Category: productivity

Name Your Thing!

Name Your Thing!

I spoke at AltConference 2017 about how to name things.

Last year when I spoke at AltConf 2016, things went really well… and I was invited to speak again in 2017 on the spot! (And I accepted on the spot, haha.) I actually started brainstorming this talk right then and there, so I had an entire year to ruminate on what I wanted to cover.

However, life takes its turns, and I was about 8 months pregnant on this trip–needless to say, my life has been a lot busier prepping for a new baby in the family! I spent a lot of time thinking about this talk in my head, but not nearly as much time actually prepping, writing, rehearsing, polishing my slide deck, etc. I was also sweating profusely and having trouble breathing, thanks to the little guy taking up space for all my vital organs and wreaking havoc on my physiology, haha.

All in all though, I still feel pretty good about how it went–the content being more pragmatic and technical actually lessened the impact of my relative lack of preparation, since the content was actionable despite not packing the same emotional punch (by design). At least that’s what I’m telling myself, based on the fact that many people stopped me in the hallways or reached out on Twitter and mentioned that they found my talk helpful!

Lastly, I want to thank and shine a spotlight on Nancy Friedman, and her blog Fritinancy. She’s an enormously helpful, friendly, and accessible resource, whom I would absolutely hire to name something if I were in that position again. (Yes, despite all my great advice, I think the best advice I can give is that it’s worth paying for qualified expertise in this domain, because there’s SO much you can get wrong!)

Thanks a ton for watching, and please share with anyone you know who is working on a project that they’re struggling to name. And now, on to the naming resources I mentioned in my talk!

Name Your Thing Resources:

My blog post on domain hacks

    • – tl;dr; don’t use them

United States Patent and Trademark Office

    • – check your name ideas here if you’re based in the USA


    • – Nancy Friedman’s wonderful naming blog. Look up her naming brief exercises in particular!

Every Frame a Painting – The Marvel Symphonic Orchestra

    • – video about how easy it is to ship movies with temp/default music instead of something more original. Temp music discussion starts around 6:00, but I recommend you watch the whole thing!

Name Your Thing template (Google Spreadsheet)

    – please save yourself a copy

And here is the URL slide choosing hierarchy I promised to include:

    1. Your name dot com
    1. wording compromise (getsquare, etc.)
    1. Hyphens or .net etc.
    1. Funky Tlds (.party, .io, .fm)
    1. domain hacks (don’t ever do these)
My top Grace Hopper session takeaways

My top Grace Hopper session takeaways

I just wrote up a trip report for my team at Microsoft, highlighting at least one takeaway from each session I attended at Grace Hopper 2016. It occurs to me that I should share that with the rest of the world, too. Here they are!


  • “Growth and comfort never coexist.” –Ginni Rometty, Chairwoman, President and CEO of IBM during the Day One keynote.
    • This stuck with me; feels profound as we attempt to shift to a growth mindset as a company. Time to embrace discomfort. :)
  • Solitude matters to think creatively; all of us are in too many meetings! From Susan Cain’s talk on the Quiet Revolution.
    • We need to carve out alone time when we’re thinking big (especially for those who are more introverted). I know I’ll be blocking out time on my calendar to get into the right brain space for certain projects moving forward.
    • Some other impactful points from this talk!
      • Introverts should speak up early in meetings to make sure they’re heard.
      • Brainstorming works better alone as opposed to a group activity.
  • Lead the meeting if you need to make sure you get recognition. From an Intuit panel about women’s career development.
    • If you’re concerned that you’re not getting seen for the work you’re doing, take charge and set the meeting yourself and guide it through. It’s a guaranteed way to be seen and also drive progress/outcome.
  • Everyone benefits from accessible design. From a powerful Microsoft panel on inclusive design.
    • If you’ve ever dictated into your phone, pulled luggage through a curb cutout, or walked through an automatic door, you’ve benefitted from accessibility designs. When we design inclusively, it makes things better for ALL users.
  • “We need to make technology cool for girls to study.–Rebecca Minkoff, Tech-Thinking Fashion Designer, from a panel on closing the gender gap in STEM.
    • This immediately made me think of IoT and the enormous opportunity we have to do cool work that centers and celebrates women enjoying technology.
  • Email your manager and say “I’m moving forward with X on Y date unless I hear otherwise from you.” From a panel about women negotiating.
    • Instead of waiting for express permission, sometimes it’s best to just propose what you think needs to happen and make it happen. That way your initiative doesn’t get stuck in waiting-for-permission purgatory or email delay, and you can show what you’re capable of without red tape holding you back.
    • Of course, you need to make clear that your manager has the opportunity to weigh in, but that’s where setting clear dates and expectations in your email comes in.
    • Do this immediately after every interesting hallway or coffee machine discussion with your manager; that way you can deliver on those chats instead of just having them fade away (and then revisit the evidence of your bias for action come review time.)
  • Influence isn’t about you or your rising titles; helping other people is what grows your influence. From a panel about the Art & Science of Influence Management.
    • Great point that makes it less about the self and more about the team/company/project!
  • Line length in a slide should never be more than 13-15 words.
    • Enough said! :)


And for what it’s worth, some of the most engaging connections I had were from randomly putting myself out there. This was a scary tweet to post (and I actually only connected with people that I chatted up in person), but I consistently find it worth it to do stuff like this!



Intellectually, I’m not a huge fan of new year’s resolutions—heck, I’m not even sure about how you capitalize and punctuate the phrase. :) I like to think that the time of year shouldn’t have a massive impact on deciding to make improvements in your life, you know?

But I’m in a weird spot this year. My part-time tech writing contract comes to a close at the end of January, which means I’ll be circling back to working on The Heartographer full time. I’m launching a few new products and initiatives soon that just happen to be coming out in Q1 2015. And I have a medical procedure coming up in March that will go much more smoothly if I can get a better handle on my physical health in advance.

For me, January 2015 will end up being a time to spark change and transition, whether I meant it that way or not. And while the philosophy of “make improvements independent of the new year” is a sound one, I never actually implement changes. Like, ever.

Discipline and follow-through have long been huge weaknesses for me. But as I prep for business and life shifts over the next year, it’s increasingly important that I get a better handle on the part of me that resists working hard to effect positive change in my life. It’s time to start actually trying instead of pooh-poohing the whole idea.

On La Dolce Vita, Paloma Contreras shared a few thoughts about how to make 2015 the best year yet. First on the list was setting intentions instead of resolutions. This totally jibes with me—on the one hand, I’d love to not give myself wiggle room to bail on what I set out to do, but I’m self-aware enough to know that the whole fear of failure thing would make me drop all my firm resolutions as soon as the going gets tough.

So, in the spirit of actually following through with some intentions, even if the outcome isn’t as drastic or simple as I’m hoping, I’ll share with y’all some of my intentions for the new year and beyond.


I’ve been wanting to get savvy with photo and graphic software for ages, so I can better self-help when I need to create a quick visual asset for my business or one of my many sites. I’ve made my poor husband (who is a video game designer, NOT a graphic designer) create and modify SO MANY business cards, ad graphics, logos, header images, you name it.

Photoshop is top of the list in terms of learning to create my own stuff, but OmniGraffle is next, as well as learning a bit more about actually manipulating a camera to take better pictures.

And this may sound frivolous, but I’d like to get the hang of applying false eyelashes. I’ve read how-to guides online and grilled every makeup artist who’s ever applied them for me, but I think what I need more than anything is a few extra pairs and some dedicated time to practice.

Falsies (I swear they’re called that) make a huge visual impact in the videos I produce! Of course they’re fun in social settings too, but I really mainly wear them for business. God, how weird and boring is that? You’d think I was a burlesque dancer or something! :)


I’m working on an iPhone app with Brandon, who does 99.9999% of the actual coding. While he’s helplful in teaching me some stuff, I can only have a certain impact in how much progress we make—but if I stay motivated, ask questions, meet regularly with him, and generally keep the marketing and production balls rolling, we tend to do more actual coding work too. I’d love to see a working app prototype on my device by the end of this year, even if we don’t actually get a smoothly tested version for sale on that timeline.

I’ve been writing a book since 2009, for Frey’s sake, but I finally started making true progress this fall after applying a sort of GTD-like system to the project. I’d like to either get that book fully self-published this year, or have a firm deal with a traditional publisher.

I’m launching some video courses soon, which have been in the works since last summer. I expect those to ship in Q1 of this year, yay!

I’m also FINALLY launching a podcast soon. If everything goes as planned, it’ll be out in time for Valentine’s Day. Woohoo!

I’m also launching another blog at some time this year, which will be a more personal but specific venture. I’ll post here when it goes live.


What a douchey word, right? But I need to make it a greater focus in 2015 and beyond. I spent the first seven whole years of my business under-charging, partly because I love what I do but also because I wanted my focus to be on great service and customer experience instead of great profit. But I’ve grown up and come to learn that those things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s OK to make a decent living doing something you love.

Now that I’ve laid that foundation, I need to have a firmer focus on monetization with every single business decision I make. Heck, even that new personal blog I mentioned is going to have ads, something I’ve kept off my other sites for the most part. The advent of sponsored content makes this so much more OK for me—I’ve seen poorly integrated sponsorships as well as amazing ones, and I’m confident I can find a way to make good money on a blog and still provide unquestionable value to readers. I’ve never ever tried making a blog profitable before, but this year I’m going to make it a focus and at least see how it goes.


We need to lose weight. Especially me. We’ve needed this for a while, but it’s particularly urgent as I have a surgery type thing in March that will go better if I’ve lost even ten pounds.

The problem, in many ways, is that my weight is HAPPY weight. I met the love of my life, found a love of video games, and have been slowly getting fatter as I enjoy sitting around doing stuff I enjoy with someone I adore. The only times I’ve ever drastically dropped in weight were both when I was living abroad, isolated, and terribly ill to the point of hospitalization. NOT a good association, you know?

We also need to limit our expenses. We’ve never made or stuck to a budget; we barely even try. But as we plan for our future, it’s more and more crucial that we not overspend. We’ve kept our heads above water and been delightfully debt-free or close to it except (now) our house, but we don’t really save and plan ahead.

I’d like to have a fund for home décor splurges, as well as unexpected repair projects. I’d like it to be no big deal when we’re confronted with astounding hospital bills from unexpected medical issues. I’d like to save up for vacations we don’t even know we want to take yet. But I need to get much more serious about seeing this desire through. Now’s as good a time to start as any.


I have a ridiculously massive wardrobe, and yet I tend to get stuck wearing the same 5% of my clothes over and over again. That sort of makes sense to a point, since they’re items I love and feel great in, but it’s a bit silly and limiting. I also want to “shop” from my previous wardrobe by trying on stuff that I haven’t been able to fit into in ages—weight loss will give me a guaranteed shopping spree.

I have tons of craft supplies for cool projects that we just finally started unearthing when we cleaned out our basement. I’m excited to, say, check my Artsy Drawer (or Dresser) before I drive my ass all the way to Michael’s.

I feel the same about home décor and hardware—sometimes, we already have the right curtain rod that would look fine in a given room if I could just set my hands on it. I’m hoping that our Giant Basement Cleanse will assist.

Oh, and I love skincare and makeup, but I barely use most of my cool products. (For someone with an entire blog about this stuff, you’d be amazed how many nights I go to sleep without washing my face and then wake up annoyed that I have irritated skin.) I always want to spend more time and energy with my fun grooming products, because they really have an impact on how I look and therefore how I feel about myself. Why the hell am I just letting them expire under the sink? Let this year involve more masques and whatnot. And eyeliner. Use it or lose it.


So yeah, that’s my summary. What are YOU resolutish about this year?

First Finder cleanup results

First Finder cleanup results

Things I learned:

1) You can just delete all those f-cking .dmg files. Cool! Thanks

2) When I take notes on a detailed phone conversation, event, or podcast recording session, I sure do need to jot down your full name and how I know you. Harry and Michelle, you barely made it through the cracks. (This is especially true when I know people through some social network, since I often think of them as their handle instead of their actual name. Yet I then put their full name in the file name of my note-taking doc. Way to go, Virginia.

3) Boy, do I ever not want your downloadable PDF about anything ever. Suck it up and make me a .mobi/.epub that syncs and clouds and whatever else if you ever want me to read your thing.

4) My cat is well documented.

Amazon affiliate link bookmarklet

Amazon affiliate link bookmarklet

I signed up for Amazon affiliate links a few months back, even though I’m pretty sure one person ever has actually used one to buy something. I figure it just can’t hurt, ya know? I often link to products I discuss in my posts, and in my mind there’s no reason not to try to collect from that as long as I don’t push things I wouldn’t recommend otherwise.

My  pal Kai recently showed me a little bookmarklet he made to make it easier to generate these links. It’s such an improvement! Amazon’s backend for this process is crap—this one stupid Flash-based part of the affiliate UI takes forever to load, and Amazon’s tool seems incapable of generating just the HTML you want without a bunch of extra JavaScript crap or embed code that nobody needs. Plus, it uses incredibly ugly poorly cropped low-res images, even when the Amazon vendor uploaded a high-quality version.

To free yourself from the shackles of Amazon’s janky tool, copy this code:

javascript:(function()%7Bvar aff = ‘virginiaroberts-20’; if (!document.getElementById(‘ASIN’)) %7Balert(‘Can%5C’t find the product ID’); return;%7D prompt(‘Your affiliate link is:’,’’ + document.getElementById(‘ASIN<‘).value + ‘/?tag=’ + aff);%7D)()

  •  Open your favorite web browser;
  • Create a new bookmark entry on your bookmarks bar with any site, and name it something memorable yet fun just for me;
  •  Go in and edit the URL field of the bookmark to include the above-listed JavaScript code instead of a normal URL;
  •  Change “virginiaroberts-20” to “yourownamazontag-20” (without any quotes around it); and
  •  Save  your fancy new bookmarklet!

Now you can browse to any Amazon product page and just click the bookmarklet to generate an affiliate link. It should quickly compile the affiliate product link for you to use like a nice normal person, without any crazy scripts or unnecessary tags.

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 11.46.57 PM
You can see from the example code that I actually tweaked the popup language from Kai’s version. You can customize your popup’s text too! :)

I told Kai he should blog this, but it doesn’t quite fit perfectly into the voice of his awesome marketing blog. It feels a little weird to be telling you about someone else’s custom code project, but Kai gave me his blessing because I wanted to share his helpful tool with the world. Happy linking!



Image directly from OmniGroup, with permission. <3When I first started listening to Back to Work, I had never heard of OmniFocus or Getting Things Done with David Allen. But since hearing Merlin extoll this system’s virtues, I got on board and eventually got the book (print AND Kindle), and eventually even wound up buying a Mac and shelling out for both OmniFocus for Mac and OmniFocus for iPhone. I’d literally never spent that much on any given product before.

And now, I feel like I’m finally starting to get it! I still haven’t even finished reading Getting Things Done (for shame; I know) but I’ve started implementing more and more of my obligations and commitments into OmniFocus. And you know what my real epiphany is? The “Waiting” category. As you knowI’m a big fan of email. But given that other people aren’t always great with email, I’ve taken to sticking my outgoing emails (and even phone calls) into the Waiting context after I reach out to someone. Now, if other people drop the ball, I have a much better record of who I need to re-nag. This is excellent for clients who pay me to bug them about their online dating goals.

I can’t tell if this is how the Waiting context is supposed to be used or not, but it’s been a HUGE help for my business. Not only does it track which outgoing contacts I need to follow up on, but it helps me learn which clients are email averse, so I can adjust my communication style and method to better reach them and ultimately to help them find love more effectively. After all, if receiving a bunch of emails from me is annoying, then that isn’t how I want to reach you! (But, ya know, go sign up for my newsletter anyway.)

I’ve also learned how to apply radii to specific errands, which ROCKS. Now I have blips go off whenever I leave my little Ballard bubble and venture east of the freeway—one reminds me to pick up swanky cocktail ingredients at Wine World, because I am a lush who works from home and drinks sidecars when she damn well pleases; and others remind me to buy certain items whenever I geolocate near certain stores. Organic bagged lemons at Whole Foods, where they’re a fraction of the price. Cat food at the vet that carries our special prescription. Epsom salts at the drugstore since I use them constantly for my tennis elbow. I even have a reminder to think about whether there’s anything I want fixed, purchased, or demoed (demo’d? Demod?) when I’m near an Apple Store.

The yellow kind, people. Trust me.

Merlin mentioning this geo-functionality in relation to toilet paper in a very early episode of Back to Work is actually what got me interested in OmniFocus in the first place. What can I say? Icky though it may be to talk about, he’s right: you think about buying more toilet paper when you’re on the can and you run out, not when you’re out in the world near a Target or Fred Meyer (because those are the two places that carry Charmin Basic, the stuff that is nice on your derrière but doesn’t screw up our 1940s sewer system.) Not anymore, friends! Now I think about toilet paper whenever I drive near an appropriate vendor. Look, I never promised not to overshare here. If you’re a geek like me, you know that despite being an uncomfortable discussion, this is a friggin’ EPIPHANY.

Frankly, I couldn’t have figured all this out if the OmniGroup didn’t have such fantastic phone support. But they do! You can just call them! And they answer! And they’re super nice and patient! And funny on Twitter! So quit waiting. Go get yourself set up with this software suite ASAP if you’ve been holding out like a dummy. Heck, I’ll probably be confident enough to help you learn how to use it!

Shameless affiliate links, in case you didn’t already click to kick me a few bucks, you Scrooge:

OmniFocus for Mac
OmniFocus for iPad
OmniFocus for iPhone
Getting Things Done by David Allen