I am a very busy search marketer. Besides running a full service search marketing agency, I write for 7 blogs on a regular basis, manage 3 directories, follow a little over 100 blogs in my RSS reader, am very active on Twitter, am active discovering and bookmarking content on StumbleUpon, Reddit, Mixx, Sphinn and various other social news and bookmarking sites, respond to all RFPs and am still the liaison for all our clients (a full time job in and of itself).
So how do I maintain this rigorous daily schedule while not losing my sanity in the process? Here are a few tips that help me to stay productive which I also presented in a session by the same title of this post at SMX West 2009.
Start the Day With Email, Bloglines and Twitter
The very first element to staying productive each day is to have a routine. I understand that routines can be very boring and lack spontaneity, but ‘some’ routine is necessary if you want to stay focused.
Once I’m in the office and the coffee is brewing (can’t forget the most important part of the day), the very first tasks I deal with are email and new RSS feeds.
I actually run all email on my laptop through Outlook Express, so with my laptop next to my desktop PC monitor, I am simultaneously checking email as well as sifting through new blog content in Bloglines.
With regards to email, I am of course deleting all the unwanted spam and garbage but also take the opportunity to respond to stuff that can be taken care of quickly. For example, editing or deleting blog comments, answering a client’s quick question or filing a response from someone that requires no response on my part.
As far as new blog posts, I have learned how to sift through posts very quickly. By categorizing feeds (more later), I can quickly sift through all new feeds and mark those I want to read and/or bookmark as well as those that might provide ideas for blog content on one of our blogs.
I might add that during this process, I click on the TwitterFox icon in the status bar of Firefox to clear all unread Twitter posts from the last time I left my PC. I do quickly check for any DMs or @ replies but there is no way I’m going to spend time trying to catch up on everything I missed while offline. Often there are 100 or more new ‘tweets’ which would take way too much time to skim through. Therefore I like to start off each day fresh with regards to Twitter stuff.
This process takes me anywhere from a half hour to an hour, depending on the volume of new emails and blog posts.
Writing New Blog Posts
After I have dealt with email and Bloglines (at least initially), I will then take some time to write some posts. Five of the seven blogs I write for include news coverage related to their specific industries. They are therefore more dependent on actual news occurring.
So after coming across various ‘newsworthy’ items in Bloglines that I want to write about and having already opened those items up in separate tabs within Firefox, I then take the time to read through each item and write a post related to it.
Items could include some piece of Disney news for our Disney blog, or a local event in the community I live in for our Anthem Business Directory, or something stupid that some did for our Dipnoid blog, and yes even from time to time, something in the search industry I want to write about (I don’t attempt to cover ALL search news).
Blog posts that center around a creative idea or research can be scheduled any time but newsworthy items need to be posted almost as soon as they happen. That is why I like to get this out of the way directly after dealing with email and actually discovering the news items.
That is not to say that newsworthy items do not happen throughout the day that sometimes require me to stop everything I’m doing in order to throw up a quick post about the item.
The remainder of my day will consist of multiple tasks including working on client projects, dealing with clients, responding to RFPs, dealing with finances, developing new business, managing employee tasks, running errands, among many other things. And during all this, I still try to stay on top of new emails, new RSS feeds pouring into Bloglines and Twitter.
All in all, it makes for full and busy days.
I use Outlook Express to handle all my email. While I like Outlook to manage contacts, I prefer the simplicity of Outlook Express to manage the massive amount of email I deal with on a day to day basis. In fact, I’d say I am very dependent on Outlook Express at least to keep track of all the communication that is going on between myself and clients, prospective clients, employees, colleagues, friends, events and even new business development.
One of the key factors that helps me manage email with Outlook Express is to utilize categories in which I can place every piece of email that is pending. By ‘pending’ I mean something that is unfinished.
Once a piece of email is no longer useful, it is either deleted or filed away (saved) on the hard drive. In most cases, I always save every piece of correspondence between myself and clients as you often have to revert back to these in those pesky “he said, she said” occurrences. At the same time I don’t want hundreds and hundreds of pieces of email bogging down Outlook Express, so as soon as they are no longer pending, they are out of there.
My categorical structure looks something like this:
- Complete Projects
– Client Folder
- Current Projects
– Client Folder
- SEM Maintenance
– Client Folder
- Advertising/Lead Gen
- SearchRank- Hot
This & That
- Conferences & Meet-ups
– SMX West
– SEMpdx SearchFest
- Copyright Infringement
– Copyright Infringer Folder
Most folder names are self explanatory but I will add that the “Clients,” “Hot Prospects” and “SEM Maintenance” all deal with clients or prospects. “Clients” obviously deals with existing clients whereas “Hot Prospects” are new leads. “SEM Maintenance” is where I store the emails that go out monthly to each client in which we are performing some type of campaign maintenance for them.
One final note on email and that is to make sure you back up religiously. I use a piece of desktop software called Outlook Express Backup Genie (http://www.amicutilities.com/outlook-express-backup/) and try to make sure I back up all email at least once a week. The software is free to try for 15 days but afterwards costs $39.95.
There are three forms of social bookmarking I engage in. 1.) I bookmark stuff that I find interesting either through personal discovery such as Bloglines or Twitter; 2.) I bookmark stuff that people ask me to bookmark; 3.) I bookmark our own pieces.
At times this can get a bit overwhelming.
One thing I do not do is to frequent blogs. That is to say that I am not constantly visiting blogs to discover content that interest me. Instead I use Bloglines, a free RSS reader owned by Ask Search. Bloglines allows me to subscribe to as many blog feeds as I want (currently 111) and then categorize them into areas of interest.
Here is how my category structure looks like right now:
- Anthem (feeds related to the community I live in)
- Christian Stuff
- Disney/Amusement Parks
- General News
- Search Engines (official blogs of search engines)
- Search/Social Media News (Search Engine Land, Mashable, TechCrunch, etc.)
- SEM/SMM (individual bloggers I follow)
- Social News & Forums
- Client (feeds from client’s blogs)
- Company Blogs (feeds from our own blogs)
- Friends (personal blogs)
- Yahoo Answers (several Yahoo Answer “Open Question” feeds)
Having every blog I follow in specific categories allows me to skim through what is most important to me first. For example, I might check the “Search/Social Media News” and “SEM/SMM” first if I’m looking to beat others to the punch in submitting good content to Sphinn.
Another thing I do it try to limit my activity on social sites. I am pretty active on Twitter, Sphinn, Mixx and StumbleUpon. Besides that, I am very selective about where I decide to spend time.
Facebook for example can be a huge time waste so besides having blog feeds and Twitter feeds auto-posting, I spend hardly anytime at Facebook at all.
Furthermore I do not try to bookmark content at every imaginable social news and media site. I select what I feel will be the most appropriate sites and submit to them.
If you are the kind that desires to submit to multiple sits but want to save time doing it, SocialMarker is a free service designed to reduce the time and effort needed to socially bookmark a website. It includes all the popular social bookmarking and news sites (over 30 in all) and allows you to pick and choose which ones you want to submit to.
Besides email, Twitter can literally be one of the biggest time wasters if you do not learn how to use it properly. Now I consider myself to be a pretty active Twitter user. I am constantly monitoring my “Friend’s Timeline” and respond or interact when I feel I have something to add.
What I don’t do is have the Twitter web page constantly open in my browser. Instead I use TwitterFox which is a Firefox plug-in when on my PC and TwitterBerry for my Blackberry when I am away from my PC.
TwitterFox adds a small icon to the status bar of Firefox and allows you to designate how often you want it to grab new tweets. There are options for 3, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 30 minutes. You can even have a sound played when new tweets arrive.
If you look at my timeline, you will see that pretty much every tweet I post comes from TwitterFox or Twitterberry. I find it a very easy way to stop what I’m doing, select the icon and skim through the latest tweets as well as post something myself directly from the application.
Some of my peeps have commented that they love responding to RFPs. I can see their point in the fact that they create the opportunity to acquire new business. I like them in this manner but actually responding to them is something I don’t look forward to, mostly because it is so time-consuming.
And while I give each and every RFP that comes into my Inbox careful consideration (i.e. listen to their goals and needs, evaluate their site and current visibility or lack thereof), I am always trying to reduce the amount of time I spend responding to them.
One thing I have done over time is to create multiple “form letters.” I have a standard “form letter” that I use specifically for RFPs which I add to the email by using the “Insert from file” function and pulling from a text file. I then use “add-in” text files for various things such as proposing a SEO strategy or providing different methods and pricing on link building services.
With the use of these form letters, besides the time I spend evaluating the prospects site, I can provide a detailed response to their proposal in 5 minutes or less. It didn’t use to be that way and even now if I find a better way to “say” something or define a service, I am constantly adding and/or updating my library of form letters stored as text files.
By the way, I don’t limit this technique to just RFPs but use standardized form letters in a variety of situations where you are repeating information over and over again. It is a huge time-saver compared to writing everything from scratch.
SEM Campaign Management
With 2 business sites, 7 blogs, and 3 directories to manage, it is difficult to find time to work on these, not to mention the countless additional internal projects we have brewing. You either allow client work to suffer or your own stuff is constantly being placed on the backburner.
One thing we have done to ensure we have time each and every month to work on our own projects is to make sure that all scheduled client work is complete by the 20th of each month. This gives us a whole week (sometimes more) to work on our own projects, develop new projects or business or do nothing. For example, we completed all client work this last December by the 19th and were able to take the next 2 weeks off.
Sure we will still respond to RFPs and client concerns but we aren’t working on regular maintenance type of stuff which has freed up a lot of time to make progress on internal projects.
A Few Things To Remember
So in conclusion…
- Have some kind of routine
- Deal with email wisely
- Be selective when social bookmarking
- Make Twitter beneficial and not a time waster
- Simplify the RFP process
- Leave room for “yourself” when scheduling maintenance tasks.