Last updated: January 29, 2015
It’s not easy to stay on task when you’re working online. There are so many things to juggle and so many potential time wasters. Here are some of my top productivity tips for bloggers, those who work online or from home, and anyone.
Resist info overload
It’s tempting, isn’t it, to buy every ebook, take every course, read every blog or listen to every podcast about making your blog or business better?
Remember, your time is valuable and limited! Every minute you spend “researching” is another minute you don’t spend blogging.
It doesn’t matter how many great tips you glean if you never have the chance to apply them. You must implement.
Don’t listen to the shoulds
Any of these sound familiar? I should work on my SEO. I should write an ebook. I should reach inbox zero. I should promote more. I should fix all my broken links. I should post more. I should write better. I should learn how to take better pictures. I should be on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and Google+ and LinkedIn and…
Give yourself permission to operate outside of the shoulds. It may look like everyone else is doing all those things, but I assure you, they aren’t (or they have hired help). It is physically impossible for one human being to do all the shoulds – there just isn’t enough time in the day. Be free. This should be fun!
Use helpful tools to keep you on task
- Pocket – This app allows you to save things to read later so you can concentrate on what you’re doing now. You can save things via email and more but I use it most while browsing the internet and don’t want a million tabs open. There are browser extensions for Firefox and Safari, but I use the Pocket Chrome extension (click the Install button). It syncs across all devices which is great. You can watch the intro video here.
- Controlled Multi-Tab Browsing – This Chrome extention limits the number of tabs you can have open. (Firefox users, try theWindow and Tab Limiter add-on.) Once you click the install button, click the icon in your browser bar. Set your tab limit and save. (You can change this limit at any time by simply clicking the icon.) Next time you try to open more tabs than the limit, you’ll get a warning.
- The Compact Calendar – This printable gives you a year at a glance for long-term planning.
- Stickies – I keep most of my notes in Evernote, but while I’m on the computer and need a super quick spot to jot down notes and I don’t want to be bouncing back and forth to Evernote, I use Stickies on my Mac (Finder –> Applications –> Stickies. On a PC, try this if you don’t find it on your computer). Here’s an old video tutorial explaining how I use it.
Accept that you will miss things
You’ll miss lots of things. Lots and lots and lots of things. More things than you even realize you’re missing. No biggie. It’ll all happen again tomorrow. Pick a few things you can manage and do them well.
Run at the right pace
I’ve said many times that blogging is a marathon, not a sprint. A sprinter is extremely focused on every ounce they wear, every step they take and every breath they breathe because their race will be over in seconds. A marathoner looks at the big picture, settles into a good rhythm and thinks strategically because they’ve got a while to work it out.
A sprinter who runs like a marathoner won’t win and marathoner who runs like a sprinter won’t win either. Bloggers often realize they’re running a marathon but they act like they’re running a sprint. That makes it incredibly hard to win. Be realistic and pace yourself.
Don’t just “be everywhere”
You may have heard that in order to improve your SEO, you should “be everywhere.”
Good advice: Be everywhere.
Better advice: Be everywhere your readers and potential readers are.
Don’t sit down at the computer without a plan
If you don’t know exactly what you’re going to work on, the time will inevitably disappear into social media and internet neverland. What will you spend your time doing? Do you have a list of tasks you’ll tackle? What needs to be done? Plan it first, then get on the computer.
Don’t sit down at the computer without a plan.
Embrace a time budget
My ebook Tell Your Time explains exactly how to do this, and in much more depth, but if you have trouble managing your time, stick to a time budget:
- Determine what needs to be done to meet your goal (not just what “needs to be done” because it happens to be on the calendar or on your list).
- Define how much time you have to spend.
- Divide the number of tasks to complete by the amount of time you have, sorted by most important first.
- Do the things within the time. Then move on (even if it’s not done).
- Adapt as necessary for next time.
Group like tasks together for greatest efficiency
This is called many things: batching, time chunking, working in bulk, etc. For example, set a time and plow through your email inbox at once instead of checking it multiple times a day.
Take into account what times of the day you are most likely to get the most done
For example, I’m more productive if I write in the morning and read at night than if I do it the other way around.
Think outside the box
As soon as I said writing is better for me to do in the morning, I wondered if that’s really true. One thing I have noticed about myself is that I’m a lot less perfectionistic in the evenings when I’m a bit tired, so I wonder if writing in the evenings would work better.
Use the Pomodoro Technique or an app like 30/30. Or take a walk. Or a power nap.
Don’t underestimate the time it takes you to do things
For me, I know this is happening because I feel like I live with a layer of frustration just beneath the surface. Like I’m trying to do too many things at once. It’s difficult for me to relax and just be. That frustration, unfortunately, leaks out all over the ones I love most.
Seth Godin says stress is “what happens when you want to do two things at the same time.” That happens easily when you are constantly squeezing several things into too little time.
Flex to your season
A new season of life can upset any well-planned schedule. Getting a new job, having a baby, participating in summer activities, starting school or countless other life changes often means huge adjustments to blogging time allotted. If you find yourself in a season that allows you less time to devote to blogging, do this:
- Ask yourself, “If nothing else, what is the ONE thing I want this blog to do for me (ex. make an income, help me connect, market a product or service, etc.)?”
- Write it down and keep it in front of you. Post it on the wall if you need to.
- Then, every time you sit down to blog, ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now helping me get closer to my ONE thing?”
- If not, do something that does.
Remember, it’s not all about to-dos
A negative comment (referral link) about my book highlights the fact that a lot of us assume our to-dos are necessary. I tried to respond to the negative comment with an explanation, but the bottom line is, life is about relationships, and in our case, the pursuit of good ones drives us. Cut out the to-dos (even the good ones) that just take up time.
When you get off track, step away from the computer
There are simply too many things vying for our attention on the computer. Like I said, if we don’t have a plan, time will inevitably slip away. If you find yourself wandering, take 15 minutes to do the following:
- Review your daily to-do list. Did you complete everything on there?
- Look ahead. What’s coming up? What can you get ahead on?
- Revist your ONE thing. There is always something good to do online. Always. It never ends. But just because it’s good, doesn’t mean it’s the best. Stay your course.
Figure out what you’re avoiding
Is there something you’d like to do but never get to? Why not? No really, what’s the real reason?
The other day I had a few hours of free time ahead of me. This was going to be the day I finally made good on my project to-do list. Then suddenly, I got hungry. Rather, I suddenly had the urge to go find something to eat in the kitchen. I wasn’t really hungry.
Bottom line? I’m scared. Scared to fail, scared other people will think it’s a dumb idea, scared it will be a waste of time. Scared. For me, heading to the kitchen is my way of avoiding what scares me.
What about you? Do you have any habits that are triggered by fear, anxiety or something else? What’s your avoidance mechanism of choice? Maybe it’s surfing the internet? Checking email, Facebook or Twitter? Chatting? Making a phone call? Grabbing a snack like me? Pinterest? (My brother-in-law calls it Sinterest. Ha!) Recognizing the trigger and push through.
Plan your time backwards from your goal
The best way to spend your time is to define your goal (blogging or otherwise) and work backwards from there. What tasks today “fit” with that goal? Concentrate on those things.
Jon Morrow says it well:
Instead of just setting goals for this year, also set sacrifices. Here’s the idea: your life is already too full, and if you’re going to add anything, first you have to take something out. So, decide what you will sacrifice. Is it your family? TV time? Perfectionism? Sleep? Job security? For every goal, choose one sacrifice.
Here’s the thing. When we’re talking about a full schedule, even if we don’t set sacrifices on purpose, we set sacrifices by default. If I heap another thing on my already full plate, guess what? Something is going to fall off. It’s not a question. It just is.
Keep organization systems simple
I enjoy organizing things and have been known to spend days creating detailed filing systems. I’ve also learned they often don’t work. Too many nested categories/folders makes any organization system more trouble than it’s worth. If you can’t see something at a glance, it’s easily lost. For example, pare down your blog categories (I recommend no more than 5-7) and keep the file structure on your computer as simple as possible.
Keep everything in one spot
I am a sucker for fun online apps and cool tools. The problem is, then I’ve got bookmarks strewn over the entire internet, a gazillion note-taking apps and to-do lists in 5 different places. This doesn’t exactly lend itself to optimum productivity. So, pick one place to store what you need and stick with it!
Don’t keep stuff longer than necessary
The few things to sort through, the more productive you’ll be. Whether it’s personal financial records (here’s a handy chart that tells you how long you need to keep important documents) or copies of blog images you used before your last redesign, get them out of the way and move on. Oh, and email bankruptcy anyone (see #2)?
Perfectionism has crippled me. Plus it’s so completely pointless. I’m making a conscious effort to shed myself of the habit. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m writing a blog post not a Ph.D. dissertation.
Read how others stay productive
If you’re like me, this suggestion has the potential to be a major time waster, but sometimes what others are doing gives you some really good ideas about improving your own system. One of my favorite series on is How I Work on Lifehacker.
Write first, edit (and flesh out) later
I think any good writer does this, but hey, it’s hard to do this when you’ve got a post that’s supposed to be published in, like, an hour and you haven’t started it! Whenever you get a post idea, jot it down without editing. Come back to it later to make it great.
Do the math
If you’ve got too much on your plate, no manner of rearranging will reduce your stress. You must pare down first!
If necessary, declare blog bankruptcy
If you’ve lost all interest in your blog, or you yearn to start with a clean slate, delete your blog or simply walk away. It’s a drastic step for sure, but sometimes it’s just nice to start fresh. Before you do this, though, make sure you back up your posts so you can access them later if you’d like. Also, if you want to bring your readers along to your new online home, make sure you tell them your plans.
Keep your goals top of mind
Here’s a good question to ask yourself on a regular basis: Is what I’m doing right now getting me closer to my goal?
Practice “The Daily 10” (or pick your own number)
If you find that one task always falls through the cracks, commit to spend a consistent 10 minutes every day on that one project. Schedule it, do it.
Automate it or forget it
I’m working on streamlining and automating anything I can. There are automation tools for everything so there’s bound to be a solution to any of your manual task to-dos. If you can’t automate it, is it really worth keeping? If not, let it go.
Delegate it. And enlist the help of your kids
Only do the thing you can do. Delegate the rest. I’m horrible at this, but working on it. But don’t just think you have to hire someone to do things for you. Sometimes it’s the simple tasks in life that pull us away from being productive and they can easily be remedied if thought about creatively. For example, sometimes when I misplaced something, instead of taking the time to find it myself, I offer a monetary prize (a quarter, a dollar, whatever is appropriate for the ages involved) to the child that finds it first. It’s a win-win.
Put together a can’t-be-interrupted box for kids
If you work at home with kids, I saw this clever productivity tip from Deb Walker in 37 Productivity Tips for Working From Anywhere (mashable.com). Do any of you do this?
Put together a box of toys, games, and books that your children are only allowed to use when you are on the phone. Make sure these ideas are saved for ‘special’ times (when you’re on the phone, or can’t give your child your full attention). Also, load up on popsicles. It always keeps them quiet for a few minutes for an important phone call.
Don’t be afraid to change course (avoid insanity)
It was Albert Einstein who defined insanity like this: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Basically, if what you’re doing is not producing the results you want, change something. For example, most bloggers I know have changed course at least once since they started blogging. It takes a while to find a good blogging rhythm and as time goes by, you might realize some topics are more enjoyable to write about or are more well-received by your readers. Embrace the refining process. Don’t be afraid to revamp.
The Dip by Seth Godin (referral link) is about setting goals and the process of reaching them. It explores that point in the process—he calls it “the dip—when you feel like you aren’t making any progress and you wonder if it’s all worth it. The dip often occurs right before you have a burst of progress. Everyone has dips. Not everyone pushes through them.
“Never Quit”: What a spectacularly bad piece of advice…Never quit? Never quit wetting your bed? Or that job you had at Burger King in high school? Never quit selling a product that is now obsolete? Wait a minute. Didn’t that coach say quitting was a bad idea? Actually, quitting as a short-term strategy is a bad idea. Quitting for the long term is an excellent idea. I think the advice-giver meant to say, “Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.” Now that’s good advice.
Persistent people are able to visualize the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when others can’t see it. At the same time, the smartest people are realistic about not imagining light when there isn’t any.
Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations. Reactive quitting and serial quitting are the bane of those that strive (and fail) to get what they want. And most people do just that. They quit when it’s painful and stick when they can’t be bothered to quit.
Seth doesn’t say you should never quit. He says you should quit strategically. I totally agree.