Category Archives: Productivity

Announcing “Startup Attention & PR 101″, Now on Udemy

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of “Startup Attention & PR 101: From Launch to Damage Control and Beyond“, my 19-lecture online Udemy course. I’m also thrilled to announce that half of the course’s proceeds will be donated to THRIVE-GULU, a not-for-profit dedicated to building rehabilitation and community centers across Africa, starting with Gulu, Uganda.

“Startup Attention & PR 101″ is a deeper look at how to better work with the press. This is not a course about traditional PR. Instead, it’s a deeper dive into what makes a journalist tick and how you can can take advantage of that for your company or cause.

The course covers four broad themes:

  • How Journalists Think
  • How to Launch a Product
  • How to Keep Users Interested
  • How to Deal With a Press Crisis

This course won’t make you a journalist’s best friend, but I hope it will give you more clarity to how journalists make decisions and how that affects you and your company.

As I noted above, I am donating half the proceeds from this course to THRIVE-GULU. Thrive was founded in 2010 by Professor Judy Dushku to assist the communities of Northern Uganda to heal from the traumatic events of war, sexual enslavement, extreme poverty and lost opportunities. It’s a charity I’m honored to have supported in the past, and one I’m thrilled I can support now with this course.

So take the course, tell your friends and send me some feedback, because I will be adding more material based on your feedback.

~ Ben

My Experience Switching to a Standing Desk

Sitting kills. You’ve probably heard this by now, but I don’t think I can stress it enough.

In fact, it can increase your chance of an early death by up to 40%.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to die 15 years early. So I decided to make the switch to a standing desk, thanks to my friends at UpDesk.

UpDesk graciously agreed to let me take a powered standing desk to take for a spin. That means that it can convert into a sitting desk anytime I need to, which I’ve found very useful for transitioning towards a standing lifestyle.

There are a few things I noticed about using a standing desk versus a sitting desk:

  • Get an anti-fatigue mat. It’s absolutely essential if you want to stand for long periods of time.
  • I have more energy when I’m tackling work. I feel more focused and more alert. I’m less lethargic.
  • I get off track less. When I’m standing, I’m almost always working, and I’m distracted less.
  • You can’t simply switch from a sitting desk to a standing desk. You have to build up your standing endurance first. It took me a couple of weeks before I could stand at the desk for an extended period of time. I keep my chair next to the desk so that I can switch from standing to sitting whenever I’m tired.
  • I still sometimes prefer to sit for long, involved tasks that require heavy concentration (like writing feature posts). However, I’ve found that I’m getting better at taking on these types of tasks while standing. I’m still not quite there, though.
  • It’s easier to take small breaks with a standing desk, rather than big breaks. You can simply walk away when you’re frustrated or in need of a quick mental recharge. With a sitting desk, it’s a bigger ordeal, even more than I realized.
  • I much prefer standing barefoot or with socks than with shoes. I get more direct support from the anti-fatigue mat by standing directly on it.
  • My endurance is definitely up overall.

The bottom line is that I’m absolutely thrilled with my standing desk. There’s no way I’m switching back, and all of my future offices will be equipped with a standing desk. (At some point, I’m going to follow Jeff Clavier’s lead and attach a treadmill to my desk.)

I definitely recommend the switch, for your health and your focus.

~ Ben

So You Want to Learn Ruby & Ruby on Rails…

Whenever I get the chance, I’ve been studying up on my programming. I taught myself PHP long ago and took classes in C during college, but that knowledge has rusted. To get my knowledge back to a respectable level, I’m learning Python, and will hopefully move into Ruby/Rails and then Objective-C, since I’d like to write a couple iPhone app ideas I have in my head.

If you’re like me and you’re interested in picking up some development skills, then you’ll like this short video I stumbled across on Hacker News/Ontwik. It’s a very brief overview of some of the things you should be checking out if you really want to learn Ruby and the Rails framework.

Oh, and if any of you have any advice on what I should be reading/classes I should be taking in the SF Bay area/things I should be doing to get my programming back up to speed (Python especially), please let me know — I’d really appreciate it.

Health and Your Body When You Sit In Front of a Computer All Day

I’d like to take a moment to point to a great post Mashable’s Jolie O’Dell wrote on her personal blog: Fat Bloggers: My Own Weight Loss Journey.

Here is an excerpt:

Here’s the graphic point I’m trying to make: Bloggers live a fundamentally unhealthy lifestyle. We are bound to our office chairs, chained to our laptops, and whipped into a froth of stress at the drop of a hat. Our social events revolve around that most healthy of habits, drinking. And we idolize bacon, for some reason.

This is an issue near and dear to my heart: I used to be 40 pounds overweight — the chubby kid — until I decided to take control of my body and drop the weight with smarter eating and regular workouts between my junior and senior years of college.

At the end of ’08, I wrote about how mental sharpness is directly linked to physical health. I was surprised by how much my world changed after I dropped the weight — so many aspects of my life just became better, and my confidence has never been higher. I definitely feel sharper.

So, if you have a desk job like us online journalists … do consider what your habits are doing to your body, as well as to your mind.

What Does a Co-Editor Do, Anyway?


While I spend a lot of time on entrepreneurial projects (two iPhone apps and a novel I’m trying to get picked up), I am best known as the Co-Editor of Mashable. I started writing for Mashable in 2009 before becoming Associate Editor in March 2010. Now I am the Co-Editor of a nearly 30-person company, and rapidly growing (by the way, yes, Mashable is my full-time job).

One of the most frequent questions people ask me is what do you do on a typical day? or what area do you focus on or how much of your time is spent writing?. Until now, I’ve never really answered those questions, but I thought today would be as good as any to talk about my life as a Mashable editor.

So what do I do on a typical day as the Co-Editor of Mashable? While my role has evolved considerably as we’ve grown, the short answer is this: I am the counterpart to our illustrious Editor in Chief Adam Ostrow, responsible for helping manage the newsroom, synthesizing editorial direction, finding the news, writing stories, and filling in the gaps whenever they’re needed.

Now for the long answer: I’d say that most of my activities fall under one of three categories:

- Writing: I don’t have a specific focus or “beat” at Mashable. I pretty much write about all of the subjects Mashable covers through the relationships and expertise I’ve built. You could find me writing about breaking news from Facebook or diving into a thoughtful opinion piece on the structure of the web.

- Editorial: I help Adam manage the news room, assign stories, and edit articles (though I want to take this time to say that Brenna and Lauren are amazing editors that make us all look good). I also work and manage a range of editorial projects to support the entire team’s efforts.

- Biz Dev/Strategy: Mashable has a lot of moving parts. While I leave the biz stuff to COO Adam Hirsch and the overall vision to Pete, I’m constantly helping out with events, internal projects, and figuring out our next steps.

There are many other aspects of my job (business relationships, speaking engagements, media appearances, story research, fixing bugs…), but my ultimate goal as Co-Editor is to support the team in any way I can so they can do their job of writing and publishing killer stories. That, I believe, is what being a good editor is all about.

img credit: Ken Yeung

Don't Rely on Anecdotal Evidence to Prove Your Point

The definition of Anecdotal Evidence, via Wikipedia:

(2) Evidence, which may itself be true and verifiable, used to deduce a conclusion which does not follow from it, usually by generalizing from an insufficient amount of evidence. For example “my grandfather smoked like a chimney and died healthy in a car crash at the age of 99″ does not disprove the proposition that “smoking markedly increases the probability of cancer and heart disease at a relatively early age”. In this case, the evidence may itself be true, but does not warrant the conclusion.

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Why I Don't Make New Year's Resolutions


Making a New Year’s Resolution is admirable: it’s an indication that you strive for self-improvement. It’s noble to want to be more charitable, to become physically fit, to quit smoking, or to make one of thousands of different changes that can make you happier and stronger.
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The Benefits of Thinking of Yourself as a Business

Finances, organization, and priorities are simply a necessity in life. Without them, it’s impossible for society to function because work will never get done and the most important tasks will never get tackled. This is especially true in business. Some of the things a business has to think about:

  • Cash Flow: A business either needs to be making more than it takes in or have enough cash flow to sustain itself until it has achieved profitability (burn rate).
  • Functionality: A business’s products must be in demand. It has to be useful, entertaining, or in some way valuable to the consumer. Otherwise, the business dies.
  • Organization: Businesses, from one-man operations to conglomerates, must keep personnel, finances, taxes, and information organized and readily accessible if it hopes to succeed.
  • Competition: If an industry is profitable, a business can expect stiff and smart competition that will challenge it for customers.
  • Prioritization: A business must know what projects are the most important and set everything else aside. Getting 80% of things 80% done is far worse than getting 30% of priorities 100% done.

Each and every one of these qualities and realms are important to a business. None can be ignored for a business to success. None of these qualities can be ignored for an individual to succeed.

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5 Tips for Successfully Writing a Novel (Video)

Thank you to all of my friends on your support and congratulations! If you didn’t hear, I finally finished my novel yesterday, and I wanted to share some lessons from the experience.

I decided to do video this time because I need a break from writing (except for Mashable; I will be back on the case very soon)

How Do You Organize Your Life?

I hope you all have had a great holiday so far. Until I have time to write up a longer article on the many random thoughts I have, I wanted to ask you how you organized your lives.

What do I mean by that? What tools do you use to accomplish the task of making sure you, well, accomplish tasks?

I use a series of tools that are centered around a private Mediawiki, where I place all of my ideas, write out spec sheets, and link to the most important tools I use (finance: mint.com;business management: Basecamp by 37 signals, etc.).

So what do you use? Is it as simple as a checklist, as detailed as my Mediawiki setup, or as unique as employing a virtual assistant?

Comment below, or send me a tweet with your thoughts.

- Ben