Don’t you hate it?
You understand how content marketing works, but you still can’t quite get the results you want.
It’s hard to pump out enough high quality content in order to reach your goals.
There are two main reasons for this.
First of all, writing isn’t easy.
Creating great content that is worthy of being shared is even more difficult.
In order to create content of that level, writers often spend several hours on a single post.
In my experience, though, most bloggers could double or triple their writing speed by becoming more efficient.
The second main reason why producing enough content is difficult is because there are many distractions.
Even if writing is the only job you do, you still have to contend with distractions such as social media and email. When you’re not very motivated, it’s really easy to click over to Facebook and waste 20 minutes.
If you’re a small business owner, it’s even worse.
In addition to the same distractions that a writer might have, you can also get distracted by other parts of your business: product creation, content promotion, customer service, etc.
You put those two factors together, and it’s no wonder that it’s difficult for you to publish content on a consistent basis.
You and I both know that’s a problem.
Without consistent output, your results will be a fraction of what they could be.
And since we both know the power of content marketing, it’s a shame.
But I have good news! It’s a problem that can be fixed if you’re willing to keep an open mind.
I’m going to show you six writing tactics that can turn you into a more focused and efficient writer. They have worked for me and other top notch writers.
You might not be interested in trying them all at first, but give one or two a try, and once you get good results, try others.
1. Don’t leave yourself an option to procrastinate by doing this…
Let’s deal with the most common form of procrastination first:
wasting time on the Internet.
Anyone can go to Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit and waste hours with the endless stream of content.
But when you have writing that needs to get done, you can’t afford to do this.
If this is something that you’re struggling with, you need a more robust solution than simply trying not to go to those sites.
My suggestion? Use a plugin to block your biggest time-wasters while you work.
If you physically can’t access the sites, you can’t waste time on them.
Here’s what you’ll need (options for Chrome and Firefox).
For Chrome – StayFocusd: Once you install this Google Chrome plugin, click the little blue-and-black clock icon beside your address bar.
It’ll show a little pop-up, where you can click on the tool’s settings:
This extension is incredibly well developed. Considering that it’s free, it’s pretty amazing.
The first things you’ll want to set up are your blocked and allowed sites.
You’ll only need to fill in one of these sections, depending on which options you’ll eventually go with.
But let’s look at both.
Make a list of the sites that you waste the most time on when you’re trying to be productive.
Then, remove the “http://” part of the URLs, and paste them all into the “blocked sites” section:
Finally, click the button below the text box.
The other option you’ll have is to block all websites except for the ones you specify in the allowed sites tab.
If you’d rather use this option, follow the same procedure as above, and paste in sites you’ll need (e.g., Wikipedia):
Here are your two main options: You can either schedule certain times to run the plugin, or choose the “nuclear option.”
First, let’s start with the “nuclear option” because it sounds cool.
If you were paying close attention, you probably saw the link to the nuclear option page on the original tiny pop-up (from the icon).
This option allows you to start the blocking immediately and specify how long it should last. Once it’s started, you can’t stop it.
First, you’ll pick which sites to block.
You could go with “all websites,” but that might be a problem if you need to do some research.
My preferred option would be to only block the sites on the “blocked sites list.” This way, you’ll stop yourself from using the most distracting sites.
Then, specify for how long to block the sites and when the blocking should start. Finally, click the button.
The second main option you have is to simply schedule when the plugin should be active.
There are two menu options—“active days” and “active hours”—that you use to control this.
For example, if you wanted to write every day from 9 until 11 in the morning, you would set those as the start and end times in active hours.
Choose whichever days you want to work as the active days.
There’s one final cool feature that might come in handy.
If you go to the “max time allowed” tab, you can set a simple counter to indicate how many minutes a day you allow yourself to browse your blocked sites.
The plugin counts how much time you’ve spent on the sites on your blocked list (in total), and if you exceed this max time, it will automatically block them for the rest of the day.
For Firefox – LeechBlock: The highest rated plugin of this sort for Firefox is LeechBlock.
It’s not quite as comprehensive as the Chrome option, but gets the basic job done.
After installing the extension, type in “about:addons” in your address bar, and click on the Extensions menu option:
Finally, click on LeechBlock’s options to bring up a popup.
With LeechBlock, the options are much more straightforward. Pick the sites you want to block, and pick when you want to block them.
First, enter the domain names of the sites you want to block:
Then, click the “when to block” tab, and enter the time in the military time format:
You can, of course, pick which days the extension should be active.
In the final tabs, there are a few advanced options where you can specify how the extension blocks the sites. You can set it so that there’s no way you can access the sites until the time is expired or leave it so you can disable the extension.
2. Develop a system and never stare at a blank page again
Many writers waste time “thinking.”
And what I mean by that is that they stare at their page wondering what they’re going to write about.
I’ll let you in on a secret: The most prolific bloggers don’t do this.
They all have their own personal system of writing, which maximizes the time spent creating content and minimizes the time trying to figure out their next step.
A system consists of 3 main things: input, output, and process.
The input of writing a post is time and energy.
The output is ideally a great post.
But what you really need to focus on defining, if you want to create a system, is a solid process.
Why do you need a system?
A system—more specifically a process—is a set of instructions that explains how you do certain things, e.g., write a blog post.
The most important thing is that they are specific.
It’ll be much easier to understand with an example. Here’s what a system for writing a blog post might look like:
- Step #1 – Create headings for an outline
- Create the main heading
- Create subheadings for each section
- Outline each section with a few bullet points describing what it’s about
- Step #2 – Find supporting research and resources
- If there are any holes in your knowledge (needed for the post), learn about them
- Find 2-5 studies about the problem/solution
- Search for each section topic, and write down the URLs of any great resources
- Step #3 – Write each section, one by one
- Follow the outline
- Write the first thing that comes to mind (more on this later in the post)
- Step #4 – Create any necessary images for the post
- Step #5 – Add internal links and a lead magnet
- Add one internal link to a relevant post for every 200-400 words
- If a post-specific lead magnet is possible, create it now
- Step #6 – Edit and publish
- Remove any “fluff”
- Check for spelling and grammar issues
- Format for WordPress, and publish
You could develop an even more detailed process.
You basically want a set of instructions that you could hand off to any writer and say, “Write me a great post.”
Do you see why this will save you a ton of time? Instead of continually pausing and wondering, “What part of the post should I do now?—you already have the answer.
The better your system is, the less “thinking” time will be required. Most of it is upfront in the outlining and researching phases.
Your system will probably look different from that example, and that’s a good thing. Customize your system so that it reflects your working preferences.
2 other benefits of systems: Although the primary function of a system here is to minimize non-productive time, there are a few other smaller benefits.
First, the quality of your posts will be extremely consistent.
When you don’t have a system, sometimes you’ll be motivated to do extra research, make great pictures, and do a great editing job.
But other times, you might skip these steps.
This will result in some great posts and some okay posts.
With a system, you do the exact same things every single time. Remember the input/output diagram? Your output should be the same if your input and your process are the same.
The second benefit may or may not apply. If you write monster posts like I do (and that I recommend), you might have noticed that you get a little overwhelmed from time to time.
It’s hard starting a mammoth post when it seems like it’s going to take forever to put together, and it’s going to be difficult.
But when you have a system, you already know that if you follow the steps you laid out, you’ll get the output you want.
Instead of worrying about the final result, you can just follow each small step, one-by-one, knowing that you’ll finish it in a reasonable amount of time.
In essence, your system breaks up a giant task into bite-sized, and thus less intimidating, tasks.
3. Learn to get “in the zone”
If you’ve ever played a sport, at any level, you know the feeling of being “in the zone.”
Everything just melts away, and all your focus goes to the task at hand, whether it’s running or playing basketball.
Needless to say, this is how you get your best performances.
But getting in the zone isn’t just limited to physical activities.
You may have also experienced it when working or studying. One of the most common examples of being in the zone is when a programmer “plugs in” when they get engrossed in a challenge:
As far as I know, no one knows how to get “in the zone” at will. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to improve your focus, which will in turn improve your efficiency.
Here are a few effective strategies…
Strategy #1 – Efficiency and batching go hand in hand: Batching is a concept that is typically used in industrial settings.
Smart factory owners noticed that when they created large batches of their product at once, it was much cheaper and faster than creating products one at a time.
Imagine if people who delivered mail only took one letter at a time from the distribution center? It would take forever.
But taking mail in bulk, the delivery person can deliver the mail without having to go back and forth all the time.
That’s an extreme example, but it applies to every step along the way.
So, how can you use batching as a writer? It’s pretty simple. Stick to one task, and don’t switch to another one until you’re done.
- Coming up with blog post ideas? Come up with 50-100 at once, not just one per post as you need it.
- Need to outline a post? Outline the full post before you start writing, instead of outlining a single section, writing it, and then repeating the process.
- How about editing? Don’t edit as you go—do it all at once at the end.
Applying batching in these ways will save you a lot of time.
But possibly more importantly, it will help you focus better.
Our minds work best when we concentrate on one specific task. However, the typical writer is constantly jumping between outlining, writing, researching, and editing.
There’s no way to get in the zone when you’re constantly shifting gears like that.
If you only apply this strategy, you’ll still have great improvements in your focus and efficiency.
Strategy #2 – Visualization is a powerful tool: The mind will try to find a distraction if it gets in an uncomfortable situation.
Sometimes, writing a post can become uncomfortable.
You start writing, but then you get to a particularly tricky or complex part of the post. All of your doubts about people not liking it, or thinking you’re an impostor, come to mind.
This is uncomfortable for any writer.
This, of course, causes them to get a little twitchy and think or do something else (like check Facebook).
Having a system will help reduce the chances of this occurring.
In addition, you can use visualization to quell these worries and get back on track if you feel that it’s happening.
How do you do it?
The basic idea is that you want to see yourself succeeding in a realistic situation.
Close your eyes, relax for a minute, and picture yourself publishing the finished post on your website, followed with a slightly above average number of shares and comment.
This isn’t some hippy idea that involves attracting your desires.
This is about knowing what you’re trying to achieve and being confident in your ability to do it.
Studies have shown that visualization can improve performance in a wide variety of situations.
Strategy #3 – Clear your mind beforehand: Finally, what if you have a really active mind? I think most Internet marketers and business owners have this problem.
You constantly look and think about new opportunities plus all the other things on your to-do list.
With your focus divided, you will be less productive.
One potential solution is to meditate beforehand. It doesn’t have to be long: just 5 to 10 minutes will go a long way.
But isn’t meditating hard? If you’re a bit apprehensive about trying meditation because it seems like a complicated thing used by monks, don’t be.
Although they might be great at it from years of intense practice, you don’t need to be a monk to experience the benefits of meditation.
There are many types of meditation, but the most basic one is to focus on your breath. Just acknowledge your thoughts as they come up and return your attention to your breath instead of staying with your thoughts, which will be tempting.
Depending on how busy your mind is, you will notice that it becomes clearer after 5-15 minutes of doing this.
Here’s a short, but detailed explanation of how to perform meditation:
4. The simple science of habits (use them to make writing easy)
We all know the power of habits.
The more you do something, the easier it becomes.
For writers who struggle getting started with writing a post, looking at the science behind habit formation can be incredibly helpful.
There are 3 parts to every habit:
- The cue – What triggers you to do the routine.
- The routine – What action(s) you perform.
- The reward – What the immediate benefit of the routine that makes you feel good is.
Put them together, and you have the “habit cycle.”
How to create a writing habit: Once you understand the habit loop, you can use it to form new habits, whether it’s for writing or anything else.
The first element is to pick a “cue” for writing.
The cue should be something that happens often.
The cue can be many things:
- An alarm going off
- Having a meal
- Checking email
- Turning on the lights in a room
- An activity like stretching or meditation
- A song you’re listening to ends
It can be any cue you want, but try to pick one that will happen (or you can make happen) at a specific time just before you want to start writing.
For example, if you like writing in the morning, start writing after you finish breakfast.
Or start writing after you’ve checked your emails.
The second part is the routine.
Obviously, you already know how to write.
The key is, at least for the first month or so (it takes about a month or two), to just write. Even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes, you’re just trying to establish the habit.
Then, write for longer after you’ve established the habit.
Finally, you need some sort of reward.
The biggest problem with creating a great post is that you don’t get much of an immediate reward. It can be weeks or months before it is published and gets any attention.
It can be several months before you see the long term SEO traffic benefits of a post.
The alternative is to make your own reward.
For some people, a reward might be as simple as telling yourself “good job.”
For others, it might be playing a game for a few minutes or having a small snack of their favorite food.
Find a reward that will help you associate the action of writing with a good result.
Follow that 3-step process and you’ll form a new strong habit before you know it.
5. Don’t worry about perfect, do this instead
You’re trying to create great content, right?
The kind that really adds value to your readers’ lives.
For that, I congratulate you because that’s really how marketing should be done when possible.
But there’s a side to this that isn’t often talked about.
It’s easy to obsess over making a post as good as humanly possible—or perfect.
But perfection can cause a writer to freeze up.
When your goal is perfection, everything less than that becomes failure, even if it’s really good.
As you might know, most people have an innate fear of failure (to different degrees).
If, while writing a post, you ever wondered “How can I make this perfect?” only to freeze up or get overwhelmed, it’s likely due to this.
But I have a solution that you can put into action right away.
The simple strategy for productivity AND quality: First, realize that there is no such thing as a perfect post, and that your readers don’t need perfection.
A very good article will give your readers almost the same value as a “perfect” article.
But where does the value come from?
From the design of the content? A bit.
From the choice of words? A bit.
From the meaning behind the content? A lot.
If you truly have something of meaning to say, it won’t matter how good of a writer you are. It can still make an impact on the people who read it.
Sharing valuable knowledge is the most important thing.
That doesn’t mean that writing style and formatting aren’t important at all; it just means you should focus on making the valuable message as clear as possible.
And you don’t do this by picking the “perfect” words.
So, instead of killing yourself, wasting minutes between sentences, thinking of the absolute best way of phrasing something:
write each sentence down as simply as possible.
Simple words come to mind quickly, and readers can understand them easily.
Your goal isn’t to create art; it’s to create something that gives the most value to readers, which means that they must understand your message.
Will it be perfect? Heck, no.
Will it be good? Hopefully, but not necessarily.
When you write down the first thing that comes to mind, it sometimes turns out okay. Other times, you’ll ramble on and add “fluff” content that doesn’t add to the main message you’re trying to get across.
Would it surprise you to learn that most top writers do this?
The difference between them and an average writer (besides practice) is editing.
After you’ve written the post, you can edit it to remove the fluff.
With this simple method of writing, you’ll typically end up with a better article than you would have if you aimed for perfection:
- Write the first thing that enters your head
- Spend a good amount of time editing it
When you’re editing it, don’t go for perfection—go for clarity.
6. Four aspects of an optimized writing environment
Most of what we’ve looked at so far has focused on improving the way you approach writing.
But what we haven’t looked at is how to create a good environment for writing.
Imaging how hard it would be to write with a bunch of noisy kids running around? Almost impossible.
And while you may not be able to create a perfect writing environment, there are four fairly simple things that you can do to make creating great content easier.
1. Create your own writing space: No doubt, you do at least some work from home. But you may find yourself being less productive because of where you’re doing it.
Our brains create connections between locations and activities.
For example, we associate the bedroom with sleep. What studies have shown, however, is that working in bed (or even the bedroom) weakens the association between the bedroom and sleep.
If you work in bed, not only will you make it harder to sleep, but you also won’t be as productive. You’ll always have a significant association to sleep in your bedroom, so don’t be surprised if you feel a little tired or too relaxed when writing in bed.
But this can be extended to other areas as well.
Do you always play games in a certain room?
Do you always Skype or go on social media in a certain room?
Your mind creates associations between those activities and those locations, which means that you will be more prone to do those things rather than write in those spaces.
The solution? Create a specific space that is only used for writing.
It doesn’t need to be large, but it should feel unique so that over time you will associate it with writing.
What you will gradually start noticing is that when you work there, you will begin to write automatically instead of having to force yourself.
2. Breaks are not for the weak: It’s a brutal cycle. You don’t want to take a break because you want to spend more time writing to be more productive.
But when you do this, you fatigue faster, lose focus faster, and end up writing slower, which makes you even less productive.
In addition, sitting for long periods over the long term can cause back pain and even create deadly blood clots.
Ideally, you should take a short 2-5 minute break every 30 minutes. And don’t go without a break for longer than 60 minutes.
During this break, get away from the computer.
Get up and stretch, or do something that involves a bit of moving.
If you Google “work stretching routines,” you can find many simple ones to try:
This is good for your physical health, but it’s also good for your productivity.
Studies have found that brief diversions from a particular task significantly improve focus in upcoming periods of work.
3. Your seat matters: When you’re “in the zone,” all your focus is on the task at hand. If you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair, you’ll be constantly distracted by it.
Whether it’s the general discomfort or pain from the chair, the same effect occurs.
As a writer, you probably spend at least 20 hours a week in your chair, or almost 1,000 hours a year.
That’s too much time to be uncomfortable, and you’re costing yourself a ton of productivity.
If you have any budget at all: get a nice comfortable office chair.
The most famous one is the aeron chair by Herman Miller. While it costs a bit over $900, it’s also one of the most comfortable and ergonomic chairs you can use.
Another option is to use a standing desk.
A lot of research has come out recently on the dangers of sitting for a long time. One study found that men who sat more than 6 hours a day (on average) had a death rate 20% higher than those who sat for less than 3 hours.
Other studies have concluded that those who sit for prolonged periods of time are 50% more likely to die from any cause and 125% more likely to have a cardiovascular event (like a heart attack).
One good option is to use a standing desk instead, which may help you stay more focused as well.
A quick caution though: Although research on standing desks is still pretty new, some studies have shown that standing too much is also bad for your health.
I’d suggest doing both if possible, mitigating the health risks as much as possible while keeping you comfortable and productive.
4. Take it easy on your eyes: Finally, staring at a screen all day is tough on the eyes, especially if you work at night.
A simple solution to reduce the amount of eye strain and fatigue is to install the free program f.lux.
It alters the intensity of the light coming from your screen, which not only reduces strain on your eyes but is also said to help you sleep better.
At first, it will look really weird, but you’ll quickly get used to it and wonder how you ever lived without it.
Although writing a great article takes time, there’s no reason for it to take all of your time.
Most of you who are writing, if you used all the tactics in this post, you will be able to double or triple your output, which is huge.
You don’t need to try them all right now. Look for your biggest problems as a writer, and use the matching tactics I’ve shown in this post to address those specific problems.
If any of these techniques have worked well for you or you have any of your own to share, I’d love to hear about it in a comment below.