Archive for May, 2011

On Hiatus until June

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

A lot of exciting things have happened recently. Most notably, my wife and I have bought and moved into our first house. It’s a townhouse, just built, in a quaint suburb near downtown Ottawa.

We’re in love.

With all the pre-move hassles, the moving pains and the post-move responsibilities, I’ve decided to take a quick break from the wonderful world of writing words for the web.

I missed last week’s post, this is all I have today, and I’ll likely skip next week as well. However, I expect things to calm down by the end of the month, and you’ve no reason to expect anything less than a tide of thoughtful treatise come June.

In the meantime, why not tell me what you’re up to? Surely you’ve got something to share…

Three Ways to Suck at your TODO List

Monday, May 9th, 2011

“You should have more images on your site.”
“I know! That’s next.”

Next.

Next is a giant TODO list of great ideas. A new design, some WordPress plugins to check out, that brilliant idea for a killer webapp. And you know what? I suck at Next. I have no problem adding things to my TODO list, but I can never seem to get them done fast enough, including whatever’s “Next”.

This is the part where I explain how to fix your productivity problems.

Except I can’t. Because I’m no good at this, remember? So instead, here’s a list of what not to do. What to avoid doing! Bad habits that I just can’t shake, and maybe you can’t either.

1. Don’t book time in your calendar to tackle your TODO list.

You’ll find time eventually, right? After you get back from Vegas, after the move, then you can settle in and finish that guest post.

This will never happen. You won’t just find a pot of free time at the end of the rainbow. If you don’t commit a couple of hours per week to tackling the stuff that normally falls through the cracks, then, well, it’s going to keep falling through the cracks.

This is hard for some people. It’s hard for me. I have a lot going on right now, and I bet you do too. That’s never going to change. Find some time you can commit to every week, even if the only time you can spare is early Saturday morning while your wife is at the gym.

2. Don’t set deadlines for yourself.

Deadlines are for office drones. This is your spare time! You’ll use it as you see fit. You’ll write that ebook when you feel like writing it.

Guess what? If it’s as big as an ebook, and you didn’t start on it right away, you’ll probably never “feel” like doing it. You’ll certainly want to — that’s how it made the list, after all — but that’s not the same as needing to do it more than anything else right now.

Don’t lie to yourself. If you don’t set a deadline, and put something BIG at the end of that deadline to show yourself that you mean business, it’s not going to happen.

There’s a reason offices like deadlines. They work.

3. Don’t let logic overrule emotion.

Of course I want to play softball again this year. Of course I’ll also play soccer. Yes, I promised myself I’d start running this summer, and I still will, dammit; I’ll do all three.

Choosing is hard. It involves making sacrifices. Sometimes you have to give up something you really want to do for something you really want to do. It’s lame. You want to do both, or all three, or all of the above, but the math just doesn’t work out.

This is an easy trap to fall into. Saying “No” is hard. I struggle with it a lot, and unless you’re incredibly self-aware, you probably do sometimes too. The upshot, though, is that there are an infinite number of chances to practice getting this one right. So practice.

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I don’t have a magic formula for implementing the advice implied above. Nobody does, there is no such thing. The only solution is hard work, and being judicious about where you choose to spend your time.

If it’s easy, if it’s not a constant struggle, if it doesn’t feel like work: you’re probably doing it wrong.

The Internet as Ambition Amplifier

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Seth Godin wrote a piece last month entitled The internet as envy amplifier. While I can see where he’s coming from, I follow a different approach.

I see the internet as an ambition amplifier. Of course there’s always someone better out there, and of course it’s easy to envy that person’s success. But isn’t it way better to spend that energy motivating yourself to improve?

Do the searches. Find out who’s better than you. These people are your new role models, and their numbers are your new goals.

The Problem with Instant News, starring Osama bin Laden

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Do you know how many tweets have gone out about Osama bin Laden since his death, roughly 30 hours ago?

I’m going to go ahead and peg that number close to 100 million. Why? Because Twitter counted an average of 3440 tweets mentioning Osama per second for nearly 2 hours straight (source). That’s over 24 million on its own.

Everyone is a News Agency

Networks like Twitter (and Facebook, and YouTube, and Tumblr) are a great way for content to spread. Add to that their ubiquity, along with the growing popularity of smartphones and near-constant internet access. In short: it’s never been easier to share a message with twenty-thousand of your closest friends.

A few corollaries here:

  • News spreads quickly online. Instantly, even.
  • Rumours spread just as easily.
  • Bigger news will get more people talking.

When you have all three of these, like Osama, the volume of messages increases exponentially. Partly because so many people care so much about the topic, but also largely due to the economics of scale: the more messages, the more likely some information is false, which causes more messages due to debate, vilification, etc.

Add all this together, and we have tens of millions of people all anxious to share the latest news with their network. And that’s great!

But it’s also really annoying, because we’re all doing it at the same time.

“Latest” and “News” are Ambiguous

The morning after Osama’s death, it probably seemed like breaking news to a lot of people. That was at least twelve hours after the fact, though, so much of the internet had already been talking about it for (digital) ages. Then there’s everyone that found out around lunchtime, or later that evening, along with everyone that won’t find out until later this week.

The problem is that everyone wants to tell someone the second they find out. So they post it! This creates a mess of duplicate information. Social networks, blogs, IM, email; all of them are suddenly and perpetually inundated with a constant stream of updates. All saying the same thing.

Not only is it boring seeing the same few links everywhere you look, but this overdose of useless information also drowns out whatever you were hoping to find from your network in the first place.

Traditional News Outlets are Getting it Right

The key difference between the big players and everyone else is that organizations like CNN can control their updates. This is a refreshing change from the masses. Compare a single voice — providing timely information and only repeating itself when warranted — to the voices of everyone else around you, all yelling the same thing at the same time.

Which would you rather listen to?

This is a rare circumstance where I feel the old-fashioned news networks are nailing it, and us hipsters with our Twitters have a lot to learn.

What can we take away from this for next time?