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Friday, December 9, 2011

10 Professional Secrets for a Friday

Is it me or is this holiday season even more crazed than usual? I heard recently that someone did a study of consumer vacation habits, and people are taking less time than they are entitled to, probably to keep their jobs but also possibly because when you go away there is just that much more stuff waiting for you when you get back.

In any case, my to-do list isn’t any shorter and there continues to be a need to be as effective or more effective with less time, less money, and frankly less attention from others who might have input on projects, because they are so busy with the overload of items on their plates.

So here are a few tips that have been working for me, most of them recently discovered. I hope they are helpful to you as well:

1. Let your RSS feeds do the social media for you. Don’t be scared of the acronym “RSS,” which sounds horrendous and should have been called “Microphone” or something. It just means that you put good content out on the web (short bursts, easy to read), figure out how to find or burn your feed (this is stupidly easy), and help the public find and subscribe to it. I like Google Feedburner for this – it’s the screen you usually see when you sign up for stuff. The benefit of getting good at feeds is that rather than you sharing the content, the audience shares it, which multiplies your credibility about a thousand times.

2. Use your work as an opportunity to learn instead of running to expensive classes. A good example is this RSS thing I’ve been working on. I went into Feedburner and cut and pasted their “promote your feed” code into a Word document, then played around from there till I had formatted a web page in HTML. I used free tools online to help me – for example by Googling “preview HTML” and putting the code into the screen to see the result. Did you know that having squiggly quote marks screws up your hyperlinks? I did not know that. In the future all communicators will be expected to know their way around the basics of “coding,” which is really nothing more than a kind of language that you can teach yourself with the help of the tools that are out there.

3. Engage other people in the work that you are doing and get their advice on how to sell it. When I am in technical mode I become extremely weird and nearly uncommunicative. It’s because my brain is like a computer working on a problem, and I have to focus intently until I can come up for air on the other side – yes, I used to be a swimmer and it’s the same type of principle as when you do laps. So when I’m done (like with the RSS thing) I am so deep into the technical side that I can’t even communicate with normal people about what I’ve done. So I end up saying, “Look, I’ll show you on the computer screen” just to get them to pay attention. That’s all fine and good, but there is an editor at work who has been extremely helpful to me in reading my briefings and asking me to clarify them for someone who’s just coming to the party, so to speak. You must talk to a lot of people and get their advice on packaging the work, even if you’re already a good communicator.

4. Take significant time to learn from others’ experiences. Sure you are busy but do you really have time to clean up an avoidable mess? Personally, I learn best through stories. Stories come from people who have experienced things. So I like to read blogs with people’s stories in them, or ask them directly about their experiences. Sometimes it’s hard to listen or follow what they’re saying, but there you’re developing another great skill – listening rather than just waiting to talk (you knew this).

5. Get rid of social media tools you aren’t actively using and shape up the ones you want to focus on. I recently closed my Tumblr, Wordpress, and Posterous accounts and finally mapped my domain name to my blog, so now www.dannielleblumenthal.com is my blog. I have to do more work on the design of the blog and match it to the Twitter account a little more artfully, but having so many outlets was too much.

6. Stop doing things that you can’t commit to, and commit more to the things that are indispensable to you. I don’t have time to do freelance writing, but teaching is important to me. My job is even more important. And my family is even more important than that. Charity, volunteering, friendships and social networking are important all the time. But it’s impossible to do everything, all the time.

7. Teach yourself new skills all the time despite how stupid it makes you feel. Today I learned a new program and ended up making a dumb mistake that resulted in me sending an email intended for one party to three other people. Oh well. That’s life. I am trying also to learn Gimp so that I can have free photo editing software on my computer that will enable me to cut out a foreground and put it on another background. It is difficult. But I’m going to try anyway. When I finally do learn something new it is exhilarating.

8. If you don’t have time to exercise, walk a little further to do your errands. Listen, I’m not judging; not everyone can get to the gym. But help yourself somehow because your body does need to move. I am going to walk from the train to the office today and go for another walk at lunch.

9. Bring your lunch but buy your Starbucks. I take the food from the fridge that nobody will eat because it’s “leftovers,” nuke it the next day, and to me it looks great compared with nearly $7 for a salad at Chop’t, and that’s without extra “choppings.” But the Starbucks I need, because it’s a chance to take a chill pill, and get good coffee, and use free wifi. Worth it for me.

10. Give back whenever you can, as much as you can. I believe in God – you can call it karma – and the fact that good energy and good acts are returned back to you (the same conversely applies). The “force multiplier” if you will is that when you are being good to others, you actually feel good anyway, so whatever good comes back is like interest on top of the original investment.

How are you saving time nowadays, or money? Send in a comment, I’d really like to hear.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!

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