Leaving the land of pixels for inspiration

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  Building a career as a creative in the agency world means spending a lot of time in front of screens. We bounce between our core tools, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and dev tools, but rarely do we find time to pull our heads up just to grab our sketchpads and Sharpies. Much less step back and actuallyuse our hands to craft something.

I am a firm believer that in these non-screen related working sessions, new ideas form faster. They also provide a creative mind with moments of revitalization. Just the mere crafting of something new with your hands, using physical tools, and problem solving without the use of a keyboard can make the next time you saddle up to your Mac actually exciting versus painfully laborious.

Even just the workspace will change you. My streaming Pandora is swapped for the crackle of an old radio with a broken antenna. My posture changes as I am literally moving again. I find myself adding fractions that don't involve bleeds and live area. It's in these moments of physically crafting that unrelated yet current problems find their solutions. As if your subconscious needed this blood-flow to pull together the answers for your next campaign.

I've always loved this quote:

“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
— Louis Nizer

Throughout my career I've tried to find ways to involve my professional work with moments of actual craft. They don't always line up perfectly, but when they do they are both refreshing and invigorating. The creative mind will always need to make. Like an itch that doesn't really go away. Next time you find yourself stumped or beat up on a project, stop clicking away, for the answers probably aren't on the screen in front of you.

A few of my projects from the past year:

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1 Easy Trick To Make The Most Of Your Free Time

Credit: Trekking Rinjani / Flickr I'm a hardworking guy, but I'm also a horrible procrastinator. My brain is hardwired to work under deadlines and pressure, and when I find myself with a lot of free time—like on weekends—I can let a lot slip away without realizing it.

If I have an especially grueling week at the office (luckily, I've learned how to make my procrastination habit work in my professional life), I'm prone to coming home Friday night, plopping down on the couch and vegging out for a day or two straight. By Monday morning, I'm sitting at my desk going "What the hell did I actually do this weekend?" As nice as it is to have times when I just don't do anything—and I think that's important—it's no fun to feel like entire days or weekends are wasted.

My remedy for trying to avoid that is to ask myself a simple question: Was what you just did worth the time you spent on it?

It sounds too easy, but it's actually really effective. It's the difference between deciding in advance that I'm going to dink around online for an hour or realizing, "Whoops, I just spent my entire evening dinking around online."

I'm not some kind of shark, where I always have to be moving. But I do want my free time to feel like it's good, refreshing and well used. I want to be able to say at our Monday morning coffee, "I did this, that and that this weekend. Boom."

This is by no means perfected, but I'm working on it. If you're like me and want to learn even more, check out this post from Business Insider: How Successful People Make The Most Of Their Weekends.

Note:  This post originally appeared on Paul's personal blog.

Buffer And Feedly: A Social Media Tag Team That Will Help You Dominate

Edge and Christian  

Last week I wrote about a content scheduling strategy I use by combining Buffer and Feedly. But that's not all these two apps can do. They're both packed with helpful tricks and shortcuts that can make your process of curating content easy and efficient. When you combine them together, they become a tag-team threat that can help you save time and generate more interaction on your social channels. Here are some of their best moves.

Queue up Buffer straight from Feedly

This is the most straightforward combo feature, and it's a great excuse to switch to Feedly from whatever RSS reader you currently use.

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Count characters with Feedly and quote to Buffer to double your content

One of the smartest things I've read in the last year came from Buffer's blog. Belle Beth Cooper wrote that you should post content more than once to your social channels in order to test different headlines, different time zones and different content sharing types. Doing this has effectively tripled my output and my incoming engagement.

Feedly makes it super easy to do with its character counter. Let's say you've already Buffered a blog post you like by posting the headline and a link. Go and highlight a quote you like from the post (Twitter loves quotes), and watch what Feedly does:

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Now you can see what will fit on Twitter, and what will fit within the optimal number of characters for your other social networks. Plus, you'll have just doubled how many posts came from the content you just found. That gives you more chances to be seen and retweeted/shared.

'Buffer this image' to triple your content

Here's where shit just gets crazy. If you've got the Buffer extension for Google Chrome, you secretly have a feature on your right-click menu called "Buffer this image." Find an image you like in that same found-content in Feedly as before, and you've suddenly tripled your sharing output:

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Best of all, you've created three completely unique posts—all from the same piece of content.

(Side note: You're probably noticing that "Pin It" button in the top-left of the image. Yeah, you can pin images straight from Feedly, too.)

BONUS: Stack the deck with IFTTT

One of the things that made wrasslin' tag teams like Edge and Christian so successful was having an ace in the hole—a partner who could sneak into the ring and give them an extra hand when needed. For E&C that was usually Rhyno or Kurt Angle. For you, that partner is If This Then That (IFTTT).

With IFTTT, you can build "recipes" that automate actions across social networks and apps. For instance, I can tell IFTTT to save every link I tweet to Delicious so I have it saved for later. That saves me the step of having to Buffer something and then save it to my Delicious account. Or I can tell it to post a headline and link to Buffer every time I bookmark something in Feedly—now I don't even have to use the Buffer sharing button.

IFTTT can be an insanely useful tool, especially when trio-ed with Buffer and Feedly. Play around with it a bit, check out some of the recipes other users have created, and see what you can implement that works for you.

Put everything together

Again, dovetailing off my scheduling post from last week, here's an example of a morning workflow that could help save a ton of time throughout the day:

  • Check Feedly for shareable content.
  • When you find something good, bookmark it, and make sure you have an IFTTT recipe set up to Buffer your Feedly bookmarks.
  • When you find something really good, Buffer the link with the headline, a quote and an image. Optimize those three types of posts for each of your social networks.
  • You're done!

Use Russell Wilson's Super Bowl Halftime Routine To Become More Productive

Russell Wilson Talks to the Media One of the best things I've implemented to boost my productivity at work is Tac Anderson's GTD hack. The part that helps me the most is writing out what my day will look like, hour by hour.

Lately—and you'll notice this per the notes below—I've been taking a page from another productivity master's book: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Here's what Wilson said he did during halftime at the Super Bowl that helped the Hawks keep momentum going into the second half:

I took my whole uniform off, I took a shower and everything — we had about 45 minutes. So I took a shower, I re-taped everything, got my arm stretched again — we got into a whole ‘nother stretch again. So that kinda restarted our minds. And so we came out of halftime, it felt like it was a brand-new game.

I don't always have the luxury of a 45-minute break in the middle of the day at work, but on days when I do, I make a point to take a break. I'll go out for a walk, get lunch, whatever, and when I come back, I re-evaluate what I have to do for the rest of the day. I treat the second four hours like it's a whole new day. Here's what it looks like:

An image of Paul Balcerak's day planner

The effect is twofold: (1) It makes the day seem shorter, since it's broken up into two manageable chunks; and (2) it helps me focus on the absolute must-do stuff, because rather than having eight whole hours! to do whatever I need, my time appears more limited.

Try it out this week. Write out the first half of your workday tonight, before you go to bed, and then re-plan the noon/1-5 p.m. half of your day at lunch tomorrow.

Photo credit: WEBN-TV / Flickr

(Note: This post originally appeared on Paul's personal blog.)

Teamwork From the Field to the Office

CenturyLink With the Sounders season under way and Mariners’ opening day around the corner, I am reminded of my own spring sports seasons from growing up. I played all kinds of team sports, and those experiences still inform the way I work with and treat others in an office setting. After all, you’re not going successfully pitch a client by working alone. You need a team of players who bring their own skills to the table to get you to the next level.

One lesson I gleaned playing sports that’s still very much a part of my life and work is the value of a positive attitude. It’s pretty simple: the positive player is the one who keeps the team morale up, motivating others to work harder. People look up to them. They’re the team captain. They’re sought after and get the best opportunities because they earned them. They never give up, even when they’re down by 10 in the last inning of the big game.

The negative ones, on the other hand, are the ones who are complaining, throwing in the towel early, and bringing everyone else down as a result. No one likes to be around them. They’re roadblocks to success. And you know what? They're never going to get anywhere until they change their mindset.

In the business environment, working in a team is always going to be a reality. The team players are the ones who understand that the other team members may go about things in a different manner, but still embrace the differences for the good of the team.

Another lesson I learned from my more athletic days was the power of proactivity. Make things happen. Don’t wait for someone else to do it or for someone else to ask. Proactivity goes a long way, and you’ll end up with a result that no one even expected. Rise above the expectations.

Lastly, thrive under pressure and keep a thick skin. I was a pitcher for my softball team. If I got rattled by every hit and run, I would have been pulled out of every game. Sometimes, when the game comes down to your move, that’s when it’s most important to buckle down and do what you’re best at.

All of these qualities make a good leader and therefore, create excellent teamwork, which means success for everyone. What's your best teamwork tip ?

2 Social Media Scheduling Steps That Save My Day

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In my daily role as social media strategist at Curator, I work with at least six different clients, including our agency. That work spans everything from high-level analysis and reporting to down-in-the-weeds community management and content generation.

Needless to say, it’s a pretty full plate.

Finishing that plate every day, and delivering high-quality work, requires a lot of organization and planning. One of the best organizational systems I’ve developed is my method of social media scheduling and engagement. It only takes two steps, using free apps, and it could help streamline your day, too.

Here’s the whole process:

 

1. Morning: Schedule social media updates using Feedly and Buffer

Most of the time, I have owned content that I can share out over Curator’s and its clients’ social channels. But those channels need to be resources, so I work to abide by the 80/20 rule—I share 80 percent helpful content from others and 20 percent helpful content that’s original.

For the 80 percent, I turn to Feedly. I’ve curated dozens of industry specific blogs over the last several years (going all the way back to the Google Reader days), which help immensely with sharing good content.

For sharing and scheduling, I use Buffer, which schedules tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn posts and Google+ posts for you. I’ll queue up anywhere between a few and a dozen posts in Buffer, and they’re shared throughout the day during the specific times I’ve pre-loaded on my account.

Best of all, Feedly and Buffer go hand in hand. There’s a Buffer sharing button right in Feedly, so if I see something interesting, it only takes a couple clicks to queue it up.

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2. Morning/afternoon/evening: Monitor and engage

After all my outgoing social media posts are queued up for the day, I’m freed up to monitor and engage. I find this arrangement to be pretty terrific: I spend probably 20 percent of my time on each account finding content to share and 80 percent building the audience.

You can use whatever apps you like for this. Personally, I like using a mixture of Twitter for Mac, Twitter search, the Facebook Pages iOS app, Facebook’s desktop site and Crowdbooster (subscription required, but cheap).

Try it!

This might take a little time to get used to, especially if you don’t have a big trove of blogs built up. Do this for about a week, though—in case you’re not impressed, I’ll be back in this space next Friday with tips on how Feedly and Buffer can save you even more time.

5 Chrome Extensions That Will Change the Way You Internet

Remember when you got your first smart phone, how excited you were to start downloading apps? You probably can’t imagine going back to an old calculator style phone. Sure, flip phones and Blackberries still work for your basic “phone” functions, but apps opened up a whole new world of productivity and entertainment. Like smart phones did for cell phones, new browsers have brought innovation to the browsing experience by integrating apps and extensions that take them far beyond their basic function. The funny thing, however, is that most of us have been using internet browsers longer than cell phones, yet some people still treat their browsers like Netscape Navigator.

If you want to get more out of your browser - and out of your day - check out this list of must-have Chrome extensions. If you’re still an IE, Safari or vanilla Chrome user, get ready to have you mind blown.

Evernote Web Clipper:

I’m admittedly an Evernote fanatic. I use it to organize everything from work projects to home renovations, and to remember everything from business contacts to where I parked. At its core it’s a cloud-based notebook, but add to that its range of integrated tools and it becomes a must have; to wit, Evernote Web Clipper. This handy tool lets you pull great content you find on the web into your Evernote in a range of formats. You can tag and organize right from the Clipper, and the text stays searchable, so it’s always easy to find what you saved even if you only remember one or two words from the page.

goo.gl URL shortener

This simple URL shortener is perfect for crunching those long links into just a few characters. Just click from any webpage to turn a lengthy link into a mini URL or even a QR code. It’s perfect for social media or when you need to share an obnoxiously long URL (e.g., google directions, which can easily exceed 400 characters).

Printfriendly:

Print Friendly

If you’ve ever tried to print a webpage for a meeting, you know that the printed version usually ends up about eight pages long with about 80% of each page wasted on ads or unrelated content. Most people end up just resorting to a screen capture, but that poses a problem if the content you want doesn’t all fit on one screen. For a more elegant solution, try Printfriendly, an ingenious extension that pulls webpage content into an editable web tool. Each element is separated into removable blocks, allowing you to keep just the content you want in the size you want. The final product is a clean, readable PDF that can be saved, emailed or printed right from the web tool. Plus, unlike a screen capture, the text is preserved so it remains selectable and searchable.

Evernote Clearly:

Reading online articles it sometimes a little like trying to listen to someone tell a story in a crowed bar. All the “related” stories, links, photos, share buttons, banners, embedded Twitter feeds, - it’s all just noise that interferes with the overall enjoyment of reading. If the afore mentioned Web Clipper wasn’t enough to make you drop what you’re doing and go download Evernote, maybe this will convince you. Evernote Clearly strips out all the unrelated distractions, leaving you with clean, quiet content. With a few clicks you can change the theme and font size, print it with room for notes, or save it to your Evernote for future reading.

Hola Unblocker:

Hola Better Internet

Okay, enough about productivity, let’s talk about entertainment! There are a lot of practical applications for this extensions, but the one I use it for is Netflix. Hola is a VPN proxy service that essentially lets you trick a website into thinking you are in a different country. This is extremely helpful, because not all “Netflixes” (or Hulus, etc.) are created equal. Due to regional copyright rules, your selection of shows and movies will vary based on what country you are logged in from. For example, the second half of  Breaking Bad season five didn’t hit the US version of Netflix until Feb 24, while those in the UK got to watch the new episodes each Sunday after they aired. Like the show Community? Canada has every season. Surprisingly unavailable in Canada is Space Teens, but they have a lot of other great content. Hola is simple to use, just click the country you want to log in from and enjoy the rest of the internet.

So, there are my top Chrome extensions. If I missed an essential tool that you love, let me know at @robinsonpost.

Productivity Sans Coffee

I love to see people’s reactions when I have to explain that I don’t drink coffee. First comes the look of shock, judgment and confusion, followed by a variation of questions like, “Why? How? Are you human? What’s wrong with you? I don’t understand.” The truth is, I’ve never actually tried coffee, but if around it too long I get a headache from the smell and it's just never been too appealing to me. This year I did challenge myself to order a mocha from Starbucks, which to me tasted like a ruined cup of hot chocolate, so I here I am back to my non-coffee drinking ways. For anyone trying to drink less coffee, or give it up completely, I thought I’d share some of my tips for getting through the day without it.

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Heat It Up

I read somewhere years ago that having a hot beverage in the morning helps with productivity. Holding something hot in your hands and feeling the steam hit you when you take a sip aids with alertness. Especially here in Seattle, when the mornings are cold and often wet, it just feels right to drink something warm. I used to hate tea, but after a summer working in London, my coworkers converted me.  I love black tea with a little milk and sugar, or my recent go-to: any of the Yogi Teas. My personal favorites are Detox and Green Tea Ginger. The Yogi Teas are great because they taste awesome on their own, plus each bag has a cute fortune on the tag!

H20 FTW

Water is your best friend. We all know that we should be drinking eight glasses a day, but if you’re like me, sometimes it’s easier said than done. I do better using a smaller glass because I finish it faster and have to refill more, versus using a big daunting mug and eyeing it on my desk all day. Bonus, more refills means more trips to the water supply also helping you get up and walk around a bit.

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Juice and Smoothies

I love starting my morning with a fresh juice. I try to use my juicer at home or make a smoothie before I leave, but when I’m crunched for time, I usually hit up the trusty Starbucks across the street. I love the Evolution Fresh juices. If you’re a picky juice consumer, I recommend Super Greens or Defense Up – they’re much sweeter and don’t taste like the Earth, like the Essential Greens does. Another favorite from Starbucks is their smoothie. I get the orange mango smoothie and ask them to add Green Tea Matcha powder. This makes the smoothie green, but doesn't affect the taste at all. Sometimes I even add Chia Seeds when I’m back in the office for extra energy. If you’re unfamiliar with the Chia Seed craze, it’s a super food that you can mix in things like yogurt, smoothies, or anything wet because they turn gelatinous, and helps with hydration and energy.

Photo Credit: Brookside Chocolates

 

Snacky Snacks

It’s been reported that having snacks throughout the day helps with productivity and can give you the boost you need to finish the day as strong as you started. Eating something citrusy, like an orange will help with that afternoon crash. Smelling it alone will perk you up a bit. Other great snacks for a little energy boost are apples (ask Paul how he eats an apple, it will blow your mind!), dried fruits and nuts, popcorn, hummus, more juice or a smoothie, yogurt and dark chocolate. For more healthy snack ideas, check out this great list. And if you love something sweet in the afternoon, I am obsessed with the Brookside dark chocolate covered berries. My favorites are Açai and Goji Berry.

Take a Lap

It may be surprising, but sitting all day is a total energy suck. I never noticed how sedentary my days could be until I really started tracking my daily movement with our awesome Jawbone UP bands. I’ve set mine to buzz me if I haven’t taken any steps in over an hour. This is a super helpful reminder and gets me to be more conscious of my activity during the day. Even if it’s to go outside for a few minutes for some fresh air, the act of taking a physical break helps tremendously. This is also something I learned while in London, because I was forced to take a lunch and to go take a break and walk around outside. At first it felt weird because I was so used to the days of putting my head down, working through lunch and never really noticing that hours would pass before I ever left my desk. It’s easy to fall into this habit, we all do, so whether you have something to monitor your physical activity, or you set a little calendar reminder, I strongly suggest finding a way to remind yourself to get up, move around and get that blood flowing for that natural energy. Your body will thank you.

I’d love to hear any suggestions you have for coffee substitutes, or ways to get through the day without that dreaded afternoon crash! Find me on Twitter @c_allodi and let me know your best tip!

A Few Basic Excel Functions To Help Analyze Social Data

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If you do any sort of social media analytics work, you’ve probably got a few free or paid tools to help you crunch the mountains of data your networks spit out and translate it into something legible and actionable. Tools like that are great, but if you really want to dig into your data, the best way to do it is to roll up your sleeves and wade into an Excel spreadsheet.

Excel can be intimidating at first, but you can do a lot with even a few basic commands. Best of all, you’ll feel empowered to start building your own metrics, and you can look for new ways to analyze your numbers. Here are a few to get you started if you've never worked with Excel before.

SUM and AVERAGE

These are exactly what they sound like – they’ll spit out sums and averages of chunks of data. Let’s use the SUM function as an example.

Here, I’ve got about 150 rows of numbers that I just need a total for. It would obviously take a long time to add all those up by hand, so I’ll use the SUM function to do it in just a few seconds. First, I type =SUM( into the cell at the bottom of this column of data: 

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That changes my cursor to a plus sign (+) and highlights any cell I hover over in a blue border. From there, I just need to click and drag over the cells I want totaled:

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Hit enter, and voila!

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To get an average of those numbers, I’d do the same thing and just replace SUM with AVERAGE.

Here’s a cool bonus trick: See that little square in the lower right of my total cell? If I have other columns of data adjacent to the one I just totaled, and I want those totaled, too, I can just click and drag the square:

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I like this one for editorial calendars (yes, I still build editorial calendars in Excel) because it counts characters, which is key for Twitter. All I have to do is type =LEN( and then type in or click on the cell I want a character count for: 

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Hit enter and…

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Looks like I’m good to go on this tweet. (Don’t forget the click-and-drag trick if you’ve got multiple entries!)

This can also be useful if you start paying attention to what character counts work best on your other social network posts. With Facebook for example, you can pull all your post data, count the characters on each post and compare those numbers to your number of Engaged Users. That can give you an idea of the ideal length of a Facebook update. From there, you can use the LEN function again to make sure you come as close to that number as possible when you’re building your content calendar.

TEXT

This one requires you to have some data in the first place, at least for the way I'm describing it here. I use it a lot with Facebook Insights. Basically what it does is pulls text out of a chunk of data that exists in numeric form; the best example is dates.

Here’s a cell in my Facebook post Insights that’s showing me when my posts were published:

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I want to be able to see what day of the week those posts were published on in an adjacent column. What I’ll do is add a blank column and call it “Day of Week.” Then, I’ll use the TEXT function to pull that data out of the cells in the E column. Here’s what the command looks like:

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The d’s tell Excel that I want to see days of the week, and I typed in seven of them because I want the full day spelled out. (If I wanted, like, “Mon” for Monday, I’d just type in =text(e2, “ddd”).)

I hit enter, and then drag my little square down in the Day of Week column so I have days of the week for all my posts listed:

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Now I can get a better idea of when I tend to post, and when my followers are engaging with my posts (based on Engaged Users on those days).

Keep going!

These functions just scratch the surface of what Excel can do. After you’ve gotten comfortable with them, it’s a lot easier to experiment with combinations of functions and to branch out into other Excel features.

Have questions or feedback? Leave a comment or message us on Facebook or Twitter.

Drawing the Line Between the Great and the Ordinary

Boorstin

I love reading up on what others have found to be the secret to a fruitful career. What makes a truly great business executive? What are the common traits amongst wildly successful people?

I certainly haven’t discovered the answer yet (probably because there isn’t one), but I have stumbled on a few recent articles that have some hints for at least a good start down the right path.

As not only a current CNBC correspondent, but also a mother of a two-year-old, I would dub Julia Boorstin pretty darn successful. It may be her understanding of the importance of early mornings that has contributed to her success. Last month, she shared insight into why waking up early can have a drastic impact on your life and career. Especially for us folks on the West Coast, the rest of the country are well ahead of us by the time we roll out of bed at 7am, meaning we’re spending half the morning just playing catch-up. Needless to say, I’ve been setting my alarm an hour earlier since reading this piece.

With the release of the new iPhone, it may be a bad time to tell you to power down your devices. But, I think USA Today raises an interesting point about how tuning out technologies and allowing yourself to become “bored” can actually contribute to more thoughtful ideas. Especially in an industry where we are valued for our creative thinking, it’s important to recognize that some of our most ingenious ideas stem from moments filled with no distractions.

Finally, Inc. gets right to the point in the article, “7 Traits that Distinguish Super Successful People from Ordinary Ones”. All seven traits are ones worth reading, but my favorite is the final piece of advice – Nothing Succeeds Like Failure. The sentiment is a great reminder that our first idea doesn’t have to be our best idea. And, you never know how successful the venture may turn out to be in the end. To quote one of my dear friends, “sometimes the greatest ideas come from plan B”.

Cheers to a successful Friday!