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I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

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Saving time in blogging

old fashioned stopwatch sitting on a keyboard

Watching time as you type…

Upfront let me say that I don’t think blog posts should be about a quick job just for traffic – a blog is a means of communication with the best blog posts having been considered and offering value to the readers.

However, there are certainly times when getting a post or two out fast is helpful or even necessary. For instance, if you’re writing a group of posts to cover an absence, a client has given you a rush job, or you’re writing guest blog posts and forgot to write your own, then a quick-to-write post is better than no post at all.

Quick blog post tips

So here are some tips on putting together some quicker posts without making low quality posts no one would ever want to read!)

  1. make a list of related posts you’ve written in the past. This still takes time but you don’t have to think of a topic or plan your words. It also helps linking within your blog and can be very handy for a reader looking for that topic. Regular readers may be less impressed, however, if this is a big deviation from normal or they have just read those posts anyway. There are plugins that can help you manage this, too.
  2. Delegate various tasks  to your team or outsource to someone else (a VA or ghost writer for example)
  3. prepare a list of quotes or stories that you can post quickly as needed. An inspiring quote can create an interesting post by itself, or you can use it as the starting point of a discussion
  4. keep a list of blog post ideas – a notepad, computer document or private blog post can be a handy reference point. It still takes time to write posts but it does save time if you don’t have to think of topics first
  5. Split a long blog post. If your current post is turning out to be very long, splitting it up gives you multiple posts and also is probably easier for people to read and comprehend
  6. get someone else to write the posts! Hiring a ghost writer is covered by point 2, but your other option is to use guest bloggers. This will definitely save your writing time but may take a fair amount of time depending on how you set up the arrangement.
  7. make some set blogging times each fortnight or month and write multiple posts in that time. It saves time to write a few posts at once because you have the program open and are in the right mindset. I like to have the occasional big writing session and schedule a post a week for as many weeks as I can manage so that I know I have posts coming up even if I’m unable to write for a few days. Alternatively, have a series of posts written and upload or schedule them at those times you really need to save time.
  8. look at some plugins as they can automate things to make life easier, depending on what you do with your blog. For example, I use subscribe2 to enable people to sign up for an email each time I post (rather than having to send an email myself) and leenk.me to tweet new posts to my twitter profile

What are your favourite time savers for blogging?

Avoiding writer’s block…

Blocked door in a wallHave you had that sinking feeling of not being able to write when you need to?  Time seems to tick by so slowly… but yet the deadline approaches so quickly.

A few weeks ago I gave some ideas on overcoming writer’s block but the ideal is obviously to avoid it rather than deal with it. The following steps can be taken whenever you have the chance to reduce the odds of reaching that situation again. I won’t say you will never face writer’s block again because sometimes it is just too hard to get motivated despite any preparation, but you can reduce the frequency of it!

Here are my ideas for avoiding writer’s block, but I’d love to hear your ideas as well in the comments below…

  1. keep a list of writing ideas so when you have time to write (for a blog, newsletter, articles, etc) you don’t have to waste time thinking of topics as well
  2. if you know you need to write a report, jot down notes as you think of them. For example, every time I write major news items for a particular client, I copy it into a document that will form the basis of their annual report in July. Having those topics already in place makes the annual report much easier to deal with.
  3. set specific times for writing so you know there is a deadline and you don’t have time to sit and worry. Make a separate specific time for editing and rewriting so your writing time is exactly that – writing time.
  4. try making a regular time to write. If you don’t consistently have things you need to write you could still use this time – rewrite web content, write parts of reports you know are coming up, write some standard email/letter responses for customers and so on. Being in the habit of writing at a certain time will make it easier to write when you have to.
  5. know your limitations, and do something about them before crunch time. That could be learning some writing skills (such as reading through my blog once a week), starting bigger projects ahead of time if you can’t write for hours at a time, or researching a writer/editor to help you.
  6. look after yourself leading up to your writing project – get a good night’s sleep, drink plenty of water, grab some fresh air and exercise, and so on. Being run down and uncomfortable within yourself won’t help you write efficiently or effectively

What else have you done to avoid being unable to write when it’s important?

Chaos contentment or stress?

Are you stressed by what’s happening or how you see what’s happening?

Michelle Grice posted about being content with the chaos as a major goal she is working on. Instead of feeling out of control and powerless with the chaos that comes with running a business from home with young children, she is learning to accept the chaos as part of her life. The acceptance obviously doesn’t remove the hassles of deadlines being 2interrupted by sick kids, etc, but it does reduce the stress and discomfort Michelle feels about such hassles.

It is an interesting point – our attitude is a major factor in how stressful we find situations. And it can also have a flow on effect. Continuing with the work-from-home-mum example, if she is overwhelmed with work she will get stressed and be irritable when her children want her attention. On the other hand, if this Mum accepts she will be interrupted and is less stressed by it then she is likely to deal with the children more positively. And that makes the children more relaxed (and stops her feeling terrible about negative interactions later!)

Like most people, I understand Michelle’s feelings of chaos; I do work from home with young children for a start and it can be chaotic and overwhelming at times. Having to do lists is one thing that always helps me create some order from the chaos.

Further  than to do lists, writing a list of what is chaotic and stressful has a number of advantages:

  • you get a lot of it out of your head so there is psace to think!
  • seeing it written down may show there is less that you thought
  • it allows you to be more objective and set priorities
  • it gives you a list of areas to work on – maybe once you see it written you may realise you DO have the power to change something

What other ideas do you have about changing your perception of chaos? Or about changing some of the chaos itself?

Incorporating single points

There are times when it seems appropriate to use a list, or when it is common practice to do so in your context, but what do you do if there is only one item to be listed?

When I wrote about numbered lists the other day, I mentioned that one item doesn’t make a list so something like the following looks a little silly:

Our product comes in these colours:

  1. blue

In this case, you have two real options – incorporate the item into a sentence or use a non-numbered list.

For the above example, sentence form will work much better:

Our product comes in blue.

In other situations, it may be required to use a list format even if there is only one item. A bullet point or em-dash is better than using a numbering system. This may apply, for example, making a point within a list…

Our product has the following specifications:

  1. 1m wide
  2. made of stainless steel
  3. suitable for domestic use
    10 year guarantee void in business settings
  4. 50kg when constructed

 

Numbered lists

I was recently asked about numbered lists so here is some information about them for everyone else, too!

Using a list can be a better way to present information than just using straight text all the time – it can simplify things for the reader, it is generally much easier as a quick reference and it can make the document more visually interesting than a page of text alone.

Adding numbers to a list (and although I use the word number, a numbered list may use roman numerals or letters instead of Arabic numbers) is usually reserved for when the order of the list is important or when reference to specific points is likely.

Clarity and consistency are the two keys to making a useful list. If the items in a list have further divisions, make sure those divisions are clear – or make multiple lists. Lists with divisions are generally referred to as outline lists, such as the following:

  1. prepare a draft
  2. edit the draft
    1. check spelling
    2. check grammar
    3. ensure everything makes sense
  3. get someone else to review the draft
  4. edit the draft
  5. finalise the draft
    1. add formatting
    2. check page breaks and similar details
    3. send to print

The sub divisions in this list are clear to the eye but would be much clearer overall if they used a different numbering system (for example, ‘add formatting’ would be a or i and ‘send to print’ would be c or iii.)

If there is only one item, it technically isn’t a list so a number isn’t required. A single item can either be incorporated into sentence form or just be listed with a bullet or em-dash. Adding a number to a single item is likely to confuse people as they look for subsequent points that don’t exist.

Keeping numbering clear and consistent is also critical for speakers, not just writers. I have attended a number of presentations where they start with clear points (E.g. “here are five ways to get website traffic. Number one is…”) but get sidetracked or forget the numbering and my notes are confused and/or disjointed as a result.

Do you have any further questions about numbered lists I might be able to help with?

Use your words, and numbers, wisely!

It’s still one point

When writing a list of ideas or tips, it is worth making sure each one has enough value to be in the list – it is better to read a short list of valuable ideas than a long list of mostly junk surrounding a few good ideas.

Even if you’re calling your list something like “top ten tips” or “101 things to do with cheese”, don’t get tempted to make the list longer just so the title seems more impressive. Your credibility will suffer if the list doesn’t provide the help or interest people were looking for.

What I find even more annoying is a list of say 20 things which actually turns out to be a list of 10 or 15 things. I’m not sure if these writers are deliberately trying to plump out a short list or don’t realise how repetitive they are being, but either way it wastes my time and I don’t like it.

Here are the common ways I’ve seen people repeat list items…

  • giving the same point in different terms. For example, “use good spelling and grammar” and “don’t misspell words or use bad grammar” as two separate points – obviously, they mean exactly the same thing!
  • making the same point in different words so it almost seems a different point. For instance “remember to market your existing customers as well as potential customers” is really the same as “don’t neglect your current customers in word of mouth campaigns” in a list of ideas for treating customers well
  • breaking one point into two points – neither point fully makes sense alone, but if they are long enough they can look acceptable

Are there are other common repetitions or problems with lists that you have come across? What has been your reaction to these annoyances?

Happy writing!