done exceptional things in ONE OR TWO AREAS. I believe we are all capable to being exceptional at something – all of us.

Think of it this way – for exceptional to exist, so must average. So while we are average in some ways, we are exceptional in another way. Compare yourself to yourself, not to others. You may be average at athletics, but exceptional at visual storytelling. You may be of average height, but exceptional beauty. You may have average intelligence but exceptional hand-eye coordination.

YOU ARE EXCEPTIONAL IN SOME WAY. YOU JUST ARE.

Average is safe. And comfortable. And familiar. And we languish there because the alternative, no matter how badly we want it, is so freaking scary.

I dare you, each of you, to take a good hard look at why you don’t feel exceptional, at what is holding you in place. I bet, if you’re average like me, the only thing in your way is you and your willingness to do the work. 

Do the work. It’s worth it. Exceptional is waiting for you.