How To Stop Procrastinating

This is a three-part feature written to cover different angles of Procrastination and how to stop / prevent it.

You’ll read about how forcing yourself is the wrong option when it comes to fighting procrastination and that you can go much further by being nice to yourself. You’ll also read about how expectations attached to tasks can make them impossibly difficult to complete and how to work around this. Finally, you’ll read more about short-term vs long-term rewards, and why, in cold hard numbers, procrastination is a bum deal for you.

This is based on my own experience in dealing with procrastination, insightful sessions with close friends on how to deal with unrealistic expectations and what I’ve learned from reading a diverse amount of helpful material on the topic, including Anthony Robbins, Michael Masteron, Robert Ringer, David Allen and many others. You’ve all been a great help in improving my life, thank you.

  1. Stop Procrastinating By Being Nice To Yourself
  2. Procrastination and Unrealistic Expectations
  3. Procrastination and Short-Term v Long-Term Rewards

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Risk-taking bloggers make more money

Yesterday I talked about competence and excellence – it’s a theme you’ll be hearing a lot in the next dozen or so articles from me. The basic idea is that “good enough” is never satisfactory – to be successful and to keep moving forward, you have to give it your best shot every single time.

Sometimes you might find it difficult to show up with your “A” game – however, if something is difficult it isn’t an excuse for not making it happen. If you find it difficult it just means that you either need to find a shortcut (work smarter) or dig deep and push through (work harder).

Today I want to talk about something related to competence – risk-taking.

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If you’re stuck for blogging ideas, write the (killer) headline first

When faced with blogger’s block, the only way to beat it is to buckle down, force yourself to write and push through the rough patches (actions produce motivation). However when you run out of ideas (or if your ideas aren’t clear enough), then here’s an effective technique to focus your mind and let your blog post write itself.

Simply put, craft your killer headline first. Simply writing any ordinary headline won’t cut it – you need to dig deep, hit the headline swipe files and spend time creating a gem of a headline.

How this helps bloggers:

  • Forces you to focus on the main idea behind your post, which in turn helps the internal monologue run clearer.
  • Guides you towards the type of post you can / should write. If the headline is designed to create a discussion, then you can write a conversational post. On the other hand, a list headline can help you focus on creating a list and perhaps fleshing it out to create cool linkbait.
  • Allows you to get off a good start – a great headline with an average article will do better than a great article with an average headline in terms of social media. You might think it’s unfair but that’s how our minds work especially in an attention-starved economy. The headline is king, and everything else leads from there.
  • If you find the basic idea not interesting enough, you’ll be able to stop there and not waste time writing a long post only to find out later that it doesn’t get a good response from readers.
  • You may end up with several headlines, leading to several concrete post ideas instead of a jumbled up bunch in your head.

The next time you’re stuck for ideas, try this approach – write the headline first, and shape the article accordingly. If it works for sales copywriting (where success is measured in hard numbers), it works for blogging as well.

Further reading:
101 Great Posting Ideas That Will Make Your Blog Sizzle
Posting Tactics for a Well Rounded Blog
10 Killer Post Ideas

This article was originally written on 8 Sep 2007 for Performancing.com.

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21 ways to build a better blogger

21ways.thumbnail 21 ways to build a better bloggerWhen we talk about ‘creating’ better blogs, there’s an underlying assumption that it’s only the blog that needs improving.

The reality is, us bloggers could use a huge kick up the ass once in a while as well. We get sloppy, we sometimes let our standards slide and worst of all, when it comes to making improvements we look at external factors, not ourselves.

Last month I started compiling a list of ’strategies’ to improve my own blogging – I’m sharing that list here. We can’t become better bloggers overnight – it takes a lot of hard work, just like a blog – but like working on a blog, the best results are achieved when you stick to it and work at it for a long time.

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How to make your boring website popular on Digg

As social media marketers, one of the most common questions we get about linkbaiting and social media promotion is this:

My niche is boring and / or non-technical – how do I turn it into something popular and linkable?

Last week I stumbled across a Wikipedia article that was, despite its dry (and boring) subject matter, doing quite well on Digg.

The article in question is this introductory piece on Montessori. You might want to take a few minutes to go through the article and figure out any angle that would make it interesting to the average Digg user. My best idea (and this was after reading the Digg link) was about how the Montessori system was a cover for brainwashing little children and sapping their creativity.

Paranoid delusions apart, I strongly doubt that my spin would have done better than this take:

Monetessori Method, the educational system of Google founders.

It is, for lack of a better term, f’n brilliant.

Instead of forcefully making a boring topic appear interesting, this digg user took something that would guarantee attention (Google founders) and related it to a quite uninteresting topic. The result is a Digg headline that probably got enough *blind diggs* to make it popular and it ended up getting 562 diggs (as of writing this article).

I have to admit, when I saw this headline I was in a hurry as well and gave a blind digg before I had time to read the page itself.

The only problem with this linkbait (although to be fair it was just a test) was that it could have been done much better (in terms of optimizing the landing page and in attracting links, if the digger had set up a page on their own site instead).

If you want to do some linkbaiting for your website but are having trouble making your content *interesting*, stop forcing the issue. Instead, follow this simple 3 step process:

1. Find something interesting that appeals to the largest possible audience – it could be anything, Google, grave health risks, global warming, the war in iraq, etc.

For more in this, learn how to attract attention from mainstream media.

2. Find a common thread between the *interesting* and your *boring* content. The most important component is the title (see Michael Gray’s post on title bait) but you also need quality content to back it up.

3. Prep your linkbait for social media goodness. Make it easy for your readers (and especially readers from social media sites) to share your article, make it visually appealing (these two posts on formatting blog posts are good, standard advice for linkbait formatting as well).

Once you can master the art of making uninteresting content interesting using this process of association, the rest of the social promotion stuff is relatively easy to implement. Then, all you need are friends to digg your linkbait…

This article was written on 13 Dec 2007 for Performancing.com.

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Ten ways to get more done in less time

Web entrepreneurs, especially those who work outside the confines of the traditional workspace, often have trouble managing their time.

This article proves 10 time-tested methods to get more work done than before AND free up the time we tend to ‘borrow’ from outside our work schedule.

These suggestions are work well for bloggers, entrepreneurs and especially anyone whose work routine needs to be flexible because of their family / social circumstances. The key is to integrate these habits into your daily routine, otherwise it’s not going to bring you any results.

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Quality vs Success: What is more important for you?

On one hand, you have the burning desire to create something remarkable, memorable, and of sheer quality. It takes time, love and hard work, and you run the risk that it will go unappreciated, for after all you are pandering to your own notion of what needs to be said and done. After all, to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, you don’t do art to make money, you do art to make your soul grow.

On the other hand, there’s the real, gut-wrenching need to make money (or any other metric of success – search rankings, pageviews, awards, booty). This is the drive to optimize, to tap into market consciousness, measure what works (and what doesn’t), and to ruthlessly churn out content (or products – define your own output) according to your scientific formula of success (usually translates into PageViews = Money).

We know that quality and success CAN go hand in hand – it’s just that success is easier without if you don’t have to worry about quality and it’s the execution of an idea that makes the real difference, not how good it is.

As a professional blogger and entrepreneur, I face the quality v success challenge every day. There are thousands of blogs in dozens of niches that are doing spectacularly well by following the PageViews = Money formula and are quite successful ventures for their owners, although at their core the product is decidedly third-rate. Reading these blogs angers me because I expect better from the top bloggers, but at the same time there’s an admiration for their unwavering commitment to doing what works and continued amazement at how we overestimate the intelligence of our readers (selfishly, I might add).

So… what’s more important for you – creating quality or creating success?

This article was written on 1 Dec 2007 for Performancing.com.

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Three steps for writing good blog posts

Thord (he of Swedish descent and bearing a reputation for ‘crack’ design skills) writes about the two most important skills a blogger can have.

#2 is knowing how to blow your own horn (‘toot’ is so politically correct it gives me a shiver). Thord discusses it in some detail, and I like this part best:

Some of us have some kind of roadblock built in that stops us from promoting ourselves. Get over it. Or get run over.

The #1 skill Thord talks about is knowing how to write good blog posts. Seeing as how T left the door open there, here’s my two (or three) cents on how one may go about writing ‘good’ blog posts.

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Three ways to immediately improve your networking skills

Promoting websites online, just like in the offline world, is about finding the right people with the right resources and having them help you get the word out. By yourself, you are nowhere near as effective as when you have a network of contacts and friends working together to help you promote your new venture.

How do we do this? There are three key steps:

  1. Building the network
  2. Making the right contacts
  3. Leveraging the network

This article discusses the above topics and shows you how to build a network of contacts you can use to get more traffic to your website. That’s not the only purpose of such a network – you can use a network in various ways – community intelligence, resource pool, business opportunities, and much more.

In short, if you want to learn how to build your social network of contacts, this article is for you. Read on…

The Big Networking Secret: It’s Easy

Now before we get to the list (I don’t mind if you scroll down, but this next bit sets the foundation for it), let me explain what I mean by “it’s easy“: using your personal social network to promote your website is quite difficult if you don’t have many contacts / the right contacts – saying that social networking doesn’t work because you don’t have influential people on your list is a cop-out. Similarly, you cannot expect to build a list of A-list contacts overnight – building a network of useful contacts takes time; relationships are cultivated and trust is built through reciprocal actions over time.

So what’s easy about it? If you remove the unrealistic expectations and instead focus on the basic principles that can help you build large, influential social networks over time, you’ll find that it’s a relatively simple and straightforward process.

Networking is as easy as making new friends. If you can make new friends, then you can network. But making new friends does take work. So it’s not magic.

At any time, you’ll find successful entrepreneurs using the help of their contacts and friends to launch ventures with brilliant success – there is a method behind this ‘magical’ approach, and you don’t need to buy a $999 course to teach you this method.

The right advice (say, something like this article you’re reading), some common sense (use your own judgment or just ask for help) and concentrated action and commitment will get you more than what an expensive course can teach you.

Alright then – with that out of the way, it’s time to get to the list.

1. Make New Friends By Helping Others

The basis of an effective social network is a steady stream of new contacts – a network doesn’t have any impact unless there are enough people to make a difference.

The habit of making new friends and helping others out without asking for anything upfront is one that takes time to cultivate and your adoption of this habit depends on how you treat others. If you’re naturally outgoing, you’ll find it easier to get in touch with and contact new people. If you don’t have any hangups towards helping others for free, then you’ll be one step ahead when it comes to sowing the seeds of a new relationship.

Find New Friends

This step will stump you but in fact it’s the easiest of them all – simply flock to those places where people of similar interests are hanging out, and make a point to participate in the general discussion. An example of such a place is Performancing, where I and many others have flocked to over the years, gradually become a part of the community and now find new opportunities each day.

The leading blogs in your niche are a good way to get started. Forums (for networking) are a personal favourite because of the amazing returns although they require more commitment and personal involvement to make it work.

Also, remember that in such new communities you’ll find avenues towards other communities as well – it pays to pick and choose those communities where you can find the right balance between value, investment and fun (it doesn’t HAVE to be a chore, you know).

Help Others

Make it a point to provide helpful information / advice / support to at least one person each day. This is a major stumbling block for people because of the personal investment this requires but once you realise multiplier effect that’s attached to each ‘effort’ of yours, you’ll be surprised at why more people aren’t doing this.

Just help others. Quite often you’ll hear people voicing their problems / concerns in public forums / communities that you’ll be frequenting – if it takes a few minutes of your time to point them in the right direction, do it right there and then.

Invest in others. As they grow and build up their resources and their own networks, your own network will be growing as well thanks to their efforts.

It’s also worth pointing out that extra attention (bordering on stalking / invasion of personal privacy) will freak people out, so if you just *love* to help people, you might want to tone things down a bit.

2. Selective Networking: Kiss Ass

Ryan explains this far better than I can in his article, so let’s listen to what he has to say:

I call it selective (back)networking and here’s the idea: the internet is just like any other human network. There are hierarchies of authority. If you want to be successful, you need to move up the hierarchy.

The key to building a (back)network is to intentionally and selectively seek out people who 1) have power and leverage 2) are smart and capable and 3) are fair in their online relationships. By building up a social “backbone” of good friends in high-places, you’ll be able to execute your plans a lot faster, realize profit a lot quicker, and avoid burn-out a lot easier (ten shoulders are better than one).

“But Ryan Caldwell, you’re already successful. What about those of us who are just getting started?”

Suck up and kiss ass.

That’s it. That’s how you get into my good graces. Start doing me favors and I’ll send some love your way. Ask me to do you a favor before you’ve proven your worthiness to me, and I’ll ignore you. Completely and utterly ignore you. But if you’ve got something to offer me, something that I truly benefit from…then you’ve got a friend.

This isn’t easy advice to follow – especially if you’ve skipped step 1, where you adopt the mindset of making new friends and helping people. On the other hand, once you realise the value that networking brings to you, the natural progression is to go after the right contacts.

Identify Powerful Contacts

Why do you think people bend over backwards when it comes to internet celebrities like John Chow and Matt Cutts? These people have an influential, authoritative voice in the blogosphere. When they talk, people listen. When they point, people follow.

Your end game is to have people like these on your side, so that they point to you and people (and traffic and revenue) start flowing in your direction.

Identify the powerful contacts in your niche (and in niches related to it) – then figure out how to get in their good books.

Make Yourself Valuable First

As Ryan says, you have to prove your own value to people who are vastly more influential than you – this translates into building your own online worth by playing with the smaller fish first. It’s a step-by-step process – you won’t shoot for Darren Rowse if you can’t get into Deb’s good books, so work your way up the ladder by gathering momentum.

Chris Garrett’s excellent article on ‘Positioning‘ is a good intro into how to make yourself and your website more valuable.

3. Learn and Practice the Art of Following Up

It’s one of those things that you learn from experience, although recently a friend (and new influential contact) Steve Amoia drove this point home when we were talking about building a network of contacts in the footballing world.

The basic idea is this: every time you ask your network (or a contact) for their help, follow up by thanking them for their input, giving them as much credit as possible and by reciprocating the favor when asked for. If you want to by cynical about it, then consider that people don’t mind helping as long as they see a benefit in it – whether it’s the other person stoking their ego or a reciprocation of that favor or even a monetary benefit.

Learn what your contacts value and when following up, reciprocate in a way that they will appreciate the most.

And to borrow from Nick’s excellent “increase search engine traffic” article:

Be generous – if you respect your network, and work hard to be part of the community surrounding your topic, the rewards can really pay off — never abuse it, it tends to backfire in all kinds of horrible ways.

Wrapping Up

Online marketing is about people and long-term results, not about algorithms or short-term gains. If you start investing in your social network now, you’ll reap the benefits many times over in the future.

This article was written on 29 Nov 2007 for Performancing.com.

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Ten networking tips for non-US bloggers

As a blogger residing in a third world country, networking opportunities are limited for me. Logistical problems mean that it is bloody hard to hop over to the US for conferences – and in many cases, us non-US bloggers are at a disadvantage in terms of real networking opportunities.

However, if you’re a non-US blogger (or a non-US/UK blogger), there are several other networking opportunities available for you. Let’s start with the easiest, managing online networking.

It goes without saying that for maximum success, you need to set goals, figure out the best way to achieve them and then get busy moving from point A to point B. It’s the same with networking.

A. ONLINE NETWORKING

Harness the power of email, instant messaging, forums, blogging, Skype, LinkedIn and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Embrace the online medium and learn how everything works and how you can use it to your benefit.

Some tips:

1. Write Effective Emails

There’s great advice on this subject by Merlin Mann, Guy Kawasaki and the Seton Hill University.

While you should practice the Tim Ferriss formula for dealing with email, it also helps that when you actually do read and reply to your email you do it in a manner that gleans maximum results AND doesn’t require you to go back and forth like you would in an informal IM session.

2. Treat IM conversations as ‘Deadline’ Meetings

Set an agenda before you start, deal with all issues and come out with a plan of action by the end of the conversation. In fact, you should adopt this mindset for every business-related discussion you have, not just IMs.

Like I’ve said earlier, there are times when IM becomes a necessity. However in 99% of the cases, IM is a means to an end. When you’re networking, you have limited time and more importantly you want to deliver value, not just waste the other person’s time.

There is one exception – beyond initial contact, there is always a time when you need to build a good rapport with your contacts, and sometimes the least time-consuming method to do so is IM (I can hold 6 conversations on IM at the same time, I can’t do that on the phone).

3. Master Online Social Networks

The rewards are amazing (and I’m not talking about being a Digg power user). The contacts and relationships you build by participating in forums and social networks are invaluable plus the sheer speed of the social web makes it possible for you to find out about breaking news in real time (if your work depends on being first with the news or acting quickly on new information, this is again critical).

4. Online is NOT Everything

Despite our reliance on the Internet, nothing beats a face-to-face meet or a talk on the phone in terms of building trust. I remember how I had introduced myself to Liz at the beginning and she refused to help me until we’d talked and she could confirm that I was a real person (I think the charming voice helped as well ).

The point is, contact and relationship building is incomplete without the human element. In the absence of a physical meeting, use Skype or Google Talk to talk to your contacts and build strong relationships.

B. DEVELOP A LOCAL NETWORK

Living online is a major obstacle if you want to build a network of business contacts in the real world where you live. Most people will still prefer doing business face-to-face if they can make it happen, and that leaves you with no excuse to not pursue building a local network of contacts in your city / country.

Some suggestions:

5. Use Online Networks To Find Local Contacts

I’ve used my blogging, forums and LinkedIn to attract local business and contacts, and I wasn’t even trying to do that at the time.
Use LinkedIn, Facebook, the blogging interweb and forums (as well as any / all contacts you have) to discover local contacts. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

6. Meet Recruiters

Recently I had the opportunity to meet a local recruiter. Usually I’d shun such contacts at first thought, because the last thing on my mind is to work for a ‘boss’. However, recruiting companies also offer you the chance to build your assets – that is, acquire access to a resource pool that you can later use as leverage for your own projects or any outsourcing project that you happen to snag as a consultant.

Yesterday I was talking to an entrepreneur who wants to take over the world (not literally) and he asked me if I knew any good programmers – I told him I had access to a recruiting company and his eyes lit up (I’m assuming, of course, since he was sitting in the US).

Don’t pass up opportunities to build your assets. Not only will they help you in your projects in the future but they will also make you more valuable as a contact, which will eventually mean that people will come to you instead of the other way around.

7. Meet Local Reps

Have you met folks working for Google in your country? I suggest you seek them out and do so at the first opportunity. While the setup is different depending on which country you’re living in, chances are that you’ll be able to network with people from Google / Yahoo / Microsoft / etc etc at local conferences, seminars and trade shows.

From my (very limited) experience, local reps are almost always evangelists and as a result have a vast array of contacts and opportunities themselves. Get in, make yourself useful and nurture the relationship.

C. THE ART OF SUCCESSFUL NETWORKING

For all the tips and advice, the important bits are foundational and have little to do with networking itself – I’m not here to preach how you should conduct yourself, on the other hand these traits will amplify your networking efforts.

8. Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Have you ever met a person who talks a big game but at the end of the day they rarely have anything to show for it? Would you recommend such a person as a business contact to your network?

Talking a good game is important, but it’s even more important to have the track record to back you up.

9. Be Open and Available

The Internet is a blessing and a curse – it gives us instant access to everything but it also makes us anonymous (some might say that’s a blessing in disguise). It also hits your social life quite hard, so you’ll have to make an extra effort to get your butt out of your chair and move out of your house to meet people.

When it comes to networking, especially when you’re starting out, you need to make it as easy as possible for people to contact you and be ready to meet / talk to new people whenever the opportunity arises. It’s more of a mindset than a habit.

Of course, there’s the obvious exception – if you’re as busy as Matt Cutts or Brad Callen and you’re getting more than 5 emails a minute, you probably need several filters (read: assistants) in between you and people wanting to talk to you (with the odd IM / separate email account for ‘urgent / private’ stuff).

10. Understand How People Tick

You’re in the peoples’ business, so you need to know how people think, act and react and modify your approach accordingly. This is one of those cases where reading that self-help stuff works (make friends, influence people and all that). Learn it, practice it and use this knowledge to your advantage.

So there you have it – solid, actionable advice to improve your networking even if you can’t attend those cool conferences that all the big boys seem to be going to. If you’re looking for a shortcut, here’s the best bet (even better than attending local meets, which was so obvious that I refuse to mention it in the 10 points above): hitch a ride as a consultant with a local firm who will send you to such a conference. Alternatively, sign up as a consultant / contractor to a US-based firm who would (cross your fingers) eventually call you to a meet / training seminar / etc.

What is your #1 networking tip?

This article was originally written on 16 Nov 2007 on Performancing.com.

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