Andy Swindler

January 8, 2016

Work Clean

At the recent FITC Form conference in Chicago, I attended Erin Sarofsky’s inspirational session, “Putting your Passion into the Details.

Erin spoke about her team’s process for producing the high level of quality their clients expect. It goes well beyond talent and collaboration. It falls more squarely into the category of discipline. Here are a couple of her recommendations that stuck with me:

Work Clean

For me, this is easier said than done. There is a chaotic open-minded part of the creative process, but it should be moderated with clear goals and parameters and the discipline to make hard decisions to stay focused.

One must develop frameworks for collaboration including process and file/asset management.

At the end of a project, it’s critical to make time to put everything in its place using the rules of those frameworks. This way, when the project needs to be reactivated or expanded in the future, anyone on the team could jump in an know how to get started without sorting out a mess. This saves everyone time and annoyance that could undermine project success.

Erin-Sarofsky-work-clean-cluttered-desktop

Schedule Time for the Details

This is also sometimes challenging in the fast-paced agency world. Clients often expect perfection in limited time frames. But it’s important not to let those expectations derail the process that leads to great work.

She attributes the quality of their work largely to having the discipline to schedule time at the end of the project to dig deep into the details, refining until the work matches their quality standards. Even talented teams need this time to review and reflect, dialing it in as much as possible. While scheduling this time may seem impractical, particularly with a demanding client deadline, it’s important to build it into the project from the beginning.

At Astek, we are always looking for ways to improve our process. These simple guidelines have already proven effective in making us more efficient so we can spend more time on the details.

Erin’s firm, Sarofsky Corp, created the main titles for the Marvel blockbusters “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Be sure to check out her full presentation:

Andy Swindler

October 30, 2015

A Mindful Approach to Business

In our ever-busier world with new distractions and technology pulling us in every direction, it can be hard to manage stress levels and remain focused, efficient and happy. This is certainly true for business leaders, where a lack of clear direction or making a decision based on emotion may have consequences that affect many people adversely.

Most people tend to squander a significant amount of life becoming attached to unproductive thoughts. These might be about the past, which is useful for context but otherwise no longer exists. Or they might be able the future, which is beyond our control no matter how much we worry.

We also tend to waste time by piling and mixing up tasks, believing we are capable of multitasking, which we are not. I know I often think I can do this because I am good at faking it by switching rapidly back and forth between tasks. But as I explore the slower pace of mindful awareness, I’m realizing that completing one task at a time well actually saves me time overall.

For the past few weeks, I’ve attended A Mindful Course™ offered by Dr. Chris Johnson of Q4 Consulting, one of Astek’s clients. It’s largely based on the decades-long work of John Kabat Zinn and his work to develop the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in his own clinic, where he sees consistent first-hand success helping people handle life and pain more effectively.

Dr. Chris Johnson, Q4 Consulting, mindfulness business training

In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Zinn discusses the seven attitudinal factors of mindfulness. They are:

  1. Non-judging
  2. Patience
  3. Beginner’s mind
  4. Trust
  5. Non-striving
  6. Acceptance
  7. Letting go

As Dr. Chris puts it, mindfulness is an intentionally focused awareness — a way of paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally. I won’t go into detail about these since there are multiple resources for you to explore if you’d like, including the book itself, which I highly recommend.

So how to we pay attention in the moment rather than reaching for our smartphone every two minutes?

Meditation is an important aspect of the practice. Your mind is a muscle like any other that can be strengthened through practice. Meditation, starting with being aware of your breath, is a way to practice how you can stay calm when dealing with a more stressful moment. Your breath is a grounding resource that can center you to the present reality at all times. Once you are facing reality, rather than what you may wish is happening, you’ll be better equipped to move through it with focus, balance and grace.

Mindfulness tree branches crossing by Andy Swindler, copyright

And what does this have to do with business?

In the short few weeks that I have engaged in a daily meditation practice, as well as other exercises, I have noticed an increased ability to handle stressful situations and sidestep communication patterns that I may historically have been drawn into. I have focused on completing one task at a time. This translates to stronger mentoring and communication with my team; setting clearer expectations and boundaries with clients; and creating focused direction for the company.

Writing this blog is a good example. I haven’t blogged in months since it always falls to the bottom of my to-do list. In my experience working with clients to set up blogging programs, this is a very common pattern. A mindful approach asks the question, “why is it on the to-do list if it’s never going to get done?” Either do it or simplify by removing it. So I made time for it.

Of course I’m not always great at doing this. That’s not the point. We are human after all. It’s more about practicing and not judging yourself when you make mistakes and go awry. Mindfulness practice focuses on developing the ability to be aware of emotions while they are happening so that you can make better choices about what to do with them. Emotions are a wonderful part of being human, but they can be their own distraction if we let them take over.

Here’s a simple meditation exercise:

Try sitting still, in an upright yet comfortable position, for five minutes. See if you can focus on your breath for that time without altering it. If that’s too much, just try two minutes. I can promise you will get distracted. Once you realize you’ve stopped focusing on your breath, take note of the thought and its intensity, and then return to focusing on your breath. The mere act of practicing this repeated return to focus helps strengthen your awareness and focus.

Then try it every day for a week. Then a month. You get the idea. I hope that you’ll start to see the clarity that this practice is bringing to me in my daily life. If you like it, Q4 Consulting is a wonderful resource to get more information about a formal study of mindfulness.

Benedict Wong

September 16, 2014

Publishers: mobile web or mobile app? That is the question.

This is a not a trick question. Rather, it’s a real dilemma that most publishers face.

There are a few considerations, based on The US Mobile App Report recently published by comScore.

John Armstrong

April 4, 2014

2014 Astek Grant Recipient: Conscious Capitalism Chicago

Conscious-Capitalism-Logo

Every year Astek awards one non-profit organization with a grant that covers the cost of a project designed to improve their online presence and advance a mission. This can be anything from a new website to an integrated Foursquare campaign to build local notoriety. In all cases, it’s great fun for the staff to support worthy organizations and get chummy with a passionate staff. As many of the employees at Astek come from strong arts or community backgrounds, the annual Astek grant program is a natural fit for our company culture.  

John Armstrong

March 21, 2014

Digital Delphi: This Week’s Client Marketing Questions Answered

Digital Delphi

digital delphi - social media training chicago

Welcome to Astek’s Digital Delphi…

Every week we’re asked a lot of questions. Some related to SEO, social media strategy and training or web site strategy. Some not. In any case, we answer them with all the glorious confidence by saying, “at least, that’s the way it worked two weeks ago.” Funny how in most cases, it’s a legitimate concern.

I’m going to take this and future Friday afternoons off, pour a glass of wine and write about these inquiries. Maybe I’ll put in some headphones and crank up some Lake Street Dive. I might even be a bit tipsy by question 3. Who knows?

I sometimes don’t. An honest digital marketing consultant never pretends to have the right answer because one can find 10 blog posts with 10 different opinions on page one of search. <note to self: add pseudo-relevant keyword phrase “social media strategy and training Chicago” throughout this text>. Let’s begin…

Andy Swindler

March 17, 2014

Build a Better Business by Defining a Company Culture

The term “Company Culture” is thrown around a lot these days. But what does it mean? The dot-com era gave us foosball machines, Aeron task chairs and catered lunch. The tech giants that survived have everything from yoga classes to dry cleaning. The millennials demand flexibility, clear rewards and open offices. The boomers don’t know where to put their bobble heads after getting kicked out of their cubicles.

 

Your company’s culture is ultimately defined by your people who, by the way, also define your brand. Your brand, in turn, defines what your company exhibits as an experience for all people involved: customer, staff, mascots, etc.

 

Basically, your culture is good if people want to be there and hold each other accountable for being their best.