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Blog Like A Pro In Three Easy Steps: Assess, Decide, Do

Blog Like A Pro In Three Easy Steps: Assess, Decide, Do

    Many readers of Stepcase Lifehack are bloggers themselves and some of them are even making a (nice) living off of it. But, as fancy as it may seem, blogging is not an easy task. At least blogging for money, constantly, for several years in a row. I know it first hand, since I’m doing this for a good 4 years now.

    So, a management system to keep things from falling a part will become compulsory, at some point. For those of you who reached this point, today’s post describes a system that proved its efficiency in the last year for me. Oh, and for those of you too much into GTD, this will sound almost too relaxing to be true. :)

    The Blogging Buckets

    The first thing you should do is to mentally break down the process into 3 realms, or, in much mundane terms, buckets. If you used to do this process in a single chunk, just stop. Instead, imagine 3 big buckets called Assess, Decide, Do. In each of these buckets you will put some of the daily tasks you used to perform in a single shot.

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    In order to make things even easier, you could also make 3 folders on your desktop. Or 3 mailboxes on your mail client. Whatever place you’re using the most, slice it up in 3 parts, where you would drop the processed information, as follows.

    The Assess Bucket

    In this folder (or mailbox, or bucket) you should put every single idea you have about a future blog post. Even more, you should also put ideas about upcoming products, partnerships, blog enhancements and so on. Whatever crosses your mind, and it’s related to blogging, just put it there, as raw as you can.

    The role of this bucket is to capture everything that could enhance your activity. Just put it there and tweak is as much as you can. If it’s a blog post idea, add more stuff to it, spin-off other ideas or just evaluate if it would be a good thing to write or not. In this bucket, you’re not “doing” anything. You’re just capturing stuff and assess it.

    The Decide Bucket

    Once you can’t add something to an idea you assessed, it’s time to make a decision about it. That’s what you do in the Decide bucket. This is where you place the stuff you can’t Assess anymore. But you’re not yet doing it. You’re going to make a decision about it. Like signing a contract to do it.

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    That’s a good place to use a calendar too. Because what you’re doing in the Decide bucket is to plan and schedule what you’re going to do. Still, you’re not “doing” anything, you’re just deciding. There’s a trick, and you’ll see further down the road, that this bucket is going both ways.

    The Do Bucket

    This is where you actually perform stuff. This is where you write, publish, promote. This is where you interact, where you implement everything that was sent from Decide. The most interesting part is that you’re not supposed to “do” anything else, because… well, it was all taken care of.

    Whatever you have to assess about a blog post, you assessed, now all you have to do is to write it. You already scheduled time and place in your calendar (in Decide, where you actually signed the contract to do that thing) so you know nothing will interfere. But if it does, just move that item back to Decide.

    The Process

    Suppose you wake up one morning and have a lot of blog post ideas. Just drop them all in Assess, in raw form. Then, look over the other material you have there. If there are really some ideas that can be done, that cannot be assessed anymore, move them to Decide.

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    Once in Decide, look up your schedule and plan ahead. Some of the stuff you get in Decide will be from Do, namely, stuff that you have to re-decide upon. That’s what I wanted to say with “working both ways”. Decide is a turning platform between your Do and your Assess. You can keep stuff there for as long as you want, provided that: a) you can’t assess it anymore, and b) you don’t have yet the resources for it (time, energy). But once you’ll have the resources, you will look over the Decide bucket and take out whatever you can do in the next period.

    Then, once in Do, all you have to “do” is to focus on writing. Or on tweaking that theme. Or on creating some killer partnerships.

    The neat thing about the whole process is that sometimes you feel more like being in Assess than in Decide or Do. That’s ok. Just perform whatever your bucket tells you to do. In a very subtle way, even procrastination, which is something very common in Assess, could be incorporated as valuable work, using this approach. Or sometimes you just feel like planning ahead and allocating resources. Ok, just use your Decide bucket. And sometimes, all you want to do is write. Just open your Do folder and pick up some of the blog post ideas you already sent there from Decide.

    How Is This working?

    And, most important, why is this working? Well, it’s part of a life management framework I developed a couple of years ago, called, you guessed, “Assess – Decide – Do”. If you’re interested to learn more, there’s a direct link in my bio.

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    As a long time GTD’er, I eventually hit a roadblock, where something just didn’t feel well. Felt “robotish” while doing my weekly review and also felt completely at lost when I didn’t have my “GTD setup” handy. So, after a few ramblings and dead ends, I suddenly realized that we’re not designed only to “Do”. And I think this is the fundamental mistake we make when we embrace a productivity technique.

    We’re also designed to dream, to imagine things, without the pressure of a finished product (that would be the Assess realm) and also we’re designed to plan ahead, to arrange tasks in a future schedule and to decide whether or not are we going to do them or not (that would be the Decide realm). The last realm, Do, is the place for productivity methodologies like GTD, the place where we can draconically optimize the “doing” stuff.

    But we need to express each and every part of our being in order to be balanced. We need to allow ourselves to just dream (or even procrastinate) as long as we root ourselves in the Assess realm. Also, we should free to make decisions about each and every thing, either moving it ahead to Do, or passing it back to Assess, for further processing, as long as we live in the Decide realm. While in Do, well, all we have to do is Do, without the pressure of Assessing whether what we do is good or bad, without the pressure of an agenda (because everything was taken care of in Decide, right?)

    What will happen, if you truly implement this cycle, is that everything you will perform in Do will become smooth and with a touch of flow. You may not be the fanciest guy in the office, but you will do a lot more stuff.

    And, what’s even more important, chances are that you will even enjoy more the entire process.

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    Last Updated on April 23, 2019

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

    While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

    For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

    While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

    I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

    Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

    Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

    Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

    The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

    Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

    What Is a Stretch Goal?

    A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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    In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

    For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

    This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

    It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

    The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

    The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

    I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

    Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

    1. Get Outside of Your Head

    If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

    If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

    I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

    Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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    2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

    When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

    I see this in so many areas of life:

    When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

    In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

    “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

    Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

    3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

    When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

    The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

    For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

    We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

    From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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    When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

    Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

    4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

    S.M.A.R.T.

    is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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    One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

    Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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