Clustering Tasks to Stay Productive (and Sane)
The Grind: Only Cool When You Know How To Stop
Are You Dedicated Or Addicted To Your Job?

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.

The Grind: Only Cool When You Know How To Stop

There seems to be a sub-culture in affiliate marketing these days. It’s the by-product of a super competitive crowd, all working hard to stay one step ahead of their rivals. You’ve probably seen it splashed across your Twitter feed.

“Hey Joe, I can’t come out tonight. I’m busy grindin”

“I just dumped my girlfriend. She didn’t like my grind.”

“Forced to choose between the grind and playing with my balls, I choose the grind.”

Check out Ryan Eagle’s Twitter for more classic examples.

Affiliates seem to fail or succeed by virtue of “the grind”. The ability to work like a slave – through the night, through the morning – deaf to distractions and entirely committed to the art of getting shit done.

Everybody needs to be working at least 22 hour days or they’re just not working hard enough, right? I’ve been sucked in to this competitive mindset in the past, and I’m doing my best to wriggle my way free. The grind is only cool when you know how to stop.

I was sitting downstairs in my lounge the other day, vegetating like some kind of unshaven grizzly bear. It’s very rarely that I allow mindless police chases on budget Bravo TV to distract me from work, but I truly miss the days where I knew how to lounge around and do absolutely nothing.

That sounds like a step backwards. If you’re successful, why would you want to waste your energy on television while the opportunity of time passes you by? For me, it’s become an issue of retaining my health and limiting my insanity.

It’s very easy, as an affiliate marketer working from home, to get sucked in to working these grueling 16 hour days. And if like me, you enjoy what you do, the lure can be even harder to resist. During the earliest days, I built some kind of elitist dream where putting in those hours somehow made me more likely to be satisfied with my progress. It made me better than everybody else because I was somehow more committed or more in control of my destiny.

But if you don’t know when to stop, you’re not really in control, are you? You’re more of a prisoner than you ever were in your 9-5 when there was a clear beginning and end to your day.

One of the things I’ve discovered is that no matter how much money you earn, there will always be somebody earning more. If you fall in to the trap of pursuing this relentless grind, unable to dictate when your work day ends, it’s only going to be you that suffers. And I know personally because I’ve already suffered. My health has suffered, my moods have suffered. My ability to appreciate rare moments, simply festering on the couch with absolutely nothing to worry about – those have also suffered.

I went for a laser eye surgery consultation last week and somehow ended up referred to the hospital instead with skyrocketing eye pressure, pounding headaches and an overwhelming feeling of fatigue.

Ironically, I’ve always figured that my problems could be solved by money. My bad vision being one of them. I thought if I could afford to throw £5500 at surgery to correct my eyes, it would easily justify all those hours on the grind. But there are some things money can’t fix, so grinding for 16 hours straight isn’t always the answer. Even if affiliates are being systematically brainwashed to believe that’s the case.

Over the last week or so, I’ve been working to reverse the trend. I’ve been slowly lowering the number of hours I allow myself to spend in front of a computer screen and trying to work in productive surges. I took some advice from lenstrom on Twitter and have been trying to integrate these health measures in to my day.

The biggest challenge for me is to learn that whatever lands on my desk, whatever lands in my inbox…it doesn’t always have to be acted on now. I’ve already caught some fire and some contrasting opinions on the matter.

Just two days ago I posted on Twitter: “Tomorrow…tomorrow is the day where I get back on track.”

These words seemed to raise some strong opinions from various affiliates. Apparently it came across as a sign of weakness. Why wait til tomorrow? Why not act today?

Well, that’s the attitude I’m trying to overcome. It’s not always in my best interest to act today. Everybody has to have an off switch, and the ability to resist the temptation to grind or work hard at every waking hour. It’s just not healthy. That I’m only 22 years old, and feel like I have the mental wear and tear of a 42 year old…surely can’t be healthy.

Yet everywhere you look across the affiliate marketing landscape, grinding hard is the cool thing to do. I read a forum topic a few weeks ago with the title line “How much do you earn in a day?”

A guy, admittedly with his head somewhere up his own arse, had wandered in bragging about his $1000/days. He promptly received a bunch of criticism that he was small-time, a little fish in a big ocean. He had no right to be smug. It got me thinking though.

Would I rather be the “big time” affiliate who’s torturing himself to add the next zero on his pay cheque? Or simply the smug dude who’s perfectly content with his $365,000/year? As far as I’m concerned, that’s not small time. Look at the average annual earnings in the United States and it’s anything but small time.

This industry seems to judge affiliates by the flash cars, the fancy mansions and the number of Americans they’ve convinced to shed the pounds with acai. It all boils down to money, and yet money is only a gateway to opportunities. It’s not happiness in itself.

I’ve always preached the need to work hard and harder than most. But the importance of appreciating what I already have is only just dawning on me. The next time somebody tells me to get back to the grind at 2am, or to stop thinking about tomorrow rather than today, I’ll probably tell them with all due respect – to go fuck themselves.

Need a larger slice of Finch?

I haven’t been posting much recently, that’s pretty obvious. I did take the time to do an interview over on Jonathan Volk’s blog though. You can check it out below.

Stuff you never thought you needed to know about Finch Sells

Also, follow me on Twitter here.

Are You Dedicated Or Addicted To Your Job?

I’ve been thinking. There’s a very fine line between productive dedication and pissing your hours away with a harmful addiction.

I was laying awake in bed the other night with my laptop open. It must’ve been about 4 in the morning and my mind was focused on calculating and forecasting various stats based on the day’s conversions. You can say what you want about being dedicated to the job – but in this case, it’s nothing to be proud of. And you know why? It’s a small time attitude.

It’s not dedication to lay awake with your stats open. It’s an addiction to staring at numbers that are out of your control. You can press F5 until you’re blue in the face but I’ve never known refreshing a page to optimize a campaign or increase sales.

I’m honest enough with myself to know when I’m wasting my own time. But some affiliates just don’t get it. They will suffer from this addiction, this tendency to measure every last milimeter of their success. But the reality is that if you’re aiming for the stars, you’ve gotta keep climbing and not dwell on the steps along the way.

One of the things I’ve taken a look at recently is the value of my productivity. It’s no secret that I work long hours, day and night, through most of the week. But it’s a very fine line between dedication and addiction. I wonder how many other affiliates have felt themselves slipping in and out of those very distinct states of mind.

Dedication is persevering with a campaign because you know it has potential, giving it time to succeed, and using what you’ve learnt to your advantage.

Addiction is making the same mistakes over and over again, refusing to learn from them. You might work a 16 hour day but if you’re doing a half arsed job of the tasks that matter and failing where you’ve always failed before – that’s not dedication. It’s an addiction. You’re not smart for spending your entire day working if you wake up and have less of an advantage than you did the day before.

I’ve spoken to some affiliates who work ludicrous hours and get nowhere. I believe it’s because there’s a great myth in this industry. The idea that you should “just keep trying stuff until you find something that works”.

That’s such bullshit. Tell it to a Heroin junkie and see how far it takes him. It encourages the small time affiliate mindset of “create a campaign, watch it bomb, create another campaign, watch it bomb harder”. You don’t get anywhere by throwing shit at the wall. And even if you do, the chances that you’ll have learnt anything to take forward are slim to none. Success requires meaningful research, sensible planning and execution that isn’t rushed with the burning need to get rid of your zero sales columns before 5pm.

Too many affiliates are addicted to the images in their heads of an offer converting like a wet dream and helping them to live happily ever after. In search of the one campaign that’ll make them millionaires, they’ll walk straight past many of the opportunities that the dedicated affiliates are seizing.

One of my favourite quotes can be applied directly and used as a towering warning sign to anybody thinking about getting in to affiliate marketing:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

If you’re sitting there now, tired from working too many hours and not seeing the progress that you want – you have to ask yourself, are you spending those hours wisely? Are you really dedicated to exploring the opportunities that are open to you? Or are you simply addicted to whittling away your hours on the same tried and tested campaigns? Sure, they pay your water bills but do they get you any closer to the stars?

You have to think big in affiliate marketing, because the industry is far too volatile to think anything less. I’ve realized that dedication isn’t always the hours you put in, but the quality of the time itself.

So you say that you’re working a 16 hour day – but how much of that day is dedicated to taking action? It’s all too easy to spend the morning setting up a campaign only to waste the afternoon tracking it hopelessly as the light fades outside. I’ve made that mistake too many times myself and I’m far from perfect, but you really do have to realize for your own good. Once you’ve activated your campaign, once you’ve submitted your ads – it’s time to walk away. They will succeed or fail whether you sit there shitting bricks at a negative margin or not.

Move on to the next project, make the most of your time, and never stop focusing your energies on practical changes and improvements that can actually make a difference to your success.

I found a good way to boost my productivity was by simply recording every task that I completed over the course of a week. Back when I worked for my old web agency last year, we would be given timesheets to mark down how our hours were being spent. At the time, I thought it was a pedantic distraction. The first time I analyzed my own hours, I was shocked at how little time was being dedicated to the campaigns and development that would actually take my business forward to greater success.

I put that down to small time attitude and an addiction to only ever doing what I needed to do. You can become addicted to watching your own success.

So go on. Take a look at your own working day. If your timesheet reads like a barren wasteland of hour long AIM conversations, fleeting skirmishes with Redtube and “social media research”, you can probably rest assured that you’re jerking yourself in circles. The same old circles that will take you absolutely nowhere in business, and nowhere in life.

If you spend an entire day doing this, you’ve got no right to call yourself dedicated to affiliate marketing. You’re just addicted to the Internet. There’s a difference. Especially for you “Social Media Experts” out there. I have about as much time for you as I do for my left hand.

There’s nothing expert about Twitter. It’s just Twitter, you prick.

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