I blog as well as work full-time in science education, so a lot of people have asked me how I stay organised and motivated, so I thought I’d share my process today in a slightly different sort of blog post. Some other bloggers like Tracy of Fanserviced-B have documented how they distribute their time, and Cat of Snow White and the Asian Pear did a Twitter poll on what takes up bloggers’ time. A lot of it is not actually writing posts.
If I had to work out how much time I spent on things each week, it’d be something like:
- 10 hours actively researching (this is higher than most bloggers since I read journal articles and textbooks for my style of content)
- 15 hours passively researching (beauty forums, other people’s blog posts and feeds)
- 5 hours actually writing and formatting
- 2 hours for photography and photo editing
- 3 hours answering emails
- 1 hour replying to blog comments
- 7 hours making content for social media and replying to comments
This seems like an overestimation, but I assure you it isn’t – I had to track this for my accountant recently! Of course, a lot of this is enjoyable and doesn’t actually feel like work, and the vast majority fits in around other things. This is partly why I spend so much time on it even though it doesn’t make financial sense, as my accountant often points out. I’m working on making myself more efficient and more accountable for my time. With the addition of my YouTube channel, I’ve stolen some time from each of these for writing scripts, and filming and editing. I’ve also been writing an eBook guide to Basic Skincare Guide as well. It’s full-on!
How do I fit all this in? A massive amount of organisation (and not having much of a life). I’ve managed to take the whole thing more seriously over the past year and have developed a bunch of systems that work well for me.
My Organisational Style
I’m more of an aspirational organiser than someone who’s actually a natural. When I start any system I’m meticulous and everything looks gorgeous, but after a few weeks things start to slip up. I am not one of those people with a beautiful planner with washi tape and stamps and perfect handwriting and appointments that never change. I burn through organisational methods unless they’re foolproof! I also tend to forget things unless they’re right in front of me, and I’m easily demotivated and turn into a procrastination puddle.
So my criteria are:
- Low effort
- Reminds me of current tasks
- Aesthetically pleasing
- Make me feel like I’m getting shit done so I stay motivated
I have a physical notebook that I use to organise my life. I carry it around everywhere. It’s like a bullet journal but more focused on tasks and getting stuff done, rather than a keepsake.
It has my to-do lists, blog post ideas, video workflow, and meeting notes, which I index using plastic sticky flags. I’ve also been using it for random things like food shopping lists, eBook formatting notes, and planning big tasks like Christmas lunch.
I’m currently using a spiral-bound notebook with a grid format, similar to this one. I’ve found that spiral notebooks are the best for me.
- Ticking things off makes me feel achievement-y (Criterion 4)
- I can rip out pages once they’re done so I feel a sense of accomplishment with the physical act of ripping stuff out (Criterion 4)
- This also stops old things distracting me from current things (Criterion 2)
- If I’m almost done with a page of tasks I’ll copy the last few tasks onto a new page, which refreshes them in my mind (Criterion 2 again).
- It isn’t all that aesthetically pleasing, but that also makes it pretty low effort (Criterion 1) because I don’t worry about making it look pretty.
Here’s a photo of an actual page from my notebook – I considered writing a new page for it and making it look neat, but that would defeat the purpose of this post…
I’ve tried digital lists and apps like Google Keep but I lost track of things easily, and I’d ignore stuff for months.
I also have an identical notebook for my day job. Each week I copy over unfinished tasks from the previous week to the new week. I’ve been doing this for a couple years now and it works great – the only problem is that I sometimes mix up the notebooks, but I’ve solved this by colouring the sides of the work notebook bright orange.
Cheap Lightweight Laptop
I bought a $400 Dell laptop at the beginning of the year (this one, but red and without a touchscreen), and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do it sooner. It’s light enough to carry around, cheap enough that I don’t worry all the time about scratches or losing it, but it feels like it’s increased my productivity twenty-fold!
I used to type blog posts on my phone, but I work much faster with a physical keyboard and big screen, and this starts up fast enough that I can squeeze in blog time easily. I have a one hour train commute to work so it’s great to be able to utilise that time effectively! This hits Criterion 4 (getting stuff done) out of the park.
This awesomely durable and cheap backpack has also been a great purchase ($20) so my back doesn’t end up twisted from carrying it around all the time.
I draft all my posts and videos in Google Docs. If I come up with a blog post idea, or I see a link I want to discuss, I paste it into a Google Doc to deal with later (Criterion 1). I have Google Docs on both my phone and my laptop so I can work on things on my phone when I can’t get my laptop out. It also works offline if you set it up properly, and doesn’t use too much data if you connect your phone hotspot to your laptop. It’s also searchable and autosaves.
The list of documents started getting a bit too long, which was great for Criterion 4 but terrible for Criterion 2, so I’ve been organising them into folders via Google Drive, though I wish there was a tagging system built into Docs!
I used to use a pretty monthly planner from Ardium, a Korean brand, but this year I’ve switched to paper printouts since I kept forgetting to carry the diary around with me anyway. My co-IFHHer and graphic design whiz Rose turned my ugly calendar design into a pretty printable on my other blog (Criterion 3).
- Once my posts are in Google Docs and are mostly written, I write the post topic on a paper sticky flag and stick it to my monthly planner.
- If I know when I want to post, I stick it to the date, and if it isn’t scheduled yet, it lives on the side.
- Once the post is up, I write it on the planner and throw out the flag.
Monthly planners let me see everything easily (Criterion 2), and because I reschedule things endlessly the sticky flags keep things looking tidy and are easy to reposition (Criterion 1 and 3). Writing down finished posts and throwing away the flag makes me feel accomplished (Criterion 4).
Weekend To-Do List
My weekend is Sunday and Monday, so every Friday/Saturday I print out a double sided Daily To-Do List/Planner and start filling it in with all the stuff I have to do. I fill in the To-Do list first, then populate the planner with tasks and estimated times. I’m trialling moving this to my notebook at the moment.
This is what it looks like fresh – as I discover that things need more time, the time blocking part ends up a lot messier!
Again, Rose turned this into a pretty printable Daily Planner. As usual, it keeps my stuff laid out nicely (Criterion 2), and I use different colours every week so it looks pretty (Criterion 3). I like ticking the finished tasks off (Criterion 4).
If there’s something I urgently need to do, or if it comes to mind while I don’t have my notebook handy, I stick it into Google Calendar. Then when the reminder comes up I put it into my notebook, or just snooze it. This is really just to deal with Criterion 1 when my notebook is buried at the bottom of my bag or if I can’t find a pen.
This is a big issue for me! I have a pretty short attention span, so I’ve had to create lots of systems for myself. But I’ve actually found that I’m way more productive now with a full-time job than when I was having my post-PhD gap year and lazing around in Switzerland with no other commitments!
I think it’s because I’m forced to squeeze most of my blog work into a very short weekend. I personally need deadlines to whip my ass in gear. I have this completely pseudosciencey theory that it’s an inevitable result of evolution – my ancestors were really good at running away from predators, so I need to create modern day “predators” to get anything done.
I’ve found a combination of these things helpful:
Revising my to-do list the night before
Having a list means I don’t have to try to remember all the stuff I have to do – I have a terrible memory!
Switching it up / “productive procrastination”
I like to engross myself in a task, but I find it quite hard to get started sometimes. Sometimes I’ll also drag my feet and take FOREVER to finish a painful but important task, but if it isn’t as urgent I’ll be super productive.
That’s where “productive procrastination” comes in – I’ll procrastinate by doing the second most urgent thing on my to-do list, then rush and finish the most urgent thing near the deadline. That way, when it’s time to do the second thing, it’s already mostly done!
Caffeine + theanine
I’m a pharmacology nerd thanks to my PhD, so I get really into my supplements!
Caffeine and theanine is a popular “nootropic” brain-boosting combo that’s naturally found in tea. There are a few studies that found that the combination of the two increased attention and focus. I’ve found that it works quite well for me (or perhaps it’s an effective placebo?).
I don’t drink much caffeine during the week (a couple cups of oolong tea per day with about 25 mg caffeine per cup), then on weekends when I want to get stuff done I’ll take 200 mg theanine with 100 mg caffeine (similar to the caffeine in a cup of coffee). Theanine is relaxing, so it smooths out caffeine jitters for me. I use Allmax Caffeine Tablets (Amazon, iHerb) which are easy to break apart. I used to take Jarrow Theanine capsules (Amazon, iHerb), but now I cap my own from powder. I’m currently using Nootropics Depot powder and Now Foods “0” capsules (Amazon, iHerb) which fit 200 mg nicely.
Refocusing on my goals
I had a bit of an existential crisis last year, but I found my way out by focusing on the core things that make me feel like my life has purpose: being creative, and educating people with my knowledge. Whenever I feel burnt out, I check how the things I’m doing day-to-day are related to these two core principles, and cut off anything that doesn’t fit.
Everyone’s core principles are different so don’t try to apply mine to your life – but if you’re feeling burnt out, I highly recommend taking some time to work out what all the things that make you feel alive and purposeful have in common, and focusing on those.
Do you use any of these techniques? What works for you? What other questions do you have about me and my blogging process? Let me know!
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