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get past writers block

A Mental Laxative for Bloggers

get past writers block

Listen to this post! Click a player to hear George & Mary-Lynn on The BIGG Success Show Podcast (Duration 4:33)

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Here I sit all broken-hearted; tried to write, but can’t get started.

If you’re a blogger, do you ever feel that way?

You sit down to write. You feel ready. You know you have stuff in your brain that wants to come out. But it just won’t.

We’ve felt that way too many times to count. How do you rid yourself of the mental constipation we all occasionally experience as bloggers?

We’ll start with prevention. That’s the best cure after all! Here are four areas to check.

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Reading and wRiting

Back-to-SchoolIt’s Back-to-School and we’re doing a ten-part series on lifelong learning. We’re kicking it off with three shows on the 3 R’s – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic.

Last time, we talked about reading. Today we’re going to get into the second R – writing.

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A note on note-taking

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georgeOne thought I had, as we were preparing for this show, is how many people don’t write. Here’s what I mean by that: it always amazes me how few people take notes at training sessions, meetings and conferences. I don’t have empirical evidence for this, but I will tell you that my best employees always took notes. My best students are prodigious note-takers.

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marylynnGeorge, do you think they succeed because they take notes or do they have other characteristics, which may lead to a propensity for taking notes, which propel them to success?

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georgeGood question, Mary-Lynn. I don’t really know the answer to that, but I would guess the latter of the two. It reminds me of something my Dad used to say, “A short pencil is better than a long memory!”

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marylynnThe act of taking notes helps you recall it later with less effort. It helps you digest the material more fully. You learn faster which means you reach bigg success faster.

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A process with a purpose

Whereas reading involves comprehending a message, writing is about crafting a message. They’re both communication, an absolutely vital skill today.

One of the chief skills is learning how to word your message so your reader not only understands it, but it moves things forward. Writing is a process with a purpose. Keep your purpose in mind throughout the process.

The blank sheet

When we talk about writing these days, we usually think of sitting in front of our computer screen typing. There may be value in taking a trip back in time and doing it the old fashioned way.

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georgeI often find that, when I’m planning the bigg picture and trying to set direction, it’s helpful to sit down with just a blank sheet of paper and a pen.

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marylynnYou may work better on your notebook or computer. Do whatever works for you. But there is something magical about physical paper and pen that can’t be fully replicated on the computer.

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georgeWhen I’m brainstorming, I think one of the benefits to pen and paper is to have all the ideas right there in front of me. When I’m using a word processor, I tend to edit a lot. When I write it down on paper, I may cross it out but it’s still there. Sometimes that helps me find a path I may not have found otherwise.

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marylynnYou usually end up transferring those ideas into a document on your computer, don’t you George?

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georgeUsually but not always. Sometimes it’s a work-in-progress for awhile. Sometimes I go back and forth. It just depends.

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Your most important audience

Our point is that sometimes the most important audience for your writing is yourself. When you transfer your thoughts onto paper, magic happens.

You may find your ideas aren’t as fully developed as you thought. At least we often do.

You will definitely discover that putting your thoughts in writing makes the intangible tangible. You can physically see it instead of just seeing it in your mind. When you can see it, you can be it! You can be a bigg success!

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There’s a great new book out. It’s called Trust Agents and we couldn’t possibly recommend a book more highly. Plus you’ll never meet two people who practice what they preach more than the two authors. Check it out for yourself!

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We can’t thank you enough for reading our post today. Next time, we’ll talk about the third R – arithmetic – and personal finance. Please join us. Until then, here’s to your bigg success!

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Directions that Discourage

twisted_directions We saw the results of a fascinating study over at Medical News Today. The researchers tested how the directions about a task affect the perception of the task itself. They started by trying to motivate college students to exercise.

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They gave the students directions on how to implement an exercise program. Half of the students got directions in an easy-to-read Arial font. The other half received the same directions in a Brush font (think paint brush), which is difficult to read.

Then the researchers asked these students:

  • to estimate how long the exercise routine would take

  • how easy it would be
  • if they would make it part of their regular routine

The “Arial” group thought that it would take less time and be easier than the “Brush” group, who also was less likely to make it a part of their daily ritual.

It’s amazing how something as simple as the font we choose could make so much difference. Just to be sure their results weren’t skewed by the students’ preconceived notions about exercise, the researchers performed a similar experiment with a recipe for sushi.

The outcome was similar. They concluded that if instructions are easier to read, people respond positively.

Enough about fonts, let’s put all the pieces together

We need to think about the directions we give to make sure they’re not discouraging our people. We don’t want to make a simple task sound complicated by our directions. Since people equate the ease of a given task to the ease of the directions about that task, we need to think about our:

  • Message
    Be sure you’re clear in what you’re saying. Also be concise. Eliminate the fluff. Focus on writing high-impact copy.
  • Design
    Obviously, the font you use plays a role. So does      white  space     . Graphical elements are always good. You should also use headers and bullet points when possible to make your directions easier to digest.
  • Words
    Sixteen-syllable words don’t impress many people; they have the opposite affect on far more. Jargon doesn’t help either. Use words that your audience will easily understand.

Look at the following two sentences:

You’ll save money if you buy gas today.

Buying gas today could be economically advantageous.

Which one conveys the message better to you? Which words do you like? Which structure if preferable?

We often make the mistake of thinking “fancy” words said in our passive voice make us sound smarter or more professional. Usually it’s the opposite. We’re deemed smart when we connect with the audience we’re trying to reach.                

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Next time, we’ll discuss how to be a good winner (or loser). Until then, here’s to your bigg success!

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Direct link to The Bigg Success Show audio file:
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(Image by rore_d)

2 Tips for More Effective Project Status Reports

pm411_logo We visited with Ron Holohan today on The Bigg Success Show. Ron is a Certified Project Management Professional and is currently the Director of Program Management at Shure in Chicago. Ron also hosts a weekly project management internet radio show called The pm411.org Project Management Podcast, which has consistently been one of the top four project management shows on iTunes.

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marylynn We all know that project management can be a stickler. So we asked Ron to share two tips with us to create more effective project status reports.

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ronThe first tip is to focus only on the exceptions. What I mean by that is that you don’t want to throw everything in the kitchen sink into your status reports. No one wants to read all that. They want to be able to look at your status report and pull out just the information they need. So focus on the exceptions – those issues that have changed since your previous report. Your audience only gets the information they need so your status report is short and concise.

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georgeI think that’s a bigg one. It seems that you often see status reports that look like a “mind dump.” You see all the activity that’s happened since the last report. You get bored with it so you’re not able to help them. might call it stubborn.

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ronThat’s right. If someone wants to go back, they can always look at one of your previous reports for more information.

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marylynn Cut the fat … get to the meat. What’s another tip?

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ronAnother tip is to make your report as easy as possible to read. This is the same kind of ideas as Tip #1. You want to allow your audience to easily scan for details that interest them the most. One way to do that is by using something called “Stoplight Reporting” – you communicate progress by using different colors. A bullet point in green may mean this item is going according to plan. Yellow means that particular item needs to be watched. Red means action is required because that item is starting to go off track. You can actually use blue as well to indicate that particular item has been resolved or completed.

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marylynn Can you put a “Don’t Walk” in there?

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ronThat would be nice! Use short bullet points. You don’t want to write a paragraph; this isn’t going to win you a Pulitzer Prize. You’re just trying to convey simple facts to your audience. Also, use tables where you can. They’re great for listing things like milestones, budget information, or product material cost.

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georgeWhat’s interesting about this to me is that some people are good with words or numbers, but other people are very visual. So you’re giving your report in a way that allows your audience to consume it the way they prefer.

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marylynn I prefer stick figures!

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georgeIt’s a great system that you’ve outlined with the different colors. You instantly can see what’s going on. Now I assume what you talk about are the “yellows” and the “reds”.

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ronThat’s right. So if I was reading the report, my eyes would naturally look for those yellow and red bullets that need my attention the most.

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Ron’s freebie!
Ron has a free status report template available for you, complete with a Stoplight along with other great templates.

Thanks Ron for sharing your fantastic tips with us!

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Failure to Do This Harms Relationships

Have you ever had a service company just show up at your door even though they told you someone would call first?

Have you ever had a co-worker promise they would get information to you but then drop the ball?

Have you ever asked a sales person to get back to you on a proposal but then they never did?

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What was your impression of that company, co-worker, or sales person when they didn’t follow-through?

It probably wasn’t favorable. You realize that you can’t count on them to do what they say they’ll do.
   
Follow-through: an essential element to building your personal brand.
A brand carries with it the promise of expected benefits. Every time a promise is not delivered, the brand suffers.

Promises are easy to make, but not as easy to keep. But if you want to build trust, you have to make good on your promises.

“Say what you’ll do, then do what you say.” Author unknown
 
This separates people who achieve bigg things from people who don’t. Even if it’s just a little thing, you risk leaving the impression that you don’t follow through.

We often have the best of intentions, but it’s impossible to judge someone on their intentions. So we do the only thing we can do – we base our opinions of people on whether they deliver on their promises.

Be careful not to over-promise.

If we surprise someone, we should surprise them in a good way – by doing more than we say we’ll do. It’s not good to disappoint them by doing less than what we say … or not doing it at all.

Today’s bigg action item – Develop a system to record every promise you make.

Do whatever works for you, whether that is an old paper system or something using new technology.

One simple way to do this is Jott. Whenever you make a promise, just call and leave a message about what you need to do. Jott will send you an e-mail or text message reminder. That coupled with your personal calendar can keep you on track. Here’s the best part – Jott is a FREE service.

There are two keys to making any system like this work:

  • Budget a little extra time after each activity.
    This will allow you to write down or record anything you promised.
  • Make it a habit.
    Really focus on using your system every day for the next two weeks.

Or you could do what George does. Mary-Lynn reminds him of his promises. Speaking of which, he has to go pick up the dry cleaning that was ready last week!

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Collective Wisdom

By Bigg Success Staff
08-07-08

Career Builders

pm411_logo One great way to build team spirit is to get everyone involved in sharing their knowledge. We’re familiar with user-generated content, in the form of wikis and comments. Why not create an e-mail newsletter that allows anyone on your team to contribute?

Daniel Hintzhsche, a Technical Editor in Microsoft’s Office User Assistance group, had such an idea. He writes about how he started his department’s internal newsletter.

It’s a great post, ripe with tips on how a newsletter could help your organization, how to get newsletter started, tools you can use to create and distribute your newsletter, and how to encourage contributions.

Just be careful – Daniel suggested this idea and now he is Editor-in-Chief. Now that’s taking one for the team!

Hear today’s lesson and laugh on The Bigg Success Show.

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Test Your Vocabulary

By Bigg Success Staff
05-30-08

Test Yourself

letters 

A powerful vocabulary is a useful tool in speaking, reading, and writing. Test how extensive your vocabulary with the Make a Word game from NerdTests. You’ll have two minutes to form as many words as possible from nine letters in a 3 x 3 matrix.When you’re finished, you’ll get your score and see what level you’re at. Be careful, though … it’s addicting!

Find out when we post new articles. Subscribe to the Bigg Success Weekly.

Hear today's lesson and laugh on The Bigg Success Show. 

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A Short Pencil is Better than a Long Memory

By Bigg Success Staff
05-30-08

Career Builders

notebook 

The ability to absorb and act upon new information often makes the difference between success and bigg success. One of the best ways to do this is to become a prodigious note taker.

There’s an old saying, “A short pencil is better than a long memory!”

When you write it down, you not only have it available as a reference, you also are more likely to remember it in the first place. So you’re able to absorb and act upon the information better than someone who doesn’t take notes.

So when you’re going to meet with someone – in person or on the phone – take notes!

It’s amazing how many people don’t take advantage of this simple technique that makes such a bigg difference!

Set up yourself apart – take notes!

Take notes when you’re meeting with a group. Take notes when you’re meeting with a single person.

Some people don’t think it’s worth the time. They have it backwards.

It’s a waste of time to invest time in a meeting and then forget most of what you’ve learned. So take notes so you remember what you learned and you have a ready reference in case you forget!

Find out when we post new articles. Subscribe to the Bigg Success Weekly.

Hear today's lesson and laugh on The Bigg Success Show.

Related posts 

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Bigg Contributors

Meet our regular guests who share their bigg talents with Bigg Success!

wynn_biggWynn Bigg is the inspiration for Bigg Success. We’re fortunate that he occasionally shares some of his wisdom with us and our community.

A quiet man, he retired from a successful career in entrepreneurship and real estate investing after many years.

Now he pursues his passion to travel the world with his wife, Fanny. He says he thoroughly enjoys living “the bigg life” and wants us to share his secrets to bigg success with as many people as possible. He believes every one has the potential to do great things. Read Wynn's latest bigg contribution.

dana_mancusoDana Mancuso lives and works in Urbana, Illinois in the public relations field. "I was always very quiet in class, not one to make waves. But I would make smart or funny comments quietly to my neighbor, and more often than not he or she would repeat them out loud and get a laugh from the group."

Today Dana loves to share funny, odd and sometimes serious stories of every day things that happen in her life in her writing. She spends her non-work time as a mom of two and wife to a gregarious husband, who also steals her quick-witted one liners and gets the bigg laugh! Read Dana's latest bigg contribution.

jake_novakJake Novak is a comedy writer whose material is used by more than 100 radio stations across the world!

Jake's material is featured along with comedy from Dave Letterman and Jay Leno every Thursday in Newsday. He also has a Jewish humor column in every issue of The Jewish Week and a brand new comic strip "Schmooze or Lose" in the L.A. Jewish Journal. You can also read his humor daily on his blog, Jake's Comedy Corner. When Jake's not making people laugh, he teaches Journalism at New York University. Jake is also with the recently-launched Fox Business Network. Hear Jake's latest bigg contribution.

Write Right

By Bigg Success Staff
01-18-08

Career Builders

Pen_jpg

We move rapidly through our day. We shoot off a quick e-mail. txt msg a frend with abrve8d wrds. We may spell check our work, but we probably won’t read it. Do we check the grammar with our software program? Maybe. Proofread it? No way.

Writing is a lost art. Proofreading seems disdained. Great writers know that great writing is a process. They don’t expect a work of art on their first draft.

They write. They proofread. They edit. They repeat.

Finally, they sign off on their great work.

You communicate your message clearly when you write right. You build relationships. You advance your career!  Toward that end, here are five tips to write right!

#1 – Write to your audience.
Your audience loves seeing the word “you.” They feel like you are writing to them. They want you to include them. Give them what they want! Use the “you-view” when you write.

#2 – Keep it simple.
Journalists write to eighth-graders. Does that show you what they think of our mental abilities? They don’t do it because they don’t think we will understand it. They do it to make sure that they don’t make their material overly complicated.

#3 – Don’t be pretentious.
Don’t use too many multi-syllabic words. You won’t impress anyone if they don’t understand you. Speaking of that, get rid of all jargon. It interferes with your message. Use real words.

#4 – Don’t be redundant.
Length doesn’t matter. Resist the urge to “fill.” Make your point. Then quit.

#5 – Use your active voice.
Remember this phrase – actor action. Write your sentences with that phrase in mind. Which one of the following two sentences communicates better?

Michael played his guitar.
The guitar was played by Michael.

Many people write passively – like the second sentence. Yet you get the picture more clearly with the first sentence, don’t you? 

Now you’re ready to proofread. Then edit. Repeat until you’re satisfied! Keep these five tips in mind on your next writing project.

Do you have a writing tip? We would love to hear it! Leave us a comment.


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(Image of pen by StaR_DusT, CC 2.0)