Three things that help me during the work week

I've written about a lot of productivity-esque topics on this blog. I've tried out several different to-do list apps, note taking approaches and have made several changes to my routine. Though I am still always trying to look at ways to make my day-to-day more effective (working smarter versus working harder), I've nailed down three different things that (currently) help my focus during the work week. 

Getting enough quality sleep

It wasn't until I started wearing a Fitbit to bed that I realized that I wasn't getting great sleep. Sure, I may have been lying down for 7-8 hours, but I was still waking up really tired. My Fitbit data confirmed what my wife had been telling me since day one of our marriage: I tossed and turned A LOT. Something had to change.

Realistically, I couldn't go to bed even earlier than I already had been. So, I tweaked my routine. I started implementing a "screen free" time at least thirty minutes before I went to bed. Instead of reading the news on my phone (or scanning Instagram/Twitter), I would go upstairs and read a book. In addition to that, I would brew a cup of sleepy time tea. I had friends that own an awesome up-and-coming tea company, K-Teas, that recommended a perfect chamomile tea just for that winding down purpose.

After doing a few nights of reading (a printed book) and drinking tea, I noticed great gains in my sleep quality. My Fitbit data showed better quality deep sleep and I felt better and more alert during the day. It's amazing how quality sleep helps you get more done than any productivity app in the app store. Plus, carving out the extra time to read new books is always good for the brain.

Taking paper notes

I have always had this conflict between taking meeting notes digitally with Evernote or just taking a paper notebook. I love the simplicity and hand-to-brain memorization taking notes with paper provided. However, I liked the simple, cloud-based search-ability of digital notes in Evernote. This conflict was temporarily resolved when my wife got me an Evernote Moleskin notebook for Christmas a couple of years back. However, paying $30 every time I ran out of pages lost its appeal. 

A few weeks ago, I discovered Evernote's Scannable app. Now, I have the best of both worlds. I take a paper notebook to all meetings and avoid taking my laptop if at all possible. I have less distractions (turns out paper doesn't have as many push notifications) and I benefit from that hand-to-brain memory gain that comes from handwriting. After I handwrite my notes, I snap a photo with Scannable and index all of my handwritten content digitally with Evernote. It's amazing. 

Eating the big frogs first

Every week at DeMoss we do brief lunch and learns (called "Trade") to catch up on new trends, client case studies or other things we are learning. A few weeks ago, a teammate gave us some learnings about productivity. 

No, I didn't learn about a new app to get stuff done. 

I did learn about a mindset. I had heard this quote from Mark Twain but our teammate presented it in a way that finally clicked in my brain. 

 

I made a bad habit of doing the quick, less exerting tasks in the morning. However, while I had that adrenaline rush of being able to cross things off my list quickly, I would either go down another rabbit trail doing something or find other ways to put off the big important tasks that I may have been less-than-thrilled about. "Eating the biggest frog first" has helped me get a lot more done in the day - and stay focused for longer periods of time. 

Plus, it helps that our whole office got small plastic frogs to keep on our desk as a reminder. 

Mindsets trump tools

I love technology and if there's a more efficient way to get stuff done and organize my life, I'm going to try it out. However, productivity isn't reliant on a system. It's a mindset. Jeff Hilimire wrote a great short piece explaining how no app is a replacement for self-discipline. I agree with that. 

How about you? Any tips to tackling the day?

Is Microsoft succeeding at trying to be cool?

I have read headlines and seen videos in the last week that I never would have expected. First off, on the heels of their Microsoft 10 press event, I find this video from Microsoft where they take a stab at reinventing the whiteboard. It had enough of a cool factor that it ended up on PSFK, my go-to source for trendy things before they're trendy in tech.

Then, as I dig more into Microsoft that day, I learned about HoloLens. If I had paid enough attention to the Internet that day, I would've have learned about it earlier from the press coverage.

But then again, I didn't have anything in my recent memory that gave me reason to believe paying attention to Microsoft announcements was worth my time (or the real estate space on my second computer monitor).

But HoloLens was announced. It's cool - not totally practical yet - but really cool. The Verge did a good write up here describing seven potential use cases for HoloLens in the future.

Then the kicker came today. On Twitter, I read this headline (also from The Verge):

The best Gmail app for the iPhone is now made by Microsoft

I also saw a similar headline from Business Insider that affirmed this bold statement.

After reading both articles, I downloaded the new Outlook app from Microsoft. While I have only used it for ten minutes at the time of writing this article, I have to admit - it's a great email client for iPhone. These claims are bold but not far fetched.

So...Is Microsoft Cool?

I won't say yes or no at this point. But it seems like they're trying to head that direction. And it's a good strategy.

In the past, they've tried to literally buy their way into marketshare. The NFL analysts every Sunday have Surface Pro tablets. There are a ton of ads. Microsoft sponsors updates and features on several other programs. Their logo is everywhere. But advertising and product placement can't buy loyalty. Only a cool factor can.

It looks like they are now trying to actually provide products that have their own market advantage. Like they're not trying to buy their way into people's hearts. Or mimic Apple (as much).

I'll probably spend more time actually paying attention to what Microsoft has to say in the near future. These past couple of weeks could be all hype that doesn't turn into anything substantial.

Or it could.

What do you think? Is Microsoft starting to creep into "cool" territory?

One Play Doesn't Win a Game

I've been watching a lot of football lately, along with millions of other people. The next morning when we watch recaps on SportsCenter, we only see the big plays. The plays that all of us talk about and see replays of for years to come.

Seriously, if I said "Super Bowl helmet catch," most of you know which game I'm talking about and where you were when you saw it.

It's more fun to talk about the big plays. Those memorable moments that changed the game. But those moments don't win games on their own. Teams win games after a culmination of small steps and winning little victories that set them up for the ultimate success. The blocks that help get those many small 3-5 yard gains. The snaps that are caught. The time off the field working hard to be successful on the field.

Marketing has its own equivalent, especially in social media. It's the viral hits that make news. Those videos that get millions of views. The tweets that end up on the news the next morning. And it's great for brands that hit those milestones. Sometimes those viral hits can positively change the course for the brand that is reaping that momentary award.

Shouldn't we always go after those big hits?

Not always.

I'm not saying to not aim big. We should consistently . However, we shouldn't neglect the small steps that it takes to build a brand. That attention to the details. Getting the little things right establishing systems for multiple little wins. It's the small steps that become part of a brands routine that help lay the foundation for big successes.

We shouldn't sacrifice getting the little things right so we can chase one-in-a-million situations.

Just look at Arby's Pharrell tweet last year. It's easy to see how that one tweet became one of the biggest hits in real-time marketing in 2014. However, we never talk about the processes setup over a long period of time that set Arby's up to capitalize on that success. When listening to Arby's Director of Social Josh Martin talk about social at Arby's, he'll tell you about the consistent listening that they worked at over a long period of time before they had that big win. They also had small engagement wins over the last couple of years with other campaigns and responses to trending topics. Having those processes and habits in place help them make the most of their big Grammy's moment.

This doesn't just apply to marketing. It applies to all areas of success. When success stories are told, we only hear the parts involving the tip of the iceberg. We rarely hear all of the non-flashy details and moments that took place over an even longer period of time that contributed to the big play and the big win.

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outstanding-tl-2amsy5t

So that's what I'm focusing on in 2015. I have big goals, but I'm going to be putting more focus on doing the little things right. Hopefully, when the big plays come, I'll be ready to make the most of it.

What about you?

In Defense of the Algorithm

Keeping up with algorithm changes. It's a full time job.

When I first got out of college, Google's search algorithm was the only thing I had to concern myself with. That wasn't so bad. If you were good at dropping keywords into website copy and blog posts, you were set.

Then Facebook came along. Shortly behind that, Facebook's Edge Rank algorithm came to surface...and pretty much ruined the day of many marketers. You didn't (and still don't) always know what content played well with Facebook's algorithm and what would actually show up in the news feed.

Then, while we're fighting the Facebook algorithm with our left hand, our right is tied up keeping up with Google's changing search algorithms. As it turns out, loading websites with keywords wasn't so much of a secret and people were gaming the system rather effectively. So marketers had to adjust to that too.

Now, Twitter is testing a "while you were away" feature that will have an algorithm built in to show people the tweets they missed while they weren't staring at a screen.

Great - another algorithm. 

And all in the name of user experience. Apparently, all of these services are concerned with showing users "high quality content." Like, stuff people actually care about looking at.

The nerve...

Now, to even be seen, we have to pay-to-play. These publicly traded companies are trying to profit off of advertiser content. It's an old bait-and-switch. It appears as if riding the gravy train of free advertising on the world's most trafficked websites is coming to a screeching halt.

And I'm okay with that. For two reasons.

As a user, I get my life back

Excluding Google, you would have to stay glued to a screen to be clued in on what was going on. A story could come from anywhere (well...it still can). Keeping up with a trend can be a full time job. An algorithm that sorts everything out for me and only delivers me the most shared or highest quality info at the time keeps me away from a lot of manual digging. I get the information I need quickly and effectively.

This really hit home for me with Twitter. I was trying to keep up with this year's #CES2015 and opened up a saved stream of that hashtag on my Tweetdeck dashboard. The stream was moving so fast and there was so much noise I didn't want to hear that I eventually moved onto Twitter.com's search page. There, they delivered the top stories, the most shared photos and tweets from the most authoritative people and news outlets on-site. It made finding the information I wanted a lot easier to find.

Now that Twitter is coming out with a new "while you were away" feature, this is even better. Now I can put down the phone, close the laptop and do work.

Or read a book.

Or talk to someone and stay engaged in the conversation for its entirety. And I won't worry about missing a thing.

Sure, I may not be the first person to learn the latest news...but that's not always a bad thing. Most of the time, the first bit of news isn't the most accurate. Facebook's algorithm accomplishes the same thing.

I don't have to keep up with a rapidly moving news feed. I can see what my friends are sharing and commenting on at my own leisure...and stay in the loop with half the effort.

As a marketer, I'm forced to prioritize my time

Working in any communications field (advertising, marketing, public relations etc.) provides its own set of challenges and pressure to stay up-to-date. There's always a new platform coming out and more places to engage with audiences than any one person has time in a single day to use. Chasing the next shiny object is exhausting.

Now we have to pay to even be seen on the shiny objects. And I'm okay with that.

I work with nonprofits and low budgets most of the time, so it's not like I'm rolling in ad budgets or lack a realistic perspective on the plight of the average business. I get it. Resources are tight. Being asked to cough up more money for marketing is the last thing most people want to hear.

That said, it's easy to forget that time is money. If you are not willing to pour hard costs into Facebook promoted posts, Twitter promoted tweets or a simple AdWord campaign, you probably shouldn't be willing spend any time costs in those spaces either.

If we can agree that time is money, social media has never been free.  

Limited resources has forced me (along with many other people) to prioritize where my clients spend time online. Where are they going to get the most bang for their buck? We can't piss into the wind and call it marketing strategy or innovation anymore. Algorithms have forced us to actually be strategic with the content brands share online. It's not sustainable to produce mediocre content.

What do you think?

At the end of the day, it's all about the user experience. It's the priority all of these platforms have to keep people using their services. As marketers, we should be equally concerned with user experience.

How have the addition of algorithms and the new pay-to-play approach affected how you prioritize your time?

How have you been affected?

What are you going to do about it?

Yeah, I'm A Dude. And I Watch The Bachelor.

Snacks. Drinks. A room full of people huddled around heckling the flat screen TV in the middle of the living room. It got loud on several occasions. We weren't watching a sporting event.

It was The Bachelor premiere.

And no, I wasn't the only guy. Of the 18 people watching the show in our friend's apartment, seven were guys. All husbands, like me, scoring brownie points with our wives.

For many of us guys in the room, this wasn't our first rodeo. In fact, I believe one of us probably won the evening's game of "Bachelor Bingo."

Yeah. I'm a dude. I watch the Bachelor. And I'm okay with that.

Do I like The Bachelor? Like is a strong word. But I do watch it.

The Bachelor premier viewing party for farmer Chris's season.
The Bachelor premier viewing party for farmer Chris's season.

Do I enjoy watching it?

No, not really. At least not at first. On my own terms, if I was just at home sitting by myself, I would probably just be watching reruns of Archer or The West Wing on Netflix.

But I got married. I went from being a bachelor to watching one on TV.

At first, I really did sit through it out of obligation. It was painful at first. I played many games of Angry Birds as I patiently waited for the episode to be over with. Then I started to overhear bits and pieces of the show. I got into it. I can't remember which season it happened but I eventually started keeping up with the "plot."

Now, I can keep up with most any female (that watches the Bachelor) on what's going on in the current season.

It's like a train wreck. You don't really want to keep watching. But you can't not watch it after a certain breaking point. It sucks you in and you can't stop. On the plus side, it will (hopefully) make you feel a lot better about your own life choices.

Fortunately, I've had other husbands in the same boat as me. We support each other in a way. We own it. A few other guys are joining us this season for the first time. They have no idea what they're getting into.

What about this season?

Chris (the bachelor) is a farmer from Iowa and seems like a good guy. He at least appeared to be last season. I think ABC is trying to compensate for the overall d-baggery that was Juan Pablo (nobody liked Juan Pablo...not even the host). It also seems like a ploy to increase the show's reach with a middle America audience using a farmer from the midwest.

The host Chris Harrison still comes across as a creepy/charmer type to me. I sometimes get the impression that he's the kind of guy who would slip something into someone's drink by the end of the night...but it's that level of host that makes the show work. Seriously, if you're looking for a show with a strong moral compass, watching one where one person simultaneously dates 20+ different people and proposes to one of them after a few weeks isn't the one for you.

Also, I'm convinced the first set of roses have to be picked by the producers.

First off, there's no way any bachelor could remember all of those names for the first rose ceremony.

Throw that on top of some of the crazy contestants that somehow get picked week after week and keep the show entertaining. For example, some of those limo entrances and first impressions we saw tonight included:

  • Awkwardly long hugs followed by more conversations specifically about hugs
  • Brining a heart in a small cooler
  • Wearing a pig snout
  • Singing in a pink karaoke machine

Most intentional first impressions like these would throw up a red flag to a normal person in most social situations.

But this is no normal social situation. This is a wine-fueled group date. This is The Bachelor.

A huge weight has been lifted

I've always wanted to open up more and be more transparent on this blog. I feel like I've finally done it. A huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I can say it out loud.

I watch The Bachelor.

I know there are other guys out there just like me. Don't worry. We're all in this together.

Until next week...

Back to Blogging in 2015

I haven't blogged in a couple of months at this point. Normally this is the part where most bloggers say that they missed blogging, where they regretted not getting around to posting something new more often. This isn't one of those times for me. This has been the longest stretch that I've gone without blogging but I can't say that I missed it.

Why the break?

It wasn't intentional or planned at all, it just kind of happened. Life happened. Work happened. I got to a point where I was juggling many things and had to build margin somewhere. This blog happened to fall victim to that margin. I had a choice many nights to either spend time reading a new book or writing a new post. I ended up taking a small season of trying to fill up and learn more instead of creating more. I highly recommend anyone doing that from time to time.

What's been going on recently?

October through December were event-filled months but great ones. We picked up a few new interesting clients at DeMoss. The digital end of our work started to grow even more as a result.

We went on a few fall getaway weekends and saw views like this:

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I got to travel to Lambeau Field for the first time and watch the Packers absolutely crush the Bears in a Sunday night game.

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My wife and I hosted Thanksgiving at our home for the first time ever.

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We had to buy a new car. We spent a week traveling in Kentucky for Christmas with the new selfie stick given to me by my aunt for Christmas. I had never taken a selfie in my life until I received that stick. Now, I love using it to take group shots (does that still make them selfies?)

WKU track team reunion (aka my groomsmen and their wives)

Christmas party with my cousins

I even had the opportunity to speak on Pinterest at an event hosted by The Cove. It was one of the smaller events I've attended but probably one of my favorites. Imagine your typical social media conference but take out the buzzwords, the blue oxford shirts and trade show stands. Then host that event in a big lodge in the Appalachian Mountains. In the winter. With a huge fireplace and with less than 100 people there. It was their first year hosting it and have my fingers crossed they invite me back. I loved it.

Pictures from The Cove's blogger retreat with fellow speakers Jon Acuff, Jen Schmidt and Jess Connolly

What can you expect on this blog in 2015?

I've spent a month doing a lot of reading and have learned a lot in that time. You'll probably see more posts on new trends in PR and marketing. I'll write about books I've read recently, new daily routines I've been trying out, and challenges I've faced in work or life.

At the end of the day, this blog will be a place for me to exercise writing skills. Working at a PR firm, I'm having to write increasingly more often. Having a place to practice writing and work out a few of the kinks should help me in what I do in my day job.

The discipline of blogging, not every day but with a consistent pace, should have positive carryover in other parts of my work too.

But enough about me. What other projects, goals or habits are you working on building in 2015?

 

If virality is dumb luck, what's the point of trying?

By the time you read this post, all of the #AlexFromTarget shenanigans should be behind us. Hopefully. In one of its most glorious moments of "why the heck not?" the republic of the Internet made this teenage bag boy at Target an instant celebrity. This was one of the quickest rises to meme-based stardom that I've seen in a while, helping this random kid garner over 400,000 Twitter followers overnight.

Literally.

While most of the world worked on crafting their attempts at a clever #AlexFromTarget meme, the rest of us social/digital marketers trying to make our brands achieve levels of internet success on purpose were left scratching our heads.

I've been working on a content strategy for a new client the last couple of days, thinking through audience, channel purpose and success metrics very meticulously. When I saw Alex achieve viral fame for no apparent reason, my initial reaction probably looked something like this.

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Is success on the Internet really just dumb, stupid luck?

Yes and no.

It depends on how you're measuring success.

Sure, no matter what some pundits tell you, there is a stroke of luck involved in seeing massive web success. I would be the first to tell you that Board of Man was a lucky break at the end of the day. We didn't have a well thought out strategy when we started. There were no goals or benchmarks that we were aiming to achieve. We just happened to strike Pinterest with the right idea at the right time. An idea that happened to resonate with thousands of people.

However, with that luck, we were able to learn. The team I worked with didn't just sit back and high five ourselves (though we did high five other people). We looked at what other factors  (other than luck) contributed to our Pinterest success. And we learned a lot. We applied what we learned from luck to other business-related client projects.

Even if virality is often based on luck, there are many extremely successful campaigns that most people haven't heard of. Just because a brand's video or online campaign wasn't heard around the world, that doesn't mean that brand isn't effective online.

Spend your time and energy doing what works for you and your brand(s) online, not what worked for others. Don't let a random internet lightning strike guide your strategy. Learn as much as you can from those random viral moments - but don't count on them.

Even if virality is often dumb luck, it doesn't mean we need to give up. While one stroke of luck may win the day, consistent quality strategic thinking will win out over the long haul.

What do you think? Is virality luck? Or skill?