Time is a luxury that content marketers of all varieties are rarely afforded. This is something that you learn quickly when you get involved with the daily grind of digital marketing in particular. There’s too much to do, the clients want results, and you spend an hour contemplating your situation before you realise that you’ve got nothing done.
The industry demands adaptation. Flexibility. A willingness (and determination) to breeze right past all the obstacles and deliver a viable product — something that cuts to the heart of what matters and offers maximum value while resulting from minimum effort.
Would you like some tips on how to manage this? I could put something together next week, drawing from countless sources and polishing everything to a mirror shine… or I could just get on with it and do it now. Let’s go with the latter. Here’s how to put on the turbo:
Master your means of production
No, I’m not making an overt reference to Marxism — I’m talking about the practical methods through which you get your work done. Most notably, typing. Writing from scratch is mechanically intensive, no matter whether you write by hand or (more likely) using a computer, and even editing will have you hastily searching for shortcuts to make life easier.
The faster and easier you can make this process, the faster and easier you can get your work done. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Here are some basic tips for you:
- Learn to touch type. Can you type without looking at the keyboard? Plenty of people can’t, or at least think they can’t because they’ve never really tried. I contend that anyone who’s spent a good portion of their life tapping away on a keyboard does instinctively know where all the letters are. So if you’re in that situation, try covering up your keyboard and typing without looking. It’ll be tough to begin with, but once you get up to speed, it’ll save a lot of time.
- Get a good keyboard. If you’re going to be striking something repeatedly with your fingers to make alphanumeric characters appear on a screen, you should at least go for something that will minimise the physical repercussions. Is your keyboard comfortable? Are the keys too prominent, or too flat? Might you work better with an ergonomic keyboard layout? Give it some thought, and try using a few different types of keyboard to see which variety you prefer.
- Use even area lighting. Some people hate the relentless glare of office lighting, but I prefer it. It keeps my concentration levels high, and prevents my circadian rhythm from figuring out when I’m supposed to be sleepy. If you prefer natural light, that’s fine — but keep things even. Shifting shadows are distracting, as are fluctuations in brightness or colour.
- Take advantage of writing tools. The internet is the biggest resource at your disposal, and it just so happens to be packed with useful tips (like these, for instance) as well as countless tools for saving you time and upping the quality (this list of writing tools will point you in the right direction).
- Keep headphones on. Noise is distracting. Conversations are distracting, ringtones are distracting, and the crunch of raw carrot is distracting. Noise is the enemy of the flow state: that sumptuous level of concentration from which all the best work emerges. Headphones (preferably of the noise-cancelling variety) will protect you. Put them on and don’t take them off until you’re finished.
Put all the pieces together, and you’ll have forged yourself into a powerhouse typing machine. Note that I didn’t include tips for those who write by hand. That’s because those people are beyond assistance in the digital sphere — optical character recognition (OCR) technology only goes so far!
Keep your workload trim
The open-ended nature of a blank document seems so alluring at first, but you soon realise that it’s a curse: an invitation to despair-inducing scope creep. You start with some basic parameters, but your uncertainty leads you to keep tacking on new standards, all because you’re scared that whatever you do will end up being a miserable failure.
But failure isn’t the inevitable result of lazy work, nor is success a natural consequence of effort. Your thinking is askew. To get you in the right headspace, ask yourself the following two questions before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard):
1: How good does this need to be?
To new writers, editors, or creatives in general, this might feel like a betrayal of all that is good in the world. “Surely everything should be as good as possible!”, you might even think. And it doesn’t help that the idea of putting maximum effort into everything you do is frequently misunderstood — interpreted as meaning that the most trivial task is worth every scrap of creative energy you can muster.
Forget about that. Put maximum effort into your job, not any specific task, and part of your job (whatever it may be) is to understand where resources are best allocated. What’s the value of your time? What’s the value of a given project? If your time is worth more than whatever you’re getting for spending it on a project, then stop spending it that way.
I’ll use this article as an example. How good does it need to be? Well, it’s representing the company, so it needs to be pretty damn good. That means no mistakes (major or minor), a logical thread, strong presentation, and a meaningful length. But it doesn’t need to be a superlative modern masterpiece, and there are two reasons for that: it’s just a blog post, and making it a painstaking endeavour would undermine the whole point of the piece.
2: Where’s the point of diminished returns?
Even if the circumstances call for a piece of work to be exceptional, that doesn’t make it something you should spend twenty hours working on. This is because putting time into something doesn’t inevitably make it better. Sometimes, throwing in extra hours is only likely to make something worse.
I covered roughly what it means for this piece to be good, but what about the page title? It took me a few seconds to write. I could have spent minutes, hours even, agonizing over it. In another lifetime, I might have considered keywords at length, carried out exhaustive research, and sought the optimal construction for this page in this context. But why bother?
The title of this page is important in that it needs to be suitable for SEO and readability — but that’s as far as its significance goes. And if I became irrational to the point of wasting an entire day on it, who’s to say how my mind would be operating after that time? All the excessive analysis might have destroyed my grip on what makes a good title.
In brief, answering those two questions will help you figure out how long you should spend on a piece of work — and I’m willing to bet that you’ll often find that you’re putting way too much time into your tasks.
Cut back on the research
Before I started writing this article, I didn’t research writing tips: I didn’t go into Google and type in “useful tips for writing quickly” so I could first see what other people have to say. I drew from my memories, knowing that I’ve done enough writing and editing to spool out pages upon pages of relevant material.
If I had done that kind of research, I might have spent hours trawling through pieces — and when I was done, I’d have been hampered in my efforts to write this, because I’d have been so very eager to be different: both to assert the superiority of my work, and to avoid being accused of plagiarism. Isn’t it better to go in your own direction? That way, if there’s ultimately some similarity with other pieces, it’s just the result of great minds thinking alike.
Whisper it quietly, but I say this also goes for some of the regular trappings of digital media: I’m talking specifically about stats and examples. If they’re framed well, most points in most articles stand up perfectly well without needing any near-arbitrary stats. This piece is aimed at writers, and writers know how research works (and how much time it takes) — would it add anything if I hunted down a stat saying that 40% of writers believe that research doesn’t warrant the level of focus it gets?
And not all examples need to involve real-world events, people or companies. The goal isn’t necessarily to showcase your awareness of popular culture, but to support your arguments. Coming up with your own story is more interesting, and often more compelling than relying on the same old examples everyone else uses. Think about how you can use metaphors and similes to make your writing more poignant, poetic and, most importantly of all, more original.
Stop listening to your inner critic
Lastly, and most importantly, stop paying so much attention to the part of your mind that doubts the usefulness of everything you write. It’s great to have standards to uphold, but not when they become self-destructive — not when you find yourself ceaselessly writing sentences and then deleting them, convinced that next time you’ll do better, next time you’ll come up with something worth keeping.
As noted earlier, spending time on something doesn’t necessarily make it better. You can delete and rewrite a paragraph a hundred times, only to end up with something worse than your first draft, so stop looking behind you. Keep your eyes on the future. What’s next to write? Where’s the next project, the next argument?
And when it comes to editing, remember its purpose in a professional context: to weed out the objective problems. The typos. The structural flaws. The broken URLs. The self-critical comments highlighted in red that you forgot to delete. Everyday editing isn’t a process of creative criticism — it’s utilitarian. Approach it like you’d approach a house chore. Locate the weeds, rip them up, double-check your handiwork, then call it a job well done.
Now, this doesn’t mean that wanting your work to get better is a problem, because that’s a fantastic desire for a writer. It shows ambition and passion. But you get better by finishing something, drawing a line under it, learning from it, and moving on to start anew. You don’t get better by trying to edit old work into perfection. You only get bitter, frustrated, and bored, and those feelings don’t drive good writing.
Do you know what feelings do? Joy, enthusiasm, and curiosity. You polish off a piece, let it go, then feel any associated frustration drain away as you return to that blank slate, ready to test your skills once again. If you don’t dwell on any single piece, your inner critic can’t find anything to obsess over. It’s the best way to write — and the fastest by far.
Let’s wrap things up with a quick recap, shall we? To pick up the pace, you should optimise your working space and conditions for productivity, commit to putting only as much time and effort into pieces as is required, stop leaning so heavily on internet research to back you up, and tune out your self-doubt so you can keep moving. Put all the pieces together, and you’ll be a lean mean writing machine in no time.