Monthly Archives: January 2011
Louis Pasteur is hailed as one of our greatest scientific minds in history. Developer of the rabies vaccine (subsequently saving tens of thousands of lives), developer of modern Pasteurization techniques, and of course the mind behind understanding yeast and fermentation (to which I thank him everyday with a glass of fermented grape juice).
What many of us don’t realize is that Louis Pasteur almost skipped the study of science completely to be a professional hide tanner like his father. You read that right. A hide tanner.
Who suggested this? Who is the world was so shortsighted that this genius who saved a portion of the world from certain death almost was relegated to a life of tanning animal hides?
His teachers at the time.
Louis was slow. He could not process information as fast as his peers. In today’s world I fear he would be ostracized and teased. At the time (early 1800′s) the suggestion that he go into the sciences seemed outrageous, and suggesting he follow his father’s footsteps instead seemed the right path for poor Louis.
However, Louis had a trick up his sleeve. Though slow on the uptake in many situations, he was persistent, consistent, and methodical.
Amazing things can happen when enough methodical energy is applied. In the economics world the power of compound interest is widely known, so think of this as “compound blog interest” — the idea that a regular schedule, when applied religiously to a blog, will multiply your readership base and more importantly your reader’s dedication and support of your efforts.
In the blogging and business world, a schedule is everything. If you readers get even the slightest hint that you have abandoned them, they will respond by quietly looking at other things online. In sales, some mentors say “95% of the job is showing up” which is something I agree with. In the blogging world, ‘showing up’ means posting.
So how often should you post? That’s a good question with no right answer … it’s different for everybody.
But no matter what you do, here are the rules to never break:
- Never miss a self imposed posting deadline. Period. For it will make it just that much easier to skip it again (and again, and again). This can be particularly tough in the early stages of a blog, when you are tracking the numbers a bit too closely and you know only three or four people might see your latest post. But that’s not the point … think about the future when you may (hopefully) have thousands of people reading the blog, searching the archives, and discovering great things you wrote in the past. Write for the future readers, not the current readers.
- Announce to your readership in subtle ways how often you post. You don’t need it in your banner (“Posting three times a week!”) but rather add it into your regular writing so it appears more as information for the reader rather than grandstanding and bragging.
- Have a stash of back up posts ready to roll if need be. Personally, I feel jittery if I don’t have at least ten to fifteen back-up posts that I can rely on if the creative juices aren’t flowing. It happens to the best of us. When you are feeling particularly energetic and creative, use that energy to put some posts in your bank for future spending.
- Only move in the direction of more frequent postings. Don’t fall into the trap of throwing up thirty posts in thirty days, getting a fan base, then falling back into two posts a week because that was your initial plan. Those fans that were getting used to a daily post liked it for that very reason — the quick and easy to read daily brain massage you gave them. If you suddenly take it away they will resent you. However, the reverse is true. If you post once a week and build a fan base on that schedule, suddenly switching to two posts a week is a gift that your readers will love.
Are you putting too many eggs into your blog basket?
I recently had a fantastic conversation with my friend Ryan Opaz (@ryanopaz), founder of Catavino.net. Ryan is very savvy about the social media world, specializing in working with European wineries and helping them develop platforms to get their message across.
Our discussion turned to blogs. “I’m against the idea of blogging as people define it,” he said which is surprising thing to come out of the mouth of somebody who won the World Wine Blogger ‘Best Writing’ Award of 2010. Here was one of the most respected bloggers in his industry seemingly knocking his own world. Further explanation clarified this for me. Ryan continued:
“A blog is only a tool, and there have to be many tools in your box. It’s one tool in the arsenal of communication, but in itself it is nothing. A pencil is tool. What can you do with a pencil? You can write junk. You can draw art. You can write a novel. But you can also stab somebody in the eye with it. A blog, like a pencil, is only a tool, nothing more and nothing less.”
It’s a fascinating viewpoint, and a powerful one when you step back and look at how blogs are used and perceived today. Using a blog platform as just one tool relieves the notion that the blog is the start and endpoint of the topic or discussion. Far too many people, it seems, write blog posts for their business or professional life and then wonder when the magic will strike. Hence, the slow atrophy of many fine sites.
However, if think of it as simply one of the more useful tools amongst Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Flickr, and dozens of other options, you can harbor and grow the influence of your writing exponentially. Chris Guillebeau likes to say that “links are the currency of the Internet” and using linkage to and from your blog posts are making use of the tool that a blog is.
The final goal, no matter what, is the opening of conversation and the building of ideas. Don’t use a blog as a start and end point. The propagation of the ideas and opening of minds is the goal, but the cataloging of your writing is what this tool is for.
Call it a collection, articles, writings, information, thoughts, plans, ideas, or interesting stuff. But maybe it’s time to put the word ‘Blog’ to bed.
If you didn’t call your blog “My blog” what would you call it?
I have yet to meet a person who ‘thrives on chaos’ and improves their life at the same time. In the short term the caffeine jolt of getting something done in a flurry of activity and pandemonium can be fun, but I’m talking real long term change here. And it starts with one defining theory:
Taking small steps toward a goal of a better life has no downside.
On a day to day basis, there are moments where bad decision making can alter that path to peace. A good example: simply saying yes when you really want to say no. If you take on responsibilities and emotions based on trying to appease others rather than improving your own existence, you are bound to find yourself behind the 8-ball most of the time. Either that or juggling ten of those 8-balls at once!
There are a ton of systems out there that deconstruct day to day practices in order to help with the decision making process, and over the course of time I’ll be reviewing and commenting on many of them. But before you “go GTD” or start making spreadsheets of what to save, give away, or trash I want you to think about the process of making decisions.
I call it the prequel to decisions.
It’s when the choice of what you do or what you say can go down only two paths: where there are hazards, or where there is no downside.
This philosophy stems from simple experiences that everybody can relate you. All of us have the same versions of these examples:
- We eat too much pizza or fast food just because we are hungry or unprepared to make a healthy dinner. We awake the next morning holding the tummy and regretting our choice.
- We say something bad or mean about somebody. One week later, the buzz is everywhere in the office/club/group and the mess takes weeks to clean up.
- We choose to spend money that we shouldn’t, fully recognizing that little voice in your head saying you shouldn’t. The new television takes two years to pay off.
- We take a stance on a personal matter that, deep down, you know is unwarranted and unnecessary.
- We lie to make ourselves look better to others. The smaller the lie, the worse it is because it’s easier to hide. And the easier it is to hide, the better chance we’ll say it again. (I know somebody who, despite never graduating from college, insisted to people that he got a 3.8 and graduated with honors. He told the same lie for so long that he himself had to reminded that it wasn’t true.)
So the crux is not the over arching decision to “make my life better through (fill in the blank … zen, GTD, yoga, etc.)”. The moment of truth is repeated a hundred times a day, in the prequel to the decisions.
“With this decision I’m making, is there a downside?”
And it’s at that point that a simple litmus test is in order. If there is no downside, go for it.
Several (small) examples of decisions that have absolutely no downside:
- Looking people in the eye when talking to them.
- Kicking presumptions about people or places out of your brain.
- Making a conscious decision to not talk badly about people or disparage their ideas.
- Reading a book to a kid.
- Waking up a bit earlier and going for a walk (or basic exercise of any sort).
- Listening more, talking less.
- Saving a percentage of your money for the right reasons, even if it’s just one percent.
- Never carrying credit card debt. (Note: I didn’t say not use credit cards. Just don’t carry a balance).
- Taking a full evaluation of your life at regular intervals. The best example is here.
Is there a gray zone? Of course there is. But getting bogged down in the gray zone can be dangerous. An example would be a friend of mine that has made the effort to go green, to have as little impact on the environment as possible. Her decision to be an environmental superstar is to be commended, but her personal process is loaded with downside landmines. Every action and decision is based on guilt. “I know I can do more!” she says while expending far too much energy hunting down the ultimate uber-organic soap. She never feels that she has done as much as she could. That’s no way to live.
Here’s how a ‘no downside’ philosophy could work for her. Simply decide, for one month, to…
- recycle every can, bottle, newspaper, and piece of junk mail in the house.
- work diligently on consuming leftovers in the fridge.
- make it a point to plan errands carefully, to avoid wasteful trips to the store.
There things. Three things that have no downside. No guilt, no questioning, no problems. Done. And the next month, expand the list bit by bit.
So what can you find no downside in?
The biorhythms of creativity are never easy to understand for they are personal and individualistic. For many it follows the patterns of the seasons as well. Some find energy and inspiration in the depths of winter, others mentally hibernate. Both are fine, as long as you’re in tune with the patterns.
For me personally, it really is a dance of two steps forward then one step back. I’ll feel the flow, I’ll start to write and photograph and work on creative projects. I’ll find myself reading HOW, or Aperture, or Design ID magazines. I write blog posts. I’ll take out my LensWork DVD’s and enjoy an hour of creative thought while enjoying a glass of wine. In other words, it’s happening, and I’m at my happiest when the creativity gods are looking over me. This is, I guess, about 70% of my days and usually lasts for 1-3 months in a row.
Then, for reasons every creative would love to decipher, shut down occurs. It’s almost like all the creative cells in my brain decide to go on a holiday for two to six weeks. After of time of hyper energy, when the ideas and visions flow from my brain to my fingers and onto a page, suddenly I find myself uninspired and numb. This is always a difficult time for me, for simply starting the mental engine is a grueling process.
It’s the recognition of this pattern that is important, not trying to find the key to solving it.
As much as some will hate to hear it here is the truth (and I have to remind myself of this constantly) — you can work your way through the slumps by dismissing the idea that the creative fairy has to visit you. The author Frederick Manfred (pictured), the bard of ‘Siouxland’ (the drainage basin of the Great Sioux River in Southwest Minnesota, Southeast South Dakota, and Northwest Iowa) likened his creative pursuits to farming a field.
“You wake in the morning and plow three rows. The field is huge and rows numerous but all that matters are those three rows. Before you know it you’ve plowed those three rows, and the next day you start another three. Before you know it you’ve plowed the field, and at the end of plowing the field you start from the beginning again planting seeds. Then you weed, three rows at a time. Then you harvest. Then you begin the cycle again. It doesn’t end, but the key is to keep doing those three rows every morning.
Writing is the same thing. Every day, whether you want to or not, you sit down and forge ahead. I write three pages, everyday, and sometimes it happens so fast that I’m done at breakfast. Sometimes I spend all day on it. But the key is to do it. A farmer farms corn, a writer farms braincells.”
Staying motivated is a difficult thing, but never forget that you can forge ahead and take control during the less than creative moments in your life. ZenHabits had a great post recently on staying motivated, which plays into what we are talking about here. Check it out.