Tighter Writing

Is it just me or does the use of the word can make sentences weaker?

The longer I edit blog posts for OpenShift.com and the more I read about tight writing and good content the more I see patterns of sentences that could be stronger.

Recently saw the word “can” and it went something like, “By running the Super Duper Big Hulabalooper you can make your business more efficient.”

I think can makes this setence weaker than it needs to be. It comes across like, “it might” or “it ‘can’ but then again it might not.” Who wants something like that?

Every time I see a sentence starting with “By” I know it’s going to be a weak sentence. Don’t save the punch or the benefit for the end, give it to people right away. Here’s how I would make these lead stronger.

Make your business efficient with the Super Duper Big Hulabalooper. (10 words)

Before: By running the Super Duper Big Hulabalooper you can make your business more efficient. (14 words)

Another consideration is modifiers. In this case, how great is the difference between “more efficient” and “efficient?” Or maybe there is a single word that could replace the idea of “being more efficient?”

A more obivious example could be, “He was trying very frantically not to miss his plane.” What’s the difference between “frantic” and “very frantic?” Not very much.

This could be tightened to be: “He sprinted to the gate, almost knocking me over.”

Look how many words I chopped out and look how it gets to the point.

Some people think writing is tedioius and boring. It’s a constant puzzle I enjoy solving because it makes things clearer. I love making things clearer. It’s just the way I’m wired.

Evening Routine

Evening
Yesterday I shared that my daily routine that begins with The Morning Miracle. Today I wanted to go into more depth about my evening routine. It’s not as well established as my morning routine and subject to more unpredictability and yet I feel good about the consistency I’ve achieve and the things I’m learning.

My evening routine is mixture of getting ready for the next day and wrapping up the current day. If everything goes well, below are the perfectly executed steps.

Ready For Tomorrow (5 to 10 Minutes)

  1. Coffee pot is on the counter in the kitchen and ready to brew at the flip of the switch–coffee cup at the ready.
  2. Two 22 oz water bottles are filled and one of them stands in the way of the first thing I will do when I wake up so I remember to drink the whole thing.
  3. Clothes for tomorrow are laid out. This is pretty easy since I don’t go to an office and I’m not a fashion plate. Sometimes I set out both my regular clothes and all my winter walking gear (rain pants, jacket, rain hat, safety vest, waterproof shoes, etc.).

Daily Recap and Review (10 to 20 Minutes)

Then I do my “daily recap” by writing in my journal. I keep a running text document and I like to write with Vim (text editor). For a non-coder I’m pretty fast with it. I love that my fingers never leave the keyboard. In my journal I copy/paste a block of text that looks like this and then fill in the answers, often formatted as bullets:

Success:
— Things I achieved today, even the smallest accomplishments

Failure:
— What things did I fail at or was not the best version of myself?

Loved:
— What did I really love doing?

Hated:
— What did I really not like doing?

Learned:
— What are some things I learned today (positive or negative) that I can carry forward to live a better tomorrow

Thankful:
— What am I thankful for?

Questions:
— What questions are rattling around in my head that I don’t have answers to? Write them down. Magic happens later.

Hints of the divine:
— What happened in my day that seems bigger than myself or the ordered world? Things that are perhaps not explainable?

What good did I do today?
— What things did I do today that helped someone or made the world better?

It looks like a  long list of questions, but after doing them for 30+ days it feels like I’m able to answer them a little faster each time. I don’t worry about complete sentences, just simple bullets as they come to mind. This usually takes 10 to 15 minutes. If something significant happened that I want to reflect on I am might a few paragraphs reflecting it that or sorting it out.

One important thing I’ve learned about this part of the day is to plan ahead a little and anticipate evenings when I won’t be home or have other plans. In those cases, I’ve learned from past failures to do it late afternoon or before going out. Even if I’m not going out, but know I might be spending time with my wife, that’s also a good reason to get it done earlier.

Affirmations and Wind Down (5 Minutes)

Then I park my laptop and hook it up to power for a full charge, aim the space heater at the chair I’ll sit in tomorrow, and grab some documents in protective plastic sleeves. Right now these documents consist of:

  1. Evening affirmation
  2. A list of my values
  3. My mission statement
  4. My goals
  5. Affirmation about my work

I’ll settle into bed and read the evening affirmation to myself or out loud and then casually scan the other documents, stopping to reflect on words and sentences that jump out at me. Sometimes I’ll quiz myself on how well I lived certain aspects of what’s written down or if I’m in alignment with what I believe and know is important to me.

Part of the evening affirmation includes reminding myself that I’ve decided in advance what I will work on when I wake up. This is usually a good reminder to be very clear and specific about what that will be. It often makes it easier to jump into things when I wake up because there’s nothing to ponder or decide.

Little Habits Over Time

Looking at all of this it looks like I spend my whole evening ending the day and getting ready for tomorrow. This process has evolved over the past six months or so, adding a little bit at a time. Little habits at a time that are so routine now, I hardly think about them as I do them. This truly is the beauty of simple, established habits. They are like automatic reflexes.

What’s your evening routine? What have you found works really well for you?

Today the Streak Broke

Red Sand

No, not my 30 days of blogging goal, but the streak that has been 60+ “Miracle Mornings” in a row. Today I woke from a deep sleep at 5:30 a.m. and got up at 5:35 a.m. For the past 65 days I’ve been up no later than 5:05 a.m., and on a majority of those days, earlier and without an alarm.

In August 2014, I attended Podcast Movement in Dallas, Texas, because I wanted to deepen my knowledge of podcasting and meet more people in the space. One of the great outcomes of being there was learning about what has become one of my most favorite podcasts and it’s called Unstuckable.

In Episode #100 Stephen Warley interviews Hal Elrod, author of the book The Miracle Morning. The interview with Elrod shifted my thinking on some important things. I briefly considered reading the book, but given all the others currently in flight set the idea aside.  Then in Episode #123 Honoree Corder mentioned how important the Miracle Morning routine is to her each day.  Finding both episodes inspiring I bought the kindle version of the book and read it in a couple of days. And then I figured there was no better time to start than “right away” so the next morning I did.

Morning Routine

This process is the “morning routine” I’ve been trying to find for a long time. I like how Erik Fisher asks each interviewee what their morning routine is. It gave me some good ideas, but nothing that really stuck or made sense to me in a way I thought would work consistently for me.

Needing to get more time into my day and already in the process of focusing my time and where I’m going next with my life I knew I needed a better structure.  Figuring I had nothing to loose I decided to try the Miracle Morning routine for 30 days.  The first seven days were really tough… as were the days around the 21 day mark–just as Elrod predicted.  Since the 30 day mark I’ve just kept cruising ahead.

I wouldn’t say every day is perfect. Elrod over-sells the notion that you will bolt out of bed with amazing energy and excitement to start your day. I can say that getting up each day has been easier as a result of the commitment to myself and the planning I do the night before–largely through reading a personal affirmation I’ve written that reminds me when I’m getting up and why.

Elrod summarizes his suggested routine with the mnemonic: SAVERS.

  • Silence (meditation)
  • Affirmations
  • Visualization
  • Exercise
  • Reading
  • Scribing (journaling)

The combination of the different activities have been incredibly re-enforcing and helpful.  I try to do them all on a given day.  I strongly recommend grabbing a copy of Elrod’s sample evening and morning affirmations and using them as a starting place to write your own.  These affirmations are subtlety powerful in a way I didn’t expect. They are not cheesy sayings to yourself and about how good you are, etc.

New Evening Routine

One outcome of everything I was accomplishing each morning was the desire to capture what I was learning and acomplishing while also learning from things that failed.  So I added an end of day routine where I try to spend 10 to 15 minutes journaling and recapping my day… I have a series of questions in a template I copy into my journal (a text document I edit with Vim!).  This makes it easier to do in that I start by answering the questions and then adding anything else on my mind.

My “30 day goal” for last month was to do this evening process for 30 days. Around the 15 or 16 day mark I missed a few days so I reset the counter and doubled down on my attempt to do 30 days in a row of evening recaps with a new rule that if I missed a single day I had to start over. That was the incentive I needed. Now it’s part of my daily routine and I’m up to 35 days with out a miss.

With the Miracle Morning my criteria for success was simply getting out of bed at 5 a.m. It got easier with time, however some key practices and triggers I implemented re-enforced the chances of succeeding.  This included an alarm clock, setting out clothes the night before, having a space heater already pointed at my chair, books and my journal (computer) ready to go, etc.

Do you have a special morning routine that you practice consistently? I’d be curious to know what it is and how you successfully implemented it.

You Can’t Teach the WHY

I witnessed an interesting conversation the other day. Some folks were going back and forth on how to make a product better and one person suggested Simon Sinkek’s TED Talk.

The interesting thing about watching the conversation unfold was how obvious it was some people hadn’t read the book or watched the TED talk. It seemed they thought they understood the concept of WHY, but instead got lost comparing their goals to ways Apple and Harley Davidson (positive examples from Sinkek’s book) develop their products.

What I thought was missing from the conversation was any sense of passion, purpose or mission.  I’m increasingly skeptical that you can teach someone your WHY. It’s like teaching someone to be passionate about a particular topic or hobby.  That passion develops naturally on its own or it doesn’t.  As a parent, your passion for a particular hobby may or may not translate to your kids. It’s not something that can be forced.

I see similar parallels to bad religion. Someone holds certain beliefs very passionately and it drives the way they live. In turn they insist other people must have the same beliefs they do. In my experience that doesn’t turn out very well.

Even if someone embraces a particular set of beliefs or another person’s mission because they “think they should” or because it “sounds true” it won’t have a lasting meaningful impact on their life until they fully embrace it as their own.  This isn’t something you can talk yourself into. It’s something that comes from within.

In the same way, I don’t see a company or organization capable of making someone embrace their mission.  Instead you need to hire and bring people to you that already have the same mission inside of them.

How I Execute My Mission

Tools

In a previous post I talked about my mission (the WHY). This post talks about HOW I live out my mission. The WHAT of my mission would the out come of doing the different HOWs.  Are you with me?

Chris Brogan gave the opening keynote at Podcast Movement 2014 in Dallas, Texas this past August. He drove home the importance of knowing what your mission in a way I’d never heard before.

The big epiphany I had was seeing the huge difference between MY MISSION and the TOOLS used to implement and address that mission. So many conferences and trainings I’ve gone to address different tools–the HOW (e.g. podcasting, email marketing, SEO, etc.), but they rarely if ever get to the heart of of the WHY–getting really clear on the deeper reasons and purpose the tools serve–to accomplish the mission.

And so we all fly around in our spaceships networking and putting more tools in our tool boxes because surely we need to be more effective and have more tools, but I think many of are doing this without a clue about what we are really meant to use those tools for.

So before you go out to acquire more tools, make sure you know what the mission is so that you’re gathering the right tools to address the right mission.

As I think about the things I naturally enjoy and am interested in it comes down to a series of activities I’ve been doing and others I intend to do more of. Here are some of the ways I live out my mission:

  • Project management
  • Copy writing & editing
  • Writing
  • Online Marketing
  • Podcasting
  • Coaching

I see all of these HOWs as ways to reduce chaos, find clarity and communicate the intended message in a way that’s readily understood.  It’s interesting to filter new opportunities through the filter of my WHY and my core HOWs. In some cases it makes it a lot easier to make decisions because it’s really clear that while certain activities look fun they don’t fit into my WHY or HOWs.

Does this make sense or are there certain parts that need more explanation?