On May 1st, the blogging project from April ended and I had to choose between continuing to publish daily or going back to the way I was writing before. This was a challenging decision in some ways because of how much time and pressure the daily publishing added to my day and because, though some data was available about how well it was working, it was inconclusive at best. I could get answers to a lot of questions, but those answers weren’t the right ones to be asking.
For example, only about 2.5% of my active readers decided to follow along with the daily posts, which meant that, for the most part, traffic per post was significantly lower than one would expect based upon our total readership. If I were looking for low-hanging fruit to pick, it didn’t at all seem that keeping up with daily blogging was the way to go, based on near-term data.
At the same time, what was encouraging was that the amount of feedback I was getting per post, both backchannel and online, had increased. That 2.5% of readers were reading, writing, and engaging. When I took a look at who they were, they were either long-time supporters or people who most love what I do. I’m not at all implying that the 97.5% of people who weren’t reading daily weren’t supporters and champions, as I’m quite aware that getting email from me every day is too much for a lot of people.
Had I continued to slice data, I would’ve come up with a bunch of splits and hedges. As I discussed it with the team, it became increasingly clear that data was not going to help with this decision.
Moving Beyond Data
A default question that I ask when there is no data or poor data is “what would you do if you couldn’t fail?” or its sister, “what would you do if you would automatically be successful?” Those questions usually do a lot of work in breaking up mindset logjams, but in this case, they weren’t getting me anywhere because I had to more clearly define what success meant. My gut said that most of my definitions of success (during that week) would overlook the very reasons I wanted to start and continue blogging daily.
The question that made it immediately clear what I should do was “what would I do if the outcome didn’t matter?” Since the question is ambiguously worded, I don’t mean what would I do if what I was doing didn’t generate some impact, but rather, what would I do if I weren’t considering what the outcome of my work might be, especially when it comes to which specific marketing metrics might change.
The force of the question made me take seriously the fact that I don’t know where this trail might lead and that there’s more that you take away from my work than I’ll ever see. But what I do know is that showing up every day (by which I now mean every day that I’m not sick, off the grid, or intentionally on break) fuels my creative fire and takes the most advantage of the precious opportunity to share and learn with you, at the same time that it makes my life operationally easier. No editorial calendars, no remembering which day I need to have something ready to publish, no pressure that each post I write will light you up, because there’s always tomorrow’s idea or a better refinement of today’s idea.
To be clear, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of those and I’m not at all recommending that people follow my lead here. All of those aspects played some part in getting me to here, and here is a good spot in many ways. But I’ve been saying since at least 2012 that I wanted to get more art, soul, and consistency back into my blogging, and what I was doing wasn’t moving me further ahead on that.
I wanted a different result, so I had to go with a different approach. That approach required a leap, but most of the stuff worth doing does anyway.
As odd as it may sound, I do some of my best creative work when my well is a quarter full, but it takes only about three days for it to fill back up and I never can see my big hits coming — they generally come from an idea or phrase that I mention in passing but that then takes on a life of its own. Both of those patterns create a strong bias toward daily publishing.
The Power of the Right Question at the Right Time
The power of the right question at the right time is that it can shake fixed thinking that may be leading to the same old options. Looking back, it’s easy to see that I had a deeper, more important goal to become a better writer/thinker/leader than I did to increase metrics. The two goals are rarely mutually exclusive, and it’s easy for the latter to prevent the former.
I’m sharing all of this for two reasons: 1) to answer some of the questions I’ve gotten about it and 2) to give you a few more questions to help you shake things up when it’s your turn.