Content marketing is indeed a time-devoring devil. For sure, there are tons of articles across the Net teaching content marketing productivity to solopreneurs to manage their time, without getting overwhelmed by the sheer workload involved in content creation and content promotion. The standard advice on time planning always came down to one thing: “plan your work and then work your plan”. But that is easier said than done!
This article seeks to explain three important systems of time management for you to choose from, to suit your own bio-rhythms and energy flow … the Pomodoro Technique, the Getting Things Done Method, and the Zen To Done System. But before we get into these alternative ideas, there’s something very interesting know about the human brain and how it relates to time management.
Managing your time by managing your brain – the basic secret of time management
I chanced, quite accidentally, on a fail-proof method that helped me break that horrendous bloggers’ vicious cycle. This is how it usually went: I’d be in a hard slog for a few days followed by flaking out, balking, procrastinating, feeling disgusted and then going into extended hibernation. Then a few days later the cycle would begin again and end the same way. But how could I beat it, I kept wondering? Was it my motivation, my time management (or lack of it), or my indiscipline?
Seeing myself go through these “downward-energy-and-disinclination-spirals” frequently, I was all but ready to throw the towel in – when suddenly I saw an article that explained how the human brain works. It appears that entirely different parts of the brain are involved in thinking, reading, writing, brainstorming, doing research, ideating and so on. See this figure below:
Image: Courtesy: Linda Robinson
When I looked at my workload of making just one epic post for my blog everyday, I suddenly realized that there must be at least ten or twelve different processes to do, all of which were requiring different parts of my brain to crank into action. For example, every single blog post requires keyword research, ideating on a headline, doing topic research, outlining the points to cover in my post, writing compelling subheadings, writing the post, proofreading, editing and retouching the images, finding supportive charts and graphs, post promotion on social media, email outreach to other bloggers for backlinks etc.
How could I reasonably expect that all the parts of my brain would always be equally ready and in sync? How could I assume that the different parts of my brain would smoothly toss the baton from one part to the other like a relay race, to get my blog post done? What if some parts of my brain were crankier than others and refusing to come alive when needed?
Realizing this was an AHA moment for me, because I realized two very major insights that completely transformed my management of time and workload.
One, I saw that if I gave gaps for the brain to switch off from a previous task and before taking up the next task, the brain was able to shift to neutral gear before changing gears to do the next part of the process.
So initially, when you first start blogging, give yourself gaps of time between processes in your work that require different parts of your brain to rev up for their part of the process. I also noticed that it helped the next part of the process immensely, if during the gap before the next action, I took a minute or so to “visualize” myself doing the next action. That seemed to help the brain get the required parts into a state of readiness for the next action.
Two, I also noticed that this kind of time lag between actions is not needed at all, if a process becomes a “habit”.
Habits are sequences of actions that seem to almost dovetail into each other without any conscious effort. For example, if you have a habit of flossing your teeth after brushing, you find your hand reaching for the floss even as you put down the toothbrush. So with time and the “cultivation of a habit”, the brain gets its different parts in a state of readiness for the next actions, almost like choreographed dance!
Habit formation, however, takes time and recurrent repetition every day. Psychologists say that if you do something in a particular sequence for 21 days, you wear off an old habit. You do it for another 21 days, and you form the new habit. What all this means is that you’ve got to get yourself into the flow of consistent rhythmic blogging simply by repeating the process every day for at least 42 days – and initially you’ve got to allow time gaps between processes when you “visualize” the next process to get the right parts of the brain ready.
This is the uber-simple secret to time management that I’ve discovered that I have shared with so many clients over the years – and despite initial skepticism, many of them have said how surprised they have been that this worked like the blazes for them.
Time Management Model #1: The Pomodoro Technique with the tomato kitchen timer
In the late 1980s an inventive man named Francesco Cirillo created what he called the Pomodoro Technique for effective time management. First of all what the heck is a Pomodoro? It is the Italian name for the friendly edible tomato! Cirillo had a tomato-shaped kitchen-timer that he used to demonstrate and work his technique – and so the humble tomato became the centre of an epic time management system that even great experts who swim through difficult daily schedules swear by.
This Pomodoro Technique is centered on the basic principle that all work should be broken down and completed in set time intervals – separated by short time-set breaks. For example, you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minutes break. Each of these 25-minute periods is called a “Pomodoro”. After 4 Pomodori (which I think would be the plural form of the word Pomodoro!?), you take a longer break of 15–20 minutes. Of course, it goes without saying, that while you are working, nothing – but nothing – should interrupt an ongoing Pomodoro.
The philosophy behind this technique is not as complex as we would expect. Frequent breaks, as psychologists always tells us, can improve mental agility, and keep our brains feeling refreshed and recharged, ever-ready to tackle new tasks. This technique also seems to work well because it cautions against, and minimizes, any distractions during work-intensive phases. (Yes, a Facebook message or a Tweet is a distraction, even if it’s about work.)
My experiences with the Pomodoro Technique:
I had both good and bad experiences with this technique.
The good part of it is that the tomato timer looks rather cute and non-official and informal, and so it kind of beckoned me to sit at my desk and switch it on to start working. Plus, I got sold on the idea of short work durations interrupted by short breaks – a habit I continue till today, by “chunking my work” and taking small yoga breaks in-between to do some energy rebuilding.
The bad part of it was that the “imminence of the Pomodoro-going off” was always at the back of my mind as I worked, so I started getting very distracted, “waiting to hear the timer ring for the next break”. I soon realized that while the technique worked for me, it was the tomato timer that was like my ticking time-bomb, so I got rid of it, but kept the concept behind it.
Time Management Model #2: Getting Things Done by the David Allen Methodology
The Getting Things Done (GTD) concept was created by David Allen. After decades of in-the-field research and practice of his productivity methods, David wrote the international best-seller Getting Things Done. Published in over 28 languages, TIME magazine heralded it as the defining self-help business book of its time.”
The idea behind the method is simple yet profound. David Allen seriously believed that: “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”
The principle he advocated was to put everything on your mind down somewhere else – on a paper, a to-do-list-, a computer – but to take it off the mind. Then sort and organize your lists into similar actions that can be done together and then comes the real part of the program … DO IT!
When you are doing the actions on the list, focus just on the “next thing to be done” without your mind again wandering off into what else needs doing!
You’d think the philosophy is so simple, it didn’t need David Allen to tell us to get things off the mind onto some other list-holding place. But when you try the technique you’ll see why he has made so much money from propagating his technique.
The mind will ramble off, no matter what you do, into trying to recall “what else has got to be completed”, that you are never really focused on just the one action to do next.
My experiences with the Get Things Done Method:
I again had both good and bad experiences with this technique.
The good experience was that it really helped to get things off my mind onto paper somewhere. It made my mind feel lighter as if a load was off and the mind was free of heaviness and the nasty sensations of being overwhelmed. To that extent the system helped me feel unburdened and able to focus better.
The bad experience part of it was initially I was writing down lists in so many different places that the lists were useless. I then realized that I need to have one single list warehouse where everything got recorded.
Overall I’d say the method works well, as I seem to be completing a lot more on the lists than I used to.
Time Management Model #3: The Zen To Done Productivity System of Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta was a man trapped in a bad place: he was overweight, heavily in debt, an unstoppable smoker, and a terrible procrastinator. He felt stuck and he didn’t know how to change his habits. Then he suddenly discovered some invaluable advice to help him overcome his rut and change his habits for the long-term.
He started to share his learnings and experiences on his blog, Zen Habits. By the end of 2007, he apparently had 26,000 readers, sold a book deal, got out of debt, and quit his day job.
On Zen Habits (his blog), and in his books, Leo shares tactical advice for changing and simplifying your life.
To people who believe in the dictum of ancient Eastern philosophy that we should embrace stark simplicity and declutter as much as we can from our lives, Leo’s “Less Is More” is a book that shows how to achieve this kind of breathing space and meaning in life. Leo’s Zen Habits blog also teaches how to change your life, one habit at a time. He shows how powerful habits can be, and how to get rid of bad ones and instill good one in yourself, in nibble-sized pieces. This is, I believe, one of his truly remarkable ideas, and I have seen it change my own life massively.
More interestingly Leo Babauta later went on to write a seminal book called “Zen To Done” where he actually took all the popular time and productivity management systems of the day – like Getting Things Done and 7 Habits and many others – and added to them his own edicts of “less is more” and “changing one habit at a time”. He developed his own system “Zen To Done” which he describes as “a system that is at once simple, and powerful, and will help you develop the habits that keep all of your tasks and projects organized, that keep your workday simple and structured, that keep your desk and email inbox clean and clear, and that keep you doing what you need to do, without distractions.”
My experiences with the Zen To Done Method:
I have nothing bad to say about this system, because I am from India and trust in our ancient Eastern philosophy and its timeless truths with the zeal of a fanatic. When someone like Leo shows how I can combine the very old schools of thought with the very modern online business I have, it’s like mind-candy. I think the part that many people would find easy to follow is the decluttering of life. The part of Leo’s work that’s hard to digest for most people is when he says “change cannot be hurried and it takes time and small repetitive tidbits of effort”. The very thought of such delays makes you balk.
But the truth that I’ve found is that if you start taking steps in this direction, allowing yourself mentally to accept delays, the surprising thing is that change happens rather faster than you ever expected. It’s the “starting and allowing” that does the trick.
There is no pressure on the mind, and therefore least resistance to change. Before you know it, you’re already a different person and your results are quite spectacularly different.
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content Marketing Productivity”: