“We get what we repeat”: On lifting ourselves out of emotional distress in the Covid-19 pandemic

Many of us Canadians started social distancing on (or before) Monday March 16th in our efforts to try, responsibly, to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus in our communities.

In his March 21st blog, Marketing guru, Seth Godin, reminds us of the peril of some of what has followed. There have been many opportunities, as we work from home, to glut our appetites on a too-steady diet of reporting, social media postings and other cultural handwringing, about Covid-19.

Godin describes the tendency as “day trading [our] emotions”:
“When the stock market is on an upward tear, day trading becomes popular. You sit in your basement, surrounded by terminals and tickers, searching for the latest bits of information, hoping to make a profit buying and selling based on what’s happening in this very instant.

It’s pretty tempting today to trade your emotions.

We’ve piped the voices of a billion people directly into our brains. The loudest, angriest, most frightened people are the ones that are amplified the most.
Everyone sharing what’s breaking. The visceral angst of this very  moment, over and over. 

Just as it’s almost impossible to make a profit as a day trader, it’s difficult to be happy when you day trade emotions .. . . Add up the sum of our days and that’s who we are. We get what we repeat.

Last week, I participated in a number of Zoom meetings and conference calls where all participants were understandably voicing distress and grasping for a life ring to figure out what to do, to estimate how long the crisis would continue and to plan how financially to survive the interim period.

While telling myself that a few of my own, obligatory social media postings or the telephone “insights” I shared with friends were helpful, I soon realized that I was “descending into the weeds.” I found myself repeating observations I’d earlier had and, as Godin aptly put it, “getting what I repeated.”

Let me hasten to say that, in my reading, Godin is not advising us to deny or efface our emotions. The power of occasionally crying when one’s trying to level one’s emotions has never been clearer to me, than during the past 10 or 12 days.

And there has been much needed work done by business leaders like Silvia Martini and Henry Buitrago, over Facebook’s “Business Support Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce Page.” There, these and other entrepreneurs have provided a public service by vetting and consolidating relevant knowledge, such as government wage subsidies and financial supports that are crucial to the survival of small- and medium-sized businesses. These folk have done well to prevent readers from wringing their hands.

And I know they’d agree that entrepreneurs managing (not trading) their emotions still need to limit the hours we spend online and consuming media. For me the balance has been reading or watching one hour a day of local news; another for national news, and not more. For some, it could be reading one or two newspapers online or listening to a particular daily radio program.

The huge uncertainty created by the global pandemic makes repeating our emotional distress understandable, but we only amplify our depression and anxiety by repetition. Godin describes some alternatives that I illustrate, with examples:

Buy and hold.” Support local small businesses (e.g. independent bookstores, take-out restaurants, dry cleaners, etc.) by arranging for touchless delivery, or by buying gift cards you can redeem when better times return.

Stand for something.” While striving to accomplish work, don’t overlook the needs of children or other dependent family members, whose fears and confusion can be stoked, instead of relieved, in the commotion. Stand for family and humanity.

Stick with it.” Just as the best stockbroker argues for investing long-term, so as the weather the ups and downs of the market, commit to a limited number of activities and “FOCUS” (“focus on one course, until success,” or at least until you see gradual improvement).

Long-term contributions matter. Today ends, tonight and tomorrow starts again, but we only get one long-term life.” When we get out of repeating or “day trading our emotions,” we restore our calm and our capacity to see that “this too shall pass.” We enable ourselves again to see the bigger picture, that life is still a gift and one that is (or will again feel) much worth living.

Add up the sum of our days and that’s who we are. We get what we repeat.” Choose carefully the activities and people with whom we share our lives, each day, and we will see the value of the investments we make in each moment.

And now it’s your turn: Do you “day trade” in emotional angst in this time of pandemic? What alternative transactions can you seek, to lift yourself out of repeating loss and distress?

Want to convince your boss that your tech strategies are awesome? Here’s how, from digital marketing star, Katrina German . . . .

Saskatoon’s Chapter of IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) held a “Lunch n’ Learn” today with a hands-on talk by local award-winning technology strategist, Katrina German.

Katrina’s talk featured digital strategies to use to “pitch your idea and yourself,” even if your boss isn’t a tech convert or believer.

She took as starting point that we can authorize company spending more effectively, if we can show that the time we spent creating the content for yesterday’s Facebook posting reached 600K readers, or that our email open rates were twice that of other governments in North America.

“This isn’t rocket science,” she said, emphasizing that we need only choose what metrics to track, plug them into spreadsheets, identify the company/organizational goal and align ourselves (and our personal goals) with that goal. So what does “our boss” want? Often it’s to reach more people and increase revenue.

Some straightforward tips she shared:

(1) Google Keyword Search: Go into Google Ads and use its Keyword Ad Planner to do free market research. Do a potentially deep-dive search by altering the order of your terms, by searching according to different locations, etc.

(2) Google Analytics: Often our “best friend,” because it provides useful stats about what’s happening on your website. You can also pull from it to compare which social media sites are performing better for you. What clickthrough rate does a platform provide to your website? Who is reading about your company and converting to sales for you? Try changing the topic of content you search by, for further insight.

When you identify a goal for your marketing work, align with that goal, do your analytic research and you’ll have the content to make visuals (presentations) that even a disbelieving boss will follow.

Other digital tools Katrina recommended:

(3) Ad Parlor—target and identify audiences similar to your existing subscriber list to ensure you’re reaching your ideal audience.

(4) Facebook Creative Hub: allows you to preview ads (in mockups) for Facebook, Instagram and Messenger.

(5) Photofeeler—where you can submit your photo to be judged on its likeability, credibility and expert status. (You can also judge others’ photos there).

In addition to plotting out spreadsheets with the results from the above providers, Katrina suggested these strategies for measuring and reporting success to that hard-to-convince boss or funder:

(6) Hootsuite–compare results for usage and engagement across all social platforms.

(7) Hashtags (keyhole.io)–a free version allows you to run a hashtag for a week to measure interest.

(8) Vanity Metrics—these don’t necessarily mean your reach is that wide but can be impressive to see.

(9) Visuals—ol’ fashioned spreadsheets and similar documents can display stories of your numbers for non-tech readers to appreciate.

There are also more “sketchy” strategies—such as “Nacho Analytics”—that enable you to view your competitors’ analytics. (Buyer beware.)

Some content works better in certain platforms than others. For instance, Katrina mentioned that Snapchat ads are easy but using content there can be tricky.

(10) Saskatoon’s Insightrix reports detail Saskatchewan usage rates for various social platforms that can assist you in researching and sharing your presentations.

If you’re a small business owner or CEO, do you have to convince yourself of the validity of your digital platform use? Which of these strategies will work best for you?

Please write in; I’d be delighted to hear from you.

An extension cord and a chocolate cookie: distractions are everywhere, in this week’s blog posting

In a recent webinar, my mentor and friend, American marketer, Michael Katz, taught a simple method of sharing stories that sell. By sharing a “slice of life,” something that has happened to you, and then building a bridge to your marketing or entrepreneurial insight, you can evoke emotion from your readers that they will remember and take action on.

Katz’s webinar inspired me to share the following story, for today’s blog posting . . . .

After a particularly stressful day in the office recently (the phone ringing too often, multiple bills arriving in the mail, a client late with payment), I felt the need for a treat.

I decided to drive to my neighbourhood bakery for one. Which bakery? The trusted Griffin Takeaway, where everything (whether vegan or not) is handmade and delectable. (It doesn’t hurt that plenty of sugar is involved.)

To be honest, I had spent all day dreaming about my reward—a chocolate haystack cookie. Chocolatey and coconutty—Mmmm. Who could resist? They’re great. 

Trouble was, I was so distracted by thoughts of the delicious cookie that I forgot to unplug my car’s block heater, when I set out for the bakery.  And this, amid a frigid, Saskatchewan winter.

So what? Well, for one, I dragged a six foot extension cord behind my car for seven blocks in moderately heavy traffic.

I didn’t notice a thing. Felt nothing under the snow tires. Saw nothing in the car’s mirrors.

No one else on the road seemed to notice, either.

No friendly car horns. No gestures to look down toward the underbelly of the car.

We were all, it seems, distracted by other things.

I only realized my mistake when I reached the bakery, parked the car and glanced at the car’s front bumper, as I walked by. There I found the poor ol’ blue cord, covered in black tread marks and with prongs that were bent and blackened. What a disaster! I blushed with embarrassment, relieved that I hadn’t driven any further.

All of which reminds me of why it’s important to be mentally alert when writing marketing materials.

I’m talking about more than just catching typos, here, folks. We live in a very noisy, digital world . . . . when you sit down to write an email, you may forget to hold your prospects in mind, with the result that your content flounders.

You may “go through the motions” with lacklustre bullet points or forget to pen a “Call-to-Action,” at the end.

Maybe you missed the opportunity to match your  headline with the copy that follows it.

And on and on it goes . . . .

The reality is that the more easily we’re distracted by our own daily lives, the more easily we lose our awareness of our prospects’ and clients’ needs. When we can block off our own distractions, we free our minds to tune into what our clients want . . . . This is why it’s almost always easier to write marketing and communications copy for others than it is, for ourselves.  It’s why clients return to me, as a trusted service provider, when life gets–well, distracting.

So now, when I feel distracted by a irrelevant phone calls, bills or tax season and a rare, late-paying “rogue” of a client,  I remind myself of my ol’ trip with the car extension cord. (I actually have it on a bulletin board in my office as an inside joke.)

While thoughts of chocolate haystack cookies still sometimes run through my head, this experience has reminded me to stay more “in the moment.”

When it comes to writing your own marketing materials, however, as when going to buy a cookie, distraction is an inevitable part of life.  It teaches us ultimately that it doesn’t pay  to write for yourself.

And that’s a good time to call or email me.

And now it’s your turn: Do you ever catch yourself in a state of distraction, in your business?

Do you have an extension cord I can borrow? (Haha, Michael, that’s for you!)

Please weigh in. And see you at the bakery!

Trying the digital declutter from Cal Newport’s bestselling book, _Digital Minimalism_

Many of us find ourselves in “digital overload” these days (with social media, instant messaging, texting, emails, calls, to name but a few media that intrude on our daily lives). In his latest book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (Penguin, 2019),  American academic Cal Newport (whose breakout book, Deep Work, I reviewed in 2018),  describes and suggests a “digital declutter.” 

This week I’m excited to share a guest blog posting from my colleague, freelance journalist and entrepreneur,  Ashleigh Mattern (please see her bio at the bottom of this posting). This posting describes Ashleigh’s own experience of digital decluttering after she read Newport’s latest book.

Her posting starts here . . . .

 Most people don’t take the time to be mindful of the technology they use or how they use it, and before I read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, I would have included myself in those ranks.

This book is a worthwhile read for just about anyone with a smartphone. Cal Newport delves into the psychological impacts of the technology that surrounds us, tackling the topic with a clear and engaging voice.

Digital declutter

Digital Minimalism centres around the idea of trying a “digital declutter,” and as soon as I started reading this book, I started the process of removing optional technologies from my life.

“Optional” is a key word here — Newport recognizes that these technologies have so invaded our lives that some of them are no longer entirely optional, particularly those that are required for us to complete our work.

As the owner of a website design and online marketing company, there is quite a bit of technology that I was unable to completely remove.

This digital declutter is not prescriptive. There’s no step-by-step guide that you follow. Instead, he discusses the ideas and then encourages you to make your own rules.

I took some time to think about which technologies in my life I considered to be optional or required, I made a list of digital declutter rules for myself.

Ashleigh’s personal digital declutter rules:

• No iPad unless playing games with someone else or using for research or recipes.
• Leave your phone at home whenever feasible.
• Don’t bring your phone out when with other people.
• Leave your phone away from you and check it at regular intervals.
• Apply the Minimalist Technology Screen to any apps you add.
• Don’t post on social media, comment on posts, or like posts.
• No audiobooks or other audio entertainment when walking or biking or running.

Your list of declutter rules would likely look entirely different from mine because they’d be suited to your life.

The most obvious technology to ban was the iPad. It’s an optional technology that I sometimes worry I overuse. How to manage my cell phone was harder because I use it for work. I deleted as many apps as I could, including health tracking apps, and I turned it on silent.

I also limited the times I could listen to audio, whether that be podcasts or audiobooks or radio. Newport argues if you’re always plugging your ears with information, then you’re never giving yourself time to think.

TV wasn’t as much of an issue for me, though I understand how it could be challenging for some people. Despite being less worried about the amount of time I spend on the television, I did make a rule that I could only watch TV or movies or play video games if I were with someone else.

In general, Newport argues that many of these technologies rob you of your own idle mind space, which is integral to both mental health and, surprisingly, our social lives. He says when people let their minds wander, they spend much of that time thinking of their interactions with other people, and running those imaginary scenarios helps us understand the people around us better.

The benefits

The declutter was pretty uncomfortable for the first few days. I had to change all my habits. I had to remind myself that it was only for one month. It was tempting to fall back on old habits, especially because I didn’t always have new habits in place yet.

But only a few days in, I began to see benefits.

More time to do what I enjoy

First and foremost, I felt like I had more time when I wasn’t wasting so much of it mindlessly scrolling through social media.

Newport suggests finding a new hobby to fill that time, preferably a physical one that produces something tangible like woodworking. He argues your downtime doesn’t need to spent idly. In fact, he argues your hobbies should be at least somewhat demanding; to challenge you.

My choice wasn’t on his list of suggestions, but I made my new hobby cooking. I enjoy cooking but I always found myself making rushed meals because there was never enough time. Now I had more time to do something I enjoy.

Less stress

Giving myself more time to think helped me feel less stressed out. While I’m walking or biking or running now, I use that time to work out problems or to practice mindful meditation.

Social media has also been a source of stress for me, stemming from comparing my life to others or wondering why a post didn’t get much attention (or too much of the wrong kind of attention). Disconnecting was an immediate relief.

Newport explains how social media is designed to work like a slot machine, and only after stepping away from it could I see how true that was.

Being more present

I’m more present when I’m out with friends or at a business meeting because I’m not constantly checking my cellphone. If I really feel the need to check it, I go away, like I’m smoking a cigarette (the analogy to an addiction is apt).

Instead of thinking about how I could turn an experience into a social media post, I’m simply enjoying my time. If I’m inspired to take a photo for the beauty or enjoyment in the moment, I do, but my mind isn’t constantly spinning on crafting a story for social feeds.

Better relationships

Social media is a particular problem for many people, and Newport argues that’s because our ape brains can’t differentiate between the digital connections on the screens and the far higher quality connections we make in person. When you cut social media from your life, you will lose many low-quality connections, but Newport argues you’ll strengthen the ones that really matter.

During the digital declutter, I could no longer like or comment on the posts of one of my best friends, which encouraged me to connect with her in real life — a much higher quality connection.

Additionally, because I wasn’t allowed to comment on posts, I instead sent a personal message when someone tagged me in a post, which opened up a conversation that led to a contract for our business.

Technology screen

Newport suggests that after the digital declutter, you apply a “screen” to any technology you add back into your life.

That screen should (paraphrased in my own words):
1. Serve something you deeply value.
2. Be the best way to use tech to serve this value.
3. Have a “standard operating procedure” that specifies when and how you use it.

For me, applying the screen meant writing this all out for each of the technologies in my life but you could just as easily simply spend some time thinking about these issues if that works for you.

I discovered the iPad wasn’t really the problem — scrolling through social media was, though, as was spending an entire evening playing mobile games. So, I’ve stopped scrolling through social media entirely, but I decided to play mobile games for an hour at the end of the day isn’t really a problem.

I’ve stopped posting on social media as well, though I’m still using groups and messages to help me connect with people in person.

It felt odd at first to be on the outside of such a huge phenomenon but I adjusted. It’s not the end of the world to not be on social media. Of course, many people have already realized this, but when you’re in the thick of it, that can be hard to see — and that’s exactly what the social media platforms want.

The result

Not all of the rules from the digital declutter stuck — I felt unsafe leaving the house without my cellphone, and I was never able to break the habit of having my phone beside me at all times — but most of the rules have turned into habits.

Being more mindful of how I use technology has been a huge benefit to me. I used to scroll and scroll on social media, e-commerce, Netflix, and news sites; mindlessly consuming — usually for a short period but sometimes for hours at a time. I plugged my ears with audiobooks and podcasts whenever I had the chance, never giving myself a break from the deluge of information.

It wasn’t until I cut these things from my life that I realized they were a problem.

Newport doesn’t suggest you cut these technologies from your life entirely; these days, that would be nearly impossible. But simply by being more mindful of how I use them, I feel as though I’ve improved the quality of my life.


Ashleigh Mattern is the co-owner of Vireo Creative,  a web design and marketing firm; and the co-owner of Play Sask Sports, an adult rec sports league. She also works part-time at CBC as a journalist and copy-editor, and as an associate producer on “Saskatoon Morning.”

And now it’s your turn: Will you consider digitally decluttering  your life? Please weigh in; I’d be delighted to hear from you.



Don’t have enough good clients (as a freelancer)? On self-limiting beliefs and how to upend them (with Ed Gandia)

Freelance creatives routinely complain about the difficulty we have finding quality, high-paying clients: In the American “Freelance Industry Report” (published in 2012), 37% of creatives named it as the greatest challenge we face.

Other surveys since then have shown that 53% of US freelancers struggle to find good clients. The numbers are not much different in Canada—and may clock in higher, especially in less populous and affluent parts of the country.

Or so we tend to say. But American copywriter and coach Ed Gandia,  co-author of The Wealthy Freelancer [2010])  and of training programs at AWAI (American Writers and Artists, Inc), wants to turn those concerns on their heads. Instead, he says, we should consider how freelance creatives can be our own greatest liabilities in the process of securing good clients.

Ed suggests that “the common view and attitudes about attracting and landing quality clients are simply misguided. They’re based on a limited view of reality, and they’re destroying freelance businesses every day” (podcast, June 20, 2013).

He recognizes the “vicious cycle”—a “downward spiral that’s VERY difficult to escape from”— when freelancers have little or no work and so accept projects beneath their abilities just to “pay the bills.” When we’re desperate, we often quote fees that devalue our work, which in turn feeds (underpaying) clients’ expectations that we’ll do more such work and at that low rate. What Canadians call a “poverty mentality” takes hold.

Yes, there are cheap clients, and there are regions of the country (and continent) where clients with deeper pockets are harder to find. But Ed says that equally–if not more so–the problem is that freelancers subscribe to “self-limiting beliefs and assumptions,” that he describes as “dangerous”:

(1) We assume that there is just “too much competition,” because the market is flooded with self-employed creatives who bring down fees and that this challenge cannot be countered.

(2) Self-employed creatives also assume that a “difficult economy” makes it very hard to secure good projects with good fees.

(3) Content mills (e.g. Upwork, etc.) create an “ultra-competitive market” because they undercut proper pay for freelance creatives.

(4) Freelancers believe that the quality of clients is receding, because it seems that clients simply don’t value our work.

Ed doesn’t deny that there are legitimate kernels with these concerns, but that they’re based on “a very limited view of reality” that can destroy even the most gifted and committed freelancer. (We can become our own businesses’ greatest liabilities, if we unthinkingly accept our own limiting beliefs.) 

He counters these common concerns, thus:
Even a poor economy doesn’t have to undermine a freelance business, because of the “diversification principle.” That principle tells us that only a “sample size of 30 or larger will give you statistically valid results.” Because we can usually take on only about three to six clients as freelancers at one time, our financial success does not depend on overall economic conditions or forces.

Freelancers can thus create their own “micro economy,” by developing a system of prospecting for clients that “yields enough clients every year to keep yourself booked to capacity.” So the overall economy won’t be relevant.

Ed also stresses that freelancers who think they must diversify should realize that it can hurt, not help us. Why?  Because narrowing our sites on a niche can help us to become a “trusted expert” in our fields, instead of pandering to the “bargain basement” crowd. As a “trusted expert,” the ratio of clients to available freelancers diminishes, the higher one’s fees rise. (For example, Upwork may have as much as a 10: 1 ratio between the number of jobs versus number of contractors, whereby no freelancer can win.)

What he says is key is to change our strategy, approach and effort to that of a “Trusted Expert” level (versus the “bargain basement”), where there are more clients than freelancers. For such ideal clients, our fees are only one factor that matters, among four or five others.
Clients at this level know our value, our record and “proven expertise.”

He recommends freelancers take four steps to reach the “Trusted Expert” level (or sweet spot):

1. Become totally clear about who our ideal client(s) are. How large is their company? Do they have capacity to hire without consulting others? Do they have scope to value the freelancer and see their fees as fair for their expertise and experience? Can this client continue to funnel work down the pike to us, over time?

2. Go after “hungrier markets.” These are markets that are willing to pay for quality writing, so we can double or triple our fees for our hard work.

3. Develop a “systematic way to attract great clients.” We may need to prospect among medium-sized companies with deeper pockets. When the economy weakens, freelancers may seek projects considered urgent to their clients and whose own clients have equally important and urgent products or services that need filling. As Ed says, “Go where they’re starving!”

Freelancers need to develop a more systematic approach for such prospecting. We need to use, in Ed’s words,  “proven and reliable marketing tactics that yield disproportionately high results when compared to the effort, time and money required to execute them.” And make sure those efforts are relatively easy to commit to (e.g. strategize the value of networking, cold-calling, direct mail, social media, public speaking, article writing, blogging, eNewsletters, tapping one’s network, etc., in relation to our prospects and according to our own gifts.) Ed recommends setting aside at least 10% of one’s work week for marketing-related action. 

4. Deliver great quality service: Provide the best work we can, in the most professional and congenial way, to get more work and more referrals. As AWAI has said for years, “be easy to work with.”

Be sure to follow through on meeting deadlines and doing what we have promised.

Be flexible if some elements of a client’s contributions are not presented on time—if there are delays or if scope changes, mid-way through a contract. Freelancers need to roll with the punches and “come up with a creative win-win situation rather than complain or threaten the client.”

Ed concludes his mammoth podcast by saying that we can make ourselves a highly valued contractor to client teams by showing an interest in their businesses—asking them about what they do, what makes them outperform their competitors, meeting their people and learning about their culture and goals and so on.

Such engagement tends to make clients “loyal and not very price sensitive.”

And now it’s your turn: Do you find Ed’s tips on how to avoid our self-limiting beliefs and assumptions to be valid? How can his tips to overcome them help you? Please write in; I’d be delighted to hear from you.