Stop Working So Hard

In this post by Chicago ASBPE Treasurer Betty Hintch, she tells us why taking time off to smell the roses from time to time is a key ingredient to success for B2B journalists.

Over the last six months, newspapers, magazines and other media outlets have been churning out a staggering number of articles about the negative impact of workplace stress. I edit publications for the human resource and workplace safety fields, so I am immersed daily in reports about the state of American workplaces. Frankly, the picture doesn’t look good. Thirty percent of managers said they are more stressed today than they were one year ago, according to an OfficeTeam survey. In addition, 28 percent of respondents expect their anxiety levels to increase.

As business-to-business editors, we have our share of stress. The reasons include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Demanding workloads that grow every time a new media platform comes along.
  • Managing the pressure to produce high-quality content that catches the eyes of readers who are battling information overload.
  • Struggling to seize new opportunities with staffs and budgets that were decimated during the recession.

So what’s a B2B editor to do? Stop working so hard, says one business expert. In her new book, Conquer CyberOverload: Get More Done, Boost Your Creativity and Reduce Stress, Joanne Cantor, Ph.D., emphasizes the importance of taking breaks to recharge and cultivate creativity.

However, not all breaks are created equal. She emphasizes the power of “brain-enhancing” breaks. Examples include physical exercise and experiencing nature. In other words, stop and smell the roses.

If you subscribe to Cantor’s logic, working 14-hour days or always eating lunch at your desk could be hurting your publication, rather than helping it. In fact, your boss may thank you for being a good steward of your work/rest balance. Here’s why: Information-free breaks allow your brain to make room for the important issues at hand. The brain has space to devise solutions or to gather energy to spit out your next award-winning idea.

Cantor shares other simple but intriguing suggestions, especially in this age of 24-hour connections and multiple messages vying for our attention:

  • Don’t be a workaholic. That’s easier said than done for many of us. We trick ourselves into thinking we need to put in more hours to meet deadlines and produce high-quality content. Cantor says a nose to the grindstone won’t see the big picture. Instead, alternate intense work with periods of relaxation. You’ll find that an uncluttered, relaxed mind is working double duty on your most pressing issues.
  • Sleep strategically. There’s a lot of truth in those two words. Cantor suggests scheduling your workload so that a night’s rest occurs before you turn in your finished product. While you sleep, your brain processes experiences that occurred during the day. You’ll wake up with new ideas and the enthusiasm to implement them.

I’ll take Cantor’s idea one step further and say that scheduling your demanding work when you are most productive allows you to create better content in less time. If you have to work late, perform easier tasks, such as answering simple email messages or administrative tasks, after hours when your mind is tired. That takes planning, but it is well worth it.

Most of us have heard Cantor’s advice sometime during our careers, but as hard-working editors and writers, it is hard to follow through. From personal experience, I have used most of Cantor’s suggestions and they work. The challenge is to resist tendencies to let bad habits creep in.

I’ll close by suggesting a Huffington Post article that includes case studies about how successful people have discovered they can accomplish more by taking rejuvenating breaks. In fact, these people are taking care of themselves while they save the world. That says a lot about the benefits of planning strategic work and rest periods to get more done.

Betty Hintch is Editor at Briefings Media Group LLC. She edits online ezines and newsletters in the HR, workplace safety, marketing and sales, and customer service industries.

Success: Social Media Networking

By Tonie Auer

Everyone keeps talking about social media and how we’ve all just got to be a part of it. I’m not sure who the “everyone” is really, but I’ll fill you in: they’re right. For one of the first times in my life, listening to my peers paid off in all the right ways.

I started small joining LinkedIn and reconnected with many contacts. Through the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-style efforts, I found many others with whom I should be connected.

Later, I moved over to Facebook. I thought it would be simply a better way to stay connected with friends. Blogging had grown old to me and was getting tiresome. Trolls were irritating me and after doing it since July 2004, I was ready to slow down just a tad. My personal blog is still there, but is neglected, I hate to admit. It was writing I did for pleasure and when it ceased to be fun, I slowed down.

But, this Facebook thing, it’s a lot of fun and I learned — lo and behold — it could land me a bucketload of work. It really has. I have had my foot in the door to a couple of big contracts that haven’t come through just yet, but it was a way in that I hadn’t before had. I have gotten numerous freelancing and subcontracting gigs there for people I’ve never met in person. Through contacts of other contacts and name recognition, I’ve successfully “friended” many professionals, from the public relations and marketing world to magazines and other professionals. And I’ve reaped the benefits of multiple projects from it.

It has also worked well looking for sources for articles. I needed to find a local car dealer for an article and no one was returning my cold calls. I posted on FB what I needed and about a half-dozen journalist or PR friends posted the name of a PR gal who repped a car dealer. A few hours after posting that request, I was done with my interview. The same has happened for multiple stories. It has worked 100 times better than going to Help a Reporter Out. (I’ve never had luck there.)
So, if you’re still dragging your feet about the whole social media thing or consider it a time-waster – you’re only partially right. It can definitely be a drain on your valuable time, but it can also be a boon for finding work or finding sources for your projects.
Look me up on LinkedIn or Facebook.
Tonie Auer is the real estate reporter covering Dallas and Fort Worth for Bisnow Media.

Good News

By Tonie Auer

Finally, there is some good news to report. MinOnline shared it with us earlier this month when they told us that:

  • Trade publishers are starting to see the bottom of a marked decline in their print and events businesses, according to the latest figures from American Business Media.
  • In the first quarter of this year, ABM found that print revenues had declined only 6.4% to $1.8 billion.
  • On a month-by-month basis, revenue figures improved in the first quarter as well, indicating a positive trajectory. Print revenue in March 2010 was down only 3.1% compared to March 2009.
  • The digital side of the b2b business grew by 7.5% in Q1 2010.

You know what? I totally believe it. The company I work for, Bisnow.com, is all digital with no print product whatsoever. And, we’re growing. The company launched e-newsletters covering commercial real estate in Dallas/Fort Worth in October; Houston in December; Atlanta this spring; and L.A. about a month ago. There is no doubting that digital products are in demand by the evolving fast-paced society in which we live. The trick revolves around keeping up with the changes.

Workday of the Near Future?

Photo: Steven RollBy Steven Roll

It seemed like only yesterday that we were adjusting the coverage of news pieces depending on whether it was for a daily, weekly, or monthly publication.

But as Meister Media Worldwide’s Jim Sulecki pointed out in an ASBPE webinar a few weeks ago — 10 Trends That Can Make (or Break) Our Editorial Careers — the time frame for adding perspective or context is now marked in hours.

As daunting as this sounds, the proliferation of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn make reaching out to sources easier than ever. In fact, asking them to contribute in this manner has the added benefit of encouraging them to read the content and disseminate it.

This approach also helps to identify the issues and key sources for longer-term projects such as full-length magazine pieces.

Here is what Jim said the typical workday of a B2B journalist might look like in the near future:

8:00 a.m.: Check website metrics
8:15: Check e-mail
9:00: Come up with article lead
9:15: Tweet re: article lead formulated as question/trial balloon
9:30: First call on lead
10:15: Tweet summary
11:45: Short item for day’s e-news website
11:50: Short news item with link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blog
1:00 p.m.: Second look at website metrics
1:15: Second call on lead
2:15: Begin scripting 2-3 minute audio feed
4:00: Begin formulating full-length magazine feature.

Steven Roll is senior state tax law editor of the Weekly State Tax Report, Multistate Tax Report and the Multistate Tax Portfolio series published by Arlington, Va.-based BNA Tax & Accounting. He was president of ASBPE from August 2007 through July 2009. Previously, he served as chapter president for ASBPE’s Washington, D.C., chapter from 2003-2007. He coedited Journalism That Matters, a book of case studies about B2B journalists whose stories triggered important changes within government or industry. The Multistate Tax Report has won ASBPE awards for newsletter general excellence and original research. Roll has been named as a finalist in BNA’s Editorial Excellence Award competition several times. He lives in Kensington, Maryland.

Taking Advantage of Productivity

By Maureen Alley

I’ve been working as a freelancer from home for the last few months. Prior, I worked in the traditional cubical office space that many of you work in. I was used to the scheduled 8-to-5 work hours – with a few long days in there. But switching to working from home – on my schedule – has made for an interesting learning experience.

The number one thing I’ve learned: Take advantage of feeling productive when you have it. When I feel the urge to organize, I go with it. I organize like crazy. I don’t think, “I feel like organizing. But I’ll make coffee instead.” Nope. If I feel that urge to organize, you’ll find me organizing in the office or at my desk.

By taking advantage of these urges of productivity, I am much more productive than if I forced myself to be productive. Because I’m in the mode to do it.

I’ve also learned that I am much more productive in the mornings than I am in the afternoons. So I write articles, schedule interviews and do follow-ups in the mornings. Because I know it will be much harder to focus on these in the afternoons. Plus, because I am doing these in the morning rather than afternoons, I will get more accomplished than if I forced myself to do it when I didn’t have the productivity bug.

I’ve also noticed that I am much more productive on Mondays, and less so on Fridays. But my husband is the opposite. He’s much more productive on Fridays. He plans his schedule for big projects to happen on Fridays because he knows he’ll get more done. I, however, plan my projects for Mondays because I know that’s when I’ll get more accomplished.

All of this can translate to the office atmosphere. Pay attention to your moods. Pay attention to when you are most productive and take advantage of it. Like with writing, you can’t force it.

So, take a look at when you feel most productive – times of days, days of the week – and utilize them. You should feel you get more done by taking advantage of those times.

Maureen Alley is editor for Woodland Management magazine, and freelance writer/editor for other business-to-business publications. She was previously managing editor for Website Magazine and Residential Design & Build magazine. Alley has been an ASBPE member since 2006, and Azbee for the last two years. She can be reached at malley13@gmail.com or visit www.maureenalley.com.

When One Door Closes …

By Tonie Auer
DFW Chapter President

Like most aspiring writers (of something beyond the B2B publications), I strive to read quality work. I try to change things up a bit, moving from suspense writers like Deborah Crombie to the snarky memorist Jen Lancaster.

I’ve read many books about writing techniques and I’m even a member of the Writers’ Guild of Texas, which brings in great speakers to talk about the craft of writing. All of this greatly improves my writing skills overall, so it is beneficial all the way around.

I subscribed for a year or two to Writer’s Digest, but found that I never took the time to read it. Fortunately, I saved the magazines and ran across them recently and started reading them. Writing tips are timeless (for the most part), so why not? What I found in the pages went beyond the traditional tips on creating good characters and addressed topics facing the B2B publishing industry, too.

I pulled out one issue from 2007 that included query tips from editors of three consumer publications. Of the three magazines, two are now defunct. (Sort of timely considering all the closing publications across the magazine world.) Flipping through another 2007 issue, I ran across an article titled “The Incredible Disappearing Magazine.” The advice seems very timely, as it talks about what freelancers should do if one of their pubs shutters.

After from getting stiffed a check (most likely), now you have to find another revenue stream. The article’s author, Lou Harry, recommended going straightaway to the publication’s competition. Pretty good advice if you’ve already been writing about a topic or industry. But, with the shrinking world of publications and the increasing pool of writers, you need to make sure that you play up your strong points. Also, stay in touch with the editors who know and love your writing already. I’ve gotten several jobs in the past from editors who have jumped ship. Often, they’ve been gracious enough to leave my name with the editors who replace them as they change jobs, too.

After the Reed announcements recently, you could practically hear the sales departments at competing publishers (like McGraw-Hill) salivating at the opportunities to lure those advertisers to their pubs, too. So, it can be doubly beneficial for some competitors.

So, I suppose the blog title comes into play here. When you find that one door closes (literally, as magazines fold), find your way to another door. You may be able to get your foot in there with a little effort. Then, hopefully, it will open. But, you’ll never know if you don’t go knock.

Don’t Miss Chance to Obtain Useful Input on Editorial Performance

By Howard Rauch

How to deal more effectively with mounting print/digital workloads will be my focus during an ASBPE June 17 webinar.

In advance, I invited all concerned editors to complete a questionnaire outlining their current responsibilities. Respondents were asked to focus primarily on their online workloads. They were challenged to identify their most time-consuming tasks.

During follow-up phone calls starting May 15, I’ll consult with each participant about possible ways to simplify workloads. An extra benefit: all respondents receive an analysis of e-newsletter content based on the eight-factor scoring system I outlined in a recent Editor’s Notes article (556K PDF; available to ASBPE members only).

Early returns reflect some significant patterns. Here are a few:

1. Production responsibilities are major time consumers. In several past editorial performance projects focusing on print, I often found production processes were hampered by burdensome practices. There is every indication that the same holds true for online. Of course, that depends on how you define “production.” I include assorted posting functions — coding, sizing photos, proofreading — anything else that’s distinct from original writing/editing tasks.

2. There is agreement that job overload has impaired editing quality. This is especially true in those cases where e-newsletter workload has doubled or tripled in the past three years.

3. Publishers not yet committed to dedicated digital staffs will never exploit online marketing potential to the fullest. Descriptions of current workloads make that clear. For instance, developing a strong package of high-value webinars and white papers requires several days a month of focus. Furthermore, it seems farfetched to expect besieged staffs can deliver a continuous flow of exclusive, high-enterprise content.

We’ll discuss all of the above and much more on June 17. Meanwhile, there’s still time for you to benefit from advance participation. Just complete a performance questionnaire and return it to me before May 15. For more information or to obtain a copy of the questionnaire, contact me via email (howard@editsol.com) or call (201) 569-7714.

The Journalist’s Toolbox

By Tonie Auer
DFW Chapter President

I’ve been on a roll, talking about professional development and making yourself indispensable. Now I’m going to lead you to another valuable resource to make yourself look like a genius to your boss and colleagues: The Journalist’s Toolbox.

This is a hodgepodge of great links for how to find information on topics ranging from multimedia editing tools to editing and fact-checking references. If you need to find a clearinghouse of information on weather, military or even foreign policy, there’s a link for that information, too.

It all goes back to being the go-to person in your office. The publisher’s administrative assistant needs to find the ZIP code of some head office in Walla Walla, Wash., but she isn’t the greatest at figuring out how to find it. So, make yourself invaluable and be able to offer her that assistance. She’ll remember it. Trust me.

Professional Development

By Tonie Auer

I think I know more colleagues who are unemployed than gainfully working these days. That is pretty depressing. If you’re a member of the Fourth Estate, you probably find yourself looking over your shoulder a little more these days than maybe in years past. And, rightfully so.

What can you do? Not much. But, one thing I would recommend is taking advantage of professional development opportunities. Want some suggestions?

Tonie Auer is the DFW reporter for Bisnow on Business; the DFW ASBPE Chapter president and the ASBPE blog czarina. She can be reached at tonie@bisnow.com

Sound Off Now About Daunting Editorial Workload

By Howard Rauch

Ask any editor about their current workload and you’re sure to get an earful. Tales of woe usually focus on the unfairness of triple-threat job descriptions involving print, web and digital publications. Individuals are quick to add that job descriptions have expanded in the face of staff cuts and salary freezes.

The truth is … nobody (yes, that includes top management) is happy about the situation. Further, the publishing industry is not alone in being walloped by the economy. The typical editor’s problem in making the case for relief is an inability to describe existing job functions quantitatively. In other words, how long does each facet of your job take to complete from start to finish in a given month?

This is no easy task. Different functions of a typical editorial job load may be spread out across several days into small time components. Melding the parts into a whole is challenging, to say the least.

Well … we really can’t wait any longer. A time-oriented performance study is long overdue. So I’ve decided to give it a shot. The objective of this study is not to bemoan our circumstances. Instead, we need to seek possible shortcuts that will speed job fulfillment. And I am inviting you to participate in a two-phase study that’s just begun.

Phase I involves completion of a questionnaire asking you to analyze your work schedule. Most of the 15 questions are easily answered. Others will require that you put on your thinking cap. For example, question (7) asks you – on the basis of 100 percent – to estimate the time component breakdown for print vs. web. Question (8) challenges you to create a multicategory job description for the web portion. In a preliminary meeting between me and ASBPE webmaster Martha Spizziri, we came up with a dozen possible categories. Now we’re interested in comparing notes with you. Question (11) is the toughest to tackle. Here is where you prioritize the list created in question (9) from most time-consuming down to least time-consuming. If you’re up to the challenge, we can work through the questionnaire together. Later on, in Phase II of the study, we’d have a follow-up interview to make sure everything’s been covered.

Here are other things you ought to know about this pioneer project:

(1) The results will be presented June 17 at an ASBPE webinar I am cohosting with fellow consultant John Bethune.

(2) Survey participants will receive a special tailored summary of study results.

Interested? For more information or to receive a copy of the questionnaire, call me at (201) 569-7714 or e-mail howard@editsol.com.