How to blog without the time sink

Andrew Mason, via Flickr (CC license)
Yes, you can blog without all your time running down the drain.

Recently a colleague asked me a question that I hear from many people: “How can I blog without making it a time sink?”

It seems to me that the key to blogging efficiently is this: DO NOT treat it like writing an article or report. That is, make blogging part of your ongoing processes for research, notetaking, and communication.

A blog post is not (or at least, it shouldn’t be) a writing assignment you must prep for and deliver as a finished package. Let go of the idea that you must have everything nailed down, organized, and edited before you publish. (A tough one especially for writers and journalists, I know, but consider it a kind of experiment or Zen exercise.)

Here are some specific techniques to accomplish that mindset and habit switch…

  • Blog your initial brainstorming. At the point that you start to get intrigued by a topic or question, blog it. A post can be as simple as, “I’m starting to learn more about [X], and I’m wondering [Y]. Here’s why I’m curious about that. Do you have any information or views on this? Please comment below.” Boom. That’s a useful post — and potentially a good way to speed your learning curve and spark an engaging public conversation.
  • Blog your research & discovery. Did you just pick up an interesting tidbit about a topic you introduced in an earlier post? Blog it. Cite the source, and say why you think it’s interesting, or why you’re skeptical or puzzled about it, etc. Link back to earlier relevant posts you’ve published, or use your blog’s categories to connect posts on a theme. Post done.
  • Blog your interactions. Did you just have an interesting conversation relevant to a topic you’ve been blogging? Ask the person with whom you conversed if you can blog the relevant portion, and whether you can identify them. This is especially easy with e-mail or IM conversations, since you can just copy and paste. If they don’t want to be identified, you can just use the old anonymous-source trick, as long as the speaker’s identity isn’t crucial to the insight you’re sharing.Or, when you’re asked a question and the answer would be useful to many people instead of just one, blog your answer rather than merely communicating your answer privately. That way your answer becomes available and useful to all, permanently.

The clincher to all this is to use your blog as your backup brain — or at least as a public notebook. Why not get more mileage out of work you would have done anyway by changing your habits toward managing information and communication publicly? Instead of keeping your thoughts, notes, and conversations to yourself, post them.

The second advantage is that this information will probably become more findable and useful to yourself as well as to others. Ever tried to find that old notebook where you stored conference notes from three years ago? See what I mean? And, as I mentioned, adopting blogging into your existing processes can speed and enhance your learning process as well as increase your visibility and influence.

What do you think of this approach? Have you tried it? How might it work (or not) for you? Has it indeed lessened the “time sink” problem of blogging? Please comment below.

(NOTE: This post is a slightly adapted version of a post I published on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

27 thoughts on How to blog without the time sink

  1. I really like the image of blog as a backup brain. The same has been true, at different times, for my file drawer, my planner, my PDA.

    Blogging primary for yourself (in the sense of being your own main audience) encourages you to follow your own inclinations. Blogging as a kind of reflection and recording makes it easy to say to someone (as I do more and more often), “I saw something about that and put it on my blog. Go there and search for (whatever).” No trying to send a long URL, no need for me to intrude unnecessarily.

    One approach I took was to create a “side trips” category. I’m easily distracted, and didn’t want my virtual whiteboard to be completely random. I don’t have a firm rule, but keeping side trips under 10% of the total is for me a habit to encourage.

  2. Ya, like you said, I always blog about things that caught my eyes. In short, I blog just about anything… Sometimes I go back to read my older post, it was like traveling back into time. I looked at the older posts and I sometimes laugh, smile, angry, and why oh why my earlier writing was so good, bad, filled with grammar errors, mistakes, bad ideas, and… In truth, a blog depends on the intention of its owner. Some elite blog can be comparing to those big name magazines. Some blogs are just as trashy as Jerry Springer show.

  3. I guess it depends on your audience. I enjoy the bite-sized bits of news or wisdom posted every day on Contentious, but when
    I’m writing for my company’s blog, argh! Now there’s a time-consuming persuit.

    It’s a pilot program, so I groom each paragraph repeatedly so it’s: fun but not too wordy . . . interesting without being controversial. In my industry, the business owners are not web-savvy, but their customers (increasingly) are. In other words, my blog is most likely the first one they’ve ever seen.

    I also invest a fair amount of time on my personal blog. I find I get the most comments on longer articles with colorful antecdotes and humorous photos. My shortest post “who wants a Joost invite” got no response (much to my surprise).

    I DO like your “back up brain” suggestion. Sometimes I could really use one of those. – MD

  4. I do this all the time, but privately, on my local hard drive. Why would I want to make all of my half-baked drivel public? Why would I want to publish anything that doesn’t put my best thoughts forward in a carefully considered manner? I want to waste the minimum amount of time of whatever audience I have, rather than abuse them with every utterance that occurs to me.

    Have you ever had a friend or family member who, when you’re around them, give you a constant, stream-of-consciousness commentary of what they’re doing at that moment, whatever occurs to them? Perhaps they often ask questions before they try to figure out the answer quietly for themselves. Sometimes they want to interrupt you to tell you about every third paragraph they just read in a magazine. That’s what a certain percentage of blogs (and even more so, postings on sites like Twitter or Live Journal) feel like to me.

    A friend of mine in public radio said this: “If they [certain elements in the citizen’s media movement] are so opposed to editing and good production practices, let them eat C-SPAN.”

    I produce a podcast. (Thanks, Amy, for your kind words, earlier.) I sometimes collect 3 hours of interviews and other field sounds to make a 10-minute finished piece. The last thing I would want to do is subject my audience to the tedium of wading through all of that material. That’s why I’m producing the show, to find the few interesting and informative tidbits in those hours of redundant, off-topic, or technically unintelligible material. I expect anybody publishing something for public consumption to do the same, or they’re not going to have me in their audience for long.

  5. i think this is good advice, Amy. the time-eater for me (OK, given that the blog that is the whiteboard for my new book is dead right now because i am working on something else for a month) is not personal blogging per se but keeping up with the conversation everywhere else. the number of unread feeds in my RSS reader is a whole new thing to feel guilty about.

  6. This is something I constantly stuggle with. I have always had a tendency to do too much as opposed to to little. For me it seems to take up a lot more time to write something shorter than longer because I have to think about it and edit it more.

    One things I have really appreciated about Twitter is it forces you to write very short posts and to eliminate words you don’t need.

    I guess I could look at ways to break some of my bigger postings or ones I am planning on making into shorter chunks and post date them provided they are not time sensitive.

    I may blog about this later today as well.

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  8. I like this idea of having blogs integrated into the working process. Particularly given the tools that make blog posting only a step away from whatever else one does on the computer – having posts flow with the work seems a natural extension.

    Obviously, one wouldn’t want every post to be preliminary thoughts (not that you suggested that). Complete, detailed articles are valuable. But bite-sized approaches to a topic are accessible to busy audiences (no reason their engagement with the blog shouldn’t go in stages, too). Also, I’ve personally always found the notebooks and journals of authors fascinating to read.

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  10. I’m going to try this suggestion. I’ve been tied in knots trying to “get it right.” (I am a writer.) If at some later point I want to distinguish between spontaneous posts and more thought out posts I’m sure I can do that. It will be so different from the stiff stuff I’ve been writing I feel a little intimidated.

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