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Reading for January 3, 2010

  • The Importance of Daily Blathering

    SUMMARY: I'm at the end of my first five years of blogging, and with the dawn of a new decade I'm wondering what the next year is going to be about. More daily conversations, I think, are in order. If you're here for just productivity talk or design, update your RSS subscriptions to the topic-only feeds listed in the sidebar.

    The Way We Were

    One thing I've noticed about the past few years has been a topical shift in my writing. When I first started blogging, I didn't have a particular agenda in mind so I just wrote about what caught my eye and elaborated on the why of my interest. I tried to close each post with a useful observation or distillation, more for myself than any reason, because I expect the stuff I read to have some kind of "takeaway". Writing, you see, is how I untangle the writhing mass of thoughts in my head into something that is clear and actionable. I always feel a little bit better when I wrestle some truth, personal or otherwise, from an experience.

    This started to change after this blog became known for some of the tools I've released over the years, notably The Printable CEO series of productivity forms. These forms were born from a need to organize myself, and I shared them because I had just given someone advice with regards to how to drive traffic: people love free stuff. As the forms started to become known through word of mouth, I experienced for the first time being recognized for providing value to people I had never met, but nevertheless started to care about: people like me who want to make stuff and become more than we are now, well-intentioned and creative, but kind of scatter-brained due to an overabundance of curiosity. That description may not apply directly to whomever happens to be reading these words, but it's who I think I am writing to in my mind.

    With the definition of an audience, I found myself starting to second-guess what I was writing. I know it's hard to believe, but I used to write shorter blog posts that just captured a thought or three. My posts of the past few years have been longer and more self-contained, but I feel that I have missed the sense of daily community that I think I had in 2006 and part of 2007. I knew there was a hardcore audience of people who were just interested in the forms and productivity tips, and while I didn't want to go down the "tip a day" path of other successful bloggers, I nevertheless felt I shouldn't stray too far from the "productivity blogger" mold that I'd fallen into. This self-editing has taken some of the exuberance out of the writing impulse. I'd been feeling it for quite some time, as evidenced by the drop in the number of posts in the past few years, but I hadn't quite realized that it was a major problem until a few weeks ago.

    Recently, I started an experiment with Colleen Wainwright, who is one of my favorite voices on the web, using that new-fangled Google Wave technology to followup on a tweet I'd made regarding the statement Do Not Hurry. Do Not Wait. Colleen, who at the time I didn't actually know that well, responded with an enthusiastic offer to try to implement DNHDNW somehow; it had struck a chord with her. And so a few days later, I figured out actually how to sign onto Google Wave and watched enough tutorials to figure out how to make it do something, and off we were. It's been a rather remarkable experience, sharing the daily stuff that was on my mind with someone new, and it helped keep me on track and accountable to myself. I also know that when I write something here on the blog about some planned action, I have more of a tendency to follow through with it because I want to share what happened to other interested parties. I know that the experience will be stumbled-upon by a random search engine user, and it may provide a useful boost. That's reason enough for me to do it. However, there's pressure for me to package the experience in a form that doesn't waste time or wander too much; the result is that I again lose the fluidity of the writing experience, and I think that's going to be increasingly important in 2010.

    The Way Forward

    Although I don't have a clear sense of exactly who this blog's 12,500 average RSS readers are, I do have some general ideas. I always feel immodest when I list the reasons why people would want to pay attention to what I'm doing, but I'll put on my consultant cap and spell things out bluntly:

    • People who want to know what new productivity tools and updates I have available. They aren't reading, but they are monitoring for what's new an interesting, as I have gained a reputation for making good-looking stuff that's a little different and free to download.

    • People who are interested in how I think about and approach productivity in general and in action. They like the way I write about the topic, and consider me an expert in the field at some level. While not on the level of the big guns or reliable as a regular news source, I'm at times relevant to people.

    • People who identify with the complexity I present in my philosophy of life and desire to be more productive. I write using myself as example, and I never prescribe a list of sure-fire steps to be more productive. I talk a lot about the motivation and emotional aspects of getting things done, and try to dig out the nuggets of insight that help reframe my perspective on what's possible and what's ultimately doable. The effort I put into clarifying my state of mind helps other people in the same boat.

    • People who like the way I think. They find some cleverness in what I do and in how I approach things. They don't mind reading about my latest cooking experiments or tangents into children's books. They just like it. Although my subject matter tends to be randomly spread across design, development, productivity, world domination, community, gear, and eating delicious things, the approach is consistent in some way that is appealing. I also try to be clear, to be methodical without being close-minded, and to be logical as much as possible. Some people like that.

    • People who view my daily activities as a compass bearing for their own lives. I'm a struggling freelancer, trying to make things work, and I share what I do. I procrastinate. I have problems work-life balance. I'm single. And I write about it all in the context of trying to figure it out, pretty openly without being too emotional about it. When I got started blogging, I followed the adventures of Jory Des Jardins, who later co-founded BlogHer. She was writing about going freelance and the daily trials and tribulations she was experiencing in a way that I could identify with. She transparently wrote about her fears and doubts in a way that did not diminish her optimism and strength. When I finally met her at one of the SXSW events, I was so in awe that I couldn't even look directly at's so silly. The writings of Kathy Sierra fell into the same category, and when I steeled myself to meet HER at SXSW I felt the same disabling awe come over me. I'm not one to usually be impressed by celebrity for its own sake, but these two people were instrumental in providing the anchors for my own development at critical points in my life...and they don't even know it. They are ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things that touch people at just the right time. From emails I've received over the years, I think I serve the same function for a few people, just by having shared what I've experienced. We all have that ability to affect each other, but writing daily makes it a little easier.

    This list is roughly in the order from "most common" to "least common", and what I want to reconnect with is the last three. That means more writing, which I will do under a new category: dailies. It'll be filled with writing like this post, largely unedited and posted like this. There's a possibility that this will turn off productivity tool enthusiasts who are following the main feed; for you, I have a separate productivity-only feed that only carries the productivity-related posts. Subscribe to and you'll be all set. Likewise, I have a separate design-only feed that carries design-related posts only; will get you there. The blog sidebar lists all the separate feeds at the top, so update your RSS subscriptions accordingly.

    Let me know what you think

    So that's my best guess at the moment...but if there's a different reason why you are reading this blog and don't mind sharing, I'd love to know. I'd never thought of just ASKING outright; thanks Colleen for the kick in the pants!

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