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The last time I had a blog in 2007, the final post was called Gone fishin’. I was done with that first iteration and decided not only to go fish … but also to jump ship. I wasn’t digging the blog tool I’d chosen, and my business was taking up more of my extra time.
This time ’round, I’m in a similar boat (along with using too many nautical metaphors).
Writing and editing is what I do for my work the rest of the time, and it’s taken on greater steam.
Fortunately, I get to spend even more time writing for clients now as SimplyRead continues to take on larger-scale plain-language projects. And I’m ramping up to get involved in prep for International Plain Language Day October 13. But it’s lately left precious little time for Messages (and for you, if you’re a regular follower).
My bulb’s burnt out
But the clincher has been health-related. Along with the normal stresses of managing a business and life with two young kids in the expanding suburbs, years of battling chronic food sensitivities have doused much of my already-flickering flame. In plain language: to balance out my energy, I need to do fewer things better, eat more meat and carve out more Me Time.
So I’m taking a break from this space for awhile. But I continue to find and and share new info and critical thinking about plain language, simpler processes and communications. You’ll find me on the SimplyRead facebook page and on our Twitter feed.
Can’t figure out what to have for dinner? Maybe it’s decision fatigue.
Before I run off, here’s something that’s grabbed and held my attention. It turns out that I’m not alone in my predicament. If you ask researchers Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, many of us struggle with what they call ‘decision fatigue’ when their lives get too demanding.
This problem stems from the number of decisions each of us is faced with in today’s more complex, information-soaked world. Here’s my version: Daughter asking “Mom, what’s for dinner tomorrow?” while I respond to a client’s text, seated in front of my bank’s log-in screen, while my toddler pulls on my shirt and the phone buzzes in the background. According to Baumeister and Tierney, the commonness of multi-tasking – and the self-denial that come with all that stress – greatly impact on our personal self-discipline and willpower.
Common life patterns can compromise our willpower – who knew?
As discussed at length in this New York Times article, it’s harder for people in our times to maintain healthy willpower and make good decisions. Choosing among so many options all the time just burns out our brains.
Those of us who operate without enough money are more susceptible to decision fatigue, since the number of times we have to decide between tempting options goes up.
Similarly afflicted are people who spend their days in back-to-back meetings, only getting to catch up at the day’s end when their energy is sapped.
Worse, they’re probably hungry (or more often, ‘hangry!’). Baumeister and Tierney say the amount of glucose is another key factor in these capacities.
This sudden limit to our better judgment is a good explanation for why people on diets often break them: People who have to deny themselves so many things will eventually find their resources for self-regulation severely depleted … and their heads in the freezer scoping out the Haagen Dazs.
It’s also blamed for all those times we’ve heard about the outstandingly successful person who blew it all on that one bad decision … (now take a second to remember the last one in the Financial Times or TMZ that you went all schadenfreude about …).
Now that alone is a good enough reason for my Serious Need To Chill. If all these other brilliant people have gone off the deep end, I’d better get my own house ship shape lest I end up in the same kettle of fish.*
Let’s stay connected!
Until we get our blogging mojo back, if you like what you’ve seen here you can still enjoy tweets, news, musings and more to help you ‘cut the churn’:
* I should probably work on some new metaphors too, huh?
My poor mom.
She just bought a brand-new laptop, and while you’d think that it being brand-new would mean it was easier for her to use, this is not at all the case.
It’s got all the bells ‘n’ whistles: Windows 7, built-in Webcam and mic for Skyping, a gorgeous 17″ screen…you name it, it’s got it. And because she lives in a condo, she’s got the plug-and-play hi-speed cable connection. Heck, the workhorse I use for my work doesn’t do half of what hers does, and all she wants it for is to get her e-mails and print the odd photo.
But with all that sexy stuff comes the complication of having to understand why all the dialog boxes keep popping up, asking whether she wants to update this or load that.
My husband – who knows a lot about such things – actually recommended she buy this computer because it will take her into the future, even if she doesn’t at present feel that she wants to go there. And knowing that her computer literacy was limited, he went through and installed a virus checker and turned off some of the applications that require regular user intervention, before she started using it; he knew she wouldn’t use those, and that it would just intimidate and confuse her to see all these dialog boxes popping up or have apps running that she didn’t need. She already feels intimidated when she has to so much as unplug the thing, thinking that something will go wrong and she won’t be able to fix it.
But still, she phones us once in awhile to say she got a message and doesn’t know what to do with it: Mozilla is asking her if she wants the newest Firefox; she needs to download the newest Windows update; her printer software is warning her that it will only operate for free 24 more times, then she’ll have to buy a copy. It’s got her flustered, to say the least.
This with a very stripped-down system set-up.
At one point, my husband asked for the original Windows disks while he was setting up her system. She didn’t have them. “The computer comes with Windows installed,” she informed him. So no disks. If she wants those, she’ll have to pay more. And if she ever has a problem with Windows, she’ll be stuck without those disks. But no-one at the store told her that.
Oh, but there is help. The HP Advisor box keeps popping up, too, cautioning my mom that if she wants X to happen, she’ll have to do Y. Only problem: she doesn’t have the knowledge to know what they mean when they refer to her ‘browser.’ And because the message is coming from the HP Advisor, it must be important and well-meaning, so she’s tempted to just accept everything it says; except she can’t understand what she’s being asked to do.
“I didn’t know what it meant,” she tells me, “so I just kept clicking ‘No'”
Why haven’t we figured this out yet? Does everyone who purchases a computer and doesn’t speak technocratese still have to put up with the confusion caused by unhelpful pop-ups and computer dealers who don’t tell you everything you need to know?
My take on it, and what I told my mom? It’s partly because people who are even semi-comfortable with technology assume we’ve all gotten past the point of not knowing what ‘installed’ and ‘browser’ means. And, it’s partly because there are still lots of more tech-savvy folks who stand to benefit financially – and perhaps feel better about themselves – each time a person like my mom doesn’t know why her computer is not doing what she wants it to.
In between the time I’m spending with my infant son, I’ve had the chance to deliver several workshops. As ever their objective is to help people communicate more clearly and ensure their meaning reaches their intended audiences.
A prominent tool that – many will agree – can suck up a lot of time is PowerPoint. It’s now practically mandatory to truck a laptop along each and every time we will be addressing a group. Your audience will simply expect to brace themselves for the obligatory round of slides.
And possibly, if you’re nervous, unprepared or dispassionate about your topic, they’ll also expect to have to jar themselves awake while you read pretty much verbatim their contents. How many times have you sat sweating and groggy at a summer post-lunch meeting, only to find you’re faced with another one of these presentations?
Well, bloggers, authors – heck, even the upper ranks of the U.S. military – have begun to advocate for a return to the kind of presentations where it’s the information and the speaker that need to be compelling, and not the number of fonts, effects and colours you can slap up there onscreen.
If you, like me, are of like mind that we have moved too far toward Death By PowerPoint, keep clicking to read more on how and why this has happened.
Godin, S. (May 27, 2010) Really Bad PowerPoint. Known marketing and business writer Seth Godin discusses the drawbacks of PowerPoint, and proposes his somewhat radical approach to using it (including limiting the number of words per slide to six).
Kawasaki, G. The 10 20 30 rule of PowerPoint (June 8, 2010) in Presentation Magazine. This writer says “a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.” Some good reasoning and links to a host of other views on how to make memorable presentations.
New York Times, (April 27, 2010) We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint… Read about the number of high-ranking U.S. Military officials who are questioning (in some cases, banning) the use of PowerPoint in their meetings and strategy sessions.
Norvig, Peter (May 27, 2010) Gettysburg Cemetery Dedication in PowerPoint format. Tufte (see below) used this as a spoof to demonstrate how the constraints of the PPT can sap the life from otherwise compelling content.
Reynolds, G. (October 13, 2005) Steve Jobs’ presentation style…and all that jazz. In PresentationZen blog. Check out this article and others in the blog for insights on what makes for a good presentation (and how to get his 2008 book).
Sierra, K. (June 8, 2005) Stop your presentation before it kills again! in Creating Passionate Users.
And one book…a bargain at $7!
Tufte, Edward R. (2nd Edition, 2006) The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within. Connecticut: Graphics Press LLC (More on Tufte’s website, including ordering information…).
Looking at my last post, I am again encouraged by the ongoing effort of large organizations to make their processes simpler and more customer-friendly. There’s growing mainstream acceptance of concepts such as plain language, usability and process engineering.
When I think back to when I first read Writing On Our Side and learned about the movement to translate Corporate English into plain English — wow, clear communication has come a long way, baby.
And yet, even with a general commitment to keeping information simple and customers happy, so many organizations still exist who fall down when it comes to how many processes play out in real life.
If you’ve dropped in before, you might know that I recently had a second child. And if you know me personally, you’ll also know that I get very frustrated with processes and policies that don’t seem to have much use except to make my life more difficult and complicated (in fact, I think this attitude might have lost me a couple jobs).
As someone who’s currently home with an infant and a six-year-old, while running both a business and a household, you can imagine how many processes I am subject to as I manage my life: with banks, clients, school and daycare, the stores and services I patronize, the list goes on. And given the young child factor, these processes are that much more protracted because I’m so often forced to put something down midstream in order to attend to the needs of the young’uns.
So I’m becoming damn tired of silly errors or oversights made by companies, which end up costing me effort and sometimes also dollars — I have precious little spare time as it is, so don’t need to have any more of it wasted.
Last year, I chronicled an abysmal experience with a traffic fine payment as one example of processes gone awry. Now I’m thinking it might be time for more rants like that one. I’m thinking it would also be a rather therapeutic experiment: the ability to vent while also exploring how various business processes can go wrong due to unclear communication. Watch for the first in the series soon. (I’m sure it won’t be long before something falling into this category happens yet again.)
As customers, employees or patients, for example, we have all been subject to policies and processes that have seemed backward and often also caused us a great deal of stress and wasted time and/or money.
Do you have any you’d like to vent about? Leave your comment…