Don’t be afraid to delete


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I recently saw this Tweet, from @EverythingMom, “Good point. RT @WhenIGroUpCoach (Michelle Ward): If an email is over 2 days over, you’ll probably never look at it again #sxswgetalife.” It made the rounds during South by Southwest and then again in the last couple of days.


At first, I thought the suggestion was crazy, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this it’s true. It’s rare that you need to re-vist an email more than two days later and if it’s important enough to view again, then you probably flagged it and saved it somewhere safe. Leaving old email in your inbox just creates electronic clutter and can stress some people out.

Many offices are trying to reduce electronic clutter by moving to a 120 day (or similar) policy. Meaning, if an email is older than 120 days and you haven’t moved it to a folder off the email server, it will be automatically deleted.

At first this unnerved me, but then after the first round of deletions I realized just how freeing it was!

Does your office have an auto delete policy? How do you feel about it?

Swearing is contagious

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I was a bit surprised at the sheer amount of swearing at this year’s South by Southwest. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a well placed swear word, but the overall amount was shocking.

In some panels, the speakers dropped the f bomb at least every other word. It no longer seemed to be a word used for emphasis, but more like filler as umm or like. Also, these were very intelligent people. Their vocabularies were extensive.

Imagine my surprised when my own vocabulary changed. Which got me thinking, is swearing contagious?

An article from 1986, in English Today indicates it is.

In the article, the author of The Future of Swearing, Robert Graves, says, “swearing has a definite psychological function; for after childhood, relief in tears and wailing is rightly discouraged, and groans are considered a signal of extreme weakness,” Basically, swearing is the adult equivalent of throwing a tantrum.

Swearing, according to the article is social and shows you belong. Which is likely why swearing was so pervasive at South by Southwest.

“When you join a social group, you pick up on the language of that group,” the article states. “If you don’t, you remain an outsider. And if the group uses swearing as a marker if identity, then you must swear too – and the more swear-words you use, the stronger your affirmation of solidarity with the group.”

The article continues that swearing is no longer done for shock value, they are now simply a mannerism.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at the language used in the panels and in general discussion at South by Southwest. After all, it seems we were all just trying to fit in.

Work and Time


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One of the best pieces of advice I heard at South by Southwest 2011 was that “work expands to fill time.” This gem was one from the I’m So Productive, I Never Get Anything Done session with David Carr, Anthony De Rosa, Molly McAleer and Ta-Nehisi Coates.


The session promised, “Most of us work alone in a room, armed with a desktop that is more powerful — and distracting — than entire offices a decade ago, and yet the actual throughput of an average day can be negligible. Let’s talk to some people who have actually done things — written books, built businesses, created technology — about their process. Do they have a clear, bright line between consuming media and producing it? Is it best to have multiple streams on one screen or toggle between to stay on task? Do they have a day part when they are off the grid? And why do great ideas come in the shower? Let’s figure out whether the Web is the greatest productivity tool ever invented or a destroyer of initiative and long thoughts.”

The actual session didn’t live up to the promise (it involved more ranting and commiserating that actual tips), but if you paid close attention there were some solutions and suggestions. For example, at the beginning of the week or the day, write a quick list of what you want to accomplish. Find a way to categorize what must be accomplished and what is a bit more flexible. Have an estimated deadline.

As Adrienne May wrote on Twitter, “if I have 3 wks to do something it will take 3 wks, if i have 3 days I can get it done in 3 days.” This was true for Adrienne while she was in school and still rings true now at the office.

“I work best under the pressure of a deadline,”  she wrote.

If your office doesn’t have solid deadlines, create your own! But be realistic.

Also, knowing your limitations will help you. Do you work best in the morning? Schedule as few distractions as possible then. Night owl? Block out time to work on your novel before bed.

SXSW Community Engagement Takeaways

The Community Engagement Strategies: Rational Debate or Herding Cats? session at South by Southwest was one of the best sessions I attended. There were too many suggestions to write about each one, so I’ll stick with my top five.

  1. Start a community IN PERSON first because then there’s already a connection. Communities must be centered around respect and it is a lot easier to respect someone you’ve met in person that someone hiding behind a keyboard. Even if the community started online, hosting a meet-up can increase member engagement and interactions. It can also make people be nicer to each other because they know they are talking to a real person.
  2. Directly contact the crazy person and try being reasonable. Ask them what on earth are you doing and gauge their response. Sometimes calling a person out in real life can make them realize they’re acting foolish, they can apologize and everyone is happy. Other times it might get your head verbally ripped off. Obviously, if you think the person is a real danger, don’t confront them in person. Connecting online engagement with real life can only enhance the community (see #1).
  3. In your terms and conditions, be very clear about what the moderation rules and consequences will be. Don’t be afraid to enforce them. Without guidelines in place, people will break the norms of the community. Without consequences, you as a moderator have no control. When asked to color in the lines, most people happily do.
  4. Community moderation is not the easy answer, it takes time and energy. If you aren’t willing to cultivate the community, by keeping the blight out and the comment board free of spam, the reflect that. It’s a bit like babysitting. Not to mention, a good moderation system can protect against extreme crazies.
  5. Identifying your bias and areas of expertise is a way to keep arguments from spiraling out of control. For example, if you’re an expert in child psychology and you say so in a post about the relationships between best friends in a specific setting, you’re more likely to be taken seriously.

Those are the top five takeaways from an awesome community engagement session. If you’re interested in reading about what others had to say about the session, check out the #community engagement search.



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There’s been a lot of talk about fear at this year’s South by Southwest conference. All the conversations seem to divide into two categories: business decisions based on fear and fear holding you back from making decisions.


As the speakers at Bordering Incest: Turning Your Company into a Family pointed out and several people tweeted, “Every decision is made in love or fear. Decisions make in fear are bad for business.” (Disclaimer: I didn’t attend this session in person. I followed the #borderingincestsxsw. Great takeaways.) Most often fear is based in lack of knowledge or understanding. Take time to research the issue before jumping to conclusions. Empower your co-workers and team members to take a few minutes, step back and think or research before coming to a conclusion. Obviously this won’t work in all environments or for all projects, but just recognizing you’re making a decision based on fear can lead to better decisions.

Very brilliant people have often recited the mantra that not making a decision IS making a decision. We all live in a bubble of perfectionism. We want our work like and our projects and our life to be perfect. The sooner we all accept that perfectionism keeps us from achieving near perfect lives, the better.