Tag Archives: Writing

Productivity is as Productivity Does

Work differs. The other day somebody told me about the problem of getting into some kinds of work. It went something like this (paraphrasing):

With computer programming it takes more time to get in and out of it. You can’t just stop to talk, or answer an instant message, and then continue. Interruptions make a huge difference. With regular management it doesn’t matter as much.

And that strikes me as true for several kinds of work. Writing a book, designing websites, and creating an original business plan are some things I’ve done that suffer the same need.

And management, on the other hand, is a hodgepodge collection of quick tasks and constant interruption. Distraction can be a problem sometimes, but it’s much more the rule than the exception. Emails and instant messages and quick conversations are the bricks and mortar of the management job.

In the concentrated content-creation work, interruptions are death to productivity. In management work, interruptions are the essence of productivity. I think I know: I’ve done both for decades.

A lot of us have the interesting problem of doing both. Is that you? Do you manage and create, as part of the same job? Lots of expert businesses, the bloggers, coaches, or consultants, are in that boat. Do you think you need to set aside separate blocks of time for writing, or other content work? Would it work to divide your day into pieces?

Maybe Writing Isn’t So Obsolete After All

Just a few years ago I was mourning the loss of the printed word in our media-hungry and web-hungry society. Even people I really respect, although most of them much younger than I, were starting to show cavalier disregard for the English language. I’d grimace while reading something that mistook then for than, or they’re for their, or misspelled lots of simple words. The response would be rolled eyes, like…

Maria Skaldina/Shutterstock

why do you care? You can read it. You can see what it says.

It makes me feel like the archetypical grumpy old man.

Meanwhile, television news has taken over from print news. Newspapers are dying. And books?  Doomed. I picked this up in a 2007 New Yorker piece called Twilight of Books:

In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002. Last month, the N.E.A. released a follow-up report, “To Read or Not to Read,” which showed correlations between the decline of reading and social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise, and voting. In his introduction, the N.E.A. chairman, Dana Gioia, wrote, “Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement.”

But then — about 2007 for me, late, I know, compared to the web literate elites — I caught on to blogs. And discovered where writing had gone to; and where people cared about writing. Writing and reading are alive and well, it turns out, but they’ve migrated to some extent. The Huffington Post, the world’s leading blog, gets something upwards of 20 million unique visitors per month.  Blog after blog is about writing: writing well, writing better. I just looked: more than 10,000 hits on Google for the search term “writing blog headlines.” And I keep stumbling on blogs that are exhilaratingly well written. Look at Ann Handley’s Annarchy, for example (for a good sample, read Refugee at Home). Or Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist (sample this post for good writing, but you should know first that, like a lot of good writing, it’s dark.). And I read business and entrepreneurship blogs that are not just good content, but extremely well written. Seth Godin delivers a short beautifully written post almost every day.

Lately there’s twitter, limiting the writing to 140 characters, putting a whole new twist on writing. There’s so many examples of good writing in 140 characters that it’s like searching for needles in a pile of needles. Do this twitter search for haiku to see what I mean. And then I just browsed the tweets of the people above, and came up with this one, by Penelope Trunk. I didn’t have to search for a good one, this was simply her latest as I wrote this post:

I forget to tell the waiter to hold the bacon bits. Then I go wild: I decide a Jewish woman who dates a pig farmer can take a taste of pork.

That’s good writing. And there’s so much of it out there. I’m feeling way better about the future or writing after all.

(Photo credit: Maria Skaldina/Shutterstock)

Maker or Manager: Do You Hate Meetings?

Focus: in personal productivity, focus is power. Or maybe I should call it concentration. Have you ever borne down on a task, locked out all distractions, and gotten more done in an hour or two than you thought you could get done in a day? I have the feeling I used to do that a lot;  but now, only rarely.

Part of the problem is the obvious computer-dominated workplace, with emails, instant messages, Twitter, my office phone, and my cell phone, all competing with the task at hand.

But it’s more than just technology. It’s like in an office, more to do, more distractions, more of everything. Especially, more meetings.

I was struck the other day by Paul Graham’s recent essay Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. He says time is different for different types of jobs and people:

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

So the manager’s day divides into 5, 10, and 15-minute pieces. The programmer’s, designer’s, or writer’s day doesn’t.

I can relate to this. In 40 years of adulthood I’ve had three lives as a maker and one as a manager. For years my real work was developing a software product, which included some of the code plus content and even documentation. Meetings were big interruptions. Then for a lot of years I was building and running the company, doing nothing but meetings. During those years I was unable to get much writing or software content done at all.

People are different. I like the maker’s life better; but then I’m a hermit by nature, I can go for hours concentrating on a task without talking to anybody. I know people who would hate that, and live for the actions, the thrill of the chase, the decisions, the jockeying for position, the sense of getting things done (in a different way) and, with it all, the meetings.

What are you: Maker or manager?

Boomer Business Blogger Part 4: You Have to Like Writing

True confession: I love writing. I love short sentences, strong words, making myself understood.

I think most, if not all, good bloggers like writing. Video people do vlogs and YouTube, poets go to Twitter (say, what?), but bloggers are writers. Almost all of my favorite blogs — I’ve got the blogroll on this blog, rightmost column, near the bottom — are written by people who care about writing. Not that they don’t care just as much about business, their main content area; but they’re writers.

Yes, I’ve done all the startups in my bio; yes, I have the MBA degree; and yes, I built Palo Alto Software. But if I could have made a decent living just writing, I would have.

Flashback: 1970, I was 22, wanted to write, studied literature. I was in a PhD program in comparative literature, briefly; ended up with MA in Journalism. UPI, McGraw-Hill, Mexico City, and whoosh, the 1970s all gone.

Flashback: 1979, journalist, bored filling space between ads, enrolled in Stanford University business school. Then I fell in love with business planning, helped to start Borland International, founded Palo Alto Software, founded bplans.com. And grew it, slowly for years, no outside investment. Tough times, good times.

And suddenly it was 2007, 40+ employees and a great management team, me struggling with changed technology, and I changed jobs. And started blogging. That change was Part 1 of this series.

So what helps me a lot is that I like writing. As a journalist I wrote a lot for many different publications. I also wrote published fiction (not very good, by the way, not worth citing, but they paid me) (and I’m not including market research that was wrong, either) and a full-length novel that got some second looks, but never got published.

So now, you can see how much blogging I do by looking at the sidebar here on the right. You can’t see that I’m also writing a lot on a family site, a personal site, and even an anonymous pure writing site.

If you’re going to be blogging a lot, you have to like writing.