Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

Keep updating your working process

April 6, 2021

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Becoming a better business journalist means doing the right research, asking the right questions and having the right contacts. ("Write" image by StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay)
Becoming a better business journalist means doing the right research, asking the right questions and having the right contacts. ("Write" image by StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay)

In any undertaking, once you’ve done it long enough, you’ll have developed working habits. That is important, because if must consciously think through every action and decision to the smallest detail, you get paralyzed. “Should I file this account alphabetically by last name, or by some abstract account number?”

You get a way that works and keep doing it. Doubtless as a business journalist, your list of habits is long and often, in the face of deadlines, barely conscious. That lack of thought can be vital. Try consciously regulating your balance, stride, posture, and body movements to maintain the controlled forward falling that walking inherently is.

Unfortunately, the strength of positive ingrained habits—predictable repetition—is also the weakness. You do the same thing because it works. Unless you examine it, you probably won’t change.

Even small changes can provide a great benefit. Here’s an example from my methods. I use Microsoft Outlook for email through my own domain (with a backup email address for emergencies). For years I’ve kept a strict regimen of how to handle emails to get information, set up appointments, and manage correspondence with editors.

Each publication has a subfolder in the Inbox. Further down from the Inbox is folder I call Work in Progress. The publications also have a folder there. In the past, I’d put emails about contracts, pay, and general issues in appropriate Inbox subfolder and details about assignments, including correspondence and communications with sources, in the WIP subfolder.

But for some clients, for whom I did a lot of assignments, things got confusing. There were too many emails on multiple stories, making it hard go back and forth. After years, I did something about it. Specific assignment correspondence with the publisher, as well as email discussion about possible story topics, all go into the Inbox subfolder.

I think create a next-layer-down sub-subfolder for the specific story in the WIP publication subfolder. This holds correspondence with sources, emails of press releases (including from analysts and government data), and so on.

When I’m done with a story, I move all the contents of that story sub-subfolder into the WIP publication subfolder. Next, I delete the story sub-subfolder so I don’t have an expanding long list of folders to look at. All the material is still available when I want it.

Occasionally, I’ll archive months of material from the folders to reduce the amount of material at immediate hand, but all is still available. Using a hard drive indexing program (an addition I made years into my career) means I can do a full-text search and get what I need.

This year, I also created my own Zoom account. It may sound silly, but there were people who preferred it. By using my account, it’s also possible to record the conversation if I wish.

The potential for smart improvements is almost limitless. New types of voice recording devices. Learning shorthand (for the diehard). Dual screens on a desktop so you can move reference material to one and your current draft to another and still copy across. Chairs and desks with better ergonomics, and information about how to set them for optimum use. An Adobe Acrobat Reader add-on that will let you convert PDFs to Word, Excel, and other formats. (Absolute savior if you’re doing a lot of data work and the information is in PDF form.)

Come up with your own list. Pay attention to how you’re doing things and, most importantly, what seems to be an annoyance or drag on your work. That will give you clues to where you can and should improve things.

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