Too busy to blog? Count your keystrokes.

Some years ago, very suddenly, I ran into the brick wall of repetitive stress injury. I had to lay off keyboards entirely for a couple of weeks, and wound up writing most of the first draft of my book in longhand on yellow legal pads. I got through it thanks to an innovative keyboard plus stretching and some weightlifting. Nowadays I’m fine so long as I’m diligent about stretching and lifting. And as a bonus, a strategy I developed at that time continues to serve me well. I call it the principle of keystroke conservation.

Although I no longer have to ration my keystroke output in order to avoid crossing a pain threshold, I still find it useful to think of keystroke output as a scarce resource, the use of which can (and should) be optimized. Blogging is a key part of that optimization, though I don’t think many people see it that way yet.

When people tell me they’re too busy to blog, I ask them to count up their output of keystrokes. How many of those keystrokes flow into email messages? Most. How many people receive those email messages? Few. How many people could usefully benefit from those messages, now or later? More than a few, maybe a lot more.

From this perspective, blogging is a communication pattern that optimizes for the amount of awareness and influence that each keystroke can possibly yield. Some topics, of course, are necessarily private and interpersonal. But a surprising amount of business communication is potentially broader in scope. If your choice is to invest keystrokes in an email to three people, or in a blog entry that could be read by those same three people plus more — maybe many more — why not choose the latter? Why not make each keystroke work as hard as it can?

I explored this idea in Practical Internet Groupware, and it’s coming around again now that I’m working for Microsoft. Although the company makes incredibly good use of public-facing blogs, internal communication revolves mostly around face-to-face meetings and one-to-few email. As a remote employee steeped in the blogosphere’s many-to-many communication pattern, I’d love to make more internal use of that pattern.

To that end, when people tell me they’re too busy to blog I invoke the principle of keystroke conservation. Was the email message you wrote to three people possibly of use to thirty, or three hundred, or thirty thousand? If so, consider blogging it — externally if that’s appropriate, or internally otherwise. Then, if you want to make sure those three people see the message, go ahead and email them a pointer to it.

That simple maneuver can have powerful network effects. To exploit them, you have to realize that the delivery of a message, and the notification of delivery, do not necessarily coincide. Most of the time, in email, they do. The message is both notification and payload. But a message can also notify and point to a payload which is available to the recipient but also to other people and processes in other contexts. That arrangement costs hardly any extra keystrokes, and hardly any extra time. But it’s an optimization that can radically expand influence and awareness.

72 thoughts on “Too busy to blog? Count your keystrokes.

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  4. Ioannus de Verani

    While your point about economising keystrokes (as in, why send it to three people, when millions of people, including those three could see it) is interesting, most of the people with whom I correspond are virtually uninterested in the topics about which I blog. My blog and my personal correspondences are separated by an iron curtain, for good reasons.

    Regards,
    Ioannus de Verani

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Richard Sprague WebLog : A non-SR way to conserve keystrokes

  6. Ronnie Ann

    I too came up against the dreaded Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) a couple of years ago. I learned a lot about what was going on was stress-related as well as about the repetition. For the repetition part, I found “clickless” software that limited my keystrokes, I met with a physical therapist who taught me important stretching exercises that I still do, and I also economized, as you suggest, on what I was keyboarding. Things are a lot better now and I let the clickless software go, but still watch my clicks. But most importantly, I found I had to ease up on myself and learn to relax. Now meditation and breathing breaks help release the tension in my body as I let thoughts pour forth furiously unto the keyboard. Hope that helps someone. Thanks for the post!

    Reply
  7. blueberrybaby

    This post was very timely for me — I maintain two wholly separate blogs (for reasons akin to Ioannus’ — and my full-time job involves all typing, all the time. I have noticed some problems developing in my right arm and am looking in to appropriate adjustments and new habits. This is great food for thought. Another thing I have found that helps, although it takes some getting used to, is switching your mouse to the opposite hand every other day.

    I was just researching new setups and keyboards to entice my office to invest in and when I saw that chair… well, I have decided I have to have one. (Side Note: You might want to check the link in your PDA article page, as it no longer points to the floating keyboard chair & I can’t find it on their site at first glance.) Thanks for the idea!

    Reply
  8. mon@rch

    I find there isn’t enough hours in the day to blog! I have so many wonderful things to day but very little time to write, take the needed pictures, comment on others blogs, ect.. But I make the time and do less sleep! Great post! Found on this on the WordPress highlighted page.

    Reply
  9. Andy

    I feel similarly, and have also found that lifting weights has been the most helpful in reducing pain. For someone that programs and writes, RSI can be especially frustrating. I think writers though will naturally migrate towards pen and paper if the keyboard was not an option, and for certain situations like during travel, I found it more convenient than a laptop. I also recommend an alternate mouse like Wacom tablet (takes a little getting used to) to vary input. Switching to a higher precision laser mouse helped me reduce mousing movement as well.

    Reply
  10. Laurie Kendrick

    I’m unemployed right now and all way too much time to keep my blog. But to its credit, it’s kept me sane.

    I’d like to get into writing full time and I feel blogging is something akin to a modern day Schwabb’s Drug Store. Legend has it that that’s where an aspiring starlet named Lana Turner was discovered while drinking a pineapple soda.

    Perhaps a similar discovery can be made as all us aspiring writers we sit at the counter of this cyber drug store. You never know when the right pair of eyes might read the right blog at the perfect time.

    I enjoy your work.
    LK
    lauriekendrick.wordpress.com

    Reply
  11. Kiran Mova

    Your post reflects my thoughts as well. I recently changed my job and in the process left behind my notes/gotchas (stored on a company webserver). These notes/gotchas were built through googling and joining pieces of information scattered here and there. They were great help to me and my co-workers. I wish I had those notes on a blog, which I do now.

    Reply
  12. Laves sus Manos

    Ah! Another fan of yellow legal pads!! They’re like a flash drive for my brain.

    As a prolific writer (okay, maybe ‘addicted’ is a better word), I found two things to help keep the pain down in my wrists:

    1. An ergo keyboard (took only two days to get used to it – and I will never go back to a straight keyboard)

    2. Voice-recognition software. I don’t use it all the time, but it’s GREAT for replying to email and collecting thoughts ‘on paper,’ which I can later edit –with much fewer keystrokes.

    Reply
  13. JOHN MARCUS

    I understand your principle, its about using the same amount of time to influence as many people as possible. Yet there is also wisdom in at times only sharing certain things with a small inner circle, train them to really understand the message, the values, then release them to go out all over the world and turn the world upside down. Jesus is one of the greatest characters in history. He did at times try to reach the masses of people, but he spent most of his time with just twelve men, his inner circle. This inner circle went on to turn the world upside down.

    The masses may not understand what you are saying. But if you invest your life in a few, they will go on to influence many, and you will go down in history as being a great leader.

    Many may read your blog but not be impacted by it. There may be only a handful that are really changed by what you have said.
    John Marcus
    Kyoto Japan

    Reply
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  15. Jon Udell Post author

    “most of the people with whom I correspond are virtually uninterested in the topics about which I blog.”

    A lot of people think of blogging as a recreational pastime that is necessarily disconnected from work. It can be that, but it need not be, and my argument is that even if you are a recreational blogger there can be an important — and separate — use of blogging as a tool of professional communication.

    Reply
  16. Jon Udell Post author

    “switching your mouse to the opposite hand every other day.”

    I’ve discovered that too! Not every day in my case, more like every month, but same principle. A wide variety of overuse injuries can be mitigated by alternating sides, whether you’re swimming, raking leaves, shoveling snow, whatever.

    Reply
  17. Jon Udell Post author

    “Many may read your blog but not be impacted by it. There may be only a handful that are really changed by what you have said.”

    True. But I may not know in advance who those appropriate few are. A key aspect of the communication pattern I’m advocating here is that you need not select every recipient of your message in advance. When posted to a shared information space — at whatever scope is appropriate, ranging from relatively narrow to global — the message has the possibility of being discovered, now or later, by someone you would like to have read it, but did not know.

    Reply
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  28. Alex

    Very interesting story, what a great way to express the idea. I have the same strategy, and there are other arguments which encourage me to do this:

    As a software engineer, I improve my “recycling” skills; i.e. I write a chunk of text once, but I write it in such a way that it can be used in a context different from email correspondence.
    Knowing that the text I write will eventually be seen by a great number of people, I do my best to write it in a clean and concise way – so that I wouldn’t be ashamed to show it to someone else.

    Reply
  29. Rich

    Wow – that is the coolest chair / keyboard setup I have ever seen. I’ve been trying to find someplace where I can buy it… When I call Workplace Designs, I get a fast busy. When I follow links to online stores that have previously sold the Floating Arms Keyboard, there is nothing to be found on the site. *sigh*

    Where can I buy this groovy item?

    Reply
  30. Jon Udell Post author

    “When I follow links to online stores that have previously sold the Floating Arms Keyboard, there is nothing to be found on the site.”

    Uh oh. This is bad news. I hope I’m not depending on an orphaned and irreplaceable keyboard.

    Reply
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  42. ruthdabu

    In these modern day and age, blogging is already a usual thing, though people are busy with lots of things, they always find time to post their everyday life to different blogs today.

    Reply
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