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A month off the grid

For those of you just tuning in at home, this is my first day back at work after a month off. I’ve never taken a month off since I got my first part-time job as a junior in high school. And I wondered, in last month’s newsletter, whether it actually requires more discipline to take a break than it does to keep working at this insane pace that we set for ourselves as Internet marketers. I now have my answer. It might not be your answer, but you will probably have to discover that for yourself.

Grid illusion, Hermann or Hering Grid

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For me, it did take some focus to pull myself away from what is happening, which might seem counter-intuitive. But after thinking about it, it made sense to me. I was really breaking a habit–a deeply seated one at that–of these constant twitches to check my e-mail, to look at Twitter, to check phone messages, and more.

And I probably set things up so that it actually made it harder for me to break the habit, because I had promised people that I while I was on vacation and “off the grid” (mostly), that I would continue check my e-mail every couple of days, and I did keep my office phone forwarded to my cell in case a client or a colleague really needed me. I think getting the occasional phone call (I got just four the whole month, because I don’t encourage phone calls generally) and checking my e-mail every few days drew me back into the loop in a subtle way, and it would have been easier to go cold turkey and disappear.

In the end, I am glad that I did it the way I did it, because I learned that the world won’t fall apart if I am gone for a month. Sure, there was some fallout. My blog ranking dropped about 100 in AdAge. Interestingly, my Twitter Grade went up even though I did not tweet at all, leading to the conclusion that people like me better when I am quiet. (I can’t promise that going forward.)

I had a few speaking engagement opportunities that might have closed had I followed them up more aggressively. And I am sure that I’ll learn about a number of client situations that might have suffered due to my absence. But what I gained far outweighed what I lost.

Sure, I could prattle on about what I did with my wife and kids, and that was the motivation for the whole idea. One of my four kids is starting to look at colleges, so I know that soon our family will be entering a new phase where we won’t all be together for big chunks of time. We had a great time this past month and I am returning refreshed and ready to work. They are returning to school refreshed (but not at all ready to work, I dare say).

I expected all of that, but what surprised me is that in my time away I recognized some changes that I can make to my work life:

  • More contemplation. I am resolving to spend less time instantly answering e-mail and more time thinking. Yes, I will clean out my e-mail every few days, the way I always did, but I don’t want to obsessively check it constantly. The pace I set during my vacation seemed to work just fine, and although I will need to quicken it a bit, I don’t need to return to where I was. And I can check Twitter and other inputs less frequently, too.
  • More structure. I’m going to set off-limits time in my week to do longer-term projects, such as writing my next book and revamping my Web site. I have been thinking about things for a while and I want to stop leaving important things on my to-do list and start getting them to-done.
  • Slower pace. I slowed my pace dramatically after I left IBM, but I want to gear down even more. I keep finding that I can move more slowly but get more done if I am willing to reduce interruptions and focus on the most important things.
  • Be more organized. My wife is a born organizer, while chaos is my natural state. I’ve learned a lot from her over the years, but we spent one day of our vacation reorganizing my home office, and I am resolved to do mini-reorgs every couple of weeks to keep my desk clear of clutter and to make sure things are filed where I can find them. I’ve never been willing to spend the time to be organized, but that has to change if I want to be more relaxed and stay at the pace I want. I’ve always relied too much on my memory, but my memory is not what it was and relying on it causes more stress than I need, and prevents me from using my brain for things that I really need it for.

Several people pointed out to me that taking a month off was an example of following Stephen Covey’s seventh habit of sharpening my saw. I am impatient, so I never got to the part of the book with the seventh habit. I’m still intending to write The Two Habits of Highly Distracted People, but other things just seem to keep coming up.

So, if my saw seems a bit sharper now, that’s good, but I don’t want to wait another year to sharpen it again. I want to operate at my normal high level but without being so intense about it that I wear myself out. I am not sure whether I can keep the old neurons from firing, but I am going to try.

One of the things I did yesterday was to send a quick e-mail to the wonderful contributors to the Biznology blog, asking if they might be able to increase the frequency of their contributions. One is considering it, and I am on the lookout to add new contributors, too. I’ve found that my contributors are every bit as interesting as I am, so if I focus a bit more on my book and focus more on editing the blog than having to do all the writing, that works for everyone, including our readers.

I want to take more approaches like that, and will use my think time to come up with more of those ideas. So, while I hope you missed me a little bit this past month, you might have to miss me again next year, because I think I’m going to do it again.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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