A Milestone Day – Reflections on Day 66 and Next Steps for the Two Things Blog

When I kicked off the two things project I set a simple goal: Learn two things a day and blog about them for 66 straight days.

This post marks my achievement of that goal. To celebrate the accomplishment, for today only, I will go past my usual two things to reflect on what I have learned from the experience and to discuss next steps for this blog.

Today I learned:

http://atabsh.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/lessons-learned.jpg

1. Be Consistent: Practice, practice, practice. I am not saying practice made me perfect, but it made me better. Looking at my early posts, one thing is clear. I wasn’t very good. With practice, I feel like I got better, or at the very least I got more confident. This led me to take more risks in my writing and at the very least helped me feel better about what I was doing.

2. Be Experimental: The most fun I had came out of trying new things.  Throwing Smurf into a conversation and finding enlightenment in the Honey Badger are just two of the things I would not have done without the blog experiment. As well, Email Free Day, The Streaming Diet and The Helping List have all improved my life in some small way.  Life gets better when you take a few risks and try new things.

3. Be an Artist: I didn’t need to buy brushes and an easel to create art, and the energy that flowed out of committing to create something new from nothing everyday felt amazing.

My behaviour also changed unexpected ways. One impact was in how I consume things.  After two months of blogging, Facebook is basically dead to me. It’s an exaggeration of course, but there is an aspect of truth to it. My consumption of media has shifted 180 degrees, moving away from passive sources and on to more active or creative forms. I was a classic Facebook lurker, visiting the site 3 to 5 times a day for several minutes just to see what other people were up to. Now I rarely visit the site – 1 to 2 times per week at most – and typically to communicate with a friend through messaging services. Instead, I now spend my internet-time reviewing sites that inspire learning and creativity.

4. Be fearless: This is easier said than done, and in truth it was an unintended result rather than an initial goal. When I launched the blog I was clearly fearful, and the emotion did not dissipate quickly. In fact, when it disappeared on day 24 I made a note of it. It was then that I realized my self-talk had shifted from “What am I going to write about today?” to “What do I get to write about today?” My post that day focussed on emotion, and at that point I finally felt fearless. Day 24 was also the first time I got up the courage to “publicize” what I was doing to people I actually know too – that is when I first referenced the blog on my personal twitter account (@darrenmcknight) and put up a link on my personal website (darrenmcknight.com).  The lesson for me?  Do something 23 times and it will finally get easier.

5. Be present: Learning facts is easy but the best lessons I learned came from listening to family, kidsfriends, colleagues and even strangers.

At the outset I found I immediately listened more closely. This in itself was a good thing, but my motivation initially wrong. At first I was trying to find a “nugget” in my conversations that I could write about. Eventually this faded away and I simply felt more engaged.  Once I stopped looking for things to learn it was easy to focus on just listening. That’s when I started to find true nuggets.

All in all, this was a planned exercise in introspection and from my perspective it has gone very, very well. So well in fact that, goal accomplished, it is time to change things up a bit…

What’s next for two things I learned today?

The journey is not over, but the pace of blog posts is changing. I will still endeavour to learn and record two things every day, but from here on out I only plan to post a new blog piece when I feel the lessons learned contain ideas that are so “big” in my journey that I should share them with the world.

How often will that be? I really have no idea, and you will notice that I make no attempt to define “big.”

I will say this though: I have thoroughly enjoyed the self-reflection and creative outlet this blog has added to my life. With that in mind, some days big might be huge and some days it might be pretty small.  Hopefully, at least, big will be entertaining…


Tweets Can Kill (Your Job Prospects) and Corporate Trends for 2012

In honour of my shot yesterday at Guy Kawasaki’s apparent spamming strategy on Twitter, I decided to stay tuned in to him for one more day to see if I could actually learn something valuable before enacting my plan to unfollow him.

So, here goes, two diamonds in the rough courtesy of links from @guykawasaki‘s ridiculously annoying spambot.

Today I learned:

1. Cats and the downward dog:  Apparently cats love Yoga.

I’m kidding. While I did technically learn that today I am not counting it in my two things. I just couldn’t resist another shot. Lucky he only repeat posted that gem 3 or 4 times today.

Please allow me to start over…

Today I learned:

1.  How Social Media can get you fired: Via @guykawasaki, and courtesy of tribehr. The linked infographic is particularly interesting for someone – no names here – trying to write a blog that involves thoughts on business, without ever directly referencing anything that could put himself in hot water with his employer.  Generally this can be achieved by focusing on personal and positive lessons learned without direct or even traceable references to other employees. Admittedly though, this is a fine line.

The interesting piece to me from this link is one specfic stat:

“85% of employers indicate they are less likely to hire candidates whose social networking profile or tweets evidence unprofessional behaviour.”

This suprises me, but maybe not in the way you might expect.

What amazes me is why is this not 100%? Exactly what businesses – 15% in total – would still hire you if you were clearly displaying unprofessional behaviour online? More importantly, even if you are one of those businesses, how could you ever admit it? I wonder if the practice aligns closely with another stat that I probably just made up: “15% of businesses get burned by inept hiring practices.”

2. Trends for Workplace Change in 2012: Via @GuyKawasaki, and courtesy of Entrepreneur.com. The linked article provides a good set of cues you can use within your own organization to see if you are on track with hot issues on the agendas of other organizations. A few of the issues discussed include open office concepts, telecommuting and co-working spaces.

Two of the trends I keyed in are:

  • Corporate Culture Initiatives: Ever since reading the book Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com, I have been enthralled with things that influence culture.  Entering a new role about 12 months ago I think it is fair to say that I underestimated what it takes to make meaningful change in this area. It has been particularly tough through a period of outsourcing and downsizing, but it remains a key interest of mine.  It is not surprising that more and more companies are realizing that attracting and retaining the best is no longer just about the money.
  • Mobile Devices: We use Blackberry’s at work but more and more I find my company phone doesn’t offer me the flexibility and tools I want.  I now carry my personal iPhone (and periodically my iPad too) at work, and often end up using it for work purposes to help make me more efficient or creative. In the last 5 business days I have shared whiteboard shots with colleagues, demonstrated slides on a iPad for discussion purposes and used a mapping tool to brainstorm ideas. I have also dictated brief memos, uploaded business cards, mapped my route to a meeting and reviewed a service provider’s app.  An efficiency has been gained in each one of these actions.  More and more companies are bound to realize – as people like me already have – that there are tools available to help us do a better job. Why not provide them?

20 Year Reunion and Fear the Facebook Timeline

Today I learned:

1. 20 Year Reunion: The first thought to run through my head when reading an email invite for my 20 year high school reunion is “I am old.”  The second thought is “Wow. When I graduated we didn’t even have email.”  This realization in turn brings me back to the first thought.

Once that all passes I then also learned my motivation to exercise is heightened by reunion invites, even if the event is a year away. This strikes me as a potential cure to obesity. If we all woke up to a daily reminder of a high school reunion coming up I bet our health and fitness would improve. This would be an interesting experiment…

2. Facebook Timeline: After my recent hiatus from FB, I returned to the site today to check out the new timeline feature, intrigued after reading about it in a Globe and Mail article. The author – somewhat horrified with the simplicity and ease with which any of his friends could track his history on the social network – first took to culling posts. When that was deemed too time consuming he took the dramatic step of deleting his account and starting fresh.

Intrigued by the pain this caused him I activited the timeline feature on my account today to check it out.

He was right. It is a bit scary to see, all in one place every photo, comment, status update, check-in…everything on a shiny little timeline.  You can track my life since I joined the network in 2007. Or at least you can track a few important events like the birth and milestones of kids, along with a about 200 status updates that seemed funny at the time.

At least everything is relatively benign. Nothing to delete, or at least it is not worth my time to bother.

I doubt the lack of true privacy on Facebook (despite using the most restrictive settings) is going to burn me in any future job search or attempt at public office. That is, unless the reviewer attacks my judgement based on what is clearly a poor understanding of how interested people will be in how much I liked my dinner on Aug 12, 2008, or how I played golf on July 1, 2007.

I do fear for people that actually post things that could hurt them in the long run though. I certainly don’t hire anyone these days without scoping out their presence online before making an offer. If I come across a Facebook timeline in this research it will wrap everything up in a pretty little package for me.


Working from home and I forgot about Facebook

Today I learned:

1. Best Practices for the home office: With knee surgery in a few weeks I am going to be unable to drive and limited in my walking tolerance for a couple weeks so I will be forced to work from home for a short period of time until I am fit enough to make the trek into work.  Critically, my recovery period coincides with a particulaly busy period in a large project with a vendor, so I will need to be efficient in the time I put in from home.

In preparing for a period of work out of the office, I was inspired today to read up on best practices for working from home. A few great sources (Lifehacker, ZenHabits, Productivity501, and Stepcase Lifehack) have helped me prepare.

My key take-aways are:

  • Prepare for the day: The goal after surgery is to resume normal activities of daily living as quickly as possible, so this fits right in. Get up, shower and get dressed. Do everything I would normally do, just skip the commute and go straight to work.
  • Stay-connected: Pre-book calls and video chats for updates with both superiors and reports at the bookends of the day to help me stay connected and on task with deliverables.
  • Take breaks: Schedule down-time to help keep the energy up. I’ll need to be in a regular routine of physio exercises and icing anyway, so building in recovery time is critical.
  • Get the right tools: I have pre-tested all the required technology (laptop, VOIP phone, remote desktop) so there should be no surprises.
  • Shut the door: Make a clean break between work and personal life, particularly when the kids are home, to make sure I remain effective in both areas.

Any other tips to keep me on track?

2. I forgot about Facebook:  A pleasant by-product of my committment to learn two things a day (and to blog about it for the first 66 days straight) has been a noticeable change in my consumption patterns on the web, specifically with respect to Social Media.

The bottom-line?

I just went a week without accessing Facebook, and until today I didn’t even notice.

I think I have subtly shifted from passive to active consumption. Over the last few weeks my media consumption has moved towards sources of inspiration, rather than simply connection. With a committment to blog two personal take-aways from every day, I have spent more time reading books, magazines, blogs, and simply trying to talk to people.

At the same time I have watched less TV, changed the sites I visit online and, interestingly, without even noticing at first I have stopped checking my stream on Facebook.  I always knew I was a big Facebook lurker and I was really just using it to kill time.  Now that I am tasked with trying to produce something creative – even something on a very small scale – on a daily basis, I have almost no use for it.

It is certainly an interesting by product of this little experiment, and may just be my favourite lesson so far.


Babysitting and Christmas Lights

Today I learned:

1. Babysitting: When my wife is out and I am taking care of the kids I still call it babysitting. Something doesn’t feel right about it, but I can’t seem to come up with anything that rolls off the tongue more easily. There are the obvious options, like “taking care of my kids,” but why go 6 syllabus when you can get your message across in 4? Admittedly this habit has a few detractors, including a Facebook group with over 400K members but looking through the comments there I see no one offering me up a viable alternative.  I suppose it’s easier to hit “like” and return to Farmville than to put some meaningful thought into solving an important problem such as this one.

2. Christmas lights:  Every neighbourhood has the guy that leaves his lights up year round.  Icicles hanging from the roof  and Rudolph sitting in the front yard in August. It’s just lazy. I am not that guy, and I have always looked down on him.  Now that we are into January our christmas tree is gone and today it was time to pack the lights into the garage until next Christmas.

When setting them up I run the power from the light socket outside our front door, so when I was done the last task was to put back the regular bulb. As I screwed in the bulb it occurred to this one bulb costs more than running 850 Christmas lights on 17 low wattage LED strings. For a fleeting moment I considered being that guy.  I mean, why not? It would save me a few cents a year.

Ultimately the need to stay organized won out . I just couldn’t be that guy, so I finished the job. There was still a lesson there though: I learned that guy might not just be lazy. He could also be cheap.