Krista is the Editor-in-Chief of A List Apart and the co-founder of Contents, a magazine focusing on content strategy and online publishing. She is a merry Automattician. Krista happily describes herself as a hopeless introvert. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada.
Be disruptive. Refuse to accept the status quo. Get away from your desk. Take every opportunity to travel. Reflect on the things you say and do. Question others. Question yourself. And, in all things, be nice.
Summer is long over and fall arrives with a flurry of new activity: you recommit to old projects as new projects surface. There’s yard work, taking the boys to hockey, organizing family events, cooking, cleaning, and readying for winter. I find the days of my life seem to fly by like fence pickets as you drive down the highway. Once a month, I sit down and take stock. Are my life goals still the same? How much closer am I to achieving them? Do I need to push myself more? What do I need to adjust? How’s the balance? I find that this short, but necessary reflection is the difference between mere existence and an examined life.
You only live once. Remember that. Don’t let your days, hours, and minutes slip through like grains of sand through the hourglass. Build the site, make that pet project that’s been bouncing around in your head. Write the article. Write the book. Learn that skill. Share it with others. Be intentional. Set goals. Push yourself. If the thought of making or doing something fills you with fear, you must do it. Trepidation signals an opportunity for growth and learning. And, if you don’t shoot, you don’t score, right?
Each day we run across interesting articles and blog posts that we send to read-later apps and post to Pinboard. How do you keep track of all these items? Do you keep track of these bits of knowledge, amusement, and ephemera? Do they reside in the apps, or do you control them? All these internet curiosities are important to me; they mark time in a too busy life, and deserve to be catalogued. While I love reading apps, read-later apps, and Pinboard, I’ve come to post snippets, quotes, and things I want to remember in a WordPress blog so that I can keep track of what I find, reflect on what I’ve read and what these shiny bits mean to me and to my work. Do you collect shiny bits, too? If so, how?
The cult of busyness consumes many of us. To get better at what you do, or to create anything meaningful, you need to build in time away from the computer. No email, no texting, no Twitter, no Facebook. Decompress. Read. Walk. Run. Do anything but look at a screen. Allow yourself to experience boredom, if only for a little while. Opening up mental space is what allows new ideas to creep in and take root.
Do yourself and the internet a favor: make copies of your data. Platforms and services are born every day. Some die. Some get bought by a company who may or may not care about the quotes you’ve lovingly collected, the check-ins you’ve made, or the photos you’ve taken. Be aware. The web is ephemeral. Things change. Links break. If you care about your data, back it up.
What if there was a way we could collect disparate pieces of information: blog posts, news articles, videos, tweets, comments, etc. and collectively annotate them? We have blogs now, but the concept of annotation hasn’t been widely realized. There has got to be a better, more visual, semantic way to display this kind of information, reflection, and conversation. I’m most interested in how we document and collect our thoughts publicly and collaboratively. Imagine the learning that could take place.
In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White caution writers to omit needless words. While Strunk and White wrote this advice for writers and editors, consider how you might apply the concept to your life and your work. Consider the following:
How would your life, work, and productivity improve if you applied this simple thought? What is needless in your life and work? Omit it.
Attention is finite: you only get so much energy to use each day. What if we considered spending attention as if it were money, a currency to spend carefully and wisely? How would that change how you choose to spend your focus? Would you spend less time on Twitter and Facebook and more on making and creating?
Experience broadens your perspective and makes you better at what you do, though you must be awake to new ideas that can come from even the most mundane meeting and seemingly-unrelated chance encounter. Routine can help you be productive, but boredom can dull your senses. Take every opportunity you can to travel. Exploit every opportunity you have to meet new people and ask them about their ideas: what's most important to them in their work? How did they devise this? A walk in the park at lunch time can change you, provided you're open to examining what you see and experience. Be reflective, be thoughtful. Question yourself, your motives, your work. Write about these things: be it on a public or private blog or in a journal. To me, this is the only way to keep getting better at what I do.
Think back a mere 10 years ago. Nearly everything was paper-based. You had to go to the bookstore to buy a book. You wrote letters that required a stamp to get to their destination, which took days and sometimes weeks. I have a few shoeboxes of letters and cards I've received. These are artifacts. Meaningless to nearly everyone, they're priceless to me: they mark points in my personal history, my story. When we first started to use the web, we printed out articles to read later. I still have articles I printed out several years ago, that I re-read and refer to on occasion.
Today, nearly everything is digital. We have email. We have digital bookstores. We read on iPads and Kindles. The web is still young, but already, the question becomes, "Is there an app for that?" We need to be careful about who we choose to entrust with our data, our digital artifacts. Services come and services go. Companies fail, they get sold. We have yet to master the art of archiving digital content on the web. We can and must do a much better job preserving the content we work so hard to create, not just for nostalgia's sake, but to ensure that we leave records and artifacts for the generations to come.
Working on the web is tremendously exciting. I believe that the concept of open source has the power to change the world. I know of no other industry where people routinely create things and give them away, with the hope that someone will take what they made, make it better, and release it back into the world to repeat that cycle.
We need to go beyond teaching our kids to read, write, calculate, and think. We need to teach them markup and how to code.