“Priority is a singular noun. Stop making it plural.”
At first, the speaker’s words rubbed me the wrong way. My inner thoughts became a tantrum: “I can so have multiple priorities. I am strong, smart, and capable. Who are you to limit my impact?!”
But the notion nagged at me. To settle the matter, I listed my priorities.
Guess how many?
My one priority is the thing that defines my work, inspires my approach to marriage and parenting, and keeps me engaged in relationships and causes that matter.
My one priority is creative communication.
I am constantly on a mission to be more creative, to be a stronger communicator, and—putting them together—to be a creative communicator. This has been my priority for years, if not decades, and I don’t expect it to change any time soon. Maybe not ever.
What does change is how I act in response to this priority.
I’m not one for resolutions, but the coming of a new year does pull my thoughts toward options and opportunities. “Next year, X will be different, Y will be better, and Z will be a thing of the past.”
And so, as I wrap up 2017 and prepare for 2018, I’m planning for a few changes—all focused on creative communication. Here are three ways I’ll be matching my actions to my one priority in the year to come:
1. Replace words with images.
I am a word nerd. I enjoy reading, writing, pondering word origins, even diagramming sentences. All day I make my living on words, and then in the evening I relax by playing word games. Words rule.
But ohmygosh, what an image can do!
There’s no denying the power and prevalence of pictures all around us. Not just on social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest, but on drive-thru menus, food packaging, and IKEA instructions. Images are everywhere because they work.
The right image can stop you in your tracks, show you what to do, and stick in your memory forever. At a glance, a photo, illustration, or moving image (think GIFs and videos) can stir emotion, clarify a complex concept, and find common ground. In a mere moment, for example, this GIF made me say, “Oh honey, I can so relate.”
So, in 2018, when I’m deciding what to write—into email, presentations, and even text messages—I’ll challenge myself to say it visually. Learning to use a visual vocabulary, rather than my trusty verbal one, may take a little time. But think of the time I’ll save when those well-chosen images inspire instant understanding.
2. Put PowerPoint in its place.
I’m tempted to remove PowerPoint from my laptop altogether. But slides and decks do have a place. That place is not at the beginning of a creative communication process, but as an optional end.
Jill Pollack and I recently led a team of training professionals through a day-long Creativity Lab. And get this: we did it without a single slide. In our prep, we mapped out an agenda and brainstormed exercises. Here we’d use a white board, there a series of flip charts. Here we’d ask students to take notes, there we’d get them talking to each other. Not one of the activities called for a premeditated image, diagram, or bulleted list. So we didn’t make any.
The workshop was productive and rewarding, and not one person (facilitator or participant) felt shortchanged by the absence of a PowerPoint deck. We were focused and engaged with each other.
So, in 2018, when preparing for meetings, presentations, or discussions, I will not open PowerPoint. I’ll jot ideas on scrap paper or use my new obsession: my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. Once I have the basic concepts in front of me, I will decide if I need visual support on a screen and, if so, what that might be. Then, maybe, I’ll open PowerPoint.
3. Squeeze big work into small spaces.
Clients and students who read the next paragraph may be indignant. “Wait a minute! She makes me do that, but doesn’t actually do it herself?!” And to all of you I must admit: I do not always do as I say.
In my workshops, I routinely set a three-minute timer for writing exercises. I give a prompt, start the timer, and participants write their little hearts out until the alarm bell rings. Time pressure has a miraculous effect; excuses vanish, and everyone writes—even those who claim to have zero creativity or a raging case of writer’s block (reminder: there is no such thing).
When the timer rings, there are no more blank pages. Everyone has written.
“I hate writing. I love having written.” ~ Dorothy Parker
Occasionally, I use a timer at my desk. But not enough. More often, I put off writing with the excuse that I need more time—a free hour or morning or day. Such hypocrisy!
So, in 2018, I will follow my own advice. I will use tiny wedges of time to make headway on writing projects. When a meeting ends seven minutes early, I will draft an email. When I have 15 minutes until my lunch date arrives, I will brainstorm article ideas. When I have three minutes waiting in the carpool lane, I will outline an agenda. My hasty drafts will not be wonderful, but they will be work in progress. I won’t be stuck; I’ll be started.
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Your turn! In the year to come, what three changes will you make to match your actions to your one priority? I’d love to hear your plans and progress.