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The Rookie Mistake that’s Holding You Back

This guest post is by Alexander Heyne of Milk the pigeon.

You’re paralyzed. You started reading how to drive more traffic to your blog, write viral content, and make money online…

Three hours later you wake up and realize you haven’t actually done anything.

You think you’ve had a productive day, and can visualize the influence and money in your future, but time passes and it never comes. You repeat many days like that, and wonder if there is something wrong with your strategy.

Meanwhile there are stories of success all around you—some random teenager built an online empire and raked in $5,000 a month easy; another guy built a company to six figures in two years using his blog; someone else landed a book deal via their blog.

Slowly, over time, you begin to lose interest because your success doesn’t match that of others. You say you gave the blogging thing “a good run,” and you quit.

You probably never realize the rookie mistake we all make blogging.

And you probably never consciously ponder the one oft-forgotten principle that all high achievers regularly make use of.

It is so intuitive and simple that we merely nod our heads and get on with our lives, never seeking to apply it. If it’s obvious, I’m probably already doing it, right?

Rookie mistake 101

When I first began projects in college, I would spend days researching a topic before I even started doing any work. I had dozens of web pages saved, links in a word document, and books checked out from the library.

So imagine me starting a blog: hundreds of pages of word documents, dozens of websites saved, potential affiliate programs mapped out to buy, hours upon hours spent researching.

I later realized that this was a massive rookie mistake.

Ultimately, you have to build your project, right? Whether it’s an essay, a proposal, a blog, or a house, it requires physical work.

And I realized that I (as well as many others) am prone to excessive information gathering, which hurts you in two main ways:

  1. It falsely makes you believe you are actually getting work done (you aren’t).
  2. The amount of information you acquire tends to be inversely related to the work you get done.

This pattern is exactly the one most bloggers, business owners, and Internet users find themselves in—collecting, hoarding, and storing information without any application or usage.

The cause of this rookie mistake is simple—we are at a very specific disadvantage while working today. It’s Google. I suspect our conundrum is a 21st century one: 100 years ago people didn’t have the option of researching themselves to death. There was just working, and learning from experience.

And if we get to the bottom line here, I bet you’re probably trying to build influence and make a living in the process, right? So let me help you point out a big mistake I made for most of my life, and how I helped fix it.

After I realized I was wasting a ton of time on the Internet without actually setting my foundation set at all, I came up with a personal rule.

I would record the amount of time I spent researching, reading, and collecting information. And I would record the time I spent doing work. The amount of doing to researching had to be a 2:1 ratio. I had to be doing twice as much as researching.

If, for example, I did some research on making a niche website, and it took me four hours to accumulate the information, I would then have a “due” of eight hours of work to do. And in that time I would no longer permit myself to do research of any kind. It was purely work.

Maybe that involved thoroughly doing some keyword research to find a niche that has high traffic and low competition. Or maybe I spent time outsourcing and getting the initial, bare-bones website up. Or perhaps I decided to send emails to five people running niche websites to ask for help in avoiding beginner mistakes.

But the underlying principle remained the same, and that was the most important part: Get work done immediately.

Having rules or principles that guide and govern your work will largely determine your success, and make it many times easier and more efficient. Make or find a system, and stick with it.

Rookie Mistake: Collecting information excessively in place of actually getting work done.
Fix: Utilize the 2:1 ratio. Spend twice as much time working as you do researching and reading.

Killing the overwhelming stress of choosing

I went on to apply this strategy when I started my blog and wasn’t having a lot of success getting traffic. I was spending hours upon hours reading every blogging strategy, printing off notes, making lists, reading success stories—but never getting anywhere.

So I applied the 2:1 ratio in combination with Strategy #2: Having a master plan and minion plans.

This is one of the single most effective ways to mitigate the stress of having so many options and so much information to deal with.

Here’s what I did when I first started my blog: I spent three days Googling “traffic strategies” or “getting more traffic” and made one huge word document. There was a list of about 100 tactics, including:

  • posting in related forums
  • other blog commenting
  • guest posting
  • SEO
  • submission to blog directories
  • social media

Next, I made two business plans for my blog: 1. A main plan (master plan) and 2. a set of monthly mini business plans (minion plans). I then took one strategy from my list to apply for the entire month to that month’s minion plan.

Just one. That ensures you’ll actually do it and won’t be overwhelmed.

And finally, I got to work. As an example, check out my first four months of minion plans:

  • Month 1: Establishing a Twitter account and adding ten related users a day. Also, being active for two ten-minute periods at different parts of the day to re-tweet content from others.
  • Month 2: I focused on browsing my Twitter stream for people who wrote related content, or content I just liked. And then I read them every time they wrote a new post, wrote a well-thought out response and began establishing relationships with them.
  • Month 3: I spent time researching SEO and compiling my own list of rules to remember when writing a blog post.
  • Month 4: I created a definitive document of points to consider before I click the Publish button on any new post, such as emotional appeal, novelty, relation to theme, other posts I want to link it to, “feeling” of coherence, etc.

See where I’m going with this? The system makes your life a million times easier, keeps you focused, and helps you stay on track without needing Xanex for the option and information overload.

Best of all, it ensures you are getting actual work done. Because after all, everyone “knows” how to make money from their blog, right? Everyone “knows” SEO, right? And everyone “knows” affiliate marketing.

But if you ask the readers of some of the biggest blogs in the world how many of them are making (any) money, I bet 90% don’t have an answer.

Make your master plan and minion plans tangible on paper, and you’ll become serious. Once you’re serious you’ll see serious results.

Remember the oft-forgotten knowledge: only action breeds results. Do something, anything! Focus on one thing at a time only via a minion plan, and keep general direction with a master plan.

I can directly attribute my initial failures in university, business, and blogging to a lack of knowing Rookie Mistake #1 and lack of remembering the Oft-Forgotten Knowledge. And the closer I looked, the more I realized they are common among others too.

So the next time you realize you’ve spent several hours reading, researching, or pondering your blog or business, remember this statement: only action breeds results. And then get to work—sow your seeds, grow your army, and create your legacy.

Milk the pigeon is about killing that lost feeling, standing out in the crowd, and living a life of greatness.

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Comments

  1. He’s right–I was overwhelmed with information–with researching and not getting anything done! Thanks for pointing out the obvious, only it isn’t obvious until you see it.

    • Becky,

      This was a huge, huge mistake of mine too :). I was insanely overwhelmed when I first got into the online world and spent days writing but not taking action.

      It is obvious! But a lot of us seem to neglect it –

      Alex

  2. Nick Thacker says:

    Umm, Alexander?

    This is legit.

    I mean, really–I can’t even count the number of “productivity” blogs out there (count me in there as well…) that claim to give “actionable,” “measurable” ways of improving productivity, and here you come barging in with, “just do twice as much DOING as PLANNING”

    Seriously, this post is GOLDEN. I’m bookmarking it now, and I might try to do a spinoff post myself sometime soon–giving you the full credit, of course!

    Thanks for the GREAT post and very helpful, actionable thoughts!

    Nick Thacker

    • Nick Thacker says:

      BTW, consider your blog “subscribed to!”

      Great content there, as well–I recommend everyone reading this post go check out what Alexander’s got to offer on his Milk the Pigeon site!

      Nick

    • Nick, thanks for the kind words!

      I try my best to make thoughts actionable.. it’s bloody hard sometimes, but once I find a way I try to stick with it! The above really helped get my mind organized and Milk the pigeon overall…

      Thanks for reading!

      Alex

  3. Sarah S. says:

    It’s like you’ve been tracking my computer usage… When I taught elementary school my first principal was a frightening, imposing woman. Her philosophy about parent involvement that she would recite with a scary smile on her face: “They are our best friends and our worst enemies.” Google is the same thing! Google can take us to the end of the internet, but we will never get anything actually accomplished. I LOVE your rule here. And your minion plans. :-)

    • Totally true Sarah!!

      It’s easy to get sucked into Google and realize your afternoon has evaporated. Especially from a work point of view – going to work from 9-5 definitely does not mean I am doing productive work (or even getting work done!)

      One day I had to stop deceiving myself haha.

      -Alex

  4. Elisabeth says:

    This is fabulous and exactly what I needed! My bookmark folders thank you. ;)

  5. jessa says:

    Thank you Alexander. You must have been reading my mind because this is exactly what I needed to read, today! I really relate to all your wrote as I struggle with the same things … I like the 2:1 strategy + Master Plan / Minion Plan + 1 primary strategy per “phase” or month. I will probably have a primary and secondary, but this definitely helps to keep the focus and increase follow through. Thanks again for this, I’m sure it will be very helpful to many … Great post! 8) … Jessa

    • Jessa,

      We’re both human, haha, and thus probably prone to getting sidetracked very easily. I think ADD Is built into our species, and google can make our mind go two very different ways.

      I’m an organization freak so having a system that I could work with really really helped me get my mind straight and prevent getting stressed.

      - Alex

  6. Shiva says:

    I find your absolutely correct. I also find that many times you can go ahead and do the work and make changes to it, while still being productive because you’re making improvements. If you spend all day reading and looking at other sites you are not getting anything done. A lot of this has to do with knowing what you want your (blog) market to be, and not having to do research that takes you outside of that.

    I also agree most wholeheartedly with your month number four. Excellent suggestion

    • Exactly shiva!

      You need to have the overall direction of the blog set up in your head so you know exactly how to design your master and minion plans.

      - Alex

  7. Aaron says:

    I find myself doing the same thing for sure.
    Great stuff! Thanks.

  8. Bob Angus says:

    “It falsely makes you believe you are actually getting work done (you aren’t)” is the toughest part… because these false time-wasters become habits. Habit that are hard to break.

    Constantly checking your Twitter follower count, email, or analytics reports famously fall under this category too. They are so easy to do. Writing is hard.

    And writing is even harder if your focus is interrupted by your quick fix of easy stuff.

    • Totally Bob, In my opinion, success is all about great habits.

      It’s like Aristotle quote, “Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

      It’s about building long-term productive habits that work well.. and for me it took a lot of untraining and retraining.

      Thanks for reading –

      Alex

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Great advice! I tend to make things too complicated. Thanks. :)

  10. Karen says:

    I so relate! I love the minion plan tip. Staying focused on one idea and running with it until it’s up, not rocket-science—how easily we forget this basic production tip when we get ourselves onto that Google gerbil wheel. Thank you for the reminder, I’m looking forward to applying your advice.

    • Haha I hear you Karen. I feel like it’s the things we smack ourselves in the head about a lot that are often the most important.. I try to remind myself of the simple methods that work. I rarely remember, but this one proved useful.

      -Alex

  11. Eddie says:

    Thank you for this article. It comes at just the right time for me. Excellent points about productivity.

  12. I am so glad I read this article. I started my blog in May and have been trying to figure out how to get more readers. I’ve really stepped up all the “research” lately and feel like my head is going to explode with all the information. I feel like I’m spending all my time reading and looking and posting comments instead of actually writing articles for my blog. All of that other stuff has to be done but not all TODAY. I need to pace myself and your article gives me permission to do it. Just what I needed to hear today.

    • Thanks Patty. The same happened to me when I started – I was pulling out hair because I spent SO many hours reading success stories and had no idea where to start. For me the plan to have a plan was the most important part.

      I hope it helps ,

      Alex

  13. Chris McCoy says:

    Surely it’s better to over-research a topic than to completely bullshit your way through it though? ;]

    • Chris,

      It’s just a balancing act at the end of the day. Some people are more prone to taking action, some are more prone to over researching. I fall in the latter group, but I would imagine that more and more people are falling into the latter group due to the availability of information.

      - Alex

  14. Aaron Eden says:

    Somewhere, I’ve taken that dark road… and yes, comparing yourself with all the successes around you can be a major frustration, or, a motivation. I chose the latter and I’m glad I did. I think that passion is the greatest motivator of them all and coupled with a strong brand message, your blog might as well take off with flying colors ( and a high PR to start with ).

    • Aaron,

      Totally man. Some people react to the success stories around them in a couple ways: envy, inspiration, or self- doubt (I can never become that good of a blogger).

      I completely agree that letting the success of others motivate you — but what was an equally big driver for me was deciding to avoid the sort of unfulfilling life many of my friends are living.

      - Alex

  15. Merianna Neely says:

    The easy access to so much material has also impacted the teaching profession. I’ve had to switch my teaching from content to content screening. Rather than learn facts about ancient civilizations, much of our class time is spent determining how and where to find relevant, reliable resources. If we are a little older and finished with school, we haven’t had the benefit of those sifting lessons!

    • I was going to say basically the same thing. This information overload problem applies to just about anything, even entertainment.

      Think of StumbleUpon or Reddit – you jump on for “just a minute” and end up staying up until 4 in the morning looking at funny cat pictures and ridiculous gifs.

      It’s a strange problem.

      You definitely have to stay conscious of the ridiculous amounts of information available to you and make sure you’re very picky. And never get into the habit of reading random articles on Wikipedia. You could die there.

    • Merianna,

      I worked in a high school for a year and found the following response all-too common: “well I googled it and found…”.

      Google can help you make or refute just about any argument out there. There are billions of opinions floating around and tons of information that needs sifting.

      People like you will definitely become more important in the future. It’s funny how times have changed – At first it was hard to find information. Now it’s overly-plentiful. And now our challenge is sifting through it all, whether that means finding information for a report, or trying to stand out above all the noise.

      - Alex

  16. Daniel says:

    I have been guilty of the same thing big time!

    Running around researching gathering and comparing a ton of information, whilst not putting it into any practical use is a great waste of time.

    What I found was that I would literally come 360 degrees, as far an my researching was concerned, as there was so much conflicting information out there.

    Therefore, I had a ton of data, though, I was unsure just how to put it into good use.

    • Daniel,

      That’s where experimenting comes in. Test, test, test and record your results. I found a lot of conflicting information like you did too and got frustrated. Whether that’s adsense strategies or driving traffic – experiment, and keep records. It will make a massive difference.

      - Alex

  17. Shil1978@HP says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more when you say, “action breeds results.” I’ve made this rookie mistake as well, where I’d spend time reading up things and then reading up some more, all of which is good, but the problem being I’d hardly get myself to do anything of significance in terms of “action.” Its not that I’ve learnt my lesson too – its just a bad habit that keeps following me. It is great to have a reminder article like this to help re-focus on what you should really be doing. Thanks for sharing!!

    • It’s all about the habits. I’ve made and broken tons of habits over the years… and I’d put this one at the top of my list.

      Hope it helps!

      Alex

  18. Joe Burnettt says:

    That was probably one of the greatest Pro Blogger posts ever written.

  19. Mike Carroll says:

    I find using FreeMind helps a lot with being able to organize my thoughts and therefore aid in being able to act those plans. Additionally, I can edit as I need and see which things are viable. Thanks for posting this as well! I found it equally as good!

    • Mike,

      I use Freemind too. Actually I use it to keep track of all of the facets of my blog — so when I begin running low on inspiration I whip out the mind map I made and then get a tea, some classical music, and start brainstorming. Pretty sweet tool

      - Alex

  20. Robby G says:

    I think I have the opposite problem–I don’t spend enough time doing research and am eager to jump into the project and then I HAVE to learn as I go along. This forces me to make lots of mistakes which I could have averted if I did my research. I’m trying to teach myself to pace myself and be patient and do research before I begin a project. Nonetheless I always get my stuff done, that’s a general rule for me: Once you’ve begun something make sure to always finish.

    • Robby – I think both ways need their yin and yang you know?

      I’m starting to become more of a fan of the “jump in with minimal research and learn by experience” but it’s contrary to my nature. I admit it, I’m an over researcher.

      And amen to starting something you finish. Set a goal and achieve it no matter what.

      - Alex

  21. Such simple but great advice. I think it applies to a lot of things too. I write a food blog and often spend way too much time ‘researching’ recipes. I have more saved than I could ever cook so if I actually spend the time cooking I’d have much more content for my blog.

    I like the idea of having smaller plans too. I tend to get overwhelmed by one big plan and avoid actioning it but one-step-at-a-time is something I’m good at!

    • Claire — yeah that’s the irony of food blogs too. There are so many recipes (and you can post recipes) but when you try the recipe itself you can share the experience.

      - Alex

  22. Sierra says:

    Where was this like a year ago? Seriously. My one coworker and I basically sit around all day talking about how we’re going to start blogging for real and get out of our shitty, shitty job. We never do it. I’m saving this forever. Thank you.

  23. Ben Norman says:

    Seems like I’m the only one with the opposite problem, not enough research! Whichever direction you’re skewed in getting that balance point that works for you is important.

  24. Jean Civgin says:

    What a brilliant post, thank you so much! Those “mini-plans” already got my mind thinking, plus it’s fun to make plans because you can often do more in one day and spend the rest on getting visitors etc.

  25. Roque Alea says:

    Thanks to your post, I absolutely agree with you. You solve my dilemma being new in blogging and affiliate marketing, I’m easily drawn into gathering a lot of information until such time I became confuse who’s to follow. I tend to forget the most important part is do the hardwork and actual activity in implementing what I read.

    I’ll keep you suggestion using 2:1 ratio and apply “think on paper” approach to eradicate the stress.

    Cheers

    • Roque,

      Especially with Affiliate Marketing it’s so important just to get started. Let the money be the proof of your work, right?

      - Alex

  26. Lusine says:

    I thought it only happened with me. Thanks for good advice Alexander :)

  27. I’m interested to know what was the result of the twitter tactic you applied?

    • Tohami,

      I originally started by adding related users (10 a day) when I began using Twitter. I had no idea what twitter was or how it worked before I started blogging – so there was a little learning curve learning how to harness it effectively.

      But I ended up wanting to try something new: Rather than add 50,000 people and have 50,000 followers that don’t care about my message, I’m not only adding people whose blogs I know, or whose message I think is important. I want to get as rid of as much clutter as possible.

      Plus, what use is 50,000 twitter followers if everyone is just trying to spam each other, and has no interest in developing relationships?

      - Alex

  28. Alexander,

    This is a beautifully written article, and ever so true. What you say about blogging is true as well for the act of writing — be it a blog post, a feature article, a nonfiction book or a novel. It’s so easy to get caught in the rookie trap of researching to the exclusion of making actual headway while doing the research. If we take the latter approach then we can drop the research that fits into place right away and find that we needn’t be doing nearly the amount of research we thought we’d have to do, thereby cutting out extraneous study time.

    With warm regards,

    Sean

  29. Cecli says:

    This is an excellent article to help increase and harness productivity. I can totally relate to being overwhelmed/distracted and easily swayed into the trap of thinking i’m getting the right things done for my blog, only to find myself at the same point i started the day before. This irons it out, and sums it up..Great Post!

    • Cecil,

      I am totally prone to getting overwhelmed, so these small measures were critical to achieving any sense of organization :)

      Hope it helps,

      Alex

  30. cahyo says:

    that’s right, alex! that’s been my mistake for the last 4 years….:) i guess i should walk the talk now..

  31. Hiten says:

    Fantastic post Alexander. I think when one finds themselves getting immersed in unnecessary information, this can be used as an excellent cue to signal more action is needed instead.

  32. Bougie Girl says:

    I started employing the tips written in the articles on Problogger.net and my site traffic went up by a lot. However, I am also more aware of how I am spending my time online. It is super easy to get sucked into Twitter or Facebook. I give myself a time limit of how long I am going to be on there. Great post.

  33. Akos Fintor says:

    Hey Alexander,

    It’s so easy to get distracted by the information overload. You (accidentally:) ) check your email, browsing through the list of new product lunches that may or not may help to grow your biz. and before you know it 2 hours gone by.
    Yep, focus is key.

    thanks for the share!

  34. Carl says:

    Alexander, amazing post. I love the minion plan, it is so common sense but most of us ignore the simplicity of this method. We try to do it all and beat ourselves up when we don’t get it all done.

    Thanks for sharing, best post I have seen in months. (I have seen alot too) :)

  35. Great post Alexander. You hit the nail on the head. I have had more than my fair share of analysis “excess” (a.k.a. Rookie mistake 101). It’s amazing how it can escalate. Your 2:1 ratio is a great concept – “discipline with parameters.”

    Thanks,
    -Bob

  36. James Greg says:

    The rookie mistake is what we all make consciously and unconsciously too. Gathering information without utilizing it properly is of no use. Hours spent to collect data unnecessarily are really wasted. I think I’ve found the flaw in my plan and will now dedicate more time to working rather than just saving copies for reference although I’ve never used any of my saved copies till now. Thanks for highlighting the mistake many of us make without actually realizing it is a mistake.

  37. This is proof that if you look long enough, the needle will appear in the haystack. At the start of a new business venture, I have found myself identifying steps, and then second guessing myself over and over.

    I think it was Lee Iacocca who coined the phrase Analysis Paralysis. It describes something as old as mankind. Wikipedia has a great entry on this.

    You have provided the key to unlock my current circular position! I will probably modify your proposed solution, but the “nut” is to DO more than you think.

    I believe the military teach officers that in combat it is better to do anything now that the right thing later.

    Ultimately, Writers Write. Google is a tool, NOT a new lobe in my brain.

    Thank you.

  38. Jovie Onyema says:

    Information overwhelms, especially when you have insatiable appetite like me. I’m a victim of that practice. i look for such much info that i end up knowing so much and doing so little.

  39. Alison says:

    Alex,

    Great timing for me. I am in the process of creating a marketing plan for my business and now I can stop researching and bookmarking and implement the straight-forward, actionable approach you presented.

  40. Jojie C. says:

    I liked how you focused on one actionable item per month and then moving on to the next the following month. I have a question though, do you then, let go of the previous months or does that get roll overed to the next month when you are focusing on something else?

  41. Vlad says:

    The 2:1 doing to researching ratio rule is very interesting….I think this is my week point. I will try to solve it.
    Thanks for the great tip!