Part of my personal and professional job is creating content. Content for blogs, presentations, papers, emails, tweets, you name it. Contrary to popular belief, content can not just be created in a few seconds. It has to be born, nurtured, developed, rethought, rewritten, finalized and published. It’s an iterative process. And very personal. I wrote an article a while ago about how I write a blog post. The process hasn’t changed, but my time to do it has. I now seem to have more to do and less time to do it.
I know that I’m not alone here. Finding that period of uninterrupted time is sacred. While I can’t clear your calendar for you, I can offer some tips and ideas on some ways that you might be able to find quality time to produce your content.
- Office hours – this is an idea that I borrowed from college. We all know about how professors and teachers regularly post times when you can drop by to talk to them. Conversation is important in both your personal and work life. You cannot simply create content in a vacuum. Idea exchange is critical and can help you further your own thought process. This is more of a tip for the office place. During regular business hours, set aside 2 hours a day (more or less) where you set the expectation where people can come to talk to you. During that time, don’t expect to get any quality writing done. But once your “office hours” are complete, set the expectation (again) with those you work with that “sharing time is over.” Use the time after the office hours to think about what you talked about with your co-workers and then start formulating your thoughts.
- “Quiet Time” blocks with no meetings – another strategy for the work place. Most offices tend to overbook people with meetings. I personally find meetings to be largely a waste of time. Out of an hour, there is probably 15 minutes of quality content and time. Luckily, where I work, meetings are generally 30 minutes in length, however I have seen some people’s schedules being entirely booked with meetings. For someone creating content this is not a good work environment for you. As I mentioned previously, you need to have quality time to think and write. So here is my recommendation, if your business runs via calendaring, suggest to your boss or HR the idea of “quiet time” – a period of time where no meetings can be scheduled and that people just have time to themselves. Many kindergartens and preschools implement this same type of rule, and I believe it is something that companies should implement as well. If your company doesn’t go for mandated “quiet time”, you can subtly implement one yourself by simply blocking out time, an hour or two a day, with “private” meetings…with yourself. Give yourself that private time to get your thoughts together and into writing.
- Voicemail with email – voicemail is great. It provides a way for people to leave you a short message for a conversation that make take a lot longer if you had actually picked up the phone. Personally, I have a thing against picking up the phone for inbound or outbound calls and honestly, it is a flaw of mine. I would rather write out an email that documents what I want to say and leaves no room for misinterpretation or paraphrasing. But let’s face it, I like writing in general. Also, if the phone call is really important, people will either call back or leave a message. A little technique that I also use, since I’m a big advocate of email, is to be sure that my voicemail message says “if this is urgent, please send me an email with the details.” This way, wherever I am, I get the details and can respond. And, if the message is really urgent, people will take the time to email you the details. So how does this gain your some time back for your content creation? Well, for starters you don’t get sucked into useless sales calls or lengthy conference calls that can take away your precious thinking and writing hours. Lower the volume on your phone ringer and let your voicemail message (with your email hook therein) save you a few minutes more a day.
- Software to prevent distractions – computers are now packed full with distractions. This can take the form of email, social networking like Facebook and Twitter, or just all of the other open documents that you need to work on. Recently, new applications are being created or existing ones re-architected to provide more of a distraction-free work environment. The newest version of Microsoft Word for Mac now has a view that strips away all menus and other background icons. I call it the light-box mode or full-screen mode. Apple recently implemented this with iPhoto as well. Similarly, there are some stand alone applications for both the Mac and PC like Think that will do the same thing. Even without software, you can eliminate distractions like hiding your dock or taskbar, or turning off interrupting applications like email or Facebook or Twitter. If you are going to write, do that!
- Early bedtime for kids – some content creators don’t do their best writing at work, or perhaps their home is their office, or their day job has nothing to do with what they are writing about or the content they are creating. If you have a family, you have even less quality time to get your work done. In many cases, what I am about to suggest isn’t even feasible. Kids deserve your undivided attention, especially when they ask for it. You cannot simply put them aside because you need to write or create a video or some other type of content. But, if you have younger kids, you might want to try to get them to bed a bit earlier. Kids needs lots of rest when they are young so by making them go to bed an hour earlier (reasonable time of course) you are actually helping them succeed. So, you might be able to squeak out some extra hours at night for quality time for your content (or gasp, your significant other). But be sure to set the expectation early on and regularly that it is “your time.”
- “Headphones on” means “thinking” (even if no music) – this is a little trick that I use periodically for a couple of reasons. Get a pair of headphones and plug them into your computer. Put them on when you want to concentrate. Get some music that you like and/or have heard a million times or some that doesn’t have lyrics. Then when you want to write (yes, I talk about content WRITING a lot – there are other types of content), put on your headphones and get to work. If you make this a habit, you brain might get the idea that when you hear that particular music, it’s time to create content! Another trick that I use is that if you have some noise isolating or dampening headphones, you can simply put those on to give yourself a little silence. Also, save putting on your headphones for when you really want to concentrate. People will start to learn that when you put them on, you “mean business…content business.” And get a really big pair of headphones, just to make it easier for people to know.
- Go for a walk with a microphone – sometimes there are simply too many distractions at your desk or in your office. At times like this, you need to grab some portable technology and head for the road. Grab a smart phone or a digital recorder, anything that can record voice memos, and go for a walk. A cell phone is a bit more ideal because people will simply think that you are talking to someone instead of recording ideas or thoughts. Just walk and talk and when you get back, you will be surprised with all of the fresh and different ideas you have come up with.
- Quick notes for later concentration – you need to be sure that you can take notes and jot down ideas wherever you are. This sort of goes hand in hand with the previous point. Have a way to be able to keep a record of ideas handy. Send yourself an email with a list of bullet points or phrases. Or, and I highly recommend this, sign up for Evernote. Their free account is more than adequate to provide you with a digital notepad. They have apps for smart phones, for Macs and PCs. And all of your notes are synced across all devices. And you can take photos or make voice recordings as well as simply jot down notes with Evernote. This post actually started as just a series of notes that I jotted down and later built out into a full fledged article.
- One-off work schedule (in early or work late) – if you have some flexibility on your in-the-office hours, try to mix it up a bit. First you need to figure out if you are more of a morning or afternoon type of person. Ask your boss what the core hours you need to be at work (e.g., must be in by 9 am but can leave by 4pm – either/or, not both), then work your schedule around getting yourself some concentration time during your “prime hours.” For example, I do my best content writing early in the morning so I try to be in the office by 7 am (which also means that I leave around 4pm, allowing me to get home early to spend time with my kids before they are put to bed – early – see point #5 above). If you work better in the afternoon, then get in a bit later and work late. The ideal thing that you are looking to do is find time at either end of your work day to have quality thinking time that is not interrupted.
- Waiting during kid activities – last but not least, if you have kids, it’s pretty common for them to have activities that they need to be dropped off at and picked up from. Use these to your advantage. Bring a laptop, netbook, iPad or just a cell phone with you so that you can do some work. It doesn’t matter where you do the work, but what is nice is that you have a pre-defined period of time where you can do your thinking or writing. I personally like waiting for my kids and enjoy the distraction free time to get my work done.
What tips or tricks do you have when creating content, collecting your thoughts or just sharpening that pencil in your brain? Leave a comment and let us all know! And special thanks to CC Chapman and Ann Handley who inspired me to rethink how I create my content as well as figure out ways to produce better content. I recommend their book, Content Rules, which I’m about half way through and highly recommend – I would be further along but I suddenly have a lot to write about. Oh and as a mini disclosure, I do a weekly podcast with CC called Cast of Dads.
HTD says: How do you create content? Do you have any habits that you follow? What works and what doesn’t? Let me know!