Clustering Tasks to Stay Productive (and Sane)
Me, Myself and Affiliate Marketing

Clustering Tasks to Stay Productive (and Sane)

Does your to-do list look like this?

Finch's to-do list

Hopefully not.

I’d be worried if your day involved my balls.

One of the easiest ways to tell apart an affiliate marketer from another online professional is by inspecting his clusterfuck of a to-do list. On it you will find tasks that defy pattern, logic and – too often – sensibility.

I have explored many different theories of task management. From restricting my day to a maximum of 3 valuable tasks, to assigning letters and numbers to each, to completing the most important task first, to working in pomodoro sequence, to cramming more tasks in to a polyphasic sleep schedule (and completely shagging myself in the process).

One of the takeaway lessons from these experiments, besides appreciating my need to sleep like a real human being, is that clustering similar tasks is nearly always more effective than jumping between projects like a Kardashian on crack.

Multi-tasking does not exist.

Science has a gone a long way to proving that ‘effective’ multi-tasking is one of the great myths in our generation of workaholism. The brain cannot focus on two tasks at once. It can only stop, start, and switch. Any illusion of multi-tasking is actually the ability to do this fast and effectively.

Affiliates, being suckers for to-do lists with juddering changes in direction, have it harder than most. We have to balance many different skills with the regular burden of being ‘the guy who works from home and can therefore a) pick up the kids, b) wait for a delivery, c) take an hour out of the way to run errands’.

Go ahead. Look at what you’ve worked on today and count the number of times you’ve slammed the ‘reset’ button.

  • Every time you switch from analysing campaigns to creating campaigns, that’s a reset.
  • Every time you switch from designing campaigns to blogging, that’s a reset.
  • Every time you switch from blogging to trolling oDesk, that’s a reset.
  • Every time you pick up a phone or refresh your inbox, that’s a reset.

Generally I find that the more resets I ask of myself – the more shifts in focus – the less productive I become and the greater my tendency to procrastinate. Too many resets and a kitten will eventually perish.

There’s a very simple solution.

Cluster your tasks and reduce the number of resets in your day.

Instead of working on multiple demanding projects, choose just one. Get in ‘the zone’ and cling to it like a fly to a turd.

If you are anything like me, you will have 6 or 7 projects occupying your whiteboard at any given moment. In this case, a project per day is wishful thinking – a great way to ensure you spend a lot of time grafting with none of the thrill of actually finishing something. If you are balancing multiple projects, I suggest dividing your days in to an AM and PM. Then clustering your tasks accordingly.

I might have a day that looks like this:

AM: Blogging for FinchSells.com
– Reply to comments
– Draft post
– Follow up blog related emails
– Brainstorm Premium Posts concept

PM: Scale TJ/Exo Campaigns
– Assess campaign performance
– Update creatives and reset bids
– Scour for similar targets
– Creative research
– Launch in new region

In the past, I would smatter my tasks on a colossal to-do list, which left me hopping between unrelated items, or worse, sandwiching my important tasks with stupid shit that would completely obliterate my focus.

By focusing on just one project for the AM and one for the PM, you can leverage your lunch break as a natural reset. I have been known to go slightly AWOL on my lunch break, venturing in to town and succumbing to caffeine-aided introspection for hours on end. That’s okay. The AM and PM is purely symbolic; a shift in focus marked by the annihilation of a Halloumi wrap and a brief respite.

Of course, the acid test of any task management philosophy is how you deal with chores and the arrival of the unexpected. For the latter, I have matured enough to pick my battles. That means slowly falling deaf and blind to the most common distractions of affiliate-kind, which from my experience is one question that never ceases to relent, “Could I be working on something that makes me more money than what I’m already working on?” The temptation is always to say yes, whereas common sense says if you don’t finish your shit, you’ll never know and you’ll have wasted your time.

If an awesome CPA offer lands in my inbox, it’s probably not so awesome if it’s gone by tomorrow. If my accountant has an urgent question (“Hi Finch, where are you siphoning your money?”), he’ll be phoning me instead of adding to my Inbox Unzero.

Acceptance that your entire life isnt going to crumble and burn if you fail to adopt a 24/7 vigil over the call of your name is pretty fucking essential to anybody who wants to stay sane (or get something done) in this industry. As for chores, well, there’s only so many times you can wear the same shirt before ‘not smelling like a mountain troll’ becomes more important than your task management.

I have started to assign one day of the week to chores.

Just chores, nothing else.

Now that I live on my own, there’s a lot more flexibility in how I handle them. If i want to quit festering in my filth and bust out a vacuum, then that’s my initiative. The could rather than should makes a huge difference.

Simple acts of putting the laundry in, taking out the trash, or returning a phone call might only take minutes, but in momentum and concentration, they are like a sucker punch to the loins. Save it for your lunch break, or the end of the day, or just do what I am *almost* too ashamed to admit… and hire a maid.

Remember, every time you switch attention from your goal, that’s a reset.

“We overestimate what we can accomplish in a day and underestimate what we can accomplish in a year.”
Bill Gates

It’s one of my favourite quotes, and it’s true.

How do you know when you’re overestimating what you can accomplish in a day?


Wait for Friday evening and see if you feel like a sack of shit.

If it happens every week, then there’s probably something wrong with a) your expectations, or b) your task setting.

Me, Myself and Affiliate Marketing

The arrival of Spring marks 4 years since I quit my day job, dropped a brick through the alarm clock, and chose full-time affiliate marketing as a career. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll be familiar with my annual outpouring of ‘what I’ve learnt in the previous 12 months’, and the gory detail it so often entails. 

Well, hold on tight… 

What happens to the human brain after four years in affiliate marketing? Is twenty-something dementia an inevitability? Does the industry have a future? These are questions that have been landing in my inbox with increasing regularity since the launch of my Affiliate Marketing Survival Guide 2013.

I’m going to condense one of the hardest years of my life in to 7 takeaway brainfarts. Make of them what you will. 

You Can’t Live Off ‘Potential’ Forever

I had a slight identity crisis through the winter. You might refer to it as a first world problem, but I live in the first world, and we all have our battles. Sucketh on.

When I launched my affiliate business, I was 21 years old and a lot of my identity and self-worth was built around being a young entrepreneur instead of a slave to academia. As the years have gone by and my friends have left University and started their own careers, I’ve struggled to rationalise how this particular brand of entrepreneurship – affiliate marketing – correlates to the type of business figures and moguls I’ve come to admire. 

My own identity has been placed under the hammer, and while I can justify advertising until my face burns blue, I’m not entirely at peace with the legacy of it. 

I read a fantastic piece of advice in The Chimp Paradox that goes like this:

Imagine that you are 100 years old and on your death bed with one minute left to live. Your great-great-grandchild asks, “Before you die, tell me, what should I do with my life?”

Pause for a moment now and try to honestly answer the question immediately within the next minute. You have just one minute, start now and then when the time is up and you have worked out what you would say to them, continue below. 

Many people will answer with statements such as, ‘it doesn’t matter what you do’, ‘be happy’, ‘don’t worry’, and ‘make the most of it’.

Whatever your advice was to your great-great-grandchild is really the advice to yourself. If you are not living by this advice, which is the essence of your existence, you are living a lie.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the transition from a young guy in the industry with stars and dollar bills in his eyes, to being an established part of that industry and then not being sure if the industry is what he would want on his tombstone. This, in large part, has forced a dramatic shift in where I spend my time, and where I see my future. 

Writing 1000 Words Per Day

One of the best decisions I’ve made in the last year is a commitment to write at least 1000 words every day. 

Sometimes my writing involves commercial products that I intend to release, sometimes it involves blog posts (like this), and sometimes it means wave after wave of scribbles in one of about 5,000 moleskines.

I went through a phase of brutally recommending the 1000 words a day as catharsis to anybody and everybody who would listen. The truth is, everybody is different. Writing is just one of many different forms of expression, it only so happens to be the one that best erases my stresses and strains.

Whether you are a writer, an artist, a social butterfly or somebody who can only think straight with adrenaline coursing through his veins, it pays damn well to get in touch with the medium that allows you to express yourself and ‘get it out’. Finding what works for me (although I already knew) is definitely one of the plus points of the last 12 months. 

A Bad Diet is a Big Handicap

After growing sick of Masterchef breakfasts, I recently rocked up to Whole Foods and pillaged the supplement and shake aisles for more vitamins than I’d previously ingested in my other 25 years combined. 

While I have slipped back in to bad patterns recently (a broken fridge will do that to a man), there is no mistaking the benefits of eating well. The effect a good diet – and particularly a nutritious breakfast – can have on your productivity is absolutely mindblowing. 

I have a sweet tooth, some might even say a McTooth. But I’ve seen what difference processed crap has on my ability to think clearly, and to sustain that focus for hours at a time. I will be damned if I don’t consolidate some major dietary changes in the next 12 months. It’s money on the table in billable hours.

Mind Power Experiments

I recently followed a tip from Charles Ngo and have been taking L-Theanine supplements mixed with caffeine and Green Tea before the more intense parts of my day. Kiss my balls in advance, I’m not talking about RedTube.

L-Theanine is an amino acid that can lower anxiety and reduce the psychological and physiological effects of stress. It is relatively free from side-effects (everybody reacts differently, do not assume I wear a white coat), and one of many nootropics that *may* boost cognitive performance. If Limitless grabbed you by the gooch, they are worth checking out. 

While I have started to build up a tolerance to L-Theanine, it remains a pretty badass supplement when used sparingly to trigger a 3 to 4 hour burst of lucid focus, something I swear by when I’m writing. I kicked back a dose before writing this post and my eyes haven’t left the screen. Godsend. 

Another ‘mind hack’ I’ve become very familiar with in the last year is hypnosis. No, not the apocalyptic Derren Brown kind, but gentle, relaxation techniques. I took 7 hours of professional hypnotherapy from Darren Marks in Harley Street (recommended), and the sessions have helped me to get a grip on some damaging personal issues that were getting my titties in a twist. 

Cheap self-hypnosis tracks are available all over the Internet, for just about any pursuit imaginable. Even if you don’t ‘believe in hypnotism’, they are excellent relaxation tools for 20 minute breaks.

Relationships can’t be immune to change

The last time I mentioned my relationship, it was in glowing terms with an engagement and a move to America on the horizon. Well, that didn’t work out so well. I broke up with my ex in February, and the quiet on this blog has a lot to do with the force of the change ripping through the rest of my life. 

There was no hatred, no resentment, no posturing to spare the blame. Just a sad mutual realisation how something that once felt so right; over days, weeks or months; had splintered in to something that no longer was. That’s the story. 

I resent the 24/7 gossip mill culture that says scapegoats need to be found, drama made, or an opinion of a person has to shift if you break up with them. It’s Grade A bollocks, and I have no time for the bloodthirst.

Even worse, there’s judgment from the passive observer (who could only possibly find fulfilment in an episode of Hollyoakes); he or she who thinks that two grown adults making a decision has to reflect badly or tellingly on one of them. 

“Where did it go wrong? Who did what?”

C’est la vie. 

Sometimes life throws you lemons. 

Instead of making lemonade, I prefer to throw them back at the idiots who need conflict and bitching to get through their days. That’s pretty much all I want to say about it. 

This is an affiliate marketing blog. And yes, I use the term loosely. 

I Cannot Dance

Holy shit.

Being single again has reminded me how garishly offensive-on-the-eyeballs I can be when unleashed on a dancefloor.

My friends knew this already, but I had forgotten the fact over time.

I want to take this opportunity to say sorry in advance for the empty bars, clubs, etc.

It’s not you, London, it’s definitely me.

And what about Affiliate Marketing? Is it Dead?

No, she lives. 

There were times in the past few years where I felt overly paranoid for questioning when Lady Affiliate Marketing would pop her clogs and we’d all be forced to look for a day job. 

The bottom line is that any change is gradual, and even our worst fears (traffic source meltdowns, offer implosions) are negotiable by diversifying carefully, not resting on your laurels, and reading your RSS once in a blue moon.

Basically, don’t live under a rock, don’t pretend you’re invincible, don’t brag about your success (Karma is a bitch) and you should be okay. 

One day, the industry will resemble a completely different beast. That’s true. And yes, one day the tactics that worked in 2013 will be laughed at by the Internet nerdscallions of 2017. 

Who needs to lose sleep over it? 

The rest of the ‘unanswerable questions’ have a time, a place and a name.

They’re called 2014, 2015 and 2016. 

Keep your eyes open, work hard, don’t be a complete fuck-up, and you’ll be just fine. 

Recommended This Week:

  • For a more complete dissection on where affiliate marketing stands, I suggest you pick up this Survival Guide, updated for 2013.

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