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My Work Routine and How I stay Focused (or try to!)
I didn’t think I’d have the time to squeeze in another post this month, but a blog reader asked about it, and I figured, hey, why not turn the answer into a post. After all, I don’t have to research anything – just share my own experience.
Thanks for providing me with the idea, AdamS!
Your Mileage May Vary
If I’m ever going to get a tattoo, it will say:
Your Mileage May Vary.
I’m about to turn 50 in July. Over the years, I’ve learned how different people can be from one another. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you and vice versa. It’s true in web publishing and in life in general.
I thought I’d open with that little bit of insight because I’m about to share some personal experiences and tips and tricks that work for me. Some may apply to you; some may not. If you read about anything here that resonates with your, I hope it encourages you to give it a try. Worst case, you’ve tried something that didn’t work for you.
Work Routine Challenges
If you think that I’m kind of an efficient work machine – you’re wrong. I don’t consider myself a very efficient person. Effective – yes. Efficient – so, so.
You see, I am officially diagnosed with ADHD. I get distracted very easily. I sit in front of a window with a view of the local lake, and I literally get distracted when a pretty bird goes by (and they do pretty frequently).
Unfortunately, health reasons prevent me from using ADHD medication. Some days, I’m okay with it. My brain is flying in all directions, and I come up with some creative ideas for the business. Other days, I just need to sit my butt down and come up with topics, and I really wish I could pop one of my son’s pills, but I can’t.
On the bright side, I have developed some coping mechanisms during decades of dealing with my funny brain. I’ll share them here.
My Work setup
Alas, I don’t have an actual office room. I have an office space, and it’s located in the areas where the dining room or family room is supposed to be.
I have plenty of room around me, and I don’t share this space with anyone, but there’s also no wall separating it from the other common areas in this house.
That means that whenever my husband or son gets to the kitchen (which happens hundreds of times a day, it seems), they’re “in my office.” I really like them, so it’s fun to have someone drop in and talk to me.
My desk setup
Here’s my current workstation –
It’s very bare-bones. I have a laptop and a docking station with a screen, a keyboard, and a simple mouse. There’s a webcam on the desk and a headset hanging on the left.
The green box by the wall is for lens wipes for my glasses. You can also see my omega-3 pills. I don’t know if they really help with anything, but I sometimes take them – when I remember to.
The empty glass there is where I had my ice coffee this afternoon. I typically have a glass of water next to me. Sometimes I get a decaf diet coke.
The notebook there isn’t for work. It’s for when I make phone calls. I have to draw stuff and doodle when I’m on the phone.
Full disclosure: I also eat by my desk. It’s a terrible habit, but I like to use that time to read blogs, forums, or Twitter. Just eating without a screen is torture, so I might as well do something useful.
I do have a decent chair. Nothing fancy, but a decent office chair with armrests and adjusted for my height.
My tip for setup: My screen is on an adjustable mount arm. That allows me to keep moving it around as I change my posture. Also, it’s best to keep the screen lower than your eyes. If you keep looking straight ahead or up, your eyes get dry faster.
Tools that I use
Okay, moving on from my gorgeous desk.
I have just a couple of tools that I use to keep focused.
1. My to-do list
I use Clickup for my to-do list.
Before I used Clickup, I used Toodledo. Before that, I used a notebook, but that didn’t work out very well because it was challenging to maintain. I tend to just doodle over the paper, and it gets messy.
Clickup works best for me because my daily to-do list is fully integrated with our task management environment. I blogged here about how I use Clickup to run my business.
Let’s say one of our employees needs my input on something. They know that the best way to quickly get my full attention is to create a Clickup task and assign it to me with that day’s date.
I arrange my tasks in the same way. Whenever I need to do anything, I create a Clickup task and assign it to myself with a date. Always.
This is what my to-do list for today looks like –
If I’m in a rush and don’t have time to create a task, then I do this –
1. Hit “R” on Clickup to bring up the reminder box.
2. Type in something in the reminder.
3. Hit enter or save.
Voila. A reminder shows up on my to-do list for that day. When I get around to it, I can now turn that into a task (or just complete whatever it was if it’s a small thing to do).
2. Using Timers
You can’t see it in the photo there, but there’s a small Google home thingie on my desk. Like an Alexa or Siri.
Sometimes I use the Pomodoro technique. I just say, “Okay Google, set a timer for 25 minutes”. Then I start working away. It creates a sense of time pressure, increasing adrenaline levels, which can help me focus.
It would work just as well with a smartphone, but I like talking to my Google thingie. Whenever it replies, it reminds me what a long way AI still has to go and how we still need humans to write our content.
The Pomodoro technique loses its edge over time, so I can’t use it all the time. I keep it for difficult times.
My Work Routine
AdamS asked me to share my daily routine, including how many days/hours a week I work. Here goes.
Most days, I just wake up in the morning. The exact hour varies. It can be as early as 5am or as late as 8am.
I know 8 am doesn’t sound “late” to those of you who are in your 20’s or even 30’s. Trust me, it’s late when you’re in your late 40s. The body’s biological clock changes over the years, making it difficult to sleep in the mornings.
Rant: We have an annoying red cardinal that comes over my bedroom window and apparently shoots laser guns at other birds precisely at sunrise. It sounds like this –
The stupid thing (and I love animals!) stays there long enough to make sure we get up and then moves on to the next house.
I’ll skip my morning bathroom routine if you don’t mind.
I then go downstairs and make myself a cup of coffee. I had a Moka pot, but its seal broke down, so I had to throw it away. We’re moving to a new place next month, so we’re downsizing, and I’m not buying a new one just yet. For now, it’s either drip coffee or instant.
I have a fantastic cup for the coffee though! Mediavine sent me a cool thermos and a couple of thermic cups when we became premiere publishers –
Those metal mugs keep the coffee hot forever. I’m a slow coffee sipper, so this is nice.
Coffee in hand, I go to my computer and start my routine. It goes like this –
- Check emails
- Check Clickup notifications
- Check my Skype chat channels
- Look at my to-do list
And I just take it from there.
Once a week, it’s Zoom Calls Day. That’s when I have routine zoom calls with our Head of Production Division, Head of Publication Division and COO. I wear a nicer shirt for those, and I put on some makeup if I’m in the mood (although the filters are usually enough).
Here are some examples of tasks that I am dealing with this week –
- Find new topics for a bunch of our sites
- Add GA4 views to all of our Google Analytics properties
- Test some ad optimization tweaks on Mediavine
- Switch one of the sites from Google Suite emails to Mailgun
- Test optimizing 2-3 posts for revenue
- Go over a new post format that our Head of Publication is working on
- Buy a flight ticket for my son who’s joining us in the US in August (woohoo!)
- Talk to our accountants about end-of-year reports (yuck!)
It changes from one day to the next. I don’t have set hours, except for those planned zoom calls.
I typically take time off in the middle of the day to take a nap.
I also take at least one hour every day for exercise. Three times a week, I do my Pilates routine. The other days I walk outside. We’re currently in Florida, so walking outside is becoming more challenging and has to be done early in the mornings.
Next month we’re moving to a house in Ilinois with its own 2 acres of forest land! I plan on hiking in our own backyard – it should save time on driving to and from a trailhead.
Days of the Week and Holidays
Typically, I work 7 days a week. That’s not a good thing, as it can lead to burnout. I am familiar with the signs of burnout, so I just work until I feel like burnout is around the corner, and then I take a day or two off.
When I say I take a day off, it means I still do the following –
Read my emails, check our Skype channels, and check Clickup notifications. And reply to anyone in our organization who needs my input.
Once in a while, we take the day out to do something more “touristy,” like drive to one of the beaches or springs in Central Florida. Or we might head out to watch a rocket launch. But generally speaking, I am by my desk at least 8 hours a day, seven days a week.
I do hope to be able to reduce my hours within a year or so. I’m training a couple of new employees on how to find topics. If that works out – which remains to be seen – I should be able to decrease my workload quite significantly.
Of course, my ADHD brain has already come up with plans for new projects once I become available, so I guess we’ll see!
Tips and Tricks
AdamS also asked this –
How do you avoid distractions and stay focused day in and day out (e.g avoid time wasting mobile phone apps or getting distracted while looking for keywords etc).
So, the answer is –
I don’t stay focused day in and day out. I don’t even stay focused throughout a single day. I waste time on my phone, and I get distracted. All. The. Time.
I’ve learned to accept that.
Getting organized and sticking to my to-do list helps me stay focused most of the time, but yeah, I waste time sometimes. I think we all do?
Elon Musk’s Twitter feed shows that wasting time on social media doesn’t mean you can’t become rich! Or send people into space!
Still, you need some amount of focus when you work. So here’s what’s helping me –
Using a Top-down approach
One thing that helps me stay focused is using a top-down approach to projects.
I create an outline for the project (usually in my head, sometimes typing it out) and then use that to break it down into manageable tasks.
It’s very similar to the way I write a post. The outline comes first. I create a list of headings and then fill in the content under each one.
Projects are just like that – you should always be able to break them down into manageable bites.
Finding the time in the day that works for you
As I mentioned earlier, my hours are flexible. Over the years, I’ve learned which hours work best for me for specific tasks.
For example, it’s usually easier for me to focus on writing in the evenings, so that’s when I write posts for Yeys.
Music helps me concentrate. I need happy beats and preferably high volume. I don’t use music all the time, but when I need a pick-me-up to focus, I tell the Google thingie to play one of my upbeat playlists on Spotify.
I think the music gives me an adrenaline boost, and that helps me focus.
With some tasks, movies/TV can help. Especially horror shows. The dumber, the better. Ghost Adventures is my favorite. All that shouting, ominous music, and jump scares are great for little adrenaline boosts. And I don’t have to use an iota of my brainpower to follow the show. It can just run there in the background.
Taking lots of breaks
ADHD can also make me hyperfocused on some tasks. I need the adrenaline boosters for repetitive, monotonous tasks, sure. But when it comes to something interesting, I can quickly lose track of my surroundings and hyperfocus.
It’s good, and it’s bad. Physically, working non-stop is bad for me. My eyes dry up, and I get headaches. To avoid that, I force myself to take short breaks. Just walk up to the fridge and re-fill my glass of water. Maybe stretch a little.
Every couple of hours, I’ll go outside and check out the pond to see what’s happening. There’s always something interesting going on outside. A few days ago, my husband walked out to take a picture of a huge Eastern Lubber and almost stepped on a large black racer (that’s a snake). Lucky him. I wish I could see it, but it was gone by the time I went out.
Letting go – some days just don’t
I don’t think anyone can keep the same level of focus day in and day out? Or at least, I don’t know anyone who can do that. If you can, leave me a comment and tell me what your secret is.
I’ve come to accept that some days just don’t work out. Or they just don’t. Period.
Sometimes I don’t even know who or what is to blame. It could be circumstances. It could be me. I just know that I’m having a very difficult time getting things done.
And that’s okay. I’ve come to accept that.
Don’t tell anyone, but I sometimes just pop on something on Netflix and sit down to crochet for a while.
It’s All Work in Progress
I started this post by saying that your mileage may vary.
I should add that my mileage also varies. Not just between days but also over time. The way I manage my business and how I stay focused keep evolving and changing. I keep changing.
The bottom line is: What worked for me in the past may not work in the future. And also, I may find new ways to work effectively. Who knows, someday I may even learn how to work efficiently too!
I hope you found something helpful in this post. I’m curious to see if any of these techniques can help others. I know they’re not much, but they’ve helped me build a successful business, so maybe they’re not totally useless. If you did find any of this helpful, please leave me a comment to let me know.
I’m always eager to learn more from other web publishers! So if you have productivity tips of your own to share, I’d LOVE to hear them! Let me know in a comment how you manage to make more out of your work hours.
I always enjoy reading what you have to share. You’ve made an impact on my business and mindset as I’ve silently read your posts on the Fat Stacks forum. Thank you Anne.
Thank you for letting me know, Wesley! Comments like yours motivate me to keep blogging here! Much appreciated and good luck with your business!
Thank you for using pomodoro timer for productivity and increasing your focus
Give our pomodoro timer a trial. The link is pomodoro-timer.io
Hi Okii, my Google works for me at this point, but thanks for the suggestion and good luck with your venture!
Glad to see that you are a human like us!! All the best with the move Anne!
Great to read how you make it work, Anne, especially with ADHD (which my husband has so I am familiar with the struggles).
I’m actually pretty good at staying focused the majority of the time. I do have periods when I struggle but that usually relates to a lack of focus on what I’m trying to achieve overall and after I go back to the overall planning and re-work that, it goes away.
Reading this, I realised it’s probably because of time pressure as well. I just don’t need to create it as the primary caregiver of three younger kids (my youngest just started school so I have only just got to 5 school days of work a week – although I sneak in bits of work all over the place).
I’m always glad to read about how people like us never truly have a day off too. It makes me feel less guilty that I have to work every day, at least a little. I’m currently getting ready to take 3 months “off” to travel Europe but I’ll probably still work 10-20 hours a week during that time.
I admire your ability to push forward with kids as young as this. We homeschooled and while I still had my business going in on, it was simmering on the backburner until my youngest got to hi-school age. At that point, he became more self-sufficient school-wise (and actually started teaching us 😉 ).
Those long trips are the best! I miss them, but I try to make the relocation feel a little bit like a long-term trip by incorporating as much sightseeing as possible. Florida was great for that. I hope we’ll find lots to see and do in Illinois too. Have fun traveling!
Also, I hope you find someone good to find topics for you. How amazing would that be!!
What a great post. Thanks for sharing. Your Clickup tip for creating a quick reminder is something I never thought of. I currently use CU for content/write management and Trello for to-dos. This may finally get me to switch to CU only.
I’m surprised at your work setup, especially at your income level. Will your new place have a dedicated office? I couldn’t imaging not a dedicated space and my 3-monitor setup with 1 of those monitors (vertical orientation) dedicated to Clickup.
Also, your husband doesn’t mind the 7-day work week? I feel like I could put in more hours than what I work but it probably wouldn’t be good for my marriage (haha).
Oh, yeah, I totally want to upgrade my office setup once we move. I’m thinking of an ultra-wide screen rather than 2-3 separate monitors, but we’ll see how that goes. My husband is more sensitive to noise and disruptions, so right now he has an enclosed office room and I’m here in the more “public” area of our home. The Illinois home is much larger, so we’re going to try and get two offices going. We haven’t actually been to the house yet, so we’re waiting to get there and see which rooms would work best as an office.
As for work hours, my husband is more of a workaholic than I am, and is deeply committed to the business. I’m typically the one pushing for taking days off and doing some sightseeing. He prefers to keep on working. All in all, the 7-days setup seems to work for both of us.
Thanks for such posts. Keep writing. I try to read all your blog posts. Very helpful.
Thanks for leaving a comment, Imran! I’m glad you find the posts helpful!
“Letting go – some days just don’t” goes with me
Thanks for giving us a tour of your work day/routine. I so needed this. Running a media/publishing business and, that too, from your home office is really challenging.
I always wanted to ask you about your work routine but never knew if we could reach out to you. And, how that I know it is possible, please allow me to ask something else (maybe a post idea for the next Yeys article!).
In the article, you mentioned you interact with your “Head of Production Division, Head of Publication Division and COO.”
For someone like me (who is, businesswise, maybe 5 years behind where you are now) it would be really helpful if you can write a post on
1) how you assigned these roles (it would be even more awesome if you could share your team structure),
2) how do they help you (what work do they do),
3) When did you think it was time to get these (because normal publishers don’t have such positions in their business),
4) From where did you get the idea of these roles (like before I read your article, I didn’t even know we could have these roles in the publishing business),
5) How did you hire them? (the process/what to look for, what to ask etc. & place to hire them)
6) If it is okay, please reveal the exact or approx. salary structure (I know this might not be possible, but since I’ve seen you revealing writer fees I felt like asking this, you can ignore if this is not possible).
7) How are these roles different from normal roles we have like editors or editor in chief.
8) Anything else you’d like us to know.
Anne, thanks so much for making all these information (like the current blog post, your Clickup setup, etc.) for us. I feel giving someone a realtime business overview like you do and helping them grow is a really good thing. Thank you.
Interesting questions and thanks for bringing them up! I think that for most blog readers, the “company setup” may be too much. Also, like you said, this would probably be too much for me to share here. Maybe in a forum thread over at the Fat Stacks forums. If you’re a member, feel free to ask me there and we can hash things there. If you’re not a member, you’ll have to buy Jon’s course when it opens up again – you can sign up here to get a notification once registration is open again.
I will say here that I don’t think the titles matter much. We just tried to create a structure that will capture our work process and allow us to scale. The titles were secondary to that. Our company structure isn’t unique or special. The important thing here, IMO, is to have some kind of structure in place that allows your organization to keep growing as you scale.
Thank you so much for replying, Anne.
I’m not a member of the course.. I think I missed it by a day or two (Jon recently had opened up the course, I think). However, I’ve joined the waiting list!
I agree with you on having some kind of structure. But, since I’ve never done this and I want to scale my current business, it would be awesome if I could learn anything from you.
Thanks again.. 🙂
Thanks for sharing, Anne!
It’s always interesting to get a peek into other people’s routines! I too get distracted a lot and the short springs (Pomodoro’s) work great!
Thanks for stopping by, Morten! I’d love to hear more about your routine, maybe in a future video? Time management has to be challenging, in between your sites, course, traveling, and most importantly, the family!
My mother turns 50 in july too…
I hope you’re planning a nice birthday party for her big 5-0!
Thanks for this post Anne, it’s so insightful on many levels.
More than happy you thought my questions worthy of a full post :))
Thanks again for the idea, Adam!
Niall from ebizfacts referred me to your income reports, and now I find myself reading about your routine haha. I feel like you aren’t too hard on yourself which is awesome, and probably prevents burnout…well helps at least.
Congrats on the 150k milestone. I’ll keep chipping away and checking in on ya posts for motivation.
Hi Jub, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!
Reading your posts and stories, and even your income reports is always a soothing exercise for me. It’s like listening to a good friend even though I don’t know you but I really admire what you have done with your business.
I’m about to turn 36 in a few days and come from Fat Stacks. I wish I could have your business success by the time I hit 50.
Maybe it’s off topic, well, it’s definitely off topic but after reading your “how to pick a niche” articles, and knowing that I’ll be outsourcing all the writing for my first niche site… do you recommend picking a niche I know at least something about but might not be as profitable or just go for profitable niches with low-medium competition even if I know nothing about them?
Thanks so much Anne, my wife and I are really fans of yours.
Cheers from Houston.
Hi Andres and thank you for your kind words! If you’re this focused at 36, I’m pretty sure you’ll do well long before you turn 50! And having the support of a spouse in this journey is priceless!
I would suggest staying away from high-competition niches for your first site. If you can find enough low-hanging fruit (i.e. low-competition queries with a decent traffic potential) then go for that niche. If you found more than one such niche, then by all means, go with a niche you know and love. But the chance to actually rank should always be the first consideration.
I hope this helps – good luck!
I just saw your interview on Niche Pursuits which was probably the most interesting I have heard. I picked up a great deal.
I have two main sites, which are doing ok, and I have written most of the content to date (270+ articles). I am about to start scaling them and have ordered 200k words of content with half of those going on a new site. I am about to search for a VA/editor to help with publishing as, although I wouldn’t say I have ADHD, I do hate doing boring things and it takes very little to distract me easily when I am doing them.
Anyway, I was just going to comment that I am 67 and even 9am (actually more like10am) is an early start for me! Mind you, I am a night bird so am often working on my sites until gone 1am. I was told by someone in their 30s at the Affiliate Gathering in the UK in May (where Morten in a comment above was a speaker) “It is unusual to see someone of your age doing this.” It was lucky he caught me on a good day! 😉
Regards from Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands (my retirement home)
I’m so glad you liked the interview! Any age is a great age for entrepreneurship – online or otherwise! I’m no spring chicken myself :O Good luck with your sites – sounds like you’re on the right track!
Hi Anne! Love the writeup of your workday. I found you on the Niche Pursuits interview and you are so inspiring! One question I had is out of the 50+ employees you have, how many do you actually talk to or interact with each week? Do you have the “Head of XYZ” manage people below a certain level so you mostly interact with a few managers? Or do you actually communicate with 50 people regularly? This is one thing that my husband and I were wondering. Thanks so much you’re helping so many people change their mindset and ideas about what’s possible with blogging.
Great question. We do have a hierarchy and I only talk to 4-5 people on a regular basis. They then manage their own teams. And yes, we have fancy titles for managers 😀
I’m actually working on a new course about scaling, so your question helped me develop yet another module where I’ll go into more detail about our company’s routines and day-to-day team management. Thanks!
Hi Anne thank you sharing your personal routine. I love how you don’t try to look perfect and you are open about you being human. I found your blog after watching you on Niche Pursuits. I find you truly inspiring and it makes me want to get starting building my own websites.
Thanks, Ricky! Good luck on your web publishing journey!
Such an interesting post! Especially how you were successful to stay fokused on your projects with ADHD. I have ADHD too and my main struggle is the switching around niches and ideas to create my „online business“, there are so many opportunities (niche sites, kdp, etsy , YouTube and more) and I have so many ideas, its so hard to decide on one and stay focused with that one. But Trying to do all I dont get done anything 😵 maybe you have an smart advice here for me?
Assuming medication isn’t an option, you’ll have to rely on a LOT of self-discipline to stay focused. Maybe carving out your week and even day, allowing yourself X amount of time for new shiny objects while dedicating a good chunk of your time to the current main project? Also, outsourcing the routine parts might help if you can budget for it. That’s what I do these days, but I know it’s not always an option at the beginning.
Hi Anne, I’m wondering if you still use clickup? I found it quite overwhelming to deal with, because I work on lots of projects and I have an issue where I keep switching my methods of organizing myself for projects. I’ve been trying to use Notion, and love the idea of it, but it just gets too spread out because I end up creating the same thing multiple times without realising. It’s probably just a me thing haha..
We still use Clickup, yes. We adjust the workflows in Clickup based on the changes that we make. I think it can be very challenging to stay organized, especially if you keep organizing new projects. But it may be even more challenging without a task management system than without. At least, if you’re working with a team.