Postbureaucrat

Personal blogging by Steph Gray, founder of Helpful Digital and erstwhile bureaucrat

How to make “working out loud” work

Mug on table 'begin'

A tweet from Dave reminded me how hard it is to actually work out loud.

For a start, you need the time to write something for yourself which nobody is probably asking for, unless you’re in a very enlightened workplace.

Next, you need to be able to talk about what you’re doing. That’s tough if it’s client work or controversial subjects or you live in a land of FOI or hostile online media (or you have hostile press office colleagues).

And then you worry about making it interesting or understandable for others to read. A lot of people worry about this, and I think they shouldn’t. I try not to.

A lot of the ‘working out loud’ I see blogged or tweeted isn’t all that interesting. There are some fine weeknoters, for sure, but there’s a lot of case studies wrapped up as working out loud, or thinly-veiled self-promotion, and frankly life’s too short for that. We’ll all be queuing for tomatoes by Christmas, so let’s at least be honest about what’s working and what’s not in our day jobs.

Journeys over destinations, honesty over happytalk

The posts I enjoy are the ones that describe what someone’s tried, what went wrong and what they did next. The least useful ones skip to the happy end result or imply like getting there was easy. Even if it was, hearing about your pain makes me feel better about my own. If you’re not allowed to tell a warts and all story (without breaching confidences, natch) then you’re not really being allowed to work out loud.

Building blocks and stepping stones

Linked to that, the best posts give away ideas or code or templates or something I can use for myself. Musings are fine, but if there’s something you can offer to give others a leg-up or a shortcut, that’s better.

It’s not them, it’s you

The most important audience for blogging isn’t the people reading, it’s the person writing.

Working out loud involves reflecting, and thinking and trying to make sense of something. So by all means explain and be helpful, but above all remember working out loud and writing it down is helping the future you. It it helps the present others, that’s a bonus.

So in the hierarchy of “working out loud”:

Perfectly OK = where you started from, what you’ve tried, frustrations, feelings
Even better = how you did it, what you’ve learned, what you’d do differently
Amazingly best = how people can adapt what you’ve done

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