Archives for the month of: August, 2009
Playing Restaurant

Playing Restaurant

When I was about eleven, I learned how to make my favorite cheese sandwich: white bread, mayonnaise, American cheese. Yes, I grew up in the midwest. Shortly after I learned this special skill, I developed a fun game to pass the time: I would play “restaurant.”

More precisely, I would play short order cook. I would pretend I was a cook at a diner, with lots of orders coming in. Only thing was, everyone ordered the one thing I could make — an American cheese sandwich. So I would make sandwich after sandwich, as fast as I could, pretending I was a cook deep in the weeds during a big rush.

I got to thinking about this the other day as I reflected on my own career arc, current strategy, and future plans. I wondered, “Am I playing ‘restaurant?'”

Treading Water

A lot of my friends are solopreneurs — lone people plying their trade on a project-by-project basis. I have been working independently since 2003, and proudly so. But sometimes, I see other friends who are happily ensconced in organizations, managing, meeting, memo-ing. Then I look at my own workstyle, in which I write from about 6:30 am until 10:30 am, have a stretch of less productive time, and then come back hard from about 2:00 pm on. Sometimes I go deep into the night.

The things that rarely occupy this time are the things that routinely occupy my office-working friends’ lives. I have few meetings, the phone rarely rings (almost everything is email, txt, Twitter, and IM). There is zero office politics. The way things are right now, I can get a ton of stuff done. It leaves room for lots of possibilities.

But, sometimes, I worry. Should I be doing more? Am I just going through the motions of “working?” Am I treading water? Am I pretending?

I think these kinds of questions are ones that other solopreneurs also face. Twitter has given many of us a window into some water cooler cultures that we are not part of. I see lots of my friends “going into meetings,” or “having conversation with the boss,” and “talking to HR.” If I don’t do these things, am I just, in the end, making a bunch of cheese sandwiches and pretending I am the real deal?

Having Direction

I think the key lies in whether I have a direction or not. What’s my path? Having few in-the-flesh coworkers means I can get a lot of strategizing done. It also means I can succumb to one of two temptations. I can not write down any of my plans, in which case they are just dreams. Or, I can spend so much time on my planning, developing fancy slide decks for no one but myself, that I can fool myslef into thinking I am already GE. There’s a happy medium to be struck.

But I need to have plans, a direction. And they need to be written down. Otherwise it’s just cheese sandwiches.

Sometimes this planning can raise self doubts about how far I have come, or not come, but that’s OK. As solopreneurs, we are still writing the rules and for now — we are where we are.

Maybe you can tell I’ve been thinking about my own direction these days. There are some exciting things in store. But I always need to remind myself to keep it real. Don’t pretend I’m bigger than I am.

Nor should I pretend I’m smaller than I am: Maybe, I will look down and notice that those aren’t cheese sandiwches I’m making, but whole meals. A sub. A steak. Mashed potatoes.

Maybe I’ve been feeding people all along.

In a recent discussion with a number of Michigan based foundation heads and staffers, respected Brookings Institution scholar Bruce Katz discussed the tough economic conditions and what government responses to it can look like. The notes from his conversation suggest that it was wide ranging. Katz, who runs the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, was recently working with administration officials in HUD helping them figure out new ways for the federal government to work on things like housing, transportation and improving cities’ economies.

The conversation turned to roles that organizations outside of Washington could play in forging a new way for government to relate to the public. Here’s the recap:

Katz says he sees five, nonpartisan roles that local/state/federal officials, citizens and foundations need to play to make the bureaucracy more responsive in time of great economic and social upheaval:

  1. There is a role for metros and states to implement well the policies and programs that have already been put in place by this administration, the Recovery Act being the major piece of that.
  2. There is a role for states to prepare for the next wave of programs and initiatives that are about to cascade down from Washington and they will look much different from those created in the 1970s and 1990s. There will be more focus on integrated problem solving and inter-jurisdictional collaboration along with a focus on catalyzing markets.
  3. There is a role to play for states like Michigan in identifying areas where the Obama administration is not focused with precision on issues that have regional applications. There needs to be both policy development and advocacy by Michigan and other state’s congressional delegation that focus on and utilize that which is unique due to their shared industrial heritage.
  4. There is a role for state and federal government officials, foundations and community leaders to think through how the national government can leverage and align with needed state reform efforts.
  5. There is a role for everyone to focus on the 2010 election cycle and its upcoming state and federal campaigns and how candidates will work to implement metro-focused solutions to 21st century problems.
Shunting by Flickr user John Spooner

"Shunting" by Flickr user John Spooner

I do believe that there are people throughout the government and policy world who are thinking hard about how to create a different kind of relationship between governmemnt and the public. And I am not criticizing any individual, least of all Bruce Katz who knows far more than me.

But these points illustrate just how hard it is for even innovative, respected thinkers to break out of their deep-seated perspectives. Policy people have a very strong sense of who is supposed to do what.

I added boldface to the above points to highlight the real actions that were being suggested: implement, prepare, identify, think, and focus. Step back from these and it adds up to a common mindset: “Step back and let us do our work. Give us input as and how we ask.”

The difficult thing — and I do recognize it is difficult — is to think about how people outside Washington can actually work with government in a different way, not just support the things that government does. This is the challenge of placing one’s own organization (or in this case, perspective) first.

This is a critical issue, as public life shifts from being institution-centric to citizen-centric.

What would it look like, for instance, if the federal government asked local people to do more than “implement well, prepare for new programs, and think?”

The center of gravity for policy development needs to shift. It’s based inside the Beltway. But experimentation and innovation happens in states and cities. And, in those states and cities, the innovation doesn’t come from thinkers but from doers.

How can the policy world, which values thinkers, really start to place doers in a more central place?

One answer is that this is the role of philanthropy — to fund promising innovations, let some fail, and foster what succeeds. But that still keeps all this innovation essentially on the sidelines, and relegates it to the role of “input.” What would a partnership look like, instead? And, what mechanisms would it take?

I honestly don’t know the answer. But I know that it’s something we have to tackle.

Here’s an interesting story about the news and journalism. It has a few intertwining threads. It needs a bit of set up, too, so bear with me. Thank you to my friend Adam Pagnucco for doing the heavy lifting here.

Here’s how Adam puts a recent situation with DC’s Metro system in his indispensable Maryland Politics Watch:

On July 30, an anonymous Metro bus rider told an anonymous blog that he had witnessed a WMATA bus operator talking on a cell phone while driving. The rider stated:

I caught my bus driver using her cellphone while driving Tuesday. I was riding the 63 from Takoma as I do every morning now that commuting on the Red Line is a mess. When we got to the stop just outside of the Petworth Metro station, our driver got out of the bus and started talking on her cell phone. One minute goes by, 2 minutes, 3 minutes … and she’s still talking on her phone. Passengers start getting very angry. One, in particular, steps outside and yells at the driver to get moving. Yet another minute goes by before the driver bothers to get back on the bus. And she’s still talking on the phone. If I were smarter (and more awake), I would have caught this moment on video, but she sat down and pulled out into traffic with phone to ear, and drove several hundred feet before ending her call. I got a crappy picture with my cell phone. It was the best I could get from my vantage point. If you zoom in on the driver, you can see her holding up a phone to her ear with one hand and pulling out into traffic with the other.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post ran a story the next day that recounted the same basic (alleged) facts.

When confronted with the story, Metro’s chief executive, Jack Catoe, told the Post, “We will determine who this operator is . . . the action for speaking on your phone or texting on your phone is termination.”

But, according to Pagnucco:

Catoe spoke too soon. A source with knowledge of WMATA’s investigation related the following account:

“The actual story was that a number of passengers reported that the destination sign on the bus was not working and asked her where she was going.

“The operator stepped off the bus and examined the sign and determined that it was not working correctly. She then proceeded to the rear of the bus to “re-boot” the sign so that it would re-set. This did not correct the problem. When she went to board the bus again, she tripped on the steps of the bus and suffered minor injuries to her arm and leg.

“She attempted to contact central control via the phone system installed by Metro (a fixed radio-phone system installed on the bus). Central control did not respond. The operator then stepped off the bus to call central control with her cell phone. She was able to contact central and report both her injury and the need to schedule a “change-off” where a bus with a working sign could replace her bus en route.

“While still speaking to central control outside the bus, passengers became agitated about her not leaving the terminal on time and began “berating” her. According to the operator, she boarded the bus, sat in the driver’s seat and completed the call to central control before actually moving the vehicle.

“A witness on the bus corroborates her story. . . .”

What’s interesting here is not the he-said, she-said between the two blogs. What’s interesting, instead, is the relationship between the Washington Post and Maryland Politics Watch (the blog Adam writes for).

The Independent Journalist As Craftsman

Mario le Perfectionniste by Flickr user bluespot23

"Mario le Perfectionniste" by Flickr user bluespot23

At a recent conference with a number of journalists, I heard a number of complaints about “these bloggers” who have “no standards” when it comes to Journalism. “They can just write anything,” people complained, miffed.

But here we have a blog taking a print newspaper to task for what seems like a very reasonable — and fundamentally journalistic — transgression: not following up to dig deeper on a story.

(I’m not saying that Adam’s right, and it is important to note that his post was not focused on the Post. But he is still raising the issue.)

Yesterday’s post touched on the difference between Journalism and News. Journalism, the kind practiced by large newspapers, sees itself as the gold standard of news delivery. And there is a decent argument that it takes a large institution to continue to foster such standards.

However, there’s another model that could work, too: Journalist as craftsman. That’s what Adam is. He is one lone person, toiling away at his craft (on his off hours, mind you, this is not his “job”) for the love of it. And, by devoting himself to his craft, he can regularly outperform larger news institutions.

This is the competitive advantage that the craftsman has over the factory. Today’s tools make it possible for some Journalists to be craftsmen instead of laborers.

I’m not saying this is an overall business model — I’m saying it is a threat to large Journalism. It is possible that there are so many Journalist-craftsmen that people can get the Journalism they want and further erode the mass Journalism practiced at institutions such as newspapers. Maybe not yet . . . but it is possible.

Visiting from Twitter? Thanks so much! You might enjoy this post, too: Why Social Media Is Like The Telephone Circa 1915.

Newsroom by Flickr user victoriapeckham

"Newsroom" by Flickr user victoriapeckham

I was having a conversation with my good friend (and former boss) Rush Kidder just the other day, and the subject turned to journalism — specifically, the idea that as newspapers tank that foundations ought to step in and shore up journalism. Newspapers can become nonprofit entities.

This is an idea that has a number adherents among my journalism friends. I thought I would lay out what I think is probably the strongest argument in favor.

News vs. Journalism

“News” has always existed, since recorded history. People have always wanted to know what’s new.

“Journalism,” on the other hand — that is, a profession with a strong set of specific values to which everyone agrees — is a recent phenomenon, dating only to the late 19th century. This distinction between News and Journalism figures in Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s important essay, What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect.

While the goal of News is to tell people what’s new, the goal of Journalism, according to Kovach and Rosenstiel, is to “provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing.”

Until recently, you might say we were in a “golden age” of Journalism.

Also until very recently, you could argue that people were buying News, but were getting Journalism. But the business model that newspapers were using to deliver that Journalism (based on classified ads and display ads) had not yet broken. So everything was working. People bought News, and got Journalism, which looked close enough that they didn’t complain.

The Hole Only Journalism Can Fill

But now, that business model is broken. Free classifieds coupled with easy online availability has killed it. News has now migrated online and into various other distribution channels. And it’s been decoupled from Journalism as it has migrated. People find out what’s new in lots of different ways, without the help of Journalists.

For many things, this is perfectly adequate. I don’t need a Journalist to tell me who won the ball game, I can find out from my Twitter peeps or from a realtime score on a website.

But there’s still a hole that only Journalism can fill. One obvious one is investigative reporting. While in some instances individual bloggers have been able to break big and important stories, in most cases it takes a long time — and resources — to do a proper job of investigating. There’s also an important context-setting function Journalism can play, by being the long memory that helps make sense of what is happening.

And, most importantly, News sees its readers as customers, while Journalism sees its readers as citizens. I don’t mean individual people see it that way. I mean that News is in the business of giving people what they want — knowledge of what’s new. Journalism, on the other hand, wants to give people what they ought to know about (in addition to the news).

Is Journalism Commercially Viable?

A mutual friend of mine and Rush’s once said that the job of an editor is to know what people ought to know, and to make them want to know it.

Problem is, there is not yet a decent business model for creating and delivering Journalism.

That’s where philanthropy comes in. It is the duty of philanthropy to support that which is a public good but is not commercially viable or able to be self-sustaining.

While it is not clear that Journalism is commercially viable, it is clear that Journalism provides an important public good. Journalism is not the simple conveyance of News; it is something more.

It is also very iffy that Journalism could be commercially viable when it competes with News. (In other words, to the extent commercial models exist for News delivery, they aren’t as attractive for Journalism delivery.)

Supporting Journalism On Paper

News delivery is not necessarily the best use of the resources of a printing press. I get four newspapers delivered to my door every morning. By the time I pick them up, I know what they contain. However, paper delivery of Journalism may well be a good use of those same resources, as it provides permanence, long-form friendliness, and builds in a longer time horizon which can improve the quality of the Journalism.

Given this, why wouldn’t philanthropy see it as a good investment to keep some print newspapers afloat? Perhaps there would be a small handful of nationally-focused papers that are kept afloat in this way.

But you could also make an argument that some cities ought to have a Journalism resource of their own, too. Why couldn’t community foundations step in to fill that void? Certainly, you could make a strong argument that the state capitals ought to have such a source of Journalism.

Yes, But . . .

One last thing. I am not entirely sure I buy this line of argument, primarily because I am optimistic that today’s pain will drive new creative responses that we haven’t thought of yet. It’s happening more quickly in News delivery, but things like ProPublica give me hope on the Journalism side, too.  Soemhow, I feel like resorting to foundation funding for Journalism is throwing in the towel (maybe that’ll be a later essay).

However, there is a strong argument that it is the right thing.

Perhaps, in the end, there will be a much richer variety of News and Journalism outlets — some nonprofit, some for-profit, some volunteer.

"Tea Party" Protest Broke Out At This Town Hall

"Tea Party" Protest Broke Out At This Town Hall

Across the nation, so-called “town hall meetings” have been held in our church basements, libraries, and other community spaces. Typically convened by lawmakers, their purposes is to “talk”  about health care reform. They’ve become a key battleground for the issue, as conservative groups have organized to disrupt them by shouting down speakers, and liberal groups have organized to protect them. A recent Huffington Post piece details the plans of the AFL-CIO to send out enforcers to 50 targeted districts where things are expected to get particularly ugly.

In my field, there is a lot of concern over these developments. I work in the civic participation field — “town hall meetings” where important issues are discussed and citizens can make choices about the direction they would like to go are an important part of my work.

I have been following this conversation closely, and not just because I am the author of an issue guide for the National Issues Forums Institute on this subject. (It’s called Coping With The Cost Of Health Care and is available from NIFI.)

I believe we are watching a particularly ugly (yet predictable) example of the effects of what some theorists in my field call “assimilation.” It’s obvious what that means, but as a term of art it reflects a particular concern that goes something like this: “Some people will see how authentic dialogue and deliberative approaches can be and how well people respond to them. So they may try to appropriate some of the elements that seem to work well for ends that have little to do with public choice-making.”

That’s what’s happening here. The national “town halls” that are being convened by officials are part of an orchestrated strategy to build what looks like grassroots political will for health care reform. The problem is that these “town halls” bear the same resemblance to dialogue that those ads in the newspaper for limited edition gold coins do to news articles. Sure, they look like news articles and are placed right next to them in the paper — but their purpose is to sell me gold, not to give me news.

The town halls are not intended to stimulate thoughtful discourse. And, given the political purpose of these “town halls,” it is hardly surprising that a group opposed has decided to try to disrupt them. The only thing that is surprising is that people have not been as organized about disrupting similar “town halls” before. These promotion-heavy events have been a staple of politics for a long time. (Even president Jimmy Carter used them, in 1978, in order to promote energy conservation.)

It’s only now, though, that people opposed to the policy that these meetings are intent on selling have decided to push back, hard, in the same milieu.

Here is what I would advise someone who asked for my help in convening an in-district town hall on health care at this juncture: Don’t have it. If you really want to gauge people’s views, and hear their give-and-take, invite a small group to get together to help you think through the issue. Reach out as broadly as you can, so there are different people in the room, but make sure the size of the group is manageable. People need to talk, not make statements or shout.

Whatever you do, in this environment, don’t announce a “town hall meeting” and think that it will be anything other than a shouting match. The forces arrayed against changes in the health care system are too angry. The strategy is backfiring on the people who are hoping to use such meetings to generate a groundswell. They may pull it out, but at the moment it is dark days for this particular tactic.

Even more important, holding such a town hall does a disservice to the concept itself.

My friends in the civic participation field may find me too negative. But I am concerned that what’s happening in these fake town halls will spill over into real town halls, the ones where communities weigh options and make decisions. When that happens, an important piece of how American communities rule themselves will be lost.

Photo from SodaHead.

"If you fail to receive . . . "

"If you fail to receive . . . "

At the drive through I saw this sign that struck me as amusing and I just had to snap a picture. It said:

If you fail to receive a receipt with your order please notify manager before leaving window for a refund of price paid.

After I finished chuckling, I felt compassionate. This is the restaurant’s attempt to generate trust with its customers. You can imagine the conversation: “We should make sure that people know they’re not getting ripped off, you know, like Joe Pesci complains about in Lethal Weapon. Otherwise we’re going to ” And so a sign is born. You’ve seen this sign, or others like it, everywhere there’s a drive through window.

Heart in right place, but implemented poorly, because the organization is thinking of itself first. It’s thinking, “How do we make sure people don’t get mad at us?” instead of, “How do make sure our customers feel served?” Even in this one sign, it’s evident:

  • The language is lawyerese instead of plain English. I am “receiving” and have to “notify” instead of “getting” and “telling.”
  • The promise is filled with restrictions and limitations. I only get a refund if I don’t get a receipt (not if I am overcharged, or they heard and gave me the wrong thing), and I if I drive away the deal is off.
  • Even the sentence structure implies that if there’s a problem it’s on my end, not theirs. I am “failing to receive.” But the real problem is that the restaurant “failed to give” me a receipt.

It’s a little thing, but it illustrates a problem that almost every organization has: a me-first mindset. It’s incredibly hard to break out of that.

It’s can be particularly vexing among nonprofits. Many foundations and other funders are under the gun and need to be able to show that their investments are having an impact in terms of improving people’s lives. You would think that grantees would be excited about this, as they are all about improving people’s lives, too.

But instead, there’s ongoing controversy. While some higher performing organizations have embraced the idea of actually measuring (and acting on) how well they are doing their job, many other organizations sullenly go through the motions of creating half-hearted metrics and easily-reached targets that they can pass on to their patrons — all the while thinking to themselves, “Our work is too important to let numbers stand in the way. We know we work hard and we know our supporters like us. That is enough.”

What this attitude fails to take into account is that “hard work” can sometimes be misplaced and that good feedback from friends ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

A better attitude, one that is as accessible to the local Burger-Thru as it is to the neighborhood food pantry, is: “How can we make sure that the life of everyone we touch is improved?”

A question like that will generate different signs — and different metrics.

My friend John Creighton and I have been discussing and writing about a shift that has taken place from an “institution-centric” world to a “citizen-centric” world. The question for public leaders is how to respond to this new ecosystem. We are creating videos about a number of different aspects to this question, and also working on some other materials that we’ll tell you about when they’re ready.

In our last video, we made the case that public leaders have to respond to new realities in public life. In our latest video, we discuss some of the pitfalls that can arise when public leaders set about engaging with citizens:

Creighton And Rourke Interview: New Challenges When Institutions Engage The Public from Brad Rourke on Vimeo.

Bottom line is that, unless an organization changes how it approaches the people it serves (so they aren’t just “voters” or “clients” but instead are “partners” or “citizens” who make choices on their own) — the tried-and-true engagement methods will fall flat. Public leaders will work as hard or harder than ever at engaging people, but unless it is in sync with the fact that citizens no longer need institutions to hold “gatekeeper” roles, it can be very frustrating for staff and public alike.

We’ll be posting many more conversations like this one as time goes on, so stay tuned! Your comments are welcome.

The great promise of the Web, which was finally fulfilled by the pervasive existence of blogs, was that everyone would be a publisher. With cheap, easy tools, anyone can publish work that is immediately accessible across the globe.There is literally no fundamental barrier to the creation and distribution of your work.

There is a new epochal shift whose effects are only now beginning to be felt. While everyone can be a publisher — more people are also programmers.

I don’t mean people who write computer code — which a lot of people can do — but I mean programmer in the sense of a TV or radio programmer.

What’s driving this is the pervasiveness of the Stream. More and more people interact using status updates and other ephemeral, time-limited messages: Twitter updates, Facebook status updates, TXT messages, Media posting on YouTube, Vimeo, Posterous, and similar sites.  All of these add up to a Stream of output.

What differentiates the Stream from my blog posts or from email messages is that, at any given time, some people will see parts of this Stream and others will miss it.

And those who miss it won’t come back to it unless they are highly motivated. There is an inherent time component that I have to take into account.

In other words, as a person who creates content, I’ve got to think like a programmer, keeping in mind not only what content I am creating, but also when I push it out, how I push it out, and how often I do that.

Here are five tips to thinking like a TV programmer when it comes to linking your blog with social media:

Tip #1: Schedule reruns.

Ever watch C-SPAN? Have you ever noticed that they will rerun certain shows? That’s not just to fill time. It’s to give more people a chance to see the show. Use this idea by repeating yourself if you have something important to let people know about. There is no perfect time to add your link into the stream. There are a number of good times. Add a link to your new blog post on Twitter right when you’ve posted it. Then come back around in 4-6 hours and repeat the update. The maybe once or twice more, with sufficient time in between that you can be sure you’re catching different people. Do NOT go overboard with this because people will just tune you out and it’s rude. But a bit of “twepeating” is useful.

Watch your own behavior and experiment with different times. You’ll find a good mix. For me, I’ve found that some of my friends are reading in the early morning (eastern), but there’s another big block that is reading in the late afternoon (eastern). And, while Sunday afternoon is death for news, it’s great for social media interactions!

Tip #2: Tease different.

Lots of people, when they complete a blog post, will paste the title into their Twitter client, add a link, and just go with that. If you’ve written a decent title that should work OK. But you might also want to think about varying your language, even highlighting different things. For instance, if there’s a key question or insight in your blog post, try repeating that question along with the link.

The same goes for sharing the link in Facebook, too. As you repeat, try different teases, calling out different aspects of your post.

Tip #3: Interact with commenters.

The vast majority of blog posts garner few to no comments. If you are lucky enough to generate comment activity, mention that in social media streams! “Great conversation in the comments at this post about widgets. http://xx.xx/xxxx.” People like to go see what other people are talking about.

If you don’t have a plug-in on your blog that lets people follow the comments on a particular post, get one. Then make sure you respond to people when they comment on your blog. They will feel a greater connection and will start to come back more and more.  If you “know” them on Twitter, consider sending them an “@” message after you comment, with a shortened link to your blog post. “@blahblah Great comment, thanks! I have some thoughts about that which I added in the comments. http://xx.xx/xxxx”. This may intrigue others to take a peek.

Tip #4:  Syndicate to Facebook.

Lots of people will read my blog at my website, but there are some eople in my audience who seem to live their entire online lives in Facebook. I’ve found that if I repost the articles on Facebook, I am likely to get comments and interactions from people who never post on my blog. (You do this by writing a “note” in Facebook — make sure you set it so “everyone” can read it unless for some reason it’s top secret.) It’s like I’m “synidcating” my show to another outlet. If I have the energy, I’ll mention comments in one sphere in the other (e.g., “great conversation going on at Facebook on this post, too. <link>”.

You can set up your Notes in Facebook to automatically import your blog, so that each time that blog is updated a Note is generated. (This typically happens within an hour or so of the original posting and sometimes it is a bit flaky but it beats doing it manually.)

Tip #5: Maintain flow and mix it up.

With a few exceptions, the stream approach is not very compatible with a “news bureau” mindset where you just broadcast your own content. For one thing, just issuing social media updates about your own content is seen as overly self-promotional. For another thing, unless you are in the breaking news business, you will have long stretches of no updates. In an environment with constantly-flowing streams of information, you want to be a presence throughout the day.

So don’t just post links to your blogs, but link to other interesting things — friends’ blogs, useful articles, good videos. Do this regularly, so there is a constant (not overbearing) flow.

Remember, with all these tips, I am not advocating spamming your Stream wantonly. You’ve got to be providing useful content. Some of your posts might be throwaways that you don’t necessarily need to go hammering on — it happens to everyone. But for the blog posts, questions, or other information that you want to get out, you need to have an approach that recognizes the time element and allows more people to see your material.

What are your tips for handling that?

I’ve been blogging since before we had the word “blog” — with varying degrees of success. By “success” I don’t mean number of readers. I mean success in actually getting my blog posts completed and posted.

Im blogging this by Flickr user Foxtongue

"I'm blogging this" by Flickr user Foxtongue

There have been long dry stretches, where I could barely get anything written. I didn’t know what to write, I didn’t want to write anything, I could not motivate myself.

Other times I had too much — three, four posts per day which for some people is just right but for me is overwhelming.

Right now I am in a groove, though. I thought I would share the four main tips that have made this current state possible:

Tip #1: Dig a hole.This is the biggest single piece of advice I can give. You need a news hole.

There was a long time when I wrote essays “occasionally.” This was designed to let me off the hook if I just couldn’t get it together to write. Result: long stretches of bupkis. Once I committed to a regular schedule and stuck to it for long enough for that to become a habit, it’s dialed in. Now I know every weekday I need a new post. (Sometimes I think of it as “feeding the beast.”) Since I know that every day I need to write something, I can schedule ahead, putting things in the can for vacation times, or just getting next week set so I can take it easy. You might go on a weekly schedule, daily, bi-weekly, or some other schedul. But the key is to make it regular. Don’t post “occasionally” or you will not be able to sustain it. If you want to post two stories per week, decide which days you will post. That’s your news hole.

Tip #2: Limit your time. Don’t allow yourself to work too long. Stop at 30 minutes.

It’s easy to not write because I think it’ll take a whole bunch of time.  So I limit myself — 30 minutes to write a post. (Your own duration may differ.) It is 100% easier to say, “I am going to bang this thing out becuase I only have 30 minutes” than it is to say “Wow, I have to write something about health care reform (or whatever).” Remember, this is blogging, not writing for print publication. It should not take a long time.

Tip #3: Lower your bar. Do not shoot perfection. Go for “good enough.”

Here is a good way to keep yourself within your time limit. Don’t pursue perfection. This is a blog, for goodness’ . Good enough is totally, completely good enough. Maybe once in a while you will want to write the definitive post — set yourself a long time and go for it. But for day-in, day-out production, just keep it simple. Four paragraphs or less. Breezy style. And don’t edit too much. Just feed the beast — who cares if it’s prime rib or hamburger?

Tip #4: Link, baby, link. Use links to help you write. Make sure you are linking.

This is a bit of a technical piece of advice but it also helps with production. Make sure you link to something, even if it’s another article you wrote. Why? Well, for one thing, this is a blog and people expect that. For another, it gives you something to hang your piece on. It gives you something you have to describe (the thing you are linking to) and that means you’ve got one paragraph down. Three to go!

These aren’t hard and fast rules, obviously, just tips. And they don’t at all cover what to blog about. These are just things to think about.

If you write a blog, how do you make sure you’re getting it done? And, if you are considering blogging, what are the things holding you back?