Let's face it. Being productive with content creation can be hard. We've all been there – a superb idea for a new blog post, free report or guest article pops into your head, and we can't wait to get started.
Excitedly we find ourselves in front of the computer screen – a blank Word document open and ready – but then things begin to look a little daunting.
Suddenly, the phone rings and while idly chatting about nothing in particular, a couple of new emails come in and you start half reading them – half listening to your call.
With the phone back on the hook, it turns out one of your emails was from a new blogger you're following – so you click through to read her post and get distracted by a popup to join her list half way through. (After all, that offer looks great doesn't it?!).
Wait! You've got to confirm your email address – so it's back over to your inbox, click on a link – then become immersed in the first of those free videos she promised you.
A few cups of coffee later you've been through the whole video series, and remember you should really go back and read that excellent blog post where this all started – so you fire up Chrome again and finish the second half of the article.
‘What a great piece of writing!' you say to yourself, while opening Hootsuite to share it on social media. ‘This is good stuff, perhaps I should leave a comment too?'.
‘If only I could pump out fantastic content like this, my email list would be bigger than Neil Patel's by now and I'd probably be an online celebrity or something – with people emailing me to say my content is so valuable it changed their life!'.
It's at this point you remember you were actually about to craft that epic blog post you got so excited about earlier, so you return to the blank white page – staring ominously back at you.
‘I'll come back to that later' you tell yourself, ‘it must be time for lunch now'.
OK, so that scenario is a little outlandish perhaps – a little far fetched – except for the fact something very similar has happened to me on more than one occasion.
That's why I'm trying to be more productive with my content marketing.
And productivity is important. Just ask Henry Ford.
The Productivity Pioneer
As far back as 1913 when he pioneered the 40 hour week and raised minimum wages – Henry Ford hypothesized that working 8 hours a day, five days a week in regular shifts – would create happier and more productive workers than flogging to death unhappy staff with 12 hour days like his contemporaries did in their factories.
Like everything else on his assembly line he tested this theory – and was proved right.
Increasing productivity – or output per unit of input – was essential to the early success of the Ford Motor Company, and paved the way for the modern manufacturing methods we still use today.
Ford knew the secret to increasing productivity was choosing the right systems, tools and processes to enable his teams to work smarter – not necessarily harder – and we can definitely learn from this in terms of our content production.
How Do The Experts Do It?
Starved of time and swamped by distractions – the Pareto Principle tells us that focusing on the 20% of things that matter when completing any task, and ignoring the other 80% – is the key to working smarter on creating content and by extension being more successful at it.
But what does this mean in practice?
What specific tactics can we use to make sure all the action we take is firmly routed in the productive 20% bracket and we are not wasting our time?
Searching for the answer to these questions led me to seek the help of some of the content marketing world's most adept creators of content – the content champions who consistently produce fantastic work and who do so despite suffering all the same distractions as the rest of us.
So I reached out to some big hitters in the industry and asked the following simple question:
‘What is your top content productivity tip?’
The answers I received are set out below, and have really helped me gain more focus and stay on task when creating content – while being a hands on father to three kids, a (reasonably) helpful husband, full time copywriter, podcaster and blogger.
Content Marketing Pros Share Their Productivity Secrets
Here are the answers in the order I received them. Thank you so much to everyone who took part…
Whatever you have to do, get in the discipline of writing every day. Set time aside, get up earlier, set a recurring task, find a quiet spot with minimal distractions. Whatever you do, make it a daily discipline.
“Deadlines are the greatest source of inspiration.” I know Mark Twain said that but not sure he originated the idea.
I'm sure the earliest writers figured this out. The only way I am able to write is because I commit to it. Two posts a week. I don't always know what I will say. But I block the time because it is important. And sure enough, when I'm under the pressure of that deadline, something always hits me.
And then I find the actual words, well they usually just flow. Often, it is a customer question that has come up recently. Or it's something I read that inspires me to think about my own point of view. But setting a writing commitment is my top content productivity tip.
Interestingly, this means putting quantity over quality. Which most people dismiss right away, on the surface. But when you set a quantity goal and then make sure you create something that will help your audience, you find that quality is much harder to define.
But quantity is concrete and easier to manage. Set a content quantity goal. And stick to it.
If you want to be productive, focus on writing your headline first. If you don’t have a good headline, you won’t have a good post. If you write a post that doesn’t have a great headline you’ll find that very few people will read your content.
Work in batches. I like to set aside time to batch create blog content.
For example, Saturday mornings are reserved for creating the outlines for 3-5 posts. Normally, I set a time limit of 90 minutes to keep me on task. I don't write I just outline my thoughts on each topic.
On Sunday afternoon, I write 2-3 posts over a 4 hour period. The batch outlining the day before makes it easy for me to zip through these posts efficiently.
Sure, here's my tip to write faster. This helped me save a ton of time this year:
1. Only write the titles down and the break down of your post structure
2. Write freely between the titles, don't edit, don't delete anything, just dump what's in your head
3. Add graphics, examples etc
4. Edit and delete the crap
I usually do these on 4 difference occasions. That helps relieve the pressure of creating content and has me revisit the post 4 times with a clear head which improves my critical view of it. I'll go back to it for phase 3 and clean it up/change the structure when needed.
My tip is: take notes and talk to peers. Some of my best content comes from a combination of these two things. I take notes (in Evernote) whenever an idea pops into my head. Then, in discussions with fellow entrepreneurs, I bring these ideas up and that's where they will often be fleshed out and turn into something worthy of a blog post or video.
John Lee Dumas
Sprints and breaks. I use the pomodoro method for 53 minutes of sprint work, with a mandatory 7-minute break. This keeps me focused and fresh throughout the day!
I like to “chunk” bigger tasks into smaller ones of around 20-40 minutes. Also, establishing a post-work related reward such as a walk or coffee before you start a task can help a lot with focus, motivation and therefore productivity.
I don't check my email until 3-4pm.
As any novelist will tell you, your brain HATES writing. And it will do everything in its power to stop you
from putting pen to paper.
That includes wasting time on email and social media. I find that once I check my email, my brain is toast. Which means I can't write anything good.
But when I open up my laptop with a fresh cup of coffee and a clear head, everything flows.
Get inspiration from others. No, you shouldn't copy other people's content. But when you research a topic you're working on, you're bound to find that 1) it's been written about before and 2) there are lots of points / angles that you can cover that others didn't.
This tactic helps boost productivity because it will prevent you from staring at a blank screen for hours, trying to figure out how to get started.
If you want to do content marketing at scale and be more productive then you need to automate all tasks that allow you to leverage your time. I use a tool that automates most of my tweeting and it saves me over 100 hours per month.
One of the things I'm very particular about is the curation of my daily reads — all the content on business, technology, news, and culture that informs my writing and client work.
If there's a Twitter profile, an email newsletter, or a blog I'm following that isn't giving me what I want from the content, I remove it immediately. This eases the clutter of my inbox and feeds, and keeps the types of perspectives I want to see fresh at all times.
A big part of this is making sure I'm getting the right information, rather than being deluged by all the information. I encourage it: remove people that you aren't learning anything from, and add people who can offer growth in the work you do.
Instead of thinking of the tactic (the blog, the podcast, etc.), we like to look at the story.
In that way, we can plan ahead of time how that story should be told…and in a plan like that, we often can get 3-4 or more different content outputs up front instead of just one (a podcast becomes a blog which becomes a data graphic which becomes a magazine article).
It saves a lot of time and resources if you plan first instead of re-purposing after the fact.
Put thoughtful time on your calendar. Figure out how long it will take for you to complete a project. Add an hour, and put it on your calendar for one block. Close email. Leave the office if you can.
This long session allows you to slip into your zone. It gives you time to do a remarkable, thoughtful things. Guard these focus sessions from client emergencies, fires and last-minute meetings. The world wants your thoughtful work.
My top content productivity tip is to write offline. I gather information online – if I need research – and copy and paste to a Word doc. That works wonders for me because the online world is full of distractions.
Focusing on one goal – creating content – devotes all of my energy to creating that content. Dividing my energy between online and offline stuff diminishes my effectiveness.
Using this approach I ‘m able to publish one, 7,000 word blog post weekly and I've also published 10 eBooks during a 4 months stretch by doing the offline bit.
PS – Since I have the attention span of a guppy with ADD, this is the only way I can do content creation 🙂
How to Be a More Productive Writer in 3 Easy Steps:
1. Write TUFD (The Ugly First Draft) of a post or article without worrying about what it sounds like, whether it makes sense, or whether you sound completely stupid or incoherent. Ban self-slander! Giving yourself permission to write badly completely undermines any fear of the blank page. It neuters any power it has to stop you before you begin.
2. Watch Netflix, and get a good night's sleep.
3. Sit down at your desk again and swap places with your reader. Look at the post or article with fresh focus. Go through it ruthlessly — Are you being clear? Could you say this more simply? More sufficiently? More artfully?
The difference between a good writer and a mediocre one is that the good writer takes the time to edit his or her work. “Write with the door closed; edit with the door open.” — Stephen King
Productivity? Prepare an editorial calendar in advance, keyed to key dates, seasons, and content features. It keeps you from continually looking at that proverbial white page, wondering how to fill it!
Remember, you're not creating the Mona Lisa. Get out of your own way and just start writing. If you agonize over the content you're creating, you'll waste so much time.
Part of being a great content creator is being a great editor and knowing that the first draft doesn't have to be perfect. However, if you don't start creating, you won't have a first draft to improve.
My content productivity has gone up since I began setting a specific amount of time to write and complete (super important) something that I'm working on.
For example, I used to schedule several times during the week to work on blogs. But I noticed that I had a tendency to (ahem…) procrastinate and I bumped finishing the post until my next window of writing. For me it was a mental shift from activity to productivity.
Be strategic. With so many demands placed on content marketing, there’s no time for wasted effort. Everything needs to have a clearly defined purpose.
Use web and traffic analytics to ensure blog topics are actually resonating with your audience. Connect with lead gen teams to ensure content aligns with their campaigns.
Communicate with sales teams to ensure you’re delivering valuable content that reps will actually use to support their sales conversations (and won’t just “sit on the shelf”).
A productive content strategy isn’t just about volume – it’s about making an impact with everything you do.
Keep an open file with topic ideas. When you find articles and content you like, copy and paste the URL there with a note about how you might be able to use it for an article on that topic.
It’s a low tech solution that works.
I’ve recently increased the amount of content that I produce, which sometimes makes it challenging for me to keep up. I find that doing the following helps me stay on track:
– Planning my content in advance. Every month, I have a planning session with my CMO to come up with ideas for the following month’s content. Then, we put these ideas into my editorial calendar. This eliminates the dreaded, “What am I going to blog about?” question.
– Outsourcing parts of the process. Since I’m a copywriter, I write all of my own content. However, I outsource things such as research, proofreading, design and queuing content for publication. This saves me a lot of time and has allowed me to produce more content.
– Focusing on what matters. My CMO and I review my results to determine what’s working and what’s not working. I’m not afraid to drop something if my efforts on it aren’t leading to business. I prefer to have great results on a few channels than try to do everything.
Using Google Docs to work collaboratively with clients is great for your productivity because you can edit copy at the same time.
I log out of my primary user profile and log into an incognito profile to avoid all distractions. This allows me to conduct research and write without any distraction from email, notifications, tweets, etc.
What I've found helps me is to work in bursts: 30 minutes on this strategy and then I'll wander to the kitchen for a glass of water. Or, 45 minutes researching and taking notes and then I'll break for a walk around the building.
Content strategy and creation requires a high level of concentration. For me, that means prioritizing tasks, planning/setting goals, and then allowing a natural creative ebb and flow.
I'd say avoid meetings and just get on with writing.
Use the program self-control and block all time wasting websites for two hours. Put on a pair of headphones, your favorite playlist, and strong cup of black coffee. Get in the zone and don't stop!
David Meerman Scott
I wake up most days at 3:00 am and that early morning hour is my best time to write. (Yes, I also go to bed early).
Write at the right time. We tend to be the most productive in the mornings and we’re less prone to self-control issues in the mornings. So I block out most mornings for writing content for my most important projects.
I’ve found that by using this approach I’m more productive and the quality of my work is higher.
Content has to be listed on your task list, along with everything else, but also with a fixed due date. If not, it’s too easy to let a good idea drift.
For certain businesses, like ours, our content drives lead generation so it’s critically important that we produce high quality content regularly. That means it gets the same priority as tactics that may be less important, but feel more urgent in the short-term.
The best ‘evergreen' content productivity tip I can offer is to create content your audience wants – once you've built relationships with them they will naturally tell you want they want to see from you/need help with. Anything else you create is likely to be ego-centric and ultimately a waste of time!
Atomise! Once you have written your brand new blog post, for example, take another look before publishing. Dig out the factoids in your post and see if you could turn them into individual, tweet-able images.
What about pulling out some of the quotes and publishing on LinkedIn? If you have a pdf things get even better. How about turning it into a slideshare pressie? Serialising it in blog posts?
The bottom line: if you have good stuff to share, share it in small bits. Give each of those bits their own permalink wherever you can. Turn one piece of content into many.
Action Steps: How To Be a Productive Content Creator
There are some great answers here, and as I want you to take away some practical tactics from this post, I've distilled what our experts have said down into some key actions you can start taking right away – in the form of this nifty infographic:
How to publish this infographic
To make it easy I've included the following html code so you can embed this infographic on your own site or social media platforms. Simply cut and paste the code and you're ready to go…
I've been thinking about trying to be more productive for quite a while now, as I know that streamlining my content creation processes are key to the success of this blog.
Asking experts for their help in this context seems like a sensible and inspiring route to take, so I hope you got as much value out of this as I did.
For my part, I've got an excellent productivity tip that has really helped boost my creative edge and will also help me get fit and combat the curse of sitting down for long periods of time.
I give you my new standing desk – I highly recommend you get one 🙂
Again, thanks to everyone for taking part, I appreciate your help putting this together.
If you've got a favourite content productivity tip, let us all know in the comments below…