Productivity Tips for Freelancer Marketers

Our 'Modern Mindset' series of podcasts look at ways in which we can all be more productive and how productivity is key to juggling your digital marketing career with your personal life.

In this episode, Will Francis, our experienced podcaster has an in-depth chat with SEO expert Joe Williams, founder of Tribe SEO. Joe is a young father but manages to run a successful business from his garden shed in the (near) wilds of Wales, out to the world beyond. Even if you don't have a dog to have a sea-swim with at lunchtime, you'll see learn plenty of tips from Joe as he examines his well-run life. 

Some of the tools and apps Joe mentions in the podcast include Notion, Airtable, Trello, SnagIt and, of course, Skype.

The full transcript is available below.

Podcast: Productivity Tips for Freelancer Marketers


[00:00:04] Will: Welcome to "The Modern Mindset." A podcast about soft skills brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute, exploring those personal skills that no one really teaches you, but are vital to success in your marketing career and keeping you ahead of the game. I'm Will Francis and today I'm talking to Joe Williams. He runs Tribe SEO. He works for himself from home with a three-month old baby. So I can't wait to hear how he keeps on top of that mountain of work he gets through with an impressive training business and managing working for himself in his home and being a young dad. Welcome to the podcast, Joe.

[00:00:40] Joe: Hey, Will. It's really good to be here. And, yeah, I look forward to it.

[00:00:43] Will: Yeah, I mean, over the next hour, what I really want to get out of you is, you're clearly a very busy guy. You've got a lot to do. And somehow you get it all done. And I'd just love to hear more about how you do that. So, just give me a brief overview of what is your kind of current personal time management setup or framework?

[00:01:04] Joe: Yeah. So, one thing, obviously being a dad, recent dad, you know, it's wonderful to become a father. But at the same time you do have to be a little bit more controlled of your time. So, I'm quite lucky in that, although I work from home, I work in a cabin outside of my home. So it's a little bit detached. I don't hear any of the noises coming from the house. But, yeah, in terms of my basic productivity setup, I follow a system that's quite close to the book called "Deep Work." And the idea with deep work is that you kind of, you set aside periods of time, so it could be it follows a time block system. So it might be 3 sets of 90 minutes and they're intensive focused amounts of work. And it's really important if you can to turn off distractions. So that would be putting your phone in airport mode, it would be turning off notifications on your computer. And for me, that's all done in the morning. That's when my mind is most clear. And that's kind of when I really focus the best.

[00:02:18] Will: Just explain to me what deep work actually is.

[00:02:21] Joe: So, yeah, so deep work, it comes from the book called "Deep Work" by Cal Newport, I believe, is the author. And he sort of talks about the difference between deep work and shallow work. Now, deep work is, your kind of like really important tasks that you need to do. Now, hopefully they should be aligned with tasks that you really want to do and you're really interested in. And in order to do them effectively, you need to have what Cal calls deep work. So that's long periods of time which are uninterrupted. And the reality is, without being disciplined, that's not what we normally do. We normally have notifications on email that pop up on the computer, social media notifications pop up. And we're just constantly being interrupted whether it's digitally or maybe the person next to you if you work in an office. And it's just, if you can, maybe you can't do three sessions in the morning, maybe you can do one session where you come to work a little bit earlier and that could be your deep work session. But it's trying to be mindful of how you can focus your energy and time.

[00:03:29] Will: You've talked about this idea of, can't remember who popularized it, but of eating the frog. So when you do that deep work, it is really facing the big, nasty thing that you've got to do today. You probably would procrastinate and put off and just mock about social media and say, "I'll do that this afternoon." But you just go straight into that.

[00:03:48] Joe: Yeah, so like, "Eat That Frog." That's another book. It sounds quite a strange phrase, but it's really about thinking about what's your most daunting but possibly most important task that you need to do, and doing that early on in your day. And the way that I kind of frame my day is that I have a morning routine and an afternoon routine. And the morning routine is right at the start of my workday and the afternoon is right at the end. And you can call that buck ends of your day essentially. So it kind of starts the day before. So, for the afternoon routine or sort of early evening routine, it's about reviewing your day, how well you feel you've done in terms of what you set out to do.

[00:04:37] This is something that I find really important, it's about setting a focus for the next day. So we probably have, at any one time we've probably got dozens and dozens of things that need to be done. And if we're not very clear on what we're going to do the next day, it can get a little bit overwhelming, like when you finish your day of work and you know you've got so much more to do, you kind of don't go skipping into work the next day if it seems like it's going to be quite hard to get everything done.

[00:05:07] Will: So you wake up every morning knowing what you're going to do. You've already decided the night before in general?

[00:05:12] Joe: Ideally, yeah. Like, when I'm really like on track, in flow, that's exactly how I work. And these days, more often than not, that's exactly how I do things. So, it will essentially be trying to simplify what are the most important things I should be doing into the three top tasks of the day. And what that kind of means is, when you kind of close the day and working from home, I always try to finish at 5:00 p.m. I shut down my computer and switch off. But as much as I feel like I am switched off that I can spend time with my family and enjoy it, whether you're going to sleep, you'll have those three tasks, you'll be thinking about them at some level. And you'll be surprised how often people say that there was a problem and overnight they woke up the next morning and they had a solution.

[00:06:07] Will: Slept on it.

[00:06:08] Joe: Yeah. I think it was like Paul McCartney. I'm not sure if it was yesterday, the song "Beatles" and he said that he just woke up with the full music in his head and he wasn't sure whether it was actually someone else's song. So there's something quite powerful I think from a...whether it's a subconscious or whether it's a dream state, actually giving your body time to think about something. And also, like, even for those that really, really love their work, I think sometimes, if it's not clear what you need to do when you get up. It can sometimes go, "God, I'm just going to open my email and just jump into the day."

[00:06:42] Will: Start firefighting.

[00:06:43] Joe: Start firefighting. So, that's kind of some things I would be thinking about in an afternoon routine. But in a morning routine it's definitely not opening up emails to start way off.

[00:06:57] Will: You don't check email all morning?

[00:06:58] Joe: Generally not if I can help it. But in particular I don't check email right at the start because I think that can starts pulling you, you're getting a little bit sidetracked. A kind of productivity guy that I follow. He probably wouldn't say he's a productivity guy, but Hal Elrod. He's written a book called "The Miracle Morning." And in the middle...

[00:07:21] Will: I'd love one of those.

[00:07:22] Joe: It sounds pretty good, doesn't it? But I think it's multimillion books sold. He's pretty kind of established, and that "Miracle Morning" comes down to the six what he calls lifesavers. And the savers basically stand for six things that he recommends you do in the morning. And he says you can either do this over maybe an hour or he even says it's possible to do over in six minutes, which I think it's a little bit of a stretch. But if maybe somewhere in the middle, maybe around half an hour. So I'm gonna see if I can remember what these are now. So, first of all we have...

[00:08:03] Will: Silence.

[00:08:04] Joe: Silence, which is S. So that's kind of like meditation. It's having a movement. I've got an apple watch on my hand. And what I can do with that watch is there's a breathe app. So I basically just take five minutes out and I just have some quiet. I haven't even put my monitors on. And in fact, I've got quite an advanced green, a tea maker, which basically allows you to set the brew time, the temperature, and it's loose leaf. So it's a nice kettle, but it takes roughly five minutes to kind of heat up and to brew the tea. So I basically do my...

[00:08:53] Will: So you start the day with what sounds like the Japanese tea ceremony.

[00:08:57] Joe: Yeah. I mean, I love green tea. So I generally go for green tea with brown rice, which has got a name in Japanese that I can't remember. But if you Google green tea with brown rice. It gives it a slightly sweeter taste, not as bitter and it's got a slightly popcorn taste to it. And it's meant to be quite good for you. So that's kind of like my silence, which is the first thing that I'll do. The next to a kind of like, I wouldn't say I always do. So the second one is affirmations, which I have tried but I wouldn't say I do it regularly. So that's where you have a positive thought. It's often quite good to do when you're exercising and you kind of repeat it in your mind. So it's trying to get a positive mindset to start that day with sort of good intentions. So that's A of savers.

[00:09:50] The third one is visualization. Now, that one I think is a good one, and I combine that with the next one, which is E for exercise. When I mentioned the exercise that I do, you may laugh a little bit, but I basically have a rebounder in my cabin. And a rebounder is like a mini trampoline. And I've kind of gone for the one that doesn't have springs, so it's quite silent but it's also quite fluid in terms of how you bounce on it. And I'll sometimes mix it up with some like mini weights that I'm bouncing around. And the idea is I think NASA said that it's kind of one of the most efficient forms of exercise that you can do because it's very low impact on your body. But also it's actually quite good for your, just your general well being. In terms of how we pump blood around the body, it's from our heart, but in terms of how we get rid of toxins from the blood and from our body, that's our lymphatic system and that needs motion to be effective. So, a good way of doing that is walking, is running, or, in my case, rebounding.

[00:11:05] Will: Sounds great. I mean, so that's quite a high energy start to the morning. You're really kind of getting the blood flowing, getting the brain, you know, enriched and fed with...

[00:11:13] Joe: Yeah. And that might be like 10 or 15 minutes. It doesn't have to be anything, a huge amount of time. But that's where I would sometimes combine it with the visualization. So, now that I know what the three tasks are that I really want to get done that day, it's just visualizing, one, how am I going to do that, and how I'll feel afterwards that I know that that's been done. And I might combine that with the three tasks that I want to do for the week as well.

[00:11:38] Will: So you actually think about not only doing it, but how you're going to feel when you've done it. You're going to imagine yourself having done it and how good that will feel.

[00:11:47] Joe: I think that's the key thing with visualization. And you can do at a kind of micro level which is like the day. You could do at a macro level which might be for the year, what your year goals. And it's kind of like...I am a little bit of a like to read self-help books and that sort of thing. And I think the key thing that I've kind of learned fact, Hal Elrod's new book, it's something, not the success equation, but it's something similar. And there's two points to it. And the first point is really completely believing that you can do what it is. And then the second point is basically doing the work. So, the visualization is helping you believe that you can actually do what you intend to do. And if you genuinely believe that, it's like athletes, they athletes have been through the process of actually winning that race hundreds and hundreds of times in their minds. And I think it came from the Olympics from the Russians actually came with this visualization technique in sports. And I'm not saying that every day I'm by detail visualizing every task that I do, but I find more often than not when I do focus more on visualization for the day I tend to have a better day and feel more satisfied at the end of it.

[00:13:07] Will: Yeah, I think I understand that, because it's not about just I suppose a listing of positive state within yourself. I think it organizes your thoughts well and sets, kind of organizes your brain around those three tasks and really puts you into your first burst of deep work well prepared. But also I think, one of the most common problems I come across with clients and delegates on courses that want to get into marketing is confidence is I think it's by far the biggest issue. And everyone goes into it with imposter syndrome where they feel like they're the one that's going to get caught out for not knowing everything and they're not worthy of their place in the market and executive seat. And I think confidence or lack thereof is and maybe it's cultural, maybe it's a British thing, I don't know, but I'm pretty sure it's global, and I think it's the biggest thing holding people back. So I think all those, to some people it might sound a bit odd but actually visualizing yourself succeeding in those roles and with those tasks is really important I think because then you can believe it, and becomes possible at the very least.

[00:14:21] Joe: Yeah, yeah, no, definitely, and in fact, when I was walking to here today, just something came up on my phone. And I forget the lady's name, it's Marie something. She's very sort of big in her space in America. But she's got a new book and it's called "Everything Is Figureoutable." It's a bit of a strange phrase. But the idea is that like you might doubt what you can do, particularly for bigger projects. You might doubt whether you can actually do it at all. But if you go in with a mindset that everything actually is figureoutable you can figure things out, then you start to believe that it's true, that it can happen. And until you actually get to that stage where you believe something is possible, in fact, I think with Hal Elrod's second book, it's like, first you've got to believe that it's possible, then you've got to believe that it's, I think like it's likely. He uses a different word. And then after that it's inevitable.

[00:15:24] And you can't jump from possible to inevitable, it's building up that confidence as you say that you're in that good space. And just to quickly kind of wrap up the savers, you've got reading. So, I don't always do this in the morning, but it may be that I am reading a book or listening to an audio book. So maybe there's like 15 minutes or 20 minutes there. Again, if I'm rebounding, sometimes I will listen to some audio. So it could be an audio book. And then the last one is scribing, which is basically writing. And I think a lot of people would be actually journaling. So it might be just getting any kind of thoughts in their mind, good or bad, just writing them down, maybe writing down their experience from the previous day. It could be a problem that you've got on your mind that everything is figureoutable. I've got a problem. I'm just going to scribble. I'm not going to think too much about what it is and see what comes out. But, of those sets, it's more the silence, the visualization, the exercising. So I tend to focus more on those three, but now and again, I'll throw in another one of that list and see how I get on.

[00:16:40] Will: So that's your morning, you start with those, and then you go into three 90-minute periods of deep work.

[00:16:48] Joe: Yeah. I find that's probably the one biggest change for me is finding the time to do it, switching off notifications, and I slightly gamify it by using an app called Forest. I use it on my iPhone. I'm pretty sure it's on Android. And the idea is that for X number of minutes, you grow a tree in a forest. And also it encourages me anyway, when I see it in front of me and I can see the minutes coming down, I find it's much easier to stay focused for those 90 minutes and say to myself, "I can't jump out now, I'm doing a deep work session." I find the problem of listening to music is that, you could have a little cheat where you just change the track or you find a new artist. It's breaking up that deep work. So in this app, it starts off with, I think it's some music, some sounds from the forest.

[00:17:48] And it's slightly gamified after you've got certain amount of points you can change the sound. So I'm now listening to like a cafe in Paris. So it's people sort of talking French which I don't really speak French, so I don't understand what's being said and...

[00:18:02] Will: It's not distracting.

[00:18:03] Joe: It's not distracting. But I find using that app, like I like my statistics. And what you can do is you can look back on a daily basis how many minutes you did of deep work, weekly basis, monthly basis. And I find that quite motivating. So, that's something that's working quite well for me.

[00:18:23] Will: That's great. I mean, yeah, I was going to ask you what you listen to, but you've sort of answered it. Because what I think's really, I've come across so many people now that use these websites. And actually, you can get it on Spotify now because of the popularity, that just play ambient sound. So the sound of a coffee shop is a really popular one. And it's something that's very slightly almost a bit Black Mirror about that that who would have thought 10 years ago that we'd all be sitting where everyone has gone freelance and we're just sitting in our silent homes listening to the sound of a coffee shop.

[00:18:54] Joe: Yeah. It's crazy. And I think it's probably like a loop every two or three minutes because you hear like these chings of glasses every now and again. But I think the key thing there really is that you're not thinking about what the next track is. Or if a track comes on and you've heard it too many times or whatever. And I like listening to classical music. And I think, when I'm working and I find that I'm less likely to get distracted and think I need to change the track or find a new artist. So, yeah. And don't get me wrong, I'm not doing that all day. As I'm sure we'll come on to in a moment. The idea with deep work is that's for important tasks. And it does use up quite a lot of energy, mental energy in the day. And in the afternoon I focus more on shallow tasks.

[00:19:45] So these are things that are less important, require less mental energy, and maybe more admin-based. And they sometimes they're things that I'm putting off or I don't really want to do. So, they're not essential, they're there to do in the afternoon. But also, working from home, that's more the time that, like, if there's an emergency my wife will come knocking on the door in the morning or she needs help then she'll do that as well. But it's more in the afternoon that...

[00:20:15] Will: You're disturbable.

[00:20:16] Joe: I'm much more disturbable. Yeah. And I feel like, quite often I'll have done my top three most important task by lunchtime.

[00:20:24] Will: You've already won by lunchtime.

[00:20:25] Joe: Yeah. It's the phrase, win the day. If you win the day, you've won the month sort of thing, and you feel good about yourself. And I think what happens is, when you get easily distracted, which I think we all do in this digital age, then, you know, what I sometimes used to find is come 5:00 I'd feel a bit frustrated that I hadn't got done what I planned to get done. And that can have a knock on effect into your evening. You're not quite as chirpy with your spouse as you perhaps you normally would be. And I don't think it should be that way really. You kind of control what you do or to certain level you do, depending on what your job is. But you do have a sense of control and I think it's important to try and fit in a system that you trust, that's a key thing, that you trust that you are going to do what you say you're going to do.

[00:21:15] Will: That's really interesting there how you structure your day. So, at lunchtime, you, I already read that you take a long lunch, an hour and a half, you go for a walk, perhaps even a swim with the dog, have a good lunch, have a shower because obviously you work from home so we get the luxury of working in our pajamas doing deep work. And I don't know about you, but I always find often when I'm in the shower, I'll have real clarity of thought. And I'll come up with really good ideas or some of my best thinking is in the shower and then my next thought will be, God, yeah, annoyingly Elon Musk is right about that. Because he talks about that. That's like when he's asked about what his top productivity hack is, he's like, "Have a shower."

[00:22:08] Because actually showering yourself is such a routine, you don't have to think about it, but you are stuck in it. So you're forced, so, for some reason, that's a very fertile environment for your mind to sort of wander off. So it's actually quite nice to do it at lunchtime because you can reflect on the morning a little bit and then have some ideas about things you might want to do that are less challenging in the afternoon.

[00:22:34] Joe: Yeah, and I totally agree, and some of my best ideas come in the shower. And I think there is some physical science behind it with like the water hitting the top of your head and there's like...I listen to a podcast and I forget the technicalities, but I do get really good ideas in the shower. And what I tend to do is I have my Apple watch with me and I'll set a reminder to say what that idea is. So if I remember it...

[00:23:03] Will: Oh, my God, so you take notes in the shower?

[00:23:05] Joe: Yeah. I'll go, "Siri reminder" and say what it is. And then if it's a particularly good idea. But I think generally your good ideas come from when you're out of context.

[00:23:20] Will: When you're not at your desk.

[00:23:21] Joe: Yeah. It could be going for a walk, but I think, a more concentrated time, if I'm having a shower for 5 or 10 minutes, I'm much more likely to get a really good idea than, say, you know, half an hour walk, although both are good opportunities. But, yeah, I think showers are good.

[00:23:36] Will: They are.

[00:23:38] Joe: They keep you clean and they give you new ideas.

[00:23:40] Will: And it does help to be clean. Okay, so, what that takes me into is thinking about login ideas. Tell me about your setup with, because it's something I'm slightly obsessed with, is your to-do list, your notes, how do you capture ideas? Where is the digital kind of repository for you of all these things and how do you organize your thoughts, your to-do's, your tasks, etc?

[00:24:06] Joe: Yeah. Well, I think in another workspace I think I would get into productivity from an app perspective. I'm not quite sure in what way, but, I've got a genuine interest and I've tried a lot of different apps, to-do apps, you know, things like Evernote to store your filing system. And you can waste quite a bit of time trying all these different tools out, but it is something that I enjoy doing. But I've kind of moved from, I think one of my big takeaways with this is, I think your to-do and your filing system needs to be separate. It could be the same app, but it needs to be separate. Your to-do has to be just actionable things. And I have tried to do my to-do within Evernote. I've tried to store lots of Evernote stuff into a to-do app and I've had mixed success.

[00:25:02] But the app that I use now that I'm very happy with is called Notion. So the website is And it's a strange app. Like, it would probably describe itself as a relational database, which doesn't sound, that doesn't sound that interesting or useful for most people. But what that means is a relational database is kind of like a traditional database, where you can store files, you can store items, a bit like Excel, like how Excel works.

[00:25:34] Will: Is it a bit like Airtable?

[00:25:35] Joe: It's like Airtable. So basically Airtable is like...Airtable is one of its competitors. But where it positions itself differently is Airtable is kind of more truer to a spreadsheet in terms of how you use it, but it's much more flexible than a spreadsheet as a to-do item, but it combines elements of Evernote, so you can web clip files into your storage system. And it also combines, I mean, I think you can do this in Airtable, but it also combines elements from Trello. So if you like to have a Kanban system where you move things from being to do, to doing, to done.

[00:26:12] Will: From left to right.

[00:26:13] Joe: From left to right. That's kind of how my brain works on a doing way. Like I really like that Kanban system. But the other real nice benefit of Notion is, it's aimed at content creators. So, it's much nicer I think to use compared to Airtable when you're writing pieces of content. It just feels nice how you use it and they haven't gone for like loads of superduper features. They've kind of gone for simplicity and how it all unifies and how you use it. So, yeah, I use it for my day-to-day to-do list. I use it for when I'm creating an online course. I'll have the high level outline of what the modules are, then what the lessons are within the modules. And then within that, you can click on an item within a row and you've got a really, it's almost like word but nicer than word to write in.

[00:27:17] And you can have expandable parts of content. So you can kind of open and close them. So it's nice to kind of like play around with getting ideas for content. And it's also it's quite flexible and adaptable, so you can show how much progress you've made for a particular project. So if I've got nine modules and I've got maybe seven lessons per module, it's quite a lot of lessons to complete. But it's quite reassuring to see what percentage of those lessons I've done. And with a little bit of tinkering you can set that up.

[00:27:53] Will: I'm gonna have to try that. That sounds great.

[00:27:55] Joe: Yeah, it's not that. I think they've got a free version and the premium version isn't that expensive either. Yeah, I think it's easy to use and it's nice and simple. Yeah.

[00:28:07] Will: Because I personally, I feel like I've tried lots of different systems. And I think I arrived at the conclusion maybe two or three years ago that the perfect system is just a myth. And the perfect system is like asking what the perfect pair of shoes is. It's just different for everyone. If you look on a site like medium, the kind of big blogging site, so much content is devoted to productivity hacks, tips, lists, tools, and there's such an allure to anybody who's trying to get a lot of stuff done. It's so, we're just like master the flame. And it's to do with productivity. We're like, "Oh, my God, this is the hack. This is the one that's going to revolutionize the way I work and I'm going to suddenly become this super productive person."

[00:28:57] Having tried all these systems, I think the two things that came out of it for me was, A, there's no perfect system. But also, I do worry that, today, we're putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to always be productive. And even though, much as I love podcasts and audiobooks, I'm guilty of thinking, "I've got to do some washing up now," or, "I've gotta wash the car and must listen to some valuable knowledge-based content because I've got to be productive during this time and maximize my time." You know, are we forgetting to just waste time a bit and switch off and relax?

[00:29:34] Joe: Yeah. I think we are, and I think it's important that you can switch off and relax. Like, when I walk my dog, I will quite often be listening to a podcast, sometimes I'm not. And the thing that I like about swimming with my dog when it's warm enough to in the sea, is that there are no distractions. I'm not listening to anything.

[00:29:55] Will: And Bluetooth headphones don't work quite so well.

[00:29:57] Joe: No, I haven't got waterproof ones and I don't plan to buy waterproof Bluetooth headphones. But, I mean, you're in nature, you've got your dog, man's best friend next to you and you're swimming away. Maybe I'm chucking the ball for her or just playing around and relaxing. And I think ultimately is life about being productive or is life about enjoying yourself? And I think there's overlaps with both. But I think if you want to be productive, you need the space to relax and just to have some thinking time, and much like you need sleep to recharge physically, sleep helps you recharge mentally, but I think you need moments in the day as well, that space. It's like if you look at a website, it's that white space or that empty space that really puts it together.

[00:30:50] Like with music, it's the space that makes the music. And if you're just a busy bee all day long and you're optimizing your time by listening to podcasts and things like that, which a great, you know, I do that myself, but I think you need those moments as well where you can kind of just take a breather and just know you have that space in your day.

[00:31:09] Will: Yeah, I mean, there's something you said about switching your computer off at the end of the day. And a few weeks ago, my son spilt a glass of water on my laptop and that was the end of my MacBook Air. And so I had to dig out my wife's old iMac. You have to plug it in. It's not a laptop. And I have to go and sit at my desk to switch on and off. It had a really positive impact on the way I work, strangely, because I go and sit at the desk, I do work and then I walk away from the desk. And if I've had a good day, you walk away with the feeling like you've earned the right to just do absolutely nothing in the evening and just completely relax and you're off the hook. You don't feel that slight guilt that you could have done more and maybe should maybe just answer a few emails to kind of get back out of the red as it were. So, yeah, I think that's a really probably one of the most valuable things you can do.

[00:32:05] Joe: Yeah, in the book, "Deep work," that's where I got the idea from Cal Newport. At the end of the day, he switches his computer off, but he actually says to himself, "Shut down complete." And in saying that, it's kind of reemphasizing that he has done his work and...None of us are perfect. We'll sometimes check our phones or emails and things. But by physically turning off the computer, as you say, it gives you that sense of, you've drawn a line in the sand, and you're now stepping into your next part of your day, which is having more space and time to do other things.

[00:32:45] Will: And thinking about that kind of tension between your own time and your productive time, how did having a baby change your priorities?

[00:32:58] Joe: I think it obviously changed your priorities in a lot of ways, but I think it helped from a time management perspective, because I had read "Deep Work" a while before and I had tried, played with the ideas. And I liked how it all made sense from a kind of information perspective. But I didn't really do it that much. But in the last couple of months, I'm kind of like, it's hard to get done what I need to get done.

[00:33:29] Will: The pressure is on, isn't it?

[00:33:30] Joe: Yeah, the pressure is on. Like I haven't got as much Flexi time if I haven't got something done to complete what I had planned to get done, and it can get frustrating, and you don't want those frustrations to be passed on to the time that you do have after work. So, I think it's kind of having a baby, like it's like one of the greatest things amazing things you can have, but at the same time, it like changes everything. And in some ways you have to change yourself. And I think, from a productive perspective, you don't want to be productive outside of work necessarily, you want to just be free and open. But that kind of means that, at some stages during your work, you kind of need to do things.

[00:34:15] And, for me, I've always known that I work better in the morning, and I have to a degree always done my most important work in the morning and given myself a bit of slack in the afternoon. But what I hadn't done is sort of time blocked these sessions in a way where my wife knows that if she really needs me, she has to use Skype in the morning because I'll have Skype on my...Because I generally don't use Skype, so no one is really coming in that way to contact me. But I've turned the notifications off my phone and email notification. So that's the way that she can kind of come in, but she knows herself then there has to be sort of like a reason, I guess.

[00:34:57] Will: Yeah. So it's brought this discipline really. It's put that pressure on to bring real structure and discipline to what you do so that you can part the waves and make that kind of time for somebody.

[00:35:08] Joe: Yeah. And I was listening to a podcast recently and it really struck a chord in me. And the guy being interviewed was saying, like, as a general rule, most people feel that integrity is an important thing, like it's a value that they have in a personal level and properly from a workplace perspective. But when we think about self-integrity, that's basically doing what you say you're going to do, or doing what you feel you should do. And quite often, when we miss a deadline or we don't do something, and this repeats and repeats and repeats. Then there comes a point where you don't always believe that you are going to do what you say you're going to do. And when you get to that stage, it's quite hard. And I kind of felt, with the pressure of having, after having a new baby, with less time, or spare time anyway, I kind of felt like I needed to kind of get better at that self-integrity where I was meeting deadlines more often than I wasn't. And these are my own deadlines now, and I feel this time blocking approach has really helped.

[00:36:12] Will: That's really interesting. Yeah, it is definitely a massive life change and I think it does push you to be a better person. So, it's a good thing to do. Okay, so I mean, we talked lots, obviously, about this through the lens of someone who is freelance, who works at home, but of course, it's just a challenge and in lots of different ways working in a busy office with lots of other people around you. What sort of productivity I suppose techniques or hacks have you tried, whether it's been successful or not in-house, or agency, or office environments?

[00:36:53] Joe: I think, even just coming back to having those top three tasks for the day, whether you're going to get distracted or not, it's nice to know what the finishing line is at the end of the day. Like if you know what the three things are you need to get done, that is the finishing line. And if you get two of them done, you can feel quite good about your day. If you get three of them done, you feel really good about your day. So, it's being clear what is important for your day, and to try and aim to get those done. And also, when you do have interruptions, it's easy to say, "Yes, I can do that." And sometimes if it's your boss, there may not be much wiggle room. But if you do know what you're three tasks are, you can say to your boss, "Yes, I can do that today. But the three things I'm working on are these three things. And they're important because they're contributing to this bigger project." That thing that you want me to do will probably take me about an hour and a half, which means I definitely won't be able to do all of these three things." I mean, that might sound a little bit like...

[00:37:53] Will: No, I think that's true. I think if you haven't agreed, if you haven't even agreed with yourself what you need to do that day, how are you then going to Be able to work out whether you can go to a meeting or do something else that crops up unexpectedly?

[00:38:06] Joe: Exactly. And it might be that, it's not that you're saying that you can't do it, it's that, what you had planned today was this. And you might say, "It's Tuesday now, Thursday, I've got a lot more space in terms of what I'm planning to do. You know, I'll have the hour and a half, that can definitely get that done then. If it really needs to be done today, then I can, there's flexibility in what I can do, but it will have an impact. And I remember when I actually worked in an agency, there was this, we did a lot of Excel, particularly when I was doing Google ads. And there was this one guy that was like an admin assistant, but he was like exceptionally good at Microsoft Excel. So if you had a big project, and you were struggling with time, he was your go-to man.

[00:38:54] But what he was really good at doing is he had time blocked his day based on tasks that people had asked him to do. And I would say to him, "Hey, can you do this for me?" And he would work out, he'd be like, "Yeah, that's about an hour's worth of work." And he'd be like, "No, I can't do it today." And you could see in his calendar, like this guy wasn't...there was no wiggle room. He genuinely couldn't do it that day. And because he had planned out his day to quite a high level of precision, you trusted what he said. You were like, "Well, can you do it tomorrow?" And he's like, "Yeah, I can do it tomorrow between 10:00 and 11;00." That's how detailed he was. And I'd be like, "That works for me." And it's kind of like, I'm not saying that you would have to take it to that kind of a level. But when you do start to plan out your day, you're in a stronger position to kind of negotiate with potential interruptions.

[00:39:44] Will: Yeah, absolutely. And, I mean, everyone hates meetings, and there are some sort of modern companies who insist on like stand´-in only meetings and all that kind of thing. Have you got any thoughts on how to make meetings effective? How do you make meetings effective?

[00:40:01] Joe: I mean, I don't have that many meetings.

[00:40:04] Will: Not these days but no, I'm sure, of course.

[00:40:07] Will: No. But I've been in a lot of meetings. And I remember being in a meeting with Stelios from EasyJet and EasyCrew. So big, big personality. And he would start the meeting by saying, "What's the purpose of this meeting? What do we want to get out of this meeting?" It was very clear that if you'd been in one meeting, you knew the second time you had that meeting, you were going to get asked that and you needed to have a good answer for it. He wanted it to be concise. And at the end of the meeting, he would say, okay, he'd recap on what the reason was, and he'd remembered all this, he was a sharp guy. And then he'd say, "What are your next actions, Joe?" Because I was working agency-side helping him with the SEO. He's like, "Joe, what's your next action?" He would ask the table, and it was like you knew that he was on the ball and there needed to be a purpose behind the meeting and it needs to be concise.

[00:41:02] Will: And a lot of accountability for everyone.

[00:41:05] Joe: Yeah. It's like, "Well, you've said you're going to do this. So these are..." And there was someone next to him taking the meeting notes, so you knew that this has all been noted as well. But, yeah, I just think when it comes to a meeting, like, it needs to have a clear purpose. And I think, ideally, it needs to have a time frame as well. If you set a meeting at 10:00 and generally speaking you might have booked out 10:00 to 11:00 in the calendar, but if it only needs to be 20 minutes, I think it's to try and be clear that we're going to talk about this in this meeting. It's going to be fairly short, maybe 20 minutes. And let's work out what the reason is behind the meeting. And let's come up with a solution that everyone's on the page.

[00:41:52] I think the other sort of thing with meetings is, do they need to happen? Or do they need to happen as regularly as they have happened? And I have someone who helps me from an SEO perspective. So if I do some client work, Yolanda does, she helps me with some of the work. And at stages, we need to have weekly meetings. But right now, because of the way things are working, it doesn't need to be that regular. Maybe it's every couple of weeks. And we've recently changed it from being every week to being slightly less regular. So I think you've got to kind of ask yourself the question is, what's the purpose behind the meeting? Does it need to be this regular? Does it need to be this long?

[00:42:34] Will: I think we've all been in weekly status meetings that feel like they're broken record and exactly the same as last week's and...

[00:42:43] Joe: Yeah. And, if you've got like 20 people in a status meeting, maybe it makes sense to just get, not everyone needs to be in that meeting at a certain time. And maybe there's a summary that's sent out after.

[00:42:56] Will: It could have been an email summary. I've come out of too any meetings and thought, "That could have been an email." Thinking about email and communication, how do you prefer to communicate with people, and how to use communication tools to improve productivity?

[00:43:12] Joe: Well, I mean, email is email and it's useful and you need to do it.

[00:43:18] Will: So you're not anti-email?

[00:43:19] Joe: I'm not anti-email, but when, I actually work with a number of freelancers, so I have someone that does my website designers, I have someone that helps them my copywriting and proofreading. I have someone that helps me with PowerPoint design and design for courses. And maybe another freelancer. I generally do all that through Trello, because I find it's quite good for collaborative, but I would say 90% of my communication, or maybe 75% of my communication is through screencasts. So, I'll define a task or in Trello you call it a card. There'll be an outline of, sometimes it literally says, "@theperson here's my explainer and here's my slides." And that's going to my PowerPoint person. And then it's just a link, a dropbox link. I use a tool called Snagit. And then it's me looking at the slides that we're currently working on and just giving feedback on where we're at or what I need. And it's just like a five-minute video. And, you know, that I find is really effective in terms of my time. And it usually, it's quite easy, I find, for the other person to understand.

[00:44:31] Will: That's brilliant. So you actually, you delegate tasks and feedback through a video just on your webcam of you talking through what needs doing?

[00:44:41] Joe: Yeah. It's not a webcam. They just see the screen that I'm on. So they get the audio. And normally, if it's web design, I will say, "Hey, okay, thanks, Rajesh, for working on this page. The headline is not quite right," or I might inspect a bit of code and show them something I want tweaked. Or if it's PowerPoint, rather than writing paragraphs and paragraphs of text, which would take me longer, probably take them longer to interpret...

[00:45:10] Will: Which we're all guilty of doing.

[00:45:11] Joe: Yeah, it's more like, this is what I'm thinking of the illustration I would like you to create and how it needs to be animated and given direction that way.

[00:45:21] Will: That's a great idea. I'm definitely gonna steal that one. That's fantastic.

[00:45:25] Joe: So I use Snagit, which I'm not sure if it's just a Mac App. They may well have a Windows version, and then you can link it to Dropbox. So then once you've recorded the video, you just copy link and then you just send them that link. So it's really quick and easy to do.

[00:45:40] Will: Yeah, because I'm interested in communication, because, Slack has been so popular in recent years and has been touted as an email killer, but actually I love email. And again, I mean, not that I'm some big fan of Elon Musk, but, I just read about some of his productivity hacks recently. He loves email as well because in fact it's asynchronous and you can batch it, because we talk about batch work and doing shallow work, you know, Slack and Skype and things like that, they're interruptive. Whereas email, you can respond to everybody in one go. It's a batch of work, it's very efficient. And you can obviously just write what you need and get it off. And that's it. You're done. You can move on.

[00:46:23] Joe: Yeah, no, I agree. I mean, I've used Slack, I know how to use it. It's not something that, I tend, for your kind of team communication, my team and my freelancers. And I tend to do that more from Trello and, yeah, online screencast. So, I think it depends. It's not so much the medium, it's what works for you and your team. And I think email is always going to be part of that. It may be that there are other ways that you're using, whether it's Slack or Trello. But it's that nice sort of evergreen way of communicating, isn't that?

[00:46:59] Will: Everyone has got it. Yeah. Well, that's great. Thanks so much for that. That's really insightful. Now, there's a, I think I'm right in saying, there's a blog post in the membership section on the Digital Marketing Institute website, and a toolkit for productivity that you've created. And also just tell listeners where they can find you online as well.

[00:47:20] Joe: Okay, yeah. So, my name is Joe, Joe the SEO. You can find me at on LinkedIn, I think it's Williams. And at Twitter, it's @Joetheseo.

[00:47:36] Will: Great. Well, thanks so much, Joe. Really, really appreciate it.

[00:47:39] Joe: Yeah, I really appreciate it. And thanks a lot for the opportunity, Will.

[00:47:44] Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about developing your own soft skills in marketing, head to Thanks for listening.

Joe Williams

Joe Williams teaches search engine optimization at Tribe SEO. He holds a degree in Computing Informatics, and he’s been an SEO for over 15 years. He’s consulted and trained many large blue-chip companies including The Guardian, Cosmopolitan and Sky. He's on a mission to make SEO easy, fun and profitable. You can catch him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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