Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Happy New Year 2014I set a number of goals for 2013, most of which were achieved as reported in this end-of-year progress report. After careful consideration of what worked and what didn’t last year, and after determining some directions I’d like to go in 2014, I’ve settled on the following personal goals for this year, not including those for my work. Like last year, I’m categorizing them as related to body, mind and spirit, although there are a few that might cross over to multiple areas or not necessarily fit well into any of those categories.

One thing I learned in last year’s pursuits is that some goals can become such daily habits that you no longer really need to call them out as goals and bother with tracking them. A few that are like that for me now are keeping my weight at or below 145 pounds, reviewing weekly the 100 Bible memory verses that I chose several years ago to burn into my brain and heart, and writing handwritten letters to my sons twice a year. So even though I’ll still be doing those, they won’t be recorded and reported here. I want the public goals I share to involve pursuits that add a new challenge and interest.

After feeling like I tackled too much in 2013, I’m setting some goals this year that reflect a desire to have a little more down time and rest. To do so, that time has to come from somewhere, meaning I have to do less in some areas than I did in 2013. Here, then, are my personal, non-work-related goals for 2014.

BODY

  • Average at least 10,000 steps per day every week. I’ve averaged more than that since getting my Fitbit Flex in September, but 10,000 is an easy-to-remember goal and the threshold for earning maximum rewards from the HumanaVitality program offered through my company’s health insurance plan. That’s the equivalent of five miles per day, so that’s a healthy, reachable number that takes about an hour less per week than I’ve been doing the past four months.
  • Do a stretching routine daily. I have a nice set of stretching exercises that I do before and after runs that I’ve done for years, but I feel the need to do them daily for the value they bring, whether or not I’m running.
  • Run 365 miles for the year. I haven’t run regularly for a few years. I walk a lot and occasionally jog some while out with the dog, but I want to do better at running this year. I don’t care how these miles are spaced out throughout the year. I won’t try for one mile every day. Some weeks will yield more miles than others, and that’s OK. All of these steps are included in the 10,000/day in the goal above, and actually save time since I run about twice as fast as I walk.
  • Average 7.5 hours of sleep a night. My 2013 goal for sleep was six hours per night – more than previous years, but my body is telling me I need more. This will be very difficult for me to do because the time to do this has to come from elsewhere. Tracking it accurately with the Fitbit is easy, though, and I’m determined to work at it.
  • Average no more than 45 hours per week for work. I can’t remember the last year I worked less than 50-55 hours per week on the average, so this will be a serious challenge for me. I’ll have to be better at letting some things go and at training and delegating other colleagues and volunteers to make sure all still gets done. I’m placing this goal in the body category since consistently working too many hours takes more of a toll on my body and time available for other things than it does on mind or spirit due to how much I love my work.

MIND

  • Author or co-author a book related to enterprise social networks. It’s time I wrote a book. I would like to create an e-book related to my profession because I don’t think there is enough in print to help guide others whose roles are similar to mine. The weekly Twitter chat I lead on the subject – #ESNchat – is an incredible source of information and knowledgeable contacts, so by the time I’ve led that for nearly a year in September, 2014 I should have a wealth of information to write or collaborate with others to write a very helpful guide for those that manage enterprise social networks. I’ll probably just give it away online when written to get the info out there. I’m not planning on writing it for profit. Making a positive impact on the profession and perhaps getting some conference speaking engagements as a result will be adequate reward.
  • Write 100 blog posts. For 2012, I wrote a post a day – 366 of them. In 2013 that went to one every other day. For 2014, I’ll back that down once again to one every 3-4 days. Since I’ll be writing some substantive posts for other websites in 2014, those will take more time than I typically spend on posts for my own blog. To account for that added time, I’ll write fewer posts on my this blog, although I’ll post a notice and link here to posts I write elsewhere.
  • Set up Pinterest boards and pins to coincide with my blog categories and posts. I’ve wanted to do this for a long while, so I need to make it a public goal to hold me accountable for getting it done. With over 70 categories currently on this blog, the plan is to create one Pinterest board per category and then pin all relevant blog posts to each board. Once caught up with all posts going back to this blog’s beginning in 2011, pinning new blog posts will be a part of the publication process for each post in order to keep the Pinterest boards current. I’m thinking about devoting one of my vacation weeks in 2014 for this task.
  • Reserve at least one hour per day for unstructured, unplanned time not related to any tasks or goals. This may seem like an odd goal, but it’s tied to feeling like I didn’t allow myself enough down time last year. By making a goal of giving time to not working on some goals, I’m forcing myself to have more down time and enjoy some spur-of-the-moment activity. (Of course, not having structured time is actually working on this goal, but you get the point.) I’m putting this goal in the mind category since its purpose is to give me more mental breaks.

SPIRIT

  • Finish reading The Apologetics Study Bible. I started reading it late in 2013, but still have 95% of its 2000+ pages to read in 2014. Each 1-2 years I pick a different version or study edition of the Bible to read through. This is the current one I’m working on which will be my first complete read of the version called the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).
  • Read these three major theology books: (1) Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem, (2) Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine by Gregg Allison, and (3) Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George. All together, these three books total 2,400 pages of material that along with The Apologetics Study Bible will be a fantastic theological and apologetic emphasis for the year.
  • Have a daily Bible reading and devotional time. I’ve been too hit and miss with when I do my Bible readings and prayer. I want to develop the consistent habit of doing so daily without fail.

Some of the goals above save me time compared to similar efforts in 2013, while other new goals will, of course, require time not dedicated for those things in 2013. Cutting back my work hours to something more reasonable will go a long way toward finding the extra hours needed, as will taking advantage of the many weeks of vacation time I have or will have accumulated by the end of 2014. I also suspect the TV will need to be turned off more frequently in my man cave.

I have a little apprehension about the above goals – a slight fear that cumulatively I’m not cutting back enough from 2013’s sense of overload. I will reserve the right to adjust the above goals if I find that they’re too ambitious. I’m determined to make sure I have the free time and added sleep needed, so other things will have to go if necessary. Until then, I’ll proceed with the above goals and will report back here quarterly (not monthly as I did last year) on my progress.

What about you? What are you going to tackle this year?

penThis is my 500th blog post at JeffRossBlog.com.  What started as an experiment related to PhD studies I was pursuing in April 2011 has gradually morphed into something very meaningful for me and hopefully of occasional value to others.  I want to devote this post to reflections on the journey, a few lessons learned along the way, and where we might go from here.

The original content focus of this blog was related to social learning, especially via social media.  That was the presumed direction of my PhD dissertation.  However, upon deciding to cease my PhD pursuit in the summer of 2011, the focus of the blog then opened up a little more to include some other lessons from life and business.  That continues to be the case today where the posts range from business practices to life lessons to book reviews and matters of faith.  I know that violates one of the main principles of successful blogging, i.e., being very focused on your content, but that’s advice I will continue to violate as I write about things that are important to me, regardless of subject matter.  Readers can read what interests them and ignore the rest.

The blog name “Next Practices” came into being because I do not think it is good enough to gather up the current so-called best practices of what companies are doing and then continue to do those things indefinitely.  If we are to make progress and move from where we are to where we ought to be, then we need to constantly be thinking about next practices – not best practices.  What will we need to be doing three years, five years, ten years from now to really make a difference?

When I consider what I’ve learned about blogging in these first 500 posts, the following lessons come to mind:

  • Set and keep a regular schedule of writing.  Too many blogs fail because people think they want to blog, have one or two ideas they want to post about, get it started, but then quickly abandon the idea.  Failure to post for one week easily slides into two weeks, and then a month, and then longer until the blog is a graveyard of months-old content that no reader has a reason to come back to.  What got me regular as a blogger was the leap year of 2012 when I committed to a daily lesson learned post for each of the 366 days.  That was a serious challenge, but I did it, and it was one of the most satisfying writing experiences of my life with benefits far beyond the writing itself.  It helped me think and reflect daily, and the self-discipline imposed was tremendously worthwhile.  You don’t need to set a goal of blogging daily (although I encourage bloggers to do that for at least one year for the experience), but you do need to set a goal that reflects regularity.  My goal for 2013 is to post on average every other day.  I’m already pondering what I do in this regard for 2014, but haven’t yet decided.  For those of you thinking about blogging, I’m confident in saying that once a month is too infrequent for readers, so I would suggest at least weekly and maybe more for most situations.
  • Keep most of your posts within a certain word length range.  For example, for my 2012 leap year daily lessons, I made sure that each of the 366 posts contained no more than 366 words.  The word length limit forced me to be concise, to cut out the rambling fluff I would otherwise be prone to writing, and helped me be a better writer.  Most of my posts tend to be under 1000 words – some way under that – but I rarely have one that approaches 2000.  People will walk away from a page of text that is a lot longer than what they imagined when clicking the link to it.  They may scan it for subheadings and bullets like these, but many will likely be turned off by too many words.  This post of over 1300 words is more than many will take the time to fully read.
  • Promote your blog via other means.  People will not know about or come to your blog just because you create it.  Use other channels like your social media networks – personal and professional – to promote the content.  I promote nearly every post I write on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and my company’s internal social network.  Also, get familiar with search engine optimization and invest whatever time you think you can in helping your blog rise closer to the top in those search results.
  • Engage in conversation with readers via comments.  Blogging is not a very conversational medium.  Many hope it becomes that, but it is largely writers pontificating and others reading, with a very small minority ever chiming in via comments.  I really would like more comments on my posts, but even I fail to remember to end the posts with a question or invitation to comment as I should to encourage that dialogue.  Other social media channels lend themselves to conversation better than do blogs.
  • It’s your blog, so do what you want with it, regardless of the response from others.  This comes back to the broad range of topics I cover here, both personal and professional.  I could maintain different blogs to separate out the content, remaining focused on each for particular subjects, but I’m just one person doing this for fun and to hopefully leave a legacy of some good advice down the road.  I put it all in one blog for the same reason I quit keeping up two Twitter accounts last year – one personal and one professional – and that is because there is only one of me.  I’m a mixture of all the topics you see here.  Life isn’t neatly separated, or at least it shouldn’t be.  I don’t separate work from life.  It’s all intermingled in who I am, in what I do day and night, and in how my mind operates throughout the day.  I know there is risk in turning some people off who only want certain kinds of content, but I’ll take that risk.
  • Set a goal for readership.  Following last year’s daily posts, and after noticing that I had just over 10,000 views on the blog in 2012, I decided to set a goal of doubling that to 20,000 views this year.  That means I have to promote each post via appropriate channels as well as grow a following along the way.  Since I’ll pass the 20,000 view mark by sometime in September at the current pace, the effort seems to be paying off.  I am deeply grateful to all who spend any time reading and interacting with what I write.  You don’t have to be here and I know that.
  • The practice of writing regularly is priceless.  Doing so helps me get my thoughts together.  It helps me think through subjects of interest.  It forces me to do some research I might not otherwise do.  It helps me reflect on my days and look at life’s experiences from the standpoint of “What can I learn from this?”  It helps hold me accountable when I write about goals and then report on them.  The icing on the cake comes when someone tells me that something I wrote has made an impact on them.  It just doesn’t get any better for a writer than that.

After 500 blog posts, I guess it’s OK to finally say that I’m a blogger.  It still feels a little weird to say that, especially when there are less than 100 people a day who read what I write.  Still, I’ll make the claim now that there is a decent body of work under my belt.  I’ll continue to add to it.  I’ll switch it up a bit for 2014 as I need to keep things fresh for me and for the readers. I hope you’ll continue to read and comment.

booksI read with interest this week a brief note from the Harvard Business Review blog regarding a recent study of pronouns used in books published in America between 1960 and 2008.  According to the study:

  • Use of singular pronouns like “I” and “me” increased 42% over the time period.
  • Use of plural pronouns like “we” and “us” declined 10%.
  • Use of second person pronouns like “you” and “your” quadrupled.

Given the large quantity of books in the Google Books database used in the analysis – 766,513 such books – the data point to an interesting trend.  The more challenging question, though, is what to make of it.  What conclusions can or should we draw from the analysis?

The researchers hypothesized that “pronoun use will reflect increasing individualism and decreasing collectivism in American culture.”  They believe their study results “complement previous research finding increases in individualistic traits among Americans.”  That seems fair.  Unfortunately, you have to pay to subscribe to a journal in which the results are published to see all the data (something I won’t do purely out of protest in this age of widely available, free information on the Internet), so the brief HBR article and study abstract is all I know about it.

What are the possible reactions to the data?  I can easily imagine three:

  • Some will say, as the researchers suggest, that individualism is on the rise and collectivism is on the decline.
  • Some will jump at the opportunity to castigate younger generations as more self-centered than older ones (although those doing so will conveniently forget their own self-centeredness and the fact that it isn’t today’s youngest Americans who are writing the books that were analyzed).
  • Some may claim that the data may be interesting but not necessarily indicative of any definitive personal, societal or cultural conclusions as opposed to mere changes in accepted writing style.

From this 56-year-old’s perspective whose life spans closely the time frame studied, I have mixed emotions about the study results.  It certainly rings true that American society is more individualistic in some ways today than in times past.  For example, there are fewer children in families (children have a way of forcing parents to think less of themselves and their plans than of their children), infrequent extended family gatherings (too little time or interest or too great a distance between members), greater geographic dispersion of families (many times in response to following career or educational opportunities), and more personal career-focused lifestyles and decisions.

However, I can point to other ways in which society is far less individualistic and more inclined to promote collective action, such as in people taking less personal responsibility for their lives and expecting dependence on government and others for support.

One reason I struggle with interpreting the results of the study is that we should be careful not to equate individualism with self-centeredness.  Most would generally categorize individualism as a positive thing whereas self-centeredness is deemed to be more negative.  Therefore, it makes a huge difference in whether we interpret something like pronoun use as either individualism or self-centeredness.  They are not the same thing.

I’ll go out on an unscientific limb and say that I do not believe the study results indicate that we are more self-centered than before.  Why?  Because I don’t believe the human heart has changed throughout the history of humankind.  Every one of us was at some point a self-centered little child who thought the world revolved around him or her.  Some of us eventually realize the error of that perspective – some do not.  As a Christian, I don’t think the human heart is any worse (or better) by default now than in 1960 A.D. or 1960 B.C.  Humankind is selfish by nature and in need of a spiritual heart transplant by the One who created the human heart.

The pronoun study is interesting, but the interpretation is up for grabs.  It certainly reveals a literary trend, but one that is difficult to transfer to broader cultural conclusions.

What do you think it means?  Tell me in a comment.

By the way, for those keeping track at home, here is a count of various pronouns use in this post:

First person singular pronouns: “I” (10), “I’ll” (1), “me” (2) = 13 total
First person plural pronouns: “we” (5), us (3) = 8 total
Second person pronouns: “you” (3), “your” (1) = 4 total
Third person pronouns: “him” (1), “her” (1), “they” (1), “themselves” (1), “their” (5) = 9 total

Top 5Like any blogger, I like taking a look at which posts garner the most views over different periods of time.  Here are my top five posts written in 2013 so far with the number of views as of April 7 in parentheses:

1. The Worst Mistakes I’ve Made As An Employee (942)

2. Are You Doing What You Love To Do? (335)

3. What Annoys Me the Most About Coworkers (302)

4. The Best Behaviors I’ve Shown As An Employee (296)

5. A Time To Be Born (199)

Looks like the work-related posts are topping the charts.  A blogger with any sense would take that valuable information and learn from it, letting it guide the subject matter of most future posts.

I never claimed to have much sense.

Positive NegativeI realized something yesterday regarding the types of blog posts that gain the most views.  When there are pairs of posts on related topics with one having a more positive title and one more negative, the one with the more negative title gets more views.

Here are the numbers for two pairs of posts published in the last couple of months:

From early February, the post about The Worst Mistakes I’ve Made As An Employee has had 942 views, while The Best Behaviors I’ve Shown As An Employee has only received 296 views – less than one-third the number of the one about worst mistakes.  Then last week I published What I Appreciate Most in Coworkers which has received 175 views in a week, while yesterday’s What Annoys Me the Most About Coworkers has received 217 views in one day.

I’m not sure what to make of those numbers.  Are the posts with the more negative sounding titles more sensational?  Do they sound juicier?  Are we drawn to posts that point out the faults of others in order to feel better about ourselves? Or did these two just happen to strike a chord with readers and fellow workers?  The content itself in the more popular posts is not presented from a negative point of view since that isn’t how I think, live or write.  They just tell an honest story or make honest observations about negative behaviors.

What do you think?  Why would a post about my worst mistakes get more than three times the views of a post on things I’ve done well?  Why would a post about annoying coworker behavior get more views in one day than a post about behaviors I appreciate gets in a week?