Artisan Blog

Distractions Can Be a Good Thing

Wendy Stackhouse - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Are you easily distracted? Distractions can work for us--or against us, depending on what we are trying to accomplish and what kind of distractions they are. Here are some pros and cons of distractions and some ways to use them to your advantage:

Your Smartphone:

Notifications interrupt you all day long--Facebook messages, emails from co-workers, texts from your spouse, requests from your manager.

Pros: The communications you receive during your work day from team members, colleagues and managers may be interruptions that clarify the project you are working on or improve collaboration. They could also offer valuable suggestions. These interruptions could improve productivity, rather than damage it.

Cons: Off-topic notifications can disrupt your work flow for no good reason.

Solution: Consider turning off notifications from social media during working hours and let your friends and family know that you will get back to them when you take a break (you are taking breaks, right?). Set up an emergency code with your spouse and children for things that need to be taken care of immediately and let the rest of the personal communications wait a little while.

Email:

An email might be urgent to the sender but not to you.

Pros: Email is a great timesaver--no need to walk over to your colleague’s office to chat about your project every few minutes, email also keeps a good written record for later evaluation of your process.

Cons: All of our Inboxes are filled with emails we will never read or can read after the workday is over. But if we see them, we will click on them.

Solution: Spend some serious time creating filters for your Inbox so that you will see the emails that you need to see right away, but only see the less important missives when you have time to choose.

Wandering Thoughts:

Can't help them, but you can stop beating yourself up about them.

Pros: Letting your mind wander can lead to creative ideas that might never have occurred to you if you were plugging along, trying to stay on task.

Cons: Letting your mind wander for too long can make you miss your deadline.

Solution: Schedule break times during your workday. Read 10 pages of a novel. Think about what you want to make for dinner. Give yourself time to let your project marinate in the back of your mind instead of the front. You might come up with something truly innovative on that wandering path.

Welcoming distractions is counter-intuitive. Focus is easier to see as a positive. But if you embrace the distractions that work for you, it might improve your work product--and your productivity!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Coming in Second

Wendy Stackhouse - Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Does coming in second feel like failure? It shouldn’t--but sometimes it does. Psychology Today recently wrote about how people react to getting a Silver Medal in the Olympics and I spent last weekend in Nashville, Tennessee with over a hundred teenage performers who ended the weekend as First Runners Up with remarkable nonchalance. There are many people, however, who torment themselves with the “what ifs” and have a hard time with just missing that brass ring.

It happens in job searches and at work, where we can be a hiring manager’s second choice or be second in line for that promotion. Coming in second can feel like failure--so close and yet so far.

What many of us do when we come close to winning is imagine what would have happened if we had done something differently. Psychology Today calls it “counterfactual thinking.” The “what if” scenarios imagined by Third Place winners are generally positive, but those of the Second Place finishers are more negative, even though they were clearly almost at the very top of their field.

Counterfactual thinking can be helpful after a near miss since it helps us come up with alternative behaviors or better choices we might make next time out. Perhaps it was one of your interview questions or answers that made the difference, or something about your presentation which was was less than stellar.

The trick is to make sure you also think about what definitely worked in your favor. Don’t forget to praise yourself for that story you told exactly the way you wanted to, the research you did about the company that surprised the hiring manager, and the relationships you started building with the people you met. It is all too easy to focus on the mistakes you think you may have made, rather than the things you did well.

The high school students I was with last weekend know that they did as amazing a performance as they could possibly have done and their First Runner Up was not because they didn’t do their very best work, so they can be proud regardless of their placement. They have no regrets. There is no shame in coming in second. Making the choice to see it as a top-tier finish will set you up well for your next opportunity to shine.

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

(Of course, the photo is from a competition where they were Grand Champions!)

Spring Cleaning Your LinkedIn Profile

Wendy Stackhouse - Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Spring is here even in colder climates and it’s time to clean out your LinkedIn Profile as well as your closet. You should be revising your resume every quarter, listing new accomplishments and adding job responsibilities, volunteer experience and of course proofreading again. Your LinkedIn Profile could probably also use a fresh eye.

Summary

Make sure your summary reflects what you are passionate about now, not what you were doing last year. If your focus has changed, it’s time to rewrite.

Files

LinkedIn lets us add files, photos and videos so if you have some more current writing samples or other work product, post it now.

Experience

Freelancers have probably worked for new clients in the last few months. Make sure you add those clients to your experience on LinkedIn and your resume.

Skills

Added anything to your skillset this winter? Add it to your list. When you add skills to your list, your connections can give you new endorsements. And if you haven’t learned anything new lately, go do that!

Connections

Take a few minutes to send invitations to the people you’ve met over the winter. They will be happy to have some fresh faces in their connections, too.

Landing a new job isn’t the only time to revise your LinkedIn Profile, and it is easy to let it get stale. Open the windows and shake out the dust!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Tax Tips for Freelancers in 2014

Wendy Stackhouse - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

More and more of us are freelancing in 2014 and the numbers are expected to go up dramatically in the next few years. Freelancing brings its own tax challenges that some may have not encountered before. We are not tax experts or CPA’s at Artisan Creative, but we do keep track of tax issues for freelancers and there have been some changes this year that might affect you.

If you were already freelancing in 2013, we hope you took our advice last year and:
  • Tracked your mileage
  • Created a dedicated office space
  • Kept receipts for business expenses
  • Saved
  • Made a list of clients who should send you a 1099
What’s different this year?

Home Office Deduction

In 2014, this deduction is simpler--still based on the square footage you use for your home office, now the IRS uses a flat $5 deduction for each square foot up to 300 or $1500. Much easier than figuring out the percentage of your household expenses for the year, but it may be less for you since it is capped.

High Earners

If you earned over $200,000 last year as a freelancer, congratulations! The downside is that you will pay a 3.8% Medicare surtax on your income. But you did well!

Reducing Your Liability

Personal exemptions, allowed contributions to IRA’s, and contributions to health savings accounts were all raised for this tax year.

If you get to the end of the year owing self-employment tax, you should be paying that on a quarterly basis, so be sure to do so if you are having a great year or don’t have many deductions.

And if you get one, Happy Refund!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

3 Tips for Odd Interview Questions

Wendy Stackhouse - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

We’ve all heard stories of strange interview questions and we’ve come up with some of our own on the Artisan Blog. Glassdoor recently published their list of 2014’s Oddest Interview Questions and some of them were definitely off the wall. Here’s our take on a few favorites:

Are you more a hunter or a gatherer?

This question from a hiring manager at Dell is interesting and we wonder which answer they were looking for. Which works better on a team? Hunters have to strategize and use each other’s strengths to succeed. Gatherers must work together and have a common goal in mind. We recommend you think for a moment and answer honestly whichever you think is true of you, and be sure to find a positive quality about your choice.

How lucky are you and why?

This is indeed an odd question, but we like it. What a great opportunity to talk positively about what you bring to the table, what you are passionate about. Are you feeling lucky? You’ve got a job interview--of course you are!

If you were a new kind of crayon, what color would you be and why?

This question is harder. You don’t want to pick the hiring manager’s least favorite color (even though it wouldn't be fair to judge you on that) or even your own favorite color since that’s not a terribly creative answer. Our suggestion is to talk about a quality you like in a color--contrast, saturation, value, etc.--and how those qualities reflect your work or your personality, rather than a particular hue.

You can never know what a hiring manager will ask. They might have a particular strange question they ask everyone or be looking for a genuinely creative response and think they have the perfect question to get one. The secret is to listen actively, take your time thinking and answer honestly. And it’s okay to laugh sometimes. A sense of humor might be just what they’re looking for.

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Feeling Lucky? Pass it on!

Wendy Stackhouse - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

There are probably people in your network who are on a job search and you are probably helping them. You have endorsed them on LinkedIn or even written them a recommendation, if you have worked with them in their field. You have introduced them to the people you know at their target companies. When they land, you will be part of why they were successful.


Those people are lucky to have you and they know it.

There are probably also people in your network who are in a field you have no connection with, who are friends rather than work colleagues, who are targeting companies you’ve never heard of. What can you do improve their luck, too?

Be uplifting - Your friend’s self-talk is most likely critical and second guessing. The best thing you can do is not add to it, even if you think he could do better. Find out what he feels is working and encourage more of that.

Do what you can - Even if you know nothing about and no one in your friend’s field, you can proofread her resume or cover letter, help research target companies, and brainstorm strategies for her search.

Network together - Networking events are never a waste of time and they are much more fun with a friend. If you go to his, he’ll go to yours. And follow up if you meet anyone interesting.

Raise awareness - When you hear your friend being negative, point it out. We often don’t realize that we are talking ourselves down and only remembering the bad moments.

Practice - The secret to great job interviews is good preparation and you don’t need to be in your friend’s industry to help her refine her answers to common interview questions.

Luck can play a role in landing a new job, but you have to be at the right place at the right time with the right mindset and always ready to bring your A game. We can all help each other with that.

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Creativity Savings Time

Wendy Stackhouse - Wednesday, March 05, 2014

We will be turning our clocks forward this weekend and although we will have the same amount of light as before, it will land in different places. We started wondering: how does changing the light affect creativity?

Researchers from the University of Hohenheim and the University of Stuttgart recently published a study about this very question. They found that drawings made by study subjects were much more creative if done in dim light than in normal or bright light. Those who worked in dim lights felt “free from constraints.” Creativity was even increased when the study subjects described sitting in a dark room, while actually drawing in normal light.

Dim light was best for idea generation, although it did not have a beneficial effect on implementation--the subjects needed good light to produce quality artwork, but their ideas were more creative when they felt the freedom which came from dim light.

Daylight savings time will add light back into our evenings--not bright light, but maybe just the right light. It will be interesting to observe the difference.

Of course, when my alarm goes off at what my body thinks is 4:30am on Monday, I’m not going to feel very creative, I expect. But I hope I will get a burst of creative energy from the evening light we’ve been missing for so long. New project, here I come!

Do you feel a burst of energy in the spring? Are you driven to start new things? Tell us about it!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Reflections: Competition

Wendy Stackhouse - Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It’s competition season all over: for actors and others in the entertainment industry, for Olympians across the globe, and even close to home as show choirs on the west coast have a contest almost every weekend for the next few months. With so many vying for honors, we have been struck with the different ways we can handle competition as creative entrepreneurs.

Oscar Style

“It’s an honor to be nominated.” But the nominees do a lot of branding and marketing to try to get more votes. The ones who sit back and let the chips fall where they may are more likely to go home emptyhanded unless their work is truly stellar.

On the other hand, they never say their competitors’ work is worse than theirs and they seem to generally get along on a personal level. After all, the actor you mocked could be across the table read from you in a month or two. And you hope he will because that means you’re working.

As creatives, we need to pay attention to personal branding and marketing and keep it positive, too. You never know whom your next client might--or might not--be.

High School Style

Teenagers can be mean, but I’m around literally hundreds of kids in active competition in the performing arts, and they surprise me all the time. They support and encourage each other. What they don’t like is injustice, for themselves or their competitors.

They’ll fight for points, but equally for the deserved points of others. They love to win but they cheer (almost) as loud for other groups. They know that the most important thing in a competition is to do their very best every single time and leave the rest of it to the judges.

We all live in a sometimes unjust world where the rules seem to change while the game is still being played. All we can do is our best work and keep our cool and hope things turn out well more often than not.

Olympic Style

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.” The Olympic Creed says it all. My favorite stories from the Olympics are not the Gold Medals, the perfect scores. My favorites are when the athletes stop and help each other. Wait for an injured athlete to catch up. Share water. The struggle is the same for everyone. Some will win, some will lose. Being human and struggling together is what makes competition a worthy endeavor.

As part of a team, and between teams, we can help each other over the finish line. Mentor, network, give advice. You might be the one who needs an arm around your shoulder next time.

Competition is exciting--it stirs the blood, motivates us and offers the potential for tangible rewards. If we rely on the quality of our own work, the energy and commitment we put into it and sometimes even the kindness of others, we can all succeed.

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Leadership Lessons from Presidents

Wendy Stackhouse - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Not all of our mentors have to be here in the room, having lunch or networking with us. If we are open to learning, we can find mentors anywhere, even in history. This Presidents’ Week, we thought we would get a little mentoring from some past US Presidents. Turns out they have a lot to teach us about leadership.

Team Building

Abraham Lincoln is well-known for creating a “team of rivals,” making sure that not everyone around him agreed with him. Instead of choosing those he knew shared his views, he chose the very best in their field, whether they agreed with him or not. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in some of those cabinet meetings, but there is no doubt that there was some great brainstorming going on in the Lincoln White House.

“Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” --Abraham Lincoln

Taking Risks

I’m sure there are Presidents who didn’t take many risks, but funny, I can’t remember which. Whether in bold initiatives, controversial foreign policy or changing the direction of the country, real leaders are memorable for what they try to do, what they are passionate about, what they make others want to join them in trying to accomplish. Playing it safe is not on their list of qualities.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly …” 
--Theodore Roosevelt

Being Present

With important and sometimes lifechanging decisions to be made at any moment, Presidents have needed to be able to focus on what is going on right now, deal with it, and move on to the next thing. Leaders are fully present, listening, processing and making choices. Right now, I feel lucky that the choices I have to make are not life or death.

“Come now, let us reason together.” --Lyndon Johnson

Never Giving Up

Throughout history, some people have run around saying “It can’t be done! It will be the end of the world! Too much too fast! We’re not ready!” Great leaders don’t pay attention to naysayers or the fearful. Change is inevitable, though often uncomfortable. Some will always need to be gentled into it, but leaders are right up front, ready and willing--and persistent.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” 
--John F. Kennedy

Leadership is difficult and sometimes unpleasant. But when the risks are worthy, when decisions are made with intelligence and expert advice, when the moment is right and we are determined, we can be leaders that everyone will remember.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” --John Quincy Adams

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Loving the Freelance Life

Wendy Stackhouse - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

As it becomes more common--and easier--to choose the freelance lifestyle, more workers are finding out why their freelance colleagues love it as much as they do. They might even be getting a little jealous. Why do we love freelancing?

  • Entrepreneurship--Freelancing is the simplest way to run your own business. It’s just you, but you are the boss. Enjoy it.
  • Flexibility--To be a successful freelancer, you must be disciplined about getting everything done well and on time, but when and how you tackle your work is up to you.
  • Giving back--My personal favorite thing about freelancing is being able to make time to volunteer for my favorite organizations, even during typical working hours--when they need me most because so many other volunteers have to be at the office.
  • Control--Most jobs require you to accomplish a variety of tasks, some of which you love and some of which you most definitely do not. Ideally, freelancing allows you to choose projects you are passionate about and pass on the ones you are not.
  • Diversity--As a freelance writer, I get to vary the topics I am writing about from day to day and sometimes hour to hour. It’s never boring!
  • Building Relationships--Freelancers meet new people frequently by necessity. The perfect networking opportunity is a freelance gig at a new company. Not only can you bond with the people you work with, you can demonstrate your skills and get referrals for more freelance work in the future.
Sure, there moments when I wish I had someone just tell me what to do and let me do it, check everything off a list, shut off the lights and go home. Only moments, though. Then I look around and remember how grateful I am to have a life that works for me, my family, my soul.

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

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