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5 Weird Work Habits of Successful Writers

Novelists don’t have to commute to an office, report to a supervisor, and sit through marathon meetings in order to write. Instead, they have to rely on their ability to push themselves to begin the long, lonely, process of writing and revising. It’s a hard job and each writer handles it differently.

Follows are five writers who employ weird work habits in order to make sure they put ink on paper. These odd habits aren’t for everyone, but they may inspire a few procrastinators.


The Case for Online Distractions

It’s easy to blame Google and PowerPoint for distracting us and making us employ bullet points. But, as Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard, argues in last week’s New York Times, we shouldn’t get worried about technologies’ power of distraction. Perhaps, he says, we should be thankful since “technologies are the only things that will keep us smart.”

Pinker states that new forms of media usually meet initial skepticism. The printing press, radio, television, comic books and, of late, video games have all been labeled dangerous in one way or another during their admission into popular culture. With time, each medium eventually finds acceptance and praise.

Today’s critics of new technologies like Twitter, PowerPoint, e-book previews, and blogs worry that we’ll all suffer from information overload. We often hear the line that computer and smart phone users will get lost, confused, and increasing unproductive in a content-filled cyberworld.

Pinker doesn’t see it that way. People who seek to increase their knowledge on a particular subject will and be able to do so with greater ease with new technologies and won’t necessarily be driven to idle distraction. While the computer age has bred a new variety of time-wasters, it has also created a powerful learning tool.

Ultimately Pinker thinks we must approach new technologies with caution. Exploit its benefits while diligently abstaining from its idle pleasures. He advocates turning off smart phones at dinnertime and logging out of your email for hours. For Pinker, with great internet access comes great responsibility.

The internet has cataloged great amounts of information and Google (and sites like it) have become its sponsored librarian. Pinker argues that if we stay in the smarter sections of the library for a prescribed amount of time, we won’t suffer from information overload all that much. If we start wasting time in the general interest and entertainment sections, we’ll distract ourselves and not get anything meaningful done.

Perhaps, but wandering has its benefits and charms.

While new technologies make it easier to waste time, they aren’t responsible for time wasting. Pinker’s conclusions are welcome among worried headlines technology critics who fear the loss of rational thought in the age of Twitter. We don’t have to fear the perpetual distraction of new technologies since they can inform progress, help rational thought, and aid analytical research in exciting ways.

Artwork by: Hotdiggitydogs

BLG Leadership Insights

10 Must-Read Leadership & Social Media Links From the Past Week

1. The US military relies on great management and leadership strategies to get people motivated and on-task. Wally Bock outlines three essential military leadership techniques that your organization can easily benefit from.

2. Getting your idea across isn’t always easy. Keep these 7 rules in mind the next time you need to get to point clearly.

3. According to some there are three keys to success. The trick is knowing you only need two.

4. This guy used Google Ads to market himself and get a job. Check out his amazing video.

5. When I read the title, What Han Solo Can Teach You About Informal Leadership I laughed. In fact, I’m still laughing, but it’s a great read and a surprisingly apt comparison.

6. Use Twitter in your PowerPoint presentations! Great tool and a strong way to lead the way with social media.

7. How exactly do you know when a leader is ineffective? Here are 8 warning signs.

8. Facebook, argues Stanley Bing, is teaching young people business skills. Too bad it can’t teach math & science as well.

9. Google can make or break your reputation, especially if you are always trying to meet new clients. This company will make sure the most flattering sites appear when your name is searched…for a price.

10. If you haven’t been able to follow the Net Neutrality battle of late, here’s a really good  guide…for dummies.

Bonus: How to make your Facebook account private in 2 minutes. The fact that we need third parties telling us to make Facebook private is not a good sign.


The Sun Also Shines on PowerPoint

I grew up in the world of yellow pads and plastic overheads. I even recall broken chalk and eraser-monitors. Now, apparently I need to make a confession. I use PowerPoint–even though it has been getting a bad rap. In last week’s New York Times Elisabeth Bumiller looked at the prevalence of perplexing PowerPoint presentations in the US military and wondered if they were a necessary evil.

In response, David Silverman, from the Harvard Business Review, took a more pragmatic stance. Sure, he argued, PowerPoint’s can waste time and be annoying, but they can also be a helpful tool. He points to Steve Jobs short-and-simple slides and says they are effective for making a sales pitch, but not hard-hitting enough for an audience that demands the slides before a presentation.  Silverman makes a case for the specialized presentation. He thinks PowerPoints need to be molded in the image of the audience’s desires.

Fair enough. But Silverman’s argument requires that PowerPoint authors exercise a degree of common sense. Sometimes that’s the last thing you have when you are preparing for a big presentation. The argument runs parallel to Strunk and White’s call to cut unnecessary words. It’s perfectly rational advice, but when you have a deadline and 10 pages to fill, you will be no more rational than Romeo when he bumps into Juliet.

PowerPoints are made too complicated or too simple when the presenter is confused, unsure, overconfident, or nervous. It sounds simple, but the most important thing you can do before creating a deck of slides is knowing exactly what needs to get said, how quickly it needs to be said, and why it needs to be said. It’s easy to start making slides that lose focus, go on tangents, and become over filled when you lack a direction.

Before you make your presentation ask the organizers of the meeting or key participants in the expected audience to tell you what they need to hear and why. Don’t be afraid to ask multiple times. It will save everyone time and it ensures that you are zoned in on the message rather than endless asides and figures no one cares to see for the 10th time.

Keeping the thesis of the presentation in mind is more important than pretty charts, flashing graphics, and great color combinations. Make an outline of what needs to get said before you start playing with PowerPoint’s animation tools or SmartArt graphics. If this can be done, presenters won’t panic and make overly complicated slides or won’t under-prepare and create sloppy presentations. It will automatically help you shape a talk that would make both Bumiller and Silverman happy.

I must admit, i have a huge collection of PowerPoint presentations. The trick is how to use them to tell my story. In that task, is the essential rule: use PowerPoints to keep the story moving, but if you don’t have a story to tell, don’t bother. PowerPoints are an addendum to your tale. You can try to engage them with the aesthetics of illustrations and design, but most importantly, engage them with the logic of what you have to say. PowerPoints can’t engage, you have to engage.

Ultimately, you have to figure out the direction of your PowerPoint. Make sure you use it to present facts and ideas in ways that a memorandum, traditional lecture, or an email cannot. PowerPoint’s function is to bridge lectures with text, images, sound and video. Not every presentation demands PowerPoint and not every PowerPoint deserves the attention of an audience. PowerPoints shouldn’t be viewed as a necessary evil–they should just be considered a helpful tool. If they fail at helping you present your ideas or getting your point across than drop it, move on, and spare your future audience yawn-inducing slides. Give a slide-less talk or write a memo instead.

Picture Credit: / CC BY-NC 2.0