Cracking those BAD BAD BAD Business Habits

030915_CrackingThoseBadBizHabitsOver the years I’ve picked up a bad habit or two (or three or four). Like most human beings, I can rationalize my way around, over and through them.

But when problematic tendencies start adversely impacting one’s work, clients, coworkers and peers WILL notice … if they haven’t already. Remember, it only takes one disgruntled customer review on social media to inform the whole world.

The time to eliminate such habits is now, before sinking your chances for securing future projects and ongoing clients.

A March 3, 2016 broadcast of WHYY’s Radio Times offers strategies for “Breaking old habits, creating new ones at home and at work.” Here are a few of the guests’ best suggestions:

  • Replace the habit with a different one (minute 3:40) by making and writing down a plan (minute 4:25).
  • If/then planning. If I want to ___ then I will ___ (minute 4:40).
  • Willpower is a limited resource; we need to have alternate plans (minute 14:15).
  • Write a letter or list to yourself that says why you want to change and leave it in an accessible place (minute 16:30).
  • Staring at yourself makes continuing the action difficult. Tack the aforementioned letter on a mirror and read it while you’re looking in the mirror (minute 30:00).

If your personal brand forms part or all of a business, the negative impact of your actions – on reputation and earning ability – takes on an even higher significance. (To understand the importance of personal branding, read this illuminating article by Jessica Dewell.)

I’ve already put the advice above to good use. A tall vanity mirror now sits close behind my computer, its reflective surface well above edge of the laptop screen. An attached sticky note list reads:

  1. I will turn off the smartphone off when working.
  2. I will only venture online to conduct project-related websites or research.
  3. I will NOT take an Internet break from editing or copywriting to read the news or latest Carolyn Hax column.

What are YOUR personal methods for crushing bad business habits? Please share your experiences in the “Reply” section!

(Writing) Truth in Fortune Cookies

Once a month my family goes to Chez Elena Wu for Wednesday night dinner. Reasons:

  • It’s two minutes from my husband’s office.
  • Mom’s weeknight cooking break.
  • Wonton soup.
  • Soft-shell crabs permanently on the menu!
  • Fortune cookies.
  • Fortune cookie fortunes.

In fact, breaking open the cookies and sharing our respective fortunes is a ritual. I read first, Ken is second and our son Ethan goes last.

The fortunes are often laughably silly (and grammatically incorrect). But every now and then a gem appears, as it did last Wednesday for Ethan:

020316_WritingClearThinking_FortuneCookie

“Good writing is clear thinking made visible.”

WOW! I cannot think of a more concise explanation of what I do, and why I love doing it.

When agonizing over that bit of content (for a book, website, social media, blog, marketing, email) to get the message just right, think of this fortune cookie jewel. Focus on the anticipated, splendid results of your writing and editing efforts!

It’s 2016 … Straighten Up and Stride Forward!

Exactly one week and a day ago, I was wandering around the Palm Beach Zoo (in Florida) with my husband and son, enjoying 80-plus degree winter/holiday break weather. Not thinking about work. At. All.

After three relaxing hours (except for the bugs), I took the following photo as we were leaving:

Its2016_StraightenUpStrideForward

Rubbernecking flamingos. Very still … waiting, as if in anticipation of an important event.

On this first Tuesday of 2016, I too am anticipating goings-on in the new year — including those in business. What editorial challenges lie ahead? Who will become that next networking contact? What copywriting topics await? Where and when will I learn a cool new skill?

But passively lingering, akin to the near-motionless flamingos? Not likely!

Knowledge can’t be acquired without effort. New projects and client/business/peer connections won’t appear without action. (Unsure where to begin? Check out this terrific Jessica Dewell article and #ShoutAbout video on how to be someone’s work solution.)

Time to stand up, square those shoulders and move proactively into 2016!

To know what you REALLY wrote? Record, replay, LISTEN!

Back in July on LinkedIn, I shared the following 10-step technique for out-loud proofreading that works with any and all types of copy:

  1. Print out a copy of your writing.
  2. Grab your favorite pen.
  3. Read aloud to yourself slowly.
  4. Read exactly what you wrote, meaning: pause at every comma and semicolon; stop at each period.
  5. If the sentence sounds wrong, it probably is wrong.
  6. Pen in hand, mark off any errors.
  7. If it sounds right, move to the next sentence.
  8. Repeat this technique paragraph by paragraph
  9. When done, re-read the entire piece.
  10. Make corrections and publish or send!

A sound, thorough process! Seems foolproof … right?

Sometimes, though, after-the-fact errors may remain. Why? Reading through the text too fast, perhaps. Or the writer simply doesn’t see or hear the grammar/style issue: often what one thinks they read aloud is still not what is truly written down.

A useful practice to surmount such mental walls builds on the previous technique. Namely, record yourself – or someone else, preferably – reading the piece in question.120415_UseYourEars

Use any device handy: smartphone, computer, voice recorder. What matters most is giving the audio your full listening attention. Meaning, if the recording is a video don’t watch; doing so only introduces more distractions.

Ready? Now complete following six actions:

  1. Try to remove as many external interruptions as possible (television, radio, spouse, kids, pets). Sit down, take a deep breath, press the “play” button and close your eyes.
  2. Carefully, thoughtfully and critically listen once fully through.
  3. Listen to the recording again with pen and paper at hand; stop the recording to jot down notes on areas that need correction or revision.
  4. Make any necessary changes.
  5. Repeat either the read-aloud or the recording/listening technique one final time.
  6. Incorporate final revisions and publish!

Remember, when editing and proofreading EARS are equally as important as eyes!

Language Then and Now

110315_ColonialAmericaCostumes

A text message received last week:

110315_Pumpkin  parT on Fri. R u going?

Eeeeeeeek! Commence internal editorial wincing.

I freely admit to composing (mostly) grammatically correct emails/texts/IMs, including abbreviations. Spending an extra 15 seconds to write a lovely, concise message provides a ridiculous amount of satisfaction.

One can’t live in a vacuum, though, so I make point to be conversant in the latest digital slang, while not actively indulging. Language, like culture, is fluid and evolving.

On Halloween this past Saturday, my husband and I dressed in Colonial American garb to complement my son’s own trick-or-treating costume. (Since visiting Colonial Williamsburg in August, my eight-year-old has been on a Revolutionary-era history kick.) Eighteenth-century fashion was so formal! English was similarly prescribed; consider this example from the Colonial Williamsburg website (www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/june03/english.cfm):

“Sir, if you please, may I speak with you a moment?”

Fast forward 200-plus years for twenty-first century, much-more-casual variations:

“Can we talk?”
“What’s up?”
“Hey!”

Where will American English be in another century or so? We can only guess. One certainty: spoken language will continue to progress and change, as will the written version – both in the print and digital realms.

The picture above, taken by my son (verified by his thumb in the upper right corner), sums up this train of thought nicely. My husband and I gladly looked forward, stepping out of that stiff, posed past and into the present of informal language and (thankfully) comfortable outfits.

When writing and editing … remember to have fun!

100615_WritingEditingFUNCarefully considering topic, tone and audience; setting precious time aside to write, and rewrite; agonizing over edits to reach the final version.

Wow. That’s some serious mental gymnastics. So … does “delight” still enter your blogging equation? Or has the whole endeavor become a true slog?

As with any long-term activity, it’s easy to get mired down in the business of producing a blog – or, for that matter, social media and other ongoing content efforts.

Want to invigorate your outlook? Reclaim those start-up high hopes. Inject lighthearted wonder into wordsmithing. Have fun with the topics!

In this brand-new blog, I likewise promise to remain mindful about keeping a sense of humor and enjoying the beginning, middle and end of the writing and editing process. (In truth, I always relish editing, even my own work.)

Here’s hoping you are able to do the same!