What it Took To Create That Post

I knocked out two blog posts in as many days that were helpful to me, and perhaps helpful to anyone reading this website, about planning from ground-level up to 30,000′.
I teach social media marketing, and WordPress website development, and I am aware that what we teach does not always translate into students having the ability to create content on the fly. I thought about what it took to get those two posts from conception to publication. There are a lot of skills involved, and a lot of tools. Here’s a flow chart:

The skills and tools used to create the posts about Levels of Planning

The skills and tools used to create the posts about Levels of Planning

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Second Wilhelm

Wing and Wilhelm translations

Last August, I was challenged to develop a habit of reading from a book that was written before Gutenberg every day. I didn’t have to think 10 seconds before deciding that the I Ching was the book I would use. I’ve done pretty well; I’ve probably consulted the I Ching at least a hundred and fifty times out of a hundred and eighty days since the challenge started.

Now that I’m working with it daily, instead of only when I have a clear question, I’m wanting to know more about the oracle. I want to know more about the history behind the hexagrams than is offered in my R. L. Wing translation. I took my first copy of Wilhelm to the office I use on weekends, and I keep finding out that I want to consult it when I met my weekday desk.

So I bought a second copy. It’s easy to do now; I can find anything on abe.com.

It’s just a little bit strange, finding that I have become someone who needs to have two copies of Wilhelm.

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Processing an Idea for Content

What do you do when you have an idea for social media or website content?

Just like entrepreneurial wannabes who think their ideas are worth millions, it can be hard to know exactly what to do when you have an idea that could be useful content marketing material, if only you knew what to do with it.

I’m learning Creately, the process mapping tool, and I find myself creating decision trees to help clarify my thinking. This is another one: processing ideas for content. I do this on automatic pilot now, but it wasn’t always that easy. I tried to document the steps I follow.

What to do when you get struck by an idea for a potential content marketing item.

What to do when you get struck by an idea for a potential content marketing item.

Let me know if you have questions about the map or the process. I’m still learning the tool. Building a real map that can be printed on paper helps me see where the sticking points are, as well as where my thinking is cloudy.

Live version of the map

Happiness and the $300 couch

How people think themselves into unhappiness and how to think yourself out of it

I heard a couple talking as I walked around the thrift shop the other day:
“Well that’s an ugly couch. I wouldn’t want that in my home. Holy smokes! They want $300 for that thing? Who’s going to pay $300 for that!  It was donated!  Who are they to put a $300 price tag on something that was donated to them!  They shouldn’t be asking that much money!”

Reasonably clean white couch.  Picture sold separately.

Reasonably clean white couch. Picture sold separately.

For donated couch, it’s pretty clean. I couldn’t have that couch in my own home. It’s white. Our dogs are allowed on the couch and it would be mud colored in no time.

But it’s painful to sit in resentment. It’s draining to know how everyone in the world should be running their business, setting their prices, managing their inventory, and to be unhappy because they didn’t ask me how they should do it. I could see discontent in the speaker’s face. I wondered what she looked like when she was happy. Shift. Get curious.

Try this:

“I wonder who’s going to pay $325 for a used white couch at the thrift shop? What kind of home would that go into?”

“I wonder how long it’ll be here? I wonder if they’ll have to put it on sale? I wonder what it sold for when it was new?” (I haven’t spent more than $50 on a couch in 20 years.)

And there’s the path to working out of unhappy certainty and resentment, into at least a disinterested curiosity. It helps when I can remember that the thrift shop’s business is to raise money for the schools, not to provide low-cost furniture for people who can’t figure out how to use Craigslist and get free couches.

The couch went out on the sales floor on January 19th. I’ll try to remember to look for it next time I visit.

Asking $325; will adjust price if it doesn't sell.

Asking $325; will adjust price if it doesn’t sell.


The price tag is barely visible on the far arm, attached to the arm protector, not the upholstery itself.

Glue it up!

Glue up your spreadsheets, that is.

You see things differently when it's all on one page.

You see things differently when it’s all on one page.

Glue sticks.  Simple product, magic effects.  How did we ever manage before they were invented?  (For that matter, do you remember life before post-it notes?  You can even buy post-it note glue sticks…)

Warehouse store box of glue sticks so I never run out.

Warehouse store box of glue sticks so I never run out.

A boatload of years ago, before the internet but after spreadsheets were invented, I worked on two huge bid packages for one of the computer processing giants.  We wanted to manage parking operations.  Both cities are huge; massive infrastructure needed; lots of moving parts.

One of my co-workers insisted that he could look at spreadsheets printed across sheets of paper and understand everything that was going on.  He was wrong. He did not understand the scope of the project. (Neither did one of the cities, for that matter. They had underestimated the work by roughly $14M. When they saw our spreadsheet, glued up (before the internet, remember), they went back to their drawing board. We found more moving parts in their operations than they realized they had.)

(There’s something to be said for not printing, I understand, but there’s also risk in not looking closely enough to see what’s going on in the moving parts.)

Glue up your spreadsheets.  You see information differently when you don’t have to turn the page.

Notes from The Politics of Food, Yale

Found some notes on my desk that need to be processed and today is not the day to process this note all the way into an article. These are six steps that “society” has followed in the path from “bad habit” to eradication via public policy. (Heard this in the Yale Politics of Food course; major professor Kelly Brunell; specific lecturer for this content TBD.)

Prior examples: alcohol, illegal drug use, tobacco.

Proposition: We may be following a similar pattern with food and obesity.

  1. Condemnation
  2. Medicalization
  3. Self-help
  4. Demonization of the industry
  5. Demonization of users
  6. Social movements and activists

Tracking Content

The problem I’m trying to solve is that I find myself in an enormous push of content creation–I’m creating blog posts in draft every morning, and I’m sitting on 50 draft posts on each of three different websites.  Not all of the draft posts are valuable, but I would like to get as many published as still have value, and I don’t want to dump everything onto my social platforms at the same time.

The Publicize plugin allows me to auto-share to social platforms.  All sites post to the same Linkedin and Twitter accounts.  Two sites share the same Facebook page.  Three sites post to the same Pinterest account, but different boards.  I don’t want the political comment to go to Linkedin, most of the time.

I’ve been using free paper calendars to manage client content for as long as I’ve been doing social media professionally. For small accounts, it works pretty well. It does not work for four different websites which feed two Facebook pages, and one each Linkedin and Instagram accounts. I can’t keep track of what’s going where, let alone paid promotions.

One client, one calendar fails when the client has several websites.

One client, one calendar fails when the client has several websites.

I realized I could type into the spreadsheet. Normally, I split my attention between the screen and a paper calendar. (I use one monitor, and most of the time, it’s the laptop display.) However, working in the digital spreadsheet, in addition to using it as the layout for a paper calendar, might be helpful.

Collating publication calendars into one spreadsheet.

The first printing gave me a format that was too crowded to use.  I can barely read my own writing. I did realize that it would be useful to have a Pinterest board on both of my accounts for “new website content.” I don’t know that it will be a major source of traffic, but it won’t hurt.

blog post tracker, first draft.

Using 8.5 x 14″ paper to see two weeks at once. Not enough room to write.

I need a way to identify those posts that are book reviews.  I need to know what has been scheduled to Instagram, not simply whether something has been scheduled to be published on a website.

Laying out publication schedules.

Laying out publication schedules.

The second iteration was a little better–more room to write, but it still wasn’t helping me see what I needed to see. The social platform cells need room for check boxes, not titles. Make more notes:

  1. The color as used is not helping me know what I’m posting where.
  2. I need color on the Blog name rows, not on the social platform rows.
  3. Twitter doesn’t care how often I post.
  4. Linkedin needs a row of its own. All of my websites feed to the same Linkedin Profile.

Continue to play, and develop a version that works well enough, and no sooner had I glued up a month of schedule, I had an entirely new understanding of my content management problem, heading toward a next solution.

Inventory of blog ideas that have made it as far as drafts, or images.

Inventory of blog ideas that have made it as far as drafts, or images.

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WD40 for Content Creation

Sometime in December, I noticed I was getting a little more content onto my websites than I had for several years. It felt like I had sprayed WD-40 into a very very rusty mechanism. I was just barely able to get some motion out of the machine, but I knew it would rust solid again very quickly if I didn’t keep up the effort. It was hard.

Over the past six weeks, I have written about clearing and cleaning and getting rid of stuff, and over the past two weeks, I have been getting rid of stuff in my digital world. Cleaning up my blogs.

Yesterday, I finished the exercise of aligning blog categories. Then I went on to inventory the posts remaining in draft status, that are not reviews, and there weren’t all that many. My brain thought there should have been more. I realized that I had lots and lots of ideas for blog posts, some of which had been documented with images, but many of those images had not actually been processed and uploaded to the web. In other cases, images had been uploaded to the website but never added to a blog post.

Listing of existing blog post content, either in draft or image form.

Listing of existing blog post content, either in draft or image form.

I looked around the folders where I keep my images, and I came up with the basic list shown in the picture above. Apparently, I didn’t take a picture of it before I started writing all over it.

Last night, I reviewed the list, and noted which posts are practically ready to go and simply needed to be proofed once, and which posts needed major amounts of work before they would be ready, and then there were some that simply weren’t ready to be evaluated at all.

When I sat down at my desk this morning, my brain had been working on the list overnight. The handwritten notes running vertically indicate huge amounts of new content I want to write. I also realize that some of my idea notebooks are moving into the lineup. I don’t know what’s in some of these notebooks.

One set of notebooks, some of which have article notes.

One set of notebooks, some of which have article notes.

This must be what it was like to start one of those enormous wagon trains that crossed the country 200 years ago. The leaders started moving, and it might take days before the movement reached the back of the train. The settlers at the back were no less important to the effort than the ones at the front.

Perhaps some of the content has been aged out. I can let it go.

Listing of notes for future blog posts

Listing of notes for future blog posts

Some of the notes will be useful. By the time I get what is already in draft, published, I’m sure there will be 3 or 4 more pages of ideas lined up waiting for pictures and content and production.

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What do Big Rocks Look Like?

There’s an old story in the productivity world, about a professor with a jar and rocks and gravel and sand, and the punch line is that if you don’t put the big rocks into the jar first, there won’t be room for them later, after you add the sand and gravel.

Easy to say; we’ve all heard it.

But what do the Big Rocks look like, especially when you don’t really know what they are? “Set your goals for the quarter,” they say. “Figure out what you want to have accomplished.” Sigh. I’ve been flailing around with this for most of my life. I get by, enough, and I get stuff done, enough, and I have a body of art work and a boatload of websites and two published books to my name.

And yet, the question of Big Rocks nags. And more, why is it so hard to put the Big Rocks in first? Right now, in my life, it’s because I don’t know what they look like. I’m not sure exactly what they are. I have clues:

  • Need income, and that income ideally takes the shape of selling art rather than providing in-person services to people
  • Tons of art ideas to make, few of which will sell at a profitable dollar-per-work-hour rate
  • Know how to create an e-store, and to make products to sell. I have not found products that will sell, yet.
  • Good enough at social media, writing, and photography.
  • Have a need drive faith calling to help people solve a certain set of problems and figure out how to get on their own useful path
  • Know a lot about the limits of helping other people
  • Want a business like some of the motivational product companies, only one that’s true to my insight. I don’t know where to start.
  • Know a lot about the processes of making art and creativity
  • Have a certain amount of faith that where ever I am at this moment is just fine, and I can’t be anywhere else. I actually believe that Hell is wanting to be some place else. Try that on.

Anne Lamott said, in one or another of her books, “the more amorphous tasks–the ones that are not so crucial right at this moment but will ultimately shape your life into something worth remembering–those are harder to face.” (I think this is AL; it sounds like her; let me know if it’s not.)

What do you do when you don’t know what it is you are supposed to be doing?

  • List books that try to help. (Would do this, but you have them, you’ve read them, and you can find them on abe.com yourself.  Or read some of my reviews.)
  • List of exercises that I could do, if I actually did exercises rather than read about them. You’ve read those same books yourself. If self help exercises worked, there would be no shelf of self-help in the library, or in the bookstores.

People who appear to be doing, or did, work that I think is similar to what I want to do:

  • Laurel Burch
  • Jessica Nagy
  • Brian Andreas
  • Thomas Kinkaid, till it went south
  • Hugh McLeod
  • Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Austen Kleon
  • Anne Lamott, except she writes >> paint

I know a creator needs six things in order to create:

  1. An idea
  2. Skill
  3. Systems
  4. Materials
  5. A place to work
  6. An understanding of what “work” means and looks like*

The work feeds itself.  Sometimes you start with the big idea, and sometimes you start at the bottom and the big idea grows out of that. *This last one is huge, and constitutes a lot of what I write about on this site.

My big rocks for 2017 are The Illustrated I Ching, and the Inspirations business that doesn’t have a name yet. As I type even that, I see part of the problem: it needs a name.

To Roget:

Inspiration

  • Genius 466.8
  • Bright idea 478.9
  • Creative thought 533.2
  • Motivation 646.9
  • Encouragement 891.9

Consider also Usefulness.  Nothing.

Roget’s a wash.

But then I … look at a card taped above my desk, “I was hoping you would answer,” that was a comment received on a Quora answer last summer. Someone needed what I have to say. Boom. Done. Bought the URL. And from that, I know what to do next. I need 20 hours a week on these two projects, combined, and everything else will take care of itself. I’ve done this before; I know it works for me. Find a time tracker. Go.

(Honestly, this part of my business planning took shape just as fast as I could write this post.  However, I have been working in this arena since the beginning of the year, pretty much, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the year.  Inspirations happen, and seeds grow better in prepared fields.  This field had been prepared.)

Levels of planning 

I wrote the post about big rocks and 30,000 foot views yesterday. This morning, I started thinking about what specifically happens at each of these levels. I thought there was a blog post in it, so I made a sketch of the collage of pictures that were attached to the post, and let myself think. What happens in each of these levels?

what type of thinking happens at different levels of planning

Thinking about what happens at the different levels of planning from yesterday’s blog post

At the very highest level, Blue Sky Thinking, is the name of the business, the understanding that if I simply put in 20 hours a week it will all work out. This may not work for some people, but I do know through past experience it works for me. My brain will figure it out.

There’s not much difference between the top image and the one below with more fluffy clouds; just a little bit more detail. This is where looking at what other people do helps me figure out what I need to be doing. How do they work?

When you get low enough to realize there’s a river coming up, it’s time to think about the specifics: what are the tangible, real-world challenges I’m going to have to solve sometime between now and having an income producing company. I already understand intellectual property and copyrights, for the most part. I’ll need a website. Already bought the URLs. What do I need to solve for?

Deep in the clouds, I need to trust my instruments. I need to have a pretty good idea of what I need to know, what I need to do, so that when I can’t see what’s ahead, I can be making progress.

When I first posted the picture of the plane sitting at the gate, I thought it was similar to flying on instruments, but this morning I realize that it’s actually more about going over checklists. Everybody connected with that flight professionally is reviewing checklists to make sure everything is okay. The pilots, the ground crew, the flight attendants: they’re all doing prep work, getting ready, getting things in place.

Flat fold stash, for weaving and sewing.  Inaccessible.

Flat fold stash, for weaving and sewing. Inaccessible.

For me, the equivalent is creating space for my look for my art, creating systems, documenting systems as best as possible, and thinking about how to create when I need to create reliably, and repeatedly. I need to set up better access to raw materials. I already know to work in series. With series, come checklists. I have most mine in my head, and they need to be documented.

I need to write a post about Doctorow’s statement that you can get to California from New York City with no more vision than you can see in the distance illuminated by your headlights. I have to straighten that stash out. It always looks different in the dark, but if you kind of know where you’re going. It doesn’t matter,. You can still make progress.

Finally, on the ground, in the fog, it can be pretty hard to know what to do when everything’s confusing and nothing makes sense. At this stage, doing nothing might be doing something. Meditation is usually good for me. I can also fall back on simple tasks like the Fly Lady’s 27 fling Boogie, when I clean something up. Vacuum, rake, mow the grass, do something. With a pretty good understanding of where I’m going, there’s usually something to be done in my life.