This is a guest post from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, author of the new best-selling book, The Power of Less.
If you’re like most bloggers, you probably want to grow your readership as quickly as possible, but don’t have much time.
Unfortunately, blogging usually takes a lot of time — writing blog posts takes up a fraction of most bloggers’ time, as they also check their stats and earning multiple times a day, customize their blog design, try out new blog ad systems, comment on many different blogs, spend a lot of time doing email, and so on.
If you let it, blogging can become two full-time jobs. But get this: you can grow your blog quickly on very minimal time, by setting limits and focusing on the essentials.
I’m just one example: I grew Zen Habits into a Top 100 blog within its first year even though I was working a full-time job and doing free-lance writing on the side — giving me only about an hour a day to work on my blog, total. I probably could have spent more time blogging by working in the evenings or on weekends, but I have a family that’s more important to me than blogging.
So how did I grow Zen Habits so quickly on so little time? Well, I figured out through experimentation what grows a blog the quickest, and I learned to focus my time on those things. And guess what? Checking your blog stats and earnings — even though it’s the thing than many bloggers do most throughout the day — doesn’t really grow your blog, at all. What does? More on that below.
The key to growing your blog with minimal time investment is to set limits on how much time you’ll spend blogging. As I said, blogging can easily expand to fill your entire day, if you let it. In fact, whatever time you allocate to blogging is the time that blogging will take.
So limit your time to something manageable … for me that was 1 hour a day, for others it might be two hours or even three, and for still others it might only be 30 minutes. It really depends on how much time you have. Don’t spend less than 30 minutes on blogging, though, if you’re really serious about it. I’d say an hour to two is ideal. Any more than that and you’re not really setting limits.
So what happens if you set a limit of say, 1 hour? You could waste that hour by doing fruitless tasks, and then your blog will get nowhere. But if you’re smart, you’ll focus on the key tasks that will really help your blog, and nothing else. By setting limits, you’ll force yourself to choose only the most essential tasks.
If you gave yourself 4 hours a day, you could do a lot of tasks, but maybe only 1 out of 4 of those tasks would really grow your blog. If you gave yourself 1 hour a day, you’d have to eliminate 3 out of 4 of those tasks to fit within the time limit, and (again, if you’re smart), you’ll choose the most effective tasks.
Set a timer each day and work within the time limit. And while you’re doing so, be sure to do the most effective tasks first, and if you have time left, go to the next most effective tasks, and so on.
So what are the most effective tasks for growing your blog? It depends on your blog, your goals, your niche, your target audience, and other such factors, but below I’ll share the things that work best for me. Other top bloggers might have different findings.
Experiment to find your essential tasks, and once you’ve found them, focus on them completely. Here are my essential tasks for growing a blog:
1. Writing outstanding articles. This is the No. 1 essential, by far. If you only do one thing each day, this is it. A great post might take more than an hour — that’s OK, do half of it today and half tomorrow. The main reason people come to your blog, and the main reason they’ll keep coming back or subscribe, is because your content is amazingly useful (or interesting, or both). So focus on creating those posts they’ll really want to read. You should be coming out with outstanding posts, with catchy titles/headlines, at least once a week, and probably 2-5 times a week (I am for 4 these days but had 5-6 in my early days).
What is a useful post? Well, this post is an example, I hope — it contains a lot of valuable info and tips on something that people really want to do. Check out Zen Habits for more examples — I try to make almost every post an outstanding one.
2. Linking, and link-bait. This could fall under the same category as the above tip, but sometimes it gets overlooked. Linking to other blogs is a great way to help out your fellow bloggers, get them to notice you, and build up some link karma. You could do it with a daily or weekly links post, but too many of those can get tiring for readers, so I recommend you keep it to weekly at most. Instead, link to other blogs from within your useful posts, and sometimes you might consider doing “linkbait”-type posts where you do a really useful post that links to a lot of other bloggers — for example, my “Top 50 Producitivity blogs” post that I did more than a year ago … a lot of bloggers appreciated being in that post, and just as I sent a lot of traffic their way, they sent some back. Everyone wins.
3. Guest posts. If you’re not writing guest posts every week or two, on blogs that are bigger than yours (even just a little bigger is good, but the bigger the better), then you’re not really trying to promote your blog. In my early days, I did 2-3 guest posts a week on other blogs, and as a result I was everywhere. It’s the best way to promote your blog on other blogs, because you’re showing the other blog’s readers how good you are. Be sure to write your absolute best whenever you do a guest post.
4. Commenting. First, be sure to read through the comments on your blog and respond if you can — this could take just 10 minutes if you do it quickly. Second, spend another 10 minutes if you have the time to comment on other blogs — and don’t just spam them, but actually say something relevant, useful and interesting. It helps you get noticed, and helps you become a part of the network of blogs (especially in your niche).
5. Email and networking. It’s important to respond to reader email, and to network with other bloggers through email, IM, Twitter, etc. Networking helps you to grow, definitely, but if you let them, these connectivity tools can overwhelm your day. So put them last, and limit them if you can. If your time is limited, just do the emails you can process in 10 minutes. Increase that to 20-30 minutes if you have more time, but don’t spend hours on these tools.
Just as it’s important to focus on the essentials, it’s crucial that you limit and try to eliminate the non-essentials as much as possible. While you have to work on these things a little, now and then, don’t let them fill your allocated blog time.
1. Blog stats and earnings. Sure, I like to check my stats daily — but only once a day, and only for a minute or two to make sure everything’s OK. In the early days I became a little obsessive about checking blog stats and earnings, but after a little while I figured out that it wasn’t a smart use of my time. Blog earnings (from ad networks such as Google Adsense) are fun to look at, but if you’re like most blogs you won’t make a lot of money in the early days, until you have a lot of readers. So focus instead on growing the readers, and worry about the earnings later.
2. Ad networks. Many bloggers get excited about earning a side income (or even a main income) from their blog and throw every ad network possible on their blog — in fact, the ads often overwhelm the content. But that’s counterproductive — readers don’t go to a blog to read the ads, and if there are too many ads, the readers might leave or unsubscribe, never to come back. Instead, consider putting no ads, or as few as possible, in your early days … you’ll miss out on very little in terms of earnings, and you’ll probably grow even faster as a result. At any rate, fiddling with ad networks is very rarely worth your time — it does nothing to grow your blog.
3. Blog design. A good blog design can definitely help grow your blog — if it’s clean, uncluttered, attractive, and professional-looking, I think a lot of readers will be more likely to stick around. But spending a lot of time on your design when you could be writing great posts is not a smart use of your time. Instead, pick a clean, uncluttered theme, customize it as needed, and leave it alone. Maybe once in awhile you can remove a little clutter to make things more attractive, but most of the time. leave it alone.
4. Blog memes. As far as I can remember, I’ve only participated in one blog meme — those things where bloggers answer the same 5 questions (or whatever) and “tag” other bloggers to do the same. That’s not because I’m stuck up, or think these memes aren’t fun. They are fun. But they’re rarely of much interest to your readers, as they’re not that useful. Sure, they like to read a little about you, but too often and you’re just stroking your ego. Stay away from these memes if you’re looking to maximize your time.
5. Reading lots of other blogs. Don’t get me wrong — you have to read other blogs, especially in your niche, to stay on top of things. But if your time is limited, your reading time should be limited too. Reading 50 blogs instead of 10 doesn’t grow your blog any more.
6. Plugins and widgets. WordPress plugins and widgets, while fun to play with, don’t grow your blog very much, if at all. Don’t mess around with them too much. Focus on content.
7. Social media. Some bloggers spend a LOT of time on Digg, StumbleUpon, and other such social media. And while it can help tremendously to have a popular post on one of these social media, spending time on them isn’t the best investment of your time. Very, very few bloggers ever become a top user on these sites — it’s really hard, and worse yet, it takes a lot of time. A better use of your time is to write a Digg-worthy post, or a post that will spread like wildfire on StumbleUpon or Delicious — not because you’re friends with lots of the users, but because it’s insanely useful, interesting, controversial, or what have you.
Even if you’ve set limits and identified the essential and non-essential tasks, it’s easy to get distracted. It’s important that you learn to clear away distractions, such as email, Twitter, IM, social sites and even general Internet browsing, so that you can focus on the important tasks.
If you look at the essential tasks that I listed above, most of them are writing — which means you could do them with the browser closed, in a word processor or text editor (this post is being written in TextEdit, for example). This really helps you to clear away distractions and focus.
Once you’re done with the writing, you can connect and comment and do email, but even then try to stay away from the distractions until you’re done. Then if you have spare time, feel free to go wild.
Read more from Leo Babauta in his new best-selling book, The Power of Less: The Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essentials … in Business and in Life.
Wow..thanks for sharing such useful and informative post. I love the idea of reading lots of blogs and ofcourse I will make sure I leave my say so that people can understand my mind set. Thanks man..thanks a ton
Thank you so much for this easy to read and implement post. I’ve recently been laid off and while I look for a job, I want to do what I can to enhance my blog as well as my knitting and crochet business. Focusing my time and efforts on areas that will be most useful it essential.
Reading this post really helped me put things in perspective so that I can design and implement an action plan that will be most effective.
I loved this. This is a great time of year to set goals and start focusing. Thanks for the wonderful insight.
I am an avid fan of yours!
I read and visit your blog almost everyday. That was a very insightful post, thank you for the information you have put up for the readers and noobie bloggers like myself. I am always on the look out for useful information on how to further ‘pimp’ my blog traffic and I specially bookmarked this post for future reference.
This is one of the most helpful articles I’ve read on blogging or internet business altogether.
Breaking activities down into Essential and Non-essential tasks is crucial to accomplishing anything.
Many of us have a problem with focus and attention, but your outline makes it easy (if we follow it).
You must be a fan of Timothy Ferris’ 4-Hour Work Week.
All the best,
Thank you for this important article. It is relevant and concise.
This will help me avoid many pitfalls and maximize my blogging efforts.
Excellent post, great tips, nice blog. Thanks a lot!
Very inspired, especially the linkbait type posts, I’ve never think of that before. That’s why there are so many “Top X” posts out there, I guess.
Thanks for this great post.
Yea I’m guilty of playing around with too many widget/plugins because like you said they’re fun!
Guest posting is the thing I really want ramp up on so Darren:
How about reading my blog and then tell me if you’re willling to accept a guest post from me??
I also forgot to mention from my previous comment that I have written an article a little while ago regarding how to maintain a blog as a part time writer which I believe has a lot of relevance to this particular post.
And also, would like to offer my services as a guest writer, I believe I am understanding this whole concept.
Thanks for the great information.
It is really enlightening to a new blogger like me.
Thank you for writing this. I actually have been thinking about this very subject…how to manage my time and grow my blog. I probably read too many blogs, but I do try to quickly absorb titles, etc to see if it’s where I want to spend my time.
I almost got completely sucked into twitter, but am taking a step back and not allowing it to use all of my time. I’ve also given myself a goal so to speak where I refused to look at my stats before a certain date. (I’ll be sure to analyze them completely then).
What I need to work on is guest posts and ensuring my content is good. Thank you!
I very much like the idea of “setting limits.” In my humble opinion setting limits goes down to Time Management. Alotting time for each blog or site you’re managing would really give you more focus on each of them.
Thanks for the post I just read and it seems just like any other tips,and my guess would be that you take at least 1 year to be on currently.Anyway thanks for sharing, I think you need to explain details on how you do it.
I found this post to be oh so helpful and insightful! It’s very easy to get distracted online these days, so it’s especially important to do whatever’s necessary to stay focused. Thx for sharing!
Thank you very much for this contribution. This advice suits the rigor I used to apply to my work. Lately I have gone into “creative mode” thinking that writing takes as much time as it does. I like the discipline in this article and will aim to move my work in this direction.
Thanks for posting and reminding one more time on what to aim for when starting a blog and wish to hit the blogosphere.
Great timing Leo! Help’s reinforce the New Year’s resolutions: build a better blog, be a better blogger.
I always forget about these sorts of simple rules and just limiting the time I spend on non-productive activities.
It seems that these rules are like the 80/20 of blogging, especial given how much time most of us spend just browsing digg and other blogs and not really thinking about how much that adds to the bottom line.
Great stuff, thanks Leo and Problogger. I guess you really live that “write on top of your form for guest posts” thing :)
I’m one of those in “just starting out” mode and this is probably the most useful piece I’ve read yet. Bookmarked, emailed to a couple of people, and commented on. Thanks again lads.
The problems in blogging is you may have to update everything in narrow time, suppose if your aim is on blog comment it will occur to you that you have to read almost connected comments prior to read the article itself, and base on my activity on making comments that could sum up time consume around 30 – 60 minutes, which could be more and need to think before making good comment, so the pareto 80/20 is to be applied, the problems occur since blogging business is dynamic you just can not focus on one method to attract visitors to your blog for example last 2 months I made a good traffic rapidly, suddenly before X-mas and New Year’s Eve it dropped drastically so I have to make big u-turn on trying another method and this is also not easy since your doing trial and error similar to research project with the attitude go-no-go.I hope this will clarify most problem we’re facing, and Leo is right he can find method to do more less with most result done using the Zen philosophy.Cheers
Having just started blogging, I have to say this site is an absolute goldmine. I already created 2 wordpress blogs. Infact one is now ranked PR4 by google in less than 50 days! I am thankful for the tips I got here.
sorry for the dumb question, but I don’t see the difference between linking and “link-bait” – they seem the same to me as described here. Can someone clarify?
Thank you so much for this blog, i found it incredibly helpful as I have just started my own blog and have looked and wondered why i havent been getting many readers yet, but as you say it takes time and I am very new to this, so advice like this is (i was about to say goldmine but the dude above me said it) excellent and valuable!
Thanks for the nice advice. Focus is the key, really.
A few months ago I stopped using too much Twitter and checking my email every five minutes and I’ve gained a lot of time to invest on researching topics and writing new posts.
Regarding Alexis’ comment, Twitter can be a huge sponge of your time, if you watch Twitter like a TV show, it will soak a lot of time. Twitter is a social interaction tool to be used when I have something to accomplish. It is fun though. Sometimes I have to put my toys away though.
Regarding Alexis’ comment, Twitter can be a huge sponge of your time, if you watch Twitter like a TV show, it will soak up a lot of time. Twitter is a social interaction tool to be used when I have something to accomplish. It is fun though. Sometimes I have to put my toys away though.
Thanks for the excellent tips. I’m in the process of setting up a blog and one concrete skill I need to know is how to go about determining the top 10 or 20 blogs in a niche? What goes into doing that?
thanks for the these tips. This was such a good post that I made a link from my blog to this post.
thanks for the great advice.
That just nails the base really strong, an excellent write-up Leo. I know you are a great guest-blogger. I wanted to do it as well but had some questions around where to start. Do you normally ask permission before sending them the guest post? Or do you just send the post and ask them publish it if they like? I see advantages and on both and wasn’t sure which will work out better. Your insight on this would be greatly appreciated.
As a total newbie to blogging – still in the research stage with blog yet to be started – I am finding this site brilliant in giving easy to understand advice. I only made the decision recently to start a blog and reading my way through this site has got me very inspired. I’ve also linked through to the Zen Habits site which is totally up my street so thanks very much for that introduction! Keep up the great work, I have bookmarked you and will be referring back often!
My wife and I started a wedding site as a hobby after our daughter got married. We just now started to search the internet to review other wedding sites and holy cow we had no idea there were so many blogs and web sites about weddings. Looking to create a list of the best we can find.
I’m a big fan of both Zen Habits and ProBlogger. Great article Leo, thanks for the advice.
I am big fan of those top notch bloggers, not because they have thousands subscribers, it’s their posting innovative and informative articles.
I am really going to work on guest posting at least once every two weeks. That way I can grow my backlinks, increase traffic and encourage authority in the blogosphere.
Thanks for the great tips!
There really is a limit to how much you can get done in a single day. Automating some of your efforts can be extremely helpful. You can always outsource some of your efforts such as the article writing and the link creation. Outsourcing is really not as difficult as most people think.
As a blog owner, I feel that your time is really best spent coming up with new ideas for your blog and thinking of more ways to promote your blog rather than getting too focused on repetitive tasks.
Focus and priority is very important. I like the concept of limiting the amount of time you work on the site to maximize it’s return.
I’m one of those in “just starting out” mode and this is probably the most useful piece I’ve read yet. Bookmarked, emailed to a couple of people, and commented on. Thanks again
Great tips and advice.I can only say to my points of view from newbies, for start up you need to do blogging almost 8 -10 hours a day to get into running and posting article, making quality article requires research, and that also consuming.After around 6 months then you will get the idea to do the concept of doing less and get more things done.
Glad I found your blog. I’ve found a few good tips on your site. I’ll be a regular visitor from now!
It took my husband and I about a half year to get our Disney wedding blog to generate a significant amount of traffic. It takes a lot more time in the beginning and then it takes on a life of it’s own – kind of like a baby.