The Art of the "Bare Minimum" or "The Baby Steps Approach" to Achieving Goals

Learning to Walk

I've noticed that when it comes to achieving my goals, I have a tendency to think I should "go big or go home." I want to work on my professional development, for example,  so I create for myself a long laundry list of things I "should" do, elaborate plans with multiple steps that will result in a major overhaul. I've also applied this thinking to personal goals--weight management, for example. 

The problem with this approach is that it's easy for me to just stop doing everything. I will become overwhelmed by what I've set in motion and after a few days or weeks of working my plan, something will come up and I will find myself chucking it all to go back to my former habits. 

I'm coming to believe, though, that it is the mini-steps I take that really move me forward. Tara Gentile calls this "the bare minimum."  We could also call them "baby steps."

Lately, instead of coming up with a major plan when I want to make something happen in my life, I'm taking a gentler approach, asking myself "What's the bare minimum I need to do  today to make this happen?" Sometimes I'll ask myself "what is ONE thing you can do today to move you just one step closer to that goal?" 

The bare minimum keeps me moving forward without making me crazy. It reminds me that any movement is better than no movement at all. This is especially helpful when I'm trying to integrate change into my life. 

 Of course your entire life can't be made up of "bare minimums." That's a recipe for mediocrity. But where I can, I'm seeing how the "bare minium" can keep me moving. I'm finding that eventually, all those baby steps get me where I'm going anyway. . . 


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Decluttering for Learning

World’s Messiest Office Cubicle Discovered in Colorado

I don't know about you, but sometimes my brain can begin to resemble an episode of Hoarders, crammed so full of junk that I barely have room to move around in it! When it gets this way, I tend to get overwhelmed. There isn't an ounce of brain power (or space) for learning. 

In my experience, we learn best when we have cleared an area for new ideas and skills to take root. This isn't just about forgetting a fact from middle school to make room for a work fact now. This is really about slowing our brains down, helping them to move processing power from our cluttered thoughts to the learning we want to gain. Decluttering also helps us become more productive because it improves our ability to focus. 

In the trainings and workshops I run, as well as in my own personal professional development, I try to include some kind of "decluttering" activities. Here are some that have worked well for me:

5-Minute Free Write

Take a piece of paper, set a timer for 5 minutes, and just write down whatever is flowing through your brain. This is stream of consciousness writing and it's an excellent way to clear clutter before embarking on a particular activity or to begin and end your day. I've also modified it to 3 minutes or as long as 10 minutes, depending on the audience. 

Morning Pages

Morning Pages expand the idea of stream of consciousness writing. Every morning, first thing, you write three pages--no more, no less. This is a technique borrowed from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and I've been doing it religiously for a few years now. With it, I'm able to start my day with a fresh approach (usually) and over time, it helps me to learn from patterns and trends in my thinking. 

List of 100

When I find myself fixated on a particular topic, I will sometimes do a List of 100. In this exercise, you simply write your question or topic at the top of a sheet of paper, and then you list 100 things related to it. These can be things that are bothering you about the issue, possible solutions or answers, whatever. It's just a way to force you to examine the issue in much greater detail. I've done Lists of 100 around particular fears or worries and found it to be a great way to defuse the topic. 

Box it Up

This is a strategy that works well for workshops, but that you could also do individually. I hand out pieces of paper or index cards and suggest that people write one thing that is cluttering up their mind on each piece of paper. They can do as many as they wish. I then collect the cards and put them in a box, telling people that they are welcome to take them back at the end of the session if they'd like. No one ever takes me up on the offer though. . . 

Visual De-Cluttering

One of my favorite tools is Christine Martell's VisualsSpeak Image Set. In face-to-face settings, I use the "hard copy" tools and in online workshops, I use her fabulous online Image Center. With both, I will ask people to select some images that represent a few of the things that are on their mind. Depending on time constraints, I may have them create a collage or just select some images. If they'd like, they are able to discuss with the group, and we talk about what they are "letting go of," to make room for learning in the session. 


I probably shouldn't say this, but sometimes this blog is a great de-cluttering tool. I'll have a bunch of ideas floating around in my brain that are driving me crazy as I try to find some coherence, something to DO with them. Having this blog as an outlet for my thoughts helps me de-clutter by organizing them into something that's (hopefully) more useful--kind of like turning garbage into art. And sharing these thoughts, even if they've been about things like feeling like dirt or being snowed under with work, has helped me to process them and remove them from my mind. I also find that I'm not alone and that it helps other people to know that my brain is as cluttered as their's is. 

Some Additional Ideas

These are some of the de-cluttering strategies I've had the most success using. For more ideas, check out these articles:

How do you declutter your brain? 

The Big Question: How Do You Spend Your Time?

Last night I had a quick IM chat with Christine Martell, who asked me when I planned to re-join the online community--her way of pointing out that I've had my G-talk status on "invisible" for several weeks now, haven't done a Twitter update in 16 days and have clearly been remiss in posting here. So it was serendipitous to find that the Learning Circuits Big Question this month is "how do you spend your time?" And more specifically:

  • What's a typical day like?
  • How much time do you spend and how did you find time for all the relatively newer things like reading blogs, twitter, social networks, etc.?
  • What are you doing less of today than you were 3-5 years ago?
  • Do you have less of a life with all of these new things?

Given that I've not been organizing myself very well, it seemed appropriate to use the big question as a sort of check on myself. Here goes.

A Typical Day
Currently, I have several major projects going on for about 5 clients. I'm doing everything from facilitating and developing a strategic plan to designing a couple of training programs and setting up client blogs and social networks. Most of these projects need to be finished by June 30, which is the end of my clients' budget year. This does not include the myriad administrative things hanging over my head that are necessary to keep my business going--little things like invoicing.

I'm generally at my desk by 6:15 a.m. every day. This is when I routinely violate one of the first rules of time management by checking my email as soon as I plop my butt into the chair. I continue the email violations by monitoring my inbox throughout the day, just so I know what's there. This doesn't mean that I respond right away, but I seem to have this need to at least know what's coming in.

From there, I go to Netvibes, where I catch up on any news stories and try to read at least a few blogs. Lately I've had less time for reading and NO time for commenting, which is not a healthy state of affairs. However, I'm considering this to be a time-limited situation that I hope gets better in a few weeks.

The rest of my day is taken up with client calls and meetings, emails, writing/designing and responding to the latest client fire. I have moved firmly out of any strategic use of my time and am currently dwelling in that place known as "crisis management."

I am trying very hard to be finished by 5:30. At that point my brain is fried anyway and we're dealing with the law of diminishing returns. I'm also trying to reserve mornings for thinking and writing and afternoons for calls and meetings.  I've been less successful with that.

Time for Social Media

When things were calmer in my working life, I spent a good amount of time (10-15 hours a week?) on nurturing my online connections, reading and writing blog entries, responding to and making comments, etc. Considering that I work alone from home, this served not only as professional development, but also as a way to feel less isolated. Since January, though, I have found I have less and less time for these pursuits--and it shows. I'm feeling less creative, less energized and less connected.

I've been trying to find ways to kill two birds with one stone--hence blog entries that started out as work for clients, for example--but this isn't always working. What I loved about my first few years of blogging was that they opened up so many doors, both creatively and in terms of connections. Now, social media has become more of a means to an end (i.e., wikis for managing my projects), rather than opportunities for learning and exploration, which is really a shame. The nature of my work right now just isn't lending itself to the freshness I so prize.

What's Different Now Compared to 3-5 Years Ago

The biggest difference in my use of time is the sheer volume of things I do online. Five years ago, email and static websites were my primary online activities. Most of my work was done face-to-face, through calls or in Word.

In 2005, I started an art blog-- my first introduction to blogging--and by 2007, things really exploded with blogging, RSS, wikis, etc. I now manage most of my projects with wikis and all of my training sessions are accompanied by a wiki "handout" of resources, videos, slideshows, podcasts, etc. Although I've badmouthed Twitter on occasion, I am finding it a great source of links to really valuable blog posts, articles, etc., so I check it at least a few times a day. I'm less active in places like Facebook, but have used Ning to roll my own social networks for some client projects and it's been a great way to connect people. I'm also an avid fan of Netvibes, which with my Gmail account, is my online dashboard. And I can't say enought about the virtues of tools like IM and web conferencing for working remotely.

What I realize is that social media for me has become a fabulous tool that really informs my work practice. Although my personal professional development has suffered lately, I have still found blogging to be one of the best things I've ever done in terms of my own learning. It has also been the "home base" from which I've been able to launch tons of friendships, projects and opportunities. When it makes sense (and it usually does), I'm integrating some social media tool into virtually every piece of work that I do. This is a huge change from only a few years ago and one that has made a big difference in my life. 

On a purely practical level, I can't imagine doing my work now without social media as a backbone. However, I am not pleased that social media has become more utilitarian for me and that I have less time to reflect on the bigger ideas and questions that have always enthralled me in the past. 

I'm realizing there's no small irony in the fact that even though my clients are asking for and using social media on most of my projects with them, their use of the tools tends to be closed--private wikis, private Ning networks, etc. And in helping them set up their systems, I'm ending up neglecting my own.  That needs to be fixed.

So--that's how I'm spending my time right now. Would love to hear what you're doing.

Daily Routines

Routine After my little productivity crisis of the past few months, I've been working on jiggering with my daily routine. I'm especially interested in finding that balance between activities that support the spark of creativity while still making sure that I get things done. In this spirit, I was quite excited to find the Daily Routines blog, which looks at how "writers, artists and other interesting people organize their days." 

What's interesting first off is how many of these people have a routine. On some level, you'd think that creative types might just let it all flow, but clearly most of them see a routine as a sort of ritual that's necessary to enter into the creative stream. Here's how Gerard Richter organizes his day, for example:

He sticks to a strict routine, waking at 6:15 every morning. He makes breakfast for his family, takes Ella to school at 7:20 and is in the studio by 8. At 1 o'clock, he crosses the garden from the studio back to the house. The grass in the garden is uncut. Richter proudly points this out, to show that even it is a matter of his choosing, not by chance. At 1 o'clock, he eats lunch in the dining room, alone. A housekeeper lays out the same meal for him each day: yogurt, tomatoes, bread, olive oil and chamomile tea.

After lunch, Richter returns to his studio to work into the evening. ''I have always been structured,'' he explains. ''What has changed is the proportions. Now it is eight hours of paperwork and one of painting.'' He claims to waste time -- on the house, the garden -- although this is hard to believe. ''I go to the studio every day, but I don't paint every day. I love playing with my architectural models. I love making plans. I could spend my life arranging things. Weeks go by, and I don't paint until finally I can't stand it any longer. I get fed up. I almost don't want to talk about it, because I don't want to become self-conscious about it, but perhaps I create these little crises as a kind of a secret strategy to push myself. It is a danger to wait around for an idea to occur to you. You have to find the idea.'' As he talks, I notice a single drop of paint on the floor beneath one of his abstract pictures, the only thing out of place in the studio.

And this is the routine of an "abstract" painter!

Early rising seems to be a particular theme among many creatives.  Richter is up at 6:15 a.m.  and John Grisham (when he was first writing), was up by 5 a.m. Emily Dickinson rose at 6 a.m. and Charles Darwin by 7 a.m.  Flaubert, on the other hand slept until 10 a.m., preferring to do his work at night. 

The issue here, of course, is that all seem tuned in to their particular daily rhythms, knowing when they do their best thinking and when they don't. Gunter Grass says, for example, that he never writes at night because "it comes too easily." 

Naps and walks (or some form of physical activity) are other common threads, providing that down-time for creativity to gestate. Walks in particular are also a way for these creatives to work through problems and get input from the outside world that feeds their creativity. From the post on musician Erik Satie:

Roger Shattuck, in conversations with John Cage in 1982, put forward the interesting theory that "the source of Satie's sense of musical beat--the possibility of variation within repetition, the effect of boredom on the organism--may be this endless walking back and forth across the same landscape day after day . . . the total observation of a very limited and narrow environment." During his walks, Satie was also observed stopping to jot down ideas by the light of the street lamps he passed.

Food seems to be another big theme, especially for those who were working in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I'm not sure if this is a sign of those times or an actual requirement for their creativity. I tend to think the former, since creatives mentioned from more recent years seem more in tune with food as fuel, rather than food as ritual.

I also notice that most don't work an 8-hour day, not as a matter of routine, anyway. It's virtually impossible, I think, unless you're in one of those creative firestorms where you're pounding stuff out. But I've found that work like that is usually followed by a mental, emotional and physical collapse. 

 Amid all this general structure, there are some wonderful tidbits of activity that occur, like the one observed by artist Chris Ofili:

Routine 2He arrives in his studio at 9 or 10 in the morning, he explained. He sets aside a corner for watercolors and drawings "away from center stage," meaning where he paints his big, collaged oil paintings. "I consider that corner of the studio to be my comfort zone," he said. First, he tears a large sheet of paper, always the same size, into eight pieces, all about 6 by 9 inches. Then he loosens up with some pencil marks, "nothing statements, which have no function."

"They're not a guide," he went on, they're just a way to say something and nothing with a physical mark that is nothing except a start."

I also love this description of how Saul Bellow worked:

Most mornings we linger. Work will wait. We tour the "giardino" and see which flowers have appeared. This June there is a white anemone of which Saul is enormously proud (there's never been another before or since--the moles seem to get at the bulbs). The giant red-orange poppies are budding, the peonies will flower this year in time for Saul's birthday, and there's one early bright purple cosmos blossom. We admire a fat sassy snake curling among the wild columbines. "The whole world is an ice cream cone to him," Saul laughs as he disappears into his studio.

Everything must be taken up nimbly, easily, or not at all. You can't read Saul without being aware of the laughter running beneath every word.

I will say, though, that some people had some rather extreme needs for priming the creative pump. From The New Yorker on Gertrude Stein:

Miss Stein has an outsize bathtub that was especially made for her. A staircase had to be taken out to install it. After her bath she puts on a huge wool bathrobe and writes for a while, but she prefers to write outdoors, after she gets dressed. Especially in the Ain country, because there are rocks and cows there. Miss Stein likes to look at rocks and cows in the intervals of her writing. The two ladies drive around in their Ford till they come to a good spot. Then Miss Stein gets out and sits on a campstool with pencil and pad, and Miss Toklas fearlessly switches a cow into her line of vision. If the cow doesn't seem to fit in with Miss Stein's mood, the ladies get into the car and drive on to another cow. When the great lady has an inspiration, she writes quickly, for about fifteen minutes. But often she just sits there, looking at cows and not turning a wheel.

Cows and rocks aside, the common thread running underneath all of this is that each person has this particular NEED to do the work of creativity. The rituals and routines are there to facilitate a process that for each of them must happen. Not that the routine doesn't become well . . . routine, at least at times. But ultimately, each of them is using routine as a way to create that fertile ground for creativity to flourish. And it's not about productivity. It's about finding the discipline to make the best use of a creative spark that may at heart be undisciplined. It's a tension of opposites that I find really fascinating.

Photos via Rae Z  and 3rd Foundation

Reducing Mental Clutter: Some Solutions

Clear mind

 Yesterday's post on reducing my personal mental clutter apparently struck a chord with a lot of people.

Farhan and Steve Bridger are with me on the whole multiple open tabs thing. So is Talia. And Sarah Stewart apparently distracts herself with Twitter, while Christine Martell shares my angst about needing to get clearer about her big goals.

This is good. At least I know I'm not alone.

I promised to share some of what I'm trying to do to deal with the problem in today's post. But I'm also going to point to some of the ideas my readers had because isn't that why we spill our guts on the Interwebs in the first place? To get others to commiserate and share their ideas?

So this is what I've been doing:

1. Keep Gmail and Netvibes closed, except for specific periods during the day when I'll deal with email and read my feeds. This is something suggested by the GTD cult and by Tim Ferris, but it's advice that I find hard to take. It actually seems to cause me physical pain.

2. Minimize multi-tasking. Also difficult to do, but when I can I'm much more productive.

3. Observe the 2-minute rule. This is another GTD fix that I started with in 2008 but that fell by the wayside. It's back.

4. When I start thinking about other people and the problems I need to solve for them, stop myself and ask what I'm trying to avoid by doing this so I can get back on task. This one sounds a little strange, I know, but I've found that when I start thinking about how my ex needs to deal with our daughters, I know that I'm really just trying to NOT deal with something else. I'm trying to cut down on letting my "fixer" mode interfere with actually fixing things that I have the power to fix.

5. Limit the scope of work and stick to those limits. I have the capacity to give a client about 4 times more than they expect from me. This can be good, but it can also be a killer. Sometimes I've even found that they wish I'd given them less. Scope creep is a big problem, but I'm trying to keep it under control.

6. Journal every day to get stuff out of my head and down on paper. I'm trying to journal every morning and also when I feel like I have something to work through, just so I can get it out of my head. It seems to be helping.

7. Use index cards. This is a big one. I'm writing each task on a separate index card. I know it's both low-tech and environmentally un-friendly, but for now it's helping me organize and re-organize what needs to be done in a visceral kind of way. I can group related tasks together and also group by days of the week, hours of the day, etc. I know there are digital ways to do this, but for whatever reason, I'm needing something physical right now to ground me.

8. Work this as a process, rather than focusing on "Am I more productive today?" Sometimes when I focus too much on the end result ("I need to get my act together!") this actually becomes its own form of mental clutter. So what I'm trying to do is focus on the different elements, rather than my desired end result. Call it a 12-Step program with fewer steps.

I also got a lot of excellent ideas and feedback from commenters:

  • Even though I mentioned daydreaming as a way to avoid work, Steve Bridger pointed out (and Amy Harbison agreed) that it can be a positive development too. His post also led me to a great resource called "Mindapples," where readers submit 5 daily things they do for mental health. It has a whole host of other strategies for me to explore and try.
  • Cammy Bean reminded me that it's easy to get bogged down in doom and gloom,  but that the way to get back to "the glass is half full" is to focus on solutions. That's actually what led me to journal about this problem. I was getting sick of listening to my own whining and needed to find SOMETHING to do differently.
  • Mike Slater said he leaves his computer and goes for a 2-3 hour walk when he needs to. That's something I find easier to do when the weather is nicer, but maybe I need to stop being such a big baby. At the least, maybe I need to play a little Wii tennis or something.
  • Farhan  leaves open the tabs he needs to get a particular job done and closes everything else. He is also checking email only a few times a day. Amazingly, the world apparently keeps turning!

What else did we miss? What are your favorite ways to reduce mental clutter?

Flickr photo via FreeWill

Reducing Mental Clutter: Identifying the Problems

Clutter Being away from my computer for much of the past few weeks really showed me how much mental clutter I've been accumulating as a result of my bad digital habits. Over the past several months, I've taken multi-tasking to new and dangerous levels and had noticed a precipitous drop in productivity that seemed like it was spiraling out of control. I literally felt like my brain might explode.

One good thing about time away from my computer was that I used it to think and write in my journal, trying to figure out what was wrong. Among the bad habits I noticed:

  • Having multiple windows open, especially Gmail and Netvibes, that I continually and obsessively monitored and responded to. I read every email as it came in and spent WAY too much time reading my feeds.
  • Procrastination, even when there was no good reason to put something off. That left stuff sitting in my brain without resolution. 
  • Daydreaming. This may have been a symptom of my mental clutter as much as being a source of problems, but I increasingly found myself going off into little mental fugue states as a sort of break. 
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about how other people should deal with their problems. One of my personal mental issues is that I'm a "fixer." I usually know what YOU need to do to solve your problems and I spend a lot of time thinking about that. This tends to get worse when I feel stressed, because certainly it's better for me to think about what's wrong with other people rather than thinking about my own issues.
  • Allowing my desk and office to become physically cluttered. I work out of a small bedroom in my house and there isn't a lot of space for unecessary paper and files. Yet I allowed this stuff to accumulate over weeks and months. It only got worse when my office became the Christmas staging room. By the week before Christmas, I had a tiny hole from which to work, with every other inch of space filled with file cabinets, boxes and wrapping paper.
  • Not doing a good job of considering my work tasks in relationship to priorities. This played out in a few ways. One was working on things that seemed appealing at the time; I rationalized this as following my creative impulses, but it was really just a form of procrastination. I also didn't look at my larger goals and make sure I was working on activities each day that took me closer to those goals--a form of just getting through the work on hand, but not in a good way.
  • Related to the whole goal/priority thing, I realized that I'm not really clear in my head about what my big goals and priorities should be. I'd become so reactive and responsive to work and issues coming into me, I lost track of what I really want to have happen. This created its own form of mental clutter that created a vicious cycle, blocking me from really knowing what I want to do work-wise.

Tomorrow I'm going to write about some of the solutions I came up with, but for now I'm wondering if you've experienced these kinds of issues.

Do you have habits that add to your mental clutter? What do you do to deal with them?

Flickr photo via Maandag

Dealing with The Tyranny of Now

Last week I wrote a post about the "Tyranny of Now"--the always-on society we live in and how we're pressured to monitor and respond to it 24/7. I got a lot of great advice and comments on it that deserve to be elevated to a post.

Ken Allen suggested that dealing with multiple demands on your attention is a little like playing tennis:

I raised this in conversation recently - the 'nowness' as you coined it though I didn't call it that - and someone said glibly that it's just like playing tennis, "you return the ball from which ever direction it comes, that's the skill."

But it's more than just that.

It's more like playing tennis with several players, all of them on the other side of the net, and all serving with a different ball.

For a satisfactory return that leads to something useful, one has to simply ignore certain serves, and find ways of doing this. It's not easy.

That way, however, you have prioritised your interactions, for you are in control.

Use whatever means, when necessary, to freeze that incoming ball in mid air while you deal with the previous one, otherwise you end up missing both.

Ken Stewart reminded me that there's a difference between immediate and urgent:

I must say there is a difference between immediate and urgent. This phenomenon seems to underscore 2 very fundamental oversights:

1) Lack of planning
2) Lack of respect for other people

I work in a customer service business - a very high tough company. Many of us work in service - of some sort or another, and each of us have varying degrees of pressure we face. I do acknowledge this fact.

Past this, someone else's poor planning should not become my emergency. It sometimes does, but I have learned to build that need to my day.

As I read through your post, I found myself tensing up, unconsciously even - recoiling from the on-slaught of this "Tyranny of Now". My 2 cents would simply be that we must each determine where our boundaries are, and in so doing - establish rules of engagement so as not to allow others to rob us of our sanity, of our calm, and of ourselves.

Catherine Lombardozzi offered additional advice:

#1 - Sunday night is off limits. I have found that I have gone from my work week, to a busy weekend working on my faculty and other professional commitments, and left no time for taking a deep breath. I've tried to commit to after dinner on Sunday as time to sit by the fire and read, or to reflect in my journal. It's worked wonders on my sense of calm when I've actually stuck with that plan... so I intend to make it permanent and immutable.

#2 Cut back. - In 2008, I asked my employer for a 30-hour work week and was stunned and blessed when they said yes. I took a pay cut, but wow, what a difference it has made!! Now I can work a steady job, teach some evenings, and still have time for friends and family.

#3 Schedule time and set time limits. - I admit that I love to get lost in blogs and reading news on the internet (like now, for example)... so when I'm really busy, I set myself time limits. In an upcoming experiment, I plan to set aside specific time for reading and responding to blogs... I find that by doing it as part of my daily routine, I don't have time to comment and so it gets away from me. I'm hoping by setting time, I can better retain what I'm getting out of reading them rather than let them blow by. Most posts aren't time-sensitive anyway.

Kim McCollum shared her tips, which are very similar to the strategies I've been using lately:

When I find that I feel too pressured to do things "Now" and like I don't have enough time, I try to cut back. I stop reading blogs for a week and clear everything out with a press of the "Mark All As Read" button. Then I go in and get rid of some subscriptions. I realign priorities and drop some personal projects (usually to be picked back up later, when it is more convenient). After whittling down my commitments, I tend to have less things pressing for my time "Now".

And Virginia Yonkers offered one final bit of advice:

I think you need to overcome the tyranny by saying, "in a minute". I have found that even my students are patient if I just give them a plan or schedule (I'll have it done by X date, and yes I received your e-mail, communication, etc...). You just can't rush us tortoises, but you can count on us to deliver!

Great ideas from everyone--thank you! Any you would add?

Finding Time Means Finding "Instead of" Rather than "In Addition To"

Simplicity I recently moved into a new house and in the process of moving, I got rid of a lot of stuff I'd been holding onto for no apparent reason. I have to say that I'm liking the uncluttered look and have made a personal decision that from now on, if I bring something new into the house, something else will have to go. It's the "instead of" approach to home decor, since my 1200 sq. feet will not accommodate an "in addition to" home design scheme.

On a related note, this morning I was skimming my feed reader and found this post from Stephen Downes on finding time to blog. In it, he says:

The whole point isn't to *add* online writing on top of everything else you do. Nobody has time for that.

Rather, what you want to be thinking of doing is to gradually migrate to writing online *instead* of writing for those other purposes.

That doesn't mean you become a blog writer and nothing else. Rather, what you'll find is that writing for the website makes writing for all those other things a lot easier.

The idea is to take the stuff you do for private audiences and to present it (as much as you can) to public audiences.

And you'll find you have people reading your work, helping you with resources and links to do the work you're doing now.

Many of us have to write as part of our jobs, so the idea of blogging in addition to the other writing we do seems like one more task. But as Stephen points out, if we think about blogging instead of writing for these other purposes, it actually opens us up to even more learning and information. If I'm planning a workshop, let's say, and do it privately, then I only have my own ideas and resources. But if I planned it publicly, on my blog, in a wiki, or even in a Google doc, then I could open it up to the resources and feedback of knowledgeable people all over the world. This could not only save me time, it will most likely make my workshop even better.

So much of getting into the social media mindset is about realizing that there are different, more productive ways to do things. We should be searching for the "instead of" opportunities in using social media, rather than thinking these are "in addition to" everything else we're doing.

What professional activity could you do through social media INSTEAD OF through some other means? How can you pare things down, rather than adding to your load?

Flickr photo via The Alienness Gisela Giardino

Google Notebook: The Lazy Way to Blog

Yesterday I was trying to catch up with my feeds and I came across a great post from Janet Clarey--Do You  Have a Learning Strategy for the Recession? This led me to think about recession-proofing your career, which led me on a hunt for some articles to post here.

Normally, what I would do is have one tab open to my blog post composition window and another for my search. I would then toggle between the two tabs to add links and comments to my post. But yesterday I wanted to get things done more quickly, so I created a new Google Notebook for my topic and started right-clicking on each page I wanted to save into my Notebook, creating a basic resource list in about 15 minutes. When I was finished, I realized that I could actually use my Notebook as a blog entry, simply by creating an introduction summarizing what I found. Then I could publish my Notebook and write a quick entry here (as I'm doing now) with a link back over to my public Notebook.


If you're blogging for learning, this could actually be a great ongoing strategy for research and resource kinds of posts. You can use your blog as a more accessible and searchable centralized portal to your research. The posts themselves, though, could be maintained as Notebooks. The advantage is that you can more easily add to and update your Notebooks without having to go back and redo posts. You can also move your link items to group them differently, as well as use tags to organize. Each time you add to your Notebook, it will automatically update your public page, so any "post" is always current. This keeps related resource and research items together, rather than having them scattered through several posts. You can then add reflections or comments directly into the Notebook as you continue to gather information.

You could do this sort of thing in a wiki, too, but what I like about Google Notebooks is that with the Firefox extension,  when I find new links or resources to add to the Notebook, I just have to right-click on them and they'll automatically be added. I can then add notes if I want to. Definitely the easiest way to pull things together.

You could also choose to share your Notebooks with other people, so they would be able to add resources as well.


This could work well for a collaborative project or if your department wanted to provide regularly updated resources to others in your organization. It might, for example, be a good quick way to do a "Buzzin on the Biz" kind of posting where you highlight trends and news in your industry or organization. Create a Notebook and then publish the link to your organization's blog or wiki. Definitely a good alternative strategy for blogging research and link posts.

25 (Free) Tools for Professional Development and Productivity

Janehart4 I've been writing this week about Jane Hart's analysis of the technology tools being used by workplace learning professionals vs. those being used by educators, trying to identify why educators seem to be making greater use of social media. One issue may be that workplace learning professionals are not as familiar with social media tools in learning. Fortunately, Jane has created an excellent resource to address this--her 25 Tools Professional Development Resource, which is free and open access:

It is intended for those working in education, workplace learning or professional development who want to broaden their horizons in terms of the wide range of technologies and tools available for learning and performance support - in a very practical way by getting to grips with 25 key tools taken from the Top 100 Tools for Learning 2008.

The tools are a mix of personal productivity tools for managing your own personal learning as well as authoring tools for creating all kinds of learning and performance solutions.  Many of them are Web 2.0 tools that promote a social, collaborative, sharing approach to learning.  But what is more important is that all these tools are free, which makes them very suitable for those on a low (or non-existent) budget to explore the widening e-learning space.

Jane has set things up to make it easy for learning professionals to more closely examine the most essential technology tools for learning, organizing them according to key learning activities.

Behind each of the 25 TOOLS lies an Activity that comprises a number of short tasks to help you find out more about the technology behind each tool, the tool itself and why it is so popular, how to use the tool and reflect on its application for teaching, learning and for productivity and performance support.  Many of the tool activities are inter-related, so you will also be using other tools for some tasks.

You can either dip into the Tools in an informal way or work through them in a more structured or formal way.  The approach is up to you.

There is also a COMMUNITY, where you can share your thoughts, experiences and resources as well as get help and advice from other members.

What's great about Jane's resource is that she shares specific personal learning and instructional uses for each of the tools, making it easier for learning professionals to see how these tools can be used in the context of their own work. She also includes a variety of multimedia resources for exploring each tool.

If you're looking to build and support a culture of personal learning in your organization, Jane's resource is a great place to start.