Three people asked me the same question this week.
“How do you get so much stuff done?”
I assume the “stuff” they’re referencing includes the following:
- Working with up to 10 clients at any given time as a social media and marketing consultant
- Publishing my weekly For The Interested newsletter for 144 weeks in a row (and counting…)
- Publishing my daily Social Media Tips newsletter
- Engaging with thousands of followers across a slew of Facebook groups/pages, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.
- Spending time with my wife and friends, exercising, playing video games, and watching my share of sports and TV shows.
I don’t think of myself as being especially productive, but clearly other people do so I thought I’d share how I’m able to get all this stuff done.
1. I work for myself.
You don’t have to work for yourself to be productive, but it certainly helps.
Working for myself allows me to control most of my time and limits the distractions I have to deal with while working.
I have no commute, people don’t randomly pop into my office to chat, and I don’t get dragged into spontaneous meetings that are a waste of time.
I’m also less likely to get sucked into working on projects that aren’t actually my job compared to what happens when you work for a bigger company.
It’s not perfect of course — nothing is.
I still have clients to answer to, unexpected phone calls, interruptions, and certainly not every moment of my work day is productive, but it’s a huge advantage to be able to control (and protect) my time for the most part.
2. I’m big on process.
I’m not super organized, but I am a big believer in developing processes to do things as efficiently as possible.
Most of my work doesn’t take as long as people think it does because of the processes I’ve developed and the repetition of having done them many times.
For example, my For The Interested newsletter has the exact same format every week — quote, image, short intro, 10 curated items.
The first item is always a new blog post I wrote that week and the last one is always an older post I wrote. The other eight are always curated articles or videos I recently found.
That established format means I spend no time thinking about what the newsletter should be each week — I know what it is and what elements I need to produce it.
It still takes time to create, but having an established format speeds up the process.
The summaries I write for each article are always formatted the same as well — again, I know I need a quote excerpt, a couple lines summarizing the article, and then a related link.
Most work I do (including consulting work) is rooted in some sort of process or format I develop and repeat — each piece of work is custom, but the format is templatized.
I don’t reinvent the wheel every time I do something.
3. I also apply processes to my life.
My work is not the only area in which I value process.
I use processes in my life as well, to help me develop habits and protect my work/life balance.
For example, I have rules about how I use my phone and disappearing during work days.
4. I’m a good writer.
I write well, I write fast, and I write clean.
Writing comes relatively easy to me and is a skill I’ve honed my whole life (school newspaper in high school, journalism major in college, professional journalist, marketing writer, etc.).
As a journalist you learn to write quickly and turn stories around on deadlines and that skill has helped me produce anything written in less time than it takes the average person.
5. I’m not a perfectionist.
It doesn’t bother me to produce and release work that isn’t perfect.
I care about what I create and want it to be good, but I don’t agonize over every word or aspect of it.
I create, improve, and release.
6. I have some help.
While I’m basically a solopreneur, I do pay one person to help me with a couple simple things like adding my newsletter posts to my website.
At times she’s done some social media posting for me — never creating the content, just taking stuff I give her to post and rolling it out.
She doesn’t do much, but what she does definitely helps.
7. I always suggest meeting times first.
When scheduling meetings with other people, I’m always first to suggest the time and try to schedule things based on what works best for me.
If that time won’t work, I’ll adjust and find a time that works for them — but I’m always the first one to suggest a time and never just ask, “When do you want to meet?”
Doing that outsources control of your schedule and it’s recipe for disaster.
I know because I used to do it all the time.
It’s better to suggest a time that’s best for you first — and most times the other person will make that work.
8. I schedule every minute of my day (sometimes).
When I need to have a productive day or week, I’ll schedule every minute of my day the night before.
It makes a huge difference. I wrote about it here.
9. I regularly take stock of my workload.
I regularly take stock of things and try to avoid taking on too much stuff (I don’t always succeed, but I try).
For example, I’m particularly busy during the last month or two before the Oscars (which is a client) so when potential new clients approach me about work I typically push them off and tell them I can’t work with them until after the show.
I’m also deliberate about taking on own new projects and avoid starting things without making a clear commitment to myself about how much time I will invest in them and what I will abandon to free up time for the new project.
This one’s still a work in progress for me, but I’m getting better at it.
My 100x Method has helped a lot.
10. I’m not afraid to quit stuff.
Failure doesn’t bother me much because I view it as a lesson learned and step closer to eventual success.
If you’re going to be a person who tries lots of things, you also have to become a person who’s not afraid to quit them if they don’t work or take up too much time.
11. I repurpose my work.
Long form blog posts become short form tweets, short form Instagram quotes become long form blog posts, old blog posts get reshared, and on and on it goes.
By doing this (and creating timeless content as opposed to topical/newsy content) the time I put into anything serves everything and becomes more valuable.
For example, this blog post started as a reply to an email I got from a newsletter subscriber.
The time I took to answer her question is fan engagement, it’s blog post writing, it’s giving me social content (I’ll probably post several lines from this as tweets or Instagram images), and it’s given me an excuse to think through a bunch of ideas I can give as advice to other people, clients, or talk about when interviewed on podcasts.
It’s a good example of how I maximize the value of the time I spend on just about everything and why it may seem like I do a lot more work than I actually do.
It’s all a parlor trick.
(Not really — it’s still a lot of hard work, but you get the point…)