Motion theory

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I have been silent for the past couple of weeks because I have been testing a certain theory called motion. The motion is a state of action that fuels itself further into more action.  It helps one focus on many things that require repeated performance. Take for example, a business launch. In the event that you want to start a new business you need to gain a significant amount of momentum early enough. So you know what you need to accomplish first.

The idea of motion theory is to set up your activities so that whatever you do will have results that will trigger further action in one way or the other. For instance, if you are torn between a choice of business cards, you can decide to make a few samples and let the final decision of which business card to go with be made by a random friend. Tell the random friend in advance. The choice to include someone else’s decision making skills in the process enables you to avoid time wasting situation which can cause analysis paralysis. You simply want to do and not think. So before you do, you decide on how to avoid thinking situations by providing predetermined formulas for decision making.

But then all the right steps may not  be available at once. You might not have all the moves planned till your twentieth sale. As you move on with your plans you need to look around for innovative clues that will help you solve future problems. While you are at the wholesale shop you might want to ask the wholesalers how the established a good distribution network for their product and so forth.

Motion theory should also make use of experimentation. When the choices you make do not bring results, you need to try out other new moves for which the results can be positive. For example a sales offer that allows the first 10 customers to pick a product for free might reveal real demand for your product. The main idea is to have as many results as possible with which to base your future decision making.

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3 methods to get your lifestyle oozing with productivity

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Being more productive is important if you have dreams or desires in life.

We are in an age where competition has grown to incomprehensible standards. The more we stagnate in life, the faster we are erased from the sea of relevance. And in this day and age, you have to be relevant one way or the other in order to survive.

But productivity is not strictly about doing more. Its also about being more. As soon as you build something, that something becomes a part of you whether its a relationship, a business, a career… and so on.

At the beginning of this year, I found myself reading a lot of books mainly because I was looking for answers on being more and not just doing more.

What I found was a whole maze of techniques to help me achieve what I wanted. A lot of them had fluff and by fluff I mean too much focus on details that may not apply to everyone’s situation. I was simply looking for a one – off formula to take me from little to big in the fastest possible way.  Just when all this information was starting to overwhelm my neurons…

I read the action method

The action method is a practical approach by one James Altucher. Altucher is an author, investor, I.T professional and trader. He has seen the launch of over 20 successful start up companies one of which was a social networking site for stock traders. After many failed attempts at becoming an established writer he finally broke away from his day job as an IT wiz and started trading in money markets. In time, he got back to writing and this time he made it big pretty quick. He came up with this daily practice that is bound to uplift your state of mind instantaneously. It is does not exactly tell you how to stay focused but it helps you exercise your focus muscle.

James Altucher

The action method has a 4 step approach.

Physical – You need to do something everyday that will improve your health and fitness – exercise, yoga, sports.. name it. Altucher believes that health preceeds happiness in our everyday lives. You are less likely to be happy if you have some pain, condition, infection or tumour of some sort interfering with your state of mind. The idea here is to be as healthy and fit as you can in the long haul. You might not not be completely and perfectly healthy but its important to try getting there. This will keep your body is the best shape to pursue anything else.

Spiritual – Stepping away from the exterior, you need to take care of your inner self. For James, this refers to your soul. You need to believe in something as a human being. You need to believe in something that is beyond scientific proof and something that is greater than you. This could be a higher diety or a higher power that will keep you in the race when you have lost control. Its a habit that keeps you at peace with yourself. It keeps you from laying every burden on yourself in the hope of keeping everything under control and hence becoming responsible for it all.

Mental – We have the ability to create value with our minds. Exercising the mental helps you find solutions to problems everyday. It helps you create value for people and for yourself. Altucher recommends coming up with new ideas each and everyday. The fastest way to go about this is to create lists. For instance a list of 50 blog post ideas for your blog…or for someone else’s blog. Or a list of 15 favours you can do to your clients that wont cost much. Or 20 party ideas. Its healthy for your intelligence and it creates opportunities. If done consistently it can turn you into a perceived genius.

Emotional

Lastly we have some emotional practice. In other books this would be described as ‘developing emotional intelligence’. Its a tough part of the method but its still quite crucial. Generally, Altucher states that one should draw closer to those people who lift you up and stay away from or tell off people who drain your emotional energy or your happiness. Some people do a bit of both but at the end of the day the list of folks at either end of the divide is usually quite clear in our minds.
I read Jenny Shih’s Idea flight kit

Jenny ShihI have to admit at first glance, I felt like I was at the wrong place on Jenny Shih’s home page. It was too pink for my taste and I had the feeling the site had been designed specifically to help women. But given that I had been directed to it by a man, I decided to give it a shot. At her site, Jenna offers two kits to help get any project or dream you have off the ground. These are the idea flight kit and the system flight kit. I took greater interest in the idea flight kit since it is where the whole dream actualization process kicks off.

If you have gone through some of my posts explaining task scheduling as a key to learning how to stay focused, then this method is quite similar. In a nutshell the process is as follows. First you write your idea (dream) down. Secondly, you define what you want to do about it, why you want to do it, who the whole idea will help, where, when and how its going to work and finally how much it will cost. That second stage is pretty much what in project management is termed as scope definition. Thirdly, you now need to break down every single activity that will take you from point A (now) to point B (dream achieved). Some may not be clear but those will be ignored and listed later. The essence of this stage is to have the steps broken down to their simplest forms. For instance, if you are planning on becoming a photographer, you shouldn’t just write “buy a camera”. You should first find out which camera, find the best price for that camera, the best place to buy it and decide how you will buy it (online, physically..). After this has been clearly outlined, it is not yet time to jump. You will need to mark each activity with a timeline. When will you do each of them?

As soon as stage three is done, you will have stage 4 to jump into. This is the implementation stage. During the implementation stage it is important to mark your progress so as to find insights on what better routes can be taken on the road map for achieving your chosen idea.

I read Tim Ferriss’s dreamlining technique

This is the method outlined in his famous bestseller book The Four hour work week.

You first need to define your dreams or goals in three categories. What you want to be, what you want to do and what you want to have. For example you might want to become an expert programmer (be), you may also want to learn a language (do) and you may want a new car (have). You then give this set of dreams six or 12 months (depending on which you can work with) to be realized. The next step is to assimilate them into your daily lifestyle. This means picking three of the simplest activities you can do towards achieving each goal each day (precisely 24 hours).
Eventually you should be able to gain the results you want.

Your choice of method will depend on how specific your goals. If you simply want to find more balance in life, the Altucher’s method will work perfectly but if you are reaching out for something very specific, Jenny’s flight plan will work wonders and train on how to stay focused on one thing at a time. If you want something that offers both of these then you can easily apply Feriss’s dreamlining strategy like I did. Or even better you can use all three in a integrated approach.

Focusing on Focusing

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Turning away from social media sites can be a daunting task. Its always a riddle finding out how to stay focused with all the informational distractions. The effort it takes to lift that finger and click on that little x button at the top right corner of your browser or the bottom right corner of your phone’s screen is ginormous. You just cant seem to focus your mental energy on such a small thing. It goes to shows just how powerful mental agility is when compared to physical strength. Most of the time we give the excuse that we are too tired to do something while referring to actual physical energy but truly half the time it isn’t the muscle it’s the nerve that’s involved. The first battle in focusing on a task is always some stubborn idea that works against your intention to start something else. For instance if your glued to Facebook, the reasons to stay on your homepage pour in second after second in the form of status updates. But why do such trivial things become so important at these moments when more realistically urgent matters await to be attended to elsewhere. The reason is simple. They entertain the irrational mind.

The Lizard Brain

This is what Seth Godin refers to as the lizard brain. The lizard brain wont tell you exactly how to stay focused but it works both ways – negative and positive. Negative is when you have a new client to meet and somehow you feel its going to be a bit different this time so you’re really afraid of screwing up. You probably don’t have a solid reason to be scared. Solid meaning, you don’t have evidence of anything that will surely go wrong but still you’ll find yourself fretting your hairs off because the lizard brain tells you so. The lizard brain will keep millions of people from ever taking a chance and starting on big business ideas they come up with ever year. They more they hold back, the more supporting proof they offer the lizard to feed on. It will keep them from trying again when they face challenges that they were at first unable to take on. It could be a marketing deal you couldn’t close that convinced you that every other prospect will turn you down the same way. We are all breeding lizard brains each and every day of our lives because we are afraid of failure and losing control.

Lizard brain trying to figure out how to stay focused

“They more we hold back, the more supporting proof we offer the lizard to feed on.”

Sometimes we are distracted positively from focusing on stuff. What this means is that we always find something else that grabs onto our attention and keeps us locked onto it. The lizard brain always awakens swiftly to the inviting odour of a relatively new and entertaining distraction. “Uuu! its a new friend request on Facebook” or “Wow, a new trend on twitter”, or maybe its your iPod and you’re thinking, “Let this song end then I’ll get down to work.”Personally I’ve been guilty of accommodating such on so many occasions. I tend to get distracted by new ideas and just find myself thrilled with each new development of the idea in my mind that it can take hours to switch back to action mode. The obvious and smart thing to do is to simply write the idea down and carry on with it later when I’m free. These fast hand innovative breakaways can save you an enormous chunk of your most valuable resource- Time.

Procastination

The truth is your goal in finding out how to stay focused is to find out how to keep your time well utilized. The problem we face, in a simple overview, is somewhat like this. We always define some new goals we wish to achieve then we’ll have an idea of how soon we’d want that to happen. We then figure out the stuff we need to do to get there. Problem is we don’t get very specific on how long each small nitty gritty detail will take. Its easy to feel like we’re experts on the subject so compromises on time schedules are easily welcomed. You pick off 5 minutes here and 10 there and you lose 15 in an hour. The importance of keeping time is only best understood once someone really understand what value is lost by compromising those 15 minutes. How much further away from a goal are you when you take time outs to watch random stuff on T.V. Are you in time? If so, you deserve those 15 but if you are lagging it’s good to either know how to make up or just quit and get back to work.The problem with taking your eyes away from the prize for a little harmless distraction is that you make the distraction appear more important and consequently devalue your attraction to your goals. Alternatively you can some of the tricks I’ve utilized myself in the past

How to stay focused while multitasking

Then there’s the whole twist about multitasking. I once heard somehow say its not really multitasking its shifting back and forth from a host of activities. This is the best recipe for destroying focus. If you really want to gets stuff done and done well its utterly important to keep your focus on one thing at a time for a reasonable span of time. Some things are harder to focus on than others. To be categorical, its much easier to focus on the smaller details than on the big picture. But its the small details that make the big picture. That’s why we have millions of dreamers in society wishing to live like millionaires but only a handful who actually are millionaires. Making millions is the big picture and it comprises of a million tiny little frames of work. What millionaires do is they ensure that they have as many people focusing on the small frames of work in order to build the big ship for him. But for them it all started from that same point and they’re biggest asset eventually became being able to expand their focus zone to accommodate projects and actions on a much larger scale. To do this you need to be able to focus on running all those smaller portions of work as a one single unit which takes skill. A skill that is built over time. Its the skill that makes rich people rich and famous leaders great.

Frames of a Billionaire

Science vs Art

Our minds naturally come with both a scientific and artistic make up. The scientist in us is always out to philosophically reason out stuff before doing anything. It will ask for a million reasons in order to justify any action. Finally it will settle for whichever reasons match their moods. Its a very subconscious process because we normally end up at a conclusion that we believe ws built on very rational judgments. In reality we just stuck to what our mood or conditioned ideas or reality told us to stick to. Quiting a job is really hard because most people assume the worst will come out. The idea that you will end up starved and homeless is what we refer to as solid argument. We obviously don’t have complete proof for that. The best way to take on a task and keep your focus is to accept the reasons that encourage it . Trusting in your reasons is the only absolute you will ever find.

The artistic mind on the other hand is drawn to anything it enjoys doing. It’s the creative part in us and it does not demand any rational thinking, it just flows. Painting, writing, singing, socializing, video games and so on. The problem with the artistic mind is that it gets easily addicted. If your loving it why should you stop. Just because your scientific mind tells you your spending too much time doing stuff that wont get you paid doesn’t mean you want to stop. So there is always that conflict between the artistic mind and the scientific minds. Switching between tasks that need you to exercise either can be a horror of a challenge in your plight to focus. The key however is to include both parts of our minds in each activity.

What if you could put in a bit of critical thought into what you do when you’re acting. The result would be recording yourself so that you can see where to improve on. Science rides on assessment, but art thrives on response. If you want to perfect your art you need to critique it. The artist in you will just want to act on and on until it hears someone clap. But the scientist in you will tell you those claps will come a lot faster if they first come from you. So, in general our mission for greater focus is to:

  • Recognize and contain the lizard brain
  • Be aware of the value of time
  • Build focus from the ground up by starting on the small things one at a time.
  • Involve both the scientific and artistic selves

How to Stay Focused

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If you’re employed staying focused is as easy as pie. It’s not voluntary though, because there’s a system to keep you in ‘the zone’. The system is called Bosses. Yes, any time you wander off for a period of longer than one minute to play Angry Birds on your phone or Solitaire on your P.C you run the risk of getting caught. And if you do get caught you create a reputation that, if consistently nurtured, can lead to your procedural exit from the company. So with this in mind you can easily stay focused through the fear of getting fired. Again, if you do get caught, your boss is there to make you get back on gear by simply howling ‘What are you doing there?’  So you see, it’s pretty easy to stay focused in the workplace. You rarely have to ask yourself how to stay focused. Your boss is even paid a lot more than you because the big man on top knows what’s more valuable – actual work or keeping people focused on doing actual work. But what if someone didn’t go through the pains of hiring someone and paying them a lot more than you to keep you in the game. What would you do then? What would keep you focused?

Marshall’s technique on how to stay focused

After I quit my day job last year, I had to face that very problem. I asked myself why on earth it was so hard to stay focused on what I needed to do to get ahead if I wanted it so badly. It was very clear that I wanted to achieve A and B but after some time I found myself wondering into the abyss of personal freedom doing the other things that I had missed doing. And everyone out there who’s ever worked on their own terms faces the same problem every now and again. I remember searching relentlessly on the internet for resources on finding your focus zone and how to stay focused once your in that zone. I ended up coming across a book by Lucy Jo Palladino called ‘Finding your focus zone’. “Perfect!” I thought. Unfortunately, I couldn’t buy the book at the time. Afterwards, I came across one Sebastian Marshall’s blog. Marshall is all about the art of self discipline and this is exactly what I needed. I remember reading one particular post where, and I quote, he says,

“99% of people you interact with in life are fucking jokers. You’re used to joker behavior..

What’s a joker? A joker is someone who says they’re going to do something, and then doesn’t.

A joker always has excuses. “Oh well, I tried…”

Did you do it or not?

DID YOU DO WHAT YOU SAID YOU’D DO OR NOT?

If not, you’re a fucking joker and we’ve got problems.”

With those harsh but true words, it dawned on me that I was being a joker and if I had to prove I was right in pursuing my dreams. I had to stop fooling around and accomplish whatever I set out to do.

Marshall’s method of staying effective was based on periodical assessments. He would calculate how much he has accomplished in one day as a percentage of the number of tasks he had written on his to do list for the day. The problem with this method was that it dwelled on maximizing efficiency rather than effectiveness. It may take longer to do some things and one may not really know how long beforehand so in effect failing to complete one of two things in 24 hours doesn’t necessarily constitute a lack of effectiveness. Again some things are more important than others so doing all the less important ones faster doesn’t mean you’re the most effective guy on the planet. Also, this method certainly does not account for quality. Sometimes using more time on something is bound to get you better results.

Task Scheduling

Later  on, I came across a method of scheduling tasks throughout a day (something most people do with their diaries but not me) to accomplish something bigger. So if you have a couple of things you hope to achieve you pick out starting points with small bits for each goal and schedule them out in one day. The advantage of this method over Marshall’s was that it allowed you to level out the importance of stuff when planning on how to do them. If you pick out a very small bit of everything to do each day then every activity seems just as important as the other. For example if you have to work on a web site that takes 2 weeks to build and you still need to send emails, what amount of each will you do in one day? You might want to start by making half of the CSS template for the site and sending one of your emails on day 1. This way they both become equally easy. This method worked for a week till I realized it that it still didn’t get me to my desired focus level. There was still something lacking.

An example of a task list

Dean Jackson’s 50 minute focus finder

That’s when I came across Dean Jackson’s method of finding immediate focus. It’s way too simple. You simply list everything you need to do in terms of single item activities again. For me, I incorporated Jenny Shih’s project management techniques. Simply break down a goal from the general objective to the smallest single tasks. You want to be a millionaire? You need to break it down to the level of making a call to a supplier if you chose to start a business. How much time will that take? 10 minutes? – more or less. So essentially with a rough idea of how much each listed task will take (and you will need a big paper if you are handling loads of tasks in like 7 days), you then proceed to batch them up into blocks of 2 hours. In these two hours you have a bunch of stuff to do and possibly even one task only. You take 50 minutes and start on the first half of your batch. Allow yourself a 20 minute break then finish off the rest within the remaining 50 minutes. Easy as that. I was dubious at first till I tried it. Since then I can only say Dean’s method has been more than superb in helping me maintain focus. The reason why Dean’s method works so well is because it allows you to work for what may seem like a small time frame and get the most value for your time. That way you don’t have to stress about working for too long. With the 24 hour system I hadn’t realized just how valuable 5 minutes of your day can be. Also the 20 minutes of rest seem like an interruption once you get into the zone (the actual zone this time). It’s important that you take the break because it keeps your mind fresh for what’s left. It also keeps you eager to get back and continue working which thus provides extra fuel for staying focused. So Dean’s method gave me what everyone else was lacking; a way of accounting for the time value of everything. I wasn’t looking to be the most efficient guy in terms of finishing nominal tasks. I was looking for the most value for my time so that at the end of the day I can sleep with a sense of actual accomplishment. In fact I’m using the method to write this very blog. There isn’t a simpler procedure for figuring out how to stay focused.

Finding balance when its hard to stay focused

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We are always seeking balance in our lives.

Everyone one else seemed so contended, sure of what they want and assertive. But after some time, it came to my realization that this was not entirely true. In fact, most people are pretty ok in one aspect of their lives and pretty messed up in another. They nurture the ability to conceal the messed up portion of their lives and allow the organized one to flourish. They seem to have mastered how to stay focused on these single dimensions of their lives. But in the end they know they still need to keep stuff in balance in other dimensions. The ultimate question is:

Do you settle or do you change?

I honestly believe its all about balance. Maybe you’re doing too much of one thing that you forget the importance of what’s left to be accomplished. You want to make your new business flourish as quick as possible but you don’t want to spend less time with your family. In many cases, you will find that it’s either one or the other. But there is a way of finding balance amongst the various faces of life.

You need to be realistic about the limits you will accept. I have often found myself trying too hard to make something happen or to complete a task only to realize how much better it feels to take a break and do something else first. We live in an age where so much has been proven possible. Success is now more imminent than ever for a greater number of people . Because of this we are always seeking to achieve as much as we can with the new windows of opportunity that have been revealed to us. The end result is a burnout or a matrix of confused goals.  There is one simple way to avoid losing it in the quest of discovering how to stay focused. I call it task scheduling.
Task Scheduling involves starting bits and pieces of each piece of work. Developing efficiency is a gradually acquired skill, you cant just leap furiously into becoming the fastest web designer or article writer in an hour. What you can however do is start being effective. Everyone has an effectiveness index. This is the amount of work within a certain project (see my definition of project here) that you can do with limited know how or experience. For instance, if I was to tell you to write a financial report for a company. where would you start? If you really aim to master writing financial reports then you can start with whatever you know constitutes a financial report, say, profits, sales, dates (period ending XXX) for instance. then the next thing is to read a bit. And then you come back and try apply what you’ve learnt.. Compare what you have so far with other financial reports.. Each problem encountered is a bug that solves the puzzle.

The real issue however that comes up is – “what if we have a whole bunch of goals? Where the hell do we start and where do we end?” That’s easy. We start with everything. 15 minutes of this, 15 minutes of that and 15 minutes and back again. It becomes a self refreshing system of accomplishing goals. Making phone calls to clients after writing a report can be a form of relaxation because of the sharp contrast between each of the two tasks. In one you need to follow formal rules and methodologies while in the other  you are free to be yourself and bring in your people skills. I have often found myself a tad bit more motivated to write an article after playing my guitar. I think it’s the hard work and perseverance that it takes to learn to play a new song that spills over to the article creation process.

How to use action to gain focus

Getting into the action mode can actually be entertaining if you assess problems in a creative perspective. So you have writer’s block and you don’t know how to stay focused on the topic your writing on. What if you wrote out a really good title at the top of your article before you research? Better yet add sub topics under the title. Instantaneously, you will begin to see what it is that you should actually look for to include in your article. Looking for relevant info wont be so hard after this. Look for something for 10 minutes then move on to something else like cooking. The notion that you left something hanging will steer you to want to come back and finish it as soon as possible. You’d be amazed just how you can exploit the human mind’s need to assert itself. In time, you will transform your day to day habits into an action oriented lifestyle; what I call the short code. It’s what we could term as a proactive lifestyle instead of a reactive one.

The Art of Work (for Works of Art)

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Don’t you sometimes wish you had a button on your spine that you could hit anytime you needed to focus and get something done. There are so many situations where we all find ourselves facing that lazy Monday attitude that keeps us from getting started on a task. Recently, I did a post on effectiveness and its importance but I never really got into how to maintain an effective character. I therefore hope this post will help drive in some momentum on the matter.

I talked about excuses in my last post. Excuses are always useless if they don’t encourage improvement. That’s the true and candid bottom line. Most of the time we’ll end up dabbling back and forth with questions like “Why must I do it?” or  “Why must I do it now?” or ” Is it really worth it?” and “Then what?” The truth is if we asked ourselves these questions about everything we would probably never do anything in life. But how do we evade these questions?

Most of the things we do in life without thinking twice about are things we don’t reflect about later in these terms so the questions really are meaningless. You want to go play video games, you wont ask, ‘then what?’ Its really about the fun experience. Fortunately when we do manage to do the tougher stuff there’s that sense of accomplishment that makes you feel much stronger, much greater than you were. It lets you think ” Wow, that wasn’t even tough at all.” You slowly evolve into a pro. The real questions we should thus be asking is “How quickly can I do this?” and “How much do I want to get done today?” We should also ask “How perfectly can I hack that?” Quantity, Quality.

So maybe that;’s the start button we need. The feeling of accomplishment. Just seeing how far you can go can make it count. You don’t want to write that letter. Maybe what you really want to do is prove that you CAN write that letter. You cant contact that client. Maybe what you really wanna do is find out how well you can deal with clients. Or what’s even more fun is finding out how bad you are with clients, pastors, doctors, respected personalities, hot babes. The list is endless. What we really want to do is find a new adventure in life. Just like the video, be in it for the fun experience. People who laugh about the misfortunes of life experience the best of it. Go somewhere you have never been before. If you are unhappy with your current lifestyle, its simply because you have never attempted going beyond it. Have you ever imagined what life would be if you were a billionaire? You would probably need to meet with big CEOs everyday. If having a meeting with one today totally creeps the life out of you, then you have a journey to begin. Step one – meet big people. You might get to hear stuff you have never been told before.

Shadow cityAnd what if you fail? Well, It might entertain someone later on when you tell the story. But more importantly, you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Ultimately, the only reason we always drag ourselves to do certain tasks is because they aren’t so easy to do successfully. We haven’t figured out how to do them like pros. So again its a learning opportunity. Or maybe we haven’t found which part of doing them we like the most. Discover the art behind that task. If you are not familiar with the art, discover it. Maybe there are better ways of making a web page. Invent it. Make art.

On the other hand somethings are simply mundane. There is simply nothing arty about them. Errands, like paying bills or doing laundry. True. These are probably the best tasks. They require little to no thought at all which means you don’t have to put your mind in it. And that’s where automation comes in. A computer program could probably be invented to do them. And there are computers and machines that let you do them. Washing machines are there to do your laundry, consider getting one. Nowadays, you don’t really have to cue to pay bills. There are online systems for that. Alternatively get someone who enjoys doing stuff that involves minimal thinking to do it.

Henry Ford once said that thinking is the toughest job there is. In our day and age, it could as well be the best job there is if we put a bit of art into it.