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When Not Completing Things Might Be Good For Your Blog

I’ve had a big mind-shift in my blogging, since I started 10 years ago… and I barely noticed that it happened.

I’ve gone from being someone who completed things to becoming someone who never quite completes things…. but in a good way.

incomplete
Let me explain.

When I first started blogging I set myself very specific, actionable tasks. Things like:

  • Each day I would try to complete a blog post.
  • When I did a redesign of my blog, I would set the goal to complete that redesign.
  • When I was asked to speak at an event, I would have the goal to complete the presentation.

I would complete the task I set myself… then move on to the next task.

It was very neat and I was able to measure my success on any given day by how many things I’d checked off my to-do list.

The problem was that I never really learned anything from what I did. I was always starting tasks from scratch rather than building upon what I’d already built.

Gradually – and it has taken 10 years – I’ve found myself seeing almost everything I do as part of a larger process of       discovery, and refinement.

While I still set myself deadlines to implement things, each time I ‘complete’ a task and set it live I’ve started to ask myself a series of questions that include:

  • What did I learn while doing it?
  • What impact did it have? How did others react to it?
  • What could I do differently next time?
  • What sparks of opportunity came out of that activity that I could extend upon?
  • What is the next step?

So now when I complete a blog post:

  • I’m asking myself whether the topic could be explored further
  • I’m watching to see whether someone asks a question that could provide a new adjoining topic to explore
  • I’m watching to see what traffic levels, comments, sharing on social media is like to learn whether that style of post could work again

When we set the new design of Digital Photography School live:

  • We immediately started watching how readers used different new features to see if they had traction
  • We monitored stats to see what impact the design had on things like page views, comments, sharing
  • We monitored feedback to see what impact it had upon readers usability but also how they ‘felt’ about the site
  • We immediately began to evolve the design based upon what we saw

Now when I give a presentation:

  • I actively seek feedback from organisers and audience members to learn how I could improve it next time
  • I always go back through the tweet stream to see what things were quoted most (it’s always something I didn’t plan to say) to see what resonated and to watch where people reacted against what I said
  • I always review a presentation to look for ways I could extend and refine it for future talks

Today, I still aim to complete things but on completion I find myself also looking at what I’ve done as the first step or a new beginning to build upon.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Candice says:

    I like the idea of building on the knowledge you already have. As a newbie blogger I want to start implementing this now so that when I’ve been doing it for 10 years I have a solid foundation to stand on.

  2. Darren, good points. When do we ever really complete anything anyway. I like the point about being in a cycle of discovery and refinement. I “completed” my taekwondo’s class schedule in September but I have refined it twice based on monitoring what I am seeing in the class and where we need the most work. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Stephan says:

    I think that’s a good idea, for example you do not complete your post, separate it in many chapters or part and so that your audiences can feel more curious. I do it sometime but do not do it usually, you don’t want to make them impatience.
    Thanks for your sharing.

  4. Hi Darren,

    This mindset will never steer you wrong. I have experienced a similar shift during my 4 year blogging career. I still set goals and hit them, but I am less concerned with reaching and more concerned with thinking, and more specifically, observing.

    I publish and see which posts generate the most comments. I watch the comments. I tune into questions. I also started a twitter practice of running keyword searches and then I simply chat with tweeters. No links, no retweets, just chatting, or asking, or engaging.

    This helps me to watch, observe, and spot patterns, and in so doing I can continue to build, and think, and plan, for future posts, or ebooks, or whatever I happen to be creating at the time.

    Smart post Darren, thanks for sharing and inspiring me to think a bit more deeply.

    Ryan

  5. I agree with you Darren. Actually every time I leave a post without finishing it I find myself exploring the topic further. I have got more than twenty half written posts that I believe when I come back to them will be much more informative and more likely to go viral.

  6. Darren, I like the way you think in terms of blogging. I think this is some good advice, personally. :) I will probably start trying to sue it myself. Good post! If you can further explore that post you are writing, who knows, you might make it so good that it becomes viral.

  7. I think you went about it the right way. At first, you have to just experiment with blogging to learn how the whole process works, and then when you have a little bit of a readership you can really start thinking about the bigger picture. Kudos!

  8. Sani says:

    This is such a unique way of thinking of blogging, and it’s brilliant. I think I would definitely get a lot more done if I thought in these terms. Thanks!

  9. Josh says:

    I have ADD–something fierce! So, I never complete anything. Ask my wife, she’d be glad to tell you. Unfortunately, I don’t ask myself your list of questions either. So, I guess I never really learn anything!

    Thanks,

    Josh

  10. Great perspective, Darren! I think a blogger’s work is never finished, and it’s supposed to be this way. We are always left with something to start again, if that makes sense :)

    As for blog posts, I always leave them incomplete, or else I feel that I’ve said everything and so how am I going to have a conversation with my readers?

  11. Hi Darren,
    I like your post just because you shared what exactly you learned from your experiences and implementing the learning’s to achieve the desired goals. This thing is very common we are stuck to the completion of tasks instead of learning form the task. Thanks!!!

  12. Dan Erickson says:

    As a college instructor, it took me about ten years to reach the same ideas. Instead of being 100% prepared for everything, I use my knowledge base and work with more spontaneity, but I’m constantly experimenting and asking what works best.

    As for my blog, I work in a similar way, but I’m leaning more toward using my blog more as my own creative outlet more than anything else. That way there is less pressure to produce competitively.

  13. These are such great points!
    I have the dumbest SEOs on my site. I wrote a post a while back about wishes and that post has become a wishing well! No lie! Now the SEO, “How to make a wish come true linda,” brings all kinds of people. It has nothing to do with my adventure blog – Susie Lindau’s Wild Ride. I guess I could add “I wish you all a Wild Ride!” every time I blog…
    The weirdest is Zevot Medicine. What??? I didn’t even mention it in my blog so it must be a spammer backlink.

  14. As a doctoral student, I find a similar concept when writing academic papers. Instead of just writing from my experience, we are required to review the literature. In this case, we can review our own library of posts on related topics. What did we write? Where are there holes? What can I contribute today?

    Enjoyed seeing another perspective and wording on something I’ve been learning, too.

  15. Hey Darren,

    This is my first comment on your blog. I’ll tell you why. In the past I have been enjoying the thoughts and tips on blogging and using the good parts and ignoring the parts that I didn’t feel I needed at the time. This time though you posted something that resonated with what I have also picked up recently and I’m glad because it re-enforces my approach. I am now feeling like we are as a whole working towards a larger cause – refinement and a sort of awakening is occurring. Forget “knowing” something and sharing. In fact there is no “end” just Recycled articles over and over…nothing ever new. That’s not a bad thing. One is you never miss anything, and second, we get to work together…and I realized there is no “end” but we as humans / bloggers etc…require “reminders” to keep the “waters clean” and will always need each other to do so. This is a collective effort. Once I realized that, a load came off my mind and a new enthusiasm came across my consciousness. So thanks for sharing. BTW – if your inclined…look up the study “The 100th Monkey” it’s a phenomenon that recently crossed my path that adds to this comment. Have a great day :)

  16. Lucy says:

    Great post – and image – good point about not quite finishing a presentation – I always roughly plan a training session including key points, but will often start off by asking the delegates what they want to get out of it, what they want to take away, and then I might tweak the content depending on their answers.

    Another cracker – thanks for sharing!

  17. Susan Neal says:

    I think this is a great philosophy – like life, no blog post is ever “complete” – if it was, there’d be nothing left to say about it, which would make our comment streams very boring! I’ve often received comments that have prompted me to write further posts.

    BTW – I’ve found the strip of floating ads in your right sidebar really irritating and distracting while reading this post – they judder about as you scroll down the page.

  18. Ruby says:

    Thanks for sharing these tips. . Each time I publish a blog, I tend to think about the next topic and tackle it right away without checking and listening (watching) what’s going on with the one I just pushed. Great reminder!

  19. Poulami says:

    Hi Darren Rowse,
    Thanks for providing these unique idea that sometime not completing a thing fcan also be helpful for us..It sounds interesting.As a new blogger this knowledge will help me a lot.Keep updating.

  20. Hi Darren,
    What you have said is very valuable. When we reflect on what we have done we can improve the process next time and in addition reduce the amount of effort it takes to do it the second time. A second bonus is that if we study what we have done and it is an effective process we can take this and teach other people just like you have do here.

    All the best,
    David

  21. Robert says:

    You can say it continues… I started with blogging about year ago, but I took it very easy. Lately I post more articles on my blog, at least once per week, but unfortunately are mostly in my own language because I want audience from my country.

  22. When I first started blogging, I learned early on to listen to the readers, since they are often the source of inspiration for future posts.

    Now I pay attention to the stats, too, and to the terms being used by people (more like the questions!) that Google sends to my blog.

    Both are valuable; they provide me with ideas for what to write about next.

  23. John Smith says:

    Hi Derren,
    Inspiring points, it is really important and beneficial to keep learning from what we are doing as it make it easy to improve our working skill and efficiency and i completely agree with you that we must try to complete our task in phase so that we can observe it closely about its development.

  24. Nice perspective. This is not just applicable in blogging but just about anything you decide to do. You should always be asking yourself how to improve :).

  25. Hi Darren,

    This is a unique perspective as Juan said. Not completely things would really be effective in a few scenarios, according to my opinion.

  26. That’s a brilliant post. However, I would like to add only one more point to that,which is user engagement. Responding to useful and meaningful comments is essential, as that helps in increasing engagement of useful target audience (who are really interested in what you are catering). I think inclusion of this point will make this blog post complete.

  27. While I was developing my last product, I entered into a never ending loop: for every 1 task completed, there was 4 new added tasks. I have started the development from 10 main tasks and after few weeks I had about 100 tasks. Finally, I started to look into the list and made tagged most of them as “next-version”.

    The goal is to launch the product, but there were things that I did not thought of when started to build the product and they seemed so important at that time. It is true that some of them made other tasks obsolete, but the huge task list was creeping me out.

    Finally, I found the strength to launch the product ( even it was not perfect ), and now I have a lot of material for the second and third version.

  28. Averol says:

    For me, I will come up with a topic to write about, then at different times throughout the day I might think of something witty or interesting to say, so I will go and quickly write it down

  29. John says:

    Some great points made there Darren. I always have a “to do” list and its crucial to the way I work. If its a big task then its always good to break it down into smaller tasks!

  30. Averol says:

    As for my blog, I work in a similar way, but I’m leaning more toward using my blog more as my own creative outlet more than anything else. That way there is less pressure to produce competitively.