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Spokane - vote NO on 933

I can appreciate the spirit behind 933, but the execution is severely flawed. Here's the analysis of a couple folks much smarter and more informed than I.

Season 6 Trailer for 24

Hook it up.

Orson Scott Card thinks homework for little kids is as valuable as I do

Part 1. (Google cache version if that one's down)
Part 2. (Google cache version if that one's down)

Excerpt:

Homework Rules

Here are the homework rules that ought to be the target in every school district in America.

1. No homework before middle school. Ever. Period. Childhood is too precious to waste.

2. No homework over vacations, holidays or weekends. Children need more time to rest and recuperate than adults, not less.

3. No tests on Monday or the day after a holiday or vacation. See above.

4. No empty homework. All assignments have to have a specific, immediate educational purpose within the subject matter of the class.

5. No assignments for parents. All assignments should be fully within the capability of all the children in the class, without parental involvement of any kind except to cooperate in scheduling time.

6. No excess repetition. Five examples should be sufficient to identify any problems a child might be having. Three are usually enough.

7. No makeup homework for sick days. The kid is still recuperating. Don’t double his load.

Report on multi-tasking experiment

So a couple weeks back I conducted an experiment. No multi-tasking for a full week. (details here). This is my report.

First: it took planning. Unitasking (yes, that's a word, at least here on this blog, today), isn't hard per se, what's hard is managing everything on your plate so that you can unitask. To do it took some planning. I had to divide my day, and my days into planned chunks of unitasking time. So... some days, the easiest days, the entire day was devoted to a single task (a secret project I'm working on). I turned off IM, Email and my phone. I checked all 3 at the start of the day, at lunch, and at the end of the day. I also let bloglines go (checking at lunch). On days where I had to attend to multiple things, I divided my day into multiple chunks. Morning till lunch - one task, afternoon - another task. Two days I had to devote mornings to attending to various communication issues, but I did so with focus, restricting my time for that to that portion of the day. These were the hardest days.

Second: it was incredibly liberating.  In my line of work, getting and retaining a "flow" is critical to productivity. Knowing that the next 4-5 hours are going to be completely devoted to a single task was incredibly liberating. Instead of mentally tending those various issues, I was able to focus. Same with my chunky days. I made a list, divided my tasks up, then completely ignored them until the time to manage them came due. This mental relief allowed my focused time to be even more focused and productive. I guess that's as much about planning and organization as it is about multi-tasking, but it was a big productivity gain for me.

Third: It was a success. The truth is that I really was much more productive. My theory about the detriment of multi-tasking was proved completely accurate in my case. Multi-tasking is killing me. And my goal is to stop multi-tasking unless I've portioned a section of time (a day, or a portion of a day) to multi-tasking various disparate issues that need attention simultaneously. Maybe a half-day a week would do it.

Fourth: Doing it ongoing takes serious discipline. This is mostly because of habit. I've multi-tasked for so long that it's very difficult to break the habit. Doing it successfully takes daily planning, prioritizing, and sticking to it, even when you get lazy and wish to drift back to normal routines.

Fifth: Lessons for days I'm not as disciplined. I'd like to say I've done it every day since my experiment, but I haven't. However, I have done it some days since, and many partial days, and I'll be doing it more and more. A few lessons I have been applying on a daily basis: (1) Don't leave email open. I used to have Outlook running constantly. I was also extremely responsive to emails. Any time one came in, I was on top of it. I dropped whatever I was doing, disrupted my flow, and did it. Then I tried to cram real work in the cracks between emails. That's a great way to seriously cripple productivity. (2) Go easy on the IM-ing. This is my hardest habit to break and the one where I have the most room for improvement. (3) Planning makes such a big difference. Instead of wasting time trying to remember what to do next, or frittering away a morning because I don't know where to start, or what needs to be done - a little planning and those decisions are made for me, freeing me up to get to work. This is a bigger deal than I ever imagined.

Sixth: downsides. A few communication issues did slip through the cracks. I suspect this will get better as I practice and improve at fielding tasks and planning them. Some who were used to my insanely responsive communication turnaround may have noticed more of a delay, but no one complained.  It does take a bit more time to plan (although you gain it back in productivity). And I lost touch just a little bit with the outside world (blog reading, etc), miraculously however, I survived!

Verdict: totally worth it. A huge gain in productivity and personal satisfaction. I'm committed to making it my norm.

p.s. A couple clients read my initial post and didn't want to bother me or screw up my experiment! Attending to you is what I'm doing during those focused times! You're not bothering me. Worse that multi-tasking would be not having any tasks to do, and I depend on you, so please - bother me. 

Zecco.com - Free Stock Trading

Zecco.com.

You heard me, $0 trades. (wow).

With no cost for trading (10/day and 40/mo), the world of possibilities opens up big time for us smaller shlubs. I mean, I'm no trader genius. But imagine, making small trades to get a feel for things, to learn, to experiment, etc? i.e. a huge barrier of entry just vanished. (I wish they'd lower the minimum account balance opener to below $2,500 and make it a no-brainer). The FAQ also says they'll offer IRAs soon.

This is a big deal.

They make money on ads, and interest from margin accounts, $10 for mutual fund trades, and a few other non-trade specific services they offer.

They've also got a nice "web 2.0" interface to stuff.

What a monsterously bold and killer business idea.

I have a feeling this is about to change the whole industry.

Business Blogging notes from PRSA & SPRC presentation

First: the slides.

Second: The outline

5 reasons to blog

  1. Creates a human connection - business is about people
  2. Helps spread marketing buzz - easy to spread on the Internet - take advantage!
  3. It helps search engine users find you
  4. It allows you to own (not control!) the conversation about you
  5. It positions you as an expert in your industry

5 ways to royally screw it up

  1. Let it become managed by you as PR professionals (it must have an authentic voice - that can not be faked. It also has to be fast, if you're vetting/polishing, it won't be).
  2. Use it as a promotional tool (don't endlessly promote yourself - remember, this isn't an advertisement, nor a captive audience)
  3. Be boring (have the CEO or similarly passionate and knowledgeable person do the blogging, not a hired PR gun)
  4. Have a high noise to signal ratio (stay on topic, every post counts)
  5. Be selfish (be generous and honest)

5 tips for getting started

  1. Use TypePad (link) (cheap, easy, excellent).
  2. Integrate it into your web site
  3. Get a head start (spend a month or 2 blogging before you launch - gives you time to practice, find voice, plus first visitors have something to read.)
  4. Read and study other blogs (helps you be a better blogger - see Technorati 100 - these are the most popular blogs, figure out why).
  5. Be patient (building a successful blog takes time, don't give up!)

Third: Notes that didn't make it into the presentation

Links of some (big name) business blogs:

Must read books (in order or importance):

Additional helpful links:

5 Bonus Tips - How to pitch to bloggers:

  1. Help them help their audience
  2. Help them look like an expert, and insider, a bigshot
  3. Don't make it hard (spoon feed it to them)
  4. Don't be "slick" - the backbone of blogging is authenticity, compromise this and you'll be ignored or (worse) reviled.
  5. Be moderately persistent. Bloggers have busy lives too - a second, final, friendly follow-up reminder - if you've obeyed 1-4 above - is fine.

If you have any questions or would like me to help your organization get started with blogging, drop me a line.

Note: slide deck css shamelessly stolen (then tweaked) from Jeremy Keith

Presentation to the PRSA and the SPRC

Many thanks to those who warmly received me, I really enjoyed it. We didn't get an audio recording, but I'll be posting notes, the slides, and some bonus stuff I didn't have time to cover here in the next few days. Stay tuned - hopefully by Monday.

Speaking gig

So I'm speaking to a joint meeting of the Spokane Public Relations Council and  Spokane Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (link) on Friday morning (are any of you a member?).

The topic is "Everything you wanted to know about blogging." I won't have quite long enough to do that justice, but hopefully it'll be interesting enough to justify the "way too much time" I'm spending preparing for it. I'm speaking together with Spokesman-Review's resident smartguy Ryan Pitts.

Hopefully I'll have a recording of the whole thing when it's over that I can post here.

Best thank you evar.

So, I get regular gratitude from folks finding my post through Google which reveals the Amazon.com phone number. This weekend I got this thank you, which I quote just as I received it:

I WAS FOAMING AT THE MOUTH TRYING TO FIND A PHONE # FOR AMAZON.COM WHICH THEY INSISTED WAS ON THEIR "HELP" PAGE. IT IS NOT. SO I AM VERY GRATEFUL TO YOU BECAUSE MY FAMILY WAS CONVINCED I HAD RABIES AND THEY WOULD HAVE TO SHOOT ME.