Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Your Brain Just Called—It’s Not OK to Skip Your Workout Today

Monday’s stirring Boston Marathon results--Americans taking 6 of the top 10 men’s spots and 2 of the top 10 women’s spots--sent a buzz through the running community. It wasn’t just a great showing by the elite runners under warmer than ideal conditions, it was a victory for every rank and file runner who toed the line and every spectator who showed up to cheer them on.

As we posted four years ago this week, just days after the tragic bombings at the 2013 Marathon,
Life Is  a Marathon Not a Sprint.
Runners generally don’t have super-human size, strength, blazing speed or extraordinary leaping ability,” we wrote. “They don’t slam dunk, hit home runs, do touchdown dances, hit holes-in-one or throw down 720s from the top of the half-pipe. They’ve simply found a way to get the most of the endurance gene we all have inside of us and put one foot in front of the other on days when others hit the snooze button, pull the covers over their heads, skip the gym and go out for brunch.”

Don’t wimp out—ever!

So, if you’re feeling guilty about skipping your jog, yoga session or gym workout today, we’re NOT going console you. That’s right. Even if you’re not training for a marathon, triathlon or Tough Mudder competition, wimping out is not only bad for your body; it’s bad for your brain as well. A
new study from the University of Maryland department of kinesiology finds that the benefits of exercise for brain health can diminish in as little as one or two weeks of inactivity.

The author at '97 Boston Marathon


After 18 marathons (including two Bostons), 50 triathlons and seven 24-hour relays, my competitive racing days are over. Hip, labrum and shoulder surgeries in recent years have put a permanent exclamation point on that fact. But, I still manage to get a short run, swim or bike ride in about 355 days a year and feel absolutely crummy—both mentally and physically—on those 10 days a year when I don’t. As my college track coach used to say, “anyone can run fast when they’re feeling good, we’re going to teach you to run fast when you feel like crap.”

*** QUICK TIP for beating the exercise blahs: On those days when you’re tired, stressed and just aren’t feeling it, try the 10-minute test. Assuming you’re not seriously ill or recovering from surgery, make a deal with yourself to get to the track, gym or exercise class at a pre-determined time. Just try to make it through the first 10 minutes. If you’re still feeling crummy after the first 10 minutes, call it a day. But more often than not, once you get moving, you’ll finish the full workout and come back more energized than when you arrived.

Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise—particularly endurance exercise—helps to create new neurons, blood vessels and synapses and it strengthens areas of the brain that are related to memory and higher-level thinking. Those who exercise regularly not only have more endorphins—the body’s happy chemicals—but better memories and cognitive skills than their sedentary counterparts.


Without getting into the wonky science, exercise physiologists believe that working out increases blood flow to the brain. Blood carries fuel and oxygen to brain cells, along with other substances that help to jump-start desirable biochemical processes there. In general, the more blood you have flowing into the brain, the better.


The University of Maryland study, which was published in August in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, asked a group of highly fit older men and women to stop exercising for nearly two weeks. Participants were competitive master’s runners between the ages of 50 and 80 who agreed to join the study. At the start of the experiment, the runners visited the researchers’ lab for tests of their cognitive skills. They also had a special brain M.R.I. that tracks how much blood is flowing to various parts of the brain.


Then the athletes sat around for 10 days. They did not run or otherwise exercise and were asked to engage in as little physical activity as possible. Again, these were highly fit and disciplined people, so being asked to be couch potatoes for a while was a punishment for them, not a reward. 


After 10 days of being sedentary, the itchy runners returned to the lab to repeat the earlier tests, including the M.R.I. scan of their brains. The results showed striking changes in blood flow now. Much less blood streamed to most of the areas in the runners’ brains, and the flow declined significantly to both the left and right lobes of the hippocampus. It’s not clear if the study participants performed noticeably worse on the tests of cognitive function than they had at the start. But, the results suggest that the improvements in brain blood flow because of exercise will diminish if you stop training.


Conclusion
The study’s message seems clear. For continued brain health, you have to keep moving. The international running community and Bostonians of all colors, ages and sizes took that to heart on Monday. For the 25,000 participants and million-plus spectators, it was a resounding victory over terrorism, self-doubt and the endless temptations we face to take the easy way out.

Regardless of how your day is going, just keep putting one foot in front of the other each and every day. Before you know it, you’ll be closer to your goals than you think.
Have a good week. Best, HB

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TAGS: Benefits of exercise, exercise physiology, brain health, University of Maryland kinesiology


Sunday, April 09, 2017

More Multi-Tasking Myths

As expected, Part 1 of this post rankled a few of you, but many others agreed.

According to author and New York Times business columnist, Phyllis Korkki, you’re far better off “mono-tasking” than trying to fool yourself into thinking your brain is a true multi-processing machine. It’s not just a matter of being more productivity when you take on one task at a time, but being more creative.

For her recent article series about making the most of your workday, Korkki interviewed a number of neuroscientists and productivity experts. One key takeaway
: “Truly innovative thinking arises when we allow our brains to follow a logical path of associated thoughts and ideas, and this is more likely when we can focus on a single mental pathway for an extended period.” Earl K. Miller, a neuroscience professor at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, put it more bluntly: “Multitasking is not humanly possible!”

Miller, one of several experts interviewed by Korkki, said you tend to make more mistakes when you multi-task. Sounds reasonable, but why? According to Miller, that’s because when you “toggle” back and forth from task to task, “the neural networks of your brain must backtrack to figure out where they left off and then reconfigure. That extra activity causes you to slow down, and errors become more likely,” explained Miller.

Our take--
It would help if the generations took the time to understand each other’s preferred speed of information gathering and critical thinking. For instance, seasoned professionals should understand that Millennials may be paying closer attention than you think even when the have their cell phones out. Did it ever occur to you that the 20-something in the conference room is taking notes on his cellphone, not checking Facebook and Twitter every five minutes? On the flip side, young folks should understand they don’t have a monopoly on innovation. Turns out middle-age folks (46-60) have obtained the lion’s share of the patents, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

To the best of your ability, Korkki recommended setting up a work environment that encourages you to perform just one single task at a time. While she and other experts don’t think it’s possible for most people to block off hours at a time for a single task, Korkki said that even committing yourself to monotask for five minutes can yield productivity benefits.
From personal experience, I remember my old boss calling it “time boxing” and my fourth grade teacher repeatedly shouted at us to give her our “undivided attention.” Maybe she was on to something.

A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that interruptions as brief as two to three seconds were enough to double the number of errors participants made in an assigned task.

Still skeptical? Korkki recommended making incremental changes like these:

1. Remove temptation:
 Actively resist the urge to check unrelated social media while you are working on a task. Some workers may need to go so far as to install anti-distraction programs like SelfControl, Freedom, StayFocusd and Anti-Social, which block access to the most addictive parts of the internet for specified periods.
2. Work on just one screen: Put away your cellphone and turn off your second monitor.

3. Move: If you find yourself losing focus – reading the same sentence over and over or if your mind continually wanders off topic – get up and briefly walk around, Dr. Miller said. A brief walk around your office can lift your mood, reduce hunger and help you refocus.

Here at HB Publishing, you can tell who the creatives are…. We’re the ones always getting up every hour to walk around the office, shoot the breeze in the coffee room or stepping outside for a few minutes of fresh air—on the other size of the plaza from the smokers.
4. Work in intervals: Set a timer for five or 10 minutes and commit to focusing on your assignment for that amount of time. Then allow yourself a minute of distraction, as long as you get back on your task for another five or 10 minutes.

A number of us here at HB are endurance athletes. Interval training—hard bursts of all out focus followed by pre-set rest periods and then hard burst of all out focus again—is part of our DNA. We also use the 5-4-1 principal. Here’s how it works
: After a good mental warmup, you go hard at your desk for 5 hours, followed by a long break of at least 60 minutes (the average “lunch break” here at HB is closer to 90). After that 60-90 minute break, you hit it hard again for 4 hours, then take another long break, resuming with 1 hour of hard focus and recap time to gather up the loose ends from your day and to prepare for the next day. Many find it useful to break up the 5-4-1 work intervals into morning, afternoon, and post-dinner time.

Works for us.


*** New Insta Poll: How many times per month are you communicating with clients? Early results show that about half of you aren’t communicating with your clients often enough. See how you stack up to your peers (Our latest Insta Poll is on the right side of our home page). Maybe it’s time you put the devices down and picked up the old fashioned phone a little more.


 
Conclusion

We know many of you can’t get away with a 90-minute lunch break, but when you’re paid to use your brain more than your brawn, it makes sense to put in the work when your brain is firing on all cylinders. As Korkki notes, “not everyone gets there the same way. It’s up to you to figure out when you are most efficient and when you’re not.”

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TAGS  Journal of Experimental Psychology, Dr. Earl Miller, Phyllis Korkki, multi-tasking is a myth 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Why Multi-Tasking Is a Myth, Part 1

Thomas Edison famously said, “There is no substitute for hard work.” Most of you on this distribution list already know that. You are among the hardest working people we know and have probably never been called slackers. You’ve paid your dues, you’ve kept your nose to the grindstone and burned plenty of midnight oil to get to where you are today.  Congrats on that.
 
You can’t possibly log or bill any more hours than you are currently working, but deep down you sense something’s missing, right? You know you could be getting home from the office a little earlier and feeling less stress in the evenings and on weekends. You know you could be spending more quality time with your friends, family and spouse—without making any less money. But how?

The solution doesn’t require you to clone yourself or consistently hit the lottery. You just need a better understanding of what makes you tick at work.

Step 1—Realize that no two people are the same when it comes to personal productivity. So don’t look for a magic “system” or training aid to give you a 10x boost in what you already get done in a day. It’s a personal challenge that only you can solve.

Step 2—There are probably times of the day or week in which you find that you’re more productive than others. Not sure? Try going over you daily time logs, journals, diaries, CRM system or any other places in which you keep track of your work activities for clues.

The main thing is to know when you are most likely to be “in the zone” and schedule you’re heaviest mental lifting for those times. Many productivity experts suggest doing your toughest tasks of the day, first thing in the morning. But, not everyone’s a morning person. Others do their best thinking late at night, when everyone else is asleep and your household, phone and mobile devices are quiet. Others need to clear their desks and heads mentally in the morning and use the afternoon to hit it hard—often right after a vigorous walk or workout during lunch. Some don’t even bother with high-agenda items on Mondays and Fridays when they’re likely to be distracted or exhausted and use the middle days of the week to hit their stride.

Again, the key is to know when you’re most likely to be “in the zone” which is increasingly limited these days. Case in point: Four out of five of you (78%) who responded to our
recent InstaPoll said that you your work life has become more complex than it was five years ago.

In response, it’s tempting to try to cram more into the day and juggle as many responsibilities and assignments as you can. Multi-tasking has become a badge of honor in many circles. IT SHOULDN’T BE!

Multi-tasking increases errors and impedes creativity

Many professionals think they can juggle multiple projects, responsibilities and tasks simultaneously. They think they can finish a presentation while booking cross-country flights and taking urgent calls from frantic clients all at the same time.
In reality, experts say, you’re not really multi-tasking as much as you are switching back and forth very quickly from one activity to another.

Unfortunately, with all that rapid-fire switching, you’re not doing any of your activities particularly well. That’s because your brain is working extra hard to handle multiple thoughts simultaneously. It’s like what happens when you have too many windows open on your PC or too many apps running on your phone.

As Dr. Matthew MacKinnon explained in Psychology Today, “science has consistently shown that the human brain can only sustain attention on one item at a time. Our overestimation of our attentional capacity stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of multitasking and of the human attentional system as a whole,” added MacKinnon.


New York Times
columnist, Phyllis Korkki recently wrote that “Your ability to get things done depends on how well you can focus on one task at a time, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour.”

When you multitask, experts say you tend to make more mistakes. Earl K. Miller, a neuroscience professor at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory argues that when you toggle back and forth between tasks, “the neural networks of your brain must backtrack to figure out where they left off and then reconfigure.” Miller, who was interviewed for Korkki’s article series, said the extra brain activity causes you to slow down and errors become more likely. That’s why Miller believes people are much more efficient if they mono-task.

According to Miller, the brain is like a muscle that becomes stronger with use and weaker when not challenged. “As with physical exercise, the more we strengthen our mental connections by focusing on one task to the exclusion of all others, the better we can perform,” added Miller.


Conclusion
As far back as the 1930s, Allan F. Mogensen, the creator of work simplification, coined the phrase "work smarter, not harder." Sorry multi-taskers, but that means doing one thing well at a time, not doing many things half-ass all day long. Next week we’ll look at ways to prevent you from falling into the multi-tasking trap.

Have a good weekend. HB

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TAGS: Mutli-tasking unrealistic, Matthew MacKinnon, Phyllis Korkki,
Allan F. Mogensen

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why Can’t We Look Away from Our Screens?

As parents of two teenage boys, my wife and I went to see the award-winning documentary Screenagers the other night at our local community center. We weren’t alone. If you are worried about the amount of time your tech-savvy kids or grandchildren are spending on their devices, then this film is a must-see. Since Screenagers isn’t shown in most commercial theaters, you’ll have to find it at a local school, church synagogue or community center. It’s worth the effort.

Screenagers is directed by physician Delaney Ruston who set out on a journey to see if she should be concerned about the amount of time her own teens were spending on their devices. As Ruston and other researchers discovered, the average American kid spends 6.5 hours a day looking at screens (not including time spent online doing actual homework). In short, she found that screen time is definitely affecting concentration, development and family relationships although not entirely in bad ways. If you set some reasonable boundaries, then you kids can maintain their social status without turning into one of those gamers you hear about on the news who doesn’t leave their room for weeks at a time.

Kids aren’t the only ones with screen addiction

In a new book,
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, social psychologist Adam Alter warns that our devotion to digital devices has morphed into something very much like addiction.

As Alter described in a recent New York Times interview, addiction is no longer limited to getting hooked on chemical substances such as heroin, cocaine and nicotine. It’s really about seeking any experience that makes us feel good. That’s because when we do, our brains to release the neurotransmitter dopamine and we keep coming back for another hit of the feel-good chemical. It could be getting likes on social media or getting to the next level on your favorite online game.

“We’ll get a flood of dopamine that makes us feel wonderful in the short term, though in the long term you build a tolerance and want more,” noted Alter.
Not surprisingly, Alter found that game producers often pretest different versions of a release to see which one is hardest to resist and which will keep your attention longest. It must be working.


A Gallup poll found that half of U.S. smartphone users check their devices at least several times per hour and that 60 percent of adults
keep their cellphones next to them when they sleep. A Good Technology survey of 1,000 workers found that half of respondents check their emails during the night. Sure, some of that checking in is for work-related purposes (or work-related paranoia), but gaming companies and social media platforms know our gadgets are perfect delivery devices for addictive media. If games and social media were once confined to our home computers, portable devices permit us to engage with them everywhere.
 
The problem, said alter is that, “We’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many ‘likes’ our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to.” If you’re on the phone for three hours a day, Alter said you’re not spending enough time on face-to-face interactions with actual people. “Smartphones give everything you need to enjoy the moment you’re in, but they don’t require much initiative. You never have to remember anything because everything is right in front of you. You don’t have to develop the ability to memorize or to come up with new ideas.”
Solutions for tech addicts (and near-addicts)
Our January post, Time for a Technology Timeout, described a number of tech detox facilities and we talked about our 24-hour weekend tech-fasts here at HB. Alter suggested being more mindful about how we are allowing tech to invade our lives. Instead of going cold turkey, Alter suggested cordoning off your tech usage. For instance, not answering email after six at night or only posting or responding to emails at selected times of the day. (We recommend 9am, lunch time and right before you go home).
Alter said, “find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room. There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in. You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.”

In the film Screenagers, one good strategy that Dr. Ruston suggested was drawing up a contract with your teen about how often they can use their smartphone every day. The key is not to ram the contract down your kid’s throat. Instead, present it to them as a first draft, let them make some modifications and negotiate a little. That way, they’ll feel they had some say in the rules and will be more likely to comply.

*** New Insta Poll: How many times per month are you communicating with clients? Early results show that about half of you are not communicating often enough. See how you stack up to your peers (Our latest Insta Poll is on the right side of our home page). Maybe it’s time you put the devices down and picked up the old fashioned phone a little more.

Conclusion

Walking out of the Screenagers showing, my wife and I couldn’t help noticing how many adults whipped out their smartphones the minute the film was over. If you want your kids, employees and co-workers to be more present in the real world, you need to start setting an example. Use mobile technology as a powerful communication and information gathering tool—don’t let it own you or define you.

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TAGS: Screenagers, Delaney Ruston, Adam Alter, tech addiction

Friday, March 10, 2017

Written and Spoken Credibility Killers, Part 2

Last week’s post about Written and Spoken Credibility Killers hit home with many of you so we thought we’d do a follow-up post. Thomas Greve, a business development manager at EMS World wrote in, “Spot on Hank. Another pet peeve is ‘lets' nip it in the butt.’ Say what?? It is nip it in the bud as in plant reference. Drives me nuts.’”

Thanks Tom. We know many of you are extremely busy professionals who do the bulk of your writing and thinking over the weekend. Before you do, we’d like to share a few more credibility killing red flags that seem to trip up even the most intelligent and articulate of business leaders.


Look at the paragraph below. How many errors do you see?

Irregardless of where you sit on this issue, we should take positive steps towards making less grammatical errors in our daily communications.
After apprising the situation, it seems to be a continual problem in business today. By correcting these common errors, you’ll sound more intelligent and you’ll go much farther down the path of being a respected business communicator. If nothing else, that will insure you’ll be complemented for your sterling intrapersonal skills. 

If you didn’t find at least six errors, then you’re not trying hard enough!
Here are some other common misuses (and abuses) of every day language in business today that I’ve assembled courtesy of the good folks at Chartec, Dictionary.com, MoneyInstructor.com and Grammarist.com. How many of these grammatical gremlins and oratory oversights sound like you?

·         Accept vs. Except

Accept- (verb) to agree with, take in, receive. Example: We accept your decision.
Except- (preposition) Apart from. Example: All committee members are present except for Ms. Brown.

 
·         Adverse, vs. Averse

Adverse - (adjective) Unfavorable, opposing one’s interest. Example: They found themselves in adverse circumstance.
Averse -(adjective) Antipathy, repugnance, having the feeling of being opposed. Example: She is not averse to increasing her workload.

 
·         Affect vs. Effect

Affect - (verb) to influence something. Example: How will that affect the bottom line?
Effect - (Noun) the result of (Verb) to cause something to be Example: Her speech had the effect of motivating the listeners.

 
·         Apprise vs. Appraise

Apprise - (verb) Give notice to. Example: Please apprise me of the situation.
Appraise - (verb) determine the worth of something. Example: The ring was appraised before we purchased it.

 
·         Beside vs.  Besides

Beside - (preposition) at the side of, next to , near. Example: Take a seat beside me.
Besides - (adverb) Furthermore, in addition to. Example: Besides, several of us will be out of town next week.

·         Compliment vs.  Complement

Compliment – (Verb) To give praise. Example: I complemented Steve on his speech.
Complement – (Verb) To complete something or match it well. Example: Her skills complement the needs of our department.

·         Continual vs.  Continuous

Continual – (adjective) Often repeated, very frequent – but occasionally interrupted. Example: They've received continual complaints.
Continuous – (adjective) Uninterrupted. Example: We couldn't hear over his continuous talking.

·         Discreet vs. Discret

These two can create some awfully funny incorrectly worded sentences. “Discreet” means having discretion; that is, being careful in what you say or do. But “discrete” means separate or distinct. (Example – I would prefer we kept our relationship discreet since we do not have a discrete office setting.)

·         Different than vs.  Different from
Although these seem to have become interchangeable, many people still require that formal written English fit the following: use “different from” when comparing two things, and use “different than” when you use a whole clause to create the comparison. (Example – Your format looks different from mine. Perhaps this is because the format I used is different than the most common business letter formats.)

*** NOTE, Hank Berkowitz was the featured guest this week on Josh Patrick’s Sustainable Business podcast. The topic was Thought Leadership Content.


·         Farther vs.  Further

Farther – (adverb) At or to a greater distance. Example: We are located farther down the highway.
Further - (adverb) More or additional – but not related to distance. Example: We need to have a further discussion on that.

·         Fewer vs.  Less

Fewer – (adjective) Of a small number, only used with countable items. Example: He made fewer mistakes than last time.
Less – (adjective or adverb) To a smaller extent, amount or degree – used with quantities that cannot be individually counted. Example: If they made less noise, we could concentrate.


·         Lay and lie

The key difference between these two words is intent or will. It involves a choice – a person or animal, etc. can choose to lie upon something, but a book or pencil cannot choose to lay upon something. Someone must put it there. Also, another clue is that “lay” always has a direct object. (Example – Before I lie down to sleep each night, I lay my book on the nightstand.)

 
·         Principal, Principle

Principal –(noun) Person who has controlling authority. (adjective) Something essential or important. Example: Let’s talk about the principal reason we’re meeting today.
Principle – (noun) Basic truth, policy or action. Example: It’s important to stick to our principles.

·         Regardless, Irregardless

Regardless – (adjective or adverb) In spite of. Example: We are leaving regardless of whether you’re ready.
Irregardless – This is not a word. (Yes, you may find it in your dictionary, but you’re only embarrassing yourself if you use it.)

Conclusion

Your clients and followers don’t expect perfection every time you communicate with them. But, keeping these credibility killers in mind (or posted near your computer or tablet) will go a long way toward keeping them engaged with you and your batting average well above the norm.



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TAGS: Credibility killers, poor communication in business, confusing similar words, better business communication

Friday, March 03, 2017

Avoid These Written and Spoken Credibility Killers

Not sure if it’s the weather, the financial markets or the volatile geo-political climate, but, many of you have been hunkering down lately to do some deep reflection and writing. Bravo. We know most of you don’t make your living as wordsmiths, so we’re pleased to see how many of you are blogging or writing articles, newsletters, eBooks, white papers and more.

This type of short-form writing is one of the most effective ways to position yourself as a thought leader. Just make sure your followers aren’t distracted but some of the most common author (and speaker) credibility killers.


You work hard to burnish your reputation from your office setting, to your professional bio, to your website, to your LinkedIn profile. Then wham, you lose your focus when writing, speaking or presenting. The danger is, you never know who might be reading, listening or overhearing.

Don’t pollute the personal space of others

Here’s a conversation I overheard at a recent conference between two professional women--not teenage girls--who were lamenting the cold temperature in the auditorium: “Oh my God! Why do they always blast the AC in these places?” complained one. “It is what it is,” replied her companion, sighing.…… “Brrrrr. Tell me about it,” said the first.…... “Brrrr. I know, right?” replied the other. “Brrrr. Really,” added her friend.
OY!

It’s like being forced to overhear a stranger’s embarrassing cell-phone conversation. There are better ways to make small talk in a professional setting. You don’t want to be accused of eavesdropping, but your personal space is being invaded and you’re not forming a very positive impression of the yakkers you are overhearing. Chances are they are highly accomplished professionals who are attending the conference for the same reasons you are. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and they didn’t make a good one on you. It’s not likely you’re going to network with them.

*** Work life getting too complex? Take our 10-second insta-poll and find out how you stack up to your peers.


I’m telling you why you shouldn’t trust me

To be perfectly honest with you, if you can’t chose the right words, don’t fill the space with empty verbiage. Wait a minute. Run for the hills if someone keeps using the phrase “to be perfectly honest with you.” Why? Because their credibility is shot. Whether you’re in a restaurant, in a car dealership or in a tense business negotiation, when someone says to you, “to be perfectly honest with you,” it implies they’ve been lying to you up until this point. Inc. Magazine recently published a list of 15 other phrases that make people mistrust you. It’s a great piece, but in all honesty, you have to navigate through an annoying slider to get to each one of the fifteen.

For all intents and purposes, people are lacking in confidence and conviction, not just integrity, when they resort to phrases like “to be perfectly honest with you.” Speaking of “for all intents and purposes,” that one gets butchered frequently, too. How many times have you seen it written as spoken as “for all intensive purposes?“  Ouch!

In fact, we’re betting that 85 percent of you would admit you need to improve your written and spoken communication skills…..notice we wrote 85 percent, not “85%.”Many of you are numbers people, but please, use the percent sign “%”sparingly. It’s best used inside charts or when describing parenthetical ratios, such as “nearly three out of five investors (59.5%) feel they are unprepared for retirement.”
Speaking of numerical relationships and trendlines, how many of you say something went from this number to that number? Sounds logical, but the preferred way to express a numerical change over time is to/from.

EXAMPLE: Don’t write: “The fund’s rate of return increased from 7.7 percent in 2015, to 9.8 percent in 2016. Instead, it should be: “The fund’s rate of return increased to 9.8 percent in 2016 from 7.7 percent in 2015. When in doubt, go present first, past second.
So, next time you really want to convey your point to your readers or listeners. Oops, there’s another flag. This one’s on me and I fall into this trap often.

Let’s take the innocent looking word “so.” Kill it as a sentence starter from your written and spoken vocabulary. According to communications coach Sabina Nawaz. Starting with “so” implies that you’re tentatively asking for permission. You don’t need to waste time and bandwidth clearing your throat. Just get right to the point. You’re an expert. You don’t have to qualify your remarks.


Conclusion

Again, we’re not here to be your high school English teachers. But, the sloppy written and spoken word has become an epidemic in today’s tweeting, texting, too-busy-to-think before-I-send world in which we live.

If you have a lot to share with the world and don’t have the time to codify it, there are plenty of excellent writing coaches, ghost-writers and content collaborators around. They can help you clarify your thought and get your expertise swiftly from your brain to the published page or screen. Many have technical expertise in personal finance, tax, insurance, business succession planning and medical topics. Contact us any time and we’ll be happy to assist.

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TAGS: conversation killers, top business writing mistakes, phrases that make people mistrust you

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Power of Content Calendars

Not just for the wordsmiths and marketeers in your organization. It’s as easy as 1-7-30-4-2-1

It’s no secret that Thought Leadership Marketing (aka “content marketing”) is one of the most effective ways to position yourself as an expert in your niche and to stay top of mind with your clients, prospects, influencers and/or members throughout the year. Blogs, e-newsletters, white papers, webinars, published articles, social media posts and podcasts, are all proven forms of thought leadership marketing. We know you have the expertise in house, but how do you keep coming up with great topics when you don’t have a full-time writing staff?

Start with a plan.

You wouldn’t have clients invest their money without a plan. You wouldn’t hire an architect to build your dream house if he or she didn’t use blue prints. So, why would you start pushing out content to your universe of followers without a plan?

Getting started and sticking to it

Editorial content calendars (sometimes called content calendars) are what we typically recommend to clients to get your thoughts organized for the short-term, intermediate term and long-term. You can start with a simple spreadsheet showing the months, types of content, topics covered and who’s responsible for each piece of content. 

You don’t need to invest in expensive or sophisticated marketing automation software in the early going. The main objective is to have a simple snapshot of the year ahead and to try your best to stick to the plan. It’s OK to make adjustments as important new topics rise to the surface during the course of the year. But you want to maintain a consistent schedule—we call it a “cadence” just like being consistent about your diet, your new exercise routine or your new personal enrichment class.
In fact, both content calendars and resolutions tend to fail for many of the same reasons. Perhaps you committed to a goal that’s too big or your support group falls apart. Maybe you just don’t know where to begin. Instead of giving up on your content marketing plans, as four out of five people do with their resolutions, make a plan that works for your organization.

To help you stick to your content plan, here are 6 key steps adapted from a presentation by Frank Dale, CEO of content management software company, Compendium (now part of Oracle):

1. Map out all the content your organization produces.
There’s probably more than you think. In addition to blogs, write down all forms of content, including videos, photos, presentations, webinars, social media posts, marketing materials, press releases, industry and business articles, white papers, FAQs and events.

2. Sort this content into categories or types.
Creating content categories ensures that your organization covers a broad range of topics, not just marketing. Categories can include: “”How To” best practices, industry trends, company news, marketing, events and more.

3. Identify who is creating your content.
Your organization has content authors who don’t know they’re authors. Anyone with hands-on experience within the company has a story to tell and can contribute to your content marketing effort. This includes employees from different areas of your company (marketing, IT, legal) as well as external authors (customers, partners, industry thought leaders).

4. Determine how much and how often your “experts” can contribute. Some authors can easily provide a steady stream of content (social media managers, public relations, customers), while others may be more sporadic (event planners, video producers).

5. Think rows and columns. Once you’ve completed these steps, develop a simple spreadsheet that includes all this information. From this spreadsheet, you can begin to create a content calendar. We like using a traditional monthly calendar because I can easily see what content is planned and when.

6. Be realistic about what your organization can accomplish.
It might be helpful to think about frequency using a technique pioneered by content strategist Russell Sparkman/FusionSpark Media  called the “1-7-30-4-2-1” method. Here’s how it works:

·         1 represents the content your organization can commit to publishing daily. This might be something as easy as the sharing of industry news via Twitter or Facebook.
·         7 refers to weekly content, such as a blog post.
·         30 is what your organization can publish monthly. These might be more extensive content pieces, such as an e-newsletter or video.
·         4 refers to a quarterly content commitment, such as a white paper, e-book or contest.
·         2 is biannual content, such as an event, new brochure or webcast.
·         1 is annual content, such as an event, conference or app.

Don’t get painted into a corner

We advise our clients to think three to six assignments ahead at all times. Start setting up little folders for each upcoming post or article now (paper or digital is fine). You never know when you’ll come across a great nugget or factoid in July that will be perfect for the assignment that’s not due until November.

Conclusion

Approaching content marketing in these manageable bite-sized steps prevents you from feeling overwhelmed and allows you to build a content calendar that’s manageable and sustainable. Best of all, this exercise is easier and less painful than dieting or going to the gym and you’ll have a “ripped” and “buff” reputation to show off for all your effort and discipline.

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TAGS: content calendars, editorial calendars, content marketing, Russell Sparkman, Compendium,