Are you running your business or is your business running you? Is your blog contributing real money to your earnings or does it seem destined to always be a sideline hobby?

Tim LeffelMost likely the answers to those two questions depend a whole lot on how much you get done each day when you open up that laptop. Do you use it to slay dragons or do you use it as your virtual water cooler?

“Slay your dragons first” is a common piece of productivity advice that applies across most jobs, but is especially key for anyone who is self-employed, like your typical travel blogger. It generally means to get your most important work of the day done in the morning before you do anything else, but if you’re at your most productive at night, then become a noctural dragon slayer instead, putting on your night vision goggles and seeking out signs of fire. The key is knowing which accomplishments have the most impact on your business and giving them priority over everything else.

A Velvet Rope To-Do List

In practice, this means having a to-do list, of course, but one that puts highly leveraged and high-impact tasks in a class of their own. Maybe there are 20 things you hope to get done tomorrow, but there are likely two on that list that will truly move your business forward. Meeting a freelance article deadline perhaps, or getting that guest post done you promised two weeks ago. Often it’s getting your latest blog post published and making sure it’s as good as it can be. Or perhaps it’s nailing down an ad agreement or following up with that promising contact you made at last week’s trade show. It could be a media interview where you’re the subject or one where you’re interviewing someone else to meet a freelance deadline.

In every case, the key one to three tasks per day that really matter are the ones that shouldn’t be postponed, delegated, or phoned in. Since we’re all content creators, there’s your first sign of importance: taking the time to create good content nearly always needs to be near the top of the list. Without income, your business whithers and dies, so tending the relationship with anyone who is paying you is also a high-impact, leveraged activity. Third, communicating with the people who allow you to get more done in a day is also an activity that creates tremendous leverage, so keep contacts with assistants and freelancers who may work for you in that high priority section as well. Last, there are long-term projects that require long-term focus over multiple days or weeks, such as books, presentations, partnership proposals, and feature articles. Carve out distraction-free time for those.

If the items on your list don’t fit into one of these four categories, they can probably slide. If your time is worth $40 an hour and you can hire someone else to do the same job for $8 an hour or less, it’s downright dumb to be spending time on those tasks. You can outsource nearly anything that meets this criteria, or at least postpone it to a less busy day. I’m not saying these things don’t have some marginal impact on your future, just that spending more than a fraction of your day on any of them is probably not a very good use of your time. It’s like using Excalibur to kill 20 rodents instead of going after the glory.

Are You Spending Time on Things That Matter?

Here are the questions to ask yourself for each item on your list that you want to get done tomorrow or this week.

  1. Is there a good chance it will earn me substantial revenue now or in the future?
  2. Will it help my relationship with someone who is paying me?
  3. Will it serve and grow my audience on a long-term basis?
  4. Will this promotion action send more than a smattering of visitors to my site?
  5. Will spending an hour on this accomplish any more than spending 10 minutes on it?
  6. Could I pay someone far less than I am earning (or deserve to earn) for this task?
  7. Is this something I’m doing because of a real business need rather than just because I think it’s fun?

Once you’ve applied these questions to your list and have your “yes” answer ones starred or circled, turn off anything that is going to interrupt your concentration so you can get real work done. Close e-mail. Close every social media platform. Turn off Skype. Turn off your phone. Those are sending you other peoples’ priorities and they can all wait.

Now do real work for two or three hours until you’ve really accomplished something substantial.

After that you can go visit that virtual water cooler, go for a walk, have a leisurely lunch, hit the gym, or go to happy hour. If you go knock some lesser things off your list, fine. But if you get nothing else done today besides these one to three key tasks, it’s not going to matter much. You’ve got a couple dragon heads to display and your business is moving forward.

Author Bio:  Tim Leffel is the publisher of Al Centro Media, a collection of six travel websites and blogs, including the Cheapest Destinations Blog (established 2003) and the award-wnning narrative site Perceptive Travel (established 2006). He’s also the author of five books. Tim will be discussing specific tactics for becoming a more productive blogger and writer at TBEX Europe 2014 in Athens.