Barriers to Blogging - #1 - Distraction By Facebook, Twitter, News, Internet

What are the barriers to blogging? How could I write more than what I am already writing? What is preventing all the stories in my mind from being published? How can I make my workflow more efficient or better in some ways?

Those have been some of the questions on my mind lately, particularly as I decided to try the NaBloPoMo experiment of publishing daily articles on this blog for the month of November... but also, quite honestly, for the writing I do for my work.

I know many folks have told me that they are impressed by the fact that I write so much on a regular basis. But the truth is...

... I want to write even more.

You see, my head is exploding with stories waiting to be told. It is the curse of a writer... there are so many articles I want to write, so many tutorials I want to create, so many opinion pieces I want to publish, so many books/ebooks I want to author.

And so as I've thought about what are the issues blocking me, I decided to write a bit here about those issues.

BeingagoodwriterWithout a doubt, my single biggest barrier to creating online articles is...

... getting distracted by the Internet!

Well, to be more precise, by services on the Internet.

"Oh, let me just take a scan down my Facebook NewsFeed"... or let me just dip into my Twitter feed... or Google+... or "let me see what's new on TechMeme that I might want to write about"... or Hacker News... or MediaGazer... or (lately with the election) I wonder what's happening with politics over on Memeorandum or Huffington Post ... or the latest tech news at GigaOm or TechCrunch or Mashable or... or... or...

Pretty soon whatever time I had to write an article is gone as I become sucked into the vortex of whatever site or social network I visited.

Some time back on Facebook, my friend Donna Papacosta posted an image of a button that said:


I printed that button out and taped it - right at eye level - to the bar in the middle of the windows in front of the desk in my home office. There it sits each day to remind me.

This is a challenge. It is far too easy to get distracted by services and sites out on the Internet.

What I've wound up doing on days when I need to crank out some text is to shut down everything I can. Shut down Facebook windows. Shut down Tweetdeck. Shut down all the browser windows I don't need. Put my cell phone on mute. Do all of that to just...

... focus.

But, of course, for many of my articles, I need to pull up information on the Internet for the articles... which means that the temptation can be there to plunge back into the distractions. (Particularly now that Google+ notifications show up whenever you do a search. :-) )

And so I fight it.

I've also taken to going into my office and working on articles before taking a look at any of those sites. Aiming to publish at least one or more articles and then giving myself a moment to check those sites (and email).

And each day I have that button staring back at me reminding me...

Do you find this to be your biggest barrier to writing? What do you do?

P.S. I haven't yet found a definitive source of that quote. The farthest back I can trace it is to an October 2006 blog post that mentions the email signature of someone named Cyrus Farivar, who currently uses the quote as a subtitle on his blog. Perhaps he is the original author - I don't know. If anyone can find a source of the quote earlier than that, I'd be curious to know about it.

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Facebook Adds "Close Friends" List To Help Sort Through The NewsFeed Overload

Facebook has long known that the "News Feed" can easily drown most folks and it would seem that they are trying yet another attempt at helping people see more relevant info. When I logged into FB today, I was greeted by this banner on the top:

Facebook close friends

I decided to play along and added a few people as "Close Friends". After hitting "Done", I wondered what would happen.

The short answer is... nothing.

At least... nothing visible. I was back looking at my News Feed as per usual. Presumably over time as I refresh the news feed the updates from these "Close Friends" will appear more often in my News Feed.

Naturally, I wanted to know where these "Close Friends" went, and I could see no sign of them in the column on the left side of Facebook. I had to click on the "MORE" link next to "FRIENDS":

Facebook 1

to get to a page of all my "lists" and from there I could click on "Close Friends" and view the list. Once I went through this exercise, "Close Friends" then appeared in the left menu inside of Facebook:


Once inside the "Close Friends" list I had a standard News Feed view of just the people I had added to this list... identical to the way Facebook Lists have always operated. There was this special note, though:

Close Friends

And clicking the "Learn More" link pops up a new wizard walking people through "Lists":

Close Friends 1

The wizard introduced me to the concepts behind Lists, mentioned "Smart Lists" built seemingly from commonalities between profiles, noted that I can keep my old lists I manually built and mentioned that I can target status updates to only specific lists. Although, unlike Google+ it seems you can only send a status update to ONE Facebook List (whereas you can include multiple Circles in Google+).

I'm guessing that perhaps Facebook felt the need to go through all of this because they knew that people were getting overloaded by their News Feed, but they also knew that many people were not using the regular "Lists" feature that Facebook rolled out some time back. With this wizard and the accompanying boxes promoting "Close Friends" they can perhaps get more people using lists.

The last page of the wizard somewhat bizarrely mentioned that I could easily "Go straight to photos and updates from the friends you care about most", using a "LISTS" area of the left sidebar that I do NOT have. Hmmm...

Close Friends 2

In looking around at settings, I can't see anywhere to enable this "LISTS" view. My left sidebar in Facebook consists of:

  • APPS
  • INTERESTS (if I hit the "MORE" link to display this)

No "LISTS" for me. Is there some configuration option I've missed? Is this "LISTS" feature still in the process of rolling out to people? Is it just some other randomness inside of Facebook? Or is really the "FRIENDS" part of the sidebar as I noted earlier? (Does Facebook need to update their wizard? or update my sidebar?)

To be honest, I don't know how often I'll really switch to the list view for "Close Friends" (wherever the link is found). I don't spend a huge amount of time in Facebook... when I dip in I usually just scan down through the News Feed. Now and then, though, I can see the value of the list.

What I'd like more is to know that all the updates and photos from the people I put in that list will appear in my regular News Feed. Facebook's annoying feature of only showing you some of the posts from people means that I do miss out on what people post. I understand that it's one of their ways of helping with News Feed overload... and perhaps this list will help in prioritizing what you see.

What do you think? Will you use the "Close Friends" list? Will this help you in working with Facebook?

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On The Need To FOCUS In Our Age Of Hyper-Distraction...

I was amused by a bit of synchronicity yesterday. I've been giving a lot of thought lately to how to better focus my attention. The "bright shiny objects" of our social media world have tended to pull me away from what I should be doing and suddenly I've found that it will be near the end of a day and I haven't accomplished those things I'd set out to do in the morning.
"Oh, look, there's a butterfly..."

It's VERY easy to get distracted. Go to do research and pull up an article... only to start clicking on other headlines and photos... and then somewhere in there remember what you were researching...

The topic of "attention", or our lack thereof, has been much on my mind.

So I was amused to find two articles yesterday that both hit this topic straight on:

  • Developing Razor Sharp Focus with Zen Habits Blogger, Leo Babauta is actually a blog post written back in July 2011 by Jane Genovese, who also produced this wonderful mind-map/graphic that I've included in this post. (A larger version is in her post.)

    Jane discusses a free ebook from Leo Babauta, "Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction" and lays out her own suggestions and commentary about how to focus more. It's a well-done post with, again, a stellar graphic. (I've subsequently downloaded Leo Babauta's ebook, too.)

  • Don't blame the information for your bad habits is an interview over on O'Reilly's Radar site by Mac Slocum of author Clay Johnson about his upcoming book "The Information Diet" that hits many of the same themes. While this interview is admittedly self-promotional as Johnson's book is an O'Reilly book, it nonetheless has some good thoughts in it. Here's a quote I liked:

    In other words, we don't suffer from information overload — we suffer from information overconsumption and poor consumption habits. The solution is just as simple as a successful food diet. It's about building habits and healthy choices for yourself, and sticking to it.

    Tim O'Reilly also had a good comment to the post that included in part this:

    Time is a precious resource. You don't get it back. Thinking through what you want to produce as well as what you want to consume, and how much time you'll allocate to each activity, is a good start. But there are a whole host of productive steps you can take to remove cruft from your information diet.

Both of these posts came to my attention yesterday... ironically, of course, both through social media. The first through Google+ and the second through either Facebook or Twitter (and possibly both).

Regardless, they do hit on a crucial topic - how do we manage our time and our attention? How do we focus on what is important? How do we not get distracted by all those forces around us that entice us?

I've been taking some steps over the past few months to increase my focus (including of note to only read email at particular times of the day)... and I need to take even a few more.

What steps are you taking to tame the distractions?

UPDATE: Chris Brogan wrote a great post on this topic on Dec 2nd: YOU’RE NOT AS BUSY AS YOU THINK

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The Facebook/Burson-Marsteller Debacle, Google - and the World War For (Our) Information

“There’s a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… it’s all about the information!”
- Cosmo in “Sneakers” (1992)

I could only reflect on this quote as the news exploded last week that Facebook had hired PR firm Burson-Marsteller to spread negative stories about Google, and then continued in almost Keystone Kops-fashion with both Facebook and B-M competing to see who could throw the other under the bus the fastest... complete with silly aspects like Burson-Marsteller deleting posts from their Facebook page (they have stopped doing that, as is obvious from their page now).

In the midst of all this there was the predictable outrage from so many in the PR / communications industry, with statements about clear violations of ethics and so much more. Neville Hobson provides a solid summary over on his blog along with some recommendations for B-M.

My only real thought through it all was...

is anyone REALLY surprised?

If anything, my surprise was only that the Burson-Marsteller employees were amateur enough that they got caught!

The War

The reality is that the quote that Ben Kingsley's character Cosmo said to his friend Martin (Robert Redford) almost 20 years ago is if anything only MORE true today.

There's a war out there.

A war for our eyeballs.

A war for our attention.

A war for our dollars.

... and we're not talking petty cash... we're talking billions of dollars.. maybe trillions.

Take a look at what you do every day. Take a look at the tools you use. Where's your email? Where's your blog hosted? Where do post status updates and connect with friends? Where do you post your photos? What do you use to write documents? What do you use to find your way from one place to another?

Odds are that for almost all of you reading this, the answer is...

the Cloud.


Somewhere... on someone's servers... on someone's service.

Even for documents... Google Apps, now Microsoft's Office 365, and more and more and more...

We are evolving into the Cloud.

And therein lies the war.

The war is about who controls the information... it's about "what we see and hear, how we work, what we think".

It's about who actually runs the "cloud"... who controls the servers where the data actually resides. It's about who owns the plumbing down underneath.

It's also about who controls how we access the "cloud"... who controls the tools we use... the interfaces we use... the services we use... even the bandwidth we use...

It's a world war...

It's THE war that will define our future... and whether that future will be in the hands of closed, proprietary "walled gardens" controlled by a few corporations - or whether we will have a more open Internet where we all have more choice and control.

Oh, yes, and it's a war for BILLIONS of dollars...

In That Context...

The other reality is that this Burson-Marsteller "kerfuffle" between Facebook and Google is only a minor skirmish in the larger war.

The battles are playing out all around us... online with Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Microsoft and everyone else who would like to be in that game... in the mobile sphere with Apple, Google (Android), Microsoft and everyone else... in the underlying plumbing with the telco/mobile carriers (AT&T, Verizon, a zillion others), the cable providers (Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, a zillion others), the other ISPs, the other wireless providers, Google, and everyone else...

... and in so many other facets of our lives. Pick an area... and there's a battle going on as part of this larger war.

In that context, the fact that Facebook engaged a company like Burson-Marsteller to spread rumors and stir up negative publicity against an opponent is not at all surprising.

For many engaged in this war, they live by a simple premise:

The ends justify the means.

And with that world-view, such quaint views as "ethics" don't matter. All that matters is...


By any means.

Was what Burson-Marsteller and Facebook did sleazy and unethical by the standards most of us hold?


Will Burson-Marsteller's actions once again hurt those of us who take pride in the PR / communications industry and would like it to be viewed more positively?


Will those of us who do abide by a code of ethics in our PR / communications efforts once again have to endure having our reputation tarnished by those who don't?


Will will see more of these kind of sleazy actions, perhaps not from Burson-Marsteller but from other firms?


... but odds are that others will look to cover their tracks more and not get caught.

There's a war out there, my friends, a world war...

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On the Joy of a Disconnected Weekend...

I spent almost all of the weekend offline... and it was a beautiful thing.

In fact, I need to remind myself to do it more often.

Now, part of my unplugging was by necessity. My wife and I went to a cousin's wedding Saturday evening down near Rhode Island and so had a combination of 3 hours driving and 6 hours at the wedding. Prior to that we had family arriving to watch our kids while we were away. While I did do a Facebook Places check-in from the country club where the event was held, I was otherwise offline for the most part (and was obviously not online while driving).

Here's what my weekend content creation turned out to be:

  • 2 tweets
  • 3 photos posted to Facebook
  • 1 sharing of a link on Facebook
  • 1 Facebook check-in (at the wedding)
  • 1 FourSquare check-in (at the city dump ;-)
  • 0 blog posts, videos, or anything else

That was it. (Well, I answered a couple of email messages, too.)

And yes, the 0 blog posts means that I really blew my "365 days of blog posts" goal for 2011 - but I'd already missed that goal back on March 5. I've become okay with that. So far in 2011 this will be my 310th blog post... and we've only had 122 days in the year... so even with missing 3 days I'm averaging 2.5 blog posts per day.

Instead of being online as much as I usually am, I had two wonderful evenings with my wife (one of which involved the wedding and seeing extended family), a great lunch with my parents who I don't get to see all that often, some good conversations with folks in our community and a great day outside with my family working in our yard and just enjoying the beautiful weather.

I've been working online now for over 25 years... starting back in the "online services" and BBS's that pre-dated the Internet back in mid-1980s... and then moving into BITNET and very early Internet... and on and on...

Being online is at this point in time part and parcel of who I am... I can't really think of NOT being online on a daily basis. It's just "what I do".

But every now and then it is good for the soul to step awayyy for the keyboard for a block of time and just revel in everything else around us that is NOT online. It's healthy and rejuvenating... and gives one perspective.

Sure, by being offline, I missed the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the President's speech last night... but in the grand scheme of things, did it really matter that I learned about the news 10 hours later when I woke up and went online this morning? (And in truth, I learned about it from my wife who checked Facebook before I did this morning!)

We who live so much of our lives online DO need to remember to unplug and disconnect ourselves now and then. It's a huge challenge for many folks... myself included. But I do believe we'll be better for it.

How about you? When was the last time you disconnected for more than a couple of hours?

Image credit: nige_mar on Flickr

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LinkedIn's Brilliant PR Move - The "Personal" Letter To Its First Million Members

I do have to hand it to CEO Reid Hoffman and the others at LinkedIn for a positively brilliant action today. Like many others in the early adopter set, I received a "personal thank you" from Reid Hoffman thanking me for being among the first million LinkedIn users now that they have hit 100 million users. (If you didn't get the letter, no worries, TechCrunch posted a copy.)

The genius here was including our actual member number (which turns out to be the ID number in your LinkedIn URL). Mine is 199,110 ... which when you realize that there are now 100,000,000+ members means that I was indeed among the earlier folks using LinkedIn.

And... like the sheep we so often are in the early adopter set... my first reaction was to go tweet about it.

At which point I noticed a zillion other people tweeting about it...


Absolutely brilliant.

Some folks just tweeted how cool it was:



While others tweeted about being an early adopter:

Twitter   ian kennedy Thanks and congrats  quix

Twitter   Tim Wagner 476 525 Never let it be sa

And others did note the mass e-mail side of it:

Twitter   Dossy Shiobara Neat just got the mass em

Twitter   Ali Fenn  35 605 Great personal t

My favorite was perhaps this one...

Twitter   Brian Steeves I m an early adopter with

and this witty tweet...

Twitter   Sameer Patel I love you regardless of y

My own tweet, then, was one of amusement more than anything else.

Brilliantly done, LinkedIn ... you played us so extremely well. Appealing to our pride in being early adopters. You had to know we would tweet that out. And of course, we did. (And some of us even wrote blog posts about it.)

Well done.

P.S. Congrats, by the way, on hitting 100 million users.

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The Greatest Gift You Can Give This Season


Credit: jenrab

There is one gift that we all can give this season that is far, far, far greater than anything else. It is a simple gift to give... yet it is by far one of the hardest to give.

That gift is very simply...

our presence.

Not "presents"... "presence".

The act of being there, in the moment...

... with whomever we are with.

We live in an age of distraction.

There are so many new tools (or toys)... there are so many channels of communication... there are so many things going on. There are status updates to post, tweets to read... Oh, look, there's a butterfly....

We live in an age of "busy".

We all have busy lives. We work hard and long hours. We play hard. We have zillions of events going on for school or work or church or community groups or sports or friends or charities or nonprofit orgs or ... or ... or ..

We have deadlines at work and "to do" lists that can never be completed. Projects abound that take all of our "work" time and carry over into our "personal" time... we are always thinking about them.

We live in an age of "multi-tasking".

Our ubiquitous mobile phones are always within reach.

Always tempting us.

Always available for us to "just check one more email message"... or to scan our Facebook NewsFeed... or to reply to a tweet... or see what friends have checked in nearby on FourSquare.

We email while we drive... and check web sites while we are ostensibly in a meeting with other people.

We live in an age of continuous partial attention.

Always on. Always connected.

We don't want to miss whatever comes next. Whether or not it matters whether we miss that or not is a different question.

We are plugged in ... connected... wired...

... and almost never giving anyone our full attention.

And yet... in this attention-starved world, that is in fact the greatest gift we can give each other.

To be there.

In the moment.

Right then.

Paying attention to what others are saying or doing.

It is insanely hard to do, for all those reasons listed above.

I definitely struggle with it... beyond all those reasons above, as a writer, my head is always exploding with new ideas, and it often involves a substantial effort to consciously park those ideas to remain present.

Yet, if we can do it, that is the greatest gift we can give.

The presents will fade. The toys will break. The clothes will be outgrown. The jewelry will be replaced. The electronics will become outdated.

But our presence - or lack thereof - will linger.

Will you give that gift this year?

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Video/Animation - How Our Perspective on Time Affects Us

Stumbled upon this fascinating video / animation from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) titled: "RSA Animate - The Secret Powers of Time". The abstract is:
Professor Philip Zimbardo conveys how our individual perspectives of time affect our work, health and well-being. Time influences who we are as a person, how we view relationships and how we act in the world.

and the video is really an animation of a whiteboard drawing that goes along with the talk. It's brilliantly done, and I see that the RSA has several other videos with "RSA Animate" titles that look similar.

I found it a fascinating glimpse into a topic I've always been curious about... how the pace of our lives affects our interaction with those around us and even with ourselves and our inner thoughts.

Along the the way there was a brief side note about technology and kids that included this quote that I agree with:

We are underestimating the power of technology in re-wiring young peoples' brains.

All in all, I thought it was a good use of 10 minutes - stimulated a number of thoughts I want to follow up on. Enjoy:

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The Content Creator's Creed

Loved this tweet from Ron Ploof last week:


The content creators' creed:

We have an obligation to be interesting.

Ron said in a subsequent reply back: 'It came from a customer considering a company blog. He said, "So you're saying we have an obligation to be interesting?"'

We don't, of course, truly have that obligation.

We are free to go ahead and create the most boring, useless, trivial, mundane, unreadable and unviewable content.

We have that freedom.

There are no set "rules" that dictate what kind of content we must create online.


IF we want people to read, view or listen to our content...

IF we want people to share our content to others...

IF we want people to take action based on our content (visiting a site, downloading something, buying an item, signing up, etc., etc.)...

IF we want people to choose our content amidst the insane amount of content being created each day...

THEN... I agree with Ron...

We have an obligation to be interesting!

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Humor from The Onion: "Nation Shudders At Large Block of Uninterrupted Text"

onion.pngIn these attention-starved days when we all find ourselves pulled into the "micro-blogging" of Twitter and Facebook, this particular satire piece at The Onion hit home for me (hat tip to Jon Udell for tweeting the link):
Nation Shudders At Large Block of Uninterrupted Text

My favorite parts:

Dumbfounded citizens from Maine to California gazed helplessly at the frightening chunk of print, unsure of what to do next. Without an illustration, chart, or embedded YouTube video to ease them in, millions were frozen in place, terrified by the sight of one long, unbroken string of English words.


"It demands so much of my time and concentration," said Chicago resident Dale Huza, who was confronted by the confusing mound of words early Monday afternoon. "This large block of text, it expects me to figure everything out on my own, and I hate it."

... and really the rest of it. Great job to the folks at The Onion for poking fun at our brevity-focused world...

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