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Entries in Observations (73)


A Twitter Vacation

No Tweetin'There comes a time when what's brewing under the surface breaks through. For me the breakthrough is the need for a little Twitter Vacation.

I love Twitter, the friends I have on Twitter and how connected I am through it, with people in Milwaukee and around the world.

Now, I'm not going to leave Twitter forever. Rather, this will be a 3 week experiment off of the service to see how being Twitter-free effects me.

Why the Vacation?
I've sensed lately that I need to take a step back. I've caught myself constantly checking my Twitter mentions, working very hard to tweet something of value and scanning my live feed in Tweetie for something, anything interesting to read.

While that's typical Twitter user behavior, I've felt this incessant attraction to scanning random tweets and re8-2010plies at all times to be distracting my focus from more important things in my life right now.

As you may know, we've added a baby girl to the family, which is wonderful and understandably, quite time consuming.

Couple our 3 month old baby girl with a stack of personal projects and plans to be made for SXSW Interactive in March -- it all adds up to a pile of important things I must focus on.

So, as an experiment, as of February 1, 2010, I'll be leaving my Twitter feeds sit idle while I catch up on everything else in my life.

I'll come back in 3 weeks, on February 22nd and report my findings here.

Week 1 Update (Feb 8, 2010) — My first week of Twitter vacation has been an interesting experience. On more than one occasion I've wanted to share an idea or a photo, with Tweetie on the iPhone, only to stop myself.

I've missed reading tweets from friends I follow. After reading Michael Lopp's excellent post, A Story Culture, I'm understanding how much I enjoy weaving stories together from 140 character snippets of information. In some ways it's like stitching stories together while listening to the radio.

I have also noticed an increase in productivity. I'd expected this might happen however. Those little distractions add up over time, so whatever plan I set for myself after the 21st will include limits on usage.


The Little Extra Things Add Value

SEED 3 Sketchnotes: : Be Utterly DifferentI just had my car fixed at Sippl's Auto Service, my local garage. They replaced the alternator, serpentine belt and belt tensioner, and even threw in repair of a ground wire that needed updating.

I was very pleased with the work, but the little thing that most impressed me was a repair they made on a plastic wiring cover under my dashboard they didn't mention.

That stinkin' plastic cover had been bugging me for weeks — I tried fixing the attachment pin, tried duct tape and yet it still fell down at my feet. Arggg!

But my garage fixed it with a new attachment pin, and didn't mention it. This little extra detail impressed me. Why? Because it showed that the mechanic cared enough to do this one little extra thing for me, his customer.

That's why I continue to take my cars to Sippl's — because these little extra details are a consistent thing they do, and I really appreciate it.

Giving a Little Extra = Value

I've been noticing when others give a little more like the example above, and am adapting this to my personal and professional life. It's not easy, because when I'm busy, the temptation is to do as little as I can get away with. But I've never found "as little as you can get away with" a good long-term solution. Eventually, it shows.

In my experience, giving a little more than expected does work. For a little additional cost, in time, or something extra delivered, I've found it builds trust and enhances my reputation as someone who cares about those I choose to work with.

Every day I ask how I can improve in this area. Some days I'm better at it and on some days I fail. But the point is to constantly try adding value by doing just a little beyond the expectation. I aim to keep improving at this every day.

Here's the question to consider — how in your professional and personal life, can you give a little bit more than expected? Is there a little thing you can do that isn't necessarily much more effort but communicates that you care?

When you find these little things, do them!

The little extra things add value.


First Day at Northwoods

Today was my first day at Northwoods Software and I think it went very well.

The 15 minute commute was enjoyable. It provided a time to mentally shift gears and prepare for work, while enjoying El Ten Eleven tunes in the car.

Everyone was very welcoming, and I felt right at home in the culture, even though I was processing so much information. I know I'll eventually learn the new names, the way things work, and settle into a work groove.

With such a significant change of environment, culture, people and systems to adapt to, a little shock to the system is to be expected. I'm OK with that, because I know this is the way every new job is. It's a challenge, but I'll adapt. Just knowing this is normal, frees me to relax and enjoy the adaptation process.

I found it strange my first day to not being working from my home office. While I'm sure there will be times when it makes sense to work from home, shifting away from the comfort of my regular work environment was a big change.

My office is still very sparse, featuring only a desk, computer, dual screens and two chairs. However, I'm looking forward to adjusting the room orientation, adding furniture, artwork and applying paint to the former hospital room.

Northwoods has a DeLonghi Automatic espresso machine in the kitchen and I plan a daily visit to create creama-topped shots of espresso. Yum!

I'm excited about this new phase in my life. Having an opportunity to be challenged, to grow in new ways, and to share with others is what life is all about. :-)


Clay Shirky & the Power of Disposable Attention

Thanks to Derek Dysart, I was able to hear Clay Shirky's "Gin, Television, and Social Surplus" talk from the Web 2.0 Expo, embedded for your viewing pleasure:

Clay's assertion is that like gin sold from pushcarts helping Londoners cope with the sudden shift from rural farming to urban industrialization, the TV sitcom helped post-WWII society cope with a new surplus of leisure and free time:

If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would've come off the whole enterprise, I'd say it was the sitcom. Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened--rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before — free time.

He argues that society is awakening from a focus on TV sitcoms, and is realizing that they are in a position to create the content they want. They are able to contribute to the discussion, in ways not possible before:

And it's only now, as we're waking up from that collective bender, that we're starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We're seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody's basement.

What Shirky calls a cognitive surplus, I like to call disposable attention. Some may choose to spend attention on one-way activities like TV, but this is changing with the new generation. Shirky shares this story about one young girl's reaction to TV:

I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she's going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn't what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, "What you doing?" And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, "Looking for the mouse."

I'm fascinated at how deeply this 4 year old has been impacted by interactivity in her life. She so wanted to have an impact on the TV show she was experiencing that she had to "find the mouse" in an effort to make an impact. Consuming was not enough for her — she wanted to interact.

There are many new opportunities available to us that were not available 10 years ago. We have the power to create. We have the power to write our own stories on blogs, tell them in podcasts and show them in videos. We can contribute to larger projects like Wikipedia or attend BarCamps.

The encouragement to me in all this is we're moving beyond the stage of simply sitting on a couch, accepting what's being presented. We're given the opportunity to create and share our own stories, finding there are others like us out there, interested in our stories and willing to share theirs with us.

Here are a few great parting quotes from Shirky's talk:

Here's something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here's something four-year-olds know: Media that's targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won't have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan's Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.

We're looking for the mouse. We're going to look at every place that a reader or a listener or a viewer or a user has been locked out, has been served up passive or a fixed or a canned experience, and ask ourselves, "If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a good thing happen?" And I'm betting the answer is yes.

Related Links
Transcript of Clay's talk
Book: Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
Mark Bernstein: Shirky and History


Moleskine Planner Hack: 2 Years Later

Amazing to think that almost 2 years ago, I created my first Hacked Planner from a pocket sized, 192-page, ruled Moleskine notebook. Better yet, I'm still using a hacked Moleskine planner (my 4th) to manage my personal life.

Below is an image of the 4 hacked planners I have used these past 2 years:

Moleskine Planner Hack: 2 Years Later

I've been wanting to gather my thoughts about the Moleskine Planner Hack for some time. This seems the perfect opportunity to capture my observations:

Mike Rohde's Custom Moleskine PlannerStill Surprisingly Popular— The hacked Moleskine book photo, with it's myriad hover notes is the most popular image of my Flickr collection, currently at 53,484 views, with and 344 people calling it a favorite. The post on my blog is regularly the highest hit page of my site, which after nearly 2 years amazes me. It would seem logical that creating a custom planner to suit your own needs is striking a chord with people on the net.

Customized to My Needs — I've loved having a planner I can tailor to my needs, even if they change. Pre-printed planners and calendars are OK, but If I need more note pages, I can't add them. If I prefer a different schedule view that fits how I work — out of luck. With a custom, hand-drawn planner, I'm the boss. It takes a little work to create, but the complete control and flexibility it offers is worth the initial effort.

I Write & Sketch More — Having free pages in the back of the book encourages me to write my thoughts, capture ideas and important info, and sketch things I see or are on my mind. Always having paper and pen makes this possible and pleasurable.

Makes a Great Carrying Case — Carrying a Moleskine allows me to keep business cards, coffee cards and other tidbits in the back pocket, so they're handy when I need them. The pocket works great for carrying a backup $20 bill along.

Works Well with Index Cards & Sticky Notes — The pocket sized book works very well with both index cards and sticky notes. I now put my task lists on sticky notes and place them in a tasks area, so they can be easily updated. I can also place sticky notes on the cover of the planner. I can also carry index cards along as needed.

Overall, the experience of moving to a paper-based, custom planner has been very positive. Of course there are some things missing, like a full list of contacts and alarms. However, my iPod touch handles the alarms, and provides access to my contacts (not to mention email and web access with WiFi).

Give the Planner Hack a Try!
If you're on the fence about creating your own Moleskine Planner Hack, why not pick up a Moleskine and give it a try? Visit my dedicated site for more details on the hack, and links to other hacks available.

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