John Saito writes for a living, but his is a unique application. The format he primarily writes for is user interfaces. It’s a format that necessitates a certain type of writing. As he puts it:
You see, I mostly write interface text for apps and websites. It’s a style of writing where brevity beats brilliance, and every character counts. Writing interface text is actually a lot like design—designing words for people who hate to read.“
He then goes on to give some great tips for how to write copy for interfaces. However, these tips can be applied to a lot of different formats. Onboarding emails and help documentation come to mind.
In a similar vein, check out How to Design Better Websites by Writing Them First. What a great title there. You can take this title and change it to How to (Do Everything) Better by Writing First and insert your activity of choice. I know I’ve been talking a lot about writing, sketching, and working with your hands of late. But I’ll just keep preaching that message, cuz it works, yo!
It most certainly applies to websites. Under a section titled “Form follows function. Style follows everything.”, Stefan Rössler states:
When you want to write your website you need to be sure about its function. What’s the purpose of your site? Figure that out and you’ll be able to write it down. The form of your website should be defined by what you want to achieve, not how by you want it to look. Only after the writing was done properly, it’s time to start styling your website.“
And the same is true for your email newsletter, your series of behaviour emails for your customers, a process document for how your team uses your CRM … and on and on.
Focused on the Grass
I've noticed an issue with our young industry. I’m not sure of the exact problem, but the symptom is this: people rarely stay at a job for long periods of time.
2 years is considered lengthy in the world of the Valley, the web, and SaaS companies. I’ve had this thought in past, but had it reinforced in a recent conversation.
Talking to a friend, he stated that he was still really happy with the new job he’d had for the past 3–4 months. To paraphrase, he stated, “It’s usually at one year in where I’ll get bored with my job and decide whether the company wants to make things work or not.” This is not a knock on him, or anyone else. I’m at my third job in just under 4 years.
What causes people to move on so quickly? Age? As a 40 year old, I’m not pointing fingers at millennials here (although that’s the current trend). Is it race or upbringing, a problem of pampered white folks?
Or is it just a simple pattern of discontent in our western culture, where we change apps like we change our clothes? If we can easily change aspects of our lives like spouses and churches and hobbies, why not our jobs too?
Is this even a problem?
I don’t have answers, but I’m pondering the question. For myself, I want Wildbit to be the last stop for a long time. Part of cultivating contentment is to keep your eyes off the grass.
In a similar vein to Cal Newport’s 99u talk, Brianna West makes the case that focusing on what you love is misguided. The problem at the heart of this issue?
People usually can’t differentiate what they really love and what they love the idea of.“
And this leads to:
Premeditating what we think we’d love to do without actually being in the thick of it is the beginning of the problem, and having too much ego to scrap it and start over is the end.“
She finishes the article by focusing on how one should look for ways to give. And that’s a great point, one worthy of its own focus. But I’d like to highlight one other aspect of this topic. Wiest makes the following statement before turning to the idea of what you have to give:
There is only finding a job that suits you enough that the work doesn’t feel excruciating. There is only finding what you are skilled at, and then learning to be thankful.“
I’d suggest that is one way to approach it. But there is also the idea of working on what you're good at, then that thing becoming something you love. Or, as you get good at something, the passion grows. Through focus and time and effort (as Newport calls it, deliberate practice), you can grow to love certain tasks.
An example for myself is gardening. I hated spending time out there as a kid, helping my mom weed. Now, I’ll relish my lunch breaks when I can go out my back door and putter around, pulling weeds, getting my hands dirty, and cultivating food for our family.
We change over time, so there’s always a chance that what we start doing is what we end up wanting to do long term.
Is Calendar Based Productivity a Fad?
You may have heard these terms of late: zero based calendaring or time blocking. This latest trend is being touted by a lot of smart people (and I've shared a good number of links on the subject). What is it exactly?
It’s the practice of breaking the day into evenly spaced increments and then filling each and every one.
Why is this becoming such a repeated theme? Because as the Internet continues to expand and grow and absorb, one hard fact is becoming clear to the public conscience: time is our most precious resource. And zero based calendaring is one method that addresses this reality and attempts to help you make the most of the time you have.
Here are a few examples of people preaching this type of approach:
Now, not everyone will go so far as to schedule out every minute of every day. Other people have made the same realization about time, and have started to treat their calendars differently. But not to the point of planning each minute.
Instead, they are treating the calendar as a place to put the priorities of their life. The big tasks. The things that move their life forward in the direction they desire. Drew Coffman shares his take on this topic.
As with anything online, there are those who oppose the opinion being voiced. Ben Brooks is one such. He says:
Time boxing — setting aside chunks of your day for a specific category of work — is one thing, and while it doesn’t work for me, the purpose is noble. But planning each task on your calendar only works for the few people who have complete control over their schedules — otherwise life (kids, bosses, spouses, coworkers, pooping, etc.) gets in your way … I think this trend is stupid, and your time is far better spent learning how to stop procrastinating than it is planning out every waking minute of your day.“
Ben’s point is understandable, but I think he slightly misunderstands the point. Plenty of people keep a running list of tasks (categorized and structured in various different ways) and accomplish much. But I believe the problem that has been defined and shared in different articles does require a solution.
The problem? Treating your task management system like a wish list without proper consideration of your most precious resource (time).
The approaches that people are sharing promote one key concept: use your calendar as a visual aid to remind yourself that the amount of time limits the amount of tasks that can be accomplished. In other words, to plan better. Your to-do list captures your desires, but the solution many are suggesting is to use your calendar to capture your realistic intentions.
The next level up would be what the folks behind the SELF Journal call zero based calendaring (aka time blocking). The idea here is to fill all your time with something, to be as intentional as possible. Including recreation, rest, and time to simply think.
Cal Newport practices this approach on the daily level and talks about it in Deep Work. Matt Perman recommends the same in What's Best Next, but on the weekly level instead of daily. That is the Shawn Blanc suggests in The Focus Course.
In the end, people work differently … so none of these ideas will please or suit everyone. But the vital concept to take away is to map that gigantic list of ideas and tasks to the reality of your life.
I talk a lot about customer success here, and that will likely only increase over time. It’s what I focus on every day, after all. If you're new to the “field” or are curious of what it entails, this guide from Lincoln Murphy is a great place to start.
It’s a longer piece of writing and covers his definition of customer success, several tangential thoughts about what it is and isn’t, then he gets to the practical. The end of the guide is broken into a list that covers “the role of customer success” in various activities of a business. How does customer success play a role:
customer and user onboarding
And on it goes. This is the part of the guide that I’ll refer to from time to time. Whenever I’ve been in the weeds, deep in the details of a given initiative, I’ll come up for air and start thinking strategy at a higher level. Then I’ll review this list and ask myself where our team could focus next.
I don’t agree with all of Murphy’s ideas (he focuses a lot on the sales/renewals aspects of SaaS), but this is a helpful resource for anyone who works in (or wants to work in) customer success.
How Many Solopreneurs Can a Healthy Economy Support?
If the early web was all about sharing and connecting (first with blogs, then with social media), the adolescent sure seems to be all about “going out on your own”. It seems like everyone and their dog wants to start their own business and call their own shots. Entire businesses have sprung up to help people do just this.
And I’m not knocking that; I’ve done it myself. I’ve been in jobs where I was less than satisfied and there was this big ol’ internet encouraging me to start something on the side, so I could make it into my full time gig. And there are no ends of smart people doing crazy things to earn a living, finding what they’re passionate about and turning it into an income.
But I wonder if there’s a dark side to this as well.
For one, working a full time job and doing your own thing on your side is a serious commitment. It’s very doable for young people with little to no family to support, but it’s a bigger deal for folks raising children. And what about community involvement? Internet based side gigs often have community, but it’s not often the face to face kind.
And most important, I wonder about a state of general discontentment. If the moment your full time job becomes less appealing, a little dreary, or starts to feel like a chore, should you go looking for your own thing? Is there no value in perfecting the craft you're already a part of? I think there’s something to be said for working at enjoying your job, even when you don’t feel like it.
There’s no right or wrong here. People like Justin and the folks at Fizzle are crazy talented and I love their work (I’ve only recently gotten into the Fizzle podcast, but dang … Chase and Corbett are top notch). If you feel a burning itch that needs to be scratched, these are the type of people to pay attention to.
But count the cost. Burnout is a serious reality for people trying to juggle two professional focuses at once. And there’s nothing wrong with working towards someone else’s bottom line, if they treat you well and enable you to do your best work.