Archive for the ‘Success & Productivity’ Category

Do people read long-form content?

Friday, March 24th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

We are told that everyone on the internet has the attention span of a gnat. You have to write short copy and get to the point immediately or people will leave.

This is not true.

What is going on here, and why do we have this misconception?

How do we know it is false?

Website spy on you.

Not in a freaky “we’re watching you through a camera” CIA way. But they are watching.

They use session recordings. Services like Hotjar, CrazyEgg and Inspectlet track what visitors do. Every click, every scroll, every interaction with the page is sent back to their servers so that the website owner can watch it later.

Everyone is doing this. Well, not everyone. I am not doing it on this blog, for example. But for big companies, e-commerce websites or anyone with an analytics team, they probably have it installed.

This should not freak you out. It is all anonymous: you haven’t told them who you are. The session recording they watch could be anyone.

Unless you are on Facebook. Then they know exactly who you are. Every time you hover over that pro-Trump article or dietary video ad, for example, Facebook makes a record of it. But then, you’ve already told them all of your secrets and uploaded all of those private photos…

Anyway, I do have the software on Worfolk Anxiety. Specifically, I use it to see what people do on my landing pages. When I pay for an advert, I want to see how effective it is.

What do people do? Find out below…

What does turn people off?

First, let’s look at what _does_ turn people off.

It is true that people do get bored easily online. It is not necessarily because we have a reduced attention span. But there is a lot of competition.

Back in the day, you bought a newspaper and took it home. If you got bored, you would probably keep reading anyway. The alternative was to put your shoes back in, walk back to the corner shop and buy another newspaper.

Not so with the online world. If you are bored of that Guardian article, the Telegraph is two clicks away. Or dog videos. Lots and lots of dog videos.

With all this competition, people have upped their game. They make content easier to read. They use short sentences. Regular sub-heads. They get right to the point and keep the content interesting.

All of these things should be done in any piece of writing. But with the online world being so cut-throat, online writers have been forced to do it much faster.

So what do people do?

When you do get down to practising all of these good writing habits, people read your content.

The sales letter for our free 30-day anxiety challenge is over 1,000 words long. That is longer than 95% of the blog posts I write. It is two pages of A4. But people read it.

There are two types of visitors that hit that landing page. The first reads the headline and then leaves immediately. The second slowly scrolls down the page reading everything.

And almost nothing in between. Once people start reading, they read it all.

The pros get much better results

I have spent a lot of time working on my writing. But, not being a naturally gifted one, I still have a LONG way to go. I am not under any illusion that it is otherwise.

So I highly doubt my content is some magical exception to the rule because of how good it is. People just have longer attention spans than we think.

Better writers know this. And use it.

Sean D’Souza’s sales page for his article writing course is over 7,000 words, for example. Someone was telling me about a Ramit Sethi sales letter that was 47 pages long: and didn’t even have a call-to-action until 75% of the way through.

Conclusion

Whether you are blog posts, articles or sales copy, one thing is clear: people will read well-written stuff. If they are interested in the subject matter, they are willing to invest the time in consuming it.

If you are losing readers, then it is not internet attention spans that are at fault: it is your writing. Make it more readable, and you will hold people’s attention to the end.

7 things I learnt from hiring content writers

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Over at Worfolk Anxiety, we have an anxiety blog. Every Monday a new post is published. I have tried to up my game on this. A lot of the articles are over 1,000 words and I have done some deep dives on the problems and solutions I have encountered to provide valuable stuff.

However, writing a lot of quality content every week is tough, especially when you have other projects on the go. Therefore, I decided to try hiring some content writers to fill in a few gaps. 90% of the content is still written by me, but every month or so I may use an article written by someone else.

What did I learn from doing this?

You get impersonal content

When I wrote for the blog, I explore specific topics. I include personal stories. Indeed, the post is often based on something that has come up in my own life and I then expand into a well-researched article.

With content writers, you do not get this. They write from a more objective standpoint. This can be of benefit: sometimes it is good to have a fact-based article and does not wander into personal stories. Most of the time, though, people engage more with personal content. So the usefulness of such content is limited.

The content is more generic

When I select a topic for the blog, it is very specific. I write about one area of anxiety in a lot of detail. Sometimes, it is not even that related: maybe it is being productive when you have anxiety, for example.

Content writers take more of a broad remit. They will pick a large sub-section of the topic and write about that. This is because they are not familiar with the types of topics you cover on your blog. I sent them the link, but given the deadlines they face, it is unfair to expect them to read the entire blog. Therefore, they cannot get into the same gritty detail that you can.

They don’t include references

They all claim that they include references, but they never do. However, if you send it back to them asking them to put the references in, they will.

You sometimes get what you pay for

I tried a variety of price points to see what the quality differences were. At the low end, I hired someone to write an article for $6. On the other end, I paid someone $36. Did the quality differ? Yes, but not drastically. The cheaper writers were not terrible and the expensive writers were not amazing.

You do not save that much time

While hiring a writer does cut out a lot of the research and writing time, it causes management and editing time. When I received the articles back I had to check them for content and spelling quantity, then convert it into the format my CMS was expecting it in. This took a lot of time.

You need to use a spellchecker

I ran their articles through Grammarly. If there were a lot of mistakes, I sent it back to them to correct.

You need to be honest with them

One of the articles I was sent was rubbish. So I told her. Not in those exact words: I was gentle and gave specific feedback about the standards I was expecting. Nevertheless, telling someone their work is not up to scratch is an uncomfortable experience.

However, when I did, she was eager to re-write and improve the article. When I received the second draft, it was excellent, and I was able to honestly give per a positive review.

Conclusion

Hiring external writers has advantages and disadvantages. It does save you some time. However, it increases management time and gives you content that it not as good as you could write yourself. That is delegation, though: it is never as good as doing it yourself but allows you to do more.

How to beef up your YouTube channel (if you have a podcast)

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Recently, I was putting together a YouTube channel for Worfolk Anxiety. The problem? I did not have many videos. I could have released a lot of our content up-front, but I wanted to put it out on a regular schedule as doing this achieves more engagement.

It also means that all of our content is the same format.

Instead, I decided to leverage some of the work I have already been doing. The Worfolk Anxiety Podcast has been running since last year and now has a small archive of episodes with more scheduled to come out every two weeks.

So, I look the podcasts and re-encoded them as videos.

I put together a title card, which, as you can see, is just a simple image with some text directing people to the podcast URL. Then I combined it with the audio to make a video I could upload.

Doing this for every episode would be time-consuming, Instead, I picked out a few select episodes and named them “best of the podcast”. Doing this allows me to upload a bunch of videos without creating any more content. If it turns out to be a useful acquisition channel for the podcast, we can do more work on it then. For now, I see it as a showcase of the best that will direct people towards subscribing using their usual podcast app.

No traffic jams

Sunday, January 29th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

I hope there is at least a service station with a KFC…

How to be more productive

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Over the holiday period, Freakonomics Radio was rebroadcasting old episodes. One of which was how to be more productive. I had already listened to the episode once, but it felt like the kind of topic you could always use a refresher on.

On the episode, Dubner interviews Charles Duhigg (great surname, right?), author of The Power of Habit. In the book, Duhigg tries to boil down what are the universal aspects of people who are successful in achieving their goals.

Interesting, he starts by dismissing an idea many of us may consider important: having one goal and solely focusing on that. Duhigg explains that he only wanted things that everyone agreed on. A single goal was not one of them. Many people would say “you have to focus on one goal: it’s essential.” But others would say “you have to be flexible, you cannot commit yourself to one goal.”

So what does make the list?

  1. Self-motivation: making a decision to do something helps trigger this
  2. Focus: training yourself to focus on the right things and ignore everything else
  3. Goal-setting: you need a big stretch goal which is your ultimate objective, and then a short-term goal that you can action tomorrow morning
  4. Decision-making: think probabilistically, considering the outcomes and weighing how likely they are to occur
  5. Innotvation: take cliches and mix them together in new ways; being interdisaplinary can help with this
  6. Absorbing data:
  7. Managing others: give the problem to the person closest to it
  8. Teams: who is on a team matters more than what the team does

Those are the eight characteristics Duhigg finds consistent across successful people.

As for how many projects you should be working on, the answer seems to be enough to make things interesting, but not so many that you cannot devote enough time to each. The people who are most productive work on 4-5 projects. Critically, these should all be different so that it teaches you new skills.

Work email rules

Friday, January 13th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Want to free up a couple of minutes of productive time in the office? My friend John taught me this email rule, and it is worth implementing…

Anyone who puts two exclamation marks in the subject line is not someone whose emails you need to read.

Eating a frog

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

There is a Mark Twain quote:

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

This is because your motivation is strongest in the morning, and fades throughout the day. Therefore, you need to start with the task of most resistance on your to-do list. You will only have less motivation later.

My advice is to make sure you imagine that your job is to eat a live frog. I am not sure Twain realised that cooked frogs are actually quite tasty.

How to have more productive teams

Sunday, July 24th, 2016 | Success & Productivity

team-work

A few years ago Google set about to find out what made their best teams so effective. There were loads out outcomes and I won’t do justice to many of them, but below I have pulled out a few of the ones I found the most important, or most surprising.

Gossip is good

Ever walk into a meeting and find the first ten minutes are just people gossiping and talking about their weekend? It feels incredibly unproductive. And you would be correct in thinking that: in the short term. However, it turns out that bonding time like this is actually good for the team in the long term.

Having time to chat and discuss each other’s personal lives builds better team relationships, which makes the team more effective in the long run.

Psychological safety

This is super important. Julia Rozovsky from Google ranks it has the number one factor in building effective teams. It determines whether people feel they can speak out and suggest ideas without being made to feel like an idiot.

If you can foster this atmosphere then everyone will contribute ideas and you will get more of them. If not, people will not want to speak out, and you will not get the same range of experience or creativity.

Regular one to ones

Effective managers sit down with their colleagues on a regular basis for one to ones. This allows feedback to pass both ways in an environment away from the rest of the team, allowing people to air their concerns and be a bit more honest than they might want to be in a group situation.

Include everyone in meetings

In many meetings, you will find one or two people who sit there for the whole meeting without saying anything. This does not mean that they have nothing to contribute: they almost certainly do. Prompting them to get involved.

How to have more grit

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016 | Success & Productivity

woman-running

One of the most common things people would like to improve about themselves is having more self-control. Sticking power. Or, as Stephen Dubner puts it, “grit”. In a recent episode of his radio show, he interviewed a number of experts to find what the common factors were for people who had good sticking power.

Interest

It sounds obvious, but you really have to have a passion for what you are doing. You can force your child to take piano lessons, but they are only ever going to be a great pianist if they fall in love with the piano. Interest does not have to be immediate, but it does need to develop over time.

Deliberate practice

To learn a skill you need to do plenty of deliberate practice. See my recent post about what makes good practice. The secret: you don’t have to love it, but you do have to love the field. I often feel like piano is pointless because I dislike practising. However, I do enjoy playing piano overall, I just don’t like the hard stuff. That’s okay apparently, even experts don’t love the hard stuff that much.

Have a purpose

This is more than just a goal: it is a reason for doing what you are doing. Ideally, this should be outside of yourself. For example, running would seem like a selfish thing to do. However, if you put a goal on it that involves other people, and wider society, you are more likely to stick at it. After all, there is benefit for others. A healthier, longer-lived you is a good thing for the people who love you, and it may be beneficial to remind yourself of that.

Replace nuance for novelty

I love this phrase. It is easy to get bored of something and move on to the next thing. The experts in a field are often the ones who manage to replicate that sense of novelty in the nuance of what they are doing. If you can find new fun in refining and exploring small sections of your craft, you will go far.

What makes good practice?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016 | Success & Productivity

woman-playing-violin

Anders Ericsson is a Swedish psychologist who researches why super talented people are so good at what they do. His research has formed the basis of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated. Whether you buy into their interpretation or not, it is clear that practice, specifically deliberate practice as Ericsson defines it, is a cornerstone of learning skills.

But what makes good practice? In an interview with Stephen J. Dubner he laid out some important points.

You should be focused and self-examining

Practice cannot simply be sloppy. You need to focus on what you are doing. You need to consider what you are doing and how you could improve. You need to be self-critical. That feedback needs to come straight away so that you can learn from it.

Once you are doing something on autopilot, you are no longer improving, Take driving for example. Once you can drive, you don’t really think about it. So it doesn’t matter if you have been driving 30 years, that doesn’t make you a better driver than someone who has been driving one year (unless you have really been focusing on improving your driving).

Ericcson quotes one study that shows that GPs who have been practicing for long periods are not better (actually they were worse) at diagnosing chest conditions than new doctors were. This is because those thirty years do not necessarily represent deliberate practice, and because the feedback they get on the accuracy of their diagnoses is not immediate.

It should be outside your comfort zone

If practice is fun, you are probably not doing it to the full effect. It is easy to fall into this trap. I regularly play my guitar, but often I just plan the songs I already know. This is not improving my guitar skills because I am not pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

You should have a teacher

You can self-teach, as many great musicians have. However, if you want to learn and practice in the most efficient way possible, you need a teacher. Someone who can give you external feedback, someone who already knows the ropes and is familiar with the established best-practice way of teaching a skill.

You should break it down

Your practice should have very specific goals. For example, just “playing some guitar” is not real practice. I need to practice a specific skill: timing, a riff, a certain technique. I need to focus in one particular area and come up with exercises to improve that in isolation, then later practice putting it all together.