Keeping Focused at Work and the Benefits of Little Distractions

Twenty minutes on Excel, ten minutes on Facebook, ten minutes on Word, twenty minutes on Wikipedia and there goes an hour. Rinse and repeat about eight times and there goes half my shift.

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Throughout my long, illustrious career at Wowmax Media*, I’ve developed certain habits to keep me on track. Here are the two most effective tricks that I use on a daily basis.

Site Blocking

As a child, I despised site blocking. Even if I didn’t care about the sites being blocked, I felt smothered. It was another reminder of how little freedom I had under the totalitarian regime of my parents. Well, that’s what I thought when I was twelve. Now, site blocking is a way to put one more roadblock between me and TvTropes. It’s not stopping me, but it’s enough resistance for me to pull my attention back to that twenty page TPS report**. I use SiteBlock, an extension for Chrome.

Little Distractions

I’ll admit, sometimes I’m just too wired to fill out a nine hundred cell Excel sheet. When I can’t focus, I jump onto Lumosity and play a couple games. It takes five minutes and it helps expel that excess mental energy. As ironic as it sounds, sometimes a little distraction can help you focus. A word of warning, avoid distractions that have sucked up hours of your time in the past. It’ll make it that much harder to get back to writing that twenty page technical manual for your company’s new earwax remover.

So if you find yourself learning the entire history of pickling on Wikipedia or feel your eyes glazing halfway through a 5000 cell data-entry form, try using these little tricks to help put you back on track.

* I’ve worked at Wowmax Media for two years.

** I’ve never filled out a TPS report in my life.

Why Habits Are the Key to Workplace Sanity

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m borderline neurotic. I’m fueled by stress, coffee, and Chex Mix. So for me, scheduling stops me from going completely cuckoo cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

With this, we shall build an empire!

With this, we shall build an empire!

You see, decision making is one of the most stressful activities out there. It’s why being thrifty at the supermarket can drive even the most patient parent to fantasize about punting little Timmy into the produce section.  Habits, scheduled activities, help us avoid the stress caused by decision making. When should I handle my company’s social media? 12PM to 1PM. When should I write my weekly post for the company blog? Friday at 4PM. If there is anything at work that you do repeatedly, schedule it out and stick to that schedule. You’ll find yourself breathing easier.

How To Turn That Sleepy Social Media Suburb into a Thriving Community

1,500 Likes with over 200 reach per post. In three months, one comment. I posted and posted and not only did I receive almost no engagement, I scared people away. I was baffled. Not long before, I started a page from scratch and had at least five Likes a post. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad for a page with under a 100 Likes. It wasn’t until I threw my hands up and walked away that I realized what I had done wrong.  Before I began, the page was only posted on once a month for program updates. I had walked into a sleepy suburb and expected a rallying community by day’s end. The word ‘transition’ didn’t even cross my mind.

Source: http://herdogblog.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/chew.jpg

Just imagine this whenever you’re dealing with a grumpy Facebook user.

When you take over a pre-existing Facebook page, you’re adopting a pet. It’s used to a style of living: feed schedule, sleep schedule, and exercise routine. If you try to muscle it into your way of living it’ll just start chewing on the sofa. You have three options: adapt, transition, or incentivize. You can adapt by changing your own approach, transition slowly toward your goal, or provide a strong enough incentive to motivate changes in behavior. Fair warning about the last one, you’ll have to buy some pretty tasty treats for it to work by itself. Adapting is less difficult, but it handicaps your ability to foster engagement because you’re forced to work with a preexisting pattern. A pattern that is certainly unsuccessful because that’s why they hired you in the first place. Both should be implemented, but your focus should be on transitioning.

How do you transition? Well, let’s use my example as an example. The page consisted of monthly updates and nothing else. The first step would be to utilize these updates to foster engagement. Offer a reward for those who use the newly implemented features. Issue ‘Calls to Action’ to comment on the update or rate their approval of said update via Liking it. Then begin increasing the post frequency. From once a month, move to once a week. After a couple weeks, transition to daily posts. There’s also the issue of reach. 200 is not a small number, but it’s a fraction of the total community. Promoted posts. I know those words are scary to some, but it takes money to make money. Start by promoting the updates and utilizing ‘Calls to Action’ to get them engaging with said posts and this will make the EdgeRank happy and earn you a larger reach. This is when you need to get creative. You have the momentum, now you need to maintain it by providing unique, interesting, user-oriented content. Confused by the last one? I mean that you need to know exactly who your community is. Personalization is quickly becoming one of the most valuable commodities in social media. Know exactly who you’re talking to and tailor your content accordingly.

Source: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Zh0Ukyn8Ou4/Td304oiqPNI/AAAAAAAABWg/91j_9Cgtezs/s1600/pics%2Bof%2Breal%2Bghost%2Btown%2BGhost%2Btown%2Bin%2Bthe%2Bsuburbs%2B8.jpg

The result of my town’s attempts at creating a Neighborhood Watch.

Those are the steps toward turning a populated ghost town into a bustling metropolis. However, the question remains: why do users react so negatively toward blatant change? One of the best aspects of social media is the sense of control it provides its users. Through their actions [e.g. Liking, ‘Friending’, etc.] the entire experience has been tailored to them.  Sudden, jarring changes can make them feel as though that control has been wrenched away. It’s like your favorite double bacon guacamole cheeseburger with extra onions suddenly vanishing from the menu. No, I still haven’t forgiven that diner. My point is that you need to ensure that the user still feels in control as you change things. Change is good. It’s not impossible to change that sleepy town, but if you go at it with whips and flamethrowers you’re going to end up with an empty, slightly singed ghost town.

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I’d like nothing more than for you to tear this post limb from limb. Any advice you can give me helps me improve as a writer so please leave a comment.

Leave it to Teachers

Leave it to Teachers

I love the green text. “Get Infused” indeed.

My boss, Kaifu-san, brought this in today. It’s a combined gift from all the college professors we’ve worked with. No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, that’s edamame trail mix. Specifically: edamame, pumpkin kernel, cranberry, and almond ‘energy blend’.

Final verdict, it’s odd, but not bad. I’m just not used to eating edamame and pumpkin kernels at the same time. I will say though, I buy the ‘energy blend’ part. After ten minutes I felt a little perkier than I had before. Though the coffee I’m currently chugging might be part of that.

I’ll have to perform a controlled experiment later to test the veracity of this product’s claims. Anyway, thank you to all the teachers who chipped in on this interesting, amusing gift.

Email Outreach: Learning to Talk Again

Communication is a peculiar beast to me. It is at both times simple and mind-meltingly confusing. I’m still wrapping my head around it. However, what I have discovered is there are those who ‘get it’. Artists get it. They understand the importance of style and substance and that you can’t have one without the other. All style and no substance, and you’re a snake-oil salesman. All substance and no style, and you’re Ben Stein. Email is no different, like all communication there are rules. There are ‘tricks of the trade’. Here are mine.

Talk to the Person As a Person

A picture from the Berkeley Lab website that I altered slightly for demonstrative  purposes.

A picture from the Berkeley Lab website that I altered slightly for demonstrative purposes.

You’re not a hive minded collective and neither is the person you’re emailing. There is no ‘we’, there’s you and I. You might not know this person’s name, but I’ll get to that in a minute. You should talk to that person as a person, not as a part of a collective or a cog in the machine. You have a great idea, you want a partnership, and you think that the channels of communication should be open. Your company is a thing, it’s not a person: it has no mind of its own and it has no face.  There is only you and a bunch of other ‘yous’.   

Know Who You Are Talking To and Care

Ever have a waiter recognize you at your favorite diner? It feels good, doesn’t it? Why does it feel good? Because it means that you matter to them. Life, for the most part, is uncaring and utilitarian. All that matters is what you do, not who you are. Finding someone who is interested in you, and not just what you can do for them, is rare. When contacting someone for the first time, learn what you can about them.  If their name is on their company’s website, blog, or social media account then you have no excuse not to know it. Learn about their company and what you want to discuss. If it’s an app, learn about what makes the app unique, its success, and who has talked about it. When you approach someone, show that you’ve done your research.

No Passive Voice

This is English Writing 101, but it deserves mention. It can shoot you in the foot if not considered. In Western English, the passive voice is considered weak and untrustworthy. It has no place in your email.

Don’t Pitch a Sale, Have a Conversation

Used Car Salesman from

Used car salesmen, the modern snake oil sellers. (If you are a used car salesman, I apologize.)

We’ve been conditioned by telemarketers to have a visceral repulsion toward the traditional sales pitch. By emulating that style you’re handicapping your efforts. Have a conversation instead. Conversations have introductions, they have segues, and they have conclusions. Don’t jump straight to the pitch, but don’t spend an eternity getting to the point. Few like a sales pitch, but no one likes a rambler.

Give and Take

This has been an underlying theme throughout this entire article. Business relationships, like all relationships, are about give and take. The person you’re emailing already knows what you want. Don’t contact them because you have something to gain from them. Contact them because they have something to gain from you. Contact them because you legitimately believe that you can help them. If you construct your email around this mindset, you won’t come across as a money grubbing salesman looking to make a buck.

What I’ve given you are fundamental aspects of proper communication that should be used in email just as they’re used in daily conversation. That’s not all I’ve got, but I hate writing long articles as much as I hate reading them.  I can’t guarantee that this advice will get your email read or responded to. However, I can guarantee that the more you incorporate my advice, the less you’ll have in common with Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman. If you have advice of your own, tell me in the comments. If you think that I’m a moron who has got it all wrong, tell me in the comments. If I’m making a fool of myself, I’m the first person who wants to know.