Four Aspiring Outlier Mistakes to Avoid

Hello again this is Kevin O’Shaughnessy from ZombieCodeKill. Here are four mistakes that I’ve made in the past and how you can avoid them:

1. Spending more time on social media than on your blog

All of the following are true about social media:

  1. Social media is an important tool for building up your network.
  2. In general, the more time you spend on social media the more followers you will get.
  3. Far more developers are connected to social media than even the word’s most successful blogs.
  4. It’s easy to interact with and learn from other developers on social media

So it can seem like a good habit to develop, but it’s risky. Social media can gradually take up more and more of your time without you realizing. In general, you don’t own or control the content that you produce, and it is typically buried by mountains of other content in next to no time. Conversations over social media also tend to be very simplified as everyone there has developed the habit of being as brief as possible.

You must be very disciplined about the amount of time that you spend on social media because it is all time taken away from more important things. Unless you actually work for a social media company, it’s highly unlikely that spending all day on it is going to help you.

All habits are triggered by a cue. Android tablet users are fed a 1-2 combo; pulse light notification followed by on screen alerts
All habits are triggered by a cue. Android tablet users are fed a 1-2 combo – 1. pulse light notification 2. on-screen alerts

I recently estimated how much time I was spending each week – 20 minutes per day = 140 minutes per week. That’s over 10 hours each month, and I realized much of this time could be better utilized for more productive work such as blogging.

“What gets measured gets managed” – Peter Drucker

I recently did a massive unfollowing task on Twitter based on a split second decision per individual. The simple formula I used is:

1. Are they following me back? If so, don’t unfollow.
2. Is there a known essential reason to be following this person? If not, unfollow them

This enabled me to unfollow almost 1500 people within under 30 minutes. Rather than missing out on important information from these people, it allows me to read and potentially reply to a much greater proportion of the Tweets from everyone else.

Social media must be thought of as a communication tool, just like e-mail. You can be much more productive by checking it on a pre-defined schedule rather than throughout the day.

2. Keeping your blog GOING instead of keeping your blog GROWING

Chances are, you should be blogging more often. No doubt you have a lot of other things to achieve as well, but don’t allow the frequency or quality of your posts to slip.

The amount of traffic a blog gets is roughly the product of the following:

  1. Frequency of blog posts
  2. Quality of blog posts
  3. User interactions to help build community
  4. Blog Age

It can be difficult to think of interesting topics to blog about and hard to find inspiration. A few months of blogging is relatively easy, but once all of your initial ideas are used up you might experience a sophomore slump.

There is a very simple answer to this: read more blogs! See what out other developers are talking about. Maybe you don’t agree with them. If so, write a blog explaining why you disagree. Maybe you entirely agree with them. If so, write a nice comment on their blog.

Encourage other bloggers to keep going with their blogging, it’s an effective way to make new friends. Help out bloggers who are just getting started. You’ll find you have good advice to offer them and they will be grateful. All of this will help keep you creative and foster your blogs growth.

3. Postponing Your Side Project

My side project has been delayed a couple days at a time over and over in favor of various other activities such as reading books and doing Pluralsight courses. The most deadly type of procrastination is rationalized procrastination. I was easily able to convince myself that I was not procrastinating because I just had some other things to do first. Being busy isn’t necessarily productive. Almost everyone is busy, but few people are genuinely productive.

I was doing valuable things, but not as valuable as production. Favor production over consumption. Active learning over passive learning.

If your side project frightens you, it might be too big. Break it down into weekly or daily goals, and chase your fears.

4. Sacrificing your fitness routine “for a while”

This is a very slippery slope. You’re unlikely to return to your old routine again until you start experiencing some significant problems associated with lack of exercise. For a while you’ll feel like it was a good decision because of the extra time it has given you. It will take awhile before you become aware of some of the negative effects of lack of exercise:

  • Less stamina
  • Less energy
  • Less motivation
  • Poorer sleep
  • More lethargic
  • Less happy

If you don’t have a fitness routine, I strongly recommend that you organize something. It doesn’t need to cost any money and doesn’t need to cost a lot of your time either. Just one hour a week can make a big difference. It doesn’t need to be painful either. If you look at the super rich CEOs, whether they are in IT or outside of it, you’ll mostly see that while they are all a long way from athletes, they have their own basic fitness routine in place and don’t allow themselves to get completely out of shape.

8 thoughts on “Four Aspiring Outlier Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Great advice! I know I spend at least an hour per day on social media, probably more. I should definitely go through my followers list, as you explained above.

    Do you have any advice for how to cut back? Do you only check your accounts at certain times of the day? I always feel like I need to know everything right as it happens, so it is probably more of a mind game that I’ll have to play with myself!

  2. I used to feel that I would be missing out on some vital information if I didn’t keep checking Twitter. Then I read “The Power of Habit” and it talked about slot machines and how they are designed to be addictive. I realised that Twitter had been designed in a similar way. Tweets are moving down the screen all the time and you can “play it” just by pressing the favorite and retweet buttons again and again and keep getting positive feedback from just doing that. So that made me start to re-evaluate my assumptions about what was vital information and what could wait until later.

    Then even more recently, I started reading the 4 hour work week book, which covers the low information diet. I then realised that I had to take action. Following 2000 people is far too much. I was drowning in information, and much of it was of no value whatsoever. The Twitter follower limit did me a big favor as it might have otherwise gotten a lot more out of control.

    Despite these downsides of Twitter, I still consider it to be an essential resource for developers. Amongst the world’s best developers, most of them have a Twitter account. If you don’t yet have an account (and I am most likely biased in saying this but I really believe it) I strongly recommend reading the road from nobody series starting here:

  3. Kevin..Great advice. It feels like that this article was tailor made for me. I have been postponing my side project and fitness program for a while and time to act now. Once again, thanks 🙂

  4. Great post! I am guilty of 1 and 2 and I spent too much time on social network over the last months. This year I only wrote 3 blog posts that is not acceptable for an aspiring outlier! Your post definitely really helped me and motivated me to get going again. Thanks

    Point 3 is a tricky one. I definitely agree about doing more active learning over passive learning. I wrote a post about it on this blog last year. The difference from my post is that I considered active learning watching a Pluralsight course that YOU decided to watch for your career. I think that with active here you mean DOING. “Learn by doing” rather then “Learning by watching”? This is something I always struggle with. Sometimes I think that after work is fine to just focusing on learning and consider the job as our place where we actually DO and put our learning into practice. Sometimes however is not enough and playing at home on our pet projects is also useful. It’s really difficult to find the time.

    Point 4 is absolutely critical. I spent too many years without worrying about my body and I am now a lot overweight with few problems along the way. I have now started a program with a personal trainer to start finding the right balance between the mind and the body. This is important. Don’t make my mistake

    Thanks Kevin for the motivating post!


  5. Thanks Andrea,

    Very good points. You are correct in thinking that point 3 is very tricky. I think reading books and/or watching Pluralsight courses can be either passive or active depending on how it is approached. Taking notes, and the assessments, has made a huge difference to how much I am able to understand and recall. I rarely do that with books because via the index I can usually get to the info I need as quickly as it would to find my notes. But with the courses it forces me to pay a lot more attention.

    Similarly, sometimes I watch a standard summer blockbuster film and I usually enjoy it, but afterwards I think that it wasn’t a very constructive use of my time. But there are some other films with really strong stories that I find very thought provoking, enough so to convince me that people who say “films are a waste of your time” are either oversimplifying or missing the point or have just never seen an inspiring work themselves.

    I make the analogy with films because it is the same with Pluralsight courses: a year later you can still remember the plot outline quite clearly, and remember a few of the most memorable lines of dialogue, but many of the details are unfortunately forgotten. However, if you decide to watch again, it jogs the memory and more of it becomes familiar again. After the second watch (or read in the case of a book) it is a lot easier to remember and more difficult to forget.

    So I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am very proud of what I have achieved with Pluralsight and am grateful to the many authors that have taught me so much. On the other hand, sometimes I look at others with a dozen or more great open source projects and feel envious: “if only I had time to do all of those things myself”, which is of course a bit of a lie because there is no such thing as lack of time, only lack of clear priorities

    I am still trying to find the best balance between study and action, but certainly both are important for the aspiring Outlier developer.

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