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Don’t Be Lazy: 9 Ways to Blog Smarter and Harder

This is a guest contribution from Eric Cummings who writes about art and philosophy for On Violence.

I’ve been writing this post for three years. What can I say? I’m lazy.

Or I should say, I used to be lazy.

That’s not the case anymore. Four years ago, my brother and I started taking our writing career seriously. I now write. A lot. On my days off from work, I regularly put in over ten hour days, just writing, editing and re-writing. I’ve learned how to work, both smarter and harder. You can too.

(Finally, an admission: though I wrote down an outline for this post three years ago, I resuscitated this idea for today’s post a few weeks ago.)

Tip 1: Forget the “To Do” List. Use Next Actions. 

“To do” lists don’t work because most people include “do’s” like “write a novel”, “pay bills” or “find web hosting”. I know, because that’s what I used to do.

Then I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Instead of “to dos”, Allen proposes “next actions”. “Next actions” answer the question, “What do I need to do next?” Instead of “start a blog”, your next action is “research domain registries”, “brainstorm blog title ideas”, and “list blog post ideas”. This way you know what you need to do next.

For every blog post I write, I have a “NA” written at the top, stating the exact next action, like “research the topic” or “edit post” or “proofread”. I can’t do the entire concept justice in a blog post, but I’d recommend everyone read Getting Things Done. If you can’t do that, when you’re writing a “to do” list, ask yourself, what do I need to do next?

Tip 2: Figure Out Where You Lose Time

A number of years ago, my co-writer started listening to a podcast on business advice called Manager Tools. One episode changed my whole perspective on time, the appropriately titled “Time Management”. Most importantly, I learned how to do a “time audit”.

A time audit records everything you did on a given day. For one week, every ten or fifteen minutes, write down what you just did. At the end of the week, analyze it. Where do you waste time? What did you actually work on? What can you differently in the future?

What’s our most valuable resource? Time. You may want to write, you just don’t have the time. Then figure out where your time is going. Trust me, this analysis will blow your mind.

Tip 3: Figure out Your Golden Hours

A few years ago, Darren Rowse keyed me into his principle of “Golden Hours”, the two or three hours of the day where everyone is the most productive. Some people work better in the morning. Others write better at night.

My golden hours occur between 9:00 to 12:00. Knowing this, when I have a day off, I make sure I’m writing during my golden hours. I do other tasks (chores, bills, answering comments) later in the day.

Figure out your golden hours and organize your day around them.

Tip 4: Break Up Your Writing…With “Productive Breaks”.

Ever find yourself doing chores before writing? It’s a common delay mechanism. Instead of delaying, solve this problem by planning out your day before you start writing.

If I know at the start of a writing day that I have chores to do, I plan on doing the chores in half hour chunks between bursts of writing. So I will write a guest post for an hour, then do dishes. Then I’ll research blog posts, then sweep. Then I’ll edit posts. Then go shopping.

Breaking up your writing day has two benefits.

First, you can clear your mind and recharge your batteries. Second, it frees your brain, which is still thinking about what your were writing about, to come up with new ideas. You can’t write straight for hours on end. Some people probably can, but I can’t. So I break up my day with “productive breaks”.

Tip 5: Break Up Your Writing…By Writing About Different Things

My co-writer and I write a lot of different things. Blog posts, guest posts, essays, research papers, screenplays and more. We do this because we like writing about different things. But more importantly, it breaks up our days. I can get more writing in if I write in different mediums about different things. If I only wrote screenplays, I’d get bored. If I only wrote blog posts, I’d lose energy.

Vary up your writing and you’ll work harder.

Tip 6: Monotask 

Multi-tasking doesn’t exist. Sorry, but your mind can’t input multiple streams of information at the same time. You can’t write an email and talk on the phone at the same time. It’s impossible. And switching rapidly between tasks takes away your energy and focus.

So turn off your email, Twitter and chat programs. Don’t answer your phone. Stay off the Internet, unless you’re doing research on a current project.

Tip 7: Use Email in Bursts

As I just said, email can be a horrific time waster, especially if you leave it open all day.

Try this instead: Check your email in one hour blocks throughout the day; hopefully once in the morning, afternoon and at the end of the day. This applies to social media like Twitter, Facebook and chat programs as well. While that seems like an outrageously small amount of time, with practice you’ll learn to get all your social media taken care of in these quick bursts.

Tip 8: Strengthen Your Will Power Muscle 

New studies show that “will power” is a muscle that we can train like real muscles. I’ve learned this the hard way. When I first started writing five years ago, I could only work for about two hours at a time. Every year that time has increased by two hours.

Today, for instance, I’ve already been writing for about five hours, give or take some five minute breaks and a twenty minute walk. I’ll probably write for another four hours, before I totally crash. I can only do this because I’ve been developing the writing muscle for a long time.

Another thought on will power: it will deplete itself. I lose energy at night, especially after I eat dinner. Understand this, and figure out when/why you crash and stop working.

Do something post dinner that requires less attention, like commenting or tweeting, than something you do during your golden hours.

Tip 9: Follow a Blogging Schedule!

My co-writer and I write our posts early, and schedule them ahead of time. When you’re blogging, force yourself to follow a schedule. Know that you’ll post two, three, or four times a week and stick to this schedule. It will make you a better writer and a better blogger.

There are no excuses for missing a week of posting. Write posts ahead of time, and create a folder of hold posts to use for emergencies. And write every week.

Eric Cummings writes about art and philosophy for On Violence, a blog on military and foreign affairs written by two brothers–one a soldier and the other a pacifist. Find him on Twitter, @onviolence.

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Comments

  1. Diana says:

    Nice tips!
    I hope that I will be able to apply them. :)

  2. Jake Bauer says:

    Tip #2 is absolutely great. I try to do this every few months or so. It’s amazing where your time goes when you’re not paying attention.

  3. Not real easy to follow them religiously. Any particular idea about shaking off the laziness? I have seen that once one gets started it gets easy. I will certainly go through the book – Getting things done. Thanks!

    • Eric C says:

      Two thoughts: 1. Read Getting Things Done. 2. Just understand that will power is a muscle you need to develop. You won’t be good at it at first. Know this, work through it and just keep trying.

  4. Okto says:

    I’d prefer working smart especially in today blogging game. But don’t miss understand about it, work hard is always important to aim for success. But when we can work smart, we can save a lot more of our time.

    Thus finding golden rules and following blog schedule are the fastest way (in my experience) to get yourself at the point of “blog smarter” than “harder”. Focus on the two can make blogging business a lot more enjoyable than you can imagine.

    Great post Eric!

  5. Carlos Coto says:

    Hi Eric,

    Great Post! Thanks for the tips… Sometimes people have trouble making up their mind on what to write… and even if you have your writing schedule and know what topic you will write about, sometimes your mind likes to play tricks on your focus and attention span. What I usually do if that happens is to get a white paper, and for 15 minutes write EVERYTHING that is on my mind… and I mean EVERYTHING! even if it seems silly or crazy… what it does is that it REBOOTS your mind, and makes it more stable.

    Cheers, and thanks!

    • Eric C says:

      I love this tip. I love brain storming, unobstructed idea generation…I’m definitely going to try this.

  6. Gjivan says:

    Firstly i wanna thank Eric for this informative post. Actually, Will power thing and Golden hours are two most important (for me) out of all the given tips. We have different sort of energies during a day; some prefer to write and work in the morning while other prefers at night, so identification of this golden hour where we can deliver 101% of our potential is inevitable. Another thing is Will Power or as being a Student of Meditation and personality development, i can say, will power is what we need in every walk and path of our life. With optimism, plan, and will power we can achieve anything.

  7. Thanks for this informative post Eric. After reading this post you have totally changed my view about writing blog posts and blogging. Thanks a lot Eric!

  8. I actually thought, i was the only one who thought of Golden hours topic. I always blog during morning, as soon i wake up.

  9. rahul says:

    Nice post i hope these all 9 tips will help me to increase my blog in smarter way

  10. jerrylewis says:

    I prefer writing from the heart and write what inspires you, in this way the words will come out freely and at the same time conveying to your readers what you want to share. This will never make you tire to write.

    The post is well said but I prefer my style!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. lalitha says:

    Unfortunately i also use the same type of to do lists like “write compelling post”,”share posts on social networks”.But they are still on paper and the work is stuck at the same place.I don’t know what is the wrong with this.The first point in this post is simply superb and now on wards i use actions instead of those to do lists.Thank you.

  12. Ferb says:

    Love these strategies but it’s useless for lazy people. Lazy is scary.

    • Eric C says:

      I used to be lazy. I’m not anymore. It just takes practice and thought.

    • I don’t think any tips will help lazy people much ;)
      If all someone’s willing to do is read advice from other people rather than take action they’re never going to get anywhere.

  13. 5 and 7 apply great to me in my blogging life. Owning multiple blogs, I naturally blog about different things, so I rarely get bored when writing. I also find number 7 to be incredibly useful (same goes for comments, not just email) because a lot of the emails I get will be similar, so I can use similar responses for them.

    Being a natural procrastinator, I’m very surprised I don’t have this problem with any of my blogs. I love the writing I do, so I guess I see it more like a fun hobby rather than work. Often times I’ll find myself overwriting, and having to refrain myself from publishing my newest post to maintain consistency.

  14. Dom says:

    Nice overall tips. I really like tip #4. When I take a break, I often find myself just browsing the web. I really like the idea of being productive during a break.

  15. Golden Hours!!!!!! That’s exactly what I need to pencil into my life :) I find that I work much much much better in the wee hours of the morning then I do between the hours of 2pm-3pm. As a small business owner, I can do a lot of odd tasks like email, marketing, etc…things I won’t be able to get in the afternoon. Great great insight!!!

  16. I like Tip #9. I try to have two weeks scheduled. I have to fight the urge to post a newer article that I really like. I am still learning that it does not matter what I like. It matters what the readers like. Thanks for the information.

  17. Liam says:

    I think someone’s been reading Roy Baumeister’s Willpower. Great book and great post. I’d say sticking to a schedule and leaving no room for excuses have been key for me.

  18. Lisa says:

    Eric, I love tip #1 as I’ve been wanting to do a to-do list but get lost with what I need to do next. Time lose for me is analytics and webmaster tools. This a.m. I lost 2 hours as something was wrong but in the end I did figure it out and will help me over the long run. My golden hours for writing is early morning. I should just start to write before email and Twitter. I will start that tomorrow and force myself to just write for the 1st hour or 2. Thanks for the inspiration here today.

  19. swarnaw says:

    some people have a Multi-tasking method. but I haven’t doing more works same time because all works are not successfully completed. you have written good article.
    thanks

  20. Trenita says:

    Nice blog..all 9 tips are very informative..

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  21. Rina says:

    I get a science after reading this, I’ll find my own gold hours at which I was more productive and focus on what is done
    Thank you for all of this, it is very useful to me

  22. pango says:

    Good overall tips!!!http://www.eastmachinery.com

  23. Kendra says:

    So true with the blogging schedule. I stopped using it a while back and just recently came across it. I definitely will start using it again! Thanks for the reminder!!!

  24. This is a great article and these are sure true facts. I’ll definitely work on myself with this.

  25. Zotti says:

    Thanks for the kind words.

  26. Shane says:

    This was some interesting advice. I’m definitely interested in checking out Eric’s blog now.

  27. A well written and inspiring piece! Thanks for sharing mate.

    Cheers!

  28. Great post Eric,
    I love points #6 Mono tasking and #9 Blogging schedule. These two are very important, though i find it hard to follow a blogging schedule in my current situation.
    Thanks for the share. BTW, I will be mentioning this post in my weekly link roundup at my blog.

  29. Will power is what a blogger needs when writing articles. If you have will power and take breaks in regular intervals, innovation and interest to write the articles comes hands in hands

  30. Liton Biswas says:

    Hey Eric Cummings,

    I liked your idea “Time Audit”. It impressed me. I’ll start that from tomorrow morning.

    Thank you.

  31. Ocha says:

    Next Action. I like that. In fact, my next action is to start a NA list after I complete this thought. I always enjoy these little tidbits of information that seem to fit right into what I need at the time.

  32. Oscar says:

    Thanks for the kind words.

  33. Louis says:

    I’m second to #1, 3, 6, 7. Getting specific is far better than having a general instruction and get vague at the start of the activity.

    My golden hours are in the evening but the problem is I go out most of the evening. However I then found that my freshest hours are also after I wake up in the morning. So I need to strengthen my will power to do something productive in the morning instead of checking my Facebook and playing games!