Blogging consistently is a real challenge for anyone busy with, well, a business. Resolving to produce more content is one thing, but finding a way to make it happen is quite another. Here are some simple solutions to help make a reluctant blogging habit easier to form. But first...
What Makes a Habit?
I'm about to share a list of actionable insights to kick your blogging up a notch and keep it there. All that advice will fall by the wayside, however, if you don't realize why you'll follow it and keep following it months from now. The answer is dopamine.
Yeah, I just wrote that in a post about blogging. It's science. Dopamine (or the lack of it) is why the habits you really want to have either do or don't stick. Dopamine is the chemical reward your brain gives you for seeking pleasure. It's responsible for the actual feeling of pleasure. Dopamine is quite literally habit-forming.
Good Habits Yield Rapid Rewards
As busy people all, we tend to spend more time reacting than being proactive. That isn't just because the world imposes on us when there's a lot going on. It's because letting ourselves be imposed upon comes with a built-in dopamine reward system, while staying focused and being proactive does not. Here's an example:
Email arrives > I read it > I answer it > Look, I did it! > dopamine dose
No wonder email, social media and texting are so addictive. Your brain likes the quick hits. So we have to turn proactive tasks (like an earnest blogging regimen) into feel-good tasks with rapid rewards.
How to Make Harder Tasks Feel Better
Smart habit engineering is about finding the dopamine-- discovering simple ways to make painful things feel better, faster. So even if you don't like a specific tactic and have some ideas of your own, make sure your tactics share similar features. Rather than thinking about blogging as a long uphill battle against an empty page, make it about ticking off tasks, like the ones below.
1. Use a topic hopper that's easy to view and share
Give yourself one place to go and deposit all your new article ideas as they occur to you, like while you're reading through industry blogs. The key is to get in and out fast, not unlike sending a text. I've used Google docs for a long time, and would start new articles in a folder that might only include a possible title and another line or a link to the site that gave me an idea. I'd share my topic hopper with friends and colleagues who could help provide feedback on my ideas and add to them. You'll also find that having a pool of ideas at the ready makes writing much easier.
Time: Under a minute
2. Review your past articles for updates, follow-ups, and new versions
What do you know now that you didn't know six months ago? Do you see a paragraph that could grow into an entire article? What about emails to clients? Some emails you've sent are already half-written articles! Review your old work regularly and pop any new ideas into your hopper.
Time: 10 minutes, tops
3. Use an editorial calendar to plan out ideas and impose deadlines
Holidays, industry events, seasons and annual events of all kinds come pre-loaded with topic ideas and deadlines. Use Google calendar to share it with others who can help. We already know that responding is easier than creating from scratch. So fill your calendar months in advance and the topics will begin to present themselves with deadlines included.
Time: 5 minutes to review
4. Invite guest bloggers
Blogging is really easy when you don't have to do it at all! Take this blog we're on right now as an example. While visiting your favorite blogs, check out the contributors and reach out the them. Who doesn't like getting an invitation to write? Reach out to all of your industry contacts, in fact. You never know who has something worthwhile to share. The process also happens to be great for industry networking, and will likely net you some new guest spots for yourself.
Time: 5 minutes to draft and send each email
5. Co-write articles
Co-written articles are great for folks who have good ideas, but may want or need some help with editing, or fleshing out the entire topic. Tag-teaming like that provides a social incentive to help each other and turn out good quality work quickly.
Time: Half the time of a normal article
6. Hire writers and edit instead
Every choice in business carries an opportunity cost. If your personal time is just too valuable to spend writing, you should seriously consider hiring writers. Finding the right source of content can be a challenge at first, but once you locate quality help, it's easy to assign work and simply edit the articles you get back. I've used basic articles as feedstock to which I add bigger ideas and valuable points.
There are a lot of writer outsourcing platforms online now, and we've had luck with Zerys, WriterAccess and oDesk, but ultimately, we built our own. When you find a writer you like and use them a few times, efficiency skyrockets.
Time: One quarter to half the time of a normal article
7. Focus on starting
While the end goal is to get more content published, there is no immediate reward, but rather a daunting feeling of hard work ahead. Remember, that's why reacting is easier than planning and being proactive. All the tips above are about momentum-- getting something started. When the task is merely to start, you realize you can achieve that in minutes!
I try to have lots of articles started at any given time. Usually, that brings finishing much closer when I decide I need to get an article out the door. Adding to my topics, reviewing a calendar, inviting writers, co-writing, hiring writers-- all of these things get you going, which make finishing a breeze. But you do still have to finish.
Time: Just long enough to complete one of the tasks above
8. Schedule your blog focus time early and often
I use the concept of "Power Hours" from Dave Lakhani (which are actually 50-minute blocks) for distraction-free focus. Put the appointment on your calendar, use reminders, and make sure people you work with know that this appointment is just as important as any other. Turn off your phone and email. It's a good idea to do this first, before the day starts to steal you away.
The goal is not to crank out blog posts in 50 minutes. It's to take control of the hard part and learn that great things happen when you do focus. Most days, you should absolutely commit to stopping when you reach 50 minutes. Why? Because you want to feel the reward of finishing the appointment. And if you still have work to do, set up another appointment later in the day.
By setting appointments with myself, I have started to look forward my Power Hours and often think about article ideas in anticipation, while I'm doing other things. Since I have a topic hopper going, ideas are never in short supply!
Time: 50 minutes
9. Create a weekly series (or three)
Appointment blog posts create buzz, recurring readership and most importantly for you, a template for future posts, as well as social pressure and a deadline to get them done. I love Ruud Hein's 10 Things We Didn't Know a Week Ago,and I hope he keeps it up! You all probably know about SEOMoz's Whiteboard Friday. I started one this week that I call SEO Myth Monday. Nothing like a self-imposed kick in the pants to start my week! (I'm already working on next week's post.)
Time: Shorter than normal posts because the ideas just keep coming
10. Download an anti-distraction app
Did you know that willpower is like a muscle you can tire out? We all like to think about strengthening our willpower, but that's a very hard thing to do and not worth your time compared to eliminating the need for it. Externally imposed stimuli and tasks will always seem more attractive than longer spells of comparatively boring internal focus. Remember, dopamine!
So give your willpower a rest and tune out from time to time. Anti-Distraction apps can help to force you into staying off line and away from the things that distract you most. Here's a great roundup of some paid and free apps that offer different options according to your own distraction needs.
Being distracted is not a weakness-- it's a flaw in modern computing. Shutting down external stimuli is no different than using a calendar, a phone, or any other tool to be more productive. What good is technology if it isn't working for you? I say, stop fighting it all and just turn it off.
Time: mere seconds to turn it on each time you use it
Teach yourself that you can bang out tasks you chose, and feel great about them. Establishing a feedback loop like that conditions you to look forward to starting those tasks, as opposed to seeking out stimulation in emails and social media updates instead. Take charge of your blogging by doing it little bits at a time.
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy How to Blog With Authenticity Without Getting Fired by Lisa Barone
Mike Sobol is a Co-Founder of Guest Blog Genius, a guest blogging service for SEO professionals, and Content BLVD, a content marketing platform for busy bloggers and brands. Building businesses since 1999, Mike's passion is to create effective new services to fulfill unmet needs in a variety of niche markets, including internet marketing, content creation and SEO.