In the span of one lifetime it is, of course, possible for every human being to improve himself—within limits set by energy, time, temperament, and the level from which he begins…. But the limits within which such improvements may be made are small in comparison with the vast aspects of our nature and our circumstances which remain the same, and which will be very difficult to improve even were it desirable to do so. I am saying, therefore, that while there is a place for bettering oneself and others, solving problems and coping with situations is by no means the only or even the chief business of life….
[HIGH FIVE] How the Pros Handle Information Overload to Get More Things Done
Your days are flooded with a fast-flowing torrent of emails, RSS feeds, tweets, Facebook updates and to-read articles on Instapaper. Your monkey mind chatters. Read this later and this and this. Tweet more. It’s not even lunch yet but already emails and text messages are coming in fast.
Welcome to the age of data clutter. The not-so-secret secret way to thrive? The rare ability to cut through the noise. It’s the same ability that lets one distinguish what’s important from what’s merely interesting.
We followed five web professionals who seem good at handling data clutter. Sure enough, their ability to cut a lot of crap makes them a rare breed.
- Pared down 400 apps to about 80 apps
- Wrote more than 1,500 Gmail filters that throw away more than 300 emails everyday
- Uses Prismatic to filter social noise from Google+, Facebook and Twitter
Starts his day as a producer , not a consumer
Keeps himself breathing and relaxed to consume and process information better
Note: This is in response to Linda Stone’s curious term, email apnea, “a temporary absence or suspension of breathing, or shallow breathing, while doing email”
- Don’t personally respond to emails
- Quit Facebook, follow a few and post infrequently
- Limits screen time or time spent online
- Delete, delete, and delete emails
- Get pickier and be mindful of where you focus your energy
- Get that crap outta your house
Blogging for Small Business is Not Dead. Your Blog Can Survive the Apocalypse Too.
We hear them hoot their distrust of small business blogs. Them hooting prophets of doom.
There are too many blogs on (insert niche) so don’t blog, says one.
Blogging sucks, says another. It’ll take you months to make money off it or at least get something in return.
Yadda, yadda, yadda. We won’t boo them back but instead build our case for small biz blogging.
First things first: what is a blog?
A blog is a blog is a blog.
Seemingly not a helpful definition but a good start. Can you even define what a blog is? Yours will surely contain texts(lots of it) and pictures under each heading or subheading. Or it can be made entirely or partially of comic strips, of daily thank you notes, and of cartoons drawn on the back of business cards.
The medium is fluid that it eludes strict definition.
Most blogs are textual. Many are visual.
Although the platform itself can contain anything, your job as a publisher is to scrutinize the content.
Mind the pixels and punctuation marks. You have to take care of a dozen tiny details before hitting publish.
How other people blog and how to stop worrying about them
- How long should each post be
- What’s the not-so-secret secret sauce to blogging success
- How to make money blogging
- How to write cool, awesome, and sexy blog posts
- How not to be rude to your readers
- How it’s so lonely in the blogosphere when you’re a newbie and ways to overcome such loneliness
If you’re only copying what worked for these two blogging masters, these tips might help. But there’s no guarantee that what worked for Leo and Darren can work for you too. Your chances are slim, if not zero.
Steal from but don’t copy established blogs. They’ve already solved problem number one (attract readers) and problem number two (attract more readers). You have your own interesting problems to solve.
And another thing, follow new blogs that grow silently.
Don’t just look at the number of readers subscribed to them. Notice the intangible elements that make these blogs attractive. It could be that the author’s impressively persuasive and funny at the same time. Or it could be that blog’s undercurrent of passion which is infectious.
You have everything you need to succeed
The things you need to get started are available for free: a CMS, some useful plugins and widgets, a list of ideas. Don’t worry about being original, at least at first. Here’s Henry Miller busting up the myth of originality so eloquently:
Who is original? Everything that we are doing, everything that we think, exists already, and we are only intermediaries, that’s all, who make use of what is in the air. Why do ideas, why do great scientific discoveries often occur in different parts of the world at the same time? The same is true of the elements that go to make up a poem or a great novel or any work of art. They are already in the air, they have not been given voice, that’s all. They need the man, the interpreter, to bring them forth.
That’s it! Go blog.
Former CEO of Hewlett Packard explains the importance of distinguishing what’s important from what’s merely interesting:
Because all of us are overwhelmed with amounts of information, and there will come any time in anyone’s life, whether it’s in a course you’re taking, or whether it’s in a choice you have to make about your life or about your work, where what you’re going to have to do is cut through lots of information and distinguish the truly important from the merely interesting.
The Science of Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolution (and a Lesson from Lao Tzu)
Thank heavens the world didn’t end on December 21st! Let’s not hope for another apocalypse next year and hope instead for a better year.
A good way to start (and we’re encouraging loved ones to do the same) is to look up a grand fireworks display and when it clears implore the smoky sky for guidance. You’ll know when it’s time to say your New Year’s Resolution out loud. Right after your sixth or seventh glass, you can resolve to quit alcohol. Just say it: I will never drink the third glass again.
There’s a science behind making New Year’s resolutions work and it all starts and ends in habit formation. This how of habits is mainly theoretical, later we’ll turn to Lao Tzu for the Tao of Doing.
So far we’ve learned that…
Some of our really bad habits may be gone but are never forgotten. Those bastards!
It takes about 66 days for habits to form. That’s the whole of January and February and the first week of March. Sixty-six isn’t a fixed number. Depending on the habit you’re after, the number can go anywhere between 18 and 254 days. Obviously, drinking a glass of water in the morning is an easier habit to form than an hour of daily workout.
Forming a habit should be easy if you can follow Odysseus’ remarkable self-control and skill at managing desire through precommitment.
- A habit is a three-step loop, writes Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
First there’s the cue. Then comes the routine. Finally the reward.
This loop is hardwired into our brains, Duhigg explains, so there’s no escaping from it.
Want to exercise more?
Choose a cue, say going to the gym or running outdoors right after hitting the alarm button. Integrate the new routine into your morning schedule by repeating it everyday for 66 days. And don’t forget to anticipate the reward: an endorphin rush, a sense of accomplishment, or a cup of coffee.
Nice to know but what’s the Tao of Doing It?
The funny thing about using the proverbial term “Tao” is this. Nobody even Lao Tzu can explain what it is. It cannot be explained, says the Tao Te Ching. Normally, we don’t trust articles that teach the Tao of so-and-so. They’re mostly link bait titles that offer readers nothing but an intriguing title.
Here we use “Tao” to capture the substance of our advice: the Tao of Doing Something cannot be taught. You have to learn it yourself through deliberate practice.
Even a talented apprentice cannot copy the brush strokes of his master. If the master is good, however, he can teach without telling him anything. The master, or any external source of information, won’t hand you inner strength on a golden platter.
Of course you know all this. You know the science. You’re fed up with self-help how-to’s. Don’t you think it’s time to tap your inner resources? Turn yourself into your own guinea pig like what Bucky Fuller did? Be your own mad scientist? Apply your own wisdom to form good habits?
If willpower alone is not enough, what other elements will complete the equation? Intuition? High tolerance for discomfort? A just-do-it-for-fun attitude?
Most people end up with a mishmash of theories and think they’re sufficient. Doing the act, or taking the leap from the metaphysical to the physical realm, is something that puzzles both scientists and philosophers. How habits are formed does not explain why you do what you do. That’s for you to find out.
The Danger of Growing a Small Business (and What We’re Doing About It)
It’s not about losing money. The cost of starting a tiny studio is worth nothing compared to the cost of running a brick-and-mortar business.
It’s not about the lack of clients either. Even mediocre studios are having the time of their lives working with mediocre clients. Good clients and right customers? They’re everywhere and they’re looking for partners of their own caliber too. You only have to say no to countless dubious characters, wait, and get ready for the next client.
The danger of growing a small business is the concomitant temptation to make it big quick or do more than what’s needed.
We’re a victim of this. We’re meaning to do a lot of things for startups and small businesses. We thought we’re capable of delivering them more services, hence our decision to form a “creative communications” studio that rethinks PR, social media and business as social. We’re writing drafts of PDF guides on these while immersing ourselves in social channels. The problem is, we’re a very small studio run by less than two people (one has a full-time job) and we’re pressed for time.
We needed a better plan, one that’s focused on running a lean business.
Start with what’s simple and obvious.
Content is our product. While we can’t miss writing content for clients, we’re starting to skip writing for our own blog. Needless to say, this blog is one of our core products and we want to grow it in terms of readership (a handful of fully engaged readers would be good). It seems like a tall order since every business, big or small, are starting to realize the value of high-quality content.
How do we even compete with bigger and already established blogs? We’re taking blogging advice from the computer programmer ESR.
Rule #2 on his guidelines for creating good open source software reads:
Good programmers know what to write. Great ones know what to rewrite (and reuse).
Yep, we’ll be reusing a lot of topics others have blogged about. But we want to improve upon them. Ruthlessly.
Satisfy one client at a time.
Our small team can only serve one client full-time. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve heard other two-person studios insist on a four-day workweek.
Working within our own limits is a fun challenge. It demands us to create more value with fewer resources, which is something small and successful businesses are good at.
Be interested, be social.
Writing is a solitary activity. Copywriting and writing for the web is not. Every piece we create has to be relatable if we intend to make it readable and shareable. This is why social conversations and social listening are too important to be missed.
We can mine insights about prospective readers through social media. By engaging entrepreneurs we like to work with, we’re increasing our chances of finding the right clients. But of course we’re treating everyone as a prospect. It’s definitely a social thing.
If You’re Blogging for Your Business, Be Very Very Afraid
We all like the idea that blogs exist to make money. Market your own product through the blog and make a sale. Teach people how to make money through a blog by fervently blogging about it. That’s one way of selling, one that’s not-so-surprisingly effective. Persuasive content sells.
But lately we’re seeing people clamoring for a better web. And that, of course, means better content. We’re tired of “Best 10 Ways to,” “Top Ten Tips for,” “ Three Things You Should Do to,” and all that crappy, rehashed content that delivers nothing fresh and thorough.
Is this why invite-only blogging platforms are emerging? Sites like Svtble and Medium are reinventing digital publishing. Notice the minimalist UI. It doesn’t matter how you look at the new face of blogging. If they’re all white and male or elitist or interestingly new. What matters is that they’re setting a new standard.
If you’re blogging for your small business, expect people to gravitate around stories from an author’s point of view. Take this one man’s view on why he prefers Twitter to Facebook for instance. Also expect people to want content delivered concise yet in-depth. Anything is Possible is one such piece. There’s a visual outline and single-sentence paragraphs that allows you to consume the piece in less than five minutes and ruminate on it for an hour or two.
New media always disrupts and/or destroy old media.
We’re not doomsayers, really we’re not. We just like you to rethink your strategies and question your assumptions a lot.
A Tiny Guide to Finding Time and Content for Social Media
In a nutshell: don’t sweat it.
What’s so hard about social media?
If you have departments in charge of planning for and publishing content, it shouldn’t be difficult. Otherwise, if your business is small and needs a little attention on the web, lack of time for social media is a serious roadblock.
We love starting entrepreneurs that we wrote this short social media guide just for them.
(1) Assign a number.
Is half an hour everyday, okay? You bet. In 30 minutes you can swipe your Twitter stream or favorite or RT a tweet or mention an industry expert or post a thoughtful comment on Facebook.
Is a tweet or two enough? Yep! Should you really be tweeting a lot? That’s crap. Stick this on your wall instead: if you can’t improve the silence, don’t tweet. Don’t Like or Share on Facebook either. Let’s help make the web intelligent.
Also, there’s power in a pithy 140-character statement.
(2) Make use of apps.
Sign up for Google Reader, Instapaper (or Pocket), and a Pinboard (or Delicious). Get a mobile client for each, preferably one that allows integration with Buffer or Twitter and Facebook. Forward to Buffer each article you wish to share.
(3) Make it easy on yourself.
What’s your agenda? If it’s to engage with like-minded users or industry peers or prospective customers, take the most direct route. Join the conversation yourself. Don’t even think of hiring a freelancer to spam others’ social media stream.
Common social media advice is full of shoulds and musts. Following them makes social media sound like a 24/7 job. It isn’t, unless you’re a social media guru.
(4) Listen a lot, talk less.
This is especially important when you’re in business. Treat social media as your multi-channel customer support. It’s where you listen to customers so that you can bridge the gap between your brand and customer expectations.
Listen to social signals. Identify a problem, an overlooked solution, a central idea, a unified purpose. Then talk.
When “Just Enough” Content Isn’t Enough
Plan for content people will find meaningful and useful.
This you’ll find at the core of every winning strategy devised for the web. Content strategy. Web strategy. Social media strategy. Content marketing strategy. Name it. Gather web professionals from interrelated disciplines of content strategy, SEO, online marketing, information architecture and web design. Wade through the dense jargon of the interwebs. Sit back, listen some more, and you’ll get it.
You need people to relate to your content. And when they do you’ll find that they’re better able to connect with your brand.
Web-savvy professionals all know this. I bet you do too. The problem is it’s a statement replete with misconceptions.
People? Who are they anyway?
They consist, among others, of Internet users who consume content to shop, amuse themselves or have something to say. Their motives may be varied but you can always make them do something. Like make them follow your brand on Twitter.
We’re often presented with SEO strategies lacking in-depth understanding of human behavior. We’re told of “content-centric” strategies that are really about cut-and-paste content. And while researching and targeting keywords is crucial, the process turns into a futile guesswork when done at the expense of users.
Wait, but isn’t “content-centric” the master key?
Content strategists and philosophers of data take content seriously. “What is content?” They’d ask. What of tweets and white papers? These are not separate from questions concerning web users. Who are your readers? Who will you convert into buyers? A content-centric strategy entails respect for people who consumes content.
Content is the web. And your web-based business requires you to plan for content that’s meaningful and useful. We have all the metrics for measuring content impact. What most of us lack is a strategy that seamlessly conjoins people and content.
Plotting a web strategy may be time-consuming but today you can start with the premise that if content consumes a user’s time and attention, you’d better make it compelling.