Posts in Show your work

Shooting your business thru the foot

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a local research organization whose subject line and title was something akin to

“Understanding Your Community Thru Historical Data.”

I know my grammar and usage; I do a lot of copy editing for a variety of academic and research organizations. So I’m a stickler about being correct. Mostly. But I’m not such a hardass all the time because I know that in some situations, using slang, misused words, and improper grammar gets the message to your audience.

But using “thru” isn’t appropriate in this context. So I quickly played with an online tool I’ve been wanting to try, Piktochart, which makes infographics online that you can download as image files.

Thru

 

(Updated the Piktochart so that it included better images and so I could post it on LinkedIn.)

 

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Cover image of Mini Habits bookI recently read the book Mini Habits by Stephen Guise, and during the past couple of weeks I’ve put into practice the principles I learned there.*

The premise of this book is that mini habits—small, daily activities that should not take more than 5 minutes at a time each—are the steps to getting toward some of our bigger goals. Stephen Guise calls these “too small to fail.” His argument is that consistent success in meeting these mini habits energizes us and  supports the larger changes we want to make. Science backs him up on this (see this Huffington Post article).

One of Guise’s examples is his mini habit of one push-up a day. Instead of making, say, an ambitious New Year’s resolution like “I’m going to run a 5K every week” or “I’m going to work out at the gym three times a week,” Guise made his goal one push-up a day. His point is that although 1 pushup a day is not going to bulk up some muscle, it paved the way for him eventually to get to the gym three times a week.

The key, he says, is not to rely on motivation. Guise writes on his website

When I decided to start exercising consistently 10 years ago, this is what actually happened:

  1. I tried “getting motivated.” It worked sometimes.
  2. I tried setting audacious big goals. I almost always failed them.
  3. I tried to make changes last. They didn’t.

Like most people who try to change and fail, I assumed that I was the problem.

Then one afternoon—after another failed attempt to get motivated to exercise—I (accidentally) started my first mini habit. I initially committed to do one push-up, and it turned into a full workout. I was shocked. This “stupid idea” wasn’t supposed to work. I was shocked again when my success with this strategy continued for months (and to this day). I had to consider that maybe I wasn’t the problem in those 10 years of mediocre results. Maybe it was my prior strategies that were ineffective, despite being oft-repeated as “the way to change” in countless books and blogs.

My mini habitsScreen shot of my Android phone with Habit Bull mini habits

To start slow, I set four daily mini habits:

  1. Walk through one 80s song
  2. Meditate 5 minutes
  3. Do one situp
  4. Write 50 words

Guise recommends writing these mini habits on a large wall calendar. But because my phone houses pretty much everything I need, I investigated his resources list and found Habit Bull. It’s very simple: I typed in my four mini goals, identified the days of the week I wanted to accomplish them, and then chose the widget to display them on my screen (shown at right is my actual Moto X screen; I used the app Easy Screenshot). Voilà.

I have a 95% success rate so far at completing these daily habits.

I also realized in the midst of this experiment that my strategy for copy-editing really long, practically unreadable academic journal articles—using the Pomodoro technique (again using an Android app for a timer, ClearFocus) of 25-minute chunks of solid, concentrated effort followed by 5-minute breaks—basically strings together work-based mini habits to complete a specific project. So I already had some mini habit mindset going; now I am applying it to other parts of life.

At this point, I’ve never walked through only one song. Once I’ve got my shoes on and my music playing, I tend to walk for 1-2 miles each day (about 6 to 10 80s New Wave/punk songs). And I’ve rarely written only 50 words; that’s a short paragraph, and I’m more verbose than that! And while I’m on the floor doing one sit-up, I may as well do five. Getting started when I know my goal is “walk 2 miles”? Sometimes pretty hard in the midst of a busy day. But getting started when I know I can stop after “Blitzkreig Bop” and still count it as success?—much easier.

But Guise’s point is that even if I did not overachieve these habits, it’s okay: checking off these small wins boost my confidence as well as my motivation. This pattern of action and reward is part of what will keep these habits going and growing.


*I don’t do any affiliate marketing, so I don’t make money off the book or your clicking the link.

 

Mini Habits

First step to new WordPress website

WordPress is simply another way to render communication, especially in a public forum. I’ve created a few websites for clients, but primarily I’m interested in helping people learn to do it themselves. Tutorials for WordPress abound online, and the WordPress Codex contains all the technical information—as well as support and oodles of plugins—that anyone could want.

planning_website_notesBut I don’t find a lot of information about the thinking behind setting up a WordPress-based site, why I should use Plugin A versus B for what I want to accomplish, or how to decide when to delve into the mysteries of coding things myself. Here, I’m showing my work as I render my new site. It’s too long to do as one post, so each new post will describe the steps I take. My first one is simply planning what I want.

Goal: create an online portfolio

My primary goal was to create an online portfolio for my past and current work, with a secondary goal to create and maintain a weekly blog. However, I wanted to connect my thinking about various subjects with these portfolio projects. I think that this two-part structure might be attractive to potential clients: they get a view of “what I’ve done” along with the sense that I’m always learning and thinking.

I looked at a lot of portfolio plugins and themes (Justin Tadlock’s portfolio plugin and theme were helpful for inspiration), but they didn’t work “out of the box” for what I wanted. Rather than fiddle around with them, I decided to learn more and make my own way.

For my new website (this one), I wanted a more minimalist theme that I could also make my own. After looking at many themes, I chose the Chunk theme because I liked its stark simplicity.

Chunk has a lot of customization options, which I used to make an image header, change the colors slightly, and so on. Most themes allow you to do some or a lot of customizing—that ability is built right in. But I knew when I chose it that I was going to make more drastic changes.

The issue with manipulating a theme that comes from the repository at WordPress.org is that if the theme author updates it (for instance, he decides to add a new menu and change some of the styling code), those updates will essentially wipe out any changes you’ve made that are beyond those allowed by the theme itself. Enough tutorials I’ve seen and read make this point, so I made a child theme that I could manipulate and know that my time and effort on these changes wouldn’t be lost.

Planning exactly what I wanted helped me determine the changes I made (am making) to my site

blog_plan

Based on my research and thinking doodles—which got me down to the basic outline above describing the high level structure and function of my site—I knew I needed to do two things:

  1. Create a different type of entry for portfolio items
  2. Create categories of “skills” and “tools” that would link blog posts and portfolio items.

Once I decided these next steps were the crux of getting my site up and running, I investigated all the ways that WordPress helps me accomplish these tasks without my having to delve too deeply into the raw code. For #1, I knew custom post types were the answer. For #2, I thought that custom taxonomies were my best bet. Turns out, I was right and they are the solutions. They’ll be the next installment of showing my work in creating my new site.
Tools:WordPress
Skills:ResearchPlanning and structuring

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