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Become an Effective Asynchronous Writer: Prepare for Synchronous Work

Become an Effective Asynchronous Writer: Prepare for Synchronous Work

Asynchronous work allows us to prepare in advance for more effective meetings and workshops. However, too much preparation means we read slides. Slides are presentations, not in-depth writing. You’ve seen what happens when people try to use slides for in-depth information. They:

• Cram too many words on the slide.
• Use pie charts instead of tables or time-series data.
• “Dumb down” information too often.

That’s because slideware is the wrong medium for preparation for complex thinking and working together. Instead of slideware, we can create useful—and possibly brief—prose writing to prepare for our synchronous work. In this workshop, Johanna will present approaches to writing asynchronously to prepare for successful synchronous work. Please prepare by considering what you want to write about. We will focus on writing for your colleagues, although you can use these ideas to write any kind of nonfiction.

Johanna Rothman

September 30, 2021

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  1. Become an Effective Asynchronous Writer : Prepare for Synchronous Work

    Johanna Rothma n @johannarothma n www.jrothman.com
  2. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman The Problem • People need

    time to think to effectively work togethe r • Reading slides doesn’t convey informatio n • We can work at our own pace to prepare to work together 2
  3. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Slides Don’t Convey A Lot

    of Information Effectively • Too many words on the slid e • Not enough white spac e • Don’t get me started on pie chart s • Bad typography. OMG: Calibri or Comic Sans. Both are horrible. Even larger or bolder: CALIBRI LARGER. COMIC SANS LARGER. Oh. Arial is just as bad . • You can’t listen to someone at 2x speed. You know you listen to podcasts at that speed. Sometimes R&B which is a crime against humanity. (Hum RESPEC T at 2x. I dare you. ) • All we need is people and arrows and this might be a slide you see too often at work. 3
  4. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Want to convey important information

    ? Write it down. (Maybe add images.) 4
  5. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Practice writing. Learn to trust

    your writer voice. 5
  6. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Separate All the Writing Parts

    • Preparation: Thinking and research (maybe 10% of your total writing time? ) • Write little bits as things occur to you (Weinberg’s fi eldstones ) • Writing down (spend the most time here) (80-90 % of your writing time ) • Problem discovery and de fi nitio n • Editing. Wait until you’re done. Wait. Wait. Wait. (10% of your writing time) 6
  7. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Pre-Writing 7

  8. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Writing Part 1 • Part

    1: Thinking and researc h • Clarify your idea s • Identify the problem(s) you want to discus s • If several problems, decide the audience and how you might frame those problem s • Any research you might need to either support your problem identi fi cation or solvin g • Organize those problem s • Mindmapping, outlining, whatever the birds do outside your windo w • Capture fi eldstones (chunks you might use later) 8
  9. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Writing 9

  10. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Writing Part 2: Spend Most

    Time Here • Write down (without stopping, 15 minutes at a time ) • Pen on paper. Fingers on keyboard. Maybe dictation if you prefer . • Does not include editing or making tea . • Problem de fi nition and understanding mode. • Cycle: re fi ne logic and understanding. Maybe even (re)de fi nition . • Stay in writing-down mode until you fi nish. You can cycle and review, but not edit. 10
  11. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Cycling • When I’m writing

    something longer than 100 words, I often cycle. • I reread the last 100-200 words I wrote. I realize I need to add an example, a name, clari fi cation. I stay in the writing groove . • I then continue . • Sometimes, I reread more and realize I need to add a story, tip, sidebar— something interesting. I add it, continue reading and continue writing . • Cycling != Editing. I stay in problem identi fi cation and problem-solving mode. 11
  12. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Writing Part 3: Editing •

    Part 3: Editing. • Always last. Always. • Never in the middle of writing down . • How I edit : • Do my ideas fl ow? (Logic) (I often do this while cycling ) • How easy is it to read my ideas? (Readability statistics ) • How much passive voice do I want? (Always a choice.) 12
  13. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman 13

  14. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Why Separate the Writing from

    Editing? • We write so we and other people can understand the problem(s ) • As we write: (think of this like coding and unit testing ) • We explain the problem(s) to ourselve s • We identify/clarify the problem(s ) • We identify/clarify the solutions and what we still don’t kno w • When we edit, we assess our work (think of this like system testing ) • If we edit too soon, we stop identifying and exploring 14
  15. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Activity 1: What Do You

    Want to Write? • In 60-second timebox : • Write down at least three problems that you want to explain to other people . • You don’t need to write down problems, but I fi nd a problem frame helps me decide what to write about . • We will debrief together. 15
  16. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman De fi ne Your Audience

    • Great writers (often) write to a speci fi c audienc e • Take those problems : • Who has the problems ? • Who needs to know about the problems ? • De fi ne your ideal audience, who you want to write to 16
  17. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Activity 2: De fi ne

    Your Ideal Reader • In a 2-minute timebox : • For each of those three problems, identify your ideal audience. Consider these questions : • Who has the problems ? • Who needs to know about the problems ? • We will debrief together. 17
  18. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Several “Ideal” Readers • You

    have a meaty topi c • You want to in fl uence several kinds of people. • Example: There’s too much WIP in the project portfoli o • Senior leaders need to decide how to limit the various projects as part of the strateg y • Middle managers need to decide on the project s • Teams need to focus on one product at a tim e • Set the context so everyone realizes what’s in it for them (WIIFM) 18
  19. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Set the Context (4 Ways)

    1. Open with a one-paragraph story (tell a recent story of something that happened in your organization. ) 2. Abstract of One Startling Sentence to explain your positio n 3. Start with a story and itemize your arguments . 4. Pyramid Principle . • Always end your writing with a call to action. “Do this,” “Try that,” “Gather this data,” … 19
  20. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman 1. Open with a Story

    • “Last quarter, we didn’t fi nish even half of what we wanted to fi nish. Each of these teams (list them) has partially completed work on fi ve more projects. We have to stop the multitasking so we can fi nish. ” • If that’s enough to set the context, stop there . • Start the proposals for what you want to change. 20
  21. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman 2. One Startling Sentence •

    https://wiki.c2.com/?OneStartlingSentence from Kent Bec k • “I try to have four sentences in my abstract. The fi rst states the problem. The second states why the problem is a problem. The third is my startling sentence. The fourth states the implication of my startling sentence. […]” — Kent Bec k • Example: “We’re trying to do too many things at one time. We’re not fi nishing enough of anything. If we reduce the number of projects so every team works on just one project at a time, we’ll fi nish more work faster. Then, as we fi nish, we will be able to do the next project and really fi nish it. ” • Start the proposals for change. 21
  22. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman 3. Story Plus Arguments •

    “Last quarter, we didn’t fi nish even half of what we wanted to fi nish. Each of these teams (list them) has partially completed work on fi ve more projects. We have to stop the multitasking so we can fi nish. ” • List your primary arguments : • Multitasking slows us down . • Because we’re trying to do “everything,” we’re not fi nishing the most strategic work . • We’re losing good people because they’re frustrated . • Any other argument you have . • Then you can start the proposals for change. 22
  23. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman 4. Pyramid Principle • From

    Barbara Mint o • Situation, Complication, Question (and Answer ) • Situation explains the contex t • Set of 3 : • What is the complication? (What’s changed? ) • Question and Answer (What should we do/ We need to… ) • Summary answers the very fi rst top question 23
  24. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Activity 3: Write One Opening

    • Alone : • Choose one of the problems you identi fi ed before, along with your ideal reader . • Write an opening abstract/description. I request One Startling Sentence, but anything you choose is good . • You have a 7-minute timebox. I will stop you then. (Yes, you will have to write down ) • We’ll debrief together about your opening writing. 24
  25. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman How to Offer Feedback on

    Writing • No evaluation!! • Writing feedback is about data : • “You lost me there.” (logic and fl ow ) • “I didn’t understand how this fl ows from that.” (logic and fl ow. ) • “That’s not my experience, so I need you to say more about the context." 25
  26. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Activity 4: Offer Feedback •

    In a 7-minute timebo x • In pairs (we’ll fi gure this out in the moment) : • Set your timer for 3 minutes : • Writers: share your writing with the reviewe r • Reviewers: read. Then offer feedback. • Trade places. Do the same for 3 minute s • We’ll debrief together. 26
  27. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Where We Are Now •

    You’ve identi fi ed : • Problem s • Ideal reader s • You’ve started : • Writing an opening to set the contex t • Time to focus on how to frame what you want to say 27
  28. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Frame Coherent Arguments • What

    does your audience want to know? What do they need to know ? • Quantitative dat a • Qualitative data 28
  29. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Frame 1: Big Idea, Supporting

    Data • Open with 1 Startling Sentence. The third sentence is your big idea. (Tell them what you’re going to tell them ) • Add a one-paragraph story from your context • Add qualitative and quantitative data (“Prove” your argument ) • Beware of data that’s not totally context-based, such as happiness for work issues. Focus on your context . • Finish with conclusion, a Call to Action 29
  30. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Frame 2: Story, Data, Build

    Up to Big Idea • Open with a story that illustrates the problem. (Limit to 2 paragraphs if possible ) • Add trend data from your context. • Quantitative, then qualitative data . • Prove the argument you’re going to use in the conclusio n • Finish with conclusion paragraph. It might look like 1 Startling Sentence . • Call to Action. 30
  31. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Acquire and Show Data •

    What data does your ideal audience need ? • How do you need to show it ? • Avoid single-dimension measures and pie chart s • Include • Trends (new, closed, remaining open defects over time; mean time to recovery ) • Time series (cycle time trends over days, weeks, months… ) • Histograms (for cumulative fl ow, for example ) • Value stream maps (visualize the work and see approximate timing ) • Satisfaction over time 31
  32. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Activity 5: Select Data to

    Support Your Arguments • In a 3-minute timebox, alon e • Take your opening and ideal reader s • What data do they need to see? Do you have that data? What do you need to do get that data ? • How will you portray that data ? • You’ll debrief to a colleague for 3 minutes . • Then we’ll debrief together. 32
  33. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Call to Action • What

    do you want your ideal readers to do, once they read your piece ? • The change, the transformation you want to make/see/act … • Consider the verbs in Bloom’s Taxonomy, https://www.bloomstaxonomy.net/ 33
  34. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Activity 6: Write Down Your

    Call to Action • (Not sure if we have time ) • In a 3-minute timebox, alon e • What call to action do you want to ask your ideal readers to take ? • We’ll debrief together. 34
  35. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Help Yourself Write More •

    Writer’s “block” is all about fea r • Never edit as you write . • Focus on your logic, then your word s • Use a 5, 10, 15-minute timebox to make progress 35
  36. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Beware of Talking Your Writing

    Away • If you prefer to speak instead of write, do not talk about anything you plan to write or are in the midst of writing. Only talk about what you already wrot e • If you are happy discussing the ideas instead of writing down, do not discuss the ideas 36
  37. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman “Cheat Sheet” for Almost Any

    Article • Start with a problem. Either explain the problem or use a one-paragraph “story” to illustrate the problem . • Develop three possible solutions. • They might build on each other. They don’t have to . • Summarize at the end, circling back to the beginning . • Either the problem or the story . • Ship it in time so people can read it to make the most of their synchronous time 37
  38. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Prioritize This Way 1. Write

    dow n 2. Cycle for clari fi catio n 3. Re fl ect to check in with yoursel f 4. Re-read to cycle and write again 38
  39. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Prepare asynchronous writin g to

    make the most of the synchronous meeting 39
  40. © 2021 Johanna Rothman @johannarothman Let’s Stay in Touch •

    Pragmatic Manager: • www.jrothman.com/ pragmaticmanage r • Please link with me on LinkedI n • My writing workshop page: https:// www.jrothman.com/freeinnerwriter 40