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Want a More Productive Week? Clean Your Darn Desk!

Has anyone seen that phone number for my interview? I know I printed out a good-looking blog layout but I can’t seem to find it. I know I have that blog idea somewhere in this mess; was it written on a napkin? It’s referenced in a newspaper clipping, but which one? Where’s the thumbdrive I just had?

If you have had any of these thoughts, I’ll bet you have a desk or work area that might need a little bit of improvement. When this becomes an everyday occurrence you may just need a complete makeover … or even a bulldozer.

A messy desk

Image by indi.ca, licensed under Creative Commons

Even though you have organized folders on your computer (well, maybe semi-organized), your desktop or work area tends to gather the detritus of a blogger’s creative life: scraps of paper, napkins, envelopes and just about anything else you can possibly use as an idea collector. Advertisements and articles ripped out of airline magazines and the ever-present jumble of newspaper clippings add to your desk’s adornment.

Soon, your blogging career will be spent with 10% idea collecting, 10% writing and 80% searching your desktop for what you just saw a minute ago. There is an old saying “A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind.” We have to toss that by the wayside and improve our writing environment.

Preparation

If you prepare properly, you will be successful. First, prepare your mind for a clean and uncluttered work environment. Yes, you can do it. You can really work in a shipshape space.

If you have thought about getting a more ergonomically comfortable workspace and chair, this is the time to do it. Consider all kinds of office furniture: desks, chairs, filing cabinets, small tables (for you coffee or power drinks so they don’t spill on the keyboard, laptop or computer) and lamps for your desired lighting.

Now, let’s delve in!

1. Start fresh

Depending on how messy your workspace is, you might need to set aside a full day to start over. If you don’t have time for that, write twice as hard so you can queue posts to publish while you’re clearing your environmental disaster.

Get some empty boxes that can hold all of your stuff. Set some on your left and make this your trash pile. Line the boxes with large green trash bags so once they are full you can immediately deal with them. Mark one of them “Shred.”

The boxes on your right will be everything that is not trash. Mark the boxes “Office Supplies”, “Immediate Use”, “File” and “Computer Stuff.”

Now comes the hardest part of the job, at least emotionally. Pick up one item at a time and put it in one of the boxes or the trash. If you have to think about it for more than half a second, the Trash or File boxes are the best places for it. Continue, one item at a time.

If you have a group of papers, either staple or clip them together, but don’t waste time looking for the paper clips or stapler; stack the loose papers on top of each other in the appropriate box.

Anything that is computer-related, but not attached to your computer, goes into the Computer Stuff box. USB thumb storage sticks, backup drives, wireless mice and keyboards and anything else not physically attached to your computer goes into this box.

Keep working until there is nothing left. The idea here is to get rid of everything from the work area. What you should have left is a bare work area devoid of everything but your computer or laptop.

If you have drawers, go through these also. Empty everything.

2. Clean

If you have a can of compressed air, lightly dust the keyboards while holding them upside down to get rid of all the debris they have collected. If you are good with computers and screwdrivers, take the cover off your computer and blow out the dust; if not consider having someone qualified clean the insides for you after you finish getting your workplace in order. No time for breaks!

Take a damp (not wet) cloth and wipe everything down to get rid of dirt and dust. Don’t forget the inside of the drawers. If you have drawer organizers, clean those too!

Remember to wipe down the computer and display screens, and clean the screens with a dry cloth that has just a light spraying of glass cleaner on it. Do not spray glass cleaner on your display screens.

3. Organize your computing tools

Look at your power wiring and straighten it out. You may wish to take a quick trip to an office supply or electronics store to get some wire and power management covers. If you have to make multiple outlet strips, pick up one that has enough outlets. Tidy up the printer and other peripheral cables to eliminate tangles.

Next, arrange all the items in the Computer Stuff box in your work area so you can comfortably access them. Leave the USB thumb drives in the box—we will take care of them later.

Make sure you keyboard and mouse are in a position where you can comfortably work. If you use a headset, consider using an adhesive hook attached to the side of your monitor or other convenient place for easy and immediate access.

Now create a place for your USB memory sticks. This can be a cup, plastic box or even a compartment in a desk drawer organizer. The idea is to choose a storage area that can be a permanent place where you keep the memory sticks.

Place your backup storage where you just have to power it up and back up your files. Now, create a schedule to back up your data and stick to it. If you can, automate the procedure. Back up your data files (documents, pictures, etc.) separately rather than as a part of a total system backup.

If you need to use the data on a different computer, you will be able to. If your data is embedded in a system backup, you might be in trouble (depending on your backup software) if you have to restore to a different system or even the same system with a different or replacement CPU.

If you use one or more tablets to keep live feeds running, you may want to consider getting a couple of holders for them. There are some nice gooseneck and movable stands that mount to the back edge of a desk that will position them to be easily seen without being in the way or taking up desktop space.

4. Office supplies

A desktop organizer may be good for storing supplies like pencils, pens, paperclips, rulers and other such items. But it can also be a distraction.

Here is a good rule of thumb: if you do not use an item every day, it shouldn’t be on the desktop. Your work surface is exactly what the word says—a work area, not a storage space. Put that stapler away in a drawer where you can easily grab it, unless you use it every day. Even then, keeping it in the drawer might still be a good idea. Use drawer organizers so everything has its own place.

By keeping your work surface clear of all clutter, you encourage your mind to be more productive and make it easier to concentrate on your main task: blogging.

5. Filing and organizing

Next, attack the box that says File. You should have a file cabinet or a desk drawer that is set up with file folders. There are also plastic and cardboard boxes sized perfectly for files. You needn’t spend lots of money on a top-of-the-line filing cabinet.

Go through the papers and file them one at a time. Use a filing system that makes sense to you and enables you to find what you are looking for in a hurry. Do not file every piece in a different folder; use categories that make it easy for you to remember what information is in what folder.

If you have to think about where to file a particular item, you probably don’t need it.

Do not be afraid to use drawer organizers to sort out odd items. Just make sure the drawers do not become a junk drawer, or you may just have to dump the drawer and start this process all over.

6. Urgent items

Now tackle the Immediate Use box. This should contain a relatively small amount of material. Take each piece and process it. If it contains names, phone numbers, or house or email addresses, enter the information in your smartphone and/or email programs—immediately! Then throw it in the Trash or Shred boxes.

If the item contains an idea, open up a document titled Ideas on your computer and enter the idea. Save the document each time you enter new information so you will not lose any of it.

If you run across a picture, scan it into the computer for your blog and then file the picture away. The same goes for newspaper clippings that you will use immediately.

If you can’t immediately use the item you pick up, file it instead.

Keep working until you have gone through everything and everything is in its place. You should now have a clean and organized work area.

7. Wrap up

Before you congratulate yourself and sit back for the rest of the day admiring your handiwork, finish the rest of your job—the trash.

Take the box or bag marked Shred and run it all through the shredder if you have one. If you do not have a document shredder, look up the location of the nearest paper shredding company.

Gather up the trash bags of trash and dump them in the trash can or dumpster. Take a trip to the shredding place if you need to.

Now you can relax and congratulate yourself on a job well done. You might even be inspired to start writing!

Contributing author Alex Ion is the founder and Editor in Chief of Decoist, an interior design and lifestyle magazine which promises to deliver fresh inspiration to even the pickiest. Follow Alex on Twitter for latest trends, and Decoist if you’re looking for some amazing design ideas.

What Every Successful Blogger Should Do Before Breakfast

This guest post is by Julie Carr of Plagtracker.com.

Most people think that breakfast should be the first thing a person does in the morning, but the savvy minorities know that the time prior to breakfast can be the most productive.

This is because it is when a person may focus, because they have not yet encountered the worries and distractions that haunt the honest citizen’s day.

Here’s a way we bloggers can use this precious snippet of time in the most productive and efficient way.

The night before

We all have to-do lists, but the most effective to-do lists are written the night before.

Bullet point all the tasks you need to do before you have breakfast the next day. When the morning comes, you must go down the list, one bullet point at a time, until you reach the bullet point that says “breakfast.”

The trick is to single-mindedly complete each bullet point in turn. Do not try to do two at the same time, or try to change the order. Take on one task until it is done, then move onto the next.

Add to your ideas journal

This is a file into which you put all the ideas that come to you during the day. It contains notes and things to research that relate to your ideas.

How you make this file is up to you; you can create a list, or create a folder and put different folders inside for ideas, notes, research, questions, and so on.

If you have a smartphone or tablet, then create an ideas journal on there so that you can add to it during your day.

Check your mail

Once you have added any of your early morning ideas to your ideas journal, you should check your mail.

This is going to alert you to anything that may disrupt your day. It also keeps you up to date on what has been happening while you were asleep.

Plan your day

Spend a few minutes coming up with five tasks that you must complete today.

If you have the time free, then come up with a detailed plan, but just keep an eye on the time. You don’t want your breakfast to turn into lunch.

Create a comment answering window

If you have a successful blog, then you are going to get comments 24/7. These could take you forever to answer, but regularly replying to your comments is a very good way to keep the conversations alive on your blog.

So you need to section off a part of your morning to answer comments. Dedicate ten minutes to non-stop comment answering. You won’t get them all, but you will get enough so that you keep the online conversation moving (poke the fire a little).

You can do more commenting and give fuller answers to people’s comments later in the day, if and when you have the time.

Check for updates

We all hate updating Java, iTunes, WordPress plugins, and so on, but it must be done. So do it in the morning.

Pick something to update (you are often prompted by your computer) and set it in motion while you cook and eat your breakfast. By the time you have finished eating your breakfast it should be done.

If you keep your software updated, it’s less likely to be hacked, to run slowly, or to crash. This way, you are using your “down time” (while you’re eating) in a very efficient way.

What’s your morning routine?

How do you use the time before breakfast to set yourself up fro a full day (or less if you’re juggling other commitments) of blogging? Share your secrets with us in the comments.

This guest post is by Julie Carr of Plagtracker.com. Julie J Carr is a freelance writer. She writes for new free-to -use plagiarism checker - Plagtracker. She is keen on new technologies, adores flavoured coffee and books, and likes to visit places where she can enjoy the latter two at the same time. You can mail her at [email protected]

Prepare Your Blog For the Festive Season: a Step-by-step Guide

Over the weekend, we ran a short series of interviews with bloggers of different types, to get a feel for how they’re preparing for the festive season.

Christmas

Image courtesy stock.xchng user danyba


We spoke to the owners of:

If that series made you realize how underprepared you are for the coming weeks, don’t worry. Today’s post is a checklist for getting ready.

1. Have you worked out when you’ll take a break?

The first thing to do is get out the calendar. Work out when you won’t want to be blogging, and block those days (or weeks!) out.

Now you know how much time you have to work with.

2. Do you know what you want to get out of this period?

The benefits of setting some goals up front are two-fold.

First, goals will help you set your priorities for the next few weeks. Second, they’ll help you assess your efforts when you come back to your blog in 2013. They might even help you improve on your work when the festive season rolls around again in a year’s time.

Set a few goals. They might be as simple as maintaining regular posting and social media schedules, or as detailed as setting expectations for sales and tracking the sources of traffic that converts.

3. Do you know what you need to do to get there?

List the tasks you’ll need to achieve your goals.

If you want to maintain a twice-a-week positing schedule, how much writing time will you need? How much editing time? Will you work any affiliate promotions into those posts? Which ones, and when will they run? When’s the best time to promote those posts?

Make a list of all the things you need to do. Then, schedule them. Think a long time in advance, and get right into the details. Don’t just make a note to curate ten tweets to autopublish over the festive period. Schedule the time you’ll need to find quality content to include in those tweets.

Without taking your plans to this level of granularity, you’ll run the risk of underestimating the time and energy you’ll need to do everything on your list. Which leads me to…

4. Have you prioritized your priorities?

This is an extra step, but one you may well end up doing. You may already have found that your eyes were bigger than your stomach, so to speak, when you set your goals for the period. If you can’t fit everything in, check your top priorities and consider whether you’d be happy if you just achieved those.

This should help you focus as the inevitable distractions and schedule-changes come up in the coming weeks … and you run out of time!

Tip: Consider making your own checklist for every one of the tasks you need to do, so that you can avoid waking up in a panic because you forgot to find images for a post, or to encode your affiliate links in that email you’re autosending.

5. Have you got things ready for your return in 2013?

Getting ready for the festive season isn’t just about getting through to January 1, 2013. It’s also about hitting the ground running when you get back to your desk.

The lead-up to the break, at a time when you’ve just set all these goals, is to write a to-do list for Day 1, 2013. Include:

  • checking emails, stats, and social listening to find out what you missed while you were offline (assuming you were offline!)
  • goal-setting for the new year (if you haven’t done that during the break)
  • reconnecting with others who you can help—and can be helped by—in the coming 12 months.

This is the basic checklist I use to make sure I’m on track through the festive season and beyond. What about you? Share your tips and advice for keeping your blog going through the silly season below.

How to Fail Productively as a Blogger

This guest post is by Bea Kylene Jumarang of Writing Off the Rails.

During one of my blocks of free time, I found myself watching a video from Tim Harford, an economist and a writer. In it, he was discussing his three rules for failing productively, and those rules were the beginning of a love affair for me.

Before you think I fell in love with him, that’s not it. I fell in love with the rules, and they’ve changed my life for the better.

Today, I’d like to share those rules with you, along with a concrete process for applying them to your blogging. It’s my hope that if you care to listen to what this post says, the rules and the process will change your life too.

What you’ll need

  • a spreadsheet or a pen and notebook for your log, though spreadsheets are better
  • the faithfulness to actually log things (more on this later)
  • honesty (very important).

Tim Harford’s three rules—blogger’s edition

1. Be willing to fail a lot

If you’re blogging for the long haul, I can guarantee that you’ll run into hundreds, if not thousands of setbacks. Dozens of your posts will languish without comments, your analytics will be a constant flatline, and it will seem like no one really gives a darn. What matters is that you’ll chug on despite everything.

In simple words, be willing to fail—a lot.

2. Fail on a survivable scale

This rule can mean two different things, depending on what stage you’re at with your blog.

If you’re still a beginner, congratulations. You’re already failing on a very survivable scale. It’s unlikely that a bad post will kill your blog, so you’d better appreciate the benefits of smallness.

On the other hand, if you’re a big blogger, you’ll take a little bit more care. Hopefully, you’ll use your experience to the full, and by this time, you should already know what works along with what doesn’t. If you plan to take a risk, put thought into it so you’ll fail in a way that you and your blog can survive.

3. Make sure you have what it takes to spot a failure, and fix it, early

Don’t let issues or problems fester. As soon as you identify something that needs correction, get to correcting. The faster you respond to a crisis, the faster you can learn and deal with its potential repercussions.

Also, don’t close yourself off from the problems other people point out. When they tell you something needs action, act on it, instead of pushing your own primacy over the situation.

A process for productive failure

1. Know your systems, behaviors, and habits

As I said in the introduction, failures are incredibly important as revision triggers. They tell us that something needs to change, and that action needs to be taken. That said, you’ll never maximize a failure’s usefulness if you just let it pass you by like a little tumbleweed.

Instead of pushing the failure to the back of your mind, bring it to the forefront. In fact, log it.

Remember the notebook or the spreadsheet? This is your time to use it.

For the next week, just log your failures. Relevant data points include the following, though this list is just a suggestion. Feel free to customize and add!

  • Time in/out: useful to see how much time you actually spend on a task
  • When you did the task: so you can see when you’re most productive
  • Type of task: post writing, editing, formatting, research, etc.
  • Word counts: to see how much you achieve
  • Remarks: note any important details about a task
  • Failures: whether you were able to do something needed, or not
  • Length of material: you might log based on the length of a Kindle book (e.g. 790 locations), or how long a PDF is (e.g. 210 pages).

For the Failures part of your log, you can do the logging in a text editor or something like that. Just make a note in your log whenever you didn’t do something you were supposed to. You’ll see why this is important in Step 2 of this process.

How can you keep up the motivation to log stuff? Make things easy for yourself. As soon as you boot up your laptop, open your spreadsheet. Before you start a task, enter your time in, and remember to enter the time out when you’re done.

In my personal experience, just seeing the spreadsheet on my taskbar has been enough motivation. There will be times when you forget to log things, and that’s alright. Don’t beat yourself up, but keep logging as much as you can.

As an important note, don’t do anything to your log yet. Logging is not the time to reflect. Like Tony Stark says in the Avengers movie, “I can’t do the equation unless I have all the variables.”

Wait for the variables, alright? No equations yet.

2. Make sense of the data

After one week of logging, you should have a pretty detailed spreadsheet, with all the data points that matter to you. Now that you have enough information, it’s time for analysis and reflection. Below are some suggested questions to ask yourself as you review that data.

  • How much time does it take me to write n words? This is useful for future estimates to clients who ask you how long a project will take, for example, as well as for your own time planning.
  • How much  time do I usually spend on email and other online tasks? I can guarantee, this will probably be a shock to you.
  • How much time does it take me to do research? Again, useful for future time estimates.
  • What times of the day am I most productive? This can be a general answer, like “in the afternoon,” or a specific answer like 4:30 to 5:10 pm.

Once you’re done with these questions, you probably have a reasonable overview of your real behaviors and limits. What you discover may be intuitively known to you, or it may come as a complete surprise. The point is, now you finally know the truth, and you can back up what you know with data.

As far as your failures go, this is the time to be honest with yourself. Find the real reasons for why you failed. No one will see your log anyway, so there’s no reason to lie. What matters is that you’ll finally get an idea of your real excuses, strengths, and pain points, which will be valuable in the quest for improvement.

3. Adapt

There’s no point in all your logging and reflection if you aren’t willing to act on what you’ve just learned. All the data in the world won’t matter if you just let the information languish. Because of that, it’s time for you to create your plan for improvement, and to chart your new course based on the realizations you’ve arrived at.

Below are some actions you can take.

  • Revise schedules: commit more or less time to certain tasks.
  • Take on more or fewer clients: this is linked to the data on how much you can actually handle without failing too much or being too stressed out.
  • Lower or raise your word count goals: if you see that you can’t handle 2000 words in one session, then lower your word quota.

The last thing to do, of course, is to implement your action plan, and then log the results. See if you’re less stressed, happier, or anything like that. Just make sure to note what happens.

4. Keep failing

Tim’s first rule is to be willing to fail a lot. Inherent in that rule is the need to keep trying new things, and yes, to fall in love with trial and error.

You see, according to Tim, complex things often benefit from such an approach. In the first place, trial and error gives you a very definite result, e.g. it worked or it didn’t work. And though it may sound pretty surprising, blogging is actually a complex thing. In fact, I view it as a complex system, and evaluating my results often makes me use systematic thinking.

If you don’t believe me, have a think about how many variables are in the equation. You have things like search engine optimization, social media influence, number of newsletter subscribers, heck, even the keywords in your domain are a variable.

That said though, maximizing trial and error necessitates having many things to test out. If you’re wondering about how to do that, I have short process outlined below.

  • Brainstorm a list of new actions or directions you’ll take. Examples might include “I’ll publish an infographic instead of a text post” and “I’ll do a shorter post than usual.”
  • During brainstorming, don’t let fear crush you. Just let all the ideas out. Ideas don’t need to be subjected to judgment during the initial stages.
  • Refine your list. Select the directions that are appropriate for your present situation.
  • Apply your selected actions and monitor the results. If you want to be able to evaluate things more effectively, see the resources heading on systems thinking below.

Resources for further reading

This resource list introduces you to systems and design thinking plus the work of Tim Harford. Taken collectively, these resources have made my blogging and my life infinitely better.

  • Trial, error and the God complex: This is a talk from Tim Harford, delivered at TEDGlobal 2011 in Edinborough. It remains one of my favorites from TED, and I listen to it every day.
  • Tim Harford’s books: I love these. The one that applies most to this blog post is his book titled Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.
  • Design thinking … what is that?: This piece is from Fast Company, and it’s best used at stage 4 in the productive failure process.
  • Introduction to systems thinking: From Pegasus Communications, this is an excellent overview of the subject. It’s best used to learn better ways of evaluating your results.

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts. Do you do any of these things already? Are you conscious about learning from failure in a systematic way? Let us know in the comments.

Bea Kylene Jumarang is a blogger and fiction writer, obsessed with connecting writing to everything else. When she’s not writing at Starbucks, she’s investigating fonts for her upcoming e-book, Techified : Silicon Valley’s Secret Guide to Writing. If you want first dibs at the book, head on over to the Facebook page for her new blog’s launch. Once the blog goes live, you’ll be the first to know. You’ll also get the e-book, along with even more free stuff!

Couples that Blog Together…

This guest post is by Jefferson and Michelle of See Debt Run.

Blogging with your significant other can be a very rewarding experience, as long as you communicate openly.

My wife and I started personal finance site See Debt Run in January of this year to document our journey out of debt, and to share the experiences that we had along the way.

When we decided to start See Debt Run, we agreed that our site should feature both of our voices equally, and we both pledged to work together to improve our financial situation and to work towards making the site a success. We never expected that this adventure would bring us even closer together.

Divide and conquer

Most people aren’t aware of how much work bloggers really have to do behind the scenes. Networking with peers, managing inquiries, researching keywords, and learning and implementing SEO best practices can all be just as time consuming as creating content. Having two people to tackle these tasks gives you the ability to divide and conquer, which can go a long way towards preventing blogger burnout (which happens to everyone).

Since I work full time, I am often unavailable during the day to respond to comments or handle any other blog issues that come up.  Because my wife stays at home with our one-year-old daughter, she can respond to comments or inquiries during the baby’s naptime, which is a major advantage. 

In the evenings, after the kids are in bed, we buckle down and take care of writing for the site, editing, and other blogging tasks.

During this time, we actually enjoy working side by side. While many married couple are probably spending their evenings watching television, my wife and I are instead collaborating together to build something, which is a reward in and of itself.

Lend a hand

The very best part about blogging with your spouse is the fact you have an editor who is available 100% of the time.

We agreed from the start that we would provide honest feedback to each other, and as such, we always read each other’s posts before they go up on the site. It isn’t unusual for my wife to suggest that I remake a section of one of my articles, or for me to suggest that she add a better transition between paragraphs in one of hers.

To keep the site running smoothly, we use a variety of tools to keep things straight. We maintain a shared text file that we call the “idea well.”  Whenever we think of something that might make a good post, it gets added to the file, where either one of us are welcome to run with it.  As these ideas turn into real posts, we maintain a shared calendar to keep track of which articles will be running and when.

The hour or two that we have before bed is not always enough time to get our articles completed and ready for publishing.  If one of us needs some time to write, the other is always willing to take the kids out to the playground, to clear the house of the normal distractions.  

There have also been a few occasions since starting the blog that each of us has suffered a bit of writers’ block, and when that has happened, the other was more than willing to step up and write up a few extra posts.

Use your voices, since you have more than one

From a writing perspective, I like to think that having two voices instead of one helps us appeal to a broader audience.

Logic might tell you that your readers want to connect with a single author, finding their perspective appealing, but with both of us posting regularly, we have the ability to make even more connections. My wife and I have very different writing styles, and as such, we appeal to different groups of people.

My wife is a dynamic storyteller who has a talent for using conversations in her writing. When she tells a story, she uses small details and raw emotions to help readers feel like they were right there with our family when the situation was going down.

I tend to write in a more traditional style, often backing up my articles with detailed examples and statistics. I have found the most success in writing articles that give career advice or offer specific tips about methods that we are using to improve our financial situation.

No two people have the exact same writing style.  If you and your partner can each find your own unique voice, together you can find harmony.

Communication is key

To other couples out there that may be considering starting a blog together, I would wholeheartedly recommend it! Sustaining a successful a blog involves many long hours working on your computer, and having someone there with you goes a long way towards alleviating the monotony.

The most important advice that I can offer would be to make sure that you communicate openly. If you are considering making a change with the blog or discussing a new promotional opportunity, be sure to discuss it before moving forward.

Remember that you are full partners in this game, and you both have an equal stake in the site’s success. As long as you respect your partner and communicate openly, couple blogging can be a very rewarding experience.

Do you blog with your life partner—or another type of blogging partner? Tell your story in the comments.

Jefferson and his wife Michelle write at the personal finance blog See Debt Run, where they document their family’s journey to financial sanity. They write about frugal parenting, money making opportunities, career advice, and more.

The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Bloggers

This guest post is by Karol K of YoungPrePro blog.

The advice on how to be “the effective guy” is just so common online that it starts to get boring … You know, reading yet another article on how to be a great blogger and all…

So why not take a different approach and consider the seven habits of highly ineffective bloggers instead?

If you think that it’s a joke, it isn’t. If you look around in the blogosphere I’m sure you’ll find tons of bloggers who fit this description perfectly. In fact, I bet that you’re guilty of one or two of these habits as well (I know I am).

Habit 1. Not proofreading

This is the first sin bloggers make. I know that crafting a nice blog post takes time. You need to do your research, prepare the resources, and finally write the thing using a number of relevant links and keep all the SEO optimizations in mind … there’s really a lot to do.

In all this commotion, it’s easy to overlook one simple thing: proofreading. The fact is that proofreading is one of the most important phases of crafting a blog post. Without it, you’re not using the potential of your post effectively—some readers will simply be discouraged with all the grammatical errors you’ve made.

My advice is this: proofread your posts at least once. In addition, use a plugin like After the Deadline for some extra help (it provides automatic proofreading).

Bonus tip: There’s one more trick I want to share with you. I’ve found that I get much better results when it comes to the quality of my writing if I write a post one day, and then edit and proofread it the next day.

Habit 2. Not networking

Did you know that 80% of your blog’s success depends on the people you know, not on the content you write? You didn’t? That’s because I made that statistic up!

Whatever the stats, I’m sure the benefits of reaching out to your fellow bloggers are pretty clear to you. Building a successful site is always easier if you have someone you can contact for help, or for a joint venture proposition.

Treat your blog like business. The more quality business partners you have the better. Networking in the blogosphere isn’t even difficult. It all starts with a simple email that says hi.

Habit 3. Not using offline blogging tools

These days, I’m all about offline blogging tools. One particular tool, actually. It’s called Windows Live Writer. What’s great about it is that it allows you to create an optimized blog post offline, and then send it to any WordPress blog you want.

Let’s face it: you won’t have internet access at all times. Maybe you’re staying in a cheap hotel, or visiting your family over the weekend, or some other scenario. If you want to be effective, you have to have a way of creating a post even if you’re offline.

I know that the standard way of doing this is through Microsoft Word or some other text processor, but they are not very good at providing WordPress-ready formatting. Windows Live Writer is great in this regard—give it a go.

Habit 4. Not staying on topic

Going off topic makes you highly ineffective. And the reason is that your readers have come to your site to read a very specific piece of information. They’ve seen a headline, or a search engine listing, and clicked on it. Now, if you decide that you want to change the direction mid-post, they’ll simply leave.

Over time, such practice will make you really ineffective at writing about the things you wanted to write about. You’ll always get distracted at some point and talk about other things. This is something you really need to be wary of.

The simple advice is this: if you fail to stay on topic, your readers will get confused and leave.

Habit 5. Not promoting your stuff

Writing and publishing the post is usually only half the job. If you want to make it really popular, good content won’t be enough, you also need to spend a fair amount of time on promotion.

And by promotion I don’t necessarily mean spending money on ads and reaching out to investors. Just a couple of clicks on some social media share buttons might be enough, or sending an email update to your subscribers, or notifying your StumbleUpon friends and contacts, and so on.

Also, this is where your network of contacts comes into play again (mentioned earlier). If you have some friends in the blogosphere, you can let them know whenever you publish something really valuable (your pillar content).

Habit 6. Not writing guest posts

Every website you know of—every single one of them—became popular because of some other website. There’s not one website online that became popular on its own (no, not even Google or Facebook).

The key to success, then, is to get featured on other websites. There are two possibilities here:

  1. The difficult one is to do something remarkable and get mentioned naturally.
  2. The easier one is to write a guest post and offer it for free in exchange for a link.

I really can’t emphasize this enough, but guest blogging is the cheapest and the best way of building your brand online. If you think that you don’t need to do any guest blogging, then you are not utilizing your full potential as a blogger.

Habit 7. Not doing SEO

I know some people say that SEO is dying. Mostly, this attitude is the result of the recent updates like Penguin, which killed a number of legitimate websites and online businesses just because they were building quality (yes, you read this right, quality) backlinks.

This whole situation makes the SEO game a lot harder, but it doesn’t mean that you should leave it completely. The fact is that one thing surely won’t change anytime soon: Google will still remain the main provider of traffic online, and if you want to get a piece of this traffic, you’re going to have to learn how to be up-to-date with the best SEO practices and implement them in your blog.

Make sure to pay attention to the popular SEO blogs and also the official Google webmaster central blog.

Are you guilty?

This concludes my list of 7 habits of highly not effective bloggers. Feel free to tell me what you think, and admit how many of these habitds you’re guilty of. Be honest—I know I’m doing at least two myself!

Karol K. is a freelance writer, and a blogger. If you want to check out what he’s up to, feel free to hit him up on Twitter (@carlosinho).

What’s Good for the Blogger Is Good for the Blog

As we were preparing this weekend’s posts—which all deal with topic of productivity and the blogger’s lifestyle—I was reminded of a blogging truism that many of us seem to forget.

happy_time

Image courtesy stock.xchng user lusi

For the blogger who’s taking their blog and their readership seriously, what’s good for us is generally good for our blog.

Conversely, what’s good for our blog is generally good for us.

This truth isn’t just helpful when it comes to feeling motivated, inspired, and creative—it can also help us stay on track. Keeping this in mind helps me align my blog with my life—and vice versa, making my blogging a sustainable part of my life as a whole.

What’s bad?

Some of us might be tempted to take that as an excuse to avoid the tasks we don’t like doing. Of course there are always blogging tasks we don’t enjoy—for me, it’s the accounting. But what’s good for my blog—staying on top of the accounting—is also good for me (since my blog pays my bills!).

This philosophy isn’t an excuse for forgetting about things we don’t like doing. Instead, it’s a call to action to tackle them and make sure they’re as successful as they need to be. I hired an accountant, which has been good for me, and helped sustain my blog!

And what’s good?

But what about the tasks we do want to do? If I’m considering a new business idea or strategy, and find that I’m feeling weighed down or burnt out by it, that can tend to impact my life beyond blogging as well as my blogging itself.

When that happens, I’ll go back to the new idea I’m working on and try to find the real problem—is there some aspect of the plan that needs to change? Should I consider another idea instead? For me, there’s no reason in pursuing an idea that I’m not enjoying, or that’s taking more out of my life than it’s putting in.

It’s not just me who feels this way, though—this weekend we’ll hear from three bloggers who have made blogging a part of their lives, and have let their lives enrich their blogging too.

  • Karol K will reveal the 7 habits of highly inefficient bloggers … which is based on his own experience, as well as the lessons he’s learned from those around him. As he shows, these seven inefficiencies can make your life as a blogger a lot harder than it needs to be. Fortunately, they’re all pretty simply fixed.
  • Jon Rhodes will show us how he’s making the most of his full-time blogging lifestyle—and what that has meant for his blog. If you need a breath of fresh air—and fresh inspiration for your blogging—don’t miss this piece.
  • Jefferson and Michelle, a husband-and-wife blogging team, will let us in on some of the advantages of blogging in partnership—with your significant other! Again, their story proves that if you’re serious about your blog, what’s good for it will usually prove to be good for you, too.

Every day, we see the work we put into our blogs, but we may not be so quick to look at what our blogs contribute to our lives. The fact is that if we don’t see the relationship as symbiotic and mutually beneficial, we probably won’t continue with our blogs.

What aspects of your life are good for you and your blog? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Are Your Recurring Blogging Tasks Making You Crazy?

This guest post is by Timo Kiander of Productivesuperdad.com.

What’s the one similarity between these blogging tasks?

  • approving comments on your blog
  • proofreading posts
  • writing and preparing your post to be published (finding images, SEO, setting tags and categories, and so on)
  • keeping yourself up to date with social media
  • writing guest posts
  • recording a video and uploading it to YouTube.

You don’t know?

All those tasks are recurring tasks and you do them again and again. Unfortunately, no matter how tedious these tasks may sometimes be, they just have to be done in order to keep your blogging wheels turning.

On the other hand, these recurring tasks eat valuable time from other blogging-related tasks, for instance, from building your email list, creating relationships with other bloggers, or creating your own products and services.

A tricky situation, isn’t it?

Do you know what you did today?

The feeling of poor productivity—even if you work a lot—can be strong if you don’t know what blogging tasks you did, when you did them, and how long it took to do them.

If you don’t have any stats on how long, on average, it takes to approve the comments on your blog, write a guest post, or record a YouTube video, then your blogging habits aren’t as effective as they could be. Also, planning your next day’s blogging task list is going to be difficult.

This knowledge is crucial if you want to make a steady progress with your blogging and get the tasks done on time. Especially if you have a very limited “time-budget” available (you’re working full-time, you have a family, etc.), you should know the best way to spend your time.

Having those tracking stats in a document in front of you is a real eye-opener for many people. If you don’t know how you spend your blogging time and you still feel unproductive even if you work hard, then you should change your attitude towards time tracking—right this very minute!

Put your productivity into the fast lane

Time tracking is, first, about gathering raw statistics. Gather the time you spend on various blogging tasks for a several days.

Second, do some detailed analysis on the data you’ve gathered. Analyze the tasks and how much time you spend on each, on average.

Third, use that data to plan your next day.

For instance, if you are going to write a post for your blog tomorrow, then take a look at the stats you have and see how well that time block fits your next day’s schedule.

Very quickly, you’ll learn how to be realistic about your next day’s planning. It’s useless to have ten tasks on your list if you’re only able to complete four of them by the end of the day.

With the data showing you how much time you spend on the common blogging tasks, you’ll become more realistic with your day planning.

3 steps to a sense of accomplishment

1. Stop assuming you know how you work

Gather the facts that show how you spend your blogging time. I bet you’ll be surprised to learn more about your blogging habits when they’re right there before you.

2. Log the time used

To gather an effective time log, take the following steps.

Make a list

First, list your common recurring blogging tasks and create a document that contains them all.

For instance, I have various tasks in my document, like writing a guest post, writing posts for my own blog, recording a YouTube video, uploading a YouTube video, approving comments on my blog, replying to comments on my guest posts, proofreading posts, and so on.

Track your time

Write down the following for the next seven days:

  • the type of task
  • the date when you did the task
  • the amount of time it took you to accomplish a task
  • any special conditions that helped you to do the task faster, easier, or better.

Once you have the data gathered, count the average amount of time for your different tasks.

For instance, if you write guest posts, you could see the pattern how much on average you’ll spend on the writing. When I take a look at my time log, I see that it takes approximately an hour for me to write a guest post.

Understand that there are certain tasks which you can do faster

For instance, I listen to music when I write, when I approve comments on my blog or on guest posts I have written. Why? Because my time tracking experiments have shown that that helps me to do those tasks more quickly.

With simple improvements like this, you can make your recurring task faster (and easier) than before.

Set time boundaries

You can also decrease the time it takes you to complete tasks by setting clear boundaries on them.

For instance, I’m using a 15 minute time block for my daily Twitter usage. This means I’m not spending hours on Twitter or on Facebook and then wondering where my hours went.

3. Automate

Why not automate your time tracking? Try using a tool like RescueTime, which keeps track of how much time you spend on productive activities, what applications you used on your computer, and which websites you accessed during your work.

this is just my recommendation, but there are plenty of tools out there. Just give one a test-run to see if it’s a good fit for you or not.

Your time is valuable

Recurring tasks are usually tedious—yet mandatory—tasks that have to be taken care of.

To make your time usage more effective, track these tasks and understand how much you time you spend on them.

When you track your time usage, it is much easier for you to plan your days—and sometimes even decrease the amount of time you use for those tedious blogging tasks.

Do you track the time you use for repeating blogging tasks? What tools do you use for that activity? Have you found tracking to be effective way to improve your blogging productivity? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

Timo Kiander, a.k.a. Productive Superdad, teaches WAHD superdad productivity for work at home dads. If you want to improve your blogging productivity, grab his free e-book, 61 Ways for Supercharging Blogging Productivity.

Good Blogs Take Time

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my blogging career, it’s that good blogs take time.

If you’re run off your feet, and struggling to find space to do all the things your blog demands of you, that’s probably not what you wanted to hear.

But in my experience, it’s true.

There is no overnight success

Blogging superstars aren’t made overnight. Look at any of the heavy hitters in your niche, and I’ll guarantee they weren’t born yesterday. Even if they’ve only entered the blogosphere recently, if they’re already experiencing success, you can bet they’re leaning on a wealth of past experience with your niche, or a related niche, or with technology. Probably all three.

It takes time to get the kind of experience that gives you authority. It takes time to get to know your audience, and understand their needs. And it takes time to find the best way to meet that need with your skills.

There are tactics that you can apply to your blog to fast-track your progress. But it’s important to realize first, that these tactics take time in themselves, and second, that while they might advance your progress in some area—and that’s great!—they’re unlikely to rocket you to blogging superstardom, complete with mega-income.

There are many pieces in the blogging puzzle, not a magic bullet.

Experience pays

If that seems disheartening, you’ll be happy to hear that there is a bright side.

All the time you put into blogging will pay off.

When I say “blogging,” I’m not just talking about learning to use advertising or gain subscribers or write great posts. I’m talking about everything your blog inspires you to do, from holding events and meetups, to interviewing the leading lights in your niche, to creating products or selling services, to making new friends and contacts.

All of it pays off. I really do believe that blogging can enrich us as people if we let it, and a blogger with a broad perspective and a considered approach based on real-world know-how is in a great position to achieve things not just through their blog, but in their lives as a whole.

The thing is, getting that experience takes time. That’s what experience is: time invested in a particular task or set of tasks. If we see the work our blogs demand of us as an investment, rather than a simple expenditure of time we could spend elsewhere, that can help us channel our energies, but also give our blogging the energy—and time—it deserves.

Enjoy the journey

I’ve found that if I worry about the time I’m spending on various blogging tasks, all I feel is stressed!

If I let myself become immersed in those tasks, and really focus on what I’m doing rather than how long it’s taking, that’s when I get the chance to learn, ask questions, investigate, and practice. For me, that’s what makes what I do enjoyable. And that, in turn, is what’s let me get the experience I’ve gained over the last ten years or so. To me, that experience is invaluable.

What bloggers do really is part of a journey—there’s no end-point. It’s all part of our experience. So why rush it? Why try to push forward to an arbitrary “success metric” when we know that what matters is our experience, and experience takes time?

Are you trying to rush your blogging journey? Or are you prepared to give your blog and yourself the time it—and you—need?