Capturing the magic

How do you capture magic from an event and carry it into the future?

That’s the question I’m asking tonight as I return from BIF 2017, a special gathering of human-centered change-makers from across disciplines.

I’m slowly decompressing. Reading over my 5,000+ words of typed notes. So many stories, so much emotion and so much to learn from the two days.

This post won’t be the last I write about BIF. More to come soon, but for now I’m wondering how I take the energy it’s given me and keep pushing.

One year of daily blogging

Here we are on September 14th, 2017. Exactly one year after I started my daily blog. I’ve written 365 posts and you can read them all here on zcjones.com. Since I started my daily blog I’ve written a self published book, landed an internship writing blog posts, written an ebook, written another ebook and started ghost writing a book.

I took one english class in college. I never believed I could write. My grammar isn’t perfect. I misuse words. I make typos. But none of that stuff matters. What matters is the  progress. When I started the daily blog, it took me a while to write a post. Maybe a thirty minutes to an hour for a few hundred words. As the year went on, I got better and better at putting words on paper. My words per minute went way up and the flow came easier.

I was a math guy in high school. To think that I would graduate college and become “a writer” was absolutely insane to me. It would have been insane four years ago and it would have been insane had you told me one year ago. It’s still mind-blowing to me that my business card can say “writer” and I’m actually telling the truth.

I have the privilege of working for Horn Entrepreneurship to put words to paper. I helped drive an alumni success stories campaign, I’m writing ebooks and blog posts and web copy and more. All these opportunities came because I showed up. I showed up every day. Even when I was exhausted. Even when al I wanted to do was fall asleep. I still wrote and published it on my blog.

Seth Godin does an interview and the very first question is, “Seth, what’s your secret?” To which Seth replies, “There is no secret. That’s the best part.”

There is no secret to how you start a daily blog and how you become a writer. That’s the best part. Show up. Do the work. Lean into the growth because it will come.

It’s an honor that you’re reading my words,

Zack

Lightbulb Stories

Tonight I shared my lightbulb moment with three strangers. I took them back to sophomore year in high school when my coach told me I was more than just a player. I was a leader.

It wouldn’t have worked without the story. If I had just said that I am leader, those words would be empty. The story brings the point home. The story makes it real. The story takes people along the journey with you.

So what’s your story? What’s your lightbulb moment and how can you take someone there?

Your lack of planning

“Your lack of planning is not my emergency.”

How many times has someone come to you with a last minute disaster. “Can you stay at my booth? I forgot to get plates for the pizza?” “Can you pick me up? I forgot the train doesn’t run today.”

These requests weigh on our consciousness. On one hand we want to be generous people. On the other, we are busy and planned to go to the gym before we got a frantic phone call. Both are valid concerns. As someone who often feels obliged to take these requests, I found the above quote a helpful new take.

I just heard the quip on Good Life Project’s interview with Gretchen Rubin and I think it’s worth sharing in case anyone else is in the same boat. Other people’s requests are not orders and just because they didn’t plan ahead doesn’t mean you need to drop everything to save the day. I’m not saying to throw out generosity, but just recognize when something has turned from a nice-to-have into an obligation that weighs you down.

Don’t be afraid to lend a helping hand, but don’t be afraid to say “no” when you need a breather.

The local guy

There’s something admirable about being the local guy. The one that’s been to the brewery so many times he knows every beer by heart. It shows tradition and consistency.

Then again, there’s something admirable about being the guy passing through. The one that’s unsure which way is up and has no idea what to order. It shows variety and a desire to experiment.

What sticks?

How come gossip circulates like wildfire while important truths go unrepeated?

That’s the big question that Made to Stick seeks to answer. It’s all about communicating ideas in a way that is memorable and shareable.

It’s not easy, though. One of the biggest problems facing us is our insider’s knowledge. We are so close to the topic and know every single nuance. We over-explain, and emphasize the wrong details and assume the recipient knows what we know.

You have to look through the eyes of a beginner to know what kind of messaging is really going to stick. But since your eyes are that of an expert’s, it’s a challenge.

What can you do to make your idea ready for the eyes of a beginner again?

An idea can’t be sticky if it can’t be understood. No one talks about the thing that makes them sound uneducated. Simplify your story, boil it down to the core and it might stick.

To a T

“Live every day like it’s your last” isn’t great advice that anyone should follow to a T.

But, if you’re living like you’ll be here forever and delaying all enjoyment, it might be exactly what you need to hear.

The two stories

There are always two stories at play in any transaction: the personal story someone has in their head and the story of the marketer.

As the marketer, your story is, “I want people to buy my product so my boss is happy and I keep my job and life goes on as planned.” What makes marketing so hard is that the person you want to buy your product doesn’t care about that side of the story because they have their own narrative inside their head. They’re probably thinking, “I don’t want to buy that software because if it doesn’t work out then my boss will be mad that we wasted on time and money on a bunk product.”

These two stories are like oil and water. They don’t mix. If you put this marketer and this customer together, they would immediately repel each other. They’re speaking entirely different languages. Their stories are not compatible.

As the marketer, your job is to step out of selfish mode, and start seeing the other person where they stand. Imagine if the marketer could say, “we know you’re nervous about implementing a new software, that’s why we offer free access to our implementation team and a 100% money back guarantee if you’re not seeing tangible benefits after two months.”

Now that is a story that starts to sound good to the customer. When the story sounds good, people buy. And when people buy, marketers are happy. It’s a win win for everyone involved.

The important part is realizing the route to success is through empathy. Step outside, see people where they are and tell them the story they need to hear. Not because it’s a false story, but because you know their pains and you have a solution that can relieve them.

 

Note taking tips fueling 400 blog posts

When I go to write my blog post every night, I look back at my notes from the day and see which idea I want to turn into a full post. Usually I have 3-5 different things I’ve written down each day. So for every blog post I write, I have 3-5 blog post ideas that I might use. (I have over 1200 files in my notes app). It’s been nearly a year of my daily blog and I have never once had nothing to say. I’m confident I won’t run out of ideas and here’s how you can start to feel that way too:

Every day we have ideas pop into our heads. Some are good and worth remembering, others are not. Whether a fleeting idea can stand the test of time is not your decision to make in the moment. Just notice that you had the idea, then write the idea down or type it out.

What I’m proposing to you is that the hardest part about coming up with this many ideas is noticing when you’re having an idea. You need to be mindful enough to realize that your mind is thinking about an idea, then you need to be present enough to realize the idea is worth writing down. Here’s the catch: when you write down the idea, it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you.

Your notes don’t need to be blog posts. They’re more like personal bookmarks. You’ll look back at the end of the day and see some jibberish like:

“The job versus the work

The projects versus the tasks” (my note from 9/5/17)

But, you’ll know what that jibberish means. I’m sure those two lines mean nothing to you, but I remember what I was thinking and I could sit down and write a blog post about it now.

Your notes don’t need to pretty. In fact, they probably shouldn’t be pretty because no one else ever needs to read your notes. It’s about you. It’s about getting your thoughts on paper. Worry about the presentation later.

Lastly, make it a practice to revisit your notes. I browse all my new notes at the end of each when I’m deciding what to write about. Maybe you browse them every morning to pick up where you left off yesterday. Maybe you do a weekly review on Friday. It’s totally up to you, but if you don’t make an effort to revisit your ideas, they will be lost.

To wrap up the second (and final, for now) post in the note-taking series follow these three rules:

  1. Notice the ideas happening in your mind
  2. Write them down no matter in whatever form is easiest for you
  3. Revisit your notes

Note taking tips for a clearer mind

You can’t keep it all in your head. No matter how hard you try, no matter how good your memory is, things slip through the cracks. Note taking isn’t just a skill to help you capture the highlights from a calculus lecture. Note taking is an essential practice to keep track of your to-dos in order to clear your mind for high level thinking.

It takes energy remembering important information. If you’ve ever been nervous about an important phone call, you know what it feels like to be constantly checking your phone to make sure you didn’t miss the time. There are dozens of little items we need to remember every day and that energy it takes to keep them in the back of our heads takes away mental resources from other tasks. It’s hard to be deep in thought and do productive work when you’re constantly preoccupied.

You need some way to get those thoughts out of your head. You have more important things to think about than the minor details.

Here are two action steps to start automating your life and clearing your mind to do high level thinking:

Create habits

Forming productive routines allows you to reduce the number of decisions you need to make. We’ve all heard how Mark Zuckerburg wears the same thing every day and Barack Obama only wore two colors of suits in office. Executive level people do everything they can to reduce the number of decisions they need to make. While you might not be a CEO right now, you need to form productive habits if you ever hope to get there.

I eat oatmeal every morning. The same exact recipe. That’s one decision I don’t have to make. More generally, in the mornings I wake up, do a short physical activity (push-ups, yoga, etc..) meditate for a few minutes, make my oatmeal and get ready for the day. Those are all habits that have gradually formed my morning routine. The more habits you have, the less you have to worry about keeping information in your head. Things just happen as they should.

Find a consistent place to write to dos

People make lots of to do lists and they rarely have the desired effect. The two major problems are that people don’t revisit their lists and people don’t take action.

Here’s how I solve these two problems:

I have a note in my phone called “Shut down ritual” where I write down what I’ve accomplished each day and my to dos for tomorrow. Every morning, I drive to work knowing that I can start the day with a clear mind since my to dos await me in my note. Once I’m ready to start, I open it up and get started. Since I use the note every day, the revisiting problem is solved.

The problem of not taking action is a little trickier, but here’s what I’ve figured out: If you write something down five days in a row, you should take it off the list. If you’ve written the same to do for an entire week, yet every day you don’t work on it or make any progress, you need to change it up. Either delete it entirely because it’s a low priority, or modify the to do into a smaller, more bite sized chunk that you could tackle tomorrow.

These habits will keep your productivity machine churning while at the same time creating the mental space for you to think about the big picture.

A mind that’s worrying about a to do list is a mind that won’t be able focus fully on an important conversation. Find a place to collect to dos and let that be your north star. Feel free to wander into conversations, and brainstorms and whatever else comes up knowing that you can always return to the north star. Clear your mind and improve your output.