Thursday, December 1, 2011

How I "Sell the Drama"

I received a comment on yesterday's blog post that I think deserves an answer. I made the point that we should sell our efforts a little better and highlight where we add value. I recommended using a technical blog as exactly the way and place to do that. This begs a couple of questions. How much time should be spent on "selling the drama" and additionally, should one use work time to do stuff that ends up on a blog? Put more plainly, do I work on my blog while I am at work?

If I had to give a purely "yes" or "no" answer, the answer would then have to be "yes". However, it's not quite that simple, and before people raise their eyebrows, I think I need to offer a bit of clarification to exactly what that means.

I have an agreement with my company that my blog exists as my "long term storage" of ideas and concepts. To that end, yes, I do work on things that make their way into blog posts all the time. However, I don't do it in a way where it's "I'm writing a blog post". It's more like "I drop random notes to myself during the day, and at given points, I expand on those random notes". Sometimes they become blog posts, sometimes they stew, and they may or may not actually get written up.

Often I see or think of something that interests me, or that starts my wheels turning. When I do that, I think "heh, that's cool, I'll get back to that idea"... and then it's gone. I have friends who are musicians, and sometimes they'll get the idea for a song, and rather than lose that moment, they'd call themselves and sing into their voice mail. When they got home, they'd hear that snippet and it would jog their memories, and they'd get into it more and explore the idea.

In some ways, I do exactly that with little ideas that pop into my head each day, only instead of calling myself, I open a no frills text editor and jot down a quick note. Those familiar with Jerry Weinberg would say I'm "Collecting Stones". Once I've got a sentence down, I'll go off and work on something else, but I know I have that sentence.

Typically, if I play with an idea, I will be able to place it into one of three major categories. I refer to those areas as tactical, event-driven and philosophical.

Tactical: specific actions, technologies, or methods to demonstrate knowledge in a meaningful way. My "Practicum" is an example of tactical blog posts that can be used to show experience, understanding, and that I can share with my team internally and have direct relevance to the work we are immediately doing. I have an understanding that, if I'm focusing on a tactical entry, I have permission to pursue it at work, within reason (usually about a 10% time commitment).

Event-Driven: posting a book review, posting a followup to a conference, a meet-up, a seminar, etc. These are event based entries, and they tell about where you have been, what you have seen, etc. A general book review I consider an event, a Practicum level breakdown or a chapter by chapter synopsis like my BOOK CLUB entries, those fall into the tactical area. I'll mostly do these on my own time.

Philosophical: these are what I call my "navel gazing" posts. When I ruminate on experiences, things I've learned, make parallel examples, or share parables from my life to testing, these are philosophical entries. They may or may not have a lot of immediate value to my company directly (indirectly I think they do because many of these help me explore ideas that can be used tactically). They definitely have value to me. Still, since they are often "soft skill" or "meditative" things, I try to focus on these outside of work.

The trick is, I can't really tell my brain "OK, just focus on tactical stuff while you are at work. Only take notes on tactical things!" Also, I may not know if a tactical idea will become a philosophical one, or the other way around. As I mentioned before, ideas can be fleeting. If you don't grab them or make a note of them when they are fresh, you may not get the chance to recall them again later.

If I get a long enough break (lunch, some other "off focus" time, train ride, etc.) then I break out and expand the ideas. If I have something I think is good enough to go, then I'll open up my blog, paste in what I've written and set to Schedule. I've picked 5:00 AM and 5:00 PM as my time for general and in-advance scheduled posts. An exception: if what I'm working on is specific to my progress or a goal that needs to be met, I may bump something and post it instead. Today's post is one of those bumps :).

There is something to be aware of if you find yourself blogging something of interest or of a tactical nature. If you blog using your company's equipment, you may find that the copyright is owned by them, not you. If that concerns you, then make a point to use a different machine for this purpose, and don't post over the company's network. This is part of the reason why I carry two laptops with me all the time. One belongs to work, and what I do on it is primarily work related (and I expect anything I do there will effectively belong to them). I use my other laptop (my PC) for any projects that I consider to be wholly mine. I use Dropbox to keep certain things I work on in sync (example: all of my practicum notes are in Dropbox, so I can work on them at any time, on any system).

Also, my own personal experience has shown me that this approach may be fraught with typos and errors that you may miss, because you are not writing it all at one shot. If you have enough time with ideas, you can develop a blindness to typos and errors because your mind is happy to fill in the blanks. In this case, I would recommend that, before you do a final post, do a "read through" of your post as though you were giving it as a talk. The vocalization causes your eyes and brain to slow down enough to where the "mental compensation" doesn't get a chance to take hold, and you actually notice a lot of things that you would otherwise skim over.

So there it is, that's how I typically go about doing these posts, and that's how I walk the line between working on entries and keeping my head in the game while I'm working. Moderation in all things is pretty good advice, I must say, even for technical bloggers :).
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