Don’t use bullet points in Powerpoint

51nuzh57szl-_ac_us160_Bullet points shine when they are used to visually structure separate topics under one main point. I use bullet points in EVERYTHING from my emails to my notes, to my blog posts, to my Powerpoint presentations. I like how they just so neatly indent the words to make the information scan-able.

They allow the reader to see the structure of the thinking without having to read the words.

But, there’s a danger in using bullet points in your Powerpoint presentations. They are deeply distracting. But not for the reasons you may think.

In Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds writes,

“It is more difficult to process information if it is coming at us both verbally and in written form at the same time. Since people cannot read and listen well at the same time, displays filled with lots of text must be avoided.

On the other hand, multimedia that displays visual information, including visualizations of quantitative information, can be processed while listening to someone speak about the visual content.”

How can you stop bullet point abuse?

Get that text out of the slide and put it in your speaker’s notes. Insert some eye catching images into your presentation. Save the reading for yourself. Entertain your attendees, don’t make them read something you could have just emailed.

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Top Quotes of 2016

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The older I get the more I rely on quotes. They are a mirage in the distance. While they have no defined shape or form they are powerful in their intangible, ephemeral state. Always there on the periphery to reveal themselves in times of need.

Here is a list of the quotes I found most helpful this year:

  • “Not better, worse, or equal. No comparison.” – Gil Fronsdal
  • “Amor Fati” – Marcus Aurelius
  • “Inject Levity. Laugh, smile, and touch.” – Mark Manson
  • “Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” – Lao Tzu
  • “Practice enlightened self interest.” – UNKNOWN
  • “Ideas are extremely fragile.” – UNKNOWN
  • “Consider the source.” – MN
  • “The obstacle becomes the way over and over again.” – Seneca
  • “Never interrupt.” – DN
  • “Never sum up other people’s lives, points, stories. Let them do it!” – DN
  • “Be the platform.” – DN
  • “Art == To do.” – Zizek
  • “Acknowledge and accept.” – DN
  • “Collaborate on planning. Solo implementation.” – JN
  • “Disagreement != Criticism.” – DN

Who’s in your Posse?

Now that you’ve got a gratitude journal going, it’s time to take a look at things influencing you from the outside. Are you being intentional with who you spend your time with? There are times in life when a stranger who listens to your problems is all you need. But watch out for leaky mirrors. Some microphones have more feedback than others. Make sure you’re choosing intentionally!

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn

In Contagious Culture, Cavanaugh writes, that “the right Posse will provide you with the following benefits:

  • Community. Being a leader or an entrepreneur (or parent, teacher, human being, etc.) can be a very lonely venture; don’t do it alone.
  • Support. Having people around you to champion what you’re up to and believe in you will be priceless, providing wisdom and courage when you need it most.
  • Possibility. Seeing what your peers and colleagues do, how they generate, how they lead, and how they navigate obstacles exposes you to new possibilities, ideas, and opportunities you won’t see alone.
  • Growth. Having people in your sphere committed to your being your best and rocking it with your work in the world provides you with great feedback and acceleration.
  • Care. Your Posse will love and support you through think and thin. They’ll see you as big, even when you’re falling down. And they’ll catch you, help you brush yourself off, and then send you back out there to get bigger.”

It is not possible to have no impact

Positive or negative or completely ineffectual, you are having an impact – on yourself, on those you lead, on your peers, on your customers, on your boss, on your kids, on the barista at the coffeehouse.” – Cavanaugh

It is not possible to have no impact. Let’s say that aloud together.

It is not possible to have no impact.

Just by our living, we are creating problems for other people. How about flipping that default action and thinking about it differently.

If we can’t help but impact those around us, why not be intentional about minimizing the damage we do by just being here.

First we need to check ourselves and get into a practice of gratitude.

Let’s play a game.

Get yourself a moleskine notebook. If you can’t get one don’t let that stop you! Get a notebook of some sort and put a pen in it.

Leave it on your nightstand when you go to bed.

When you wake up, make it your mission to write 3 things that you’re grateful for. They can be anything.

Try to come up with 3 new ones each day. If you can’t think of any new things to be grateful for, that’s not a problem. Loop back around to your previous lists and more specifically define just what makes you grateful about it.

Creating a giant list of things is not the goal. The process of noticing how great life really is forces your brain to see more clearly.

Do this for 30 days straight.

You will feel your perspective shift. From this stance of gratitude, your being will shift. You will subtly move toward a baseline of kindness and gratitude.

In Contagious Culture, Cavanaugh suggests answering one of the following seven questions in your morning gratitude journal:

  1. What am I grateful for today?
  2. What relationship do I want to nurture and celebrate?
  3. What is the thing that’s bugging me or scaring me or whatever?
  4. How am I contributing to it, or what am I assuming?
  5. What am I going to do about it – even the littlest thing?
  6. How am I going to take care of myself today?
  7. What is the impact I want to have today?

If you’re going to have an impact no matter what you do (or don’t do) you might as well make it compassionate, kind, and caring.

Twitter Street Team – Gamification

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Today we had our marketing meeting. I sought help from the marketing team. I needed their help in determining how the points will function in our Twitter Street Team Kiosk. We met for a good 30 minutes but it was barely enough time.

We listed out the behaviors we are interested in increasing. Then we assigned points to each of the behaviors. It was so helpful to get this kind of feedback before I build out the system.

Just in case you can’t read my scrawl, here’s what it says:

  • Points will be tallied in real-time
  • (10) – Find/Follow good source
  • (10) – Tweet (engage)
  • (2) – Retweet other sources
  • (150) – Live tweet an event
  • (5) – DM gets a quality response
  • (1) – DM new followers

Dynamic points are added as the tweet performs online:

  • (5) – For each click tweet receives
  • (5) – For each reply tweet receives
  • (1) – For each like the tweet receives
  • (10) – For each retweet the tweet receives

I’m working with the point system in Python. No code to show yet. I am excited about this project and, now that I have most of the information I need, I can get started.

We also discussed the list topics were are interested in pushing:

  • Programs
  • Services
  • Focus 2
  • Articles
  • Live Tweet Events

Student leaderboards will consist of the following attributes:

  • Avatar image of user
  • Screename of user
  • Total points

Here’s what it looks like now:

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Here’s how I’m hoping it will turn out:

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Finally, here are some examples of the ideal leaderboard UI that I would like to see in the finished product:

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Keep checking back here for updates. Here’s a link to the project on Github.

The first draft of anything is usually complete sh*t

img_2273 I had a meeting with my supervisor today. She congratulated me on writing such thoughtful posts 🙂 She mentioned that she had a hard time writing posts herself. So, I thought I’d write a blog post to discuss the procedure I use to write posts. It’s the same process every time.  I’m proud of the results. The difficulty of just getting started can be daunting. The “tyranny of the blank page” is terrifying. Read on to learn about my process.

TLDR; Follow these steps to get over your fear of writing a blog post:

  1. Read a lot
  2. Highlight the good parts while you read
  3. Transcribe the notes you made from the book
  4. Identify the quotes that speak to you the most
  5. Copy and paste the best quote at the top of the post
  6. Freewrite for 20 minutes by elaborating on the quote
  7. Don’t even think of posting this online
  8. You did it! Now get comfortable with shitty first drafts
  9. Read it over 3 times
  10. Take out the redundancies. Add more quotes.
  11. Embolden your most salient points
  12. Tell them what you taught them
  13. Leave the reader with a challenge or a question

I hope that by the end of this blog post you will have learned how to find blog post ideas, get over the fear of the blank page, learn how to format your post for easy scanning, and ideally start posting regularly.

Read a lot

Here’s a list of the books I recently finished reading:

How do I manage to read so many books?

  • Schedule an  hour of reading time every day.
  • Split your time between 3-7 books so you never get tired of one.
  • Don’t read books that suck.

I read nearly every book on the history of computing that I can get my hands on. One book keeps coming up: “Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age” by Michael A. Hiltzik.

Sorry Mr. Hiltzick. I’ve tried getting through this book multiple times. But the writing is so stilted I had to finally just say, “I pass.”

Most books aren’t required reading after college. Don’t waste your time. Find another book that holds your interest. Life’s too short to waste time reading dull books.

Highlight the good parts while you read

I don’t read without a mechanical pencil. If I don’t have a pencil to take notes while I’m reading there’s no point.

Here’s a photo of the mechanical pencil I use to do my bracketing:

img_2277When I find a great quote, book recommendation, or a wonderful turn-of-phrase, I draw a bracket in the margin curling around the quote that I want to remember.

If it’s a book that I want to read, I draw the bracket with my mechanical pencil in the margin and write a little “b” to remind myself that I was interested in borrowing this book in the future.

If it’s a word I don’t know, I bracket the word in the margin and write a little “d” next to it. This reminds me to look up the word I didn’t know.

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Transcribe the notes you made from the book

My friend’s mom was my English teacher in 12th grade. She said something in class one day that I didn’t understand at the time:

You only really understand a book the second time you read it. While you’re reading the book the first time, you don’t know the points the author is trying to make. Only, once you’ve finished the book, do you have the full picture of what the author was trying to say.

This advice didn’t made sense to my high-school-brain. It only made sense when I started bracketing out the quotes, book recommendations, examples of good writing.

Transcribing the notes later give me a chance to reread the book. This way, I’m not re-reading the entire book, I’m reacquainting myself with the best parts that are now clearer having read the entire book.

As I reread through the book I transcribe all the good parts into my notes. I like to call these notes my “Takeaways.” These takeaways are the gold I’ve uncovered by reading the book. By transcribing these takeaways, the points have a chance to hit me again.

Identify the quotes that speak to you the most

I read through my list of takeaways and fix any typos along the way. During these error correcting passes, I pay attention to which quotes provoke a reaction.

I highlight these reactionary quotes and continue to fix the typos. Now you have the list of quotes that will be the starter for your blog post.

Copy and paste the best quote at the top of the post

Open up your favorite writing program. Mine is Sublime Text. It’s free and great for writing. Sublime Text simplifies the process of writing.

Got your writing app open? Great! Now copy and paste the quote at the top of the page. Got it? Good, let’s keep going.

Freewrite for 20 minutes elaborating on the quote

Set a timer for 20 minutes. Now get started. Free write. Do not stop freewriting until that timer dings. No. Matter. What.

Sit with the problem. Stare it in the face. You’re not on stage. This private time with the page is for screaming your crazy ideas into a pillow.

Write like a little mouse scratching at a wall to break through – blindly, passionately, like your life depends on it.

Get it all out of your system. Discover connections between different types of work, politics, money, ethics, favorite foods, behavioral psychology. Make connections! Dig deep! Mine that gold!

Write and write and write. Go off on tangents. This doesn’t even have to be prose! Make lists. Compare pros and cons. Come on! Just get started and keep going until that timer dings…

Ding!

Don’t even think about posting this online

Finished writing? Immediately take a break. Close down the text editor. I mean it. Hell, shutdown the computer. Get away from it.

Go wash the dishes. Go do anything else that will take you away from the page.

Resist the urge to read through what you wrote. No one is going to see it. No one is going to judge you on it. Especially not you if I have anything to say about it.

This is not the time to revise. This is the time your subconscious has a chance to chew on the content you just created.

Feel like you need to look at the first draft again to refresh your ideas? NO! Keep away from it. Let it mature on its own. Trust your body to work on the content while you give your conscious mind a break.

“A watched pot never boils.” – Arcade Fire

You did it! Now get comfortable with shitty first drafts

Steven Pressfield is famous for writing “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The War of Art.” He’s a fantastic writer with a voice that cuts through the bullshit, addresses the lizard brain, and produces results despite an active inner critic. I reread his books and relisten to his audiobooks to “defeat the inner critic.”

Pressfield blogs too. He wrote a great post on accepting the shittiness of first drafts, getting them out, and allowing them their need sit untouched:

“If you start re-writing, you will despair.  The reason is obvious.  The first draft of anything, until you’ve written 10,000 stories, is usually complete shit.  That’s just the definition of a first draft.  If you despair, you will not finish the draft. Simple logic.”

Read it over 3 times

Now you’ve let your first draft mature like a fine cheese.

Your subconscious has been working overtime, redrafting your points, making connections between your writing and other disciplines, and things that have happened in your life that remind you of what you’re writing. You might even get flashes of lessons you learned growing up. If you’re lucky you might even get insights into your hidden culture.

After this proofing time, your subconscious has digested enough that it will guide your through the process of pruning your first draft.

Take out the redundancies. Add more quotes.

Remove passages that waste the reader’s time.

Take out the passive voice. Read it over and over and over. Craft it. Steer it. Feel where it’s going.

See points you made that need more examples? Find more quotes in your takeaways that support the point you are trying to make. The quotes don’t have to come from the same book.

Better yet, look for quotes from other books to reinforce the points you are trying to make.

Great! You’ve pulled out the shitty parts of the first draft and added supporting quotes. Now it’s time to think about the presentation of your blog post. The content is great. But we need to persuade the reader to read what you wrote. We do this by cutting the post up into visibly digestible sections.

Embolden your most salient points

What would happen if you opened a 200 page book and there were no paragraphs? I know what I’d do. I’d close the book and take it back to the library.

People are not willing to waste time reading something that has not been formatted for easy digestion.

Cut up long paragraphs. This is not a book. This is a blog post. Make it easy to read.

“Short sentences get read.” – Seth Godin

Tell them what you taught them

I learned this lesson from my professor. The hardest thing in your life will be communicating your ideas clearly and having the receiver (your readers) hear the message you intended to send.

This advice can be applied to blog posts, presentations, books, trainings, etc:

  1. Tell them what you are going to teach them.
  2. Teach them.
  3. Tell them what you taught them.

Leave the reader with a challenge or a question

Shitty first drafts are required. They are expected and thus acknowledged and accepted. Do not stop until you have made your point. It doesn’t have to be eloquent. It just has to exist.

I hope this has helped remove the “terror of the white canvas/page.” Finish your first drafts no matter what! Then let them sit. Clean them up, pretty them up, and add more quotes to reinforce your ideas.

Gambate! Go forth and write shitty first drafts!

Has this blog post helped you write a shitty first draft? I’d love to know! Email me a link!

Self-criticism is one of the most common obstacles to great performance in any field

“Self-criticism is one of the most common obstacles to great performance in any field. It’s often called the silent killer of business, because so many executives suffer from it, yet so few dare to speak out about it. I’ve heard a variety of people, from junior associates to the most senior executives, privately admit that much of their workday was consumed by negativity, their inner critics constantly pointing out their failings, or predicting disappointing outcomes for their projects and initiatives. In some cases, they (and I) were amazed that they got anything done at all, considering that, as one executive reported, ‘Eighty percent of my day is spent fighting my inner critic.'” – The Charisma Myth

I’m still working on quieting the inner critic. Buddhists call it the “Monkey Mind”: that endless, chattering, berating, irritating, loud, abrasive voice that constantly mocks, taunts, and trashes us.

The worst part of this, and something we can get hung up on is, this voice is us! Or is it? Where does this voice come from? I believe it comes from unregulated self-hate. How do we stamp out the monkey? Is there a metaphorical banana we can give him to quiet him down? It’s hard to talk when you’re eating right?

Words frame our entire world view. Words frame our sense of self. Words encapsulate and border in our personalities. Have you ever heard the saying, “Words can’t express how upset I feel right now.”

We all know there are limits to words. Words are limiting. How do we make this obstacle become the way? We need to prune words of self-loathing from our conversations with ourselves. Let’s play a game:

What are some of the worst things you can say about yourself?

  • I suck at programming. Everyone’s going to find out.
  • I’m so angry right now!
  • I hate you.

Here are different ways to phrase them.

  • I’ve assessed my strengths and pinpointed my weaknesses in programming. I can study hard and work on the parts I’ve identified.
  • I’m experiencing anger right now.
  • I’m experiencing frustration now. It will pass. Please give me time to calm myself down and I will loop back around with you to discuss this further.

In Buddhism, we talk about feeling anger rather than saying, “I am angry.” We do not identify with the anger and become our anger. We realize that anger is a passing feeling. And we know that most feelings only last about 2 minutes.

Takeaways

Think about the words you use when you are condeming yourself. Try to be aware of the way you are talking to yourself. Are the words your inner critic lobs at you compassionate? What can you do to take the sting out of your own worst enemy? Trim his words. Craft your self-message to build yourself up.