A funny thing happened on the way to Chinatown

A few weeks ago, I decided that it would be really nice to make the 10 hour drive back home to Ohio and surprise my mom for her birthday. She adores her granddaughter and I knew they both would be thrilled to see each other. Not long after I informed my wife and we scheduled the trip, we were invited to a baby shower in Chicago on the same weekend. While we wouldn’t be able to attend the actual shower, we love visiting Chicago and decided to stop there on the way back to St. Louis and spend an additional night. As a result, I knew that I would be traveling and busy with family for four full days.

When you have a daily blog posting schedule like I do, that’s a problem!

I knew that I would have my MacBook Pro and iPad, and of course my iPhone, but I didn’t know when or where I would have time to do much, so I decided to have posts ready and scheduled to publish ahead of time.

The best laid plans of mice and men…

I had a number of articles that I had written and guest bloggers had provided, so that by the Thursday before we left I was able to create each of the posts within my Drupal CMS website. Each post was formatted, included deep links, and had at least one image, like all my posts. I have a Scheduling module set up so that I can simply tell the site a specific date and time, and the post will be published. I do not automate social media sharing, so I knew I’d have some work to do in that regard, but that I would be able to do that from my iPhone whenever we’d stopped.

First Failure – Timing

So the scheduling module uses a website utility called Cron (from the Greek word χρόνος [chronos] for time). Cron is supposed to run on a predetermined time schedule, like hourly, and allow your website to have specific, automated tasks that get kicked off if needed. In my case, I set up blog posts to be switched from Unpublished to Published at a specific time, and knew that the first time Cron runs after that scheduled time, the posts would publish. It’s not an exact or perfect system, but it works.

Except it doesn’t.

While driving across Illinois and Indiana that first day on the road, I discovered that my Cron jobs were not running hourly. They weren’t running at all. So, my first post hadn’t published at all.

Fortunately I can run Cron manually, I just have to log into my site. It was a little cumbersome to do from my iPhone, but it worked.

Second Failure – Sharing

As you may have read, there are as many as 21 things I do after publishing each blog post to make sure people see it and have a chance to read it. I knew that there were only a faction of those steps available to me via iPhone, but I was OK with that since it was the most important ones – social media sharing.

Each of my blog posts includes widgets for Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter, and a simple sharing button for many other networks. Tapping an sharing from my iPhone is easy.

Except it wasn’t.

First, the sharing button stopped working. Instead of tapping to reveal dozens of social networks, on that day, tapping tried to open a new browser window that hung up.

I have the HootSuite app set up on my iPhone which lets me share to my personal Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as business Facebook and Twitter, so I was still able to share links, it just took a little longer.

But Google+ is my most productive network, and HootSuite mobile doesn’t yet support it. Not only did the share widget not work, the Google+ +1 widget wasn’t working either. It certainly wasn’t hard to use the Google+ app to share the link and create the post, but it was another wrinkle in my process.

These were not insurmountable issues, but when put together, coupled with the fact that I was travelling and preferring to focus on that activity, these issues became quite distracting and frustrating.

Lessons Learned

As with any of my stories that I share, I do so in the hope that some of the lessons I learn can be passed on. Hopefully you can benefit from my mistakes and avoid them (and make all new mistakes on your own!).

My first lesson was one that I’ve learned before but obviously needed to be reminded, which is to test, test, test. As a result of this experience, I now know that I have a technical issue with my site which must be addressed, and had I tested the scheduler prior to my trip I would have discovered and possibly resolved the issue beforehand.

Secondly, I need to give more careful thought in advance to all of the activity that I typically do and make appropriate arrangements. In this case, I should have scheduled time into each travelling day to find a stop, connect my laptop to WiFi, and take care of promoting each post like I normally do. It would have meant a 30 minute stop (during which time my family would have gotten a break too), but it would have also given me an opportunity to take care of those tasks the right way, and the peace of mind in knowing that they were done.

Alternatively, I could have set up some temporary automation through HootSuite and other tools to promote those new posts and not worry about it, but many of the promotional steps I take cannot be automated so that solution is less attractive.

I know that even the best laid plans often meet with difficulty and adversity, but I will use these experiences to better prepare myself for the next time. As Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

When have your plans, or failure to plan, resulted in these kinds of frustrations and issues?