Archive for the ‘Success & Productivity’ Category

7 things I learnt from hiring content writers

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Over at Worfolk Anxiety, we have an anxiety blog. Every Monday a new post is published. I have tried to up my game on this. A lot of the articles are over 1,000 words and I have done some deep dives on the problems and solutions I have encountered to provide valuable stuff.

However, writing a lot of quality content every week is tough, especially when you have other projects on the go. Therefore, I decided to try hiring some content writers to fill in a few gaps. 90% of the content is still written by me, but every month or so I may use an article written by someone else.

What did I learn from doing this?

You get impersonal content

When I wrote for the blog, I explore specific topics. I include personal stories. Indeed, the post is often based on something that has come up in my own life and I then expand into a well-researched article.

With content writers, you do not get this. They write from a more objective standpoint. This can be of benefit: sometimes it is good to have a fact-based article and does not wander into personal stories. Most of the time, though, people engage more with personal content. So the usefulness of such content is limited.

The content is more generic

When I select a topic for the blog, it is very specific. I write about one area of anxiety in a lot of detail. Sometimes, it is not even that related: maybe it is being productive when you have anxiety, for example.

Content writers take more of a broad remit. They will pick a large sub-section of the topic and write about that. This is because they are not familiar with the types of topics you cover on your blog. I sent them the link, but given the deadlines they face, it is unfair to expect them to read the entire blog. Therefore, they cannot get into the same gritty detail that you can.

They don’t include references

They all claim that they include references, but they never do. However, if you send it back to them asking them to put the references in, they will.

You sometimes get what you pay for

I tried a variety of price points to see what the quality differences were. At the low end, I hired someone to write an article for $6. On the other end, I paid someone $36. Did the quality differ? Yes, but not drastically. The cheaper writers were not terrible and the expensive writers were not amazing.

You do not save that much time

While hiring a writer does cut out a lot of the research and writing time, it causes management and editing time. When I received the articles back I had to check them for content and spelling quantity, then convert it into the format my CMS was expecting it in. This took a lot of time.

You need to use a spellchecker

I ran their articles through Grammarly. If there were a lot of mistakes, I sent it back to them to correct.

You need to be honest with them

One of the articles I was sent was rubbish. So I told her. Not in those exact words: I was gentle and gave specific feedback about the standards I was expecting. Nevertheless, telling someone their work is not up to scratch is an uncomfortable experience.

However, when I did, she was eager to re-write and improve the article. When I received the second draft, it was excellent, and I was able to honestly give per a positive review.

Conclusion

Hiring external writers has advantages and disadvantages. It does save you some time. However, it increases management time and gives you content that it not as good as you could write yourself. That is delegation, though: it is never as good as doing it yourself but allows you to do more.

How to beef up your YouTube channel (if you have a podcast)

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Recently, I was putting together a YouTube channel for Worfolk Anxiety. The problem? I did not have many videos. I could have released a lot of our content up-front, but I wanted to put it out on a regular schedule as doing this achieves more engagement.

It also means that all of our content is the same format.

Instead, I decided to leverage some of the work I have already been doing. The Worfolk Anxiety Podcast has been running since last year and now has a small archive of episodes with more scheduled to come out every two weeks.

So, I look the podcasts and re-encoded them as videos.

I put together a title card, which, as you can see, is just a simple image with some text directing people to the podcast URL. Then I combined it with the audio to make a video I could upload.

Doing this for every episode would be time-consuming, Instead, I picked out a few select episodes and named them “best of the podcast”. Doing this allows me to upload a bunch of videos without creating any more content. If it turns out to be a useful acquisition channel for the podcast, we can do more work on it then. For now, I see it as a showcase of the best that will direct people towards subscribing using their usual podcast app.

No traffic jams

Sunday, January 29th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

I hope there is at least a service station with a KFC…

How to be more productive

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Over the holiday period, Freakonomics Radio was rebroadcasting old episodes. One of which was how to be more productive. I had already listened to the episode once, but it felt like the kind of topic you could always use a refresher on.

On the episode, Dubner interviews Charles Duhigg (great surname, right?), author of The Power of Habit. In the book, Duhigg tries to boil down what are the universal aspects of people who are successful in achieving their goals.

Interesting, he starts by dismissing an idea many of us may consider important: having one goal and solely focusing on that. Duhigg explains that he only wanted things that everyone agreed on. A single goal was not one of them. Many people would say “you have to focus on one goal: it’s essential.” But others would say “you have to be flexible, you cannot commit yourself to one goal.”

So what does make the list?

  1. Self-motivation: making a decision to do something helps trigger this
  2. Focus: training yourself to focus on the right things and ignore everything else
  3. Goal-setting: you need a big stretch goal which is your ultimate objective, and then a short-term goal that you can action tomorrow morning
  4. Decision-making: think probabilistically, considering the outcomes and weighing how likely they are to occur
  5. Innotvation: take cliches and mix them together in new ways; being interdisaplinary can help with this
  6. Absorbing data:
  7. Managing others: give the problem to the person closest to it
  8. Teams: who is on a team matters more than what the team does

Those are the eight characteristics Duhigg finds consistent across successful people.

As for how many projects you should be working on, the answer seems to be enough to make things interesting, but not so many that you cannot devote enough time to each. The people who are most productive work on 4-5 projects. Critically, these should all be different so that it teaches you new skills.

Work email rules

Friday, January 13th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Want to free up a couple of minutes of productive time in the office? My friend John taught me this email rule, and it is worth implementing…

Anyone who puts two exclamation marks in the subject line is not someone whose emails you need to read.

Eating a frog

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

There is a Mark Twain quote:

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

This is because your motivation is strongest in the morning, and fades throughout the day. Therefore, you need to start with the task of most resistance on your to-do list. You will only have less motivation later.

My advice is to make sure you imagine that your job is to eat a live frog. I am not sure Twain realised that cooked frogs are actually quite tasty.

How to have more productive teams

Sunday, July 24th, 2016 | Success & Productivity

team-work

A few years ago Google set about to find out what made their best teams so effective. There were loads out outcomes and I won’t do justice to many of them, but below I have pulled out a few of the ones I found the most important, or most surprising.

Gossip is good

Ever walk into a meeting and find the first ten minutes are just people gossiping and talking about their weekend? It feels incredibly unproductive. And you would be correct in thinking that: in the short term. However, it turns out that bonding time like this is actually good for the team in the long term.

Having time to chat and discuss each other’s personal lives builds better team relationships, which makes the team more effective in the long run.

Psychological safety

This is super important. Julia Rozovsky from Google ranks it has the number one factor in building effective teams. It determines whether people feel they can speak out and suggest ideas without being made to feel like an idiot.

If you can foster this atmosphere then everyone will contribute ideas and you will get more of them. If not, people will not want to speak out, and you will not get the same range of experience or creativity.

Regular one to ones

Effective managers sit down with their colleagues on a regular basis for one to ones. This allows feedback to pass both ways in an environment away from the rest of the team, allowing people to air their concerns and be a bit more honest than they might want to be in a group situation.

Include everyone in meetings

In many meetings, you will find one or two people who sit there for the whole meeting without saying anything. This does not mean that they have nothing to contribute: they almost certainly do. Prompting them to get involved.

How to have more grit

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016 | Success & Productivity

woman-running

One of the most common things people would like to improve about themselves is having more self-control. Sticking power. Or, as Stephen Dubner puts it, “grit”. In a recent episode of his radio show, he interviewed a number of experts to find what the common factors were for people who had good sticking power.

Interest

It sounds obvious, but you really have to have a passion for what you are doing. You can force your child to take piano lessons, but they are only ever going to be a great pianist if they fall in love with the piano. Interest does not have to be immediate, but it does need to develop over time.

Deliberate practice

To learn a skill you need to do plenty of deliberate practice. See my recent post about what makes good practice. The secret: you don’t have to love it, but you do have to love the field. I often feel like piano is pointless because I dislike practising. However, I do enjoy playing piano overall, I just don’t like the hard stuff. That’s okay apparently, even experts don’t love the hard stuff that much.

Have a purpose

This is more than just a goal: it is a reason for doing what you are doing. Ideally, this should be outside of yourself. For example, running would seem like a selfish thing to do. However, if you put a goal on it that involves other people, and wider society, you are more likely to stick at it. After all, there is benefit for others. A healthier, longer-lived you is a good thing for the people who love you, and it may be beneficial to remind yourself of that.

Replace nuance for novelty

I love this phrase. It is easy to get bored of something and move on to the next thing. The experts in a field are often the ones who manage to replicate that sense of novelty in the nuance of what they are doing. If you can find new fun in refining and exploring small sections of your craft, you will go far.

What makes good practice?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016 | Success & Productivity

woman-playing-violin

Anders Ericsson is a Swedish psychologist who researches why super talented people are so good at what they do. His research has formed the basis of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated. Whether you buy into their interpretation or not, it is clear that practice, specifically deliberate practice as Ericsson defines it, is a cornerstone of learning skills.

But what makes good practice? In an interview with Stephen J. Dubner he laid out some important points.

You should be focused and self-examining

Practice cannot simply be sloppy. You need to focus on what you are doing. You need to consider what you are doing and how you could improve. You need to be self-critical. That feedback needs to come straight away so that you can learn from it.

Once you are doing something on autopilot, you are no longer improving, Take driving for example. Once you can drive, you don’t really think about it. So it doesn’t matter if you have been driving 30 years, that doesn’t make you a better driver than someone who has been driving one year (unless you have really been focusing on improving your driving).

Ericcson quotes one study that shows that GPs who have been practicing for long periods are not better (actually they were worse) at diagnosing chest conditions than new doctors were. This is because those thirty years do not necessarily represent deliberate practice, and because the feedback they get on the accuracy of their diagnoses is not immediate.

It should be outside your comfort zone

If practice is fun, you are probably not doing it to the full effect. It is easy to fall into this trap. I regularly play my guitar, but often I just plan the songs I already know. This is not improving my guitar skills because I am not pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

You should have a teacher

You can self-teach, as many great musicians have. However, if you want to learn and practice in the most efficient way possible, you need a teacher. Someone who can give you external feedback, someone who already knows the ropes and is familiar with the established best-practice way of teaching a skill.

You should break it down

Your practice should have very specific goals. For example, just “playing some guitar” is not real practice. I need to practice a specific skill: timing, a riff, a certain technique. I need to focus in one particular area and come up with exercises to improve that in isolation, then later practice putting it all together.

Thinking about New Year’s resolutions? Read this first

Thursday, December 31st, 2015 | Success & Productivity

marathon

At this time of year, people often make New Year’s resolutions. Really, by definition, it is the only time you can do it.

I have never been very good at them. Not because I never stick to them, but because one of my few talents seems to be having some resolve. So when I decide to do something over the Christmas holidays, be it learning guitar or changing my diet, I just get on and do it without waiting for New Year to actually arrive.

Many other people fall into a different group. The one that devices to work on a weakness or eliminate a vice, and typically fail to stick to it. A study by Richard Wiseman suggested that 88% of people fail to keep them. If this is you, you could try again this year. However, as the old phrase goes, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.’

However, in The Happiness Hypothesis, a book I will be writing about in early January, Jonathan Haidt makes another suggestion. Work on your strengths. This probably should not be a novel suggestion, but thanks to society’s focus on self-improvement and being a well-rounded person, we tend to focus on our weaknesses so much that our strengths get overlooked.

This is something I have pondered for a while with Toastmasters. I am not very good at Table Topics. But, modesty aside, I am good at prepared speaking. I’ve already been to the UK & Ireland finals once. I could spend my time improving my Table Topics, and become an okay Table Topics speaker. However, do I need to be good at Table Topics? Spending time on my prepared speeches with the aim of going to the world finals seems a much more exciting prospect.

My own petty concerns aside, should Wayne Rooney work on his tennis, or John Grisham focus on advanced maths? Probably not. You don’t actually have to be good at everything; having one awesome skill may well be far more useful.

Utility aside though, there is a far more important reason that you should work on your strengths. That is that you are more likely to stick to it. Achieving your goals actually gives you very little reward or happiness. Yes it’s good, but probably not as good as you think it will be, and probably wears off quite quickly. To lead a truly fulfilling life, you have to enjoy the journey.

A weakness is probably a weakness because you do not enjoy it. Whether it is stopping drinking, starting exercises, or tackling your fear of public speaking, you are probably going to find that journey quite unpleasant. I am not saying do not tackle it, but do not be surprised if you soon find yourself giving up on it.

In contrast, if you make a resolution to do something you already love doing, taking it to the next level, you are far more likely to stick at it. This is important if you attach any esteem to following through on your New Year’s resolutions. So if you are planning to make them, do yourself a favour this year and pick a strength to work on.