I will blog every day in January

Beginning today, I will blog once a day in January.

At the end of this month, I’ll reflect on the experiment and decide whether to continue.

Why you should give a shit, Dear Reader

Here’s what’s in it for you:

A developer’s journal. I’ll write more about things I learn as a practicing WordPress developer, and publish references that help me for recurring tasks or situations. Looking back at traffic statistics for this blog and others, technical topics are clearly the most attractive to readers — in particular, “cheat sheets”.

Podcast recommendations. I’m a dedicated listener to dozens of shows — I’m currently subscribed to 29. I’ll tell you which episodes and which shows have added the most value to my life, and why.

Music recommendations. I also listen to a lot of music, and I’ve been told I have a gift for describing what I like about a song or a band. I’ve never penned music criticism before, so set your expectations to ‘amateurish’.

Business leadership insight. I am involved daily in managing the company I own. This is a rich experience that occasionally inspires thoughts I’d like to share. Sounds boring, right? I promise only to publish the ones I think are truly good.

Comedy. I am honing my make-you-laugh skills. Thus, I may occasionally try to make you snort your drink through your nose. Again, I’m new at this, so I can’t promise that will taste or feel very good.

Football, a.k.a. soccer. We’re in the MLS offseason, but that does not stop me from thinking about the Timbers every day. Perhaps I shall write about them, too.

General nerdery. I have mostly been shy to fly my nerd flag in public. This is a vestige of social anxiety born of mostly-forgotten agonies endured in middle school. Now well into my thirties, I belatedly see that the world is better when I share my prodigious knowledge of Star Wars, than when I don’t. (My other current nerd obsession is Kingdom Death: Monster.)

Politics and current events. Because I can’t help myself and it’s an election year here in the U.S., I will occasionally tell you what to think.

Religion. I may get inspired to tell you more about my beliefs, etc. I’m in a waning phase of religious involvement, so this is unlikely.

Personal updates and stories. I am the sharing type. You may only care about my personal highlights, growth, and challenges if you are a friend or family member. Then again, maybe not.

What’s in it for me

Taking the time to blog every day seems good for several reasons, but mainly this:

I expect the daily practice to make me a better writer. I also expect the discipline will benefit other areas of my life.

The truth is that I’m tempted to pledge to do this all year long, right now. But I realize that’s a terrible idea.

I could quickly grow to wish I hadn’t made such a pledge, in the moment, when it seemed like a good idea, before I tasted the reality of it. I could simply become overwhelmed by the commitment. I could decide I have more important things to do with my time. Less likely, I could simply run out of topics. (Actually, no way that’ll happen.)

But, I still want to give this a shot.

So as a gift to my present self and to my future self, I pledge to do this for just a month, and then decide whether to continue.

2 Problems with Blogging About Your Annual Goals

Wherein I write “goal post” several times, but never refer to sports.

This being the time of year when we’re all gearing up for the year ahead, I’ve enjoyed reading several people’s Goals for 2015 posts. It may be arbitrary to do this once a year, around the turn of the year, but I’m glad for the tradition. It gives me an excuse to learn about other people’s hopes and dreams for the year ahead. I find it particularly inspiring when the goals come along with down-to-earth plans for achievement.

There’s something I really don’t like about the writing form, though: Blogs, despite being one of the best publishing tools we’ve got, don’t lend themselves well for this use.

Let me walk you through the problems, and then the solutions — including a really fantastic plugin that will make a surprisingly big difference.

Problemo Numero Uno: Time Relevance

Blog posts capture attention for a little while after publishing — some for a very long time, although not many. Most are ephemeral.

This isn’t a problem usually. Posts shouldn’t continue grabbing attention forever. They become inaccurate in time as facts change, or they lose authority to newer web resources that do a better job of providing information.

The very design of blogs encourages this. Eventually, posts are simply pushed off the home page to make way for newer posts. WordPress defaults to 10 posts on the home page. Publish a new post, and you push the eleventh most-recent one off the home page, where it’s less likely to be seen.

This does become a problem when the topic of a post justifies more than a few weeks’ or months’ attention.

Annual goal posts, for instance. Your goals for 2015 will be current and relevant for the whole year. How will people discover your goals post in July, when it’s far from the first page?

Why post your goals at all? Your goals are probably an important part of how we, your readers, will learn who you are and what you’re about. A few months from now, we might forget your goals. How will we know to help keep you accountable, pipe up with some coaching when needed, or celebrate your successes?

Thus, your goal posts deserve more prominent attention than they’ll get buried several pages deep.

Keep them on the home page

Your goal posts are worth a link from your home page, throughout the year.

You might add a link to the post from your sidebar. I don’t have a sidebar on my blog currently, so I’m opting to link to my goals from my main navigation menu. That’s some precious real-estate, but it’s worth it.

You might also consider making the post “sticky” to keep it pinned to the top of the front page. The check box for this is hidden behind an “Edit” button next to the “Visibility” setting in the post editor’s “Publish” box.

Click that unassuming 'Edit" button to the right of Visibility...
Click that unassuming ‘Edit” button to the right of Visibility…
... now you can stick it to 'em.
… now you can stick it to ’em.

But, this isn’t a great fit for Goals posts. While they’re important to keep prominent, they probably aren’t worth every reader’s attention, all of the time.

Problemo Numero Dos: Keeping Current

Your goals post, like blog posts generally, are snapshots in time. A goal post you publish in January reflects your sense at that time of what you want to accomplish, and reflect that you’ve made no progress yet — you’re just beginning.

But in real life, your goals are likely to shift, and you make progress towards achievement.

In other words, posts are great for sharing your goals when you form them, but they suck at keeping your readers up to date over time.

If I tell you my goals here, and you read this within a few days, you might think “Neat! Go Matthew!” But if you happen to be reading this in July, well that’s a much less satisfying experience for you, isn’t it?

Say July rolls around and you decide you really can’t or won’t complete one of your goals. Or, more happily, you achieve one. You could manually update your post, to keep its information current. But then you lose the snapshot of what your goals were at the time.

And, the revised post won’t pop back up into view at the top of your blog again, so people aren’t likely to get the message. If I’m following you through email, RSS, or social media, I get automatic updates when you publish something new, but nothing when you update something old.

“Easy,” you may be thinking, “I’ll write another post with the update.” Okay. But what if I stumble first on the original post, and never see the update? Okay, so just add a link in your original post to the update, and vice versa, to keep that from happening.

Well, (a) that’s one more thing you have to remember to do, (b) it’s tedious, and (c) now if I stumble on your update first, I have to go back and re-read the original to appreciate the entire context, which doesn’t make for an ideal reading experience.

You could do what a lot of people have done (including your’s truly), and write just an annual review. No updates at all between these arbitrary year-long intervals. But I know from experience doing this that my goals become easy to fall out of my mind. Not to mention fall out of my readers’ minds, which prevents them from keeping me accountable, and enjoying my successes with me. (See above.)

A Better Way to Blog about Goals

Here’s what I’m doing.

One: Publish a page with my 2015 goals

Why a page? Becuase this isn’t intended to be a snapshot in time, but a page I keep current with manual edits, and with automatically updating live data when available. This will continually show what I’m working towards, and how I’m doing on the path.

You may’ve noticed the page is linked to from my main menu: Goals

Two: Publish a post with my 2015 goals

This will sound redundant at first, but it won’t be. The post will be my snapshot in time, with a bit of added commentary as to how I’m thinking about my goals at this point in time.

Three: Post occasional updates

Perhaps I’ll do this monthly, but at least quarterly. As my goals page changes, these update posts will provide a record of running commentary and context. If I abandon a goal, finish one, or add something new, I’ll call attention to it in these updates.

Four: Use Threads to tie the update posts together

Threads is a WordPress plugin. Quoting from its description:

If you have ongoing themes you write about on your site, you can use Threads to show those posts in a timeline, with a link to the timeline from each of the posts. This helps you avoid feeling like you have to rehash too much history about the topic in each post.

I first discovered Threads on plugin author Alex King’s site. I’m not sure why a lot more people aren’t using it. It’s a brilliant idea with brilliant execution.

Alex has a Year in Review thread, among others. You’ll see at the bottom of this post that I’ve started doing the same thing here. I’ll also start another new thread for posts related to my 2015 Goals. It will provide a timeline for context and a running record of my goals at a glance.

Out of snapshots will emerge a story.

I want you to do this

Why not give this a try? Setup a page as the main home for your goals, install the Threads plugin, post updates naturally as there’s news about your goals, and add thread metadata to your posts as you go, just like you do with tags and categories.

It’s just a few simple steps for you, and a much better experience for your readers like me.

Here’s to your success in 2015! I look forward to reading all about it.

This post is part of the thread: Annual Goals and Review – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.