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Productivity Systems: Do they Really Help You Blog Better?

Posted By Darren Rowse 1st of November 2010 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

More and more I’m noticing bloggers asking for advice on how to be more productive. We’re operating in a space where we need to produce great content consistently, but where we’re also being bombarded with input and having demands made upon our time.

I’ve grappled with this myself over the last few years and have tried all kinds of productivity systems and tools. But recently, I had the realization that all most of them really do is make me more efficient at shoving more into my life.

Perhaps there’s another way! This video shares some of what I’m discovering about myself—and being productive.


Transcription of “Productivity Systems: Do they Really Help? “

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about this idea of productivity. I’ve been Tweeting about this and so some of you have been hearing some of my thoughts today, and I thought I’d try and summarize some of them in this video.

You see, as bloggers we need to be productive. As bloggers, we are by necessity needing to create content: we need to be outputting something if we are to have blogs that people will read. To have a blog, you obviously need content. And so we need to be constantly coming up with ideas, and imaginative, creative, fresh content that will engage with people.

That by itself can be difficult, but we also need to do it in a very noisy environment—an environment where other people are creating content all the time. I sat at my computer today for just an hour or two this morning—I was trying to write this content—and I just kept getting interrupted by other people’s content.

Now I could have shut it off, but it was really interesting stuff, and stuff that I wanted to be engaging with. The blog posts that others in my niches were writing, the Tweets that people were doing, the comments that people were leaving on my post, the emails that readers were sending to me—all of this output of other people was interrupting my own output process. We’re constantly being bombarded with an avalanche of messages, but we’re also needing to produce our own in the midst of that.

As a result, over the last few years I’ve been experimenting with all these different types of tools and systems for being more productive. I’ve developed rhythms and little habits, I guess, in my own life to fit more into my day and to be able to manage my busyness more, and to be more effective in many ways.

And a lot of this has been really helpful to think about, you know, how to be more productive. But it hit me today that by having this goal of being more productive, and by developing all these systems and rhythms, all I really was doing was enabling myself to fit more into my day; I was creating a little bit more room in my day to shove more in. And whilst that’s good on some levels, and that’s been good for my business, I wonder whether I’m setting myself up for a fall. I wonder whether by shoving more and more in—even though it’s more efficiently organized—whether that’s actually a sustainable thing.

I traveled recently to the US, and my goal with this latest trip—I went over to BlogWorld to Vegas—my goal was to travel with one bag. Just one carry-on bag. And so I bought this great bag. It had three great compartments, and it was designed for carry on, and it was designed to fit a whole heap of stuff in. I bought these little packing containers that squash shirts down really small. And I got on the plane with that one bag, and I fit everything in.

The problem is that while I was in Vegas at BlogWorld, people gave me all this stuff. People were giving me books to read, people were giving me schwag. And I bought a few things: I bought some toys for my kids, a couple of gifts for my wife. And when I came to leave Vegas, I had this bag, and yet I had all this extra stuff that needed to go in. And of course as I started to put more and more in, and as I squeezed those packing containers tighter and tighter with extra stuff, there came a point where the bag reached its capacity.

And I only had a couple more things to go, and so I of course shoved them in, and there came a point where I heard this terrible ripping sound. As I was trying to pull a zip closed tooth by tooth, a seam on the bottom of the bag actually ripped. I’d filled it very efficiently, but I’d filled it to capacity and something had to give.

I wonder with all these productivity tools that enable us to fit more and more into our life, whether we’re perhaps setting ourselves up for that tearing, that ripping sound. I worry that that might actually impact us physically: perhaps that ripping sound’s our heart giving out. Or perhaps it’s an emotional ripping sound—perhaps it’s a ripping sound that’s symptomatic of a problem in a relationship, where we try and shove so much in we don’t pay enough time to our family.

I don’t know exactly what that ripping sound will feel like or what it would be, but it worries me that we seem to be obsessed by trying to fit more in. And by being more efficient with our time, we’re actually just enabling ourselves to fit more in and become busier and busier.

You see, as I look at my life, I know that the time and energy that I have to fit more in is finite. There’s a limit to it. And the busyness of life is infinite—it could continue forever, if I let it. Part of me wonders whether perhaps a better way would be to become more focused on fewer things, and rather than focusing upon fitting more in to be more productive, perhaps we should be taking things out. Perhaps we should be prioritizing those fewer things that are important and doing those things with excellence, and letting go of some of the other stuff. I’m not quite sure how it works, to be honest; I’ve got a lot of stuff in my bag at the moment, and perhaps it’s time to take a few things out.

But I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Are you someone who’s trying to shove more and more in, or have you actually had that realization that perhaps it’s better to take a few things out and to do them well? I’m interested in your thoughts.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • Hi, I just keep blogging and having fun. My productivity tools are my head, a universal conceptual resource + a dash of creativity and originality since 2006. I feature conference announcements, new books related to health and informatics too.

    Recently I’ve started to use postrank and it’s interesting to see how much the f/w material features in the top 25 in contrast to my writing efforts – which are in there! Great – I’m being productive – must work on the theme though!

    Peter Jones
    Hodges Health Career – Care Domains – Model
    h2cm: help 2C more – help 2 listen – help 2 care

  • Unfortunately I didn’t realize I had reached capacity until it was too late. I learned the hard way to take some things out and concentrate on them. It’s a humbling experience but I wouldn’t trade what I’ve learned.

    Thanks for a great post!

  • I am recently getting on to this Darren, and you have just written it at the right time, when I am now sitting at my laptop thinking if I am not spending enough time with my 5 months old son.

    I am doing Research, full time, blogging, bringing up my little son and have got day to day activities at home and personal things for me. Life is so hectic. I blog in the evening until 12:30 in the night and when I go to bed my son wakes up and keep me busy. I hardly sleep, and I had to get on wheels at 6:30 in the morning to cook, get things at home done, and fly off to work.

    In all these, I am trying to fit more and more to write for my blog and I can hear the ripping sound from my ‘motherly’ mind. I was also willing to pay for any software or something that could help me being more productive in less time :) .

    In my opinion, I will live this hectic life for a few more months and once I establish things I will take steps slower and steadier than now.

  • This is so hitting the nail right on the head! Especially in this country, America, we thrive on being busy. But we’re so busy we can’t take care of ourselves. Life becomes so hectic and out of control, we can’t breathe. We can do it for a while, but not long term. We burn out.

    I’m finding this out in my life. My blog has taken a backseat when it was finally starting to take off. It was a hard decision, but my family needs me more right now. So I only post when I have the energy to expend. I know it won’t help me grow my blog, but right now I have other priorities.

    To fill our lives to the ripping point doesn’t help anyone, least of all ourselves. I loved this illustration Darren! What a great picture for us all to see what it does to stuff our lives too full.

  • I have five topics I want to blog about. Ideas for posts aren’t the problem, its getting good working time to add something.

    Sometimes a tool or piece of equipment takes more time for a task, be it using a dishwasher or the sink, a planner or just write.

  • I woke up thinking about this very topic this morning! Prophetic.
    In my quest to do so much,I’ve lost sight of the original goal. What I need to do is work smarter and streamline-which will ultimately lead me to shift my focus away from one of my blogs so that i might intensify the other one. It will also being me back in line with what I think I ‘do best’.
    I’m trying to bring in revenue and in that desire to do so I got too carried away, off topic and now I’m overwhelmed. I had just opened the calendar to begin to outline my blogging and topics and find some clarity when I saw your tweet and here I am.
    So, thank you!

  • Some valid points, although maybe focus is just as important as productivity. There are many (business) cultures where being busy is an excuse for being productive and time at the desk doesn’t necessarily equate with getting things done.

    And the self-employed are in an even worse position because they don’t work 9 to 5 and are often found on a Sunday afternoon at their laptops (like me!). Personally, I love the flexibility because I’ll be able to take the Monday off if I want, but where does it give?

    I’m coming to the belief that it’s better to work 6 days a week or even 5 rather than 7 just to get more done on condition of being more focused, more awake and more inspired.

  • I’ve pretty much abandoned the idea of systems for getting more done – I’ve never been able to find a system that I like that I can stick to for more than a few weeks.

    Filling every 15 minute time slot with something to do sucks the life and the creativity out of me. The thing is I’m not ready to go all Zen Habits and eliminate almost everything from my life just to solve the problem.

    What I have observed though is people who absolutely love what they’re doing never seem to suffer from time management issues.

    Great vid! Thanks.

  • I think a blogger isn’t an editor of a full newspaper (or newssite), a blog should be focused on a niche. (I’m still looking for mine!) I feel confident a focus could help to make your blogging better and your life more in balance! You don’t have to limit yourself to only one subject, but to concentrate on a few topics can improve your off- and online-life in a very nice way! ;-)

    Thank you for the very nice video! I like the style!! What i don’t like is the switching camerafocus. Why this is happing all the time?

  • Darren,

    I was at BlogWorld, too, and I can appreciate someone coming from Australia with one bag. The thing is, we never remember that we will actually collect things when we are there. My biz partner is a WP developer and he was given like a bazillion t-shirts. : )

    On the squeezing things in issue (I, too, love that analogy), we live in a culture that rewards that. (Just look at how we manage our kids’ time and fill up their after-school hours with clubs and lessons and sports teams.

    When I traveled and worked in Africa, I saw the most amazing working/lifestyles. They were professionals and they got as much done but their days were not scheduled down to the second. They even missed or were late for meetings sometimes but somehow they managed to get everything done. No “productivity software” or time management classes there!

    Since I focused my business down, I’m finding it easier not to be distracted as much. So I think that helps. Such a great topic here.

  • I am in agreement with “do less, better.” I have finally created my list of priorities, and it contains 5 things: Marriage, Money (business), Minimalism, Making (art), Motorcycle.
    – Marriage I will be focusing on with my wife.
    – Money and Making will be combined as I continue to learn in school while creating a career from it.
    – Minimalism and Motorcycle (travel) will be blogged about, as I do them.
    All of the other things that I spend time with are going to be actively pushed to the side, unless they somehow assist with the 5 categories above.

  • The way I see it, you need to first decide, what you want in life. While money is generally the goal for everyone, it is just a means to an end and if in the pursuit of the means, you are forgetting what it needs to achieve, then you would be lost!

    So at least what I try to do is, put my family first and try and use rest of the time to earn as much as I can. However, earning pursuit never comes between my family and its needs and expectations with me.

  • Darren,

    I find it strange that these productivity systems you about are talking about cramming more things into the system these days to maximize use of time. While that can lead to a more efficient use of time my experience in business and life is that productivity should be measured more based on OUTPUT than on input. More output generates more revenue and more profits.

    Perhaps the focus of these systems is to attain the same output with fewer time constraints (and allow quality of life)?

    In my opinion, the key is to understand what the goal is and then determine the optimal productivity system for such a goal.

    The same input with 30% – 40% more output = HUGE benefits to the producer. Typically when I try to make an input 30%-40% more efficient I am focused on reducing the cost of the input so I can attain a lower price target to make money or maximize profitability. Clearly this logic could also be utilized for time efficiency to try and allow an entrepreneur to attain the same quality of life.

    I think what you are experiencing is that YOU are the primary input in your business model :) Something has to change to growth the business (time with family or growth in the business.) The only way I could think of growing the business, with the same inputs, would be to attain a higher price point, to attain a higher margin per unit or to leverage other resources (outsourcing).

    Such divergent goals above can also happen when businesses are at different stages of the growth curve (one in growth mode, the other at a more mature stage).

    Thanks for sharing that video with us!

    Dan Ross

  • I love you Darren! You always make me think.

    A wise person once said something like, “to making more money, there is no end.”

    Having worked in a CPA Firm and being a CFO for a decade and a half, I can assure you – if your goal is to always get more, more, more, you’ll never capture that carrot. I’ve seen it happen too many times and struggled for balance myself.

    I think you raise issues that are moral and ethical, not just quantitative. In fact if we judge success solely by blog readership or money earned, than truly more is better. In the abstract a $100,000 income is better than a $10,000 income, and a $1,000,000 income is better than a $100,000 income and so on.

    But at what price does MORE come?

    Is it at the cost of our children? Do we have to suffer through the loss of several marriages? Do we give up all of our friends in search of MORE?

    These are life’s tough questions. These are the questions that Philosophers and Religious Leaders have tried to answer.

    John Wheeler

  • A lot to think about now might be a good time to reconsider what I carry in my bag. I also know my bag are full to the limit but in my case it is full of “maybe” useless and outdated goodies. I just haven’t reached the stage where I know what to pack and what to leave.
    That is why I think it is vital that people like me look at you to tell us what is needed for the trip and what is out-dated.
    It looks like it could be a ongoing thing of restructuring and organizing.

  • Thanks for this thoughtful post, and I do think of these things all the time, whenever I get a new book, t-shirt, or gadget. Now I have a policy to always get rid of something if I’m going to get something new. It’s a good analogy for blogging and our businesses — get things down to their essentials, and not only will they become clear to you, but to others as well. By the way, wondered if you read or saw the movie, “Up in the Air?” I believe the main character (George Clooney) has a now infamous scene where he uses the “backpack” as an analogy for life’s “stuff.”

  • One of my most important productivity tools is a stack of 3×3 Post-It notes. The top post-it is my to-do list for today – I figure that if I can’t fit the to-do list ont a post-it note, the tasks won’t fit into my day.

    Having such a small space really makes me focus each morning on what is most important to do today, and what is better left undone.

    I wrote a post about this approach over at The 99 Percent last week:

  • There is a time management analogy of taking a jar and putting in some big rocks, then adding little pebbles that fill the spaces between the rocks, and then adding sand that fills the spaces between the pebbles. In this analogy the jar does not break, but real life does, just like your suitcase. We get so scheduled and so busy, and then we get sick or have a fight with our spouse. We wonder where that came from, when in fact we have been setting it up with all our busy-ness. I think the important thing is to know what the important things are, and pay attention to those. It is ok to stop and smell the roses, even if it is not on our schedule.

  • While listening to this video a statement I heard recently came to mind: “Business has turned into Busy-ness”.

    I think it’s great to do what we do and do it efficiently – and from this perspective time management strategies are great – but creating more space (or time) doesn’t mean it needs to be filled up with more stuff. Just like in elegant design or (forgive me for getting a little esoteric) in feng shui, it’s desirable to have some well placed white-space or clear areas, I think that in our lives, particularly when it comes to our work, we have to afford ourselves a little of the same. As I often have to remind myself, rest is as important as work. It’s to use some of the time saved through efficient time management to do something outside of “work”. That thing outside of work? It’s called Life.

  • Darren – Your metaphor of the over-stuffed bag is a great story – I think it shows clearly how important it is to always leave some room and to plan ahead. As far as trying to fit “more stuff” in our life overfilling the bag and causing it to rip – a number of the responses here ID the principles of prioritizing and knowing your why in life are the ways to avoid over-stuffing.
    Weighing in on your ongoing series about productivity – I look at increasing productivity as a journey of constant improvement – making little steps of improvement. This allows one to see the bag ripping long before it does. For people who are extremely unorganized, lacking discipline or looking for overnight “productivity fixes”. No system or quick fix is going to fix the root cause! Identify that first before you try to use a system to fix something it was not designed to “fix”. For people who are looking to improve in incremental steps, systems are a great way. I posted a few months back on this on my blog – this post serves as a reminder to me to continue using and improving my systems to maintain my increases in productivity. My post is Resources Successful Entrepreneurs Use To Manage Themselves In Time

    Love your thought provoking content – some inspires me to new levels – some reminds me of what to keep and what to throw away – thanks again


  • Though I had started blogging to my website an year back, I didn’t use it properly due to heavy work pouring in the form of “outsource SEO” but later I realized my own intention of starting a blog and then started blogging again.

    In my early days of SEO I used to gather as much information as I could get from many niche related blogs by subscribing to them, say almost 80 blogs. An year later I stopped looking into some blogs(say:40) I get in the form of email subscriptions. The number had increased to more(say:50-60) and now I have removed many of my subscriptions except to few blogs(just 15) I find interesting read for repeatedly.

    Just as you said, my opinion with my experiences is: if you can make use of things properly even if you get sources from wider range, make use of them but when you don’t you better realize which can actually influence you and fix to them.

  • Someone new in my field asked why my fees are so much higher than hers. Being earnest, she offered her own response, saying, “I guess since you have so much experience, you do more than I do.” But actually, I do less.

    Ultimately, mastering anything is economy of effort, but along the way, editing our to-do list so that we can focus on what really matters to us is necessary to build mastery.

  • I learned a long time ago as a single parent that CONTROL is and ILLUSION and 9 times out of 10 that is what people are trying to do with PRODUCTIVITY…control the outcome of their endeavors. It’s impossible and people just need to get their heads around it and give it up! I’m still try to teach my boys this, especially my first born…but he thinks that the laws of nature do not apply to him…lol As a parent it is really hard to give up on helping your children but we have to in order for them to become confident in themselves and independent. Both my sons hate it when they call me up and start whinning about their lives and I simply state…Give It UP…give it up to God and you’ll be much happier. Sometimes they listen and other times they get off the -phone real quick and call someone else who will commiserate with them…or worse…tell them what they want to hear….lol
    For me peace of mind with productivity comes with keeping an on-going LIST of things I wish to do…mind you this list can be very long and yet some things on this list have taken me up to FIVE years to do and some things I simply remove because them are no longer a priority.
    I also do the above “post-it” note daily things-to-do type of list for quick reminders of what I’d like to get done on any given day. Having lists frees my mind up to and I’m no longer anxious because I know that if I get distracted, then I can always go to my list and get back to it.
    Hence, I’m very calm, organized and productive without feeling frantic. BUT I’m also not afraid to say NO to my family and/or friends, co-workers when they ask something of me…WHICH they do alot because I always get a lot done and that’s why they ask ME for help. I do what I feel like, when I feel like and no more and I gave up the whole GUILT game years ago. This is a drama free life and my friends and family know that about me as well. Nothing is more irritaging than hearing people complain all the time about how much they have to do…I’m thinking…then shut up and go do it…stop WASTING my time and yours talking about how BUSY you are ;) The reality is…if you were to die tomorrow what do you think people are going to be talking about at your funeral…NOT how darn busy you were for sure. PRODUCTIVITY…just put things in perspective …like others have said make life PRIORITIES and live your life.
    Harsh I know…but so true…hope this helps.
    Fondly, Roberta

  • Darren:

    I can completely empathize with everything you had to say in the video. I recently put together a video series of productivity tips on my blog for my readers. I struggled at first with whether or not to do it because it seemed to be off subject of my blog. I am a pastor and my blog is all about practical tips and tools to live out christian discipleship.

    I finally opted to launch the productivity video series because I had all these great tools for people, but found everyone struggling with applying them because they were over-committed and lacked some very basic time management skills. A lack of any sense of rhythm and over the top busyness seem to be huge cultural problems that I found were having significant spiritual implications so I went ahead and did the video series.

    I have had two big epiphanies out of this about productivity.

    1) There is a big difference between being busy and being productive and the functional difference often depends on how clear our sense of purpose is. When our purpose is very clear more activity is typically vary rewarding and meaningful and we will include within that things like spending time with our family. Purpose some times can keep the seems from breaking because it gives a yardstick for what should stay or go.

    2) You mentioned the word rhythm. I find most productivity training is designed to pack in more doing. However, blogging is a creative process that necessitates some times of rumination or incubation for ideas to mature to some depth. Most productivity training ignores rest, rumination, meditation, etc. as necessary components for production. We can look at our physical bodies as just one example. Any athlete will tell you that down time is essential to muscle growth and gains. Rhythm is vital.

    As a pastor I have to produce an amazing amount of materials, i.e. sermons, bible lessons, blog posts, etc. I find that to have any substance to this material I have to consciously exercise a rhythm of intense study and then what I call anchored wandering. The anchored wandering is an intentional period of stepping back and allowing for rumination and insights to arise. I find it to be essential in creating anything of merit.

    Thank you for the post. I am actually going to broadcast it to my ‘Time to Change’ productivity subscribers. I really don’t want to enable them to just be busier.

    I appreciate all that you do.

    John Arnold
    The Practical Disciple

  • Hi Darren,
    I really can relate to this post. When you got to the part about your suitcase ripping, because I had that happen, but it was an emotional/mental ripping apart. A mental meltdown. I had tried to shove so much into my life with the corporate job I was in, until my mind and body couldn’t hold any more.
    The best productivity tip I can give? Stop.Doing.So.Much. We don’t have to do everything. Choose your priorities and let the rest go. The only way to live.
    I am currently writing about my experience on my blog(s).

  • I think productivity while very important in no matter what work or business or even home life we are in, sometimes I think it is beaten to death. Best productivity for me is to “do less”, do only what matters. Now finding out what matters take times but sure worth it!

  • Hi Darren,
    I work for a big corporate and the management is so obsessed with “productivity” that we end up spending the better part of our work day trying out different systems to show how productive we are. At the end of most work days, I look back and realize that I’ve actually not done what I intended to do when I started for work that morning. Filling up time sheets, attending unscheduled meetings with no fixed agendas and what not! Phew!
    It feels like we get so caught up with all the small things, we lose sight of the bigger picture. But this realisation is felt only at an individual level. Will it ever turn into a collective emotion strong enough for us to realize that we ALL need to to take a few things out?

  • What a terrific analogy! I can see myself reaching that ripping point in the not too distant future….Once you start blogging, so many people want things from you, and I’ve had a lifelong difficulty with saying “No”. I’m finally learning to do so, and to prioritize, but it’s hard, because I feel like I’m letting people down. But I need a life outside of work, too.

  • Hey Darren,

    I read this post last week, however, I wanted to find a post I read on the same subject by Seth Godin.

    He is headed in the same direction you are with completing fewer items from the “to do” list but do them extremely well.

    Here is a link for your and your readers to the short post by Seth.


  • Great post, Darren. You’ve just expressed, in very pragmatic terms, the unsustainability of the 24/7 blog cycle. And yet, led by the US with its completely dysfunctional attitude towards work, it’s the way the world is heading. The French don’t succumb to this, and they are consistently ranked as having the best quality of life in the world.

    As bloggers, I think we owe it to ourselves and the rest of the world to lead the way in SUSTAINABLE work habits. If that means shutting off the phone, the email or the Twitter feed at certain times, that’s what we should do.

    While doing more is ok in the short term — when you’re getting started or doing a big launch — it’s not something we should aim for day in and day out.

  • Productivity systems that are designed to make us do more are not the answer. We need to be focused on doing less but doing it better.

    As for the Vegas schwag – just because someone else tries to clutter my life with their junk (or negativity) doesn’t mean I have to keep it or let them affect my future.

  • Darren, I thought your video and discussion re: productivity systems was very interesting, and I thought the comments here highlighted that productivity is an issue with many entrepreneurs. With the firehose of info constantly blasting us (Twitter, RSS feeds, etc.), finding productivity systems and tools is inherent in doing good work.

    Darren, I did have a question about your video setup? I thought the quality of your video was superb. What are you using to shoot these videos?

  • @ Jeff Rutherford: he mentioned it in ‘Notes’ before the transcription.

    see the link:

  • Thanks @Mabacher! I totally missed that link and reference.

    @Susanna, you make an excellent point. The 24/7 blog cycle is unsustainable. And, ultimately, with most bloggers who pursue that, the content suffers. I don’t think that’s been the case with Darren, but I know of several high-profile bloggers in my Google Reader and some days they’re just dialing it in. Why not take a week break and come back with excellent, in-depth content?

  • One of my favorite tricks is to write one long article and then break it up into smaller pieces and run it as a series, and then publish the longer article or white paper as a stand alone

  • PROFOUND! I had open heart surgery at age 51 from overload and I’m still shoving too much in. Thanks for this I really needed it. Shared with friends and family via email and FB.