By Roger C. Parker published April 30, 2012

3 Tips for Increasing Your Content Productivity

Productivity is a universal challenge in content marketing, where success often depends on consistent performance, not isolated genius.

Under the right circumstances, many professionals are capable of preparing great content for blogs, books, and online sign-up incentives. But only a few can consistently produce quality marketing content on a daily basis.

Those who do usually have a system or process in place to help them meet the daily deadline challenge.

There are three productivity tips I would like to share from the world of writing and publishing (where deadlines are absolute). Use them as the core of your own system for preparing content on an ongoing, stress-free basis.

1. Study the right examples

Resist the urge to reinvent the wheel.

Content marketers often waste time by starting from scratch with a blank screen, rather than looking for models they can use as the basis of their current project. Save time planning your next content marketing project by looking for examples of what’s worked in the past.

Bestselling business and personal development books offer a wealth of ideas you can easily adapt to meeting your content marketing needs — regardless of the types of projects you’re currently working on. Here are a few examples:

  • The three-act structure: An excellent starting place is to analyze the three-act structure Carmine Gallo used in his book, “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.” Gallo organized his book around the same three-act structure Steve Jobs used for his famous MacWorld presentations — a structure adapted from many of Shakespeare’s plays.There are a lot of ways you can use the three-act structure. For example, you can set the stage in Act 1 by describing a challenge your market frequently faces (for example, the need to come up with fresh content ideas each week). In Act 2, you can show how to take action, such as identifying several core topics that can be addressed from different perspectives. And in Act 3, you would describe the outcome and share tips for optimizing the results — perhaps by delegating content responsibilities, crowdsourcing content, or repurposing existing content.
  • “7 big ideas:” Another classic way to organize a complex topic is to base your content marketing project on a few major principles (such as “best practices” or your key observations), and list out your recommendations for each principle.One of the best examples of this is Stephen Covey’s perennially popular book, “The 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People.” It’s a great example of how a complex topic (i.e., human behavior) can be simplified by organizing it around a few key ideas. (“You mean, there are only 7 things I need to know?”) Grouping your message on a few key ideas makes it easier to plan and write your content. The numbered key ideas also help readers track their progress through your content. (Bonus:After you’ve identified your key ideas, you’ll also have the foundation for an autoresponder-delivered e-course or a “sticky” series of weekly blog posts.)

    And remember, there’s a bit of magic to titles with numerical specificity. (Look what happens when you remove the “7” from the title — “The Habits of Highly-Effective People” has far less impact.)

  • The procedural: Another classic book approach is to help readers solve a problem or achieve a desired goal by breaking a complex project into a series of tasks that readers can address one step at a time. Used as a title technique, this approach adds urgency by emphasizing how quickly readers can achieve their goals. Examples include Jay Conrad Levinson’s “Guerrilla Marketing in 30 days,” which shows how firms can improve their marketing by completing one step in the process each day. Likewise, Lorrie Thomas’s “McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course: Online Marketing” shows how firms can gain improved results from their online marketing in 36 one-hour sessions.
    Each page is devoted to a single idea. Designers can jump in at any point, and still be rewarded with fresh inspiration and perspective.

Other resources, such as  “#Book Title Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Compelling Article, Book, and Event Titles,” provide easy access to examples you can adapt to the requirements of your projects, with brief discussions of each example.

2. Choose the right tools

Content marketing success involves using the right planning tools — especially those that visually illustrate your ideas and their relationship to your project’s “big picture” before you begin to write.

Knowing the structure of your content marketing project before you begin writing helps you avoid false starts and wasted time. Think of it like this: Although you could drive from New Hampshire to Los Angeles without a map, you’d probably waste a lot of time and resources along the way, arriving tired, broke, and hungry.

In the past, authors and journalists have used planning tools like index cards, sticky notes, story boards, and white boards to visually organize their ideas before they begin to write.

Today, however, mind mapping software, like Mindjet’s MindManager, can help you display the structure of your articles, blog, books, and eBooks in a format you can export to your word processing and presentation programs for writing and formatting. With these programs, you can also schedule, delegate, and track your progress using the same mind map you use to plan your project.

Speaking of Word processors, don’t assume that your current word processor is your only writing option. You may be thrilled, for example, to discover highly focused writing tools like IA Writer, with its uncluttered writing environment. Or, if you want to keep your ideas and online sources in front of you as you write, explore Scrivener, which uses an index card motif.

Until recently, authors and journalists had to carry notebooks and pens with them to capture ideas wherever they were. Today, mobile apps running on smartphones and iPads permit you to capture your ideas as mind maps wherever you are. (In fact, I began this post on my iPad, before I got out of bed this morning.)

3. Master the right habits

Your habits determine your success. Whether it’s diet, exercise, or content marketing, your habits either work with you or they work against you.

Unfortunately, many of us have gone through life without developing the habits needed for efficient, stress-free writing.

Here are some of the ways you can replace the stress of last-minute deadline-driven writing with habits that can contribute to sustainable content marketing success.

  • Execute daily: Many are seduced by the caffeine-like “rush” that can accompany last-minute deadlines. Yet, the thrill of all-nighters and “binge” writing also contributes to wasted effort, embarrassing mistakes, and lost opportunities. The key habit in sustainable writing success involves short, daily, scheduled writing sessions. Schedule 30 to 45 minutes a day, turn off phones and Twitter, and watch your ideas take shape. View these “sessions” you spend with your content to be as unbreakable as your appointments with your most important clients.
  • Keep your brain engaged: In addition to your daily writing sessions, cultivate the habit of short beginning-of-day and end-of-day review sessions. All you need is a few minutes of quiet time at the end of each day to review what you’ve written and preview what you want to write tomorrow. In the morning, review your writing goals for the day. These sessions can be as short as five minutes, but that can be enough to keep your brain engaged so you can make the most of your upcoming writing sessions.
  • Know when to edit: There’s a time to write, and a time to edit. Avoid the temptation to self-edit while writing. Instead, let your ideas flow; concentrate on finishing the first draft as quickly as possible. Once you finish the first draft, you can put on your editing hat — or pass your content on to others for comment and review.
  • Know when to stop: Another reason to schedule short, frequent writing sessions is that your brain quickly tires, so productivity drops during long writing sessions. Explore resources like The Pomodoro Technique, which boosts productivity by reminding you when to take a short break.

Undoubtedly, as you cultivate the habits of writing success, you’ll come up with a system that works for you — one that you can use to efficiently prepare all types of content for years to come. And, in the meantime, please share your favorite content marketing productivity tips with us, as comments, below!

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

Author: Roger C. Parker

A lifelong content marketer, copywriter, and author, Roger enjoys helping clients write books and simplify their content marketing. Follow @RogercParker on LinkedIn at ContentMarketingHelp. Download a free copy of his 4-page 8 Commitments of Content Marketing Success.

Other posts by Roger C. Parker

  • Eleanor Pierce

    Nice tips – I especially love this: “Avoid the temptation to self-edit while writing.”Anyone who’s ever participated in NaNoWriMo knows the value of that one (2007 finisher!).

    • Roger C. Parker

       Dear Eleanor:
      Thank you for taking the time to comment, and congratulations to being a finisher in a recent NaNoWriMo event.
      Best wishes, Roger

  • Johnn Four

    Great article! Models, tools and effort is a winning formula in my mind.

    I like the Pomodoro technique too. It works well in combination with Personal Kanban.

    • Roger C. Parker

       Dear John:
      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate the endorsement of Pomodoro, and will explore Personal Kanban.
      Best wishes, Roger

  • Howard Rauchl

    Roger Parker’s advice is excellent.  I am not a content marketing specialist, but I do know a lot about B2B content performance standards.  From a recent CMI study, I noted that many marketers are looking to outsource content projects.  For those who prefer to keep a standard position in house, eventually somebody needs to figure out how it takes to reasonably complete an assignment.  If you have a content specialist on staff, how many projects or portions of projects can be completed in X hours.  The immediate reaction when hearing about such a proposal is resistance.  How can you quantity qualitative work?  But it can be done, and the result will be a better managed process.

    Howard Rauch, President
    Editorial Solutions, Inc.

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Howard:
      Thank you for your comment. I especially appreciate the way you brought up the issue of content productivity. Do you have any suggestions or solutions?

      After all my years in marketing and writing, I’m still often surprised at how much time it sometimes takes to get something done right.
      Best wishes, Roger

  • Howard Rauchl

    Hi Roger:

    In the productivity workshops I used to run at Folio, I chided editors because many assumed they were efficient.  There are always shortcuts, and eventually they must be discovered.  So, when it comes to content marketing, the premise in terms of content creation is that anyone supervising the process must know how long it takes to do everything.

    Here is a simplification of how to start the process:  (1) Break down the job into components; let’s say you end up with 12; (2) of that number, identify your three or four biggest time-eaters; (3) within the framework of a 20-21-day work month, estimate how much time is required to complete tasks involved; (4) then do the same for the lesser time-eaters; (5) you may find that your 20-21-day month has become a 25-40-day monster.

    So now you know everything I know!  Right now I am in the process of developing estimates for digital content workloads.  The process is clearly diferent from content marketing, probably because the biggest time eater is e-news writing.  Perhaps a good starting point for content marketers interested in this kind of stuff is to first identify key presentation categories . . . like white papers, webinars, newsletters, e-books, etc.  Then within each category, develop time-eater sub categories . . . and go from there.  Enjoy!!!

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Howard:
      Thank you, again, for commenting…and providing a handy process to follow. Your process is fascinating.

      Perhaps our paths crossed; were you a presenter at the NYC and Washington DC Folio Conferences? I remember them fondly.

      Best wishes, Roger

      • Howard Rauch

        Hi Roger:

        I presented at Folio’s New York show for several years — most of the time on editorial productivity measurement, occasionally editorial competitive analysis.  Primary focus was on B2B practices.  I presented just one year in Washington for Folio on productivity issues.  Initially, audience reaction was that there was absolutely no way productive quantitative standards could be established for qualitative work.  Over the years, I made several converts, but others continue to resist until this day.

  • Mike Williams

    Awesome read, I love step three. Mastering habits can be one of the toughest things today. I have learned it only takes a little each day to master. Gaining that awareness has allowed me to be more productive each day. Thanks for sharing

    • Roger C. Parker

      Hi, Mike:
      Thank you for commenting. Congratulations on your efforts to master habits. Often, easier said than done!

      I wonder if you’ve read the current bestseller, The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and In Business, by Charles Duhigg. It’s pretty amazing. Another long-time favorite is The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Les Hewitt.

      Best wishes on your writing success. Roger 

  • flabastida

    Hi Roger,

    Great post! Question about #1, models to emulate Are you referring to “content marketing projects” as the whole deal or as each piece of content? In other words the 3 act model or the 7 principles model, those could be ways of writing a blog post, or a white paper, or a way to structure the whole shebang over the course of time, right?

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Fernando:
      Great question. I should have been more precise.

      My intention was the 3-act model or 7 principles were possible structures for individual projects, i.e., books, reports, white papers, etc., but you bring up an interesting point. Perhaps they could serve as “big picture” models.

      Good topic for another day! Any ideas? Roger

  • Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

    Hey Roger,

    There’s a book I think anyone considering writing a book or content should get their hands on, “The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories from Authors and the Editors, Agents, and Booksellers Behind Them”.

    I loved your list of structures to roll with as to keep you from starting with a blank slate and I think this book can not help with structure but also with seeing winning themes and headlines you can adapt to your own project.

    Thank you also for introducing me to IA and Scrivener! Never knew about them before today which makes me not only grateful for the awesome suggestions you’ve given but now I’ve got new toys to play with too. Nice!!!

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Lewis:
      Thank you for writing, and–especially–thank you for The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories from Authors and the Editors, Agents, and Booksellers Behind Them. I will immediately check it out. I was not aware of it.

      Thanks, also, for your comment about IA and Scrivener. I find that IA is really fun, with its emphasis on the current 3 lines you’re working on in Focus mode.

      Best wishes on your content marketing and writing success. Roger

  • Vikesh Pithadiya

    Some great book’s name have been mentioned here and I am the witness of  “Guerrilla Marketing in 30 days” that the author has given some practical solutions on integrated marketing and how to trap market when you are entering into it. The ideas you have given here are some basic steps which need to be understood by every business personalities and enterprenuers before starting any new venture. Try to analyse the market, get big ideas, structure your strategy and then plan out. When matter comes to content, it is the same. Get ideas, target your audience, recheck the taste of your audience, publish the content and accordingly keep editing until you reach the stage where your expected target per day or per month is achieved.

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Vikesh:
      Thank you for your comment.

      I’m familiar with Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days, and agree it is an exceptionally fine book.

      Best wishes on your writing and content marketing success.

  • Debbie Josendale

    Hi Roger,

    Thanks for such a great post a topic that is so continually challenging.  One of my favorite techniques to just get going is to set a timer for 10 minutes and then just write as much as I can.  I find that if I create a mini self-imposed deadline it amps up my productivity and creativity!

    Not only is your article filled with very helpful information, but I love how you modeled one of your suggestions by organizing a complex topic based on key principles!  Thanks again!

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Debbie:
      Thank you for your kind words. I love the “amps up” productivity and creativity metaphor.
      Best wishes on your content marketing!

  • Annegoe0502

    Great article! I like the “Master the right habits”. Reviewing your goals before you start writing can be a great motivator to help you stay focused.

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Anne:
      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it. What kind of goals work best for you?

      Best wishes on your writing success.

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  • Tilak Kumar

    interesting information..

    • Roger C. Parker

      Thank you for your comment and kind words.

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