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Blog Wise Tip 7: Use the Right Tools

You might think that, with blogging being a digital pursuit, the bloggers we interviewed for Blog Wise would be right up with the latest and greatest productivity gadgets, philosophies, and software.

They’re not.

Physical tools

Interestingly, almost every one of the bloggers we spoke with relies on physical productivity tools to some degree—pen and paper, wall calendars, and whiteboards.

“I actually have to have something visual to look at deadlines on a calendar,” says Amy Porterfield. “So what I have is on my wall in my office I actually have a yearly calendar, but it’s month by month, and I’ll put my deadlines in there.”

It seems that for many of us, there’s a sort of psychological benefit in having our to do list, for example, at our elbows, and separate from the computer in front of us.

Software

In terms of digital tools, these bloggers stuck with the mainstream software options: Google Apps like Calendars and Docs, Basecamp, and Evernote.

“I write whenever ideas come to mind,” Jeff Goins comments. “I use Evernote a lot, whether it’s on my phone or on my laptop, and I’ll just write some ideas down or a quote or whatever, and a lot of that turns into articles later.”

Many bloggers simply used the apps that came with their computers—iCal, Notepad, or Word, for example.

“I use a lot of text documents,” Darren problogger.net reveals. “I have about ten open on my computer at the moment. They’re just plain text documents, and that’s where I put my to-do lists and half-written posts and that kind of thing.”

Email, clearly, plays a massive role in productive communications between bloggers and their teams; Skype does too, but to a lesser degree.

Hardware

Though it wasn’t talked about in detail, the interviews conveyed the impression that smartphones have been a boon for most pro bloggers’ productivity.

As a storeplace for diary and appointment information, email access tool, alarm, and cache of contact details, the smartphone’s invaluable. It also makes working on the go achievable even in locations that don’t have wifi—and at times when you’re nowhere near your computer (or, for that matter, a notepad).

In particular, bloggers with families relied heavily on their phones. Heather Armstrong uses Google calendars on her phone. “I can make a change, my husband can make a change, and it immediately updates on my phone so that I know what to be prepared for the rest of the day.”

In his interview, Darren revealed, “My wife, she’s out for a walk at the moment—I texted her and said, “Please don’t let the boys in my room. I’m doing an interview now.’” Communication, he says, is critical to his productivity.

The other piece of hardware that got the thumbs-up? The tablet PC. “If anything pops into my head I have a tablet next to me [where] I just write it down so that I can forget about it in that moment and stay focused,” Amy explained.

What’s your favorite productivity tool? Let us know in the comments. And if you’ve downloaded your copy of Blog Wise and you’d like to share your thoughts on it, we’d love to hear them, too!

Understanding the Hype Cycle of a Blog

This guest post is by Nischala Murthy Kaushik.

It’s the start of a new year—the time when organizations work on their business strategies. And when you work on strategy, the one thing you definitely do is get a perspective of two facets of your operation:

  1. internal aspects of your organization
  2. what the external world is saying: your customers, your competitors, your partners, and of course independent analysts.

One thing that I definitely read this time of the year are analysts’ reports by (Gartner, Forrester, IDC, and so on.

I’m always looking for ways to learn, apply, adapt, and leverage new ideas, thoughts, and insights into my blogs. During one such pensive moment, I was mulling over whether there was any evidence of Gatner’s Hype Cycle on blogs. And yes, I believe there is!

What is the Hype Cycle?

The Gartner Hype Cycle is a methodology that’s been used effectively by Gartner since 1995. The Hype Cycle provides a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities.

The Gartner Hype Cycle methodology gives you a view of how a technology or application will evolve over time, providing insight into managing its deployment within the context of your specific business goals.

The key phases in Gartner’s Hype Cycle

Each Hype Cycle drills down into the five key phases of a technology’s life cycle.

  1. Technology trigger: A potential technology breakthrough kicks things off. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity. Often no usable products exist and commercial viability is unproven.
  2. Peak of inflated expectations: Early publicity produces a number of success stories—often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not.
  3. Trough of disillusionment: Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.
  4. Slope of enlightenment: More instances of how the technology can benefit the enterprise start to crystallize and become more widely understood. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers. More enterprises fund pilots; conservative companies remain cautious.
  5. Plateau of productivity: Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.

(Check the source of this information for more details.)

The hype cycle of a blog

If you’ve been blogging, or watching the blogosphere for any length of time, you can likely see how the hype cycle applies to blogging. Let’s step through it in detail.

The trigger of a blog

Every blog is triggered by something. Technology may not always be the trigger, but it is a definite enabler. Had technology not evolved to where it is, blogging may not have existed as it does today. The trigger for a blog could be:

  • a personal need to express, to capture, to consolidate, to be heard, to create a brand, to share, to learn, to connect, to belong to a community, to leave a legacy
  • a business need for new customer acquisition, marketing, branding, customer servicing, customer engagement, or revenue generation.

The key questions you need to answer when you start a blog are:

  • Why I am starting this blog?
  • Who are my target readers?
  • What do I really want to achieve by blogging?

It’s good to have some degree of clarity on these issues at the outset. Of course, they will change and evolve with time, but you need to have baseline answers in place if you are to move forward and start your blog.

In this phase, the blogger is usually unsure about many things:

  • Will there be any reader interest in my blog?
  • How do I reach my potential readers?
  • Will I be able to generate meaningful content over a period of time?

The best piece of advice for this phase of the Hype Cycle of a Blog is to test the waters by creating a blog. Keep at blogging, read about blogging, experiment, learn, and evolve. Along the way, you will discover your own commitment and interest towards blogging.

The peak of inflated expectations for a blog

This is the phase in which one of the following happens to your blog:

  • One or more of your blog posts generates interest, a good amount of readers, shares, and comments. You almost feel like a mini-celebrity in select circles and begin to enjoy the elevated status you’ve achieved.
  • One of more of your blogs is criticized, and you receive negative feedback and comments on your thoughts, and hence the content itself, or the way you’ve presented or written the information.
  • Hardly anyone reads your blogs or ever leaves a comment.

The best piece of advice for bloggers experiencing this phase of the Hype Cycle of a Blog is:

  • Study, observe, and analyze the blogs you wish your blog was more like.
  • Re-think these questions:
    1. Why I am starting this blog?
    2. Who are my target readers?
    3. What do I really want to achieve by blogging?
    4. How should I market my blog to ensure that I reach the right audience?
  • Don’t assume that the past precedents are indications of how the future will pan out in your journey as a blogger.
  • Keep a check on your future expectations of the blog.

The trough of disillusionment of a blog

This next phase in the Hype Cycle of a Blog is probably the most crucial as it will determine how long you will continue blogging. This is the phase when most bloggers are somewhat disenchanted with the results of their blogging efforts, either due to their own lack of interest in blogging, lack of a reader base, lack of interest from the blogosphere, limited shares and comments…

The best piece of advice for this phase of the hype cycle of a blog is:

  • Don’t let one or two highs or lows determine the future of your blog. Blogging is here to stay, and the way you leverage the power of this medium in your personal or professional context is completely your choice.
  • Re-visit your own reasons for starting your blog and make any course corrections that are required. Following are the key areas that you need to critically evaluate and plan:
    • quality of content
    • frequency of posting
    • identification of your target readers
    • blog marketing.

The reality is that many bloggers quit at this stage, disillusioned by their own capabilities at blogging as well as all the hype that surrounds blogging.

Slope of enlightenment of a blog

This is the best phase in the Hype Cycle of a Blog—it’s at this point that a blogger has his or her “Eureka” moment and feels that:

  • they have found their niche in the blogosphere
  • their creative juices flow incessantly—there’s no dearth of ideas and, most importantly, they can convert anything and everything they see, hear, think, and feel into blog content
  • they have found target readers
  • most importantly, they begin to enjoy blogging.

If you have reached this point, consider yourself lucky. Many congratulations to you!

The sky is the limit for what you can achieve here. You can sell products (like books), personal services (like consulting and advisory services), your own ideas, and other’s products services and ideas. You have the potential to become a cyber-celebrity and most importantly you have the opportunity to create an impact on those who read your blogs.

The only advice for this phase of the hype cycle of a blog is this:

  • Keep a self-check on your intent for blogging. It may have evolved along the way, but don’t lose sight of your answer to the question, “Why are you blogging?”
  • Value your readers as they complete your blog. Any creative piece of work has a creator and a consumer and their mutual to co-existence is a necessity and reality. A movie has limited value till it is viewed by an audience. In the same light, the blogs you create have limited value till they are consumed by readers.

The plateau of productivity of a blog

This is the phase when you mature as a blogger, and your blog matures too—both go to a new elevated level. Your blog has a brand of its own and you have a presence in the blogosphere. Not many bloggers get here simply because they don’t spend enough time asking and answering the key questions from the start of their blogging journey.

If you’re in this phase, you don’t need any advice: you know where to go and how to get there!

Which phase of the hype cycle is your blog in? Leave a comment to let me know.

Nischala currently works at Wipro. She blogs at Nischala’s Space, Thoughts & Expressions and VERVE: The Quintessence of my Life – both of which have been added to the List of Best Indian Blogs @ http://indianbloggers.org/. In addition, she writes guest posts at sites like Problogger, FamousBloggers, The Change Blog and 12Most.com. For the full list of her guest posts, refer to the My Guest Posts Section on her blog. Nischala has completed her MBA from Indian Institute Management Bangalore [IIMB] ,one of the premier Business schools in India. She takes pride in being a Mother, Philosopher, Writer, Scholar & Guru of Life for Life and most importantly, the Chief Happiness Officer (CHO) of her LIFE J. You can follow her on Twitter @ nimu9

Blog Wise Tip 6: Build a Productive Team

“Have you ever merged together four different companies with four different partners, and employees from one company and another company?” asks Brian Clark of Copyblogger.net. “Oh my goodness, it was quite stressful.”

But, he adds, now that the transition’s complete, “It’s amazing to me, what we can do.”

All of the bloggers we spoke to as we researched Blog Wise extolled the virtues of team work—even when the team is your readership, as in the case of solo blogger Leo Babauta’s collaborative writing project, The Effortless Life.

But all of them emphasize the importance of clear communications within the team.

Brian explains that before his group’s merger, “I had all these smart people that were partners, and they were in separate companies and they weren’t allowed to talk to each other, if you will, because there was no profit motivation.

“I saw that the only way I was going to get to where I saw as a possible future vision, was to put all these smart people together so that they all had a stake in each others’ future.”

Our bloggers point out, though, that a philosophy of team collaboration needs to be underpinned by the right tools.

Like many, Darren finds digital collaboration tools helpful. “Every ebook [we produce] has its own folder in Basecamp, and I can tap into that and get pretty much any document I want along the way,” he explains.

Bloggers like Abby Larson of stylemepretty.com and Heather Armstrong of Dooce, whose spouses also work on their blogs, use tools like Google Calendar, and clear, close communication, to ensure that their husband-business partners know what’s going on at all times.

When you add shared responsibilities like children to the shared responsibility of a blog, communication is critical. As Abby says, “because the site is so dependent on both of us … we realize that we both need to commit equally to our family.”

Do you work with others on your blog? What approaches do you use to make your team as productive as possible?

Tomorrow: bloggers’ favorite productivity tools and systems.

Blog Wise Tip 5: Manage Distractions

Given their productivity levels, you might think that A-list bloggers don’t get distracted. The truth, as the interviews in Blog Wise show, is that they’ve learned to deal with distractions so that they don’t rule the day.

Distraction #1: Social media

Is social media sucking up your time? Give yourself permission to spend a few minutes there, says Amy Porterfield.

“I give myself permission, I get in there, I do it, there’s no guilt associated with it, there’s no hurry to it, and then I go on with my work,” she says, adding that for her, less stress means greater productivity.

Distraction #2: Family

For work-from-home bloggers, family can be very distracting. For this reason, Darren has agreed with his wife on certain times when he’s unavailable—“work time”—so that work and home responsibilities can stay fairly separate.

He adds that his family is understanding. “Having a business is a very high priority for me as well, and so we, as a family … acknowledge that I need to work long hours, and put aside time for that and plan for that as well.”

Distraction #3: Work

Darren and Jeff both handle work-related distractions by asking themselves whether the distraction is taking them closer to their goals.

Jeff, too, reminds himself that his purpose is to create, not react, which can help him avoid dedicating time to less productive tasks.

“If I have a choice, and often I do, between reacting or responding to what somebody else has said, and creating something new, I want to create something new,” he says. “So in terms of getting things done, that’s … a question that really helps me guide a lot of decisions.”

Top tip for killing distractions

Some of the bloggers we interviewed commented that they way they handled distractions was to physically remove themselves from the distraction itself.

Matt Kepnes, whose distractions are also his blog topic, shuts himself away from the world when he needs to catch up on work and really focus. For this reason, he finds air travel time to be really productive.

Gretchen Rubin also changes her physical location depending on the work she’s doing. This helps her feel that the time she has for any given task is finite, and helps her to stay focused as she tackles each of the tasks she needs to do.

Among Gretchen’s catalog of working locations, besides her office, are cafes and the library. The walk to get to those places is a bonus.

“I get outside I get a little breath of fresh air, a little hit of sunlight in my face (which is good for alertness and energy, I know from my research), and then I work there,” she says. “And then when I feel I can’t take that anymore … I move someplace else.”

How do you handle blogging distractions? Share your tips in the comments.

Tomorrow: Building a productive blogging team.

Blog Wise Tip 4: Choose a Structure that Works for You

All the bloggers we spoke to as we researched Blog Wise had an opinion on structure.

Even those, like Matt Kepnes of NomadicMatt.com, who doesn’t blog to regular schedules, noted that they had particular times that were good for certain work tasks, and particular times that tended to be less productive.

Matt, in balancing his desires to work and to experience the destinations he travels to, puts time limits on his daily blogging tasks. “The Internet, blogging, it’ll take as much time as you can give it,” he says.

“I force myself into boxes to work … to limit the amount of time I’m working.” He finds this the easiest way to stay productive.

Jeff Goins, of Goinswriter.com, takes the concept a step further: he’ll create a good “context” for that time, to make the work more enjoyable. He explains his rationale like this: “I have to do something I don’t want to do, so I’m going to create the most enjoyable context possible. I’m going to listen to music, I’m gonna drink coffee, and I’m gonna sit down and I’m gonna do it, and I’m gonna set aside this much time to do it.”

For Jeff, it’s not necessarily about hitting a milestone or goal within that time; it’s just about doing the work itself—about getting something done.

For the full-time bloggers, chunking time as part of the daily schedule was important. “That way I know how I’m going to spend my day,” Amy says.

She explains that this helps her prioritise tasks, and know if she has time to step away to do something a bit more inspirational or extraordinary.

While Leo’s a full-time blogger, he also practices a No Goals philosophy. What does that mean for the structure of his day? “When it’s unstructured, [the day is] really a huge, open container that you can do anything you want with,” he says. “I mean, you can fill it with anything.”

As he explains how that works to boost his productivity, he warns against the pitfalls of being too wedded to structure.

“When you’re structured, it just ends up being frustrating,” he says, “because you don’t always meet the structure that you set… if you had a structure that you had planned, and it doesn’t go according to that plan, then you’re messed up.”

Does a loose structure work for you? Or do you prefer something more prescriptive? Share your secrets for structuring your blogging workday below.

Tomorrow: managing distractions.

Infographic: The Brain of the Beginning Blogger

This guest post is by Infolinks.com.

Nowadays, it seems like everyone has a blog. But creating a successful and popular blog isn’t as easy as simply getting a domain name and ranting away on whatever comes to mind on a given day.

Here, we take a look at some of the common misconceptions that beginner bloggers have on issues ranging from content and SEO to graphics and URLs. For instance, have you ever done a double-take when a URL can be read two different ways (one being not so favorable)? Or have you been completely turned off by someone’s “About Me” page?

By debunking some popular myths, we hope to enlighten the burgeoning bloggers out there and help them avoid these potential pitfalls.

Infolinks is the fastest growing In-Text advertising network, providing monetizing solutions for bloggers of all levels.

Blog Wise Tip 3: Plan for Productivity

Given all the tasks that can crop up on a blogger’s to do list, it’s no surprise that many of us struggle with task planning and control. Even the big-name bloggers we interviewed for Blog Wise grappled with these issues.

Having realized the negative impacts of stress on her productivity, Amy Porterfield has adopted a range of tools—from physical calendars to Google Docs—that help smooth her daily workload, and make sure she gets everything done.

Importantly, she actually uses these tools: she told us that she discards any that don’t really work well for her. In this way, her task and time management tactics are constantly evolving to suit her personal preferences and her changing workload and goals.

Gretchen Rubin has found that having a clear desk, and an uncluttered workspace, helps her to feel calm and in control. “Outer order contributes to inner calm,” she said. “And I used to think, ‘well, it doesn’t really matter if my desk is messy, because I can find everything.’ But now I’ve really keyed into the fact that I feel calmer, my mind feels more orderly, when my stuff is more orderly.”

Bloggers who work at home with families obviously face a particular set of planning challenges. Both Heather and Darren explained the value of sitting down at the start of the week—perhaps even on a Sunday—and looking at the work-life schedule to see what’s on that week.

Darren also takes the opportunity to speak with his wife about the family’s plans, so that he can schedule in the things he needs to do as a dad, as well as a blogger.

Heather says Google Calendars have been a “life-changer” for her. “We’ve hooked up all of our calendars onto Gmail,” she says. “And so my assistant has a calendar, my husband has a calendar, there’s a home calendar, there’s a me-work calendar, there’s a me-exercise calendar, and all of those are synced together on my phone so that I can look at my day.

“And I can make a change, my husband can make a change, and it immediately updates on my phone so that I know what to be prepared for the rest of the day.” Heather adds that while things don’t always go to plan, “It’s having all the other days go smoothly that makes that one or two days off the rails doable.”

Finally Leo, who blogs without either goals or plans, also feels that “I definitely am more in control of my life now than I ever was before.

“Blogging made that possible,” he adds.

How much do you plan your blogging—and how much do you leave up to chance? We’d love to hear your take on planning in the comments.

Tomorrow: how structure helps productivity.

Blog Wise Tip 2: Know Your Motivations

Every blogger has different motivations, but the interviews we completed as we developed Blog Wise showed how important it is to know what your motivations actually are.

The bloggers we spoke to listed a range of motivations.

The first was community and audience. Darren told us he’s motivated when he sees the community here at ProBlogger getting energy from his ideas. He’s motivated even further when he gets energy back from you guys.

Amy Porterfield’s motivated when she hears about the results her readers have achieved using her advice. And Heather’s dooce.com motivated by providing a place for her readers to form firm friendships.

Another key motivation for the bloggers we met was their blog’s topic.

Gretchen Rubin, of The Happiness Project, said, “The more I think about happiness, and the more I learn about it, the more intrigued I am, the more fascinated I am, and the more directions it seems to lead in.”

She sees that motivation as a key to actually producing a consistent, lasting blogging presence: “The deeper I go into it, the bigger it gets,” she noted.

Anther key motivation was a sense of contribution. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits explained that he’s motivated by his desire to do meaningful work, to enjoy his life, and to question established perceptions.

“All the truths that we believe in as a culture and as a society—none of those are necessarily true,” he commented. “So you have to question them and test them. This is why I do experiments,” he added. Like Gretchen’s approach, Leo’s motives contribute to his very productive creative strategy.

One thing that really stood out about these bloggers is that, in each case, understanding their motivations has allowed each person to set priorities and directions for their blogging work—and to pursue something they love.

It’s your turn: what’s your blogging motivation? How do your motives help you get your work done? Tell us in the comments.

Tomorrow: planning for productivity.

Blog Wise Tip 1: Diagnose Productivity Problems

Over the coming days, we’ll be presenting a series of pro blogging productivity tips that we’ve compiled using the advice of nine A-list bloggers we interviewed for Blog Wise, our new ebook on blogging productively.

Today, let’s consider the question, “do you have a productivity problem?”

In the blogosphere, it’s pretty easy to compare your blog to others, and feel like you’re not doing enough.

But how can you identify areas within your own blogging work that aren’t as productive as they could be? These productivity problems may not be easy to spot, but they can really hold your blog back.

The bloggers we spoke to had a few pointers.

  • Emotions: Heather Armstrong from Dooce.com admits that when she ends the day in tears, she knows something needs to change. “That’s usually my body saying, ‘something’s out of whack… the balance is off.’”
  • Energy: Darren keeps an eye on his energy levels, and those of his readers. “If I’m doing certain things and people are responding well to them, then that’s a signal that I need to do that more,” he says. “And conversely, if I’m doing something and there’s no reaction or a negative reaction, then I’m questioning, ‘Is this something that I want to put time and energy into?’”
  • Quality and results: Amy Porterfield, of AmyPorterfield.com tells us “If you’re not meeting deadlines, if you’re not actually producing great work that’s getting great results, you have to look at that and think something is broken in your process.”
  • Progress: Brian Clark of Copyblogger.com has experienced that first-hand. Before he merged his five companies, he had, he says, “these separate satellites, and they didn’t share together in knowledge or expertise or teamwork or profits … I saw that the only way I was going to get to where I saw as a possible future vision, was to put all these smart people together.”

What about you? Do you have a productivity problem? What are its symptoms? Let’s share them!

Tomorrow: Motivation and productivity