3 Time Saving Productivity Hacks For Writers (and Anyone Else)

Today’s digital world is full of unprecedented opportunity. With that opportunity comes unparalleled distractions from previous eras of humanity. If you’d have told me when I was an acid-washed jean wearing child in the 1980s that come adulthood, I could simultaneously

– be writing on a Word document
– while watching TV
– flipping tabs to check multiple social media accounts
– did I mention a separate tab to play music streaming?
– getting text messages, phone calls and watching Netflix on a mobile device
– all while trying to get actual work done …

… I wouldn’t have even known what you were talking about, actually.

The cost to such ubiquitous, instant access to ANY entertainment we want is …

IT IS A PRODUCTIVITY KILLER.

Some of us are under the delusion that so many attention diversions actually help us get more done. Maybe, for a small percentage of the population with a particular brain wiring, that is true. But for most of us, the distractions slow us down, big time.

Can you relate?

As a writer, I’ve learned that I really need to focus on the task at hand to get any meaningful work done. I’ve adopted three practices that have helped me be more focused while writing. Naturally, they can be applied to any discipline. Here they are

Three Time-Saving Productivity Hacks

1. Keep Phone On Mute 24-7

Does this sound difficult, contrarian, or backward? You mean, silence my phone … all the time? Not just when I’m in a meeting? But what if I miss calls and important texts because I don’t hear them??

That, my friend, is precisely the point.

Why do you need to see text messages instantly? If you miss a call from your boss, maybe that stinks, but you can always call him or her right back. It’s not the end of the world.

The digital era has inadvertently trained us to be at the ready with instant communication. I’m going to make the brazen suggestion that might not always be a good thing. I’m thoroughly blessed to have a lot of fabulous people in my life. That translates into a lot of group text strings that go on throughout the day, every day and night.

I love keeping up with my people, but reading the wacky thing my friend’s daughter said at the grocery store is not something that I need to disrupt my concentration for when I’m “in the zone.” It can wait. So can 97% of mobile communications.

If you’re in a job where keeping in close touch with clients is a big part of your day, this may not be practical. I get it. I make exceptions when I really do need to be attuned to who is contacting me. But most of the time, silence is golden.

2. Put Timers on Social Media Apps

It rocked my world when I discovered that on Android devices, you can set daily timers by the app. That is, you can tell it how long to allow you to use the app before it kicks you off for the day.

It’s no secret that my thumbs navigate to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram instinctively, and I end up spending WAYY more time browsing than is necessary. I found myself wasting too much time on mindless scrolling that I could have been using on any number of more profitable projects. Like writing. Der.

Confession: since at the time of this writing, my state has been under a COVID-19 stay-at-home order, I’ve removed the timers from my apps to indulge in more browsing. Now that it’s been a few months, it’s time to get back to my set limits.

Pro-tip: If you have an android device, you can find this magical option under settings –> Digital Wellbeing.

Screenshot_20200527-092808_Settings[1]

3. Minimize All Other Tabs While Writing

Have you ever sat down to write, only to have your eyes drift to the notifications popping on the Facebook tab? Me neither. So this advice is really only “in theory.” Ha.

All the other websites we frequent and social media services that eat away our time have a way of pulling us away from the tasks that matter the most. So I’ve found that refusing myself the temptation, by not even opening them, is the best way to stay focused.

To prove I’m trying to practice what I preach, here is a screenshot of what I am looking at as I type this.

WPress Tabs Screenshot

See, just the WordPress tab open.

For those of you who are extra sleuth-y, you might have noticed something amiss in that screenshot. The word “screenshot” above. See?

WPress Tabs Screenshot-markup

That leads me to …

A bonus fourth thing, just for you, grasshopper

That is another way I’ve trained myself to stay focused — making notes about things I need to add later to enhance the post. Pictures, videos, links to other articles – those are all things that I can add later, not while I am in the middle of a train of thought during writing.

Despite my best intentions, jumping to find the link to that other article I plan to reference inevitably leads to more distractions. Re-reading the article, clicking other links within it – wait a second! How did I end up scrolling Twitter for 20 minutes?? You get the idea.

Probably the only exception I make is keeping a tab open for thesaurus.com because I do like to mix up my word use. All good word nerds should. HOWEVER, that too could be treated as an item to be banished while writing. I’ll talk more about that in the next post, with EVEN MORE tips for writing more efficiently.

Staggering to a conclusion

If you’re going to conclude, which is inevitable, why not do it in a dramatic fashion – like staggering? (Internal voice says, “Because then people might think you’re drunk. That wouldn’t be good. Don’t stagger.”) Internal voices can be really lame sometimes.

OK, so, in conclusion. Take control of your time by keeping your phone on mute, putting limits on social media use in a way that doesn’t rely on your own perception of the passing of time (It’s flawed. Sorry to break it to you. Mine is too.), and only leave open the tab you are using to write. If your writing is on a word document, even better. You don’t need to have a browser open at all.

What else would you add to this list?

I’ve got a few more tricks up my metaphorical sleeve that I’ll share with you in the next post if you want to read them. What do you think?

 

 

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Extroverts, Here is What Your Introvert Friends Want You to Know Post-Quarantine

When the COVID-19 social distancing/stay-at-home quarantine protocols began rolling out across the nation, I saw many social media pleas from extroverts, along the lines of:

“Introverts, please put down your books and talk to us! We’re not OK!”

“Introverts – check on your extroverted friends. We need help!”

Fair and reasonable.

Though I know I obviously don’t speak for all introverts, I’ll set that inconvenient fact aside as use “we” as though I do. Because I may speak for more than you think.

Many introverts answered the plea from our extroverted friends. We jumped on Zoom calls and Marco Polo to check in with you. We even scheduled some, because we recognized the value of staying in touch when we can’t see you face to face.

We even endured to some extent, extra online meetings, because we knew you were lonely. Because we love you. We love you enough to put our book down and chat, when we have no need to.

Here what introverts want extroverts to know as the quarantine restrictions loosen

“Extroverts, please don’t overwhelm us with urgent requests to hang out, multiple times per week, for the foreseeable future.”

For the solo time-loving introvert in your life, not much has changed. Did you get resistance to socialize before COVID-19? Expect the same once it’s normal to be able to hang out again.

An aside: I write this from the perspective of an introvert, even though I am a hybrid “extroverted introvert.” To the uninitiated, I might be perceived as an extrovert based on social interactions. But I definitely need time to recharge in solitude after socializing.

I understand how full-on introverts think though, so I am writing with them in mind.

Extroverts, just as you felt a sincere pang to be with your people when you were cut off, we introverts will still feel a strong urge to manage our social interactions as quarantine is lifted. We ask that you respect that.

Another piece of introvert trivia … seeing y’all on social media, and posting our thoughts there, is energizing to us, and gives us more social fulfillment than we should probably admit. Its not that we don’t want to see you — however, seeing you on social media goes a long way towards filling the gap of not being together in real life.

Keeping that in mind, here are a few ideas to help both personality types love each other well post-quarantine:

For extroverts

  • Don’t overwhelm us with invitations
    As much as we love you, we don’t need to see you 2-3 times in a week.

  • Spread out the invitations to us
    Please, please … settle for one gathering initially, then give us some time to recover.

  • Realize we probably have multiple extroverts trying to see us
    For folks who crave social interaction, scheduling time with people who have a much lesser need in that regard can be frustrating I would imagine. My challenge to you is to realize that we might have multiple people competing for time on our calendar. Please take that into account if we need to schedule something further out than you’d prefer.

For introverts

  • Be willing to overextend yourself slightly to meet with loved ones
    I’m looking at myself here. I want to be willing to squeeze a few more things into my schedule than I’d normally allow if it means showing love to a friend or family member.

  • Let them talk – a lot – without getting frustrated
    They’re going to anyway, remember? So allow them to release pent up conversation that may have been bubbling up inside them for weeks. πŸ™‚

  • Remember it’s OK to set boundaries – and implement them
    If you try to limit your social outings on a given week, great. You’re in good company. If you’re willing to let that slide for a few weeks after quarantine, I commend you.

    However, that does not mean that you have to relinquish control of your social schedule. You can still say “no” to gatherings without feeling bad. Here is an idea of how it could play out:

    As it becomes permissible in your area to gather in smaller groups and perhaps eat in restaurants, you may find that multiple people or groups want to get something scheduled. My recommendation is to decide ahead of time how many “social slots” you have available each week, then begin to schedule them out as opportunities come in.

    When you get offers for additional socializing, especially last minute things, you can say something like:

    “I really appreciate the offer! My schedule is full this week, but how about next week or the week after? I could do (insert a few times you are available in the future).”

    “I have plans then, but could we take a rain check? Thanks for the offer; let’s get something scheduled for later this month.”

    Or, if you want to politely refuse an offer and not schedule it at all:

    “Thanks for thinking of me. I don’t have the bandwidth right now, but I appreciate the offer.”

In Conclusion

Parting words of advice for extroverts and introverts (which overlaps to some degree with planners and spontaneous people – my post about that is here)

Extroverts – if you get shut down by an introvert, please don’t take it too personally. We most likely want to see you, in a fashion and time frame that doesn’t overwhelm our schedule. (Schedule overwhelm exhausts us.)

Introverts – to summarize – be more flexible and generous with your time, roll with it, but give yourself permission to not overdo it.

Is there anything you think I overlooked or misrepresented, for either side? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

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On Peace of Mind About Coronavirus

The time in which we find ourselves sure is unprecedented, is it not? In fact, it is unparalleled for many of us under a certain age whose entire lives have been in a well-vaccinated time of the late 20th century.

Those of us who are western Gen Xers, children of 1980s or later, have always lived in a time when epidemics were under control, and life was free of that kind of scare. Polio, measles, smallpox … those were things we maybe heard about as kids, but didn’t have any experience with or category for in our thinking.

Until now.

This pandemic has caught many of us by surprise. Even though, at the time of this writing, we’ve had several weeks to process it and get used to “the new normal” of isolation and social distancing, it is still a shock to our systems. At least to mine.

There is a lot that could be said about the politics behind it, and critiquing the responses of individual governments. Everyone has an opinion about what should be done about it, and how each of us should be behaving in light of what our governments have asked us to do to flatten the curve. I’ll leave the political part to someone else to handle.

My goal for this post is to get to the heart of the matter.

The proverbial heart, that is. The emotional part. Emotions are messy. They are hard to manage, even if you can identify what they are, and why they are causing you to act in a certain way. Many times, we don’t even get that far in the analysis of our behavior.

A global pandemic only complicates emotional responses. When the world as we know it gets turned on its head, and shaken fiercely like a snow globe, what happens next is unknown and unpredictable.

People freak out. Peace of mind about coronavirus seems somewhat rare.

Maybe you’ve encountered some people who are freaking out. Perhaps you’re one of them. If you are, keep reading. I’m about to get to the good stuff.

I used to to freak out a lot more often. I still do sometimes, but I’ve learned something – it doesn’t help me. I’ll go on a limb and boldly assert that it doesn’t help you, either.

I can’t think of a single time that panicking about something helped me in the slightest to achieve a solution. What does come to mind, is plenty of times I’ve squandered precious time in the midst of a panic episode. When I finally calmed down, I still had a mountain in front of me to conquer, I was just lacking the time I had wasted on panicking.

Can you relate to that?

As I’m writing this self-therapy session (thank you for peeking in the windows to offer moral support), I’m thinking of the application to the covid-19 craze in which we find ourselves in this first half of 2020.

I’m not freaking out. Surprisingly, I’m cool, calm, and collected about this whole thing. How is that possible?

An aside, before you get riled up about that outlandish statement. That does not insinuate that I am not taking the threat seriously, or that I am being flippant about the precautions. I am, and I am not, respectively.

Why I have peace of mind about coronavirus

The peace I have deep in my heart is not one that I manufactured due to mindfulness or the reading of some self-help guru. Rather it is through something known as “the peace that surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Through a lifetime of reading about what God has revealed about Himself and His ways in the pages of the Bible, I have gotten to know Him in a more meaningful way. It has changed everything about the way I do life.

In the pages of scripture, I learn that God

Is sovereign over all (Psalm 115:3, Daniel 4:25b, Psalm 135:6)

… Is always accomplishing His purposes (Isaiah 46:9-10)

… Has an extravagant, costly, sacrificial love for us* (John 3:16, Romans 8:35-39)

… The us* mentioned above applies to those who love Him in return

This particular point has been hotly debated for all of human history, and I’m surely not going to settle the matter in one blog post. So I’ll just leave it there for your consideration and pray that you look into it for yourself to determine whether it is correct. I’d suggest starting by reading all of Romans 8-9.

… Provides His children with everything they need (hint: it is a lot less than we think, and not what we think) (2 Peter 1:3, Philippians 4:19, Matthew 7:11)

… Is always with us, giving us comfort through the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:20, Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Peter 5:7)

Through the years of having these truths worked into the fabric of my heart and soul through Bible reading, preaching, and life experience, I have come to realize that there is no reason to fear.

Make no mistake, I still have fears. Anxiety still gets the best of me — more than I care to admit. Still, the calming promises of peace from God become more normal, the more I walk with Him.

So what does that mean for me?

“That’s great for you, Summer,” perhaps you’re thinking. What about for those of us who don’t have our head in the clouds?

First of all, I’ll let that condescending remark slide and ask you – why are you allowing the troubles of this world to bother you?

Why settle for fear when you can have peace?

Is it prudent to look to fallen, sinful humans for hope, when you can rest in the assurance of the Almighty?

Why shake your fist at God, and ask, “how could You allow this to happen?” instead of acknowledging that everything you have is a gift from Him (James 1:17) and respond with repentance, gratitude and humility? (Romans 1:18-22)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” – Proverbs 9:10

That’s what.

Here’s why I’m telling you this

I write this post because I care deeply about you. Even if we’ve never met. I have a burning desire for you to experience the peace and joy that I have, regardless of what life brings.

It is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s offensive to the secular mind. Even to a lot of religious minds.

I care about you enough to offend you if it means you’ll honestly examine yourself in light of God’s law and eternity.

Let me know with a comment if you have any questions, concerns, gripes or disagreements. I welcome them all. Thank you for reading!

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in youβ€”unless indeed you fail the test?” – 2 Corinthians 13:5

“Jesus *said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”‘ – John 14:6

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The Upsides of Social Distancing: An Introverted Entrepreneur’s Take

The following is a tale of the upsides of “social distancing” as an introverted entrepreneur.

If you would have told me, even a month ago, that the current state of affairs would be the case in the dealing with the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic, I would not have believed you. Would you have believed you?

And yet, here we are. Basically on lock down for at least two weeks. I see the wisdom of all the shutdowns and cancellations. Honestly, I don’t mind it.

I know extroverts and otherwise highly social people that are getting stir crazy right now, and I feel compassion for them. This must be terrible.

For me, as a solopreneur/entrepreneur who also happens to be an introvert, I personally am embracing this “social distancing” with fervor. I’ll briefly share why.

An inside look at the insanity

As a new business owner, who also has a side gig to help pay the bills, regular networking activities, a husband and two cats at home, volunteer work, and active involvement with friends and family, I feel perpetually behind. All the time. I would imagine that is a feeling shared by many, not just business owners. I get it. That is life in the 21st century.

But when I work late into the evenings, all day on Saturday and part of the day on Sunday (which I most often do), and still feel like I barely made a dent in my to-do list of business and housework tasks, it can feel like a hamster running on a wheel. Always moving, but never going anywhere.

I have big dreams and ideas of things I want to do for my business … just never enough time.

The introvert admission

Jump to Thursday, March 12, 2020. That’s when the closure announcements started rolling in like the frothy foam on a breaking ocean wave. As meeting after meeting, event after event got cancelled, my calendar went from fuller than I care for to very empty.

And I love it.

What better time to start chipping away at those big projects that never get started because I know they will take hours of time that I can’t seem to find? Why not use those windows of time that are committed to meetings, and get some reading or cleaning done? Or sleep in?

I have, and I will continue to do so, thank you very much.

As for the missing social interaction … I can’t say I’m missing it. πŸ™‚ I love my friends and family dearly, and I look forward to seeing them again soon. However, for this over-scheduled introvert, a forced break is like a sigh of relief.

Since my business is new, and my client load has room for growth, I’m in a position of not having to worry too much about loss of income. I’d have to have some in order to lose it. πŸ˜‰ (I do have some, but my side gig is still my primary source for now.)

In conclusion

I’m grateful that I can work online. As long as clients can pay, my work goes on.

It is a treat that social media allows us to stay connected digitally, even when we aren’t meeting in person. If this would have happened 15 years ago, we’d be in a lot worse shape on many fronts.

It is a blessing in disguise to have extra unanticipated free time. I am trying to make the most of it.

I’m sure as this quarantine stretches out, I’ll start to get cabin fever and be ready to hang out with people again. Until then, this social distancing as an introverted entrepreneur is like a dream come true. How are you coping with the quarantine? Are you having cabin fever yet? Getting projects done? Please leave a comment with your thoughts!

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4 Marketing Trends for 2020: My Takeaways from Social Media Marketing World

I just spent six glorious days in lovely San Diego, California. Having completed my Bachelor’s degree there, it felt like coming home again. Well, at least home to the place I had the privilege of living for 2.5 years but had to move back to my actual home immediately after because I couldn’t afford to stay in Southern California. πŸ˜‰

The primary purpose of my trip was business — attending Social Media Marketing World, a conference I’ve had my eye on since 2012, but never could quite make it. Now that I work primarily for myself, I pounced on the opportunity to attend. As an entrepreneur who makes my living helping small businesses with copywriting and social media, I would be crazy to not attend one of the most prestigious conferences in that arena if it were within my grasp to do so.

The conference was three days, bringing me to the sweet secondary purpose of the trip. Pleasure, of course. My dear friend Kim relocated to San Diego county a little over a year ago and the ability to visit and stay with her is what made the trip a no-brainer. Furthermore, I have some friends from college days who still live in the area, so I figured I might be able to sneak in a visit with them also.

For the sake of making this post more palatable to folks who don’t know me, and are interested mainly in my takeaways from the conference, I’ll start with those. Some personal stories will be sprinkled in after that. You’re welcome. πŸ™‚

Preconference deluge

To preface my takeaways, I’ll admit that I was a little overwhelmed before I even set foot in the San Diego Convention Center. The SMMW team puts an incredible amount of strategic forethought into making the conference as exceptional as possible for the attendees. That begins WEEKS before the conference.

First, they invite you to join the Facebook community group, which is full of separate chat groups with dozens, if not hundreds, of niche industries and interests. The organizers constantly engage the massive group with questions and helpful topics for the uninitiated.

Then there’s the app. I’d never attended a conference where you can plan out your agenda in advance on the app. Within the app, there are similarly dozens of separate strings of conversation happening.

This newbie was inundated with a flood of information. It was a lot to take in. However, it all served a purpose: to give attendees every opportunity to come prepared, and ready to connect with others. That became clearer as the conference got underway.

Setting the scene

Upon walking into the Convention Center, the great effort to set the mood for a party was quite apparent. Loud, lively music playing, and smiling staff members in branded t-shirts ready to direct you and answer any questions. There was even a dance team/flash mob that entertained the scores of folks eagerly anticipating the conference kickoff.

#smmw20

The Social Media Marketing World flash mob!

The networking plaza … and a humorous encounter

Corresponding to the many chat genres in the Facebook group, the networking plaza had a table set up for each one. Industry niches (e.g. tourism, media, entrepreneurs), personal interests, various industry topics … there were dozens of themed tables where you could join a conversation with like-minded individuals.

There was so much going on at all hours each day that I under-utilized that resource. I knew I wanted to make an appearance at the introvert table — I’d had some amusing convos with fellow introverts in that chat spot on the FB group, and I thought it would be fun to meet some of them in person.

When I finally had the chance to swing by the table on the last day, this is what I found:

#smmw20

OK, so no one feels like gathering to talk, evidently! πŸ™‚

We introverts can be an elusive bunch, so I got a good chuckle out of that.

Now, onto my top four takeaways for marketing from #SMMW20:

1. I’ve got to include video in my marketing plan. Video is the way of the future. Get cracking!

This has been on my radar as a marketer for a few years. It’s been widely reported that social platforms reward video (especially live video) with greater reach than text, even text with pictures included.

I have endless excuses to not do video. I’ve used them regularly. I’ve been incrementally doing more video content, but it has been very irregular. After several of the sessions, most notably the statistics-rich keynote from Mike Stelzner (CEO of Social Media Examiner), I realize it is time to put my excuses to rest and GET ON IT.

As a side note, after the second day of the conference, I found myself wide awake the majority of the night, thinking about all the things I was learning … and processing a new focus for my business, which is quite exciting! I’ll share details on that soon.Β  A lot of research and planning to do in the meantime.

2. I need to put prices for my services on my website.

Marcus Sheridan, the closing keynote speaker, made a very compelling case for posting prices on my website. This is something I’ve thought about but not gotten around to.

Sheridan had the audacity to call out my primary excuse. It goes something like this: “I can’t put prices on my website, because every customer has a unique situation with a custom quote required.” He cited that very thing. Ouch.

He made a compelling case for posting those prices, backed with data and compelling self-examination revealing that:

  • Posting prices increases the chances of getting business.
  • I might be losing business with people who come to my site looking for prices and move on when they don’t find them.
  • Having prices available builds credibility and trust.
  • The excuse that my competitors may get my business if I am too expensive is bunk. Competitors don’t pay my bills, so why let the fear of them reduce customers’ trust in me?

3. Storytelling, and similarly, telling my story, is a critical piece to my marketing.

We are all drawn into stories. Folding stories into the fabric of my marketing draws people in. Furthermore, to loosely quote Marcus Sheridan, “the world needs to hear what life has taught you.” It was great to be reminded of this.

4. It is not about me. It is about my customers. Solving their problems is key.

I know this. Hearing it repeated over and over in different ways, by multiple speakers, gave it a fresh spin to get through my thick skull.

Skip self-promotion. Cut straight to the chase of addressing the customer’s problem (preferably, with the use of a good story when appropriate) and make a clear case for how I will solve it.

There is an abundance of additional takeaways and minutiae that I could include, but that is the top four.

Now, onto the personal fun stuff. πŸ™‚

I flew into San Diego Friday morning, so I could hang out with my friend and gracious host Kim Friday and Saturday before the conference started on Sunday.

With a few hours to kill before she got off work, I made a beeline to the beach to grab lunch at a spot I’d been meaning to try out since my last visit to the area. Pacific Beach Alehouse did not disappoint.

Pacific Beach Alehouse

The view from the deck of Pacific Beach Alehouse. πŸ™‚

Friend shenanigans included a trip to a local winery and a lovely hike at the oceanfront Torrey Pines State Reserve — another item on the to-do list for quite some time.

Torrey Pines State Reserve hiking

Coming from the drippy Pacific NW winter, I was eager to rock a tank top in March.

As it turned out, I was also able to connect with two of my college girlfriends for lunch right before catching my flight home. I located a New Zealand themed restaurant near our target area, and my friends were gracious enough to agree to meet there. My enthusiasm for all things Kiwi has been bubbling over since my trip there in January 2019 — which you can read about here.

Dunedin New Zealand Eats

L to R: Alicia, yours truly, Jen. I also heartily recommend “Dunedin New Zealand Eats” if you are in San Diego.

Dunedin New Zealand Eats

Dunedin New Zealand Eats — a great spot

All in all, I had a wonderful time. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn an incredible amount of things that will not only help me grow my business but will enable me to provide greater value to the clients I serve.

It is always a treat to spend time with dear friends as well.

Thanks for reading this post! If you attended Social Media Marketing World, I’d love to hear your takeaways also.

If you didn’t, please let me know if you have any questions about social media marketing that I can answer for you. I look forward to sharing my knowledge!

 

 

 

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May I Have Your Opinion? (Favorite Topics & A Quandary)

Dearest Reader,

I’m working through a bit of a challenge in my posting topics, and I wanted to ask your opinion.

This has historically been a variety blog. I write about whatever topics come to mind. Christian discipleship topics are what most often fill the pages; I delight to write about what I am learning as I study God’s word, read and listen to biblical exposition and live out my faith. With my primary goal of bringing glory to the one true, triune God of scripture, those topics are near to my heart and mind.

My challenge, however, is this: I have two conflicting principles I am trying to reconcile.

1) The conventional wisdom for blogging is that one should focus on a niche and write consistently on that topic. The reasoning is that by doing so, you not only have the potential to be regarded as an expert and thought leader on that topic – which can lead to other business opportunities – but that it is the surest way to grow your blog readership because generalist blogs are a thing of the past. People seek out niche content.

I agree with that and see the wisdom in that philosophy.

However …

2) I love variety too much. I even wrote about it. In addition to Christian discipleship/biblical topics, I also dabble in productivity, lifehacks, health, fitness, recreation, travel, humor, and miscellaneous matters of culture and politics.

I’ll be honest – I don’t like the idea of picking just one genre.

Recently, I recorded a video on social media soliciting the opinions of my friends and followers regarding this challenge about what type of posts they like to read from me. I got a mixed bag of feedback.

I thought it appropriate to open up the question directly to my beloved readers (maybe I should have done that first!). I share most of my posts on social media, which does open it up to more people. The majority of my readership comes from subscribers, search engines, and some who happen to find my posts in their WordPress feed.

So, what do you think?

Which type of topics do you most enjoy, of those I mentioned above? I’d greatly appreciate your feedback. If you are reading this, it means that you are one of the “founding readers” of this blog. I want to hear what interests you and what type of posts you’d like to see more of. (Even if they include sentences that end with a preposition.)

Yes, I’d like to grow the readership of this blog beyond a handful of family, friends and random social media people. The search engines make that possible, but it is a slow journey to significant traction. Yet, I’d also like to write for the people who have supported me since the beginning – YOU.

I’d love your candid feedback not only on the post topics you like but on the quandary of whether to niche down or keep the variety. Your opinion is important to me!

As always, thank you so much for reading. I really appreciate it!

Posted in Blogging, Opinion, Random | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

How Long is it Appropriate to Leave Up Your Christmas Tree?

This is a question I’ve seen circulating on social media, and something I wonder about every year.

Some type A folks take down their tree on December 26th without fail. To me, that is too soon. It actually stings a little to think about it.

Others leave it up for New Year’s, then promptly remove it on January 2nd. Good on them for being so efficient.

I always aim to take mine down the weekend after New Year’s. It rarely happens.

To provide excruciating sentimentality to the mix, I wrestle with this dilemma…

… taking down our tree is like giving up on the joy, cheer, and delight of the Christmas season.

… We wait all year for Christmas. Having the tree up for only 2-3 weeks just isn’t enough!

… In the Pacific Northwest, November – March is pretty dreary weather. Breaking that up is the “holiday season.” After January 1st, we have nothing but cold and rain to look forward to … for MONTHS. Taking down the tree is an acknowledgment that you accept the fact that WINTER IS HERE. It feels like admitting defeat.

I understand the mindset of the December 26th crowd, but I just can’t get on board with it.

As of January 11, 2020, our tree is still up, and I am enjoying its beauty as I write this.

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The answer to the question, “How Long is it Appropriate to Leave Up Your Christmas Tree?” comes down to this: as long as you want.

Since I didn’t get around to taking it down last weekend as I intended, I am now engaging in the “peel the band-aid off slowly or tear it off?” debate, Christmas tree style.

Judge me if you want. I’ll just scoff while I sit down on the couch with a tasty beverage and watch some Netflix … with my lovely tree as the backdrop.

When do you take your Christmas tree down?

Posted in Christmas, Holidays, Opinion | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A “New and Improved” Way to Tackle the New Year

Is that title presumptuous enough for you? I sure hope so, because I worked hard to make it that way.

OK, maybe I didn’t. But it is still bordering on presumptuous.

In all honesty, “A ‘New and Improved’ Way to Tackle the New Year” is just my seemingly self-important way of saying, “Hey — I discovered something that I like better than the old way of doing things.”

And that new way is simply this:

Rather than put pressure on myself to be fully prepared for the new year on January 1 —

— the previous year’s activities and progress analyzed

— the new year’s goals fully written out, with a rock-solid action plan included

— stirring up dust from a flurry of productivity, off to the races

… I decided that New Year’s Day is just another day. My new outlook is treating all of January as “New Year’s Month.”

That is to say, use the whole month as a springboard to start fresh. Take time to thoughtfully evaluate each aspect of life — personal, spiritual, health, relationships, business — and methodically determine what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to change.

With New Year’s Day coming as the third and final holiday in the “season” we in western culture are all pretty overloaded with activities and to-dos during the fourth quarter. All year, actually.

As I get older and more in sync with how I work best, I’ve realized that as a laid-back introvert, I move at a slower pace mentally than your classic type-A extrovert. I need more time to process and evaluate things.

In order to even begin processing things, I need to decompress from the busyness. That is a step that I can’t skip if I want to continue being effective. I need peace and quiet to be alone with my thoughts. That helps me unclutter my mind. Only then can I begin to work towards my strategic planning.

There is a whole lot of noise and fuss that goes on in the media space about the hubbub of starting fresh on January 1. That’s great, and there is no problem with that.

I’ve come to realize that a lot of that stuff is propagated by type-A extroverts who have programming to fill, or media content to create. That doesn’t mean that I need to blindly follow their lead.

Neither do you.

If you are one of those types, more power to you. I used to think I was. If you’re already moving 100 miles per hour, go you.

I’m just simply introducing the realization I had that we are all free to do things the way that works best for us as individuals. It was kind of a big deal for me to come to that conclusion.

How do you do your New Year planning?

 

Posted in Advice, Opinion, Productivity, Professional Development, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

2019: Year in Review

I’ve come to appreciate that each year is unique in its own way. Though many things remain the same year over year, different themes and challenges emerge each lap the earth takes around the sun.

As such, I thought it fitting to document an overview of 2019. It did not disappoint in terms of uniqueness among the years. I recognize that this type of post is most relevant to a small group of readers: those who care about the minutiae of my activities. This is written for them, and for me. Lord willing, if I am still around in 15 or 20 years, this post will serve as a memorial to the year and all its happenings. So without further delay, I’ll jump in.

On a personal note, 2019 started out in dramatic fashion with the stuff my dreams are made of, with a trip to the magnificently beautiful south island of New Zealand. You can see pics and stories at this post. It was difficult to put into words the beauty we beheld there, but that post is my attempt to capture it.

Upon our return, we welcomed into our home two adorable sister-kittens (from the same litter) which were up for adoption from a family in our church. Marge and Velma added double trouble fuzzy delightfulness and filled the hole in our hearts left by Toonces, our 16-year-old cat who we’d put down last fall.

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Marge (left) and Velma chillaxin, like cats do. They sure grow up fast!

On the business front, a significant happening in 2019 was the realization of my long-held dream of starting my own business. For a bit of background info, check here. SummerTime Communications is my freelance writing/social media management/marketing consultant company. It has been a wild adventure forming and learning how to run, a solopreneur enterprise. I’ve tackled many challenges and will continue to do so as I move forward in my business endeavors.

I’m grateful to my friend and boss Larry White, who has provided me a flexible part-time job these last two years as I work towards my business providing a full-time income for me.

Just as I wrote about in my 2018 year-end summary, 2019 was full of foreign-to-me freedom; the freedom of time. I love it every bit as much as I thought I would.

The reality of entrepreneurship

Though my time was not under the control of a 40+ hour office job, as in my entire previous career, I found that owning my own business meant a new kind of freedom — the freedom to work seven days per week, with unlimited hours. Tee hee hee. Other business owners will know what I am talking about.

Replacing the stress of working 9-6 and occasional evenings and weekends was the responsibility of completing client projects, figuring out price structures and contract details, overcoming technical difficulties, and delivering work on time and in a manner about which I can be proud. Regardless of how long it takes.

I spent the majority of my weekends either doing client work or necessary administrative tasks for my company. I’ve always tried not to work on Sundays, but I found that work crept its way even to the Lord’s day during deadline-intensive periods.

No more hiding behind a company, delegating to other employees, or blaming a boss for anything. As a one-woman shop, it is all on me to get it done and do it right. Every new project meant building a template (both in the document and in the process) from the ground up. This is where, in retrospect, I’m glad I spent so many years working for small bootstrapping companies. My years of experience inventing processes and creating corresponding documents have come in quite handy.

My husband Mike has long held a side business as a watercolor painter in addition to full-time work, so he was understanding about his workaholic wife.

Different, but not worse

As I opined in my summer 2019 summary post, our normal recreation-packed third quarter saw less outdoor adventure and more, you guessed it — working. Yet, we still had plenty of fun. We also recognize that this is the stage of life we are in now. We’re both hustling to build our small businesses, to make them more profitable for the future.

Somehow it feels a lot less like work when we’re doing it for ourselves instead of a corporation, and endeavoring to make our passions pay more of the bills.

So in a crude summary, 2019 can be largely boiled down to New Zealand, kittens, and working.

When I put it that way, it sounds pretty good actually. I have no complaints about the year. I am extremely grateful that we have had the opportunity to travel, pursue our business dreams, and have a couple cute cats at home to boot. God has truly been kind and merciful to us, and we give Him the praise and glory for His generous provisions.

What word or sentence would you use to describe YOUR 2019?

 

 

Posted in Blogging, Opinion, Professional Development, Random, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Maybe Things Aren’t as Bad as We Think: An Optimist’s Take on Political Incivility

In the United States of America, we are more divided as a nation than at any time in recent history. While I wasn’t personally alive during the Civil War (despite what small children might think regarding my ancient status), my knowledge of it makes me conclude that the deep divisions in ideology were also largely geographical. That is the north vs the south. So people were living in areas that were removed from political opponents.

Not so today.

We now get to rub elbows with those who hold opposite views from us on all matters political and cultural. We aren’t separated geographically.

So what are we to do, and how are we to behave in light of this?

First of all, I would like to point to what I consider three of many culprits in the rapid destruction of civil discourse in America:

  1. 24-hour cable news
  2. Social media
  3. Shrinking critical thinking

Like it or not, both of these items play a major role not only in the sheer volume of information we take in but in how that information is presented to us.

In the case of cable news, the networks have to fill air time around the clock. No easy task. Somewhere since CNN first launched in 1980 as the first cable news network, to today, the options have multiplied and slowly but surely shaken off the veneer of objectivity for which journalists used to strive.

As observant people will readily tell you, each cable news network has a distinct political leaning. CNN, which started out as more objective, has now positioned itself firmly to the left. MSNBC also leans left, and Fox News is where you go to get conservative takes on the news.

With cable news, we can tune into the network that shares our ideology, and get a never-ending stream of news coverage and commentary that is presented in a way that advances a particular agenda while ignoring, belittling or even demonizing opposing viewpoints.

With social media, we customize our feeds to follow people, news sources and organizations who give us the content we want. We digest the viewpoints of thought leaders we champion, cheer on their hot takes, and disparage those they do.

We can fine-tune our media consumption to take in only that which supports our pre-conceived ideas about how the world works or should work. To put it bluntly, it is far too easy for us to passively take in an overflow of information – much of which is biased – and not stop to think about what we are taking in or critically analyze anything.

That is not a healthy or productive way to exist, in my opinion.

Just as children that are over-parented and protected from every germ, injury or trauma they might experience in their formative years can be subject to crippled coping skills in the real world, young adults and beyond that are shielded from opposing viewpoints are left with a dangerously incomplete understanding of life and the human experience.

The result? At best, stunted interpersonal and potentially damaged relationships. Complicating this is when we only receive caricatures of the other side’s view, which can be slanted or inaccurate.

Compounding the problem further is what seems to be a rapid disappearance of critical thinking skills and an increased absence of fact-based reasoning, in favor of emoting or “thinking with feelings” at the expense of logical evaluation. That is the subject of another post or series of posts.

This is the set up to the situation at hand. With that, I’ll introduce …

My thesis

Here is my thesis, stated as a question: What if the state of the national discourse is not as bad as we think? That is, what if it is not as divisive as the news media would like us to believe it is? What is the possibility that we are all getting played?

My answers are: it might not be, and it is quite likely.

I don’t spend much brain power ruminating on conspiracy theories, but I do have a reasonable belief that the individuals who run media companies have an agenda. Most people do, so why would a media CEO and his or her board of directors be any different? Furthermore, I find it reasonable to conclude that those who own platforms have a real and vested interest in using them to further their agenda, whatever that may be.

Playing into the equation is the fact that humans are easily influenced by what they see, read and hear. That is neither good nor bad, it just is. The observation has been made that we are like sheep (which are not particularly bright animals), looking for a shepherd. We are looking for a voice to guide us; a source of inspiration and leadership. When we find one that resonates with us, we are likely to follow it.

Then things can get complicated. Well, either over-complicated or under-complicated depending on your perspective. Once we’ve found an influence we admire, we have a tendency to cling to it loyally and put aside objective reasoning. I think often we do so without even realizing it. I know I do sometimes. We eat up the words of our favorite pundit, retweet and share without stopping to critically analyze the truth factor in what they say.

All those aforementioned things in play, in my observation, work together to drive a divide between us that may be artificial; certainly not as deep as we may think it is.

For example

To demonstrate my theory, let’s take a real-life scenario. Pretend with me that you wake up late one day. Running behind, you don’t take the time to check your phone, fire up your home computer, or turn on the TV. In other words, you don’t let media intrude into your world.

As you stop at the coffee shop and chat with the barista, or step into a store or restaurant to grab something for breakfast, do you randomly pick a political fight with those you encounter? If you answered yes, I’m sorry.

I’m hoping and assuming the answer is no for the majority of readers.

The point? We are not naturally prone to argue with strangers over our differences. Apart from the influence of media, we are apt to engage with one another as humans, not as political enemies.

That person I enchanged friendly banter with as I walked past them on the street, could very well be someone whose ideology diminishes my hope for the world. They might think the same about me if they saw what I tweet about.

My plea

My eternal optimism sees that each of us, beyond our ideologies, is someone who needs to be loved, wants to belong, and craves acceptance and community. To get spiritual (because that is what I do), we are all made in God’s image. As we read in James 3, it is contrary to God’s intent for us to tear one another down, while at the same time giving lip service to honoring our Creator.

Here is my plea: let us act like humans toward one another, not like caricatures of what we believe our political enemies are.

How can we do that?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Identify someone who has opposite viewpoints from you, and ask them questions honestly. No ax to grind, no judgment. Find out what they believe and why. Perhaps you’ll find that their motives are better than you thought.
  • Make an active practice of looking people in the eyes and smiling at them – especially people you wouldn’t normally talk to.
  • Assume that you can learn something from everyone. You can’t truly know what the other side believes until you talk to enough people and understand where they are coming from well enough to articulate their viewpoint fairly to someone else, without putting a biased spin on it.
  • What would you add to this list?

I personally know many people I have a lot of respect for who have radically different political leanings than I do. I can sense that we aren’t as close in an era when political grievances get aired publicly on social media. Or maybe it is a perception on my part only. Regardless, I still value them as people and should take my own advice above.

Call me an optimist, or an idealist. I simply insist on believing that our common humanity, when we emphasize that, can lead to greater unity,Β  in the real world and out from behind screens.

Posted in Advice, Opinion, Political Musings, Self-Improvement, Social | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments