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Best of 2010: Our Most Popular Tips, Interviews & Think Pieces

Rounding up the most-read articles and tips from the past year, we take a look at key productivity trends and challenges in the creative community.

Information overload has been a key trend of the 21st century, and 2010 was no different. With our communication channels and social media distractions growing exponentially, the biggest challenge of the moment seems to be carving out creative space. To address this, we at 99U found ourselves revisiting a few common themes again and again: how to prioritize our tasks, how to be disciplined in execution, how to find focus and flow, and how to keep the momentum going.

As you gear up for a new year, we’ve rounded up our most insightful – and most read – articles and tips from 2010. Our hope is that you’ll find a new perspective or a new strategy for making ideas happen that really hits home.

1. What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space

Our piece on deep thinking and “sacred space” sparked a lot of debate about how to escape information overload and create more space for creativity in our always-online world. Commenters chimed in with lots of solutions, including media-free weekends, long train rides, lying down and daydreaming, daily meditation, regular naps, bike riding, camping, and – perhaps the most popular – long walks.
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2. The Top 5 Qualities of Productive Creatives (And How to Identify Them!)

“Creativity” has been identified as the most important quality for the leaders of the future, but how do you hire for it? We break down five key qualities that are indicative of “productive creativity” – which, to us, means the difference between being able to dream up lots of ideas, and being able to execute lots of ideas. Our top five skills? Communication, pro-activeness, problem-solving, curiosity, and risk-taking.
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3. If It Won’t Fit On A Post-It, It Won’t Fit In Your Day

When it comes to your daily to-do list, how long is too long? What do you do with the stuff you don’t get to? Is there a way to avoid that anxious feeling at the end of the day when you look at what remains to be done? We present a super-simple to-do list management approach for the “self-employed creative workaholic.”
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4. 99 Excuses for NOT Making Ideas Happen

We polled the 99U audience about the most common excuses for NOT making ideas happen, and it turned out to be one of our most popular pieces. Probably because we can all identify with the urge to put something off, to start tomorrow, to maintain the status quo. Scrolling through this list of excuses – “I don’t have enough time,” “I’m not inspired,” “It’s not the right moment” – serves as a bracing wake-up call to the common ways we convince ourselves not to take action.
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5. The 1-Step Plan for Super-Productivity

Our one-step productivity article advocates getting up early as a simple solution for carving out more quiet time and getting a jumpstart on the truly important items on your to-do list. It was a surprisingly controversial piece with die-hard night owls, natural early-risers, and folks who’ve disciplined themselves into being morning people all weighing in with comments. As the debate proved, no single solution works for everyone. Getting up early is one strategy among many for finding a little “extra” time for your creative projects.
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6. How Analog Rituals Can Amp Our Productivity

Is it possible that our digital lives are making us too efficient? Despite the ease of tracking our tasks and projects digitally, there still seems to be something magical – and, more importantly, memorable – about writing things down. In this piece, we look at the value of “analog drudgery” – that is, writing down your daily tasks, and rewriting (again and again) the ones that are not getting done. It makes us remember, it keeps us accountable, and it forces us to prioritize.
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7. Getting Creative Things Done: How To Fit Hard Thinking Into A Busy Schedule

Continuing on the trend of finding time for creativity, this insightful piece offers a detailed outline of Cal Newport’s road-tested strategy for “getting creative things done.” The keys? Pick one big project to focus on per week; block out “creative time” on your calendar (and honor it!); decide what you can’t do during your creative time (e.g. no email); and – the big one – focus on process, not goals.
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8. Are You Ambitious Enough?

“Ambition” can be an outré term in some creative circles – one that signifies an untoward obsession with getting ahead. But it wasn’t always this way. We break down how the notion of ambition has changed over the years – for instance, there was no shame in an artist seeking glory in Renaissance Italy – and why acknowledging your ambition is a necessary first step toward achieving it.
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9. James Victore: Don’t Be A Design Zombie

One of our favorite interviews on the year was a thought-provoking conversation with (quietly) legendary graphic designer James Victore. We talked about the value of taking “think-work” outside of the studio, why it’s important for kids (and creatives!) to be bored, how design differs from mere organization, and why you should stay away from zombies.
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10. The Key to Creating Remarkable Things

Ever feel like you’re spending “the best part of the day on other people’s priorities, running their errands, and giving them what they need”? We examine how to stop putting all of your creative energy into “reactive work,” so that you can focus on the stuff that really matters. The first step? Do the creative work first.
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More Posts by Jocelyn K. Glei

A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with how to make great creative work in the Age of Distraction. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done. Her previous works include the 99U’s own bestselling book series: Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential, and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.

Comments (2)
  • Matthew

    It’s nice to take a look back and review some of the99percent’s best content of the year. I’ve learned a lot from you guys. You’ve really helped me to mature my creative process. Thanks so much.

  • jkglei

    Thanks for the kudos! It’s great to hear that we’re making a difference. : )

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