When You Feel Like You’ve Maxed Out Your Productivity, Do This…

Aaron Hoos

As a copywriter, clients hire me to deliver copy that gets their prospects taking action. Along with my knowledge and experience distilled into words, they’re also paying for my timeā€”for me to spend time on their project.

Of course I want to deliver great value but also I want to make more money. So, I can increase my rates (done!), I can fill my schedule with my clients (done!) but I can also become more productive to help me deliver great content faster.

When we think of productivity, we often think of working faster and more focused to get more done in less time.

I’ve tried them all and created gains from each of them, helping me to increase my productivity and get more great copy written for my clients.

And if you’re like me (a professional who sells knowledge + experience + time), you probably have done some or all of these things to increase your productivity.

But I’ve hit a wall and so will you: there are only so many hours you can add by getting up early; there’s only so much focus you can have, it doesn’t make you get your existing work done any faster.

In other words, there are limits and if you are focused on being more productive, you will hit these limits at some point. For example, for my situation as a copywriter, some limits include: the process of writing, my typing speed, the need to communicate with customers (I can’t ask them to talk faster!), the need to do research, etc. Of course in your professional situation there might be other limits… so the question we should be asking is: what can you do to break through those limits to become more productive when you think you’ve already squeezed out all the productivity you can?

The Breakdown

The key that unlocked it all for me was breaking down what I do into smaller pieces. Rather than asking: “How to I deliver my copywriting service faster and more efficiently?” I broke down what I do into individual pieces. When I deliver copywriting service, I really do the following…

  1. Connect with the client and get the project assignment from them
  2. Outline the project
  3. Research
  4. Write
  5. Revise
  6. Edit
  7. Proof
  8. Deliver

Depending on the project, it could vary a little but that’s generally what many of my projects look like.

Now, instead of asking “How to I deliver my copywriting service faster and more efficiently?”, I ask “How do I do each step faster and more efficiently?”

This opens up a variety of methods that I hadn’t considered before when I was thinking about this more generally. In other words, getting more specific reveal new productivity opportunities. For example…

  • Maybe I could have a fillable Google Form that my clients simply send projects to, thus eliminating the need to talk to them on the phone.
  • Maybe that filllable form also starts the outlining process for me by capturing the data and putting it into a project management spreadsheet with a service like Zapier.
  • Maybe my research could be outsourced to someone else.
  • Maybe I could use more templates that eliminate the time it takes me to decide how I want to write this piece.
  • Maybe the proofing can be outsourced to someone else (after all, my expertise is in creating the words, not in making sure that the grammar is perfect).

These are just a few examples but already I can see that applying even a couple of them can increase the amount of monetizable writing time I have while minimizing the other aspects of the project that can be time-consuming.

And once I’ve done this for one service, I can break it out in other ways too: perhaps for other writing and content services I provide, or my consulting services, or my investing… or whatever.

Breaking things down into parts and examining those parts in detail will reveal greater productivity opportunities than when thinking about your service as a whole.

Time Tracking: One Of The Best Strategies For Increased Productivity

Want to give yourself a raise?

I can’t think of a faster, simpler way to get more done and make more money than to do this:

Track your time.

Yeah, that’s it.

It’s one of those no-brainer so-simple-nobody-does-it strategies to get more done in the day. Every single day.

It works because, well, we tell ourselves lies about our productivity. We think we’re being productive but we’re rarely as productive as we think we are. (I’m not suggesting we need to run at 100% capacity, 100% of the time. Actually, I think that’s a recipe for burnout… that said, I think most of us have a lot more capacity than we realize because we convince ourselves that we’re maxed out when we’re really not.)

I love time tracking and I try to do it every week. It’s always valuable.

Let me show you how I do it…

(spoiler alert: I’m old school; I realize there is software or mobile apps for this stuff but I find it too easy to minimize them on my desktop or forget to run them (and some tracking software I’ve used in the past has been an absolute resource hog). I like pen and paper and a couple of highlighters. Keep it simple and it’s always in my face.)

On Sunday I draw out my week in 15 minute increments…

Aaron Hoos - Time Tracking

Whenever I recommend this practice to other people, I always recommend that they do it in 15 minute increments. Believe me, I’ve tried 30… and 60… but they suck. They just aren’t as good at giving you a very clear picture of how you spend your time. It’s far easier to look back at an hour-long segment of time and think “I was productive this hour” when in reality you were productive for just a few minutes. But 15 minutes? It’s a good balance between being laser-focused on a small segment of time while still keeping this system manageable. (Hey, I’m not suggesting that you assess every minute, right?)

You’ll notice that I track from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM. You can track any time you want but that’s what I like to track.

I prefer to get up early and, ideally, finish all my work before noon. (I used to be a nightowl but you can check out this blog post about how I mastered my sleep to wake up early and become more productive and this series of posts when I challenged myself to wake up at 5:00 AM to get into the habit of waking up early).

My absolute best time for maximum productivity is 7:00 AM through about 10:30 AM. I get a lot of great work done then. I keep tracking past noon because I enjoy the process and the early afternoon is still good productive time to work on my biz.

I measure my time in terms of simple green for revenue-generating work and red for non-revenue-generating work. Yeah, it’s not a perfect system since prospect calls or marketing of my own business might be colored red but still be important to do. But you have to pick something and right now I’m focused on building a business that generates more revenue so that’s what I’ve chosen. In a different situation I may measure in some other way. (There was a time, for example, when I would have colored green only for when I was typing words but now that I also bill for other things like consulting, I needed to adjust what I measured.)

Time Tracking — April 16-20

Monday, April 16


So, on Monday I woke up and jumped into my work. It was a pretty good day! I’d give myself a grade of “A” for Monday’s level of focus and productivity. There were a couple of times when I paused for some fun/mental-break/social diversions but that’s okay because those little breaks were like breathers that could keep me focused the rest of the time. My goal isn’t to get rid of all stuff marked in red; it’s just to be aware of it and make sure it doesn’t take over.

Disclaimer: don’t bother trying to read my handwriting. It’s messy. I basically just jot down a quick note about what I do so I can look back and what I did during various blocks of time.

Tuesday, April 17

Aaron Hoos - Time Tracking
Tuesday was a completely different story than Monday. I’ll give it a grade of “C”. The day was a gong-show right from the very first moment. I was in reactive mode, dealing with challenges and trying to solve problems. There were some technical issues. And on top of that I had a few things I felt that I needed to work on that weren’t revenue-generating but still needed to be done.

Fortunately, I feel like I turned the ship around by 11:00 AM and was able to get in some revenue-generating writing for the last few measured hours of my day.

Wednesday, April 18

Aaron Hoos - Time Tracking
Wednesday was better than Tuesday but not as good as Monday. I’d give it a grade of “B”. I got some work done and although I did have a non-revenue-generating meeting (actually, it was a few short back-to-back calls that were all related) I still got some good work done overall.

Thursday, April 19

Forgot to take a picture after Thursday was done, so you’re seeing a bit of Friday in there too.
Aaron Hoos - Time Tracking
Thursday was decent too. I’d give it the grade of “B-” as it was close to Wednesday but not quite there. I did move a bunch of projects forward although I didn’t get to cross as many off as I would have liked.

Friday, April 20

Aaron Hoos - Time Tracking
Friday was another day I’d grade as “A”; a strong finish to the week. I was focused and productive and got a lot of good work done before a quick lunch, and that meant I could enjoy the afternoon at a local book sale. So, a good day, overall!

Assessment

Tracking tracking is a good practice to do but it’s even better when you pause at the end of the week to learn some lessons.

Here are some lessons I learned this week, along with a few reminders that you might find interesting if this is new to you…

1. There is value in the simplicity of the only-2-colors format. However, some of the red-colored spots are still critical to running my business (such as the meeting on Wednesday morning). So red doesn’t mean bad… I just want to be aware and control it.

2. Planning the night before (especially outlining the content I want to write) helps me stay focused and at a higher level of productivity.

3. It’s all in how I start: If I start strong, I can usually keep going and bounce back from interruptions easily. If I start from a reactive trouble-shooting mode, as was the case on Tuesday, it takes a ton of effort to get on track.

4. It’s hard to predict when things go off the rails. And since I can’t always anticipate when that will happen, I need to become better at deciding what is worth my attention when it does. In retrospect, I could have saved some of that problem-solving stuff for after 3pm (when I stop tracking my time for the day).

5. When my mornings are mostly green (what I’d grade as “A” or “B” days) I can usually finish everything I wanted to do by lunch… and then everything I do after that is extra income (if I choose to work) or free time (if I choose). Therefore, I have more freedom and choice after lunch if I can create stronger starts and maintain more consistent focus in the morning.

6. I try to do this tracking every week, which is a great practice but I’ve observed htat the level of accountability that comes from sharing this on Facebook was remarkably good at keeping me even more focused and productive! Not sure I want to share all these details of my life so publicly every week but I think there is value in sharing this a bit more regularly. Will think more on this!

Summary

If you bill for your time or based on a certain amount or type of productivity (such as word count), time tracking is the most effective way to become more productive (and give yourself a raise). It cuts through the lies that you tell yourself about productivity and reveals what you truly do at any given moment of your day.

There are always ways to become more productive and efficient, and a million books have been written about every method and strategy out there. But I haven’t found anything more effective than simply using time tracking to get a handle on what you do each day…

… and then taking a few moments at the end of the week to assess how you did, to learn some lessons, and to aim for something better next week.

Inbox Fatigue: Why This New Era Of Anti-Email Isn’t Better, And A Prediction Of Future Communication

Slack. Asana. Voxer. We live in a time of amazing software that connects us and allows us to communicate for business.

… but is it good?

And is it better than email, which many are saying it is?

Well, at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old man, I’m not convinced we’re in a better age.

I’m experiencing inbox fatigue — not fatigue from my email inbox but rather fatigue from the sheer number of inboxes I now have to manage.

Aaron Hoos Writer
This is not me. It’s a stock photo… doubtlessly of someone experiencing inbox fatigue!

THE EARLY DAYS WERE SIMPLER…

When I started my business (well, restarted my business) over 10 years ago, I had basically 3 inboxes:

  • Email was my primary inbox and in those early days I also used it as a project management system. I would accept projects in my email, work on them on my desktop, and then deliver them back through email.
  • And my phone — people would call and if they had to leave a voicemail then I’d get back to them.

These first two were my primary inboxes.

  • I also had an account on a site called Guru.com, which is a job-posting site that people would use to hire freelancers. I ran a bunch of my projects through there as well, so it was technically a third inbox (although those projects were automatically emailed to me so I could still monitor my Guru account in my email inbox).

So basically 2-3 inboxes.

Pretty simple.

…THEN THERE WAS INBOX CREEP…

Over time, things changed: There was the concurrent development of the growth of my own business as well as the advancement of technology.

So more clients, more complex clients, and more complex technology meant more inboxes to pay attention to…

  • Skype
  • Texts
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • More job boards (like Guru… including oDesk, Elance, etc.)
  • Basecamp
  • Client’s internal/proprietary project management systems

I also got my own act together and started managing my projects in another system instead of email (I tried a couple different ones but really clicked with Evernote, which I still love today).

It was a lot, and growing, but also manageable.

…AND NOW THERE’S INBOX OVERLOAD!

But today it’s become even more complex:

I have several clients using Slack, several more using Asana, and several more using Voxer, on top of the systems I’ve already mentioned above.

Yes, these all serve different purposes (some are communication-centric, others are for project management), but the bottom line is: they are all inboxes.

In short, I’ve gone from running a business with 2-3 inboxes to running a business with dozens of inboxes, sometimes multiple inboxes for just one client.

And it seems like we’re coming out with new inboxes all the time. Slack is relatively new, for example, and it’s touted as an email killer. Not surprisingly, several clients have jumped on board to use Slack instead of email. This will continue and it will grow as the next Slack and the NEXT Slack and the NEXT NEXT Slack is invented.

I’M NOT TURNING INTO AN OLD MAN — I HAVE A LEGIT POINT!

I swear — I’m NOT turning into a curmudgeonly old man. I realize that the level of client I now serve probably requires more complex communication and project management systems, and some of these systems provide value that email did not (such as versioning control). And to be frank, my business is far more complex and financially successful than in those simpler 2-inbox days so I definitely welcome the added features!

It seems like we’re in an era of “anti-email” — where communication is being done in more specific, more robust software that is more attuned to a single purpose.

But this new era of communication and project management causes me to wonder: is it better?

I don’t think it is.

In fact, I think this new era of anti-inbox communication is actually hurting us, for the following reasons:

1. We’ve reduced emails but we haven’t reduced messages: We once had inboxes that BURST at the seams with hundreds of emails flooding in every day and that was overwhelming.

(In fact, I still have a few clients with whom I have frequent “Replay All” email conversations between 4 of us, and if I miss a few emails while in a meeting then it takes a while to catch up.)

I understand that the sheer volume of emails is exhausting. But here’s the point I think people are missing: we’re not reducing the number of messages we once had; we’re just spreading them across more inboxes.

So instead of one big and daunting pile of emails (which is admittedly overwhelming) we have several small piles of messages in email, text, Skype, Facebook, Slack, Asana, Basecamp, Voxer, etc.

2. We are now paying an “invisible” price for this. We think we’re reducing email but we’re not — and now we’re ALSO paying a “switching cost” to check all of these different inboxes instead of just one. We now have to sign into several different inboxes to check those inboxes, communicate, etc.

3. We still use email for “important” things. Well, I don’t know about you but this is the case for me and my clients. We communicate on projects through all these various inboxes but whenever someone wants to raise the importance of something, they send an email. So email is still valued as a way to communicate but it’s become almost a place to indicate priority.

4. Even the anti-email mindset still benefits when there is only ONE inbox. It seems like people want multiple inboxes for different things, depending on the situation. They can have project management work in one set of inboxes and communication in another set of inboxes, etc. There’s this implicit idea that a single-inbox email is inefficient and old-school. Yet, how do you stay on top of all the notifications from each of these new and diverse inboxes? If you’re like most people I know, you do so through the notifications on your phone: each inbox has an app and each app notifies when there’s a new message. So all we’ve really done is take the single inbox value out of email and put it onto our phone. (But we still pay a “switching cost” to go from one app to another).

I THINK WE’LL SEE A SHIFT BACK

There is a lot of value to these apps. I use them and I like them. For example, I’m a big fan of Voxer. And Asana is growing on me (although it feels like a lot of its features were crammed in as an afterthought without a ton of user-experience consideration — IMO).

I think we’ll eventually* see a shift back to a single inbox in the future. We might not call it “email”. I predict that we’ll have some kind of inbox/dashboard/gathering-point, where all notifications will come into a single place from everywhere allowing us to review, sort, prioritize, and then launch into the right app.

… and this single inbox/dashboard/thing will need to be device agnostic so it works everywhere — on our mobile devices (replacing the mobile device itself as an inbox) and also on our laptops (for those of us who use them for work).

(* “eventually” = I’m not sure when. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It could happen this year but I doubt it.)

My mobile device is working just fine as a notifier but I’d like something on my laptop too (so that I can download files I need to work on, etc.) and I’m hacking something together with my Evernote inbox, email, and IFTTT. But it’s sketchy.

If you are a developer looking for a project, I think this is going to be huge. People think they want an email killer but what they really want is one place to gather EVERYTHING. Right now we’re using our mobile devices to do that, but that has limitations. What we really need is an inbox that is like our email inbox right now (everything in one place) but doesn’t seem like email… and from which we can review, sort, filter, prioritize, and manage all those messages from all those inboxes… and to be able to access that anywhere (mobile devices, online, desktop/laptop, etc.)

In the meantime? I assume we’ll just keep piling on the apps every time a new supposed “email-killer” inbox comes out. And I guess we’ll just use our mobile devices to ping us every time we get a message.

Eventually we’ll get tired of it and do something about it.

I’m Challenging Myself To Wake Up At 5:00 a.m. For The Next 100 Days

I’m in a 100 day challenge to wake up at 5:00 a.m. every day.

Join me on this journey as I wake up early (or try to!) and share my successes (and failures) with you. Plus, I’ll share tips, tools, and strategies to help you wake up as early as you want to.

HERE’S WHY I’M DOING THIS 5:00 A.M. CHALLENGE

I’m frequently asked by people why I’m challenging myself to wake up at 5:00 AM… and I’m asked this especially by people who know me and have known that I used to keep really late hours.

So here’s why I’m doing this challenge: I’ve never been a “morning person”. For most of my life I’ve stayed up late, woke up late, skipped breakfast, and defined myself as a “night owl”.

And as a writer, that tendency really showed itself in my daily work: I’d frequently stay up late to finish projects.

Unfortunately, this created a couple of problems: First, I sometimes wouldn’t even START work until the rest of the world was winding down for the night, which messed up my social schedule, my workout schedule, my eating schedule — you name it! Second, my wife has “normal” hours so I didn’t get to see her as often: She’d sleep while I worked and then I slept while she went about her day. She was very forgiving about it but I knew it wasn’t cool.

So I decided to make a change in my life.

Earlier this year I read all the research on sleep that I could get my hands on, and I learned A LOT about the role of sleep in our lives and how to “hack” sleep to have a better rest and to be more productive when you wake up.

Then I did a 30 day challenge to wake up at 5:00 AM everyday. It was challenging at first… and then it was awesome. I loved it and I immediately discovered that I was QUANTIFIABLY more productive by waking up in the morning and working than if I worked the same number of hours at night. Plus, I was healthier and had more free time… it was amazing. (Specifically: I was 4 times more productive by working from 5am until noon than I was by working from 9pm to 4am, which was pretty typical for me.

Unfortunately, that change didn’t stick. As much as I loved waking up early, I had a crazy summer of traveling and deadlines, so I defaulted back into my less-productive and less-healthy patterns of sleeping late and staying up late.

So I decided to restart this habit in my life but this time to do it for a longer period of time — 100 days — to try to embed the change more deeply into my life… and along the way I would record my progress to help me deepen the habit even further.

INTRODUCING MY 5:00 AM CHALLENGE — DAY 1

So here is the first video from Day 1 of that challenge…

These videos will provide not only an ongoing account of how I’m doing, they’ll also be some accountability as I share the days that I’m doing great… and the days I’m not doing so great! You won’t always see me at my best! But, if you stick with me, you’ll (hopefully) see progress and maybe even get inspired to wake up early yourself.

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s what I would recommend:

1. Bookmark this link — https://aaronhoos.com/tag/5am-challenge/ — and check back because this is how you can find my 5:00 AM challenge updates easily

2. Read my blog post How I Mastered My Sleep To Become More Productive, where I talk about the research I did into the science of sleeping and waking up. This popular post summarizes a lot of the lessons I learned and applied to change how I sleep.

… And if you decide to participate in a similar challenge, give me a shout-out on Twitter (@AaronHoos) because I love to hear about people who are inspired to do the same challenge, and I’ll do my best to give you some encouragement, too!

What are you going to do this very instant?

I’ve always been a big planner and goal setter. Sometimes that has worked out in my favor; other times I’m a little too optimistic and I set more goals than are humanly achievable.

What I’ve learned about effective goal-setting is this: you need to take action right away. As soon as you set a goal, you need to do something about it immediately — this very instant.

Tony Robbins says something about this in his book Awaken The Giant Within. He says, “never leave the scene of a decision without taking action.”

Here’s why this is such an important concept:

If you’re excited about something (a new idea, plan, or goal) then the initial action will give you momentum and momentum is a very powerful thing.

Or, if you’re not excited about something then the instant action will help you avoid procrastination. A great example, I think, is the classic decision to diet. “I’ll start Monday,” is often the decision (and that decision is followed up by a few days of binging until Monday rolls around).

What plans are you in the process of making? Whatever you’re thinking about, take action right away, even if it’s a small action, to get a positive step forward.