Switching off to switch on – batching your work for better productivity (and quality)

There is no better way that I know to batch the writing of blog posts than to get on an aeroplane, alone, resist the temptation to talk to the woman next to you who looks like she is probably interesting to talk to, get out your laptop as soon as they switch off the “No electronic devices” light (since when do they have this specific light? It’s new to me!) and then just write. There is no internet (and it’ll be almost a shame when all flights have WiFi – I know some airlines offer this already) and there is no toddler, there is no ringing phone and no tempting kitchen cupboard (fellow work-at-homers will understand that). There is just you, a big sky and lots of clouds out the window, your laptop and your thoughts. So you blog.

I’ve talked about batching before in various courses and posts but it is seriously one of the best secrets to being an efficient worker that I have ever come across. To summarise: batching means grouping similar tasks together and doing a lot of them at once. In other words, if your work involves a lot of phone calls, don’t make them ad hoc but set aside some time to make them all at once. If your work (as mine does) involves a lot of writing blog posts, sit down at a time and place when you know (or hope really fervently) that you won’t be interrupted and write, write, write.

Those annoying moments on the tarmac when you can’t use your computer …

The theory behind batching is simple and logical – once you are doing a particular task, and continue it, you will be much more effective both in terms of time and quality. You will be “in the zone” as they say, which will mean different things for different tasks, but as I sit on a plane above the middle of Australia writing blog post after blog post, it means that I have got my “blog voice” in my mind, I have got my text editor open (no extra time needed to open the right software or turn my computer on, compared to writing the posts one at a time on different days), I am really just ready to blog and keep blogging. (A bonus tactic which I may utilise again in the future: the nice white wine provided by the airline just before I started writing blog posts seems to help as well!)

Batching is made easier when you only allow yourself access to the stuff you really need to get the job done. I batch Facebook and Twitter posts, especially for organisations whose accounts I manage, which means I will have Facebook, Twitter, Hootsuite, bit.ly and the organisation’s home page all open, but I won’t let my email notify me of new messages or allow any other distractions. Right now, the beauty of no internet means I’m not tempted to “quickly” check on other posts I might reference or link to here – I can do that later, when I’m editing my post, rather than distract the flow of the writing. I know what I’m like – once I go to “check” something the whole internet opens up before me and the focus is lost.

So to summarise: switch off anything that’s not essential to the task at hand, switch on everything essential, and get to work. Obviously I can’t take a plane trip every time I need to write a bunch of blog posts (although that does sound like a rather enticing reason to “have to” travel more regularly – alone!) but when I’m at home, I usually pick a good evening, one when I’m not too tired by the events of the day (curiously, this is usually a working day, rather than a being-a-mum day) and set myself up at my desk with something nice – a chocolate or a wine – and get blogging. Or I settle down first thing on a Monday morning, perhaps after a run or walk, and pound out the social media posts for the week. It’s such a satisfying feeling to get such a lot of work done in a short time. It just takes a bit of discipline, but is so worth it.

Do you “batch” any kinds of work you need to do? Let me know in the comments.

Yippee!!! Problogger on the Gold Coast, here I come

I’m going to ProBlogger!! Call me a geek (I’ve heard geeks are the new cool, anyway) but I am VERY excited to be going to a conference where every single person I see will not only know what a blog is, they will LOVE blogging. I was so thrilled when I got a ticket a few months back, especially as the Earlybird tickets sold out within hours but I managed to get one!

The ProBlogger Training Event has been held annually for a few years now but it’s the exact same few years since I had the baby who is now Mr3, so it’s been hard to get away. 2013 is my year.

In one of my former lives as an academic I got quite used to going to conferences and I mostly enjoyed them, but in the last few years I haven’t had as many chances. Apart from attending the Media140 conference in Perth in 2011, and speaking at it in 2012, I haven’t had much chance to meet many blogging and social media world identities up close, so you can imagine I’m a bit excited. Will I get to speak to Mr Problogger himself, the delightful Darren Rowse? (I hope so!) – and will he serve up a keynote address something like the one below from the recent World Domination Summit (worth a watch!)? Plus there’s a huge list of other people I’m hoping to meet. Just the list of speakers is amazing – practically a wishlist of people I would like to listen to (and meet).

Darren Rowse from Chris Guillebeau on Vimeo.

The biggest problem I see will be selecting which session to go to as a number of the concurrent sessions are about topics I’m interested in – for example, at some stage I’ll have to choose between a session run by one of my online world heroes, Valerie Khoo, about business blogging, and another on building community (so important too!) from a panel featuring bloggers I have followed for years like Craig Makepeace and Nicole Avery. Pretty sure it will have to be a coin toss for some of them. Thankfully I can catch up later by accessing it all online but there will still be some tricky choices.

(Speaking of accessing it online – there is a “Virtual Pass” which will give you access to all of the recorded material from the whole conference, plus slideshows etc and a few webinars – available to download or listen to whenever you want. If you’re interested head to the Virtual Pass page – disclaimer from me, that’s an affiliate link so I get a commission if you sign up.)

Anyway, once mid-September hits I’m sure you’ll hear a LOT about the ProBlogger event from me on all my social media profiles, and I will definitely have a bunch of blog posts coming out afterwards with the most exciting things I’ve learnt. I have a feeling I’ll be filling pages and pages (or virtual pages at least) with ideas of what to do with my blog and my business to keep moving onwards and upwards and no doubt I’ll have lots of new ideas for my regular clients, too.

So, if you’re off to ProBlogger too, I’ll see you there (like my dear friend Jo of Zigazag who is brave enough to room with me!) and if not, watch this space and you will find out what I’m up to there.

7 things to do before you hit publish on your new blog post

At my recent advanced blogging course, my students picked up on the fact that I kept telling them things they should do before they hit publish on a new blog post. And one particularly wise one (the lovely writer Louise Allan) suggested I write a blog post on all of this. Smart move (that’s why these people were in advanced blogging, I guess!).

A scary sight: A blank blog post waiting for inspiring words

The thing is, writing a blog post is certainly not just as simple as writing it and hitting publish. It can be, but if you want to get readers to find and interact with your blog post (surely a key goal for nearly all of us), then there are a bunch of other things to do that can help make that happen. So here’s my list of the seven things you should do before you hit publish on your new blog post:

  1. Reconsider your title. Have you fallen prey to Ballerina Syndrome in which your title is fantastically clever but lacking in searchable keywords? As another clever course participant (Rachel) suggested: Google is smart, but not clever. The internet, and especially your blog post title, is not the place for cryptically clever word arrangements. Google needs to figure out what your post is actually about so that it can send readers to it. What I’m saying is: use keywords in your title.
  2. Check for other SEO (search engine optimisation) musts – like using the keywords for your post in the first sentence or two. Gone are the days when it was necessary to stack your entire post with so many repetitions of your keywords that it barely made sense (and in fact this is now frowned upon, yay!), but as in point 1, you want Google to be able to quickly figure out what your post is actually about.
  3. Focus. I know about this problem, because it happens to me all the time. You start your blog post with a particular idea in mind. You get to the end and it is kind of about another idea. You probably couldn’t explain what your post is about in one sentence or less. Maybe it’s really two posts, or even three. Go back and structure your post properly (taking out bits that don’t fit any more – you could save them for another post) and be sure your post has a focus. Blogging can be casual, should be casual, but it should still be focused.
  4. Finish with a question or an invitation to comment about something. At least most of the time (there’s nothing worse than reading a great post which then ends with a question for readers which is a real stretch away from the actual content of a post – don’t force it), end with something that will inspire your readers to leave a comment. After all, you not only want to see your blog statistics ticking over, you actually want to connect with people and have them feel compelled to spend another minute leaving a comment on your post.
  5. Make your permalink sensible. Your permalink is the URL (website address) for your individual blog post. If you’re using WordPress you can usually edit your permalink directly under the spot where you type your blog title in; in Blogger it’s over on the right hand side by clicking on Custom Permalink. It should have keywords (and if your title is long these sometimes get cut off, so delete some of the others), rather than reflect the actual word-for-word title.
  6. Include at least one reasonably decent image. The internet is a visual place and even if the emphasis in your blog is very definitely on the words, the image will help it be shared, will help break up the text and will make your blog post look that bit prettier. Consider using Creative Commons licensed photos from Flickr or going through a stock photo site if you really can’t take your own (my preference).
  7. Proofread. Or, if you know that your grammar is a bit on the imperfect side, find someone who will proofread for you. You may not be one of those people that think grammar and spelling is important but there are plenty of people who do, and I’m one of them. Figure out the difference between its and it’s and don’t use a grocers’ apostrophe. Please?
If you incorporate these reasonably quick steps into your blog writing process, I’m sure it’ll make your blog a more popular place to visit. And that will make you a happier blogger. Perfect!
I’m also sure there are more than seven things that might help improve your blog post before you hit publish – so hit me up with a comment! What else do you do to make sure your blog post is the best it can be?

The Ballerina Syndrome, or how keyword-rich titles are better than beautiful ones

There are two kinds of bloggers in this world: those who title a blog post based on what is about (“How to cook a lamb roast”, for example) and those who believe a title should be clever, arty and/or beautiful (“What to eat even if Tom Cruise invites you to dinner” – watch this old Aussie TV ad for lamb if my clever title doesn’t make sense to you).

Left to my own devices I am definitely the second type of blogger. Unfortunately, however, more successful bloggers are the first type. And this is all because of search engines.

For many (perhaps most) bloggers, the way the majority of your readers find your blog is by searching for you in a search engine. In other words, if you are looking for lamb roast tips, you may type “lamb roast”, “cooking a lamb roast” or even my exact title, “How to cook a lamb roast”, and Google or your search engine of choice will return a bunch of web pages that it believes are closely related to that topic. It doesn’t take a genius to realise which of my two original title ideas will work best here.

Lots of people find this very difficult. So do I. If you have an interest in or (worse) a love of writing, then composing a fairly bland, accurately-descriptive title just doesn’t sit well. Where is our chance to be creative, to show off our cleverness? Well, not in the title I’m afraid. Not in the age of the internet!

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the title realm. Just look at my travel blog’s name: Not A Ballerina! What on earth does that have to do with travelling? Worse, I end up with far too many visitors who have been searching for something related to ballet (search engines aren’t very good at sensing the “Not” part) – can anyone tell me why people are often searching for “hairy ballerinas”? You can read the story of how the name came about, but it doesn’t make it any better – it might be a nice story, but it doesn’t make the name choice any more appropriate. I’m just too sentimental to part with it (and lose followers by changing domains, and so on) after eight years of blogging there.

However, I strongly recommend that you do what I say, not what I do. In class I’ve dubbed this problem of wanting beautiful titles and names “Ballerina syndrome” and I don’t want you to succumb. As painful as it might be to some of you, give your blog post a title that sends a clear message about what the content of the post is about, and you’ll find that a lot more people come along to read it. There is room enough to be clever and witty inside a blog post; don’t be tempted to go the Tom Cruise route.

Although sometimes, like me, you can try to cram everything into the one title. It’s my compromise approach. But … you know, do what I say, not what I do.

Custom domains and why you really, really need one

When I teach blogging, I make it nice and simple to get started there and then, in the lab, by having my students use Blogger.com. It’s totally free and it’s really straightforward to use so we spend eight hours talking every aspect of blogging I can cram in as well as putting it into practice immediately.

BUT … that means my students go home with an address for their blog that looks like myblogname.blogspot.com – in other words, they will have the “blogspot” bit in their domain name, rather than having a custom domain (which would be myblogname.com).

This is not that cool. It’s similar if you use the free wordpress version, and you have seen people with blog URLs like myblogname.wordpress.com. Whichever you use, I can’t recommend enough that you should get yourself a custom domain. For lots of reasons. Most of all, you look a thousand times more professional and your blog’s URL is a million times easier to remember and tell people. (Okay, these numbers may be slightly exaggerated, but my point is that I consider this really important!) The main reason I recommend getting your own domain name is that these days it is so simple and cheap so there’s no excuse not to – and it’s pretty common that what’s started as your little hobby blog becomes something much more important to you. You can get sites redirected and so on but it’s just simpler to start how you mean to go on – and if you can afford the time to blog, you can afford the minimal cost of this, I reckon.

The lucky thing is that if you are using Blogger then it’s super simple and not even expensive (they currently charge US$10 per year for both the custom domain name plus they host it for you – there is no better deal than that). The “how to” goes like this:

1. In Blogger, choose “Settings” (and the first sub-menu “Basic” will appear by default)

2. On the “Basic” page of settings, look for “Publishing” – there will be a section for “Blog Address”

3. Click on “Add a custom domain” and Blogger will automatically suggest your domain name simply without the blogspot part. This may or may not be available – click on “Check availability” to find out.

    If it’s available, yippee and go for it. If not, or if you want to change your domain name anyway, then keep typing them in and clicking “Check availability” until you’re a winner 🙂 Once you get it, it’s just like shopping online and you can pay for it with a credit card. They’ll ask if you want to automatically renew and I recommend it, because a year will come around faster than you think and you don’t want to miss those emails saying “please renew your domain name now!” and then go to your blog one day and find it’s disappeared!

    (PS: Experienced bloggers will immediately tell you that you “must” have WordPress rather than Blogger, for two main reasons – a WordPress blog can be basically endlessly customised and also you have more control, because you have to host it somewhere of your choice rather than letting Blogger (aka Google) host it for you. These two points are both absolutely true, but in the case of most of the people I work with, they are not in the mood for learning the more technical aspects of WordPress, and they are often working from lower budgets. In other words, for many of them, a custom domain on Blogger is enough – and in any case, it can all be transferred later if they so desire.)

    New bloggers and new blogs on a sunny October day

    One of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday, I have to admit, is running my one-day blogging course for UWA Extension. I know, it’s not exactly cool to love working on the weekend but it is honestly just heaps of fun to meet a dozen or more bloggers-to-be and turn them into published bloggers by the end of the day.

    New bloggers working hard

    So as you might guess, today was another one of those days. I was trying to count how often I’ve run this course in the past two and a half years and this might have been the tenth time, I’m not sure! I feel like we should have had cake! Of course, we did have some chocolate to keep us going, although of all the bloggers I’ve met, these ones liked chocolate the least. Which is not such a terrible thing because it means I have a couple left over to munch on while I write this post.

    Every group of new bloggers is different – last time, for example, a big proportion of them were planning to blog for very specific business-related reasons. This time was different again and we had a number of aspiring novelists, people with passions to share and a couple of business bloggers with some fun ideas. It was also interesting that we had lots of bloggers come in pairs – two sisters, an aunt and nephew and an aunt and niece – I love the idea of keeping blogging in the family!

    View from lunch

    What impressed me even more was that as well as not wasting precious minutes eating chocolate, this group were by far the most conscientious I’ve ever had. Despite enjoying this amazing view over lunch, they all raced back as soon as their last mouthful was done and got straight back onto their blogs again, writing their About pages or fiddling with their design. I have a good feeling that a large number of today’s new bloggers will still be blogging in a few months’ time.

    Without further ado, let me introduce some of our brave new bloggers:

    My bewildered blogging friend proves content is king if you want to “go viral”

    Every now and then one of my clients will send me an email or casually ask me at the end of a session something along these lines: “How can I go viral?”

    They’ve seen a photo or video or blog post go wild around the world and produce incredible amounts of promotion for someone else, and they want to do the same. And they hope – and I can understand that hope – that there is some magic formula to make this happen.

    Of course, when you sit down and think about it for a few moments, you know there can’t be. There’s a combination of factors that will help some little piece of the web go viral but really the only thing you can control is quality. If you create lots of online content that is high quality, then you’re increasing your chances of people wanting to spread your little bit of the web to friends and colleagues across the world. And I have a great example to prove it!

    A few months back, I was sipping my cup of tea in playgroup when I overheard some of the other mothers talking about “some internet thing” they’d be forwarding to all their friends. My ears pricked when I heard them mention it was about having three kids. I asked them for some more details and sure enough, it was the blog post I suspected it might be, written by my blogging student (and friend) Shannon, owner of the parenting blog Relentless.

    Shannon wrote a post called The Brutal Truth About the Third Child when she was pregnant with, as you might guess, her third child. It’s a beautifully-written comparison of parental experiences as the first, second and third children are born.

    She didn’t promote this post in any unusual way – she posted it on her Facebook page as normal, and that was it. Suddenly, it started getting massive amounts of internet traffic, and the reason was simple: people loved it and wanted to share it with their friends. Shannon started to email me with questions like “Should I reply individually to every single comment?” when it began to get dozens and dozens of comments, well more than the usual half a dozen she would feel lucky to get. I watched as numerous of my friends shared it on Facebook – and not because I’d told them about it, either. Her Facebook fan page follower number jumped dramatically, enough to make me rather jealous, I must admit!

    Half a year later, Shannon’s blog goes from strength to strength, but the massive boost she received from that one post going viral is still having a huge effect on the amount of interaction she gets, both on the blog and her blog’s Facebook page. And for me, it’s absolutely proof of what I always tell clients who ask me “the viral question” – it’s all about quality.

    Speaking at Media140’s DigitalMe conference: “Let’s blug – putting the “u” into blogging”

    The Media140 DigitalMe day took place last Friday and I spoke in the afternoon – and I have to admit that before I showed up I was a little nervous about speaking at the Northbridge Piazza. I don’t know why it felt any different from a lecture theatre or conference hall but being outdoors with a giant screen above my head seemed to change things! Of course, once I arrived and discovered 99% of the audience were sitting on beanbags, I relaxed. The only bad thing was that as a presenter, I had to stand on stage rather than sit in a beanbag. They should look at that for next time round 😉

    Anyway, I wanted to reiterate some of the main points I made in the presentation – all about putting voice into your blog. The title, to be accurate, was “Let’s blug: Putting the “u” into blogging”; I wanted to talk about how it’s not just enough to have a cool design and post regularly, but that also the way you write is still a really vital part of blogging. I’m a “words girl” at heart, and the words of a blog are important to me, and I want them to be important to other bloggers, too.
    My minimalist slides below will give you an overview of what I spoke about … more details underneath.

    Basically, the most important point that I hoped people would take away from seeing the examples I gave was that bloggers who people really take notice of and keep going back to are the ones that have figured out their blog’s voice – they’ve managed to inject their personality into their blog in such a way that readers feel they have a trusted relationship with the blogger, they want to keep reading them and they want to tell their friends about them. When I explain it as putting “you” into your blog, I certainly don’t mean that you need to divulge personal or private details, but that you need to write in such a way that readers feel they know you, and they can recognise your writing style, too. The examples I gave came from varied niches, and I also mentioned during the talk that the public-outdoor-venue G-rated nature of the conference meant I’d had to exclude a number of my favourite blogs! This is not to say that I’m usually a reader of Adult-Only blogs, but G-rating is a pretty big restriction. Some of the blogs that lay on my cutting room floor because of that are on this list – the first five are the ones I featured in my talk:

    • Edenland – particular Eden’s posts on her World Vision sponsored visit to Niger, Africa – lots of honesty (a good way to have “you” in your blog, but not the only way)
    • Life in a Pink Fibro – from multi-talented freelance writer Allison Tait, and I must admit to calling her the Seinfeld of blogging because some posts are kind of about nothing but I am utterly compelled to read them – that’s voice!
    • Why Evolution is True – recommended by a male friend when I realised the target demographic of all the blogs I’d chosen was women – but I agree thoroughly with his recommendation.
    • Aussie on the Road – one of many travel blogs that sound like someone’s just having a chat with you – a good way to develop a voice.
    • Styling You an award-winning blog in Australia and actually makes me want to read about fashion despite having no interest in the topic – that’s voice, too!
    • Parenting, with Crappy Pictures (I wonder if Amber realised that using “crappy” would mean people would have to exclude her from G-rated days?) – one of the “voiciest” blogs I know!
    • Jeff Goins, Writer – Jeff writes a lot about blogging and even includes some great posts on voice now and again.
    • Free-Range Kids – I’ve seen a few videos of Lenore speaking and she writes exactly like she talks – and gets her (important) point across.
    Hmm. I’m sure there are a stack more great blogs that I eliminated from my presentation for various reasons, but they fail to emerge for me right now, so I’ll come back and add to this list later. In the meantime, I summed up the day with a list of “secret rules” to get some voice into your blog, and I think they’re worth repeating: 
    • Blog for yourself – not trying to impress, and don’t expect everybody to like you – thinking it’s a popularity contest will severely limit your ability to have a natural voice 
    • Write what you’d like to read – if I read over my post the next day and actually enjoy it and want to keep reading, I figure I’m doing OK 
    • Blog like you talk – without the ums and aahs – but if you are stuck writing too formally then try to imagine you are just on the phone telling a friend all about the topic, then write it down like that 
    • Break grammar rules (but know them first) – a good rule of thumb for many kinds of writing but works especially well for blogs 
    • Read your posts out loud – this will help you catch posts that sound too stilted or formal 
    • Don’t be too slang, and don’t be too formal – don’t write like it’s a text message, but it’s not a business report either 
    • Be honest, be daring, be a little afraid – if you’re anxious when you hit publish you’re probably on a winner 
    • Have your own style (format, word choice) – make an effort to be consistent with how you write so that it sounds like “you” 
    • Write from the heart, no matter what topic – you can be passionate about dishwashers if you want to be! 

    Anyway, the presentation went well and generated a bit of talk on Twitter, and some of that’s below:

    If you’ve got any examples of your own of blogs with great voice then I’d love to hear about them, so please leave the URLs in the comments below.

    Let’s blug: Putting the “u” in blogging at Media140’s DigitalMe conference

    The Media140 DigitalMe day took place last Friday and I spoke in the afternoon – and I have to admit that before I showed up I was a little nervous about speaking at the Northbridge Piazza. I don’t know why it felt any different from a lecture theatre or conference hall but being outdoors with a giant screen above my head seemed to change things! Of course, once I arrived and discovered 99% of the audience were sitting on beanbags, I relaxed. The only bad thing was that as a presenter, I had to stand on stage rather than sit in a beanbag. They should look at that for next time round 😉

    More at my Amanda Kendle Consulting site … Speaking at Media140’s DigitalMe conference.

    A weekend of bloggers, new and old

    It’s Sunday evening and it’s one of the first moments I’ve had to sit at my computer all weekend, despite the fact that it’s been a very blog-focused couple of days.

    On Saturday I presented my Becoming a Blogger course for UWA Extension again, and spent eight hours helping fifteen locals set up and launch their new blogs – when they’ve got themselves properly up and running in a few weeks I’ll introduce them here. Look out for the one about the lorikeet, I think it’s my favourite!

    And this afternoon I hosted a Nuffnang Blogger Meet-Up, a great chance to catch up with a bunch of bloggers who I’ve met through various means – many through my blogging courses, a couple of old friends who coincidentally became bloggers, others via freelance work and even a couple I’d only “virtually” met online, until today. And here they are!:

    Nuffnang Blogger Meet-Up With Amanda

    The overwhelming sentiment here was that it was fantastic to sit at a table with a group of people who didn’t give you quizzical looks when you talked about your blog. Plenty of interesting tips were shared and yes, we ate, drank and were merry, so plenty of fun was had too.

    In case you’re keen on checking out some blogs from bloggers based in and around Perth, then this list of the bloggers who joined me for our meet-up today makes an excellent start. (It’s in alphabetical order because I didn’t want to look like I was favouring anyone – they’re all fantastic blogs by fantastic people!)

    Thanks to all the lovely bloggers who attended and we will definitely have to do it again soon.