Ted Kooser on Writer’s Block

Writing Routines, a great new sites that gives behind-the-scenes look at the daily habits of writers and authors, has an interview with Ted Kooser, a former US Poet Laureate. I love his answer to a question on writer’s block:

William Stafford, one of our great poets, said that the best thing to do about writer’s block is to lower your standards, and it’s the best advice to give someone who’s stalled.

How to clean up text pasted from Google Docs with Atom and Regular Expressions

Have you ever pasted text from Google Docs onto your blog (WordPress or otherwise) and had to fix wacky formatting? Here is how to quickly strip out all those extra HTML tags using regular expressions with Atom.io, a free text editor.


Ideas for WordPress Projects

A la James Altucher’s Ten Ideas a Day

  1. Implementing microformats into a theme
  2. Make a Timeline Builder plugin
  3. Make a book review custom post type and template
  4. Export WordPress posts and import them into Day One
  5. Tutorials explaining typical WordPress structure
  6. Persistent to-do list posts
  7. Plugin or custom post type for documenting learning
  8. Reduce database calls with hardcoding things that won’t change in your own child theme
  9. Create defaults and new widgets for WPBakery’s Visual Composer
  10. Interact with WordPress via the REST API. Visualize posts with D3?

After 10 years of knowing about Pixelmator for the last 10 years, I finally dumped Adobe Photoshop and made the switch last month. The hardest part has been relearning how to do certain tasks, but the tutorials and documentation are great. I don’t see myself going back any time soon.

Learning and Perception 

Deconstructing and seeing things in different ways is often the first step toward understanding something new. 

  • Learning to view things as an artist does is critical to learning how to draw. 
  • Breaking down a website’s layout into basic HTML elements gives you a clearer idea about how your browser interprets and translates them into what is on the screen. 
  • Looking at marketing as a process funnel helps you understand what the role of marketing is and how to do it. 
  • Isolating and testing aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, and seeing how they affect the light, depth, and quality of the final photo helps you look at a scene and figure out the best settings to capture it the way you see it in your mind’s eye. 

When learning, before jumping in and getting overwhelmed by particulars, break down the whole into parts and focus on each one individually. Breaking it down and learning each piece will get you to see the whole in a new way. 

JavaScript Learning Project Ideas

A la James Altucher’s Ten Ideas a Day

  1. Daily quote feature with quotes from the Leonard Read Almanac. 
  2. Build a searchable page to go along with the almanac. Realtime search by date and topic. 
  3. Musicfor.work – take people’s Spotify inputs, sanitize, save, and display. Basic first, categories later. 
  4. Cocktail visualizations 
  5. Page that shows window width, window height, resolution, etc. 
  6. Header title typewriter 
  7. More Sol LeWitt art
  8. Interactive scrolling articles a la Pudding.cool
  9. Pre-made chart template with an online data editor
  10. Common features of JS explained and real examples of use
  11. D3.js snippet and/or boilerplate collection 
  12. What seeds to plant based on time of year and location
  13. National park photo map pulling in from Instagram
  14. Book filtering for my blog’s book notes
  15. Evernote lite: Collections of editable notes if logged in, viewable but not editable if not logged in. 

Two Ways to Handle Client Requests

There are two ways to handle client requests:

  1. Build the request exactly to the client’s specs and deliver it on time.
  2. Take a step back and figure out what the client’s end-goal is, regardless of what their stated specs say. Then architect a solution that you think best fits their goal and pitch that to the client. Then build it.

In my experience, clients often tell you how they’d solve the problem instead of telling you what the problem is first. The issue is that since your clients are hiring you, they rarely know the entire realm of options when it comes to solving the problem. If you are the one doing the work, you probably have a better big-picture view.

I once worked on a project that we built exactly to client specs because the client was insistent that we start immediately. It looked great from the surface, but a number of backend systems were tedious to use, didn’t connect, and missed some clear feature opportunities because the client wasn’t a system architect and hadn’t thought them through. We were technically in the clear because we followed instructions to a T and delivered on time, but the client was still frustrated and we ultimately had to fix the issues to keep the client. We should have pushed back and architected it in the first place. It would have saved time, money, and frustration for both parties.

If you build it to the original client specs, you miss an opportunity to be the expert that helps solve problems and sets your clients up for long-term growth and success with the things you build. Handling requests like a consultant makes for better solutions that are more flexible and scalable in the long-term.

I think the second route is best. That is the way I approach all client requests, no matter what size, or who the client is.

Developers who think for their clients and write the code keep their clients coming back. Developers who just write code are a dime a dozen.

Good test for determining whether or not I’m actually hungry: Would I eat a carrot right now? If not, I’m probably just craving something sweet and I should drink some water instead.

I’ve been feeling stuck with some creative issues at work and decided to try a new tactic today: 

  • I spent 30 minutes digging into what specifically I was stuck on instead of just the general “I’m Stuck.” 
  • I picked one of the items on that list and turned it into a question. 
  • I wrote that question down and repeated it in my head a few times. Then I grabbed my notebook and a pen and went for a walk. 
  • I thought about the question while I walked and stopped along the way to write down what I was thinking. The ideas started flowing and I got a whole notebook page down about that particular question. 

I go for a walk every day, but I usually listen to a podcast instead of using it to focus on a particular question. Defining the question beforehand and leaving my headphones at home allowed me to focus without my mind turning to whatever the podcast was about. 

Energy Management

Notes from The Productivity Show | Why Time Management Doesn’t Work & Why You Should Focus on Energy Instead (TPS142)

The best time management system is worthless if you don’t have the energy to work on it. Energy has four components:

  1. Physical
  2. Emotional
  3. Mental
  4. Spiritual

You need dedicated recovery time in each of these areas. 

General notes:

  • Life is not a marathon, it is a series of sprints. 
  • You probably won’t see results from individual exercise sessions, especially when you first start. But it compounds over time. 

Tips for increasing energy: 

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat clean
  • Take strategic breaks. (Watching TV or listening to podcasts is not actually a mental break)
  • Establish rituals
  • Know your why. Understand your purpose. 
  • Give to others. 

What to Do When You Mess Up

  1. Own up to it and take responsibility for it.
  2. Fix it immediately.
  3. Put a system in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Could be a checklist, could be checks by multiple coworkers before something goes out, etc. Whatever works best for you and your team.
  4. Remember that feeling bad about it helps keep it from happening again, but don’t dwell on the mistake for multiple days. Make the necessary changes and keep working.
I once messed up a routine server update without doing a backup first. It froze in the middle the and an entire school district lost access to their email. My boss graciously took the angry phone calls and I stayed up all night learning how to rebuild the mail server from various online documentation. I finally got it back up and running with messages restored.
The only thing that my boss said when he came in the next morning was, “Now you know why I stress the importance of backing up before every update, no matter how small. I trust you’ll never make a mistake like that again.”
He was right. I’m now a fanatic about backing up. My failure got me to institute a process that I’ll rely on for the rest of my life.

A Reminder to Meditate

Reminder for myself: Meditation is good. Every time I do it I feel better afterward. Doing it continually leads to longer periods of contentment and focus. I tend to not want to meditate when I’m having a tough time because it is easier to complain and shut down than it is to clear my mind and deal with the problems at hand. But I must turn to meditation, especially when things are tough. It helps every time.

When Stopping Makes Sense (and when you need to get back to work)

I’m all about committing and being relentless about pushing through tough situations no matter what comes up. Stopping because something is hard, you are tired, you don’t feel well, or it isn’t fun is unacceptable. Collect yourself and get back to work. 

That said, there is one situation in which stopping makes sense: When you realize what you are doing doesn’t match your goal. 

I had a conversation with Amanda yesterday about her daily project this month. (We each do daily projects each month.) We dug into why it wasn’t going so well and it turns out that the daily actions she decided to take weren’t having the outcome she expected. It wasn’t coming anywhere near fulfilling her overall goal of building her personal brand. 

In situations like this, sticking with it just to check off that box or say you kept your commitment doesn’t make sense. In fact, it hurts because you are wasting valuable time. 

When you run into a situation like this, pivot. Find something that better matches your goal (or problem you are trying to solve) and pivot immediately. Amanda came up with a new project that she is starting tomorrow. 

Take a step back, clear your head, analyze the situation, and pick the best path forward. Don’t keep doing something that isn’t useful just because you don’t want to look like a quitter. 

Be honest with yourself, though: Is your original plan really not advancing your goal, or is it just harder than you expected? If you are feeling some resistance, you might just need to push harder.