SEO, optimize thyself: Get more results for your effort

Ian Lurie
slow slug

Yesterday I wrote about how effort does not equal results. Results are always better.

Great results come from testing and tweaking your own routine. You can set up a virtuous cycle: You get more efficient, and have more time to learn more about your job, which helps you be more efficient, and so on.

I’ve worked on this myself for years, by attacking the problem on three fronts:

  • Time management: Removing time sucks.
  • Repetitive tasks: Getting rid of them through tools, or any other way I can.
  • Learning: Figuring out where to find the good stuff.

These are lots of little tricks I learned from books like Getting Things Done, sites like 43 folders and tons of great advice from friends and colleagues. Read through ’em—if you have more ideas, please, add them to the collection.

Time management: Projects, tasks, and sprints

The single biggest productivity increase I’ve made? I started using a timer to break my day into sprints. It works like this:

At the start of each week

I list all of my projects. A ‘project’, for me, is anything that’s going to require more than 45 minutes to complete. Bizarre, I know, but it’ll make sense in a minute.

I also make a list of things I’d really like to do. These are not ‘musts’—they’re things that, if I can get through the rest of my list, I’ll work on. An example might be learning Ruby, or working on an analytics idea that I think is cool, but don’t really need.

Then, I break all my projects up into grouped to-dos. I use , a super-simple text to-do list manager. That gives me a list that looks like this:

todolist.txt in action
todolist.txt in action

The further into the future the todo item, the more general it is. So a todo that’s more than a day in the future could be so general that David Allen would tsk at me. This may not work for you—find the best balance between detail and practicality.

Each day

  1. Each day, in the morning, I pick the next 3-4 big to-dos and break them down into smaller tasks (actions) that’ll take no more than 45 minutes each.
  2. I break up my days into 1-hour sprints.
  3. In each sprint, I work for 45 minutes, uninterrupted. I turn off e-mail, set my instant messenger to ‘away’, and put up the do not disturb sign.
  4. Then, I take 15 minutes to check messages, answer staff questions and (gasp) maybe even take a break.
  5. At the end of each day, I list out any stuff that didn’t get done, so I know what my next action (thank you, David Allen) is for the next day. That ensures that I can dive right back in the next morning.

That’s time management in a nutshell.

Further reading

If you want to learn more about these kinds of techniques, read:

  • Anything about Scrum. While the whole Scrum thing never worked for me, there are fantastic ideas in the methodology that have quite literally changed the way I work.
  • Read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I’ll keep telling you this until you read it.
  • Check out the latest thinking on agile methodologies in general. Again, don’t adopt it all unless it just works for you, but there are lots of great nuggets.
  • Read Merlin Mann’s site.
  • Read Gina Tripani’s She gives good geek.

Repetitive tasks

Next up: Getting rid of repetitive tasks. I’m not going to go too far into this. It’d take a year.

If you see stuff here that you want to learn more about, tell me! I’m always looking for more ideas.

Instead, I’ll list some tools and things I’ve learned that save me time:

  • TextExpander creates a sort of keyboard shorthand, so I can type longer phrases, signatures and other text snippets really quickly. For example, with TextExpander, I’ve configured my trusty MacBook so that “,badd” automatically types out my company’s billing address. So I turned about 60 characters into five. That may not seem like much, but trust me, but it adds up.
  • 1Password stores all my passwords for me, so I can log in more quickly. Again, that saves me a moment here and there, and it adds up fast.
  • I use Dropbox to store an encrypted version of my 1Password logins and my TextExpander snippets, so that my iMac, Macbook and iPad all access the same stuff.
  • I use Evernote to store more detailed notes about stuff. Since it runs on all my devices, including my cell phone, I can always jot stuff down.
  • I learned to use Apple’s Automator, Bash scripting and Python so that I can automate a lot of simple tasks myself. I try to automate anything I have to do more than twice. Even if it takes a few hours, I learn a ton, I get a great new tool, and I save a lot more time in the long run.
  • Oh, and I run Quicksilver, so I can start applications and deal with files without resorting to mouse clicks.


What I wrote in this post, way back when, still holds true for me. I use Google Reader plus to store links from all of my various social networks.

Trunkly, we shall miss ye
Trunkly, we shall miss ye

Of course, Delicious has swallowed up like some monstrous space amoeba. But chances are it’ll be incorporated into Delicious. I hope? Maybe? Please?

At lunch each day, I skim through my Reader list and my links, finding interesting stuff. Then I read, and poof, good learning.

Find your own way

These are just ideas. I’m hardly the shining example of efficiency, what with my 30-minute tank-driving breaks

Employee training device
Employee training device

and other time wasters. But I do what I can. If you get ideas, or have questions, post ’em below. Thanks!

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Ian,
    I really like your idea of “sprints”. I might incorporate this into my daily routine, as I, like most, get caught up checking emails & messengers while I’m trying to get stuff done.
    Also – glad to know you use! It’s awesome and I’m surprised more people don’t use it.

  2. Great stuff here. Always good to see how others think and work.
    Will certainly read that book you keep recommending.
    One small note…instead of Quicksilver, you mind find Alfred more useful. What do you say?

  3. I’ve just this year started breaking tasks down in a similar way and time tracking has given me a real focus and allowed me to feel less guilty about stepping away from emails, because they are SO distracting!
    Interesting about the 45min sprints – do you have any kind of notification/alarm to remind you to take the breaks? or is it now just a natural pause?

    1. I use a desktop tool called Apimac timer, but even an alarm clock on your phone, or an egg timer, can do the trick.

      1. That’s good to know. I’ll probably just use my phone! Find that it’s far too easy to slip into working for 2 hours straight and loosing that all important focus.
        Hoping this time tracking and time management will provide much more. Thanks Ian. 🙂

  4. That is so true, Ian. Time management is very important to get the best out of your efforts. It really is about getting in a strict routine and schedule. One thing I learned before I became a bestselling author and long before Inc Magazine voted my company as one of the fastest growing companies is that it is always better to find ways to streamline those repetitive tasks.

  5. Interesting to see your take on controlling your time, especially about the you approach your sprints. I’ve been using RescueTime Pro for over a year now – it changed my life. I usually go for 50 minute sprints followed by 10 minute breaks.

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