The most successful people in the online media like Guy Kawasaki, Grant Cardone and Michael Hyatt quote frequency and consistency as the key to their online success and a large following. Looking for more success and more visibility begs for productivity hacks to squeeze more of what we already do into less time. This is where the way we organise our time and goals becomes key to success.
Although part of our work includes being online the most successful online influencers are actually the ones that manage to disconnect, carving out time to work on projects that require focus. Checking the stats of your latest blog post or the likes on that funny picture you posted every 5 minutes is not only killing your current productivity but also your ability to focus.
I have spent the last few months focusing on increasing my productivity through systems that help me improve my organisation and focus time tolerance. By keeping planning simple and staying execution focused you can gradually reduce the time it takes to do a given task such as writing a blog post by as much as 40%.
The most important breakthrough in timesaving came when I started creating working systems that did not require me to be online during tasks that require focus.
Here’s what worked:
1. Getting to Inbox Zero
As a content marketeer (and marketing agency founder) I need to keep in touch with customers and colleagues through email and also follow industry trends, tools and news. This means that my inbox is often overwhelmed with email and getting to work on focus-intensive work is difficult with a full inbox and a cluttered head. A simple folder system with the current folders now allows me to clear my inbox until it’s time for that scheduled time bucket. Different people may require different folders however the key is to keep them to a maximum of 5 or less. Any more and clutter seems to be creep back in.
My 5 folders are called:
- To Do
- New Jobs to Schedule
- To Quote
- Delegated to follow up later
- To Read Later
Anything that doesn’t fit in these folders gets either deleted or replied to instantly. In fact any email that can be answered in 1 minute or less gets a reply instead of going to the To Do folder.
2. Using a Scheduler like Hootsuite
Hootsuite will increase your efficiency tenfold if social post frequency is your thing. To keep my audience engaged I post quite frequently and usually during busier times when platforms tend to load more slowly. Searching for articles and scheduling them can take quite a long time – approximately around 40 mins for about 10 to 12 posts.
By installing the Hootsuite plugin (hootlet) on my Chrome I now schedule posts anytime I am researching and come across a good article that appeals to my target audience. This happens frequently because of course, my writing targets the same audience.
3. Writing in airplane mode
If you don’t do it already then start today. Before writing switch off your wifi receiver and turn off your phone. You’ll be amazed how much more you’ll get done. You’ll also experience an improvement in the quality of your writing. If blocking out distractions tends to be difficult, talk to your colleagues about the Pomodoro technique (more on this below). Let them know that when you’re wearing your headphones and your timer is on you’re in the middle of a pomodoro and that is no distractions time. Explain that you have a 5 minute break between pomodoros and the timer will tell them exactly when that is due.
4. Extend focus space with time buckets
According to the Four Hour Work Week author Tim Ferris, clustering similar tasks in time bucket of around 3 to 4 hours will help you reduce the time it takes to work through those tasks. To devise your own time bucket plan you need to think like you’re creating a weekly breakdown of everything you do – a bit like a school time-table. The time buckets should start off looking the same every week for example 2 hours on Monday for Planning, 3 hours for writing etc.. You input this into your calendar and then make changes according to what you have booked and planned for the week.
Time your activities for 1 or 2 weeks and then use this information to build your time buckets. Over time you may find that the time buckets don’t fit your needs anymore and therefore you’ll need to do this again every few months.
5. List-Making – Google Keep
Every time bucket specified above will have a to do list attached to it. This list will grow as you empty your email inbox. In fact you should attempt to put everything on your list and out of your inbox. It is great at helping you reach and keep inbox zero.
Google keep is one of the better tools for the job especially if you’re looking for a free tool. Lists can be attached to an image for visual reminders, you can share lists (which is great for delegating tasks) you have tick boxes to tick off items as you go along (and it helps motivate you too!). Its available on mobile, tablet and web so you never have to worry about forgetting, just add your to do items to the appropriate list as they pop into your head.
The great thing about Google Keep lists is that you can tag them. So for example I can have a to do list for every blog I manage and then just tag them all as client blogs. Then when my time bucket for client blogging is due I just choose the ‘Client Blogs’ tag in my Google Keep and all my client blog lists line themselves up neatly. Then I move on to the Pomodoro technique.
6. Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique works very well with time buckets. The technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo and is based on very simple principles. This system helps you break down your focus time into 25 minute chunks. It really helps in the long run because by thinking in Pomodoros you will improve your efficiency at predicting how much time you require for a particular task or project.
There are five basic steps to implementing the technique:
Step one – Decide what you’re going to do and break it down into smaller tasks
Step Two – Set a timer to 25 minutes
Step Three – Work on the task until the timer rings (record progress tick finished tasks)
Step Four: Take a short break (3–5 minutes)
Repeat Step three and four for as long as your time bucket allows. After four Pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes). You time bucket should ideally not be longer than 4 Pomodoros – that’s approximately 2 hours.
7. Automation Tools – Zapier and IFTTT
Using automation tools can also save you a lot of time by taking small but cumulative daily tasks off your hand. The best tools for this are definitely Zapier and If This Then That (IFTTT).
Both tools are designed to make apps. and online tools speak to each other and pass on data creating simple automated workflows that would have otherwise not been possible.
For example, if you like to type your blog posts and format them in WordPress, (or just do your final edit there) you can create an automation path that backs up every post you publish to your Google Drive, Drop Box, Evernote or any other integrated back-up tool of your choice. This will make sure you never forget to back-up the final version of your articles.
Zapier can also be used to easily and efficiently post images to the various social platforms, a feature which unfortunately fails all too often in Hootsuite and other scheduling tools. IFTTT, on the other hand, can help you post Instagram photos as native Twitter pics. IYou can also use it to automate thank you replies to new social followers.
Both Zapier and IFTT can be a big help with your list-building. By creating the right set-up it is possible to create new contacts by sending every new iOS contact to a Google sheet which then automatically registers it in Mailchimp saving you follow-up time after a speaking engagement, networking event or conference. You then also automate introductory emails that are triggered when inserting into your email marketing software; meaning your follow-ups and list-building are instant and require no additional work later.
The possibilities are truly endless with Zapier; it supports around 500 Apps ranging across online storage, CRM, email and productivity tools whereas IFTTT offers ready-made ‘recipes’ that you can use to do anything from post images to instagram and flicker or create an action like changing your Facebook status when you wake up.
If you write from a specific location like an office or cafe, you can set your phone to go on silent mode when you arrive at this location to block out distractions. Your imagination is the limit with these two tools. Its a fast and easy way to smarten your daily workflow and the way to deal with others.
My favourite time-saving hack from IFTTT is definitely Speaking notes to Evernote using Siri and iOS Reminders. This helps me save blog ideas on the go without even having to type them out.
8. Master Speed Writing
Speed writing is a technique used by many professional writers to get their ideas down on paper fast. It is a technique that claims to flex your creativity muscles allowing more of your thoughts to flow more easily.
It particularly lends itself to blogging because it often results in natural copy that reads easily and has a very conversational tone. This is often the desired style for bloggers and it can help you write in a more authentic voice. It has also been proven to cut writing time in half.
This technique combined with the Pomodoro Technique and putting it all into 1-time bucket, has in fact practically halved the time it takes me to blog every week. Staying on subject and not having to ‘warm up’ every time helped me cut the time it takes me to write 5 blog posts from an average of 1.6 hours per post a day (a total of 8 hours) to 7 Pomodoros (25 + 5-minute chunks) that’s 3.5 hours in total.
Before following the Speedy Writing technique it’s important to establish two points. The first is to not try to type faster, this is not about typing faster it’s about thinking faster, secondly it’s important that you do not stop; the system works because it cuts out the time you use to stop and think. No thinking time allowed.
Steps to Speedier Writing
1. Do your research and log information in clearly organised notes so you can read them before beginning to write.
2. Split your target word count into blocks of 150 words.
3. Choose a question as a title – answering a question is easier than fulfilling a statement you just made up. You can change the title later if you don’t really want to use a question.
4. Choose 3 keywords to include in the copy
5. Write 200 words without stopping
6. Edit it down to 150 words – remove any superfluous words. If it a sentence still makes sense without that word, remove it! It will read better.
7. Paste into your word doc. and start the next writing chunk…
This tool which I first discovered at neilstoolbox.com, will help you produce quality writing, faster. If you were to do this 10 times per day, you could write a book in under 3 months.
In Tim Ferris’ words “Focus on being productive not being busy”. I hope the tools above will help you focus on getting more done in less time so you can dominate your niche whilst achieving work-life balance.
The best thing about becoming more efficient is the fact that you are consciously giving your time more importance. By focusing on freeing up time you can schedule in more social activities or me-time, this will also translate into better productivity. Carving out down time and relaxing time is key to productivity too so make your target more enjoyable by using time saved for activities you enjoy. If you’re happier you’re more productive and you’ll find procrastination is not a problem anymore.
Want to take your business blog to the next level? Contact me for coaching or mentoring here.