Friday, August 28, 2020

Trick Yourself into Being More Productive

Even if you've been streaming for a while, you might still have trouble reaching a level of true consistency. Maybe you can't get yourself to do the various prep tasks or post-show tweaks- those ones that are less exciting but oh so necessary for your channel's growth. Or you can't sit down to stream in the first place, constantly finding an excuse to do something else, or deciding at the last minute that you're too tired to go live. If you're really struggling to keep your creative priorities in line, you may be searching for a more effective productivity method than any of the ones I've covered in this resource so far. Don't worry, you're not alone. I've been in this situation as well, and I understand how frustrating it can be. Spurred on by this need, I found a way to force myself to work even when I don't feel like it. In this entry, I'll teach you how to trick yourself into being more productive. 

Please be aware, this method is not for everyone. I devised this strategy because I had no other choice- nothing else worked for me when the days got really tough. I suggest approaching something like this only if you've already tried every other productivity method I've laid out in the past 86 entries without success, and even then only in moderation. Don't push yourself to unsafe extremes. Only you know your limits, so keep them in mind while implementing the concepts I'm about to lay out here. 


When you get down to it, what's the quintessential way to get anyone to do anything? You take a carrot, attach it to the end of a stick, and dangle that stick in front of the person in question. This is the classic description of any method of coercion- if the carrot on a stick is dangled well enough, they will try to chase after it. (I suppose whoever invented this concept didn't take into account people who don't like carrots, but that's beside the point.) In essence, all we have to do is find our own 'carrots' and dangle them behind whatever task we least want to accomplish that day. This might sound simple, but as you'll soon find out, this process can actually be quite harrowing. Are you committed enough to deny yourself the things you love most until your work is done? 

Photograph of me on a normal workday

For me, there isn't one specific thing I have trouble staying consistent about- it changes every day. As human beings, we're all predisposed to experience different moods. Some days I want to eat pizza, and on others I crave steak. Today I want to watch an action movie, but tomorrow I won't settle for anything other than a comedy. And on Tuesday I may be excited to go live but have a hard time creating stream graphics, while the exact opposite is true on Wednesday. It's a natural impulse- our brains try to fight against consistency in an attempt to create variety and excitement. Unfortunately, this aversion to structure has the side effect of crushing our creative aspirations. At the end of the day, if we want to be content creators, it doesn't matter what we're in the mood for. If it's a day when we're supposed to stream, we stream. And that's why the carrot is so important. 

Myself, I've always loved to eat. Because I've worked from home for roughly a decade, I'm faced with the curious problem that food is always available to me during the workday. Eventually I noticed that I was using eating as a form of procrastination. I'd not only snack on things throughout the day, but when it was time for a meal I would draw that meal out for as long as I could, watching TV shows and cleaning my plate at a snail's pace. This of course was dangerous not just to my efficiency, but also a hazard to my health, and I knew I had to do something about it. So now, I use that love of food to my advantage- I force myself not to break for lunch until I've done whatever I least feel like doing that day. Because I work at all hours, this applies to dinner as well. So on a given day, I won't eat until I've done my stream, written the podcast, recorded a video, or anything else I can feel myself wanting to slack about. On the health side, this teaches me not to simply stuff my face whenever I'm up against a problem, which is a huge win in itself. And on the productivity side, the food I love eating is now a reward that I earn, not just something I do to escape responsibility. 


You may recognize that this method is based on a concept I described in earlier entries, called The Eisenhower Decision Matrix. You can learn more about this principle in the entry Making Twitch a Part of Your Life, but the main idea posed by this method is that there are two types of problems you'll face on a daily basis: those that are urgent (work deadlines, chores, anything that doesn't further our ultimate goals), and those that are important (your creative aspirations like Twitch streaming). In order to use this method correctly, you must always address the important problems first

Sometimes you have to get tricksy.
It may seem like the same amount of problems can be solved in any order, but this doesn't apply in practice. Whichever tasks you complete first will always be unburdened by the stress and fatigue accumulated throughout the day. If you do your stream, or create graphics, or whatever task you least want to do first, then you'll still find a way to solve all the urgent tasks afterward. If those tasks are truly that urgent then there'll be no other choice- you'll simply have to find a way to solve them. But if you shop for groceries, go to work, come home, go to the bank, answer emails, and do all your other urgent tasks before streaming, you may just find at the end of the day that you're too tired to go live at all. Since streaming doesn't feel 'urgent,' we usually don't fight as hard to make it happen when it's not convenient for us. Most people spend their whole lives treading water, completing their most urgent tasks and never figuring out why their life goals seem to be slipping away. It's a vicious cycle. 


So you know the strategy and you know the logic behind it. Now you just have to find the right motivation to make this method most effective in your own life. You need to find your 'carrot.' For me, holding off on meals is the perfect motivator. For you, it could be something completely different. Maybe you often find yourself binging on Netflix. What if you were only able to watch Netflix after you've finished streaming for the day? Maybe you love running, shopping, or going on long relaxing drives. What if one of these was the motivator that could make you spring into action? Turn your favorite idle activity into a reward for fulfilling your dreams each day, and see how much more work you get done! Sometimes you just need to trick yourself into being more productive.  

Friday, August 21, 2020

Stream with Strategic Ignorance

We often feel a lot of pressure when making our Twitch channels. Not only in setting them up, but throughout the process of trying to build our brands. "There are so many other people out there doing the same thing- what if I'm not growing as fast, why can't I produce as much content as them, and for that matter, who am I to think I should be asking people to watch me in the first place?" These are very common questions among new streamers, but in truth we're all susceptible to these moments of self-consciousness. And as many of us have learned the hard way, this line of thinking can lead your channel down a path of destruction.

There's no way to get rid of this nagging feeling entirely, as it's a natural part of the human experience. But it is possible to give these self-doubts much less hold over your streaming life. I call this method 'streaming with strategic ignorance.' When you stream with strategic ignorance, you carefully control the amount of outside influences that reach you, and in doing so create an environment free of as many harmful comparisons as possible. When I started streaming this way, suddenly I was no longer a small fish swimming around in a big scary pond, I was just a fish that swam because swimming was what I liked to do- I couldn't care less about what the pond looked like. 


The largest component in creating a healthier environment for streaming is to avoid comparisons. This can be broken down into two separate steps: First, eliminate as many outside influences as possible. Then, learn not to measure yourself against the influences that do reach you. 

Control the digital flow of information.
The elimination of outside influences is a big subject for me, and I've covered similar concepts in many entries before. Cutting down on intake is a discipline that can help you in several fields. For example, in the entry How to Easily Free Up Time for Twitch, I spoke about slashing entire social media platforms from your personal life, in order to clear your mental energies for more productive activities. You've probably heard this from a million sources already, but viewing social media is a killer for self-esteem and creative drive. We may think we're absorbing inspiration and getting ideas from other streamers by seeing what they're up to, but that's just what we tell ourselves when we can't curb this bad habit. The only thing that scrolling through Instagram or Twitter typically does in practice is make you want to scroll through more Instagram and Twitter. You'll see the best side of every other streamer, making you feel like you don't measure up. You'll get into unnecessary discussions and arguments over useless prompts which waste the time and mental energy you could have put toward creating your content. You'll labor over how to phrase your own posts in order to attract an audience that has an incredibly low carryover rate. Unless you go viral, almost no one will follow your Twitch and stick with it because they liked your Instrgram post. Overall, your energies are better spent on your actual goal: Twitch streaming.

Second, in the entry Learn to Love the Grind of Twitch Streaming, I actually suggested that you not watch a lot of other streams either. Like with social media, binging on other people's content is a killer of personal growth. Plus, for every other Twitch stream you watch, you'll gain a plethora of new insecurities about how you don't measure up. Of course having said that, it's important to meet other streamers, network and gain inspiration. Don't avoid contact with other streamers altogether, but realize that doing so will always be a tradeoff. You're building friendships and getting inspired, but you're also accumulating mental baggage, whether you realize it or not. Don't let that baggage get so heavy that you're no longer able to use the inspiration you've gained. Meeting another streamer, getting to know them and joining for some of their shows is one thing- sitting around and watching more hours of streams than you actually create is another. Learn where to draw the line. 


In the entry Stream Before You're Ready, I told the story of how John Lennon and Paul McCartney were already performing before they even knew all the basic guitar chords. They didn't let a lack of knowledge get in the way of doing the thing they loved, they just learned along the way. And I think it's safe to say they did a pretty good job at their chosen craft. As I spoke about in that entry, the acquisition of knowledge can actually harm the creative process and the creative drive. Before starting our channels, we often think that gathering as much information as possible is going to somehow make us better streamers, but all it ever does is make us better at recognizing how unskilled we really are. Skills aren't built by learning, they're built by doing. When they first joined together, Lennon and McCartney didn't know or care whether they were skilled or not- they just made music because it's what they wanted to do. And they formed into one of the greatest rock bands of all time. This is the power of strategic ignorance. 

Celebrate others, but don't measure yourself against them.
Many Twitch streamers try to glean insights about how much work their fellow streamers are putting into their channels, in order to get some kind of baseline for how much work they should put in themselves. This is always a waste of time. Instead of limiting yourself by basing your own growth on someone else's journey, try having no reference points whatsoever. In my own streaming career, I couldn't care less about what any other Twitch streamer does, how fast they grow, how much work they put in, or anything in between. I gladly support the wonderful streamers I've met, I get to know their communities, and I draw inspiration from their content, but I never for a second use their channels as benchmarks to measure my own progress. We're all on our own paths. Everyone grows at a different rate, everyone has different interests, and everyone has a million things that separate them from their peers. As the saying goes, the only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday. 


When I started on Twitch, I did what just about everyone does. I looked at the most successful channels, tried to break down what made them popular, and attempted to project where I'd be months and years down the line based on the growth I was getting at the time. It was majorly stressful and it ultimately didn't even work. I didn't know it at the time, but I was trapped by very limiting comparisons. Since I started streaming with strategic ignorance however, I've been able to double, triple, and quadruple my output in several different fields. My content has gone in strange directions that viewers have never seen before. And most importantly, I'm ecstatic about streaming all the time. So give it a shot on your own channel- stop taking in so much outside influence and just focus on putting streams out into the world. After all, ignorance is bliss. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Getting to Know Your Viewers

When streaming on Twitch, you will start to build a community over time. This will happen at different rates for everyone, but if you stream consistently for long enough, people will start to form around your shows. Having more viewers in your streams who chat and increase the engagement level during your shows is one of the main ways many Twitch streamers measure success. What I find more interesting than increasing the number of people in your streams is actually learning who they are, what they like, and what makes them tick. In this entry, I'll help you get to know your viewers.


First, try to focus on is remembering the usernames of your community members. You're not going to get far in building a connection if you constantly reintroduce yourself to someone who's been in your streams several times before. This sounds like a no-brainer, but many streamers have trouble in this department- especially new ones. Like in life, remembering the name of someone you just met is very difficult on a Twitch stream. It doesn't help matters that when you meet new people while streaming, you usually have other things on your mind, like making it through a firefight or going up against a tough boss. There are a few advantages to learning Twitch usernames over names in real life however. For one thing, usernames will typically evoke some kind of image, like a game title, movie character or activity. I'm a visual learner, so if I meet someone with 'T-Rex' or 'Raptor' in their username, I immediately imagine them as a dinosaur, or riding a dinosaur, or stammering like Jeff Goldblum while running from a dinosaur. These kinds of mental associations help to solidify a picture of someone in my mind, and every new thing I learn about them can build on this base mental image. 

Building bonds is important.
Second, it's not enough just to remember who your viewers are, you should want to know more about them. Getting to know people who join your streams is a great way to strengthen your channel, but that doesn't mean you have to treat it like any other rote, mechanical task. People can pick up on authenticity, and they'll be able to tell whether if you're phoning it in. Plus, why shouldn't you want to get to know your community members? They love your shows, and the least you can do is return the interest. By diving deeper into conversation with your community, you get to discuss other hobbies, get game or movie recommendations, and even learn about other cultures. It's very rewarding! 

Often, by opening myself to becoming genuinely interested in people, and by creating mental associations to remember all their names, I'm able to recall specific details about chatters who haven't been around in over a year! But of course, it's not possible to remember everything perfectly. If you forget things, Twitch has a new feature which lets you to click any username to see various pieces of useful info about them. You can see when a user followed, as well as an archive of every message they've sent in your chat with date stamps. If you really can't remember someone, try checking what your last conversation was about before talking to them. If you put in some of these extra bits of effort, you'll go a long way toward connecting better with your viewers. 


In addition to being more welcoming to your chat, you should hold them to the same standard. Someone typing comments on Twitch has the advantage of being behind a veil of relative anonymity, and as such people will often come into streams to give you a hard time. Now, everyone's streams are different, but however you conduct your shows it's important to set a few boundaries about how you like to keep your chat. Don't forget, whatever you allow people to say in your chat affects not just you, but everyone else in the community. The kinds of guidelines you set can shape your channel's overall vibes.  

If someone makes you uncomfortable in chat, you're allowed
to draw the line.
In my own streams, I like to keep it to an 'if you wouldn't say it in person, don't say it here' state of mind. This not only applies to inappropriate subjects, but also various social faux-pas. Sometimes people will grill you on something you don't feel comfortable talking about, whether out of genuine but misplaced concern, or just to see you squirm. I've spoken about many of the more common chat no-nos in entries like Your Twitch Chat is a Reflection of Yourself, Setting Limits for Your Streams, and Dealing with Disruptors in Twitch Chat. Sometimes there are comments that don't break rules, but simply don't sit right, however. There's one type of comment which I've always found off-putting: people who said two words in my stream once, over a year previous, would come back into the chat, say hi and then and ask, "Do you even remember me?" or "I bet you don't even remember who I am." This isn't how you would talk to someone in an actual conversation, unless you're planning to kill them or you're a James Bond villain. This person essentially wants to take control of the chat at gunpoint, forcing you to clearly state why you remember them, or squirm on camera while you admit that you don't. Ironically, I typically do remember someone who asks this, but I've taken to completely ignoring such comments, as I don't want to be put to questioning like I'm in court. Confrontation and coercion isn't a good way to build rapport. 

You should also take into account decisions which allow community members to get to know each other more easily. Let's say someone joins your stream for the first time and their username is 'hemanskeletor.' Then when you say hello to them, they say, "Hi, thanks for the welcome. You can call me Adam." This is a pretty normal thing to say, and the viewer is doing nothing wrong. But think about the experience for every other viewer of your stream if you did call this person Adam. No one else would know who you're talking to when you pose a question to 'Adam' a week later, unless they were there at the exact moment when that viewer said their real name. For this reason, when someone asks me to call them by a name that isn't reflected in their handle I'll typically say something like, "It's nice to meet you Adam! But on our streams we only refer to each other by our usernames, because then everyone in chat can understand who we're talking to." 


In this entry, I laid out a few very specific examples of how you can build basic bonds, as well as set boundaries to keep your streams more inviting. But there's plenty more you can do to get to know your viewers and build connections. Depending on what kind of community you want to cultivate, and how open you want to be, there are all sorts of avenues you can take. Some streamers allow viewers to call into their shows and vent their problems like they're on morning radio. Others will play multiplayer games with subscribers, or even with general viewers who want to join. Outside of Twitch, many streamers use Discord to really personalize the experience, or they set up community movie nights. But you don't have to get fancy. Above all, make sure you're actually interested when people tell you about themselves. If you're able to do that, you'll get to know your viewers in no time. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Put in the Work

What made you want to start streaming? What keeps you doing it to this day? For many of us who last long on the platform, those answers will be completely different. Oftentimes when beginning our channels, we have assumptions about what it will be like to make a Twitch channel, or how fast we're likely to grow. Maybe we see other communities and visualize what our own viewer base will be, or maybe we harbor fears of jumping into the deep end, and those fears hold us back. These various expectations and anxieties can end up hampering or even halting our progress. In order to stick with our habits, we usually have to shift course from our initial expectations. In essence, we end up finding entirely different reasons to stream, or we quit streaming altogether. In this entry I'll help you to identify when you're headed toward a potentially dangerous path and direct you towards some more sustainable practices. 


In many ways, staying consistent on Twitch is no different from forming any long-term habit. You go in thinking about the results: in our case that's usually fame, fortune and massive crowds. What you don't expect are the everyday realities: self-consciousness, lack of motivation and a constant feeling of insurmountable odds stacked against you. As I mentioned in the earlier entry How to Get in the Habit of Streaming, most of the difficulty involved with Twitch streaming has nothing to do with streaming itself. It's a battle against your own ego, your perceived stamina, and your deepest insecurities. These things exist inside your mind, and will always be with you, and that's what makes them the hardest enemies to go up against. 

The fundamental problem is that the typical Twitch hopeful doesn't want to be a streamer, he or she wants to have been a streamer. In short: they want all the rewards and perks that came from years of dedication and sacrifice, but balk at the first sign of hardship in their own short journey. It's okay to stick your head in the clouds for a short while, dreaming about a future where you've made it as a streamer. But if you don't come down to Earth and fall in love with the practical reality of what you actually need to do, you'll never be able to stick it out. 

Of course, a guitar can always be put to other uses...
This happens in all sorts of fields, not just streaming. Every day some young boy or girl picks up a guitar for the first time and has a fantasy about being a rockstar. They beg their parents to buy the instrument and excitedly dive into their music books, then after a month the guitar ends up collecting dust in a corner. What happened here is nothing new. The endless scales and hours of daily practice required to learn the instrument didn't quite measure up to the excitement of performing in front of thousands of screaming fans. Like countless hopefuls before them and countless more to come, this child found that they wanted to be a rockstar, but not necessarily a musician


Once someone has streamed for a few weeks and their eyes start to open about how much work it'll actually take to achieve whatever dream they had about Twitch streaming, they begin exploring shortcuts. Typically, content creators think that if they only sat atop of a mountain of viewers, subscribers, or some other arbitrary metric, then they'd be free to simply enjoy their streaming careers without having to worry about anything else. So they buy equipment they don't need, make plays for sponsorships they don't believe in, and widen their nets until they're creating content they don't even want to make anymore. Of course, this doesn't only happen on Twitch- it's the same reason people buy followers on Instagram, use bots on Twitter, or spam other YouTube channels begging for follows. These are all people driven by their egos, perceived stamina and insecurities. And the ultimately irony: if you take this route and reach your goals without actually enjoying what you do, you'll either start to hate streaming itself (or lose enough money doing it) that you'll stop wanting to stream at all. 

Fear is only as powerful as you allow it to be.
So whenever you think about looking for shortcuts, try taking a step back. Consider what feelings are really behind whatever you're doing. Do you actually need this camera when your old one still works just fine, or is your ego telling you that your stream has to look better? Can you actually not put in any more time for streaming, or is that just your perceived stamina telling you that there are no more hours in the day? Do you have a reason to feel dejected after your most recent stream had no viewers, or are you simply letting your insecurities take over? Nothing about your stream reflects on your value as a human being. Instead of making vacuous decisions and purchases to chase some arbitrary milestone, just put in the work. Keep showing up each day and give it everything you have. 


So you're now looking reality in the face: Twitch streaming is hard. And it's always going to be hard. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't pursue it. As Theodore Roosevelt said, "Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty." Overcoming your negative, lazy, or fearful impulses through streaming consistently will help you to become more confident, and it will give you something to be proud of. Knowing that you stuck with your goals is a very empowering feeling. And by doing so, you will discover a whole world of amazing people creating incredible things. You'll have exciting, sad, hilarious moments with friends made in other cities, across your continent, or even around the world. It's not going to come easily, and it's not going to come quickly, but if you keep putting in genuine effort and allow yourself to appreciate the fruits of your labor in the moment, you'll constantly see the value of your creation. So don't let your fears and insecurities make decisions for you. Just put in the work.