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6 Powerful Life Hacks for Bloggers

A Guest Post by David Turnbull of Adventures of a Barefoot Geek

Life hacking has evolved to mean many things but at its core it’s a term for geeks to describe their love of using tech skills to save time, automate boring tasks and confuse people with their array of hot keys, shell scripts and jargon.

As I become more comfortable with expressing my ideas through writing I felt it was time to focus on achieving the same aim with a bit more efficiency and cleverness. These are the solutions I came up with.

Write with Markdown

Writing for the web isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. There’s the ugly necessity of writing out HTML which, while not in any way difficult, makes your writing less readable during the editing process.

Markdown is the answer and the best way to explain Markdown is to show you what it does.

Let’s look at a standard HTML tag: <strong>Bold text goes here</strong> and now the Markdown equivalent: **Bold text goes here**. Doesn’t that look much nicer?

Every common HTML tag has a Markdown equivalent, allowing for improved readability while writing. On a small scale you may not notice much of an improvement, but click here to see a screenshot of this article written in Markdown.

For use with WordPress, install the Markdown for WordPress plugin, which converts the syntax to HTML for your reader but maintains the original syntax for editing.

There’s the added advantage that writing Markdown syntax is quicker than writing out HTML and, in combination with TextExpander (more on this in a second) the time spent formatting your posts will be cut down to seconds.

Speed up your workflow with TextExpander

TextExpander is a killer app and a necessity for serious bloggers.

Here’s an example of its power:

Let’s say I want to create a link using the Markdown syntax. The syntax for that is [Anchor text goes here](http://sitename.com). It’s not much typing by default but all I need to type is :link.

TextExpander recognises that I’ve typed :link and:

  1. Replaces it with the syntax I want.
  2. Inserts the URL I wish to link to between the parentheses (taking it from the clipboard).
  3. Launches an input field titled ‘Anchor text‚Äù that lets me add the link’s anchor text between the square brackets without breaking my flow. (Example)

Let that sink in for a moment. This is one example that saves me 2-3 seconds for every link I include in my articles.

Imagine how much time you could save after setting up your own rules. TextExpander do provide you with thousands of text substitutions out of the box though, so there’s no upfront work required to experience the benefits.

If you use Windows ActiveWords provides similar functionality.

Edit blog posts with any text editor

Text editors are the perfect writing environment. They allow you to focus on what truly matters ‘the writing’ and aren’t bogged down with cumbersome controls that encourage fiddling rather than effectiveness.

Wouldn’t it be great to write and edit blog posts within a text editor? Sure, you can copy and paste text into WordPress, but what if there was a better solution?

All it takes is the ability to edit text fields (like WordPress’ HTML view) using your text editor of choice. Any Cocoa-based browser (like Safari) should allow this by default, but if you’re like the majority of web workers who use Firefox then install the It’s All Text! extension. Setup a hot key and KA-BLAM you’re able to edit any text field you wish with a text editor.

When writing with Markdown this trick lets me combine TextMate’s syntax highlighting with WordPress’ automatic save system. It’s the best of both worlds.

To get most text editors working with the Firefox method you may need to read this article.

Improve your writing with clever formatting

One of the age-old writing principles is to write less. Detail is fine, clutter is not. But we like to fill up space. We’re compelled to fill blank pages with content, even if it dilutes what we’re saying.

To combat this tendency increase the size of the text you write with and give yourself less space to fill.

Within TextMate, for example I write with size 14 text and have it so the text wraps after 78 characters. This means that even a small paragraph fills up plenty of space, satisfying my ego while deflating the word count.

Build a comprehensive backup system

If you’re putting a lot of work into a project without any redundancy you’re never going to have peace of mind. Spending 30 minutes building a bullet-proof backup system is one of the best time investments you can make.

Email backups

  1. Setup an email forwarder through cPanel ‘something like [email protected]’ that directs to a Gmail account. Use this one email address for backing up all of your blogs.
  2. Create a filter in Gmail that identifies emails being sent to your email forwarder. Set this filter to archive your emails, label them as ‘Backups’ and mark them as read.
  3. Install WP DB Backup, configure it via the settings page and start building an archive of your blog’s database.

Amazon S3 Backups

Amazon S3 offers storage that’s dirt cheap on a small scale. I have a 6+ month archive of my largest blog and I’m still paying less than $0.50 per month.

To take advantage of this:

  1. Install the WP S3 Backups plugin for WordPress.
  2. Create an Amazon S3 account.
  3. Connect the two elements by entering your access key and secret key (which are both available in your S3 control panel) into WordPress.

It’s worth using S3 Backups just to backup your blog’s files but an additional copy of your database won’t go astray.

VaultPress

Automattic, the creators of WordPress are putting together VaultPress, a backup and security web application that connects with your blogs and performs a whole bunch of magical functions including:

  • Real time cloning of your files
  • Security fixes without your intervention
  • Handling massive amounts of data

Once the tool is released to the public (sign up for the beta) it will be a premium service, but from the little we know it sounds like a worthwhile expense.

Automate with Automator and Folder Actions [Mac OS X]

Before switching my blog about the Nintendo 3DS from WordPress to Tumblr (which is a story for another time) I would add 600 pixel wide images to the beginning of each post. This was a manual process until I decided to use OS X’s built in software to automate it.

Folder Actions allow you to automatically run a workflow built through Apple’s Automator when a file is dropped into a folder of your choice. There’s too much flexibility in Automator to explain it all in one post, but here’s a rundown of what I created:

  1. I find an image for article I’m writing and save it to a specific folder.
  2. Folder Actions recognises this and runs an Automator workflow I created called Rename, Crop and Convert Post Images.
  3. The image file is renamed with a predefined structure, cropped to 600√ó250 pixels and converted to a JPEG.
  4. Growl notifies me that the process is complete and that the image is ready to be uploaded to the blog.

All this happens in one quick motion without any input aside from initially saving the image. It took 10 minutes to setup (including the learning curve) but would’ve saved me hours of my life each year had I maintained that structure.

To find out more about this, you can download the workflow I created or become familiar with Folder Actions.

You may not need to resize images as I do but there are plenty of linear activities you need to do that Automator can handle.

And that wraps it up for the 6 killer life hacks I’ve recently adopted. I have a tendency to switch systems somewhat erratically though, so don’t feel like you’re doing it wrong if you play around with different strategies rather than trying to conform to what works for me at the moment.

Speaking of different strategies, what life hacks do you use to improve the quality and efficiency of your blogging?

David Turnbull is a life-long geek who writes about effortless living at his blog, Adventures of a Barefoot Geek.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Wow, excellent information…even for someone that has been blogging for a while. As soon as I finish this comment I am going to dig into trying some of this out. And thank you to ProBlogger for turning me on to yet another great blog I was not aware of before.

  2. Dan says:

    ” I would add 600 pixel wide images to the beginning of each post. This was a manual process until I decided to use OS X’s built in software to automate it.”

    Or you could just use the awesome TimThumb script and save yourself a heap more time.

  3. Hey David,
    TextExpander is a killer app and a necessity for serious bloggers. Exactly right bro. !! i am using it from quit some time, it’s really awesome tool :).
    Anyways other hacks are great. Thanks for sharing this great post.

    Regards,
    Dev

  4. Techno-Pulse says:

    Windows Live Writer is one of the best tools I came across to automate most of the blogging tasks…

  5. Hi David. I will definitely use Markdown and your amazon s3 backup also look quite impressive. Well these tips are realy helpful and agree with your point its realy necessary to make text readable for readers. Thanks! Ankush, http://ankushwood.blogspot.com

  6. I think formatting your content is the most important life hack because you want to make it as easy as possible for people to scan through your page

  7. Joshua says:

    Definitely checking out Markdown and TextExpander. Saving 2-3 seconds per link sold me.

  8. axel g says:

    “Build a comprehensive backup system”

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Any work should be saved in multiple locations…

    Great post!

  9. If you’re a Mac user, Typinator by http://www.ergonis.com is a godsend life hack. Well worth the reasonable price to buy and their upgrade policy is benevolent. Text substitution is rapid and accurate, and undoable with ease. I know I don’t use 1/10th of its power but I still find it incredibly valuable.

  10. I like the idea of changing your post formatting to fill up more space with less actual words. I like to do this by using more headers to break up chunks of text as well as including images. They make a post longer without increasing the actual reading time for the readers.

  11. I LOVE textexpander. Actually I use the Windows equivalent, WordPilot. Really speeds up my writing process!

  12. Nick says:

    Great post Darren! Currently I use textexpander and really speeds up my writing process.

  13. Thanks for the comments everyone. Glad this was helpful.

    @Dan – I only took a quick look at that TimThumb script but I don’t think it’s what I could use because generating thumbnails wasn’t the problem. I use Thesis and that already creates thumbnails for me, I just needed images I manually embedded in the post to be no bigger than 600 pixels wide. :-)

  14. I have to say that Markdown would put me off my equilibrium because I instinctively write out HTML code faster than I can type out my name.

  15. @Brandon – I felt a bit like that too because I’ve been coding HTML since I was 12, but it was only a minor discomfort. Once you make the adjustment it’s seriously worth it. :-)

  16. Great tips! Especially the one about backing up your files. Many new bloggers forget about this important step and could see all of their work disappear.

  17. I fully agree with you and Axel (from Comments)
    “Build a comprehensive backup system”

    I couldn’t agree more

  18. Great tips I have never seen or heard of the markdown and it seems to good to be true. I have been a web designer and hate trying to read the text within HTML. I to love to build my ego with a large post and find the post never gets commented which makes me think it does not even get read. Perhaps if I use the increase text size I can cut down on my post size making it easier for my readers to read and comment. Very useful tips thank you.

    Kris,

  19. Certainly you have added many new features about which many bloggers were not aware.

  20. jensendarren says:

    I love your simple and, in this case, free to use advice to “..increase the size of the text you write with and give yourself less space to fill…”. An absolute must in todays fast-pasted, information overloaded life we all lead!

    I would like to add to this suggestion, if I may, with one word…lists. They take up a lot of space :) and at the same time require very few words and yet also provide a lot of value to your reader (since they are easy to digest)!

  21. Fred Kapoor says:

    I totally agree with @Impulse Magazine “formatting your content is the most important life hack”. As a matter of fact it is all about having the visitors to repeat their visits to your blog and that will be achieved not only by how attractive the web design and programming is, but also by the simplicity involved in going through the blog.

  22. HowToPlaza says:

    Hello David.

    Thank you for sharing this amazing information; I mean this is something that can really help, especially the formatting part. I have developed my own PHP program to format my blog content, but this is much better.

    ~~ Sarah ~~

  23. Andy says:

    Unless you spend an ungodly amount of time writing, I don’t know if any of these really qualifies as a *life*hack.

    Writing hack? Workflow hack?

    I’m not saying these aren’t useful, but life is way bigger than the time we spend at the keyboard. (At least we should hope so.)

  24. I always believe that Automator is too much of a pain to use. Maybe I need to think differently about it.

  25. Tom says:

    Great tips, TextExpander is something I’m definitely going to try in the next few days. (As for the images i use Expression Engine’s plugin ImgSizer which creates thumbnails on the fly)

  26. Peter J says:

    one reason why i should get a mac, lol, this is automator seems so interesting, to bad i use rubishy windows. :( Thanks for the great post.

  27. Nice tips for making our blogging lives a little easier.

    I really like the idea of using the built-in automator actions with Mac OS for bulk work. I will have to add that to my list.

    I also have to say your advice for using the DB backup for your WordPress backups is spot on. I use it daily for backing up my site. I will also checkout ValutPress as well.

  28. Edward says:

    The part about the backups was interesting, bu the rest is not very useful as for me.

    Lets take all the editing for example. WordPress provides simple and reliable solutions for all of the described tasks.

    What I would really like to see are some interesting plugins that would be useful for a blog or to hear about some interesting services or stuff like that. Something that cannot be done with default functionality of my platform.

  29. Thanks David for the post. I am looking forward to trying out some of your suggestions. I use OS X, but never considered automator.

    I will give it a try and see how it goes.

  30. John White says:

    Blog backup (or any kind of backup) is a drag. Nobody wants to think about it until it’s too late.

    Try WordPress Database Backup, which sends you an archive you can restore with phpMyAdmin.

    Visit http://ilfilosofo.com/blog/wordpress-plugins/

    (No affiliate relationship to me)

  31. Eric says:

    Quick additions to the awesome apps you’ve cited.

    LifeHacker’s Texter (similiar to TextExpander): http://lifehacker.com/238306/lifehacker-code-texter-windows

    Dark Room (full screen, minimalistic text editor): http://they.misled.us/dark-room

  32. And I continue to use my beloved hyper link, at 2-3 seconds I can live with it.

  33. Very good info. Especially like the backup stuff.

    I won’t be turning to Markdown, however. I’ve been coding sites for 16 years. Reading HTML is like reading English for the most part. :) Learning a substitute language probably wouldn’t be worth the benefit.

  34. Gunther says:

    I fully agree that a good backup system is quite important.

    Regarding the other tips and tools I am not that sure. I once had to use a similar system as Markdown and to me it was a real pain. Moreover I wonder who needs a tool as Markdown when WordPress has a visual text editor (TinyMCE)? Sure, the normal version is problematic to say the least when it comes to paragraphs and similar stuff, but for that we have TinyMCE Advanced. At least for that version I certainly know that you also can use the good old Ctrl+B for bold/strong and directly paste formatted texts from Word. With only some very few special cases I always use this editor when writing and never felt I was losing time or missing something.

  35. @Andy – You’re misinterpreting what a “life hack” is. The definition has become blurry over the years, but it was originally coined to be along the lines of geeky productivity tricks people could use when working. That’s the definition I’ve stuck too. :-)

  36. Darren,

    Jumped into these hacks today. Thanks. I especially like the backup with Amazon’s S3, found it helpful.

    Also found MarkItUp! WP plug-in fits well with Markdown.

    Now I need to integrate these into my work flow.

    Cheers

  37. Alexis says:

    Fantastic ideas! I can’t believe I’d never thought of using Automator before… awesome. This made my day.

  38. David,

    Here is a blog-life hack I’ve been using which is producing some great traffic outcomes…spinning old posts for article marketing…

    An easy and cheap way is to choose an older article, possibly one which isn’t getting much organic traffic, and rewrite it by changing the focused keyword, verbs, and title…then publish to ezinearticles.com…too easy!

    I also joined SEO Vine Link, which provides a tool for quickly editing one article and creating 2, 3 or more posts, then pushes the posts out to members for use…great investment at $47…

    both options generate free backlinks and new traffic!

    Write On!

  39. This is without doubt my favourite article at Problogger this year. Practical tips about what goes on behind the scenes of creating a bulletproof blog. Perfect.

    Humbled to be a fellow David.

    Well done!

  40. Nikon S210 says:

    I must install those plugin on my very very old blog, he needs it :D

  41. Imran Yousaf says:

    Darren, you have shared some great plugin with us. I was in search of secure backup of blog. I will definitely give a try to WP S3 Backups plugin and Amazon S backup system. I have heard that amazon is using Cloud computing.

  42. Nacho Jordi says:

    The trick of making backups by creating an email account is just BRILLIANT! Thank you!

  43. Dave Higgs says:

    I use WordPress Database Backup to automate my backups. This only does the db tho, so every now and then I do an FTP dump of files.

    Another hack I use (and most sane WordPress users do too) is Akismet for Spam control. Turn it on and save yourself hours of spam deleting horrors.

    As for security updates, another must do horrid job! I use WP Security Scan

    I also like SimpleTags for Technorati integration.

    Dave

  44. The more I read about wordpress, the more I appreciate Blogger

  45. The link for your Automator Workflow doesn’t work. It just ends up on the filedropper home page.

  46. The auto save function at wordpress is ok for me, until now.
    With some plugins (for photo/video), the edit part is also enough for an average editor quality.

  47. Lue Nale says:

    I have been researching all kinds of stuff to try and work on SEO for my sites. I have attempted using article distribution companies, content spinners, profile links, you name it. So I appreciate the posts here on your blog.

  48. i just realited the importance of backups after i read this article..

    i think backups is not important.. but now different after i read this :)

    looks like i need those plugins :)

  49. Vaultpress looks like something I need. I didn’t even know it existed. Good tip.