Category Archives: communication

Experience report/invitation: Pick my brain through Google Helpouts

Quick note: You can book free help sessions with me through sach.ac/help. There’s a listing focused on note-taking/visual thinking, and I have two other listings focused on Emacs and introversion going through the review process. Feel free to talk to me about other topics, too!)

UPDATE 2013/11/07: More notes at the end!

I’ve been looking for ways to make it easier to help people online. ScheduleOnce + Skype/Google Hangout was great, but scheduling was a bit cumbersome, and sometimes one-hour chats felt a little awkward. When Google announced their new Helpouts service, I signed up to be one of the early providers. I started with note-taking and visual thinking because those are useful skills that a lot of people need help with, compared to digital sketchnoting workflows which would be a tiny tiny niche.

2013-10-24 Google Helpout

Although Google Helpouts lets you charge for your sessions, I decided to focus on giving help for free instead. I wanted to see what it was like and what I could help people with, and I didn’t want people to worry about the cost. I also didn’t want to worry about expectations! So I set up my Helpout listing, practised with a few people, and set aside some available slots in my calendar.

My first few Helpouts were surprisingly fun. I talked to a number of people who were either Helpout providers or people who had received invitation codes to try it out. One session turned into an awesome Emacs geeking around thing, which I need to post at some point. =)

2013-11-02 Google Helpouts Experience Report

And then it was the official launch day. Google Helpouts was open! I woke up to more than a dozen sign-ups, and my phone kept buzzing with notifications throughout the day. It was exciting and scary at the same time.

Many of the other Helpout providers said they were seeing a lot of no-shows. I didn’t mind because that meant I could get a bit of a breather in between the 15-minute sessions. I had some time to e-mail people and ask them some questions before starting, which really helped.

2013-11-05 Additional Helpout observations

I talked to students about study skills, teachers about teaching, and professionals about mindmaps and other thinking tools. I was nervous going in, but I was delighted to find that the conversations flowed well. I could think of questions for people to clarify what they needed and I shared tips that they could try. Afterwards, I felt a little buzzy, but not as much as I do from presentations (very very buzzed!) or hour-long chats.

Since the service has just launched and I’m offering a free Helpout, many people who signed up probably won’t make it to the sessions. Coding is terrible when it comes to interruptions, but drawing seems to be just fine.

2013-11-05 How does Google Helpout fit in with my goals

I really like the way answering people’s quick questions helps me validate that people want and need what I can share, and it gives me a better sense of who’s out there.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to experiment with how this fits into my flow. Where do I want to put it in my schedule, and how does it interact with the other work I want to do? Because Helpouts can break my time into lots of little segments, I want to make sure I still have blocks of focused time for deep work. I also want to avoid introvert overwhelm, and I want to focus on proactive content instead of letting Helpouts swing me too much towards being reactive. That’s why I’ve been setting aside blocks of 1-2 hours for Helpout scheduling instead of letting it take over my day. Now that we’re off Daylight Savings Time, the sun sets pretty early too, so I’m experimenting with another change to my consulting schedule. I want to make sure that I do right by my consulting client, too, and I don’t want to drop my personal projects.

Hardware-wise, I like my current setup. I handled all the calls from my newly-re-set-up desk downstairs, with a webcam, lights, and external monitor. I don’t want the sessions to interfere with W-‘s concentration, though. If he’s at home instead of at the gym, I can work in the kitchen with my extended battery. I’ll keep an Ethernet cable there as well. The kitchen isn’t as well-lit, but it will do.

So it looks like this month’s experiment will be connecting through Google Helpouts – reaching out and helping random(ish) strangers. I’m making surprisingly good progress towards my goals of modulating my pace. I’m getting better at matching people. I’m also working on articulating my thoughts without repeating words or phrases, since a stutter tends to shows up when I’m excited. If I can get the hang of harvesting questions from these Helpouts and turning them into blog posts, that would be even better. =)

UPDATE 2013/11/07:

This is working out really well! Most people respond to my intro messages, so I have a sense of what they’re interested in before we start. I’ve talked to lots of people in school who want to improve their study skills, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find that I can offer tips that they hadn’t considered. Enthusiasm carries across well in video chats too – it’s great to be able to bounce ideas or cheer people on. Best of all, I’ve been able to connect with people who read my blog or chat with me on Twitter – it’s just like jumping into the middle of a good conversation. I’m turning the tips into more drawings, which I’ll post on my blog. (Hmm, I should set up a mailing list…) I’ve set up AutoHotkey shortcuts for my welcome message and various URLs I find myself often sharing. There are occasional no-shows, but I don’t mind because I draw and reflect during the gaps. I just leave the Helpout window open in the background as I draw on paper. In fact, sometimes I wish people will miss their appointment so that I can keep on going. And the gradual accumulation of positive reviews is ego-gratifying – it means the stuff I learned along the way is useful, and I’m glad I can share it. =)

All of my slots are booked at the moment, which is a little mind-boggling. I’ll probably open up more after December, or maybe even during December once I figure out what my schedule is going to be like. I’m not going to open up a ton more for this month because 1-2 hours a day of intense talking to people is probably a good limit. Some days have slightly more because I got carried away with setting up my availability in the beginning, and I didn’t want to cancel any. =) Maybe I’ll settle down to ~1-2 hours every other day, and possibly have a mailing list for tips and new availability. It’s an awesome feeling helping other people out, although I also want to make sure I keep making progress on my other (quieter) projects! <laugh>

—-

Want to give Helpouts a try? You can schedule a session with me at sach.ac/help or browse through the other sessions at helpouts.google.com. I think you can sign up there to offer your own, too. Have fun!

Thinking out loud about how to help other sketchnoters go professional and how to help people get their ideas sketched

Whenever I sketchnote an event, people tell me that they love my work. They ask if I’d be interested in sketching other events, podcasts, books, presentation designs, blog post illustrations, and so on. People love the informal, informative style of sketchnotes, and they want to use it to spread more ideas. Terrific!

But you know what would be even awesomer? It would be fantastic if more people could get into sketchnoting – pro-bono, for barter, or professionally. There are a lot of great ideas out there that are missing their potential because they get forgotten or people’s eyes glaze over when confronted by lots of text or slides. More sketchnoters, more possibilities.

shutterstock_136646261

Many sketchnoters and graphic recorders refer work to people they know when they’re too busy themselves. I want to refer as much as possible to other people, especially people I don’t know. I want to broaden the network and bring more people in. I want my default to be referring work to other people, accepting work myself only if it’s something I really care about and I’m the only one who can make it happen. (Which is probably never, because lots of people can draw!)

It makes sense to have lots of sketchnoters sharing the opportunities instead of a few sketchnoters drawing most of the work. When a topic lines up with your interests or background, everything is better. You have a richer visual vocabulary. You learn a lot more from the content. You can keep up with speakers more easily. And when there are lots of active sketchnoters, we can learn a lot from each other’s styles.

I think it would be interesting to have a gig board where people can post opportunities and other people can contact them if interested. This is different from a job board because jobs tend to be longer-term commitments, while sketchnoting might just be a few hours. I don’t mind routing everything through my e-mail first.

So, what’s getting in people’s way now, and how can we address that?

  • A slowly growing market: Although some event organizers have been taking advantage of graphical summaries as a way of reaching out to attendees and prospects, graphic recording is still pretty limited in terms of conferences and corporate events. Sketchnoting is still pretty novel.I’m not going to focus on event organizers who don’t know about sketchnoting yet. It’s helpful to have a place where organizers who want sketchnotes can connect with sketchnoters.Many events have limited budgets, especially in this economy, so they might not be able to afford professional sketchnoting. However, if a pro-bono or barter event matches up with a sketchnoter’s interests, maybe the sketchnoter will do it anyway. Besides, I want to encourage organizers to think of more creative bartering opportunities: links? sponsorship? feedback over lunches? ticket giveaways? introductions? testimonials?

    How is this different from, say, simply showing up at an event and taking notes? Connecting with the organizers beforehand makes it easier for the organizers and the sketchnoters to make the most of the sketches. The organizers might be able to arrange complimentary tickets, perhaps including an extra ticket that the sketchnoter can raffle off or trade with someone else. The organizer can help publicize the sketchnotes, and the sketchnoters can get a wider audience.

  • The power law: Sketchnoters who post their notes publicly get lots of requests, which lead to more sketches, which lead to more requests. There are even more sketchnoters who haven’t made that jump. Maybe they’re not comfortable posting their work online or their website isn’t popular, but they’d be fine with e-mailing an organizer samples of their work.
  • Sketchnoters might be too intimidated to make the leap. I remember being nervous the first time I committed to sketchnoting an event for a fee. What if things fell through? What if I wasn’t good enough? It turns out that an excellent way to deal with risk is to offer a guarantee, which is good for the client and good for you. As for worrying I wasn’t good enough–I figured the client was grown-up enough to make decisions based on my online portfolio. If they thought my stick figures were awesome, then okay!I can help sketchnoters get over their intimidation by talking through their concerns and helping them mitigate them. For example, I sometimes worry about my tools failing on me, so I bring backups. There are lots of things you can plan for or around.Also, if you’re intimidated, you might pair up with another sketchnoter, especially at a pro-bono event. Connecting with the organizer and the other sketchnoter(s) beforehand will make it easier to, say, sit together with the other person or swap URLs afterwards.

I have a couple of requests that I’d like to refer to other people. What would be a good way of sharing them?

  • A. Add a page on my site, coordinating with the people who want them posted. Remove posts when the need is filled or enough time has passed. Have a simple mailing list for updates.
  • B. Post them on my regular blog in a new category, coordinating with the people who want them posted. Tag with keywords. List open opportunities in the sidebar. Continue doing this until I start receiving requests from other people, then split it off into a separate blog.
    • Advantage: No need to maintain a different site.
    • Disadvantage: Blog clutter, and people may find it difficult to see just those posts.
  • C. Create a new site. Post the current requests there after coordinating with the people who want them posted, tagging with keywords. List open opportunities in the sidebar. Tweet announcements and link to them from my main blog; spread the word. Accept requests by e-mail or contact form. Eventually look into job board plugins if there’s a lot of interest. It should also have a newsletter that people can sign up for. Eventually this might even have people’s profiles.
    • Advantage: Uncluttered. Can customize display.
    • Disadvantage: May go stale. Probably a good idea to create it on one of my domains first (maybe somewhere under Sketchnote Index?). Need to maintain another site.

I like option A more. So let’s run it as a little experiment… Here are some possible outcomes:

  • Okay: If I post my current requests there and I don’t find anyone, well, at least I have a place to post future requests, and I can say I’ve tried.
  • Good: If I match people to my current requests and have a handy place for me to refer future requests, that’s fine even if I don’t get external requests.
  • Better: If other people subscribe to it and are interested in hearing about opportunities, that’s a double-win.
  • Best: If people start submitting requests and it gets to the point where it makes sense to build a job post submission interface or a geolocated search, that’s a triple win.

I’m not going to invest a lot of time into it in the beginning, so I might start with a simple theme and no development work. As we see the response, I can make it better.

Sounds like a plan! Any thoughts or suggestions?

Image credits: Wanted (Thinglass, Shutterstock)

Decision review: Seven months at HackLab

HackLab logo

It’s been a little over half a year since I signed up for a membership at HackLab, a makerspace and coworking area in Kensington Market. Before I signed up, I thought about the things I would like to be true at the evaluation point for my experiment, which I set at nine months after I signed up (so November 2013). I figured it would be good to do a quick check so that I can adjust things. Here’s what I wrote in February, and how it has matched up so far with my experience:

I know more about other geeks in Toronto thanks to ambient conversations and helping each other out
HackLab is full of interesting people. I like dropping by and hanging out at the open houses or during regular days.
I’m better at asking people for help when I get stuck, and at setting myself tougher challenges knowing that people can help
I’ve done this a couple of times (keyboard layouts, business questions, web stuff, system administration), although I still need to work on that.
I’ve dug into some of the more difficult things that are easier to learn with other people who can help me. For example: web development, mobile development, electronics
Web development and system administration might be good things to focus on. There are lots of other people who are working on similar things.
I’ve gotten better at sketching ideas, asking other people for feedback, and fleshing out the ones that get people interested
I drew How to Learn Emacs while I was at HackLab. That was fun. =) I’ve drawn some of the sketchnote lessons here, too.
I’ve improved serendipity (test different laptop cues to talk? talk to people about what they’re working on?)
Overhearing stuff works well.
I go to HackLab 1-2 times a week, and sometimes more often if the weather is great.
See analysis below
I’m good at managing my focus (do not disturb / yes, talk to me)
Background conversations interfere with things like typing practice (Plover/Colemak), but I’m okay with listening to conversations while typing (Dvorak), coding, or drawing. Headphones help a little.
I’m good at talking to new people and hanging out with the regulars
Getting there. I feel comfortable around HackLab members and I often have interesting conversations at open houses, particularly over food.

In general, the benefits I’m looking for are:

  • Ambient socialization with interesting people
  • Ambient exposure to interesting things
  • Possible support for learning stuff (ex: Javascript, system administration, Haskell, Python, neural nets, hardware, electronics, 3D printing)

My initial goal was to go to HackLab 1-2 times a week. As of 2013-09-25 (~31 weeks after I joined; I was doing this analysis before the members’ meeting), I have been to HackLab on 41 distinct days. This is within my target range of 31 to 62 visits, and works out to 1.3 visits a week. This is a pleasant surprise, because I started this analysis thinking that I was underusing my HackLab membership compared to my goals. Based on my current attendance, this costs a little less than $10 per visit, which is worth the awesome vegan cooking opportunities / lessons / dinners (Tuesday open houses) and overheard conversations with interesting geeks.

I’m at 66% of the top part of my goal range. What are my current limiting factors, and how can I work around them?

Inertia is powerful and works ways: when I’m home, it’s easy to stay home; when I’m in the middle of working on something interesting on the kitchen table, I don’t want to pack up and bike over. I often sleep in during my non-consulting days, and sometimes I think: “Is it really worth biking downtown for a few hours of hanging out or working?” I’ve also offered to do a couple of extra half-days of consulting each week during September and October, so that limits the number of days when it makes sense to go to HackLab. Besides, introvert mode is pretty comfortable – no distracting conversations, and plenty of good food in the fridge.

So, what could help me make even better use of HackLab? How can I hack my motivation and reward structure to get me out the door?

  • Commit to the exercise and treat HackLab as a bonus. At least once a week (Fridays), I will bike for at least 1.5 hours including a mailbox check. I might as well use that biking time to end up at Hacklab, do some stuff, and then take the other 45 minutes on the way back.
  • Make Hacklab the centre of my socialization. Instead of setting up separate get-togethers with people, I will funnel people to HackLab’s open house (which I will attend whenever I don’t have other events). If I’m in introvert mode, I will treat the open house as cooking lessons, catch up with people briefly, and relax knowing that people can always chat with other people. If I’m in socialization mode, I will catch up with people.
  • Consider small-scale cooking on regular days. Have fun by cooking at HackLab even on non-open house days: merienda? This might be easier once we’ve moved to the new location, with a larger kitchen and a non-drinks fridge.
  • On HackLab days, do not open the computer at home in the morning. This gets around the momentum issue. Checking things on the phone is okay, as is working on the computer if something urgent comes up.

What about winter? I’m going to face some motivation challenges when snow makes biking more dangerous and the cold encourages me to stay home. On mild days in winter, I might be able to bike down or TTC down. I can use that as a context switch to write or code. Is it worth $6 to take the TTC down here at least once a week, bringing it to a total cost of $16 or so? Maybe, especially if I move things around so that I’m at HackLab instead of consulting on Tuesdays (or I work remotely on Tuesdays). If I discount winter and consider my membership based solely on my attendance so far, it works out to roughly $15 per day, which is still worth it considering other co-working spaces are $20 for a day pass and don’t offer 24h access, not that I’ve been here at 3 AM. Besides, HackLab does cool things. So yes, I’ll continue throughout winter, and I’ll see if I can get past the activation costs of getting down here by TTC. (Reading time on the subway/streetcar, and travelling during off-peak hours?)

Incidentally, here are the queries that I used to check how many times I’ve been in HackLab:

SELECT COUNT(DISTINCT(DATE_FORMAT(logged, '%Y-%m-%d'))) from access_log where card_id='123-3149';
SELECT MIN(logged) FROM access_log WHERE card_id='123-3149';

Let’s see how this goes!

Sometimes you don’t know what you know until someone asks; why I like preparing talking points for podcasts and chats

Update 2013-07-31: You can find a table of contents and associated links at http://sach.ac/accel. Here’s the video!

Quick link to talking points as a Mural.ly map

From time to time, I say interesting-enough things that make people want to pick my brain further. When people do, this is excellent! Sometimes I don’t know what people will find useful or interesting until they ask. When the opportunity comes up, I try to wring out as much as I can. In the podcast interviews I’ve done so far, I’ve always been delighted by what we learn from the conversation.

An interview is entirely different from a presentation, and it would be a waste to treat it as one. I love where other people’s questions, interests, and experiences can lead me. So I don’t want to structure it too much – but I also want to give people the benefit of clear thoughts and useful replies. Having struggled with making good conversation myself, I also want to help people find things that they or other people will like instead of wandering until they bump into something good.

It’s a little like the media training I got when I was at IBM. One of the tips I remember is to think about your story before you talk to people. You don’t have to stick to the script, but you should know the key points you want to get across, and try some ways of expressing it so that you can be clear and concise.

So here’s what I e-mailed to Timothy Kenny in preparation for our chat about accelerated learning (which will be this afternoon):

I thought about what I do the most differently and what your subscribers will probably benefit from. Here are some topic ideas. How about picking whichever one you think will resonate the most? =) I’m sure there’ll be future conversations, so we don’t have to get everything covered in one chat.

  • Sketchnotes
    • Ideal outcome: People are inspired to take visual notes for their own use
    • Learning and reviewing presentations and books; Connecting with people; Understanding your thoughts; Sharing what you know
  • Making the most of your blog through the years
    • Ideal outcome: People are encouraged to blog for the long term; people who have been blogging a while are inspired to organize their work
    • Weekly, monthly, yearly reviews; Indexes; Other people as part of your memory; Collections; Backups
  • Tracking and experiments
    • Ideal outcome: People are inspired to make better decisions by tracking
    • Time; Money and an opportunity fund; Clothes, decisions, etc.; 5-year experiment with retirement
  • How it all fits together
    • Ideal outcome: People see how the different techniques can support each other, and they are motivated to take the next step
    • The flow of learning; How different techniques work together; Getting started; Getting better; Going from strength to strength
  • Continuous improvement in everyday life
    • Ideal outcome: People examine their processes
    • Understanding your processes; Handling weaknesses; Building on strengths; Learning from experiments

He wrote back to say that he was curious about sketchnotes, blogging, connecting, learning flow, and what I considered my strengths and weaknesses in terms of learning.

I spent some time on Saturday night thinking about what I’ve learned and what I want to help other people learn. A podcast isn’t the place for technical instruction; blog posts are better for that because I can include step-by-step tips, links, and other resources. A podcast or videocast is great at communicating enthusiasm, helping other people see that they can get started. It’s also great for the back-and-forth, bringing two people’s ideas together.

So my goals for the chat are:

  • Inspire people to learn more about some learning techniques that they might find useful
  • Encourage people to get in touch with me
  • Explore follow-up questions that I may want to write about or draw
  • Learn interesting things about Timothy Kenny or share other tidbits that can lead to further conversations

In preparation, I drew this on Saturday. (Click on the image for a larger version!)20130727 Accelerated Learning

(Not only do I sketchnote events, but I can sketchnote the future!  Winking smile)

The idea is that these talking points can let Timothy pick whatever he wants to focus on, while giving him a peripheral awareness of related topics or other things we can talk about. They also give me visual aids that I can refer to (or draw on top of!) during the chat, which is probably more interesting than watching a bunch of talking heads. And if we run out of time or focus on some things instead of others, no worries – the blog post and the sketchnote will be there as a way to follow up. =)

I’ve done this before, like the digital sketchnoting workflow that I sketched in preparation for my podcast with Mike Rohde (episode, transcript). Our target time for that was 12 minutes, so it was great to be able to zoom in and talk about key parts knowing that other things could be left for the blog post or sketchnote.

I discovered the power of sharing my notes (showing my work!) when I was giving a lot of presentations. Knowing that my talking points were on the Net somewhere (ex: my Shy Connector presentation for Women in Technology International, or my talk on How to use Evernote to improve your visual thinking) meant that I didn’t have to worry about forgetting anything important, because people can always look up my notes. It gave me more freedom to ad-lib or go off-script, too, following whatever people were interested in.

So really, the main reason to come to one of my presentations or to interview me is to ask questions and figure out answers together, which is exactly the way I want it. If I can do the braindump outside the time we have, then we can use the time for interaction. In presentations and conversations, I want to give people just enough to get good questions. Questions are my pay-off for the preparation. Questions spark my curiosity and turn into follow-up conversations and blog posts and presentations.

Unrelated observation: making my own URL shortening thing was totally worth it, even if the domains are expensive. Much better than squeezing long domain names into my sketchnotes. Although I’m still flipflopping between sach.ac and liv.gd in sketchnotes because I think my nickname is hard to spell… Any opinions?

I’ll post the recording when it’s up, and I’ll probably work on transcribing it too. Fun!


Here’s the e-mail announcement that Timothy sent:

Hundreds of years ago during the Renaissance, creative geniuses like DaVinci revolutionized science by visualizing information for the first time. Huge leaps were made in engineering, math, architecture and physics because of this new focus on visualizing information.

A new visual Renaissance is coming…

Today at 1PM EDT (New York Time) I’m interviewing Sacha Chua on her accelerated learning techniques and especially how she visualizes information to learn faster and understand new concepts better.

Click Here to Join the Hangout:

https://plus.google.com/events/c1irfbcfio2q6qn20387trhdnjk

Sacha is also a programmer. Programmers have the ability to see and create systems because coding requires that you build a system to process information.

All businesses are systems. And the more you can systematize your business the more stress free it will be for you. The starting point for understanding systems is learning how to get them down on paper as visual diagrams (much the same way programmers sketch out their program on a white board before building it) and that is a big piece of what we will be discussing today.

We’re doing it live so you can chime in with questions or observations during the interview.

Why You Should Come

Many people know about learning and productivity hacks but I have never met someone who actually put so many of them together into such a coherant system.

Sacha is also a visual genius. She created both of the images below. You will learn how she does it and why it is so important to get comfortable drawing and visualizing for your business and your learning.

What We Will Talk About

20130727 Accelerated Learning

 

Example of Sacha’s 1 page visual book reviews

20130705 Visual Book Review - The First 20 Hours - How to Learn Anything... Fast - Josh Kaufman

 

See you at 1,
Timothy

 

PS

Sign up for the Hangout here, then check out the learning profile I did on Sacha here:

http://timothykenny.com/accelerated-learning/accelerated-learning-profile-sacha-chua

Thinking about business cards

imageI’m nearly out of business cards, which means it’s time to evaluate my business card experiment and plan my next one. Past performance is a good indicator of future results, so let me think about how I’ve been using my business cards and how I want to use them in the future. For comparison, here’s last year’s business card plan.

People usually ask me for cards:

  • after seeing me sketchnote an event, because they’re curious about having me sketchnote one of theirs
  • after chatting with me at events because they want to check out my blog
  • as a reminder to follow up with me about something

I haven’t gotten any business leads from cards yet, but I’ve had a lot of good conversations. I think they’re worth carrying. I try to not rely on them, though. Whenever possible, I get the other person’s contact information, because I’m often good at following up.

Mostly, I want my cards to make people to think, “Oh, I’m also interested in that! Let me go check out her site and get in touch.”

I designed the current set of cards in November, a month before I came up with the “Experivis” name and logo. For fun, I drew the front of the card. I took advantage of Moo’s ability to print individual designs on the backs of the cards, using scaled-down images of my sketchnotes.

Lessons learned

20121109 Business Card

So far, people tend to react to:

  • the “geek” keyword on my card (“You’re a geek too!”),
  • the sketchnoter keyword/diagram (which could be bigger), and
  • the “pick a card, any card” process because of the individual drawings on the back, even though they can’t be read (I should draw new ones that are sized to fit)
  • the picture, which they find helpful

No one complained about rounded corners or the inability to write on the back (I guess I didn’t run into corner-folders). I liked how the rounded corners felt, but could do with a matte background so that I can write (or draw!) memory hooks for people.

I’m definitely changing fonts to something where the “a”s don’t look so much like “o”s – maybe to the Open Sans that I use on my blog.

Brainstorming approaches

When coming up with design ideas, it’s good to try several very different approaches. Here are some I might consider:

  • Making it more you-focused with a question
  • Using Experivis as a graphic element and making this more of a company card
  • Focusing on my 5-year experiment, making it more of a social card
  • Listing various interests like the way I have them on the LivingAnAwesomeLife.com welcome page; maybe even bringing a highlighter?
  • Adding tips to the back (ex: emotions, stick figures, banners, hair styles, facial hair, clothes, how to draw ____, complete this picture, draw yourself) to inspire people to draw/doodle while still providing some note space (print this in gray?). Maybe I can even encourage people to show me their “filled-in” cards by e-mailing me a picture…

Ooh. I like that last approach.

Cost-benefit analysis

The Moo cards are USD 0.54 per card (per pack of 50, after shipping). Small runs are more expensive, but I can learn more from them. The Vistaprint cards (per pack of 250, plain back, after shipping and promos) are CAD 0.09 a card. With a colour back, it would be about CAD 0.13.

Other ways to achieve similar effects:

  • Print the tips on card stock, print my details as stickers, and stick them manually. Involves work and positioning.
  • Use some kind of custom stamp – that can be a hassle to set up, so pre-printed cards would be a good way to test the approach.

I think printing a small run of business cards will be the best way to test this idea of sharing mini-drawing tips.

I’d still like to know whether it actually engages people, though. What would be my threshold of awesomeness to make it worth the premium over an ordinary card? Possible benefits:

  • I learn in the process of drawing all of those card backs
  • I have more fun giving cards out, and we have built-in conversation hooks
  • I might get slightly better follow-up from people who are interested in learning more about drawing, which will work out well if I create pay-what-you-can resources to help people feel more comfortable with drawing

Next steps

I’m going to work on making business-card-sized drawing exercises/tips and some pay-what-you-can resources, and then I’m going to make Moo business cards that take advantage of them, probably with the front of the card mentioning a variety of interests instead of focusing on Experivis’ branding.

In the meantime, I’ll experiment with a month or two of not giving business cards to test how uncomfortable that might make me and whether I’ll remember to follow up. We’ll see!

Setting e-mail expectations: Roughly once a week

hamster-wheelI’ve seen the e-mail hamster-wheel that other people are stuck on, and I don’t want to go there. As for me, e-mail doesn’t make me feel important or needed or valued. E-mail is… well… it’s conversations that are hidden from the world, thoughts that I’m going to forget because no one else is going to come across them in a search engine and post comments. As lots of people have observed (including Luis Suarez, whom I knew at IBM): “E-mail is where knowledge goes to die.”

Still, e-mail is useful. I keep e-mail for following up with clients, coordinating with W- or with meetup organizers, introducing people, handling quick tech support for my mom, and answering the occasional private question that usually doesn’t have to be private anyway. I like getting quick questions, especially if I can send people links (although getting those questions as public comments works even better!). I like getting in-depth questions too, which I try to answer in blog posts whenever possible, add a note to my outline with the name of the person requesting it.

I reply to e-mail roughly once a week, although I check it more often to see if there’s anything that needs attention. Here’s how I work. Maybe you’ll pick up some ideas or tips! =)

I use my phone to quickly check e-mail while I’m walking or waiting. I get a lot of e-mail that I don’t particularly care about, even though I periodically unsubscribe from lists. The phone’s limited interface means that I generally don’t use it to reply to e-mail (unless I can say what I need in one or two sentences with no links), but I can delete unneeded messages and add stars to messages that need action.

Friday is my “catch up” day. I balance my company books, follow up on tasks I’m waiting for, and go through my e-mail, writing blog posts (like this one!) and e-mailing replies. The Share a Draft plugin for WordPress helps here because I can keep my ~1-post-a-day schedule while still giving people a sneak preview of any upcoming blog posts related to their question.

If there are important conversations I need to follow up on, I use Boomerang for Gmail. This archives the message for now, returning it to my inbox in case I haven’t received a reply within the specified timeframe. I also use Boomerang for Gmail’s “Send Later” feature to schedule e-mails so that I don’t have to set a reminder.

There are lots of other ways that people handle e-mail. There’s the idea of “Touch it once” – check mail only when you’re ready to handle it, and move important information to your to-do list. That would probably mean checking it more frequently, though, and I don’t want to commit time every day to do that. There’s being strict about checking only at specified times (such as once a day, or even once a week) and always having an Out of Office message turned on or putting that in your signature, but that felt odd too.  So here we are – I check mail frequently, respond occasionally, and try to move things into blog posts as much as possible.

There are trade-offs for my approach, of course. I could probably drum up more business and build more connections if I had a reputation for being instantly responsive… but I wouldn’t want to be shackled to my e-mail and I wouldn’t want my task list to be rearranged with every incoming message, so I’m fine with what I have.

Also, if it takes you a few weeks to reply too, no need to apologize. Almost all of my mail isn’t time-sensitive, and if it’s important to me, I’ll indicate the date I need a response by and I’ll follow up if time has passed.

E-mail doesn’t have to be a slave-driver. =)