Astronaut Scott Kelly Inspires

Once again I am inspired from space – or at least by someone who has spent considerable time in space.

This time the inspiration came from U.S. astronaut Captain Scott Kelly, who spent 340 consecutive days aboard the International Space Station. He is a former military fighter pilot, test pilot, engineer, and a retired US. Navy captain.

20190302_173744He spoke at the Richmond Forum, which is a great venue for hearing wise advice or being inspired.

Of his year in space, Kelly said —

Have a goal and plan.

Take risks.

Be willing to make mistakes, and even fail.

Focus on what you can control, ignore what you can’t.

His ultimate lesson, “The sky is not the limit.”

Sound advice.

Content Calendar Keeps Writing on Track

When I fall behind in my blog posts, it’s because of one of two reasons. I either haven’t 20180309_114308carved out time for research and writing or I haven’t paid attention to my content calendar. Okay, sometimes it’s both reasons.

How to create a content calendar

You could do it the traditional way and post all the months to a wall and then put pushpins on the days to identify when content needs to be shared. Pushpin colors would differentiate the platforms. The same process works online, although there are no pushpins. All you need to do is search for a template that will suit your needs.

For this blog, I list in a Word document all the dates I plan to post for an entire year. I then note if there are events or conferences I plan to attend that could generate content. I also identify any significant celebrations or anniversaries such as Women’s History Month.

Driving traffic

Driving traffic to the posts is important. I’ve linked all of my social media accounts to the blog, which ensures promotion across platforms.

I also have a separate content calendar for Twitter. For each blog post I write 3-5 tweets with a link to the post and sprinkle those throughout the month in which the post appeared. I note on my Twitter content calendar what the day’s tweet will be. I’m also tweeting organically on any given day. Maintaining a content calendar specific to my posts ensures that I will tweet regularly.

Time blocks

Research, writing and posting is a lot of work, but you don’t have to do it every day. I work on my blog in time blocks, meaning I devote three to four hours to the blog on a specific day. During that time, I identify potential topics, research topics, write draft copy, and finalize draft posts. I then schedule the ones that are ready. Next I review my posts and write the appropriate tweets.

The blog posts and tweets are added to the respective calendars. I can identify any holes where content is missing. If I have managed to schedule further out, I know I have given myself some breathing room. When that happens, I find I develop more ideas because I’m feeling less pressured – and less stressed.

Ultimately, that’s the beauty of a content calendar.

Optimism Inflates Dreams

One of the perks of speaking at a conference is the opportunity to hear the other speakers and to be inspired by them.

That happened to me recently when I heard Jess Ekstrom talk about her career and Headbands of Hope. I wasn’t familiar with her or the company, but I quickly did some research. Not only does she inspire, she makes a difference.20181108_083248

Her talk reminded me of my friend Julie Campbell, who once spoke about “How Not to Write a Book.” Ekstrom gave similar advice on starting a business. She shared all the mistakes she made, but in a way that inspired. Her main takeaway was to never stop going after your dreams.

Ekstrom is the founder and CEO of Headbands of Hope. She also is an award-winning speaker, author and writer. She has been featured on Good Morning America, the Today show and TEDx and in Forbes, Vanity Fair, Seventeen and TeenVogue.

Her dreams started at a young age. As a child she wanted to be published in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She submitted dozens of pieces and received almost as many rejections. But then one was accepted.

When asked about the experience she conceded that she only ever spoke about the acceptance. “As kids we’re not focused on failures,” she told the 2018 CREW Leadership Summit in Richmond, Virginia.

In college after interning for a wish-granting organization, she noticed many children wearing headbands after losing their hair to chemotherapy. No one was providing those accessories so Ekstrom created Headbands of Hope. For everyone purchased, one is given to a child with cancer.

Her business almost didn’t exist. Few believed in her idea, and even fewer offered financial support. She kept trying and overcoming obstacles. When she finally found a manufacturer that would produce the headbands, her father loaned her the capital. And then the manufacturer disappeared with her money.

Ekstrom was devasted. But she was determined to not only launch the business but also to repay her father. “You can’t hide from the tough moments,” she said. “You have to use them as the reason to do more.”

Today the brand is carried in thousands of stores. More importantly, the brand has donated headbands to every children’s hospital in America and 15 countries, according to the website.

It wasn’t an easy journey, but Ekstrom noted that was okay. “There will always be another way to there, to get to the end point,” she said. Sometimes there will be messes and detours, and she encouraged the audience to find their way around.

It’s important to navigate the rocky road. “You have to believe that you can be the one to do it,” she said. “Failures are a reflection of growth and change.”Ekstrom

That also means not listening to the negative voices in your head or the naysayers. “Don’t give other people the steering wheel to the voice in your head,” she said. “We have to be able to control the voice in our head.”

With childlike optimism, Ekstrom said, comes confidence and success. Perhaps we all need to be a bit more childlike when it comes to our dreams.

Professional Memberships Have Much to Offer

I took a bit longer this year to pay my membership dues because I needed to assess the groups.

I wanted to make sure I was getting everything that I could from the groups. Memberships have much to offer but if you are not taking full advantage, it might be better to attend occasionally as a guest, find a free webinar, attend a one-off conference or find a different organization that is a better fit.

20180223_160606

If you do to decide to join a group, here are some of the benefits you might expect to find:

Encouragement and confidence My mystery writers group (Sisters in Crime Central Virginia) provides me with encouragement and confidence. Many of the members are published authors, some of whom have made the best-seller list. All of them have offered tips and advice as I work on my manuscript at my pace.

Writing skills I’m also working on my writing skills thanks to James River Writers. In the coming months I’ll learn how to organize my writing life, write a killer synopsis, define my audience and build relationships with bookstore owners and librarians.

New skills My involvement with VPC and NFPW enables me to hone skills in areas that I don’t work in every day. With VPC, I’m responsible for program development, which will keep me seeking individuals who are current of the latest trends.

Leadership opportunities I began to develop my leadership skills serving on committees. Eventually I served as president of both my state affiliate and the national organization. Now I’m encouraging those around me to do the same.

Friendship As an added benefit, I have found that in all of these groups I have made some lifelong friends. Almost anywhere I go, there is someone I know. That’s a nice bonus.

How do you decide which groups to join?

4 Types of Content

20180124_110628I spent a day recently researching, writing and editing blog posts.

I plan for four types of content for my blog:

  • Date-specific
  • Evergreen
  • Breaking
  • Repurposed

Date-specific: I keep a content calendar for the year and pepper it with dates that are known and that I will likely write about. For example, I almost always write something related to New Year’s Day and the idea of resolutions and/or goal setting. Sunshine Week is in March and I often write about the topic.

Evergreen content is not tied to a specific day and can be used any time during the year. This post is an example of evergreen content. If I attend a conference, I frequently write about the workshops I attend and the speakers I meet. If I want to be timely (date-specific) then I will run a post during or immediately following the conference; otherwise, the content becomes evergreen.

Breaking content is tied to a story that has traction in the news. I can write a post related to the breaking news. This is known as “newsjacking,” and PR pros do it all the time. If they have a subject matter expert related to the topic, they will pitch, or work to connect, the expert with the reporters covering the story. For my blog, I’ll write a post related to the content. For example, I wrote about office success lessons learned from watching the latest James Bond movie or how people connected while watching a Royal Wedding (not Harry and Meghan, the other one).

Repurposed content: Review your most popular stories and posts and then tweak the headline or update the statistics. You can also take the content and use it on a different platform. I expect to do more of that in 2019 as I work to finish my travelogue book and complete a mystery. For me to do that, I will need to spend less time writing original content for the blog, but I hope you will still find inspiration in the posts.

When it comes to content, I am seldom at a loss for copy. I simply need to plan and identify my content opportunities.

5 Steps to Jump Start Your Career in 2019

I spent part of my winter break thinking about all aspects of my career. Although I’ve worked in communications for many years, the landscape continues to change. I want to stay current. I also aspire to be a published author and career coach.

20171128_105427

Photo by Cynthia Price

Here are 5 things you can do to further your career journey:

Pay membership dues. Before you pay your membership dues, consider each organization and whether you are benefiting. Will you learn something new? Will you network with individuals from whom you can learn and with who you can share information?

Take a course (or two). Learning about new platforms, the latest apps and different management styles is important. Webinars, seminars, conferences and classes all provide learning opportunities. I signed up for a daylong seminar on starting my own business. I won’t be ready to do so for a few years, but at least I’ll know what I should be doing when I am ready to make the leap.

Network. We all know the value of networking but too often we think of it only in the context of a group setting. I try to have at least two networking lunches a month. One is with a colleague within my organization. I like learning about someone else’s position. An added bonus is that because I work in communications, I almost always also get a nugget for a story. I also network with someone monthly outside of my organization. It allows me to see how other companies and sectors operate.

Enter an awards competition. Each year I look to see if I have anything to enter in a communications contest. My colleague and I review our body of work. I’m reminded of some good work. I’m also reminded of some work I could have done better. And I get ideas for other projects. It’s a great process to prepare myself for the coming year.

Update your resume and LinkedIn profile. It’s important to do this yearly to ensure everything is up-to-date. Note key projects you worked on in the past year and double check keywords. Reach out to your references, updating them on your career and finding out on what they have focused.

Are you ready to jump start your career?

 

 

 

An Empty Inbox

Much has been written about how to tame one’s inbox. All of the suggestions would probably fill an inbox.

The February 2019 issue of Fast Company notes that 2.6 hours each day are spent on email, which amounts to 27 days each year.

That is a lot of time spent on email. And the topic was top of mind because as we were closing out 2018, a team member asked how the rest of us manage our inboxes. She was still wrestling with hers. We all shared our approaches, and reassured her that we, too, were still wrestling.

The takeaway for me is that one size doesn’t fit all. I use my inbox as a to do list. It works well for me. I also maintain folders, but they are for reference and filing. If I move an email into a folder without first taking action on it, I’ll likely never get back to it. I know others who move every email into a folder and then begin to take action.

For me, about 50 emails in my inbox is reasonable. More than that, and I know I am falling behind. In December just before I left the office for almost two weeks, a tiny miracle happened.

Actually, it was a huge miracle – I left with zero emails in my inbox. I was able to address everything either by handling it or scheduling it on my calendar for 2019.

What an incredible feeling. Here’s what an empty inbox looks like:

Empty Inbox.PNGOf course, within a few hours, the emails were arriving. They didn’t bother me, though, because most I could delete. And the few that remained were ready for me to handle in 2019.

Here are a few email tips to get you set for 2019:

  • Make your inbox work for you. That’s a great tip from Carson Tate, who offers a course in taming the inbox and is the author of “Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style.”
  • Set aside 20 minutes midweek to review your inbox to ensure that you have not overlooked any critical emails. I also delete those that require no action and offer no information.
  • Move reference emails to a retrieval system. I either file emails into clearly defined folders or I file the attachment into a World folder so I can retrieve it later.
  • Don’t reply to an email the second it arrives. You don’t want to set the expectation that you are always available. It’s important to focus on your priorities.
  • Stick to a schedule when checking and responding to email. This is advice I gleamed from Michael Smart. It resonated because he helped me to realize that emails are not my priority. They often are a means to reach my priorities – whether that is pitching a story and having it placed in a news outlet or tracking down information to write a blog post.

What tips do you have for taming your inbox?