On November 28th, 2019, I started an experiment of blogging daily for 100 days. I had been listening to many podcasts/books by Seth Godin. He challenges listeners to blog daily for 100 days and see what happens. As far as I can tell, Seth Godin has been writing daily for over well over 7 years.
Blogging daily was like a Bootcamp. As you would expect, I got better at the act of writing. But, there were some things I really did not expect. If you're someone who's been meaning to blog, or you battle with perfectionism or self-criticism, then read on.
I had a few rules during the experiment. Most of them came from Seth.
- Publish daily blog posts including weekends and holidays. Try to plan ahead during the holiday season if I'm going to be too busy.
- Do not try to make money on ads.
- Do not promote each blog post to try to get more viewership. It's ok to blog into the void.
- Offer my opinions and beliefs. Try to add value with my perspective. Do not try to re-document something already documented, it doesn't help people.
- Try to help someone with the post, even if it's one person.
Before the experiment, I wrote 14 blog posts in two years. I still remember my first blog post. I spent most of a Saturday writing and re-writing and re-writing, trying to express my opinion. Then that evening, I remember a sinking feeling and starting over the next day with a whole different topic. The result was this.
It took 8 hours of work.
I had a tough time forming ideas, explaining them, and presenting them. I had a hard time telling stories. I had the same problem at work too. Often, my ideas were passed up because I could not present them to my peers in an effective way. They often could not see the value even though I believed strongly in some of these ideas.
Blogging daily forced me to write and hit the "publish" button. It helped me let go of the perfectionism and self-criticism that made me rewrite my first blog post. I just had to write. Once it was published, I could decide if that blog post was something I liked and I could improve the next day.
I experimented with two main styles of posts:
- Talking about a concept/idea/opinion (without code)
- How-to article (with code)
In the beginning, I wrote a lot of blogposts around concepts/ideas/opinions. It felt therapeutic because they were pent up ideas that I always thought about.
Soon, after I ran out of concepts, I started trying to write more about "how-to" do something. In the beginning, I would try to explain things I knew really really well.
In the end, it took me about 1 hour to write a blog post centered around an opinion. I could think about these ideas throughout the day and I did not have to create code samples. It took around 2 hours to write a "How-to" blog post if I knew the topic really well and I didn't have to learn something new.
After the first 30 days or so, I needed inspiration on what to write next. I started to reach out to friends, clients, and colleagues to see what they were up to. There were about 10 individuals who I stayed in contact with and took an interest in.
If they told me they were struggling with something I knew about, I wrote a blog post. Then, I would say, "Look, here's a blog post I wrote about that thing we were talking about. Let me know if it helps."
It also helped me with the act of writing. To me, writing is so much easier if I know "who" I'm writing for. In most cases, I was writing to help a specific individual.
For example, as I am writing right now, I am thinking of a few friends. I have inspired them to blog and a few have created their own blog sites. Most of them started creating the sites but never finished them. A few, have blogs but very few blog posts. One was told that they did not get a job because their blog did not reflect the experience they claimed to have for the job.
But here's the kicker: no self-promotion. I did not Tweet or post on LinkedIn about new blog posts. This was one of the rules of the experiment. I would only share my blog post when I was helping someone directly.
Where did the other views come from? Search.
It took about 6 months for search engines to catch up. It is a slow and steady trickle of traffic. Not for the dopamine junkies.
I stopped blogging daily in March 2020 and traffic keeps coming. People are finding the site and reading.
Recently, a co-corker was surprised to find out that he was sharing my blog post with someone.
He ran across my most popular blog post right now. I do remember writing that post and thinking to myself: "Man, I'm truly writing this for [person]. I wonder if anyone else will find this. It's so niched."
On the last day of the experiment, I reflected:
I’ve hit publish from the back of Lyfts, from airports, from hotel rooms, from the train, from my home office, from my couch, in between holiday gatherings, first thing in the morning, and last thing at night. It’s been close. It’s hard on my family when I didn’t plan. Saturdays are still hard.
It was not sustainable. My wife was also committed to this experiment, it was not only me. It was tough on her. If I ever wanted to publish content at any cadence with a full-time job, I would need a routine. It needed to be sustainable.
So, after the experiment, I did not continue to publish daily. I focused on creating a morning routine so that I would have 1-2 hours before the workday. I put a strong limit on the hours I worked. Any type of overtime meant that it would eat into my morning routine.
The current iteration of my morning routine is:
- My 3-month old daughter wakes up at 5 am or 6 am.
- I take my daughter, play with her, make coffee, listen to NPR while my wife sleeps.
- After an hour, I will start writing, coding, or whatever else my current side project is. (I'm writing while I'm wearing my daughter and she sleeps)
- At 7:45-8:00 am, I wake my second daughter and I take her for a morning run.
- 8:30-8:45 am - Second coffee and shower.
- 9:00 am - Workday starts.
Sometimes, I would get so busy during the day and realize that it was almost over and I didn't get done half the things I wanted to do. Then, I was tempted to work overtime to catch up.
Sometimes, I would get distracted and forget to do the things I needed to do. Then, it was a rush to try to get it done. I seemed to have the anxiety of all the things that were in-flight and how I might forget them.
I came across an idea: Time is the only resource you cannot get more of.
You can get more money, experience, skill, etc. You cannot get more time. It's one of our most precious resources.
Besides, remember how sometimes I would write late at night or while in a Lyft? I was not making time to blog and my time was really not under my control.
So, I implemented techniques discussed in Indistractible. I block out time for many things.
It's low tech. Ugly.
Maybe... it's making your skin crawl. But, it works for me.
- I am less anxious. When I commit to something in the future, I set time aside for it. It could be later that day, the next day, next week, or in the next couple of weeks.
- I over-commit less. I open my calendar and try to book it. If I don't have time, then I say so. If it's my boss, I try to negotiate what's the priority so that I can move things around in my calendar.
- It protects my calendar from unexpected meetings. People are often forced to schedule a time for next week. If they want to meet sooner, then they have to ask me when it's a good time for me. I control my time. This was really useful in a larger organization where there's a lot of people that want to talk to you via meetings.
- Ever have a meeting where you think... "this could have been an email"? Less of these will happen.
- In my day job, time is literally money. I am a consultant and my company charges for the time I spend on projects. This helps me ensure that I put time-management at the forefront.
- When I have less anxiety that I am getting done what I need to get done, I can spend my free time happily.
Many people complain about meetings meetings meetings. To get anything done, many companies have meetings to talk about problems and solutions. Then there are more meetings before the meetings. Then there are meetings to plan work. Then there are meetings to reflect on work. And, so on and on.
To break away from the synchronous communication of meetings, we need asynchronous communication. The best way for that is - writing.
At work, I can write very descriptively very quickly. I can write detailed documentation, show my work, provide instructions very clearly. It's like I'm writing tiny little blog posts all the time.
That Slack post, took me about 10 minutes. Mostly, because I had to fetch the names of the Azure resources. It's a tiny little blog post that I will use in final documentation later. In the past, it would have taken me about a half-hour. Besides, it avoided a meeting.
This was an email to the client. Also, took about 5-10 minutes. In the past, it would have taken me about a half-hour.
I used to dread writing emails like this. Now, I enjoy it. Sometimes, I think it helps me more than it helps the reader. I often find myself referring back to my own blog posts, emails, slack messages to remind myself of my work. It's very useful in a world of interruptions and context-switching.
I was writing about topics that were not supposed to be my core competency in my day job. I was either not excited or did not have much to share in the areas that were supposed to be my core competencies. For me, it signaled that I was spread too thin and I was filling myself with knowledge in too many areas. Jack of all trades, master of none.
At one point, I was trying to find a headline for my blog to describe the stream of information. The best I could come up with was: "Azure. DevOps. Kubernetes."
But, I really wanted to focus on one of those parts. I did not feel like I could best serve clients if I was spread too thin. So, I started looking to see what it would mean to try to focus.
In mid-2020, I made the jump to a small consulting company, BoxBoat, that focuses on Kubernetes consulting. I further try to specialize in helping clients with Kubernetes on Azure.
I had people, whom I never met, email me at my personal and work emails. They would thank me and sometimes ask additional questions.
I'm not really sure where they found my email. I didn't advertise it anywhere. Maybe, they took a guess at it. So, unless I'm missing something, I think these people were going out of their way to send me a note or ask for help. Anyway, I'm delighted.
Then after a few exchanges...
The best way I can summarize the experience was a Bootcamp to get a blog jumpstarted that also taught me how to serve an audience. And, I had a few little surprises along the way.
If you're someone who's been meaning to start a blog, maybe you have a burial ground of drafts, then this experiment could be great for you. Commit to it and see what you learn.
For what it's worth, I've tried 100 days of running daily and 100 days of doing the dishes daily. I could not do the dishes daily.
Thanks for reading. And, if you're interested in building cloud-native apps on Azure, subscribe to my blog at https://gaunacode.com.