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Embracing your inner nerd

Nerd Central

Over the past year or so, I’ve embraced some small (but totally unglamorous) routines that have improved my work. And more importantly, these micro-habits improved how I feel about my work. I thought it might be fun to share a few of my favorite ideas. Not because you’ll think I’m cool — if anything, I may lose street cred — but because they might help you, too.

I’m really interested to discover if any of these ideas appeal to you, and if I should elaborate or share more tips in future posts. Leave a comment or send a tweet to let me know.

Keeping a Work Journal

At the beginning of this year, I started out keeping a list in my planner* of everything that I checked off my list during the week. Partly because I wanted to actually understand what I was capable of getting done; partly because a lot of things never made my to-do list and I wanted credit for it, dammit!

Nowadays, I keep a slightly more detailed daily record of what I’ve accomplished. (For inspiration, check out Jim Henson’s Red Book and Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist.)

How this helps: I get a real sense of how long it takes to finish a project, which is absolutely critical for developing accurate proposals, fair pricing, and realistic deadlines.

I left my job before it was time for my annual review, but those weekly lists would’ve made a pretty impressive argument for a raise. Now that I’m on my own and don’t have co-workers cheering me on, the work journal provides a self-induced ego boost (without resorting to the cheesy pep talk in the bathroom mirror).

DIY Online Education

At least a few times a week, I watch online videos of conference sessions and seminars and take notes as if I’m in class and expecting a pop quiz the next day. Most videos from Creative Mornings, TED, 99U, and other conferences are only 20-60 minutes long — the perfect length for watching on my iPad while I eat breakfast or lunch.

I just took six pages of notes while watching Karen McGrane’s BDConf presentation during breakfast, and it’s totally reframed my perspective in the best of ways.

How this helps: Writing notes helps us retain and understand information, so that part is a no-brainer.

Even if the presentations I watch aren’t directly related to the work I do on a daily basis, I always find nuggets of insight and inspiration to use elsewhere. Sometimes it’s in my next client meeting or dinner party conversation, and sometimes it’s in a blog post like this one. Which segues nicely into my next tip:

Intentional Curation

I love reading and try to maintain a diverse diet of newspaper articles, magazine stories, blog posts, and good old-fashioned books. I justify spending a little extra time on reading by making it purposeful. When I read, I’m not just consuming … I’m actively seeking nuggets of information that might be of interest to other people. Then I share the links and snippets via Twitter, Tumblr, email, or whatever platform makes the most sense.

How can you make curation work as part of your content strategy? Like most sound content decisions, it all goes back to understanding your audience. If you’re “curating” just to show your impeccable taste in finding cool stuff that your other friends haven’t posted yet, you’re no better than a teenage fangirl on Tumblr. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I think the more noble goal is to discover what your audience wants and needs, and find a way to collect and publish the resources that inspire them or help them become more successful.

How this helps: If you’re reading this, you either subscribe to my email newsletter, read my blog, or clicked a link I posted on Twitter. I rest my case.

Tracking Responses

It’s easy to use analytics tools in MailChimp, Clicky, and Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools. I rely on all of those to see how people are finding and using my website and email newsletter.

But how do you evaluate old-school marketing like a postcard mailing or article in the local paper? I’m sure there’s an easier, high-tech way to do this, but I just keep a simple, synced text file and keep a running tally of personal responses.

How this helps: It would be great to have more data and more sophisticated insight (along the lines of keywords, bounce rate, visit time, etc.), but the bottom line is that interaction and sentiment** is the only metric that really matters to me. If someone goes out of their way to reply to a tweet, send an email, or actually pick up the phone and call me, it’s worth tracking.

The numbers are miniscule, but so is my company size. I’m really interested to see how the value of these marketing tactics changes over time.

Syncing files on Every Device

Despite all the talk about “the cloud” and how all of our devices are designed to magically sync with each other, managing files and making them available on my iMac, MacBook, iPhone, and iPad still takes some work.

The typical solutions (like Apple’s iCloud and Adobe’s Creative Cloud) haven’t really worked well for me and for the types of files I use. Instead, my go-to apps are Dropbox for all my files (including photos and design documents) and Simplenote for anything text-based. (The Verge has a great video and article about using Simplenote.)

How this helps: If I’m out running errands and get a frantic email from a vendor who needs a design file right away, I can send it directly from Dropbox. If I’m talking with a client on the sidewalk and want to refer to the notes from our last meeting, I pull up the text file in Simplenote. If I’m at the beach with my friends and need to access my super-awesome recipe for blackberry margaritas, I have it at my fingertips with Simplenote.

Taking time to make all these notes, sync them across devices, and share them online may seem like overkill, but the little “systems” I’ve started using have already made my life easier. Let me know if you decide to try one (or more), or if you’re already doing these things and would like to share results or anecdotes.

* Yes, I still use a paper-and-pencil calendar. You heard me. Old school.
** So far, all sentiment has been blatantly positive or on the positive side of neutral. If I encounter negative sentiment or constructive criticism, I’ll make a special note so I can learn from it in the future.

Disclosure: If you sign up for Dropbox or Clicky by following the links in this post, I get extra storage space and other affiliate benefits.

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