You’re a smart content marketer.
You’ve embraced the power of inbound. You recognize the need to be consistent with your content production schedule.
Heck, every single post on every single authoritative content marketing blog you regularly read hammers all this home.
But you’re struggling to get on a consistent schedule with your content production. You just don’t ever have the time to get it done.
You’ve got a time management problem.
Whether you’re just procrastinating, overwhelmed, or truly don’t have the time, it’s keeping you from doing something you know you need to do.
And if you’ve ever wondered if it’s just you — it’s not just you.
In fact, of the top five challenges identified by respondents to a survey conducted by the LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community, three touch on time management and productivity problems:
Lack of Time/Bandwidth to Create Content (51%)
Producing Enough Content Variety/Volume (50%)
Developing Consistent Content Strategy (34%)
And it’s not just B2C marketers, by the way. Another study, this one conducted jointly by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, found that a full 57% of responding B2B marketers named “producing content consistently” their top content marketing challenge.
So yeah, Houston, we all have a problem. I think it’s especially true if you’re in business for yourself or are a freelancer — two types who tend towards maverick-y, go-it-alone-ness, by and large.
Yes, we’re self-starters by nature — that’s the shiny side of the entrepreneurial coin.
But we also get the not-so-pretty flip side: it’s all on us, and we just feel icky about shuffling stuff off on to others. We resist hiring, delegating, outsourcing. But we also (too often) resist doing.
Couple that with the fact that we want to do our actual work, not market our businesses, and really, is it any wonder that we have a time management problem?
Even freelance copywriters fall victim to the trap by getting out of the habit of content marketing — or so I hear. I have no direct, personal experience with this. (I have a lot of direct, personal experience with this.)
The solution depends on the exact nature of the “why” behind your procrastination problem.
There are no short cuts.
There is no one weird simple trick.
There’s no magic tool or app that’ll straighten it all out for you once and for all.
Yes it’s important to have a streamlined, effective system for creating content in place, to reduce the time it takes to create each piece of content you publish.
But that’s just one piece of the solution. If you want to up your time management game and get your content marketing back on schedule, read on.
Change Your Mindset: Better/Bigger Reasons Why
I think one of the biggest reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail, or content doesn’t get written, is that we haven’t yet made up our minds — not really.The word “decide” comes from two Latin root words — “de”, meaning “off,” and “caedere,” meaning “cut.”
So, in a very literal sense, “decide” means “to cut off.” That is, to cut off all other options, leaving only one — the one you decided on.
What we often view as a failure of will or discipline really stems from the fact that we didn’t actually decide to do that thing at all. We didn’t cut off all other options.
That’s why so many time management and productivity experts agree that mindset is the foundation for all “getting it done” and time management problems, including finding time and motivation for content marketing.
The right mindset is critical to success for just about any new (or new-ish) undertaking. Yet we’re humans, not computers, and so we frequently need a little mindset tune-up.
We can fall victim to any one of a number of mindset failures but there are two in particular that seem especially common:
1. We forget exactly how important it is.
Stop me if this sounds familiar …
Frequently, I’ll set a goal; for example, “I will write a book.” I’ll make a plan, break it down into small actionable steps, and schedule time to take small steps forward on a consistent basis.
I’ll make some progress for a short period of time — maybe a week, maybe a few months — and then something happens. Maybe it’s something big or maybe it’s inconsequential.
But it interrupts my flow. My focus shifts, ever so slightly, and whatever that next step was, I put it off. For that one day, I don’t write. I don’t make progress towards my book-writing goal.
Before I know it, it’s not been “one day” — it’s been months, and the status quo is back with a vengeance. One day I’ll wake up and suddenly it occurs to me: “Hey, wasn’t I trying to write a book?”
All because I allowed myself to lose track of how important writing a book was to me. I forgot to care, so I forgot to do.
2. We’re not comfortable with the fact that we’ll have to be uncomfortable.
Any kind of change in routine — be it working out, keeping a cleaner house, or being more consistent with our content marketing — will necessarily mean that at some point, we’re going to have to do something differently than what we’re accustomed to.
That makes humans deeply uncomfortable. And you may have noticed that, as a species, we really don’t like feeling uncomfortable.
This can be a powerful deterrent to adopting a new routine — for instance a new routine designed to publish two pieces of content every week.
Curiously enough, the same cure treats both mindset problems: powerful, compelling, deeply personal “reasons why.”
“Reasons why” are those things — beliefs, fears, desires, etc. — that motivate you to make a certain change in behavior or routine.
See, willpower is a lot like winning the lottery. Sure, it happens, but mostly to other people and never when you really need it. Also, it’s in really short supply. Willpower just isn’t an effective way to brute-force your way through the uncomfortable “change” period.
Discipline, on the other hand, is like a muscle. Exercising it tends to make it stronger.
And building up your self-discipline is a whole lot easier when you have those strong and personally compelling reasons for making any given change.
List out your reasons why you must become consistent with your content marketing. Some guidelines to keep in mind:
Make them compelling — life and death, even. Not your own, of course, but your business’s survival and continued growth depends on consistency of effort and your time management skills. Tie them to an emotional context, if you can; emotions tend to help us stay on track more consistently with new behavior or routines. They feel more “real” to us, and are certainly more compelling.
Back them up with data if you want to internalize them quickly. Most of us are more persuaded by numbers and research. There are lots of content marketing statistics and case studies on the web; one great collection that’s kept updated is this one from Curata.
Write down as many as you can. The more reasons you have on a list, the more overwhelming it literally looks. In other words, a long list is more visually impressive than a short one, which can trick your brain into thinking you’ve basically got no choice but to stick with the new program.
Come at it from both sides. Ask yourself “what great things will happen if I succeed?” and list as many answers to that question as you can. Then ask yourself “What horrible things will happen if I don’t succeed?” and do the same. You’ll get a fuller and more compelling list.
Once you have your list, print it out. Save it to your desktop. Put it on your smartphone. Every single day, for at least the first few weeks, pull it out and review the list. This helps cement your commitment — your decision — and stay the course.
Change Your Mindset, Part 2: Better Choices
Although we all love to complain about how little of it we have, what’s stopping us from getting content marketing done is hardly ever an actual lack of time. In most cases, it’s a matter of what we choose to do with the time we have. So it’s about time management in a literal sense.
We all have the same 168 hours every week, which we then allocate according to what’s most important to us and the possible consequences.
Take sleeping, for example. If we don’t get enough sleep, most of us deem the consequences too risky. So we aim for six to eight hours a night.
We know we have to bathe regularly before we go out in the world if we want to avoid social isolation and people around us making those “OMG what stinks?!” faces, so we take the extra 20 or so minutes to shower and dry off each day.
We know we have to walk the dog, or else we’ll have to clean up after them. So we take another 15 minutes or so every day to clip on Fido’s leash and take him outside.
What happens, though, when something amazing and fun pops up unexpectedly? Say, your best friend hits the lottery and wants to fly you both to Paris, or Las Vegas?
Or what happens when you child is suddenly injured and needs surgery?
Did you just think “well, yeah, of course I’d make time”?
Actually, no – we can’t “make” time. All we can do is make different choices about what we do with the time available.
That’s what you’d do. You’d make the choice to spend your time packing and hunting for the passport, in order to have a blast with your suddenly loaded bestie.
Or you’d make the choice to tell the world to take a flying leap because your kid needs you to stay in the hospital and hold her hand.
It might seem like a nitpicky thing, but it’s not. Coming to grips with the fact that you have a time management problem puts all the power in your corner.
All you have to do is make more mindful and strategic choices.
Where do your 168 hours currently go? Keep track of how you choose to spend your time in a spreadsheet in fifteen minute increments for a week or so. You can’t really improve your time management skills if you don’t know how you’re currently spending your time.
You might be surprised to discover (A) what choices you’re making without even really thinking about it much and (B) how much time you actually have available.
Address Resistance Head-On
What’s stopping you from doing the content marketing work you know you need to do? That thing — whatever it might be — is the manifestation of something we’ll call “resistance” (since “procrastination” is too loaded and may not really describe what’s going on, in any event).
Identifying the roots of your resistance to content marketing (or any task you find it difficult to get done) is the next step in the process. In most cases, it boils down to one of the following general categories:
Fears: You could be afraid of failure, of embarrassment, of diverting attention and effort away from something else that might prove more important, or of spending your money or time unwisely.
Lack of information, skill, or confidence in your abilities: If you don’t think you’re a good writer, or if you don’t have strong research skills, for instance, you might find yourself resisting putting those skills to use in writing and publishing a blog post. Or if you think you’re not proficient at photography or don’t speak well, you might resist Instagram marketing or recording a podcast.
Chaos or overwhelm: A cluttered home office, a schedule that bounces around from task to meeting to email to task, a task list that runs too many pages — any of these can make even the most energetic entrepreneur feel overwhelmed. And it’s hard to find the mental bandwidth to focus on producing content when you’re constantly putting out fires.
Identifying which kind of obstacle you’re facing will help you choose the best solution.
First, try challenging your assumptions. “I’m a horrible writer” probably isn’t accurate. You may just need a little refresher on grammar, or perhaps you’d be better off tackling a different kind of content – podcasts, perhaps, or infographics.
Also, go back to those “reasons why.” The antidote to fear isn’t eliminating your fears — it’s basic, everyday courage, which has nothing to do with how much fear you feel, but rather requires you to feel the fear and do what scares you anyway. Strong reasons help us get past the fear block.
A lack of skills or information is easily addressed in the information age. Just about anything you want to know more about is the subject of at least a few blog posts, Wikipedia pages, and websites out there.
You can even find apps and tools to help with just about any aspect of content creation, from headline creating tools to apps like Grammarly and Hemingway that streamline and spruce up your writing. Or head to a site like Fiverr to outsource small slices of the creation process.
By far, the most difficult obstacle to overcome is chaos or overwhelm. When you’re constantly putting out fires, you’re only capable of reacting, as opposed to being proactive.
All too frequently, we freelancers and entrepreneurs — especially those of us who work on our own — use busy work as distractions from deeper work, as author Cal Newport explains in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (release date, January 2016).
Shallow work keeps us feeling busy, but not accomplishing much. It sacrifices time management for actual productivity. Cal distinguishes deep work from shallow work in this way:
“‘Deep work’ is using your skills to create something of value. It takes thought, energy, time and concentration.”
“‘Shallow work’ is all the little administrative and logistical stuff: email, meetings, calls, expense reports, etc.”
The shallow work is not essential or even all that important to the success and life of your business. What’s more, in most cases, it can be delegated or outsourced. And yet for far too many of us, far too often, the shallow work is what we end up doing.
To clear out the shallow and make room for the deeper work of content creation, try these techniques:
Get some help to organize your physical surroundings. It’s far easier to concentrate on deep work when you’re not surrounded by clutter and chaos.
Schedule specific blocks of time for content creation. Mark it as an appointment (with yourself) in your calendar, and resolve to let nothing push it back or reschedule that time.
Chunk your schedule around groups of similar tasks. Brainstorming all your content topics for a few months in one 30-minute chunk of time, for instance, often makes more sense than working on a single post start-to-finish for hours.
Use timers, such as Focus Booster or Toggl, and set small manageable segments of time for yourself to work without interruption. Take a break in between segments. (This is very similar to the well-known Pomodoro Technique™.)
Think in terms of systems, not tasks. Systems are just repeatable routines consisting of steps in sequence, often in conjunction with specific apps and tools. Having a set way of tackling complex tasks like content creation can help you minimize the time it takes to write or create each piece.
Focus on Adopting New Habits
Habits are powerful forces. They keep us on automatic pilot far more often than we’re consciously aware of.
Think of all the routines you perform in the course of an average day: brushing your teeth, a certain order to the morning’s tasks before you settle in to work, the route you take to frequent destinations — all these things are habitual for you. You don’t have to stop and think about the process — you just do it.
You’ve probably had the experience of traveling somewhere you go frequently, only to wonder when you arrive “How did I get here?” That’s because the act of getting there has become habitualized for you. You don’t have to think about it; your body just knows what to do.
Most of us think about habits only when we want to break a bad one. Yet habits can make time management a cinch — or at least a whole lot easier.
Just as you’d go about trying to create the exercise habit as a New Year’s resolution, you can actually create the habit of content marketing.
Yet we all know the truth: the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions are broken before the calendar flips over to February.
The answer isn’t “don’t ever make resolutions.” Instead, learn how to effectively and simply create better habits.
Habits aren’t just weird quirks of behavior we pick up unconsciously over the years. Any deliberate focus in a settled routine of new behavior that’s consistently repeated becomes a habit, if given enough time.
First, you need a trigger action. “Whenever this happens, I do that.” Whatever trigger you select will serve as your cue as you create the content marketing habit. A trigger can be anything really — it’s just a set of conditions that exists and which you can control to some extent — e.g., “the first Monday in every month.”
This simplifies the process and gives you more control over activating the content marketing routine — kind of like a computer program that runs when certain parameters exist.
Then you need to define the specific routine in as much detail as possible, and in sequence.
When the routine is successfully completed, reward yourself accordingly. Keep following this pattern — trigger, routine, reward — for long enough, and content marketing will become a habit.
And what if you really, truly do not have time?
Consider outsourcing. It’s the busy entrepreneur’s best time management friend.
It may not be as expensive as you think. You can figure out your time cost by using your hourly rate, and compare against the cost of outsourcing to see if it’s worthwhile to you.
If outsourcing all of your content isn’t feasible, you may want to consider hiring freelancers to take small, individual slices off your hands — for instance, you could hire someone to create all your images, or to do preliminary research on each topic.
Finally, you can outsource other tasks that aren’t key to your identity or brand, as suggested by financial consultant Nicole Fende. Even if you only save five minutes a day, that’s about 20 hours over the course of a year. How much content could you create in 20 hours?
Time management doesn’t have to be the elusive unicorn we occasionally make it out to be. At some point, every piece of productivity advice comes down to “do the work.”
All the techniques and systems and tricks in the world are basically just different ways to dupe your brain into letting go of the resistance it’s throwing up to the notion of doing the work.
Accept that fact, and you’ll be far more successful putting those strategies and tips to work.
How do you get your marketing done? What’s your favorite productivity hack? Tell us in the comments!