Six steps to make sharing part of how you work

This entry is part 15 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

People often ask me how I find the time to write, blog, or give presentations, so I’ve put together these tips on how to turn sharing from something that takes up extra time to something that saves you time as you work.

Sharing is intimidating. You might think that you need to master blogs or wikis before you can make the most of Web 2.0 tools to help you share your knowledge and build your network. But even if you never post in public, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to make a bigger difference through sharing.

I’m not going to tell you to start a blog today. Here’s a six-step program to help you save time by making sharing part of the way you work, even if most of what you work with is confidential or lives in e-mail. Give it a try!

Step 1. Review your e-mail for information that you repeatedly send people. Do different people ask you the same questions? Are there links or files you find yourself always looking up and sending? Are there common problems you often solve? Save time by filing those messages in a “Reference” folder so that you can easily find them the next time someone asks that question or needs that file. Save even more time by rewriting your notes so that you can easily cut and paste them into new messages.

You can use your e-mail program to manage this information by saving the e-mails in a “Reference” folder that might be subdivided into more folders, or you can save the information in directories on your hard drive, encrypting it if necessary. The key change is to create a virtual filing cabinet and put useful information in it.

This virtual filing cabinet can save you a lot of time on your own work, too. I often find myself searching for my notes on how I solved a problem six months ago because I have to solve it again, and my notes save me a lot of time.

Step 2. When talking to people, listen for opportunities to take advantage of your reference information. Now that you’ve got an virtual filing cabinet of useful information, keep an ear open for ways you can use that information to help people more efficiently. When people ask you a question you’ve answered before, give them a quick answer and promise to e-mail them the rest of the details.

When you look for ways to reuse the information you already have, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to get a lot more benefit from the effort that you’ve already invested.

Step 3. Reach out. Now that you’ve saved time and helped more people by sharing the information in your virtual filing cabinet when they ask, you’ve got a better sense of which notes are very useful. Take a moment to review your files and think about who might benefit from learning from that information. Reach out to them, sending them a note about what you’ve learned and why it can save them time. It might lead to interesting conversations and good opportunities.

For example, let’s say you e-mailed one of your coworkers an answer to his problem. Think of other team members who might have run into the same problem, and send them a short note about it too. If you do this judiciously, people will feel grateful without feeling overwhelmed by e-mail.

Step 4. Prepare and take notes. Now you’re getting lots of return on the time you invested into organizing your existing information, and you’ve got an idea of what kinds of information help you and other people a lot. Proactively write down information that might be useful instead of waiting until someone asks you about it, because you might not remember all the relevant details by that time. In fact, take notes while you’re working instead of leaving it for the end. File those notes in your virtual filing cabinet as well, and share them with other people who might find this useful.

In addition to helping you save time in the future, writing about what you’re learning or doing can help you think more clearly, catch mistakes, and make better decisions.

Step 5. Look for ways to share your notes with more people. By now, you’ve probably developed a habit of looking for ways to take advantage of what you’re learning or doing: writing and filing your notes, retrieving your notes when people need them, and proactively reaching out. You can stop there and already save a lot of time–or you can learn about sharing your notes more widely, helping you build your network and increase your impact.

Proactively reaching out to people who might find your notes useful has probably helped you develop stronger working relationships with a small investment of time. However, this is limited by who you know, how much you know about what they’re working on, and the timing of the information. On the other hand, if you share some of your notes in public areas where people can search for or browse them, then you can help people you might not think of reaching out to, and they can find your information whenever they need it.

You don’t have to share all your information publicly. Review your virtual filing cabinet for information that can be shared with everyone or with a small group, and look for ways to share it with the appropriate access permissions. You can share different versions of documents, too.

For example, I share public information on my blog because blogs make it easy to publish quick notes, and search engines make it easy for people to find what they need even if I posted those notes several years ago. On the other hand, there are many notes that I post to internal access-controlled repositories. Sometimes, I’ll post a sanitized version publicly, and a more detailed version internally.

This is where you can get exponential return on your time investment. If people can find and benefit from your notes on their own, then you can reach many more people and create much more impact.

People may not find and use your information right away. Keep building that archive, though. You’ll be surprised by how useful people can find your work, and by the number of opportunities and relationships you build along the way.

Step 6. Review your organizational system and look for opportunities for relentless improvement.

You’ve collected useful information from your e-mails and conversations, organized that in your virtual filing cabinet, reached out to people, and shared some of your notes publicly. Congratulations! You’re probably getting your work done faster because you don’t waste time solving problems again. Your coworkers probably look to you for answers because you not only help them solve problems, you do so in a timely and detailed manner. And you might already have discovered how helpful your notes can be for others you wouldn’t have thought of contacting. What’s next?

Review your virtual filing cabinet. Can you organize it for faster access? Can you fill in missing topics? Can you identify and update obsolete information? Look for opportunities to improve your process, and you’ll save even more time and make a bigger impact.

Want to share your experiences? Need help? Please feel free to leave a comment!

 

A philosophy of sharing and a truth about teaching

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-29 Thu 08:00

/Neal Schaffer thanked me for teaching him the zen of Slideshare. He confessed that as a consultant, he still finds it occasionally difficult to give away what he knows. Here, I explore my philosophy and why tools are an afterthought./

I want to give away everything I know. I want to push what I’ve learned into the system. I want to make my current self obsolete. In the process, I push myself forward.

I like connecting people, and I love strengthening the infrastructure that enables connection even more. I like delighting people by solving problems, and I love building tools so that people can solve their own and imagine new possibilities. I like helping people improve, and I love helping them develop their own practice of relentless improvement.

I want to be invaluable. I would hate to be indispensable. What I work on is much bigger than I am, and I would hate to put it at significant risk if something happened to me. Not only do I want to be replaceable, I want other people to be able to do even awesomer things than I have.

Even though I keep trying to teach and automate myself out of work, I can’t keep up–opportunities open up faster than I can turn them over to someone else.

So here is one of the Truths I aspire to:

*If you can, teach. If you can’t teach, do.*

This is why I write notes on as much as I can. This is why I share as much of that as I can through blogs, presentations, and other tools. The more I can push out into the universe, the more I can learn, the more I can share, the more we all can do.

Don’t wait until you retire. Share now. You’re going to forget important details an hour from now, so start writing.

When you’ve got this kind of urge inside you, then tools are easy. Writing on a computer lets me capture more words than writing by hand. Drawing lets me express concepts that are hard to describe with only words. Blogging lets me reach more people and make my notes available to searchers. Presentations let me learn from people’s questions. Sharing those files takes me a minute or two, and lets me reach even more people.

Tools are not the focus. Sharing is.

If I can teach the parts I understand well enough to teach and automate the parts that are repetitive enough to automate, we can focus on the interesting, novel, challenging possibilities. We can move forward so much more. I’m only here for a short time. We all are. Why waste it? Why waste the future?

Risks, personal brands, and findability

I started the day with an interview for a course on social media education. The team sent me a list of follow-up questions an hour and a half before the call. They were surprised when I quickly posted an entry answering their questions. I figured that if I jotted a few thoughts down, they could use that to dig deeper during the follow-up call and it could be raw material for a future blog post. From experience, I know that it can take a while to think of great follow-up questions. The more cycles we can have in an interview, the better.

I was particularly interested in the discussions around risks, personal brands, and findability. The interviewers asked me what I thought the biggest risk was given our social media guidelines. Instead of naming, say, information leakage or corporate embarrassment—although there are plenty of stories like the ill-conceived prank at Domino’s that went viral—I told them that the biggest risk I see is that people might not participate enough. I think it’s a huge risk. First, lots of people are intimidated by the idea of sharing publicly, and they don’t want to risk embarrassment. This might lead to a widening gap between the people who can take that first step to share (and who grow more comfortable and more connected by doing so), and people who don’t take that step (and who get less connected in the process).

That intimidation and fear is often because of all the emphasis we put on personal brands. People think that they need to package themselves and present a perfect face. I’d rather focus on content: exploring new experiences, deepening my understanding, and figuring out how I can help other people learn. I pay a little attention to “branding” in the sense of consciously choosing parts of my online identity – a good picture that I can reuse no matter what hairstyle I have, and no Comic Sans MS anywhere ;) – but I don’t worry about being perfect. I have typos. I’m learning. I change my mind. It’s okay. It’s much more effective to focus on learning more and helping people more than it is to focus on how I want people to remember me. My parents always say, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”* For personal branding, it’s also like that: do good stuff, and your reputation will follow.” (* Of course, you still need common sense and good habits, like frugality.)

Besides, a brand is about a consistent, enduring experience, and you don’t have that at the beginning. You get there eventually. It’s like startups: you can come up with your positioning on day 1, but all the posturing about being the best in the world won’t do you any good until you deliver on that promise enough for people to trust you. You have to have history, and you can’t have history unless you start.

Which brings me to findability. One of the questions the team asked me was how people should tag themselves so that they’re more findable. It’s like search-engine optimization for people, I guess. It’s useful in a crowded marketplace, but you’re better off focusing on other things when you’re starting out. If you focus on doing good stuff and helping people find out how you can help them, that leads to you becoming the go-to person for all sorts of things. It’s not about you tagging yourself “web2.0 social awesome”, it’s about other people and how you help them. Don’t worry about being findable. Focus on being worth finding.

If you do want to get more networking value for your time, think about the connectors in your network. You probably have at least one. You know, the people who are always introducing people to other people? Help them get to know you and how you can help other people. This is good because connectors frequently answer requests for introductions, and if they can connect someone with you so that you can solve that someone’s problem, everyone wins.

Anyway. Social media education. Your biggest challenges are fear, apathy, and inertia. Focus on encouraging people with role models, stories, coaching. Tell people and show them by example that it’s okay to learn, to experiment, to try things out.

Notes about business communication

Don Cameron is working on a book about business communication, and I’ll be talking to him on Friday to share what I’m learning. In his initial e-mail, he said that he wants to learn more about my educational and career background, and my business communication insights. I figured I’d write about it here so that we can save time, use the interview for follow-up questions and interesting thoughts, and demonstrate the value of sharing. We can also translate this into printable quotes, just like I used my blog to draft informally-written sections of my thesis before I translated them into academese. <laugh>

Business communication insights

Share while you learn. This is probably the key thing that differentiates the way I work. Many people think they need to be experts before they can blog or share what they know. I think that being a beginner is fantastic for sharing, because you don’t take things for granted. Writing and drawing and giving presentations helps you think through complex topics more effectively. Along the way, you create these resources you can save for yourself and share with other people. If you can make it easier for other people to learn, they can build on what you’ve shared with them to learn even more, and you can learn from what they can do.

It’s like the difference between climbing a rope and building a staircase. Rope-climbing is hard. Not everyone can do it, and it can be difficult to get yourself up. But if you build a staircase, not only can you go up more easily and more safely, but you help other people go up too.

Share while you work. Here’s another big difference. Many people think about knowledge-sharing as something you do after you work, and they wonder where I find the time to blog and do all sorts of other things. The trick is to make sharing part of the way you work. Why?

  • You can save time. Sometimes I post a quick update about what I’m working on, and someone I would’ve never thought to ask posts a tip that saves me hours of work.
  • You can remember more. Saving the reflection and sharing for after your work means you’ll have a better perspective, sure, but you’ll have forgotten many things or taken them for granted. If you take and share notes along the way, your post-project summary will be clearer and more precise.
  • You might not find the time after you’re done. When you finish a task, you’re usually thinking of the next one. This is why consultants have such a hard time writing down lessons learned from projects – it’s hard to focus on an optional task for a project that’s already finished when you have other priorities.

Scale up. I think about scale a lot – getting more value for the time and energy I put into something. That’s why I share things as widely as I can. Presentations and blog posts reach more people than e-mail, which is more reusable than phone calls. Taking an extra couple of minutes to share something in a wider medium can mean reaching many more people and creating much more impact. For example, I almost never give a presentation without posting the presentation online, either on the Intranet or on our company intranet. One time, I prepared a presentation on Web 2.0 and education for about 90 people. That presentation has been viewed more than 26,000 times online.

Archiving your work is a great way to scale up. If someone likes one of my presentations, they often check out my other presentations, and that helps me get even more value without more effort. I have blog posts going back to 2002, and people often come across my old posts by searching or browsing – again, more value without more effort. I might have a great five-minute conversation with a new acquaintance, but if they check out my blog, they can learn so much more about me and our common ground than we can find out in hours of interaction. Social networking tools help me get to know and keep in touch with many more people than I might be able to meet or talk to, and they scale up the effort that I put into them. 

Be human. Sharing and archiving scares a lot of people. They’re afraid of making mistakes or changing their minds, and having the infinite memory of the Internet used against them. I think learning is one of the best parts of life, and you can’t learn unless you take risks. Sometimes my blog posts have typos or factual errors. Sometimes my code has bugs. Sometimes I change my mind. This is good. If I didn’t share things, I might have remained quietly ignorant. Life is too short to rely on just my ability to figure things out, or to let other people struggle through everything on their own.

Being human also means making that connection. Don’t hide behind jargon, passive sentences, and text-heavy bullet-points. Tell stories. Surprise people. Provoke them. Help them grow. Connect. If you need to make and communicate tough decisions, take responsibility and show empathy.

Work really changes when you bring your whole self to it. I bring my happiness and passion and enthusiasm to work. It’s amazing to hear from people around the world who get inspired by that – and who then inspire other people around them. There’s tremendous joy in doing great work, and you can have a lot of fun doing so. I started hand-drawing my slides because it was fun for me, and I continued doing it because other people found it fun and engaging, too. I learn and share because it’s fun and it builds on my strengths. I build tools because I love building tools and helping people save time. Find your strengths and share them with others.

So, how did I figure these things out? What’s my story?

Educational and career background

Blogging changed everything, I think. I wasn’t particularly interested in writing until I realized that I could do more than write essays for school.

In my third year of university, while taking computer science, I decided to challenge myself by contributing to open source. One of the projects I worked on was a personal information manager that had a good note-taking feature. I added the ability to publish a blog, and I used that to share my class notes and my notes on open source. I discovered that not only did people read my blog posts, they found them useful, and they gave me suggestions on how to do things better.

My passion for building tools and helping people improve the way they work also drove me to start giving presentations. Here’s what I shared in The Shy Presenter: Why conventional advice on learning public speaking sucks, and how to really get started:

True story. The only reason I got started in public speaking was because some friends of mine were organizing a conference. By the third call for speakers, they sounded pretty desperate. I said, hey, I’m just a student, but I can talk about this if you really can’t find anyone, and I’m playing with that as a hobby. They booked me for two talks. I learned that even as a beginner, you can help other people learn.

I discovered that public speaking was a fantastic way to start conversations with hundreds of people at a time. It was the perfect networking method for an introvert like me. I could write about what I was learning, refine those thoughts into a presentation, prepare and practice my talk, and rely on my passion for the topic to get me through the nervousness I felt about talking to hundreds of people. Afterwards, I didn’t have to awkwardly stand around trying to figure out how to start a conversation – people would just walk up to me and start talking! (This was so cool, I made it one of my key tips in The Shy Connector: How to get strangers to talk to you).

I continued to blog and give presentations as a teacher at the Ateneo de Manila University and as a graduate student at the University of Toronto. Blogging about my IBM-sponsored research into using Web 2.0 to find expertise helped me meet a lot of people who were interested in social networking tools, and I learned about so many resources and tools that I would probably never have found on my own. When I decided that I wanted to continue working with such amazing people, I asked for their help in finding just the right position for me. I joined IBM in October 2007 in a role that was customized for me. Here’s how I got that awesome job.

Writing, presenting, and connecting have helped me learn from, and help lots of people. I still struggle with the idea of starting conversations in hallways or elevators, but I’ve figured out some things that work really well for me, and I look forward to trying more.

Exponential awesomeness

 

@smeech I recently built an entire workshop around Sacha Chua‘s Teacher’s Guide to Web 2.0: http://ow.ly/160X0 Watch/Do/Teach was our mantra

@sachac Sacha! Your presentation provided a perfect, low-stress, socratic & fun contextual frame for my day-long workshop. We had a ball!

 

kjarrett on Twitter

@sachac LOVE your stuff! I use a couple of your slideshares for an online Web 2.0 class I facilitate. GR8 job! Keep em coming!

jdornberg on Twitter

This is why sharing is so cool. Even if I don’t have the time, ability, or network to explore the opportunities opened up by what I’ve learned, I can share those thoughts with other people, and they can go and do something awesome.

I put together the Teacher’s Guide to Web 2.0 at School because I needed to make a presentation to kick off the school year for 90 teachers. Since then, it’s been viewed over 20,000 times. More than 150 people have shared it on their blogs. I haven’t explored it further. I haven’t even posted any notes. In particular, slide #25 probably needs more explanation than the few keywords I put on there to help people remember after my talk. But it’s enough to tickle people’s imaginations, and the simplicity lets them fill in their own insights.

I like this. The more I share, the more awesome things I get to see, and the more inspired I am to share.

What can you share so that other people can build on it?

Show your work

Show your work

In grade school, I got into a lot of trouble with my math teacher because I didn’t show my work. I wrote the right answer, but I didn’t show the intermediate steps because I was doing a lot of it in my head. After lots of missed points on tests, I eventually got the idea. I needed to show my work so that the teacher could  double-check that I was doing everything properly. Now, I show as much of my work as possible, and not just in mathematics – in every area that I can. I think out loud. I post my mind-maps. I publish my in-between steps. It’s probably one of my most useful habits.

There are a number of reasons why showing your work can help you work better.

Showing your work means that other people can check if it’s correct. This is particularly important when you’re learning. Talking through your processes helps other people verify that you haven’t missed a step or done things incorrectly.

Showing your work can also help you share your knowledge with less effort. If you publish your in-between work, people can learn from it and from your growth.

Showing your work helps you teach more effectively. As you gain experience, you take more and more for granted. Eventually, you might find it difficult to explain topics to people who are new to the field. Your records of in-between work help you remember and empathize with the challenges faced by new people.

You might be afraid to show your rough drafts. What if someone thinks you’re sloppy or indecisive? What if you’re wrong? What if someone steals what you’ve done?

What other things are stopping you from showing your work? We can explore those reasons in a future blog post.