Scanner Productivity: The Gather Sheet

After last time telling you how I got my inbox from overflowing to empty, it seems only natural that I also share another of my little time-saving tricks: my handy-dandy Gather Sheet.

Really, The Gather Sheet is just one part of how I manage my time as as scanner. So, I’ll focus on that for right now — but if you all are interested, in a future post, I can explain how I combine it with things like TimeBoxing and the Scanner Daybook.

Why I’ve Hated To-Do Lists

I actually really hated writing to-do lists growing up as a kid. It probably didn’t help that most of them consisted of such enjoyable tasks as “clean your room” or “vacuum the living room”.

And then there’s that scanner part of me. You know, the part that finds to-do lists constraining and confining. The moment something went onto my list, it would haunt me: “Do me… do me! Even if you’re on a completely different scanner track, I must be done!”

Why I’ve Loved To-Do Lists

On the other hand, I’ve found that — especially when I’m extremely busy — I get stressed if I try to just keep all of my “to-do” items in my head. In some ways, writing things down was my security blanket: I didn’t have to worry about forgetting things, because I knew I could just go back to my list and all would be fine.

This “clicked” for me when I read David Allen’s fantastic Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. As much as I hated them, I consistently found that to-do lists (especially the way that Allen proposed using them) tended to keep me a little more sane.  It was immensely freeing to not keep everything in my head.

The Gather Sheet

It’s taken me a while, but I think I’ve finally found a solution that works for the scanner in me (that’s the part that craves flexibility in when I do things) and the sanity part of me (that’s the part that needs the peace of mind that comes from writing things down). I call it The Gather Sheet.

The gather sheet is what you used to call a to-do list. But it’s not a list of all the things you must get done at a certain date or else lightning will strike you down and locusts will swarm and the plague will hit and the world will end (whew!).

It’s simply a collection of projects that will be tackled sooner or later. What I’ve found phenomenal is how just that simple mind shift can relax the inner scanner!

Understanding the Gather Sheet

Here’s a PDF version of my Gather Sheet; feel free to download it and use it as you so desire. Here’s what all those various fields mean to me:

1) The Date

At the top goes the date. I create a new Gather Sheet every day, because it doubles as my work to-do list.

2) The Requests

Next to get filled in is everything that I want or need to get done. These might be things from my daybook, they might be things that my boss says I have to do, or whatever. I call them “requests” because really, that’s all they are: requests for my time.

In the order they come in, I write these “requests” under (surprise!) the requests heading. It’s really important to include these in the order that they arrived, rather than some ‘priority’ system. If you try to prioritize things, you’ll basically have created just another to-do list, complete with outside pressure and timelines.

I also try to keep my requests as detailed as possible. In Getting Things Done terminology, I include only my “next actions” — the very next actionable thing I could take on any one project. So, instead of “Write Novel” it might be “Create a character sketch for my novel protagonist”. Basically, you want the task to be actionable.

Every time you get another request for your time, it goes on the request list. (The one exception I have here is for appointments — I put those on a calendar because I need the visual reinforcement of timelines.)

3) The Carry-Forward Flags

Now, for each request, go through and fill in the “CF” box. Basically, I use this as an indication of how long a certain request has been sitting on my list.

  • A number represents how many days it’s been carried forward.
  • A “W” means that I’m waiting on someone else before I can do anything with the request
  • An “N” means that the project is brand-new and hasn’t been carried forward at all yet

I’m sure there are other flags that you could come up with, but really those are the only ones I’ve found useful for me.

4) The MIT, APPTS and LHF Fields

MIT means “Most Important Task(s)” and APPTS is short for “Appointments”. This is where any non-negotiable stuff goes. Things that I could get fired for not doing, for example 😉

The MIT box is where I put the one most important thingon the requests list that I must get done on that day. It’s my “keep self honest” box. If there’s something that I would procrastinate on but which I really must do, it goes in this box and is completely non-negotiable.

I typically keep my appointments separate, in a calendar, but you could put them down as requests if you found it more useful.

LHF is shorthand for “Low Hanging Fruit”. What goes in this box is any request that I can get done, fast — generally 30 minutes or less. I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from getting things done, so I usually try to have at least 2-3 LHF every day.

5) The “Notes” Field (Blank Column on the Left)

This one’s like my mini-daybook, notepad, and call log all in one. It’s place where I can jot ideas as they come to me, phone numbers of people I need to call, details of upcoming projects, sketches of upcoming designs, etc.

Basically, it’s free space that allows me to use my Gather Sheet as my primary collection device in meetings, on the phone, or just when daydreaming.

Getting Stuff Done, Gather Sheet Style

Once you’ve got your gather sheet set up the first time, using it is pretty simple.

  • New requests for your time go at the bottom of the request list, with a CF flag of “N”
  • Every request that gets completed gets crossed off. If there’s a “next step” to a request (for example, after writing a character sketch for the protagonist, I might want to rite one for the antagonist), it gets its own line as a new item
  • MIT gets done first thing — no checking email, or the weather, or anything else until that’s done
  • LHF usually gets done next, since they’re things that I can get done quickly
  • When deciding what to do next, I usually look for items with the highest CF values and work at them. This helps me not procrastinate on things for too long, but gives me the flexibility to work on things as I feel like it

That’s pretty much it. Use it throughout the day as new requests come in, old ones get done, etc.

The last bit of the system is: before the end of the day (be it the work day or before you go to bed), review all that you go done the previous day!

  1. Look at everything you finished! Do any have follow-up items that you should write down as new requests? If so, do that first.
  2. For any request that didn’t get crossed out, ask yourself: do I still want to do this? (or, if it’s a work task, “does this still need to be done?”). If yes, it gets an arrow drawn in under the arrow column. If not, it gets an X.
  3. Flip to a new page, and write tomorrow’s date at the top.
  4. Copy, in the same order that they appear on today’s page, any request that you drew an arrow beside. Increment the CF by one (since it’s been carried forward an additional day).
  5. Look at your calendar and write down any appointments, including time and location.
  6. Decide what your MIT and LHF are for the next day. Write them down. Don’t be afraid to make your MIT something that you want to do, rather than something your boss or significant other wants you to do!

And that’s it. Put it somewhere you’ll see it, first thing — at the kitchen table if you’re using it at home, or maybe on top of your computer keyboard if at work.

The Benefits

Like I said before, the Gather Sheet is what’s worked for me — and I hate to-do lists! The reasons it works are many:

  • It gets stuff out of your head, and on to paper. Very de-stressing!
  • It respects your time, by allowing you to see everything that you’ve got going on at a glance
  • You have the flexibility to cancel items that no longer interest you, or that no longer need to be done
  • On a similar note, you can see at a glance you can see what you’ve been procrastinating on — and either get it done, or leave it behind
  • You can get things done quickly, because you’ve identified things like low hanging fruit and most important tasks
  • It allows you to do things when you want to, rather than based on a priority system that’s imposed on you or arbitrary

What about you? Do you have a time management tool that you like to use? Or maybe you’re trying the Gather Sheet for the first time — how’s it working for you? Feel free to share your insights and ideas for the rest of the readers!

Getting to Inbox Zero

Every so often, I’ll go to send an email and get an annoying little message box telling me that I’ve got way too much junk in my inbox — and until I clean up my act, it won’t let me send any more outgoing messages.

Phooey to that.

The benefit, though, is that I’ve managed to come up with a technique that allows me to go from inbox-overwhelmed to inbox-empty quickly and efficiently. Here’s how I do it.

(Before getting started, I recommend turning off your phone and IM, putting on some headphones and setting out a do-not-disturb sign. You want to get in the zone to move quickly through this process. The process will take anywhere from half an hour to a couple of days, depending on the volume of email you’ve got piled up.)

1. Turn on the Reading Pane

In order to get through my inbox as fast as possible, there are a few simple set-up things I like to do to get myself set up.

First up, I turn on the reading pane. The reading pane is a window that shows your message as soon as you select it, rather than having to double click the message heading to open. If  there is no reading pane option, I try to use as many keyboard shortcuts as possible so I can navigate quickly through messages without having to wait for them to open and load.

Optional: turn on threading for conversations. This helps when you need to keep only certain messages from a conversation — for example, when the most recent message includes all of the previous messages as quotes.

2. Get Ready for Initial Filing

Then, I’ll create three temporary folders (or labels/tags depending on your email package) that I use for my first pass through the messages. These folders are not the height of filing excellence, and you’ll want to do some proper filing later.

  1. Action
  2. Waiting
  3. Keep

Why three? The goal in the first pass through your inbox is to be making rapid fire decisions. Any more than three, and you start to spend time figuring out how to file, rather than just doing it.

Of course, the “trash can” or delete folder isn’t listed in those three — I assume that whatever you’re using will have one built in. But if for some reason it doesn’t, make one for that too.

Also, if your software supports it, turn on keyboard shortcuts so you can file your email with a click of a key, rather than dragging a message using your mouse.

3. Do the Initial Sort

Alright, the set-up is done. Now, it’s time to start clearing out that inbox. I view this step as a wind-sprint: I go as fast as I possibly can, looking at each message for as little time as possible (really, only a split second).

Start with the oldest emails. For each email, skim the subject, the first sentence or two of content. Scroll down to the end of the email and note if it’s got any quoted content. Ignore the sender and the rest of the content.

Now, based on only that scan, either file it into one of those three folders, or trash it. Remember to use those keyboard shortcuts, if you set them up!

Here’s what goes into each folder. The key is to go as fast as possible — it’s a race! (Setting up a little stopwatch to see how fast you can go is a great motivator!)

1) Action — anything that you need to take action on. This could be work to do, an email to respond to, an appointment to write in your daybook, or anything similar.

2) Waiting — anything that you’re waiting for someone else to take action on, before you can take action yourself. Maybe you’re waiting for an email back, or they need to bring you some documents. If you’re waiting on them before you can proceed, it goes here.

3) Keep — anything you will need to reference again in the next 3-6 months. Any longer than that, and you’ll have either forgotten about it (and thus will most likely end up requesting it again), or it will most likely be out of date.

4) Trash – everything else goes here. In other words, if it’s not actionable immediately, if it’s not actionable after you get the info you need, or if you won’t need to reference it within 6 months, it goes in the trash.

Processing Tips: 

  • Don’t take the time to actually read the e-mails. If you start reading, you’ll get bogged down, start thinking about responses or other stuff you need to do yet, and then boom. You’ve stopped processing.
  • Similarly, no matter how quickly you think you can get something done, do not stop processing to do it. Throw it into the action folder and move on.
  • Be ruthless. When in doubt, put it in the trash — 99% of the time, you’ll never need it again, anyway.
  • Keep only the most recent emails from a conversation, especially if old emails are quoted in newer ones.
  • In general, your Trash folder should get the most emails. Action and Waiting folders should be next. Your Keep folder should be smallest.

4. Do Half

It’s not always going to be practical to clear out your whole inbox in one sitting. If you have thousands (or tens of thousands!) of messages, even spending only fractions of a second on each can still take way too long.

Instead of forcing yourself to process your whole inbox at once, I like to clear it out by half. Again, start with the oldest, and simply move through half of the emails as quickly as possible.

Reward yourself with some time away from the inbox — go take a walk, get up and stretch your legs, and do something completely different. The other half of the inbox will still be there when you get back.

Each time you sit down to do more cleaning, keep doing half of your inbox until the pile of emails is small enough that you can knock it down all in one sitting.

5. Take a Break

Once you’ve got your inbox cleared out into your three main folders, take a break — preferably for a couple of days, but at least until the next morning. You need to completely clear your head of all the junk processing you’ve just done.

At the same time, don’t fall into the trap of thinking “oh, my inbox is clean, so I don’t have to go back to finish those little files.” To this point, you’ve just done some mass sorting — the real work of cleaning has yet to begin. You may want to set yourself a deadline, a date when you’ll get back to your processing.

6. Manage the Folders

Now it’s time to go into each of those three folders you created, and work through them. I recommend taking an afternoon to do this — Friday is good, because you want to get home for the weekend (and so won’t dilly-dally on any one email too long) and because it’s a nice way to wrap up the week.

In each folder, you’ll want to again go through each message, this time in a little more depth. I use a standard GTD methodology here: if the message is something I can take action on in two minutes or less, I do it right away (and then remember to trash the email once you’re done with it!). If not, it goes on my next actions list and I move on.

You can start using additional folders here, if you need to, but typically I don’t bother. I like to keep my Action, Waiting and Keep folders small and manageable. Too many folders (for me), keeps me from seeing what all I have on my plate — which makes it easier to procrastinate, etc.

Note: If you do decide to do filing (based on specific project, etc.) be careful with how you file things. If you had a previous filing system in place, don’t just throw messages into those pre-existing folders unless you are sure that they have been cleaned with the same rigour that you just put your inbox through. Create new folders if you have to.

7. Keep It Clean

This is where I admittedly tend to falter the most. I’m not necessarily the most terrible person when it comes to cleaning, but I can be downright awful at keeping things clean once they’ve been cleaned.

The trick I’ve found that works for me personally is to not over-complicate things. Like I hinted above, too many folders for me makes me less likely to file things properly (who can take the time!). For other people, I know that more folders can be better because then everything has its own particular place and home.

Whatever your technique, your inbox can quickly get back to overfull if you let it. Experiment with different systems of organization, play around with different systems, do whatever you have to. Just do your best to keep that inbox at zero and, if need be, schedule regular check-ins with your inbox, where every so often (I like every Friday afternoon), you burn that baby back down to empty.

Review: Reclaim Your Dreams

I first encountered Jonathan Mead of Illuminated Mind via his guest posts on Zen Habits. I am a regular reader of his contributions on that blog as well as his own, as I find him one of the more practical and to-the point personal development bloggers I’ve come across.

So, when Jonathan was looking for reviewers for his new e-book entitled “Reclaim Your Dreams: An Uncommon Guide to Living on Your Own Terms”  (link), I was more than happy to offer a review in exchange for a gratis copy of the e-book. That said, here we go!

What’s It About

I simply love the first page — it sets a high expectation for the rest of the book,  establishes the tone and gives you an insight into the content.


First Page from Reclaim Your Dreams


The book itself is divided into two roughly equal sections. The first, a lengthy preamble entitled “Unbrainwashing: or Creating Room For Your Dreams to Grow”, presents an introduction to Mead’s philosophy.

In this section, he centres on the psychological side of personal development, inviting the reader to answer some tough questions: “Why do you live?” “Are [your thoughts] the type of thoughts you truly want?” and “Is this a decision that’s coming from my heart, or am I unnecessarily limiting myself in some way?”

For the most part, Mead avoids giving answers to the questions (from the outset, he acknowledges that what works for him may not work for everyone else. ). Instead, the writing stays on the higher, philosophical level, explaining a concept that will be familiar to many personal development readers: you are ultimately responsible for your thoughts, emotions and your happiness.


The second, meatier part of the book is entitled “Manifestation: or How to Make Your Dreams a Reality”. I was really excited about this section, as the first thing he discusses is how to solve the problem of not knowing what your dreams are. Mead then jumps into the most tangible exercise in the book. Writing, stream-of-consciousness-wise, the answer to these questions:

What does my heart desire? What do I really love with a passion? If money wasn’t an object, how would I spend the majority of my time? If I could have any career, regardless of my current experience and skills, what would I want to do?

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? This is a familiar exercise to anyone that’s spent time investigating personal development techniques.

But scanners, you’ll also recognize that answering these types of questions don’t do much for us. In fact, when I read those questions, my heart sunk a bit — I thought to myself “classic scanner trap.”

If you’re like me, you’ve tried answering those questions! But it’s impossible for a scanner to nail down any one thing that we “love with a passion”. In fact, we may love something with a passion for a few years, weeks or even just half an hour, never to love it again.

I won’t belabour the point; it’s just something I wanted my fellow scanners to be aware of, since the remainder of the section really pulls on the idea of “having a dream” and then making it reality. The emphasis on career choice is particularly sticky for scanners (for whom choosing a single career path can seem torturous!)

That being said, I did enjoy the section on getting past fear, a lesson that most of us need to learn at one point or another. Mostly, just be aware that while there are techniques that can be adapted to the scanner personality, it’s just not always immediately apparent how to do so.


Overall Thoughts

From the beginning, Mead makes it clear that this is a book with bold ideas, targetted to an audience focused on PD. At the same time, he’s aware of his responsibility as a writer, saying

It’s my hope that some of the things I’ve learned will work for you, as well. But most importantly, I don’t want to tell you what to do. That would go completely against everythign I’ve found to work in my life: listening to my own heart.

I think the book would have been stronger if the author had spent a bit more time actually telling us what to do. Not necessarily in the sense of giving us “all the answers” (no one can give all the answers when it comes to matters of the heart and mind), but in the sense of actually giving concrete ways and tools for listening to the heart.

Yes, there are exercises and “things to meditate on”, but I didn’t feel as though they were concrete or guided enough. Sometimes, I felt like saying “Jonathan, stop beating around the bush, and give us more tangibles and less philosophicals.” :-)

Not that this is unique Reclaim Your Dreams — it’s a trap that I find many, many PD books fall into.  This is just really unfortunate, since Mead’s blog posts are typically very grounded and very practical, and this felt like a departure from that formula.

That being said, I think that people who are either really new to personal development or really familiar with the techniques (who know what their dreams are and are experienced at listening to their hearts) would probably get more out of this book than I.

Those newer will find the concepts new, fresh and challenging. Those PD ‘gurus’ (I use the term lightly, of course!) will find Mead’s approach a twist on the familiar. But those who are familiar with the concepts but need more help with the concrete applications probably won’t get quite as much out of it.

PS. One bonus comment that has nothing to do with content, but because I’ve been doing a lot of work with typography lately, I wanted to comment on it. This book is beautifully laid out, with a smooth line for online reading. But! It is hard to read offline if you (like I) prefer to print things out. Just a small caveat to an otherwise nicely formatted book.

8 Steps to Creating the Master Resume

Everyone these days is talking about job losses. It’s in the media, in line at the grocery stores and around the dinner table. Many who have lost their jobs spend hours each day preparing and sending out resumes. Many who haven’t are wondering if they should update theirs, “just in case”.

Long job searches — and long periods between job searches — are hard. If the last time you wrote a resume was 20 years ago, it can be hard to remember all of your accomplishments. If you’ve just been laid off, it can be hard to look at yourself in the positive light needed to make a resume shine.

There is lots of resume advice out there. Keep it short. Use active verbs. Show, don’t tell. Tailor each resume to each job. But when you’re applying for dozens of jobs, each with a slightly different description, it can be tedious to write an exceptional resume for each different job posting.

The solution is to create The Master Resume: a tool that captures all your skills, accomplishments and loves, makes it easy to customize a resume for any job, and boosts your ego when you need it most.

When you first create your Master Resume, it will take a while. But once you’ve got it set up and running, you’ll never go back. So let’s get started.

You’ll need a clean (unlined, preferably) sheet of letter or A4 paper, a pen or pencil, your existing resume (if available) and a sample job description (maybe your existing job description, or a job that you find in the classifieds). I also recommend having a spreadsheet program available — Google Docs does a great job, and is free!

1) Set up a piece of paper

Even if you’re a techie, it’s important to start with pen and paper.  Later, we’ll move you over to a digital spreadsheet, but bear with me for now.

Turn the sheet landscape (so that it’s wider than it is tall), and draw a line dividing it into two roughly equal columns. Divide the right-most column into two columns again, and then divide the right-most column again into two more columns. You’ll end up with a half-page column, a quarter-page column and then two 1/8th page columns.

From left to right, label the columns “Accomplishments”, “Where/When”, “Skill” and “Rating”.

2) Convert your existing resume (if you have one)

If you have an existing resume, pull it out now. If not, that’s alright — you’ll just have to make it up as you go along. What you’re going to do now is pull out bullet points from your job history and write them on your paper under “Accomplishments”.

For now, just pick one particular job; the most recent one on your existing resume is often the easiest to start with. You’re going to transfer every bullet point of accomplishment (no matter how large or small) listed on your resume to your Master Resume sheet. One accomplishment per line.

Don’t just copy them down, as-is, though! Take time to transform each bullet into a strong statement of what you accomplished. Make every point stand on its own: short and sweet, full of detail and active verbs, highlighting exactly what you did well. A search on Google will reveal loads of tips on how to write strong resume bullet points.

For each point that you write on your paper, use the “Where/When” column to record the job title, company and start/end dates of employment.

Feel free to add in more lines than just those that are on your initial resume. The goal is to have this list be as exhaustive as possible. Every little thing that you accomplished, no matter how big or small, deserves to go on this list. Make sure that everything gets included, even those things that you hated doing (we’ll come back to those later).

3) Categorize the skills

Here’s where the Master Resume starts to work differently. For every line on your paper, identify the high-level skill that the accomplishment demonstrates and write it in the 3rd column. If a certain accomplishment incorporates more than one skill-set, that’s okay, but only include one skill per line. Copy the accomplishment to a separate line for each skill demonstrated.

As an example, here’s a “bullet point” from my existing resume.

Co-lead communications task team, leading to an open house with attendance over 200% of anticipated.

I’d categorize this as “leadership”, although I could also mark it as “communication”. Others  you might find are things like technical abilities (programming, databases, networking, etc.), reporting, analysis, teamwork, conflict management or teaching. I’m sure you can think of dozens more. There are no right or wrong answers here.

4) Reflect and analyze your skill preferences

Remember in step #2, when I told you to write down everything you had ever done, regardless of whether you enjoyed it or not? Here’s the reason why:

For every line on your page, close your eyes and remember what it felt like to do that task. Were you excited? Frustrated? Bored?

Now, in the last column on the line, rate your enjoyment (regardless of how successful your accomplishment was) from one to five, where one is “if I never have to do that again, it will be too soon” and five is “I really enjoyed that and would love to do it often”.

This information is vital, because it will connect you with what you like to do and what you hate to do. Never put something you hate to do on a resume, no matter how major the accomplishment. You don’t want to get in a situation where you are hired to do something based on a skill that you hate using.

5) Convert to a spreadsheet (optional)

Once you’ve completed steps 1-4 for a few jobs and you’ve got the hang of it, it’s time to up the technical ante. You’re going to now recreate your paper list into the Master Resume by loading it into a spreadsheet. You can use something like Excel for this, but I prefer Google Docs because then I can update and access it from anywhere.

The format for the spreadsheet will be exactly the same: four columns on a sheet which are labelled “Accomplishments”, “Where/When”, “Skill” and “Rating”. This spreadsheet is now your Master Resume document. 

Why put it in a spreadsheet? Well, as I already alluded to, it’s more convenient in a universally available spreadsheet. It also is much easier to copy-paste entries from your Master Resume into your “to-send-out” resume when it’s in digital format. The ability to sorting and filter also makes a huge difference.

If you’re a spreadsheet whiz, you can do some advanced steps, like setting up a filtered table so that you can group entries by accomplishment (Google Docs makes this really easy). You can see a really basic example of this online, where the first tab is allows you to filter and the second is the “raw data”.

6) Repeat for other jobs, hobbies, experiences, education

Technically, you can do this step before number 5, but personally I get squirrely when I have to write too many things out by hand only to copy them into a digital format later.

Basically this step is where you flesh out the rest of your Master Resume. The key is to analyze all of your hobbies, experiences, jobs and educational history in the same way as you did for your jobs. Look at what you accomplished, even if it’s something you don’t think you could ever use in a resume.

Why? Because the Master Resume is not just about making it easier to send out resumes for “the man”. The Master Resume is for you, too. It’s a reflection of how you have lived your life — your talents, experiences, special abilities and more.

The fact that, after 14,000 games, you finally managed to beat your great-great uncle at chess may not ever get you a job (then again, it does demonstrate critical thinking, strategy and persistence!) but it does make you realize that you are actually a pretty cool person. Sometimes, when you’re looking for a job, it can be easy to lose sight of that. And remember to rate them — doing so can also give you hints about what you might like to try next!

7) Test your Master Resume

Finally, you’ve got this Master Resume on your hands. It’s got all of your achievements, the highlights of your life; career history and education, yes. But equally important, it highlights what you love (and hate!) doing, and all of the hobbies and experiences that make you who you are today. It’s got everything broken down by skill, by company and by enjoyment rating.

Now it’s time to transform your Master Resume into a resume you can send in for that job you’ve got your eye on (your “for-the-man” resume). Go get the job description, and with a pen go through and look for skills words — things like “excellent communicator”, “dedicated team member”, “problem solver”.

Now, sort (or filter) your Master Resume for those key phrases. Match your abilities and experiences to exactly what the job is looking for. Any line that has a rating higher than two goes into the first draft of your “for-the-man” resume. If you find you have too many items to make a good one or two-page document, maybe only use those bullets with ratings of 4+, or even just the 5’s.

You can format your resume however you like. Because you’ve got it in a sortable spreadsheet, you can organize your resume by job or year (a chronological resume) or by skill-set (a functional resume).Your content will be great and tailored perfectly to the job at hand, so as long as as your resume template is clean and readable, you’ll be able to send out a custom resume in a matter of minutes.

Another tip: Before you head out to your job interviews, make sure you to review your Master Resume as well. Look out especially for items that were rated 1s and 5s. In the interview, you’ll want to make sure that the job doesn’t have many if any of the 1s, and that it’s loaded up on the higher rated items.

It’s also a good way to bring in additional experience, in case the interviewer asks you about something that isn’t directly demonstrated on the resume you sent them.

8) Stay up-to-date

Last but not least, now that you’ve got your Master Resume built, keep it up to date. There is nothing worse than having to scramble to put together a resume from scratch. By having everything always in one place, updating your resume to capture your latest experiences is much simpler.

How do you know when to add something to your Master Resume? Simple: whenever you’ve accomplished something new or different. Yes, your Master Resume will get long, but that’s the idea.

By creating and maintaining every little thing in your Master Resume, you’ll be forced to recognize that you have accomplished many things, that you do have a wide number of marketable skills, and that you do have a valuable contribution to make. And as a nice bonus, it may even just save you some time the next time you’re looking to change jobs.

Creative Blocks and Scanner Moments

I commented on Twitter late last week that I have probably a month’s worth of half-finished posts written (or, at least, titles jotted down) for Sententia. The problem is, of course, that they’re not nearly ready for prime time, which means that blog content languishes.

Some of those drafts are mere fragments of ideas, others are posts that I’m sure I could sit down and knock out, and still others started off strong but never moved beyond that point. I’ve hit my block in the road, but when faced with a blank page, couldn’t get beyond the first few thoughts.  In other words… writer’s block.

When I look back at all those post drafts, a fair amount of it is actually pretty terrible (lucky you that I never posted any of it!), in that the writing just never came together. But some of it’s quite good — a good idea, pretty clearly written, just not finished. But that doesn’t explain why I’ve hit this block, or what to do about it!

Creative Blocks

When I look those “terrible” drafts, I can remember the experience of writing them — and for a large proportion of them, I remember it felt like pulling teeth. I had ideas that I wanted to express, but couldn’t find the words to do so.

It’s like a painter who can see a beautiful picture in their minds eye but is frozen by a blank canvas, or a musician who hears fragments of a tune in their head but can’t pull it together into a meaningful melody.

The experience is a pretty common one for most of us: we get to a certain point, and then *boom*. We hit a wall, our perfectionism clicks in, and all of a sudden, we’re facing a creative block.

For some people, this creative block completely prevents them from getting started. That great idea vanishes when you’re faced with a blank page. For others, you’ll get all fired up about an idea, maybe even get part-way in, but then all of a sudden, you find yourself stuck.

The natural response when you creative blocks is to get frustrated. “Why can’t I get this ou! It’s on the tip of my tongue, it’s a great idea, but everything I write just sounds wrong!”

Beating Back the Creative Blocks

The most common advice for overcoming a creative block is to just persist. Keep on going, and eventually, you’ll find work through that blockage and find your voice again. For writers, it’s “write a terrible first draft; you can rewrite or edit it later.” For artists, it’s “just start sketching and see what comes out.” For musicians, it’s “focus on the music, let the notes come as they will.”

That’s good advice, and very often, it works. But not always. That advice works if you’re having momentum problems. It’s hard to get started and get into flow. But if you just jump in, you’ll get into flow soon enough.

But beyond the common momentum problem, there are other factors that can come into play as well:

High Expectations - Are you expecting too much of yourself? When I write, I do this all the time. I want my first draft to be a perfect expression of what I’m trying to say. 

Overcoming High Expectations: Realizing that not every project has to be totally perfect is easier said than done. All of us have a perfectionist streak in us, so the key is to make it work to our advantage rather than holding us back. Ask yourself, “How perfect does this have to be? Is this a project that requires 100% perfection, or maybe only 50%? 20%?” 

Distractions – The single-biggest flow killer is external distractions. If it’s lunch break and you’re trying to create, you won’t get into flow if your cubicle neighbor’s phone is ringing off the hook.

Overcoming Distractions: I find myself more distracted when I’m trying to get my creative work done ‘whenever I can’. Whenever I can turns into wherever I can, and that means I’m usually not in an optimal place to get things done. The key is to set aside a time and a space for whatever is important — a time and a space that you can control. Then, lock the door, turn off the e-mail, and enjoy your undistractedness.

Boreout – This one may seem counter-intuitive at first: if you have too little to do, it can be hard to get on a roll and actually do something. The key thing is not that you’re lazy, but that you’ve tried to cope with boredom in ways that sap your momentum. (See Wikipedia:Boreout and Forget Burnout, Boreout is the new office disease for more).

Overcoming Boreout: The best thing, of course, would be to avoid the boredom coping strategies that lead to boreout in the first place. Things like setting little challenges to get things done as quickly as possible can keep your momentum going and help you avoid dragging out smaller tasks. If you’re already suffering from boreout, the key is to get moving again (like the momentum example given at the very top) — but start small. Pick something you’ve wanted to work on or have thought about trying. Set a stopwatch and work on it for 5 minutes. Take a break, then do five more minutes. After a few repetitions, bump it up to 10 minutes. And so on, and so forth.  You’ll have your momentum back in no time.

Moving On – And finally, we come to the classic scanner syndrome. You have no lack of ideas — in fact, they come more rapidly than you can handle — but you never seem to want to bring them to a conclusion. People call you a dilettante, a dabbler, or a jack-of-all-trades.  (Read this excerpt from Refuse to Choose to see if you’re a scanner!)

Overcoming Moving On: The trick to this one is that … well … there is no trick. The need to move on isn’t something you overcome, it’s something you learn to identify and embrace. If you are a scanenr and have reached your “finish point,” the worst thing you can do is just keep going. It’s far better to leave something incomplete than to force yourself to live a miserable existance (and then beat yourself up in the process). The key is to know when you’re experiencing a creative block, and when you’re experiencing a scanner moment.

Embracing the Scanner Moments

That last point — moving on and the ‘scanner moment’ is worth talking a bit more about. When I look at those draft posts I have sitting in my blog publishing area, I see another kind of post that I didn’t mention before. Those are the ones that I was initially really passionate about.

I’ve got loads of ideas for posts that are half-finished because all of a sudden, they just didn’t seem that interesting any more. Whether I’ve started an outline or even written up a first draft, going back to that idea and finishing it off would feel like revisiting yesterday’s dinner. I’ve reached my finishing point, and no amount of self-discipline will bring back that initial passion for an idea.

I’ve recently started re-reading Refuse to Choose to help me tackle this problem, and came across something of an epiphany. In a section describing scanner daybooks (the ultimate scanner tool which — I am almost ashamed to admit — I haven’t gotten around to using. Yet!), Barbara talks about the importance of running with your ideas and letting them flow:

Always try to make your descriptions as complete as possible so that if you disappeared and a stranger found this description, she’d be able to complete the project. Why? Because otherwise, once the passion wears off, you’ll forget why you were so excited. Let your thoughts spill out on the page as they come to you, instead of making a list or an outline you won’t understand or appreciate later.

You’ll notice that the solution here is a combination of the creative blocks techniques listed above — you want to move on when you’re ready, but before that point, make sure you capture whatever it is that has caught your eye. Your best bet is still:

  • When the urge strikes, cut yourself some slack on the perfectionism and realize that you’re just following your natural instincts to be a scanner!
  • Give yourself a time and a space to pursue your many passions, without constant interruption. Then, when you’re done, go back to the crazy life with all its distractions. Even 5 minutes here and there can make a huge difference in your level of personal fulfillment.
  • Follow your passions — yes, that’s plural! A scanner is particularly at risk for boreout because we tend to reach our ‘finish’ point much sooner than others. If you try to focus on just one thing at a time, you will suffer from boreout. If, instead, you honor your passions and ideas (even just by writing them down) you not only will feel more fulfilled, but you also won’t get bored.
  • And finally, take advantage of those moments when your passion is in full force. Love it, explore it, write it down in depth. And when the moment passes, leave it behind. It’s the best thing for you.

In other words, as a scanner, you can approach your creative blocks in much the same way as everyone else. You may just do it a bit more rapidly.

Your Power, Your Responsibility

Well, it’s official. My scanner-ness has been kicking in full-force lately (as is probably evidenced by the slight slowdown in posts here; although being sick has certainly played a part).

Part of how being a scanner manifests in myself is changing modes of expression. I’ll go through periods where all I want to do is write, write, write. Other times, it’s one — or more — of verbal communication, drawing, music, or just plain experiencing (also known as ‘chilling’).

The past few days, maybe even weeks, it’s the ‘chilling’ phase that I’ve been finding myself drawn to. Part of that is likely due to a lot of changes in my personal life (work, family, etc.), which have taken up a lot of my energy.

Part of it is possibly due to the rediculous weather we’ve been having: it’s harder to feel ‘up’ when you keep getting teased with nice weather, then slammed with snow. And part of it is maybe due to the fact that I’ve started playing World of Warcraft again, which is just plain a good way to take some time and chill. 😉

Modes of Expression or Modes of Procrastination?

Sometimes, though, I wonder if these modes of expression are really aspects of my scanner personality, or if they’re signs of laziness and procrastination. Don’t feel like writing? Let’s pick up a paintbrush instead.

As I was reflecting on this issue, I realized that — of all my modes of expression — writing is the one that causes me the most difficulty in this area. It’s the one that’s hardest for me to look at as purely a ‘mode of expression’ — I very naturally slip into thinking of it as ‘work’. Maybe it’s because of all those papers I wrote in school, or the fact that usually when I write, it’s because I made a commitment to do so.

The challenge, it would appear, is not so much about the mode of expression but the freedom I feel I have to make the choice. In other words, as soon as I feel that I am being restricted, I push back. The ability to make the choice isn’t just a luxury for me as a scanner, but a necessity.

Power to Choose

In the past, I usually have thought of scanners as being paralyzed by having too many options in front of them; too many interests and too many passions to be able to choose between them. If you had asked me to describe the #1 problem I encountered as a scanner, that’s exactly what I would have told you.

But there’s more to it than that.

Another part of the classic scanner dilemma is having the flexibility and freedom to follow whichever passion calls at the time. It’s not just about being overwhelmed by having too many choices; it’s also about being able to make conscious choices to exercise those passions.

Scanners, by nature, like to move freely between their passions.  But sometimes, restrictions on those passions make a scanner feel trapped and constrained. This trapped feeling does not have to be just ‘par for the course’ for scanners.

Learning by Doing

Years ago, when I was working on my Religious Studies honours thesis, I found myself being drawn down by some serious apathy. I didn’t care to do anything, and the more I tried to force myself to ‘behave’, the harder I found myself resisting. I tried setting deadlines, scheduling my time, getting others to hold me accountable, but all I got was feelings of resentment and apathy.

What I finally realized is that my apathy, resentment and other negative feelings were a direct result of one thing: I had been giving away my power. As soon as I took back my power, and decided that I had the ultimate responsibility to make choices that would be satisfying.

I remember that I had chosen to write a thesis because I enjoyed the subject. I started actively choosing when to work on my writing. I focused on choosing what I was doing in the moment, taking responsibility for what I was doing in the moment. In doing so, I was able to choose those things which would make me happy — simply by exerting my own power.

Great Power, Great Responsibility

In the SpiderMan universe, we are frequently presented with the idea that ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ It’s a true statement in many ways, but I think it’s actually quite misunderstood. A lot of people take the saying at face value — that there are some of us that have greater power, and that those who do also have greater responsibility.

But here’s the trick. We all have great power. It is not something that ‘comes’, it’s something that we’re born with. We all have the great power to take control of our lives, to make our own choices, and to live according to our own needs, passions and desires.

What that means is that ultimately, the buck stops here. If we are the ones responsible for our current situations, then we must also take the responsibility to change them if we aren’t happy.

If I was unhappy being trapped by the requirement to sit and write my thesis at time X or Y each day, it was my responsibility to do something about it. My choices were still many: I could choose to ‘suck it up and just get it done’, I could choose to write only when it interested me, I could choose to say ‘screw this, I’m not interested’.

But the key was to realize that I was the active chooser, the one with the ultimate responsibility to make a choice that would dignify and uplift my self.

The Scanner Lesson

So, taking this back to the question I posed earlier: is the desire to drop one thing and move onto another completely a scanner personality trait, or is it also a function of procrastination and laziness? The first one is a good thing — it just means you’re exploring new avenues and pursuing new interests. The second one isn’t something we usually like to see in ourselves.

The answer is, it can be either one. Knowing the difference between the two is where the trick comes in, and it really is just a matter of asking yourself two simple questions:

  1. How am I feeling about moving to the next thing? (Am I feeling good about where I’m coming from and where I’m headed to next?)
  2. Am I moving to the next thing because I want to or because I’m supposed to? (Am I moving on to the next thing because I am ready to, or because I’m not actively choosing to exercise my power?)

The lesson, of course, is true for scanners and non-scanners alike. No matter what your personality (and unless you are a child) you are still the decision maker in your life. That means that whatever choices you make are yours to live by. It is your power, and therefore, your great responsibility.