One of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs, I believe, is that we’re all trying to grow our businesses in an age of significant distraction. You carry mobile devices that have you tethered to a network millions of people deep, you’re juggling multiple applications at all hours, and pushing the limits of how many things you can track on a regular basis.
At some point, something has to give – and when it does, your productivity and work/life balance takes a hit.
We all struggle with this problem to some degree, and it can be helpful to know how others manage to grow and thrive despite constant distractions and unending task lists.
I recently sat down with content marketing influencer and social media strategist Jeff Bullas to find out how he stays productive while writing, speaking, and launching new training courses.
Sujan: How about a quick introduction, Jeff?
Jeff: Hi everyone. I’m a blogger who started about seven years ago and it’s now a full-time business. We reach about five million people a year with the blog now. I have a bit of fun creating content and sharing it with the world, and having conversations. I’ve kind of created a lifestyle business, so that’s pretty cool. I’m just a digital entrepreneur trying to make a dent in the universe.
Sujan: Would you consider yourself naturally organized or productive?
Jeff: I wouldn’t say naturally. I do like having a routine. I suppose innately I’m fairly organized and I don’t like mess, I don’t like clutter. If you came to my desk and saw where I was sitting, it’s fairly well organized. Some say a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind, and also an empty desk is an empty mind.
I think the biggest challenge we have as humans is a word called procrastination – and it’s the biggest challenge to productivity. We battle with it every day and some are better at it than others – yes, some are better at procrastination!
Sujan: I get that. I call my life controlled chaos, so it’s interesting to see the other side of it. Can you walk us through a typical week in what you focus on and how you go about it?
Jeff: Typically I start the day with writing. When I was building the blog originally, I took it to a new level. I got up at 4:30 a.m. and wrote in time blocks. From 4:30 to about 9:00 a.m., I would create and market content. So this was something that was useful because it enabled me to dedicate that time to content creation. That proved to be a great tactic. My blog now has a couple thousand articles reaching all those people, and that was done through time blocking and getting up early to do the work.
Then the rest of the bits and pieces were emails being done, and trying to time block the afternoon to work on a major focus. Like right now, I’m working on launching a podcast, so that’s my afternoon priority. In the middle of that I break up my day with some exercise. That gives me the energy I need as well. Exercise is as essential to me as food, really.
Sujan: It’s interesting to see how you break up the day. A lot of entrepreneurs I talk to either exercise first thing in the morning or it’s something they end with. It’s interesting that you get your exercise there in the middle. So what are some tools, apps, or processes you use to organize your day? Is there anything that is like, “I would die without this?”
Jeff: I do like to see the major things I want to get done. So I use a very old tool called pen and paper. I have a page for each day in my notebook, and I write down the things I want to get done. I don’t always get everything done, and that’s fine. I think we all sometimes get caught up in that “Oh, I didn’t complete the list today.” I think that depends on how anal we are about that focus and our task-driven priorities.
I also use my online calendar and Google calendar that links to my iPhone. That’s important for me to avoid forgetting things and being productive as well. I might even plug in a countdown timer if I want to drive myself. A little old school and some new tech.
Sujan: Sometimes one of the best tools is just writing it down and keeping it in your face. You talked about procrastination – on the flipside, is there a way you prioritize things? I’m sure as you’re working with multiple people and bloggers there are a million things you could potentially do – how do you prioritize what you should do?
Jeff: When I started the blog initially it was all about the content creation. I wasn’t interested in the ROI and making revenue. It was about creativity, content, and content distribution. I still focus on that today, but I’ve added another focus, which is earning revenue with the blog and then speaking engagements.
What I’m working on focus-wise now is, “Will this generate revenue?” It’s a question I ask more often now than I used to. I went full-time with the blog three years ago, so now I need to ask if this activity will produce money. If I say yes to something, I’m basically saying no to something else, so I see if it’s a good investment of my time in terms of generating revenue. The focus and priorities have evolved over the years, and that will continue.
I think what’s also important to me as a priority is that I love the art of creative writing. So I set aside time to write and improve my writing. That feeds my soul which is also important. It’s not just about revenue and earning money – there’s also that motivation of being true to myself.
Sujan: Let’s talk about delegation. I imagine you can’t do everything yourself. Are there people or teams you delegate to when you have less important work or things you don’t have time to do?
Jeff: I had a big “aha” moment in Chicago last year at a Mastermind weekend with about 15 other digital entrepreneurs. There was a question posed, and it was, “Are you self-employed, or do you have a business?”
Self-employed means you do it all yourself. Having a business means you delegate. That question actually made me realize that I needed to outsource and delegate a lot more. So I came back from Chicago and I appointed a blog editor. I found a great guy. He sets it up, does editing, does the schedule, and social sharing. That freed me up from the humdrum nuts and bolts and gave me time to launch my course.
I’m also not a tech guy, so I decided I needed to put in place a tech resource for my digital marketing automation platform with Infusionsoft, and I appointed a guy to look after that as well because I’m not good at it.
I basically looked at what am I good at, and what am I not good at. I think some of us are innately good at some things and we should be doing the things we’re really good at. Then go find the resources to take care of the things we’re not good at – and that will accelerate your productivity.
Sujan: That is so true! So, last question. If you could go back in time ten years, or to when you first started your blogging empire… what advice would you give yourself around productivity and things you learned the hard way?
Jeff: In terms of productivity, I suppose it would be to stop agonizing over the details. That’s something I share with readers and listeners all the time. I love the phrase “Done is better than perfect.” That doesn’t mean I launch anything without thinking. It means that maybe you can test something in a safe framework, like a pilot – but just starting is really important and the polish comes later.
The reality in the digital world is that a lot of business models are in constant evolution and didn’t exist a year ago. Writing a five-year business plan is crazy because you don’t know what’s going to happen in a year. Just get your hands dirty, try things, break things, see what works and what doesn’t, and just get started. I think that’s the most important message in this fast-moving world.
What do you do to stay productive when you’re in the thick of it? Share your tips with me in the comments below:
Sujan Patel is a data-driven marketer and entrepreneur. He is a high energy individual fueled by his passion to help people and solve problems. Sujan is the co-founder of WebProfits US, a growth marketing agency & software companies, Narrow.io & ContentMarketer.io, tools to help marketers build their Twitter following and scale content marketing efforts.