March 2020
Text by Leah Guren

Image: © Pedarilhos/istockphoto.com

Leah Guren is the owner/operator of Cow TC. She has been active in the field of technical communication since 1980 as a writer, manager, Help author, and usability consultant. She now devotes her time to consulting and teaching courses and seminars in technical communication, primarily in Israel and Europe.


leah[at]cowtc.com
www.cowtc.com

Resolutions for the new decade

As I write this, 2020 is still fresh and new. The new year and the new decade are a time for reflection on the past and setting new goals for the future.

According to Inc. Magazine, about 60 percent of adults in the western world use the new year as a time to make resolutions. The most common resolutions are about losing weight or getting into shape, adopting healthier choices (such as quitting smoking or eating more vegetables), and addressing finances (such as getting out of debt or increasing savings).

Intellectually, we understand that there is no difference from one day to the next. There is no reason why we canít select a random Tuesday in the middle of any month to start making changes. But there is something almost magical in the way we think of significant dates; the start of a new year seems like some sort of milestone, and that sense is amplified with the start of a new decade.

Some life coaches suggest setting goals rather than resolutions. Others suggest changing behavior by focusing on positive habits; that is, doing things every day, rather than focusing on the things we donít want to do. Whichever approach you take, try these tips to make your resolutions more effective:

  • Be as clear as possible. Vague resolutions translate into unclear goals. For example, "Get in shape" is not clear, but "Run a 5K" is specific. When something is specific, it is easier to create a plan and work towards it.
  • Write it down. Donít just think it; write it down and put it where you will see it every day.
  • Donít make too many resolutions. You will have a better chance of sticking to just a few than a dozen!


With that in mind, here are five professional resolutions that you might like to consider for this new year:

 

1. Read the free stuff

There is no shortage of great content for our profession: magazines, journals, ezines, blog posts, and more. Many of them are either free or part of our professional society membership. This is content rich in information about new trends, new software, new research, and more. No one can suggest that it is hard to get career-boosting tips or ideas!

And reading is one of the best ways to boost your career and set you apart from other practitioners. Earl Nightingale, the author and motivational speaker, famously claimed that reading for one hour a day could make you an expert in your field in three years.

The problem is that we seem to have too much content to read. Do you find yourself dragging the latest ezine into a folder, intending to read it later? But do you ever actually read it? If you are like most busy TC professionals, you probably donít keep up with your professional reading.

The solution? Build reading time into your weekly schedule. If you like to settle down for a long read, set aside a 4-hour block of time each week. If you prefer smaller chunks of reading, perhaps 20Ė30 minutes per day is manageable. Now treat this daily or weekly task with the same commitment you would if it were a task for your boss or client.

 

2. Learn a new skill

Reading is crucial, but it doesnít replace the need for hands-on learning when it comes to tools. This year, tackle four new tools (whether software applications for content development or productivity tools). You can try it on your own using the manufacturerís documentation and tutorials, or sign up for an online class for the more complex tools.

Which ones should you try? Think about where you have a tool gap in your current market, or consider the tools you would need to allow you to shift to a different area of TC.

 

3. Plan more, write less

We know that planning is crucial! We are supposed to take the time to analyze the audience, the product workflow, the necessary tasks to document, and more. But often reality gets in the way. Our boss or client wants us to get started immediately. They may assure us that they have already done that analysis. The temptation to start writing or editing is powerful. However, the lack of proper research and planning ultimately leads to more costs and delays later in a project.

For 2020, set the goal of taking the time to collect all the necessary information and do all the relevant planning before you start writing a single sentence!

 

4. Meet your users

There is nothing more powerful than seeing users accessing your content while they try to perform some task with the product. Many TCs have become too far removed from their end users. They rely on second- or third-hand accounts of what the users want or need. This leads to a disconnect about the real value of what we do. In short, nothing replaces actual contact with users.

For 2020, set the goal of connecting with as many users as possible. Get involved in your companyís usability tests. Talk to existing customers. Listen in on support calls. Make visits to customer sites. Do whatever you can to make your users as real and tangible as possible.

 

5. Cultivate your humanity

People skills are so important in all fields. No matter how good you are as an editor, how technically savvy you are with certain tools, or how much you know about your product, you wonít get very far professionally if you canít work with people.

Critical skills are:

  • Listening. Learn to actively listen, rather than formulating your response while the other person talks. Learn to ask good questions that move the discussion forward or help solve problems. Donít be afraid to say when you donít understand something or need clarification.
  • Go beyond the superficial. When you run into opposition from your boss, your client, or a co-worker, donít assume it is personal animosity. Instead, take the time to figure out why that person objects to your ideas or plans. There may be legitimate reasons; for example, what you are suggesting will create problems for their job, or perhaps something similar was attempted in the past with poor results. Often, the person opposing you may not be able to effectively articulate their concerns, so their response comes across as a personal attack. As you are the professional communicator, take it upon yourself to understand. When you can address the real concern, you can smooth out obstacles and thus improve communication and your work relationships.
  • Put yourself in the userís position. Donít just think about the userís workflow needs; think about their state of mind, their level of stress, their concerns.

The human touch becomes more important as our field embraces automation and standardization. Addressing these intangible aspects of user performance (such as emotions) can lead to better user outcomes that ultimately improve business.

Conclusion

It takes effort to develop good habits and change old behaviors. But the payoff is increased expertise and professionalism in your field.


Do you have other professional resolutions? Let us know!