Throughout January, The Social Path is running daily tips on how to improve your social life — online, at least. Click here to learn more.
One Saturday, many years ago, I was parking my car on an otherwise empty street in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana. A sign near the space said, "Meters enforced 8 a.m.-6 p.m.."
"Wait," I told some of my fellow newspaper reporters, "does that include the weekend? I mean, there's no one here."
I was mostly just annoyed and wary of wasting a quarter. But my friend Mike already had his gears turning. He pointed at the meter.
"That's a story."
He was right. In fact, I ended up with a front-page story, one that motivated the city to begin updating and labeling all its parking meters with accurate hours. Not a high-water mark in civic journalism, perhaps, but I was proud.
We were all pretty good reporters, but what continues to make Mike great is his ability to spot a story idea anywhere. More importantly, he writes down these random thoughts as soon as they surface.
Looking at that weathered, gunmetal-gray parking meter on a Saturday morning, I resolved to start doing the same.
I fell out of the habit when I left journalism, but now I've embraced it once again, and I encourage you to do the same. It's hands-down one of the simplest tips for increasing the quality and quantity of your blog output — at home or at work.
The note-scratching system you use is obviously up to you, but I definitely encourage you to create an online document that you can access and update from anywhere.
These days, I'm a slave to Google Docs, which let you create Microsoft Word- or Excel-style documents and pull them up anywhere you have Web access.
So today's goal is simple. If you don't already have a content calendar or online notepad for your blog ideas, take a few minutes to create one. If you already have one, I'm guessing it could stand to be purged and polished for 2010.
Here are a few tools that might help:
• Google Mobile App: The good news is, you can use this popular app to edit your Google Docs from any iPhone or Android-based smart phone. The bad news? If you're on an iPhone, you can only edit spreadsheets, not Word-style documents. So if you want to type your notes directly into Google Docs from your iPhone, be sure you make it a spreadsheet on Day 1.
• Google Tasks: If you don't mind a bit on-screen clutter, I love using Google Tasks for short-term lists. It pops like a chat window on the bottom of your Gmail screen and can integrate with your Google calendar. I like making one-week lists of blog posts for The Social Path and the other sites I write for, then checking them off as I get finished. It's downright cathartic. You can also access and update these through the Google Mobile App, and it's quite a bit easier than doing the same with Google Docs.
• iPhone Notes: You can theoretically sync the built-in iPhone Notes app with Mac OS X Mail or Microsoft Outlook, but I have to admit I've never done it. This was a very late feature to the iPhone, and it rolled out so slowly, I never really took the time to make it part of my routine. But if you're a zealous iPhone Notes user, it might be worth considering.
• Evernote: This service helps you create and recall notes from almost anywhere, and it's had a pretty devoted user base for the past few years as similar sites came and went. I personally like that it incorporates screenshots and photos from your cell phone, which can both be valuable to a blogger.
• Remember the Milk: One of the truly classic and useful apps, Remember the Milk is a task organizer that's so flexible, it can easily be repurposed into a blog idea aggregator.
Heck, maybe you just end up using an old-fashioned notepad and pen. All that really matters is that you make a list of good ideas and keep it up to date. Otherwise, you'll spend your small amounts of free time wishing you had more things to blog about rather than, you know, blogging about them.
Estimated time needed: 10 minutes, maybe an hour to start seeding it with good ideas.
Benefits: Better planning and more creativity in your online writing.