It’s the end of the month (Happy Halloween!) and I’m sitting down to do my monthly review–which happens as close to the 30th as I can get each month, give or take a couple of days depending on my schedule and deadlines. I find that I like to check-in on the 30th to see how things are going, because a monthly check-in is a good rhythm to gauge whether or not I’m making significant progress on my larger goals, what I moved forward on, and whether or not I’m happy with the balance in my health, lifestyle, ambitions, physicality and writing dreams.
I’m sharing a peek-behind-the-scenes into my monthly review because I think you’ll like it–I love learning how people operate and how often they check in with themselves, what (or whether or not) they set goals for themselves, and how they go about reaching them. I like getting things done and making things happen, and this is a system that works for me. I’ve shared it with a handful of people over the past couple of days and so I’m documenting both what I do–and some of the questions they have–as a peek behind the curtains.
Each month is different–I find that I hit different areas of my life vision with different success–and sometimes I have to stop and recognize when four or five months have gone by and I’m consistently under-performing in one of the areas; if so, this area needs a little bit of rethinking or added focus.
Why a monthly review?
Every day is different, and quite frankly , there are some Shit days. Shit with a capital S where nothing goes right, you stay at work late, drink too many beers, don’t exercise, go to sleep late. You know. Those days. And there are even some Shit weeks. It’s not all roses and rose petals, and in fact, I find I have to gauge based on a sampling of 4 weeks to see if things are getting back on track and working out on the average, or if they’ve been consistently bad. A single week isn’t a good enough indication about the progress I want to be making. I find the 30th of each month to be a good time to pause and breathe and think back about some simple questions:
- What are three things I did really well last month?
- What progress did I make on my big goals?
- What are three areas I can improve?
- What’s most important to do next month?
If I can breathe for an hour, think about these questions, be kind to myself and acknowledge both the good and the bad–I can set myself up for success and check-in that I’m at least moving towards my bigger goals. All of these questions are really important. First, you must remind yourself of all the good work you are already doing: Remember to thank yourself for the simple things, like showing up at your job. Taking care if someone. Exercising. Those things you take for granted? You’re doing a good job, and cultivating a practice of recognizing this in yourself is crucial.
In this review, I focus on writing, since that’s what I do here on this blog as a mode of communication–but I have a more extensive check-in that looks at the following ten areas (it’s easier than it sounds–I like to touch base on these items): personal happiness, health & physicality, financial, skills & education, career & projects, writing, connections & outreach, relationships, and travel, leisure & experiences, and holistic: lifestyle. To see a sample of the monthly review check out this quick template, if you’d like a copy!
Bear with me, because you’ll see the full extent of the type of analysis and thinking I do behind a lot of the work I do–including a lot of musing to myself. I’m sharing this process because I hope it’s helpful and informative, and maybe you have ideas for how this process can get better that you’d like to share with me as well! What do you do to get the work done, make shit happen, and then make it better?
I’m sharing this process because I hope it’s helpful and informative, and maybe you have ideas for how this process can get better, too.
Here’s what I do, for the writing part of my life.
Writing: Monthly Review
On this blog, I tend to write posts that range in length from 400 words to upwards of 3000 words (some longer, some shorter). In order to monitor what I’m putting out there, I do a quick monthly calibration (just by glancing through the last month) to see what I’ve been working on and whether or not the list of posts is adding up to a bigger body of work that’s useful for me and others.
For example, in October I wrote:
It Starts With
Of the six posts, the most-shared and the ones that generated the most feedback (through email, comments, Twitter and Facebook) were Change, You Are Loved, and the last one on Trees.
- Oct 1 – The Two Year Expiration Date
- Oct 2 – Idea: Change the “To” field in Gmail
- Oct 10 – The Disappearing Designer
- Oct 15 – How to be 1 in 1000
- Oct 16 – No, I Won’t Meet You For Coffee (version 1)
- Oct 16 – The 4 hour coffee
- Oct 16 – No, I Won’t Meet You For Coffee (version 2)
- Oct 17 – Idea: Email User Rankings
- Oct 23 – Easy?
- Oct 25 – Charity Water: How Did You Raise All That Money?
I also wrote two posts on the Landscape Urbanism blog and a couple of guest posts (behind the scenes–that still aren’t published yet), in addition to the large handful of not-finished drafts for next month and dozens of sketches in my notebooks.
Boy, You Write A Lot…
Yes, I do.
I can’t help it.
As Justine Musk writes about the young Jane Goodall, you sometimes have a clue to who you are as a young child, despite all of the cultural and parental voices that might tell you to think otherwise. I’ve been writing endlessly since I was four or five, painstakingly copying books and gluing paper together into pieces for my parents. I also worry less about the final product and more about the process of showing up for yourself and your work. It doesn’t matter how good it is–what matters is that you show up. Show up for yourself. Good can come later.
The essays listed above aren’t much different than what I typically do, I am just sharing more of it publicly–turning my notebooks outward, if you will.
I really enjoy the new Svbtle space because it’s a whiteboard of experimentation and I get to try out a lot of ideas and thoughts and put them into a well-built community interested in very specific ideas (technology, innovation, San Francisco, and entrepreneurship, among other things). I haven’t had to “write for someone else,” in a while and I’m enjoying the process of experimenting with timing, frequency, and landing–to see what’s sticking and what’s not, how people are responding, and what changes about my writing when I take it to a new space. In general, earlier posts that have been more philosophical or lyrical and less pragmatic tend not to get as many responses. It’s a very fun place for me to experiment with more of my writing.
Will I continue to write in both places? It seems that 16 posts a month is probably on the high end of my frequency–while I write every day, sometimes 5,000 words a day, easily–it’s a good question for consideration whether or not publishing every other day is the right move (and whether it adds up to something bigger, which I’ll talk about in just a second). Because this is a lot of time to be spending writing, particularly if it’s not additive. Should it be building into something bigger? Yes.
Should I write less? Oh no. You can’t stop me… I’ll never stop writing. It’s just becoming more visible in different places.
Should I streamline? That is, consolidate into one internet home? Possibly, but not yet, at least I don’t think so. I like what I’m learning and getting and growing from each of these spheres of publication.
What’s the focus?
In general I try to write about the following things on this blog [ISW]–
- Thoughtful, philosophical posts that make you think or see the world in a new way;
- Motivational, inspirational, or “do it,” psychological posts: ways to get out of your own way; the art of getting things done.
- Research and longer essays on particular topics related to performance, innovation, inspiration, work, careers, learning + getting yourself to start new projects;
- Practical tips and how-to’s for developing life and productivity strategies
- Images or sketches to capture ideas or sentiments;
- Event captures or life recaps—any time I travel or speak somewhere, I try to record this as well.
Each of the type of posts I publish reaches a different set of users and I can feel the different responses in the community that’s grown around this website–that is, YOU.
Also interesting to note: the value of a post changes over time—the events are the least-shared and don’t hold up well over time, but I get feedback from people that like to learn about events and hear about conferences, particularly if they can’t attend.
To be honest, I also catalog the places I visit and speak for personal reasons—by capturing and documenting where I go, I can look back at the month and it helps me review/analyze what I’ve been up to and what’s been a good use of my time. So it becomes reference material for me. (When I wake up and feel exhausted, I sometimes skim my Facebook albums and think, well, hmm–I went to four different states and did 3 speaking events, plus wrote 16 essays in addition to my very challenging day job. This explains the tired-ness. Maybe a day of watching movies is in order!)
The longer essays surprise me, and I also stumble across ideas that I think are obvious, yet people say, “thank you! I never thought of it that way,”–and I’m grateful that I published and that you found it useful. It reminds me that the most important thing you can do is show up.
Why do you write so much?
I also write largely for internal purposes–I gain so much from the process and practice of writing. I write because:
- I get to learn and explore ideas, rolling words around in my mind and on paper;
- To document and chronicle particular ideas;
- To start a conversation;
- To share ideas;
- To put a marker in time for where I am so I can go back and reflect and analyze from a future state;
- To teach and practice explaining things in many different ways;
- To learn how well I know something;
- To get the thinking in my brain out of it and on a dang piece of paper so I can sleep (not kidding…)
And externally? Are you being successful?
I think a lot about who reads my blog, and I wonder if I’m helpful and useful–and what I could do to become more useful while still staying true to what pulls me to write. What kinds of resources and ideas that I use, what things do I know how to do, and what am I involved in that might be helpful if someone knew about it? What essays are the most striking? How can I collect these essays and ideas into larger bodies of work that become really really good tools that people can use in their personal and professional lives? This isn’t about sales or products for products’ sake. But if and when I can deliver something of incredible value, something that people want and can use immensely and learn a lot from–absolutely. I’ll do it.
Jonathan Fields, Pam Slim and many others have taught the importance of understanding your “Avatars,”–or the specific type of person that comes to your blog. Whether it’s one person or five people or many thousands–having an idea of who you’re having a conversation with is important. This is what “marketing” is–understanding who the group of people is and what they look like. Beyond clicks, metrics, and responses–much of it is just a guess, pieced together with snippets of information and interactions online and offline. Given the entire fields devoted to analysis and market research, it’s not a surprise that this is an industry in and of itself. Marketing helps you understand how to find the right fit between a person and a product (or tool or resource), and while it’s gotten a bad name at times, I think it’s just about finding information about what’s working and who’s listening.
What I do, in a very non-technical way, is make up stories in my mind about who is reading my work. Many of these stories are painted from pictures you’ve given me–through emails and letters and correspondence from people in this community that I’m grateful to get to know. Each blog, website, or crowd can have multiple “Avatars,” — that is, your content might appeal to both an 18-year old college-bound female as well as a 55-year old Post Master in Idaho Falls with a family of four. I know from your emails that there are people across the spectrum who visit and find value here, and I appreciate that immensely. Here’s a smattering of just some of the stories I’ve pieced together for people who might have visited this website (and am I missing you? Say hello!):
- The 20-25 year old post-college graduate and early-careerist, with an unclear understanding of how the first couple of years of a career maps into a larger life plan, and wary of committing to one place for fear of getting stuck or not having the right fit; many of these people are interested in alternative job structures, traveling, early freedom, and experiences;
- Philosophers and psychologists of all ages interested in behavioral psychology, learning, hacking the mind, and developing systems for improving oneself and ones’ community
- The 30-40 year old “mid-career-ist” who has completed 8 or 10 or more years in a particular field or profession and itching for something to stretch, challenge, or grow them; people wondering what “the next step,” is and not sure how to bridge the gap into something new because of the familiarity of the spaces they’ve developed over the last 8-10 years;
- The “late-career-ist,” in their mid-50’s or even young 60’s, not ready to “quit work,” because they enjoy doing things and creating anew; many of the readers of this blog tell me about the three, four, or eight companies they’ve been a part of, and they’re ready for the next step in their adventure or happily invested in one space but looking to expand into another project or dream space.
- YOU–your story, and your unique reason for coming here. What compels you? What do you learn? Is it helpful?
In my working with people on the Start Something Project, I’m learning more and more about how to create tools and resources that are of long-lasting value: written, strategic, and implementable. It’s not about mastering everything; the hardest thing for almost everyone is getting started.
It’s finding those 15 minutes on a strange Tuesday where you actually get out of your office and do the thing you’ve been meaning to do for the last 5 years. It’s wondering why time keeps disappearing and why you’re not making any progress on that big, scary dream of yours. The thing is, it’s a lot easier to do what’s already been done than to carve out another path, and time and time again I discover that taking the first step and getting started is the hardest part. Putting yourself first and saying, “Hey, self, I’m going to take this lunch break and read a book instead of surf the internet,” is very, very difficult. Transitioning from one lunch to yourself to two or three a week is easier. It’s the first step that’s the hardest, no matter what age, gender, country or industry we’re in.
The group that comes to this website–the community that’s formed–is a diverse group of people that I’m fortunate to interact with and thrilled to be learning with and learning from. (If I haven’t said it enough, thank you so much for visiting!)
What About The Bigger Picture?
As I log this, I realize I’ve written more than 400 essays in the last two years for 3 different websites that all launched between one and two years ago. I took a brief look at one of my moleskine notebooks from January 2011 and realized (somewhat in shock) that my blogging adventures are all less than 2 years old. What a ride it’s been!
So, what’s next? Where will this go? How has writing this many essays helped me and you? More importantly, how do they add up and how can I tweak what I’m doing to make it collect into something even bigger? Should I take this ship in a new direction?
Based on my analysis of the past month and what I’ve been thinking about for a while, my tentative direction could look like the following–and I tend to paint pictures about the future in loose fuzzy shapes, with many possibilities on the horizon–we can’t know what we’ll end up doing, but if we paint the pictures and spend time visualizing the possibilities, we’re better equipped to know when to snatch up an opportunity to make one of the dreams come true.
Because, yes, I want to take this to something bigger. I’m always interested in finding ways for the work I do to fold together and ways to push myself to the next level. So, in reviewing, I asked myself:
“How can I take what I’ve written and make a strategic changes to create a bigger impact?”
Some of the ideas I have include the following list:
- Submitting longer or more topical essays and written series to prominent outlets such as Fast Company, Atlantic Cities, New York Times, Time, Wired, Entrepreneur and other publications. Some of these are a stretch, but it’s also feasible within the next two to three years to make this a reality. (Stretch goal and self challenge: what would it take to be published in all of them before the year ends?)
- Teaching what I’ve learned: In the past year, I’ve turned this blog and the thinking I’m doing into five different presentations and I’ll also be teaching a series of single classes at General Assembly on Storytelling starting in a couple of weeks. If you’re in San Francisco and want more details on storytelling design for personal and business narratives, join in!
- Formulating a book (or several, naturally), and since this month kicks off National Novel Writing Month (starting today!) I’m going to challenge myself to write 30 or more essays on the topic of personal psychology and self-hacking: how to trick yourself into your best behavior and things I’ve learned about how to make things happen.
- Research and Fellowship Opportunities: One way to take the pile of essays I’ve crafted and knit them together is to start to explore opportunities for 3-month, 6-month or even year-long research and teaching opportunities that focus on one of more of my areas of interest.
- Developing resources for this community that focus on psychology, writing, getting started and my own list of communication hacks that I have in my notebooks.
- Working more with individuals one-on-one in the Start Something Project as a deep-dive and case study to better understand individual psychology, limiting beliefs, and how to help people execute on their dreams.
I won’t do everything listed above–but this post was prompted by a desire to show you the behind-the-scenes of the working process and how I build my projects over time, including the analysis. aspects This is a brainstorming list of the possibilities for what’s next–and if you were inside my notebook(s) right now, you’d see a scrawling note to myself that says, “Who knows, Sarah? Maybe by the end of 2013 you’ll have a book manuscript ready to go, you’ll be teaching classes regularly and you’ll have an article or two published in the New York Times. And more. Get ready.”
The ability to dream and paint pictures in the future helps manifest it into reality. By looking strategically at what I’ve done and putting together an outline of concepts for the future, I can take steps towards making it happen and better know what to say yes to and what to say no to, depending on what the opportunity looks like.
Was this helpful?
Let me know: Do you like seeing behind the scenes? Is this helpful? Is there a resource I can put together that will be useful to you? I’m going to put together more opportunities to work one-on-one in hour-long and half-day coaching and consulting sessions (feel free to email me for details), because I LOVE working with people to figure out ideas and build great projects. (Full disclosure, of course: it is not cheap–so serious inquiries only, please!)
And some free stuff, of course!
I’m also excited about tons of free giveaways coming up–I have a lot of goodies on my desk and I’m looking for creative ways to give them away. Here’s some of the good stuff coming up (stay tuned because I’ll be giving ALL of this away in November:
- First: Right now! Get a free copy of a (surprise) book! I designed a book for a good friend of mine and we’ll be publishing it this month and although I’m biased, I LOVE the book. I have up to 20 copies to give away to people who want to read it and review it before November 13th. The first 20 people to email me their name, address + interest in the book (and who are willing to write a short review, quote, or paragraph about what they think of the book) will get free copies. Just because! Go now! Email me!
- Three (3!) copies of “I’m Fine, Thanks,” by Crank Tank Studios, a documentary film about the current state of work + apathy in America. (Brilliant–I just watched it). Stay tuned for this to be given away to readers soon!
- One copy of Julien Smith and Chris Brogan’s new book, “The Impact Equation,” just released. ALSO stay tuned for this to be given away soon.
- A “Pay What You Can” Day of coaching + jam sessions (30 minute and 45 minute slots) one weekend day in October for people who want to connect but have variable financial situations and project needs. I’ll set up a 6-hour time slot for 6-8 people to talk through a project or process of their choosing. Details coming soon…
“Do everything you can to make everything you want possible. Go on, do it.”
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