How To Survive Email Overload

Are you drowning in email? As bloggers, we get tend to get a lot of email and it can get overwhelming. So how do we handle it? Here are six actionable tasks to streamline your email management.

 

Are you drowning in email? As bloggers, we get tend to get a lot of email and it can get overwhelming. So how do we handle it? Here are six actionable tasks to streamline your email management.

In this hangout:

Crystal VanTassel

Kelli Miller

Dianna Kennedy of The Kennedy Adventures

Having systems, and good habits in place for dealing with it all can help free up your time, and declutter your mind and your life.

The Basics

There are many methods you can put in place to cut down on the number of emails you receive, and the time you spend responding to the emails you do get. Not only that, but Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook express each have their own unique features which can help you organize, and keep you accountable to the amount of time you spend using them.

Set specific times to check email.

Diana Recommends checking email only four times a day – ideally at 8:00 A.M., 12:00, 4:00, and again at 8:00 P.M. Though bloggers often will get time-sensitive email, the odds of a person or brand truly needing an answer within four hours are minimal, and if they do, as Kelli points out, the reality is that the level of attentiveness they require will make them more difficult to work with than is worth.

By making a commitment to set specific times to check and deal with email in batches, you guard against the temptation and time suck of checking multiple times, and can be more present in your other tasks throughout the day.

In addition, if you’re just checking your email throughout the day on your phone, there will inevitably be situations where you don’t have time to respond, or when you need to wait until you’re on a computer to respond. Doing this in effect, causes you to have to go through your email twice, wasting a lot of time, making it more likely for emails to fall through the cracks, and causes brain and inbox clutter.

Set a Timer.

When you do sit down to handle emails, be sure to set a timer to keep yourself from getting sucked in. When you sit down to focus on something, it’s so easy to lose track of time. The way to avoid it is to set an alarm! Give yourself five minute – or ten, or twenty! Whatever you need – and get to work. Don’t get distracted, don’t check social media, just get it done.

This is especially helpful when you’re trying to declutter your inbox. If a backlog of email has piled up on you, it can take hours to sort through the clutter, and get everything straightened out. You can’t realistically get it all done in one sitting, so set your timer before your go into delete, archive, or respond. Start chipping away!

Are you drowning in email? As bloggers, we get tend to get a lot of email and it can get overwhelming. So how do we handle it? Here are six actionable tasks to streamline your email management.

Touch It Once.

Respond to, archive, or delete your email right away. Don’t close it until you’ve either responded, deleted, or archived!

If you’re in a time crunch to the point that you don’t have time to respond or delete right away, you probably really don’t have time to be checking your email in the first place! All it’s going to do is create clutter in your mind, and divide your attention.

Unsubscribe from time wasters.

Don’t subscribe to newsletters from retailers with whom you don’t do business. You don’t need these time wasters or the clutter in your life! What good are they doing you?

Kelli’s handy tip for dealing with massive amounts of promotional email, is to type “unsubscribe” into your email search bar, which will bring up all of your emails containing that word – usually at the bottom of the promotional email. Then you can open the emails and unsubscribe from them, or simply bulk delete.

Create archive folders

This is a fantastic way to organize emails that you need or want to save. For instance, if there are brands that you work with regularly, you may want to create a folder dedicated to their emails. That way, you can easily find them for reference whenever you need to.

In Gmail, you can create folders and sub-folders which can make email sorting even easier. For instance, you can create a folder simply labeled “brands”, and create a subfolder under it for each brand that you work with.

Keep your emails short and sweet.

There’s usually no need to include back story or chitchat. Just go straight to the point, and be concise. The odds are good that the recipient will appreciate your brevity.

Think about your own preferences: do you have time to sit and read through the equivalent of small talk before getting to the point? The odds are, the person on the receiving end of your emails is busy as well.

Kelli, Crystal, and Dianna share many tips, tools, and strategies for streamlining, and making email less of a hassle.

For example:

  • Do you know how setting up canned responses can save you money?
  • Do you know how to Boomerang?
  • Do you understand threading emails?
  • Do you take advantage of your email provider’s flagging system?

What can you get rid of? Ask yourself if you really need to be notified every time someone follows you on Twitter, or posts in one of your Facebook groups.

To hear all of these ideas – and more – expounded upon in depth, watch the free Learn To Blog Hangout below.

10 Tips to Improve Your Photography

These five do’s and five do not’s will change the way you think about #photography from now on!  Improve your pictures without any new equipment!

These five do's and five do not's will change the way you think about #photography from now on!  Improve your pictures without any new equipment!

Speakers:

Crystal Van Tassel – Crystal & Co.
Kelli Miller – 3 Boys & a Dog
Rachel Rockwell – Bubbly Nature Creations

The 5 Do’s

1. Lighting – Natural, indirect light is best. Example: if that’s in the living room by the window, set up your shot there. If it’s your bedroom, shoot there. Test out different rooms and different times of the day. Within a week of trial, you should be able to determine the best room and time of day. Keep in mind in the winter, the sun sets earlier, so you may need to adjust your shooting times. Lighting should come in from the side. If you save a portion for lunch the next day, take your photos then. Figure out the best room in your house and the best time of day. Especially in food photography, these tips work well.

Lightboxes
Tabletop lightboxes can be purchased on Amazon. A great second choice for lighting, if you’re not home during the day. The example Kelli showed came from Amazon and cost about $78. Included four bright lights (natural/day simulated lights) and red, black, navy, and white backgrounds. Folds flat. Place the lamps on the outside of the lightbox. When Kelli sets up her shots, she turns off her lighting in the kitchen while using them.

Science poster boards
A great way to contain your area to photograph and zoom in. Food, crafts, etc. Place a piece of scrapbook paper under the subject. Add your text and graphic effects to the white background you created with the poster board.

Table Top Light
Take a white posterboard or a piece of cardboard covered in foil. Position it across from the window. It bounces the light from the window, softens the shadows, and improves our photo. The foil works well in low light situations and bounces light better than the posterboard. Exposure is very important. You can fix underexposure (brighten it) better than your fix overexposure (darken it) because it makes your whites gray. The goal is always to have the right exposure when you take the photo. Kelli’s tip is learning your camera or phone and your natural light or lighting accessories will yield great photos.
Picmonkey- First editing step, color, white balance, exposure, sometimes auto works well. Or, she manually adjusts.

2. Perspective – Take multiple shots from different angles. Straight on, above, etc. Decide. Example: Plate of brownies – are you going to stack them? If so, take the photo straight on, looking at the stack. If taking photos of the brownies individually on a plate, take a photo above, take an angled photo. Change it up a little = one straight on, one from above, etc. You won’t always be able to see which looks best until you’re editing the photos. Taking multiple photos is a great way to ensure that you get a great photo every time. Make notes of what you’re doing so that when you find something that works well, you know how to replicate the success. (Kelli & Crystal are taking a class with Dina Conningworth.)

3. Take pictures horizontally and vertically. Take both. Creating a blog post with pin-worthy images and having other photos that work well on other social media networks. Vertical pictures work really well on Pinterest. Notice in the Pinterest feed how much larger they are. Facebook and Google+ pictures look better in the horizontal orientation.

What about pictures while kids are doing activities? Include them! Crystal said that Holly Homer’s tip is to not include subjects’ faces. So, take photos from the neck down, just the hands, from above, from behind, where it doesn’t focus on a face. Kelli uses the action shots feature on the camera. Photograph them while they’re working. Then, she edits them. Crystal ensures that if they’re doing a craft that she’s going to write about, that it’s done at the kitchen table, before 3pm. She makes sure the window is open with the best lighting. Even though sometimes she gets his face in the photos, she can edit that out to just include him interacting with the project with just hands.
You can show your readers a little of your personal life through photos when they see your family interacting or your kids performing an activity.

Ideas:

  • See your children creating crafts or using projects
  • Take the kids outside on a covered porch
  • Holding a cupcake

Backup when you’re photographing. You can crop into portrait (even when taking a landscape photo). Grab a piece of white paper and include it in all shots. Use that piece of paper as your white guide when balancing the white in your photo.

4. Think like an artist. You are painting a picture. You are the artist of that picture. What do you want your readers to know about you? Know about this project? How can they relate to you? Make it about your blog’s brand. Everything you do should be related back to your brand. What words come to mind when thinking about your brand? Example: Bubbly Nature Creations. Bright, happy, cheerful. Takes a lot of pictures that are bright pictures with color.

If your brand is Southern Living, that would be a different perspective for your picture. Readers should get a feel for who you are and what your content is about by looking at your pictures.

Consistent pictures reflect your brand and your personality. Example: Pioneer Woman. You see into her world.

Crystal said she has 5-6 tablecloths, 5-6 napkins, font, color, etc. and these things are part of her brand. She styles and positions things in her photos so that others know that’s her photo even before they see her logo or URL. She’s not going to create recipes or show fine dining items because that’s not what her brand is. She uses plates from Target and a setup that is realistic for busy moms. Maybe you use an item to brand all of your photos or your brand’s color – to immediately remind readers of your brand.

5. Use props. You don’t have to have expensive ones. When shopping, look out for things you like. Buy one of any item, not a whole set (can do this at Target or Walmart). Better to use a small plate because it doesn’t require a lot of food to fill it up, to photograph. Use scrapbook paper, rolls of art paper, tablecloths, small plates, cloth napkins, and other decorative touches in your photo. Shop on clearance and at thrift stores. Kelli’s tip is to buy a sheet of each pattern of scrapbook paper at Michael’s, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, Walmart, thrift stores, craft stores, yard sales, Dollar Tree, etc. when scrapbook paper is on sale or when you can find an item to use in a photo. The scrapbook paper serves as her backdrop or place setting. Start with one prop. Get comfortable with that before adding others (i.e. napkin under the plate, then add a fork, etc.) Idea: main focus is the plate of a serving of food, show a corner of the casserole dish. Rachel took a wooden product like plywood, painted one side with sidewalk chalk, one size she stained. Changes out the backdrop in photos. Save a piece of countertop, set it up by a window with great light, uses it as a setup to take her photos. You can also purchase a roll of professional photographer backdrop.

These five do's and five do not's will change the way you think about #photography from now on!  Improve your pictures without any new equipment!

The 5 Don’ts

  1. Don’t get too close or too far away. If you’re making a soup or casserole, don’t get too close where all you see is the soup. Step back to get part of the bowl of soup. Don’t get too far away, either. Put marbles in the bottom of the bowl. The liquid will collect at the bottom and the ingredients of your soup will stick out of the top.  Focus. What to focus the photo on?
  2. Don’t use direct flash. Or direct sunlight or direct artificial light. It’s too bright and harsh. Bounce the flash or filter the light.
  3. Don’t over-style your photo. Let your subject shine. Using certain dates and fonts make your photos look old and dated. Minimize that so that the photo/content is evergreen. Don’t cover up your subject with your text, branding, or logo. You can create a transparent logo in Pic Monkey if you have the image portion of your logo. Consider if you are submitting a recipe to a site, they may not want the photo styled, at all.
  4. Don’t have a mess all around you. Clean your space up. Or, use the tips above to frame the scene with a poster board. Edit out whatever you can. Or, you may have to decide not to post a photo or recreate a craft or recipe to take a better picture. Clear out a dedicated space or room for photographing your recipes or projects.
  5. Don’t take your camera’s owner’s manual for granted. Get to know your camera. Test out the buttons. Even spending 5-10 minutes to test out features and look up how to perform certain actions will drastically improve your photos. Kelli makes sure to read the manual and buys the “For Dummies” book, if available for your specific camera. If you don’t have your manual, look it up online and you should be able to find the pdf of it.

How to Use (and Understand) Webmaster Tools to Grow Your Traffic

Webmaster Tools is “a free service offered by Google that helps you monitor and maintain your site’s presence in Google Search results.” Use webmaster tools to determine what topics to write about and grow your traffic.

Use webmaster tools to determine what topics to write about and grow your traffic.How to Access Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home?hl=en

Google dashboard: https://www.google.com/settings/dashboard

What Should You Be Looking for in Webmaster Tools?

Site dashboard

  • Messages or critical issues
  • Shows crawl errors, URL issues, connectivity

Search appearance (what your site looks like in search)

>HTML Improvements

Sitelinks (See the links that appear under the main blog’s search results when you perform a Google search for The Happy Housewife)

Search Traffic

>Search Queries (organize by impressions, clicks, CTR, and Avg. position)

What to Do if You Have Crawl Errors

If your site goes down, there will be a crawl error, but once your site is up, it will correct itself within 24-48 hours. This can also happen if you change a URL but didn’t do a redirect. Use the Broken Link Checker plugin – run once a month, fix what you can, then disable.

Use webmaster tools to determine what topics to write about and grow your traffic.

What If I Have a Lot of Impressions, But Only a Few Clicks?

If you’re showing up very low in the results (far down), there are several ways to improve your results.

  • Create more pages, create guest posts with a link to the keyword landing page for that keyword to improve search results.
  • If you are in position 1, 2, or 3, improve your post and make it more exciting.
  • Edit meta title, meta description, images, check for broken links.
  • Promote on all social media networks and in your tribe.
  • Check results again in the next 30 days.

>Links to your site

Shows Pinterest – all of your content that is on Pinterest and how many times it’s been linked to

Google Index

>Index Status

>Content keywords – top keywords for your site

Check to see if the keywords you write about are in your top 10. If not, you’re not doing something right. Does your top 10 reflect what you write about?

>Blocked Resources

Blocked by robots means that the robots could not access that page

Remove URLs – if you have a free printable that is only available to subscribers or a private post, you don’t want to have Google index that. You could also password protect it in WordPress <link>

Crawl

Crawl Errors (affect your search results, traffic, and revenue)

How Can I Make the Most of the Data in Webmaster Tools?

  • Link to the content in other posts
  • Use webmaster tools to determine what topics to write about and guest post about
  • Use your blog name within your post. (Example: Instead of saying “one lucky reader will win…” say “one lucky 3 Boys & a Dog reader will win…” The first time you mention your blog name in the post, hyperlink it as anchor text: 3 Boys & a Dog

Watch our hangout on Youtube:

Effectively Using Linky Parties

Did you know that you can Grow Your Blog Traffic with Linky Parties? Hear how one blogger grew her traffic from 100 pageviews a day to 100,000 pageviews a month by utilizing linky parties.

Did you know that you can Grow Your Blog Traffic with Linky Parties? Hear how one blogger grew her traffic from 100 pageviews a day to 100,000 pageviews a month by utilizing linky parties.Speakers: Crystal of CrystalandComp.com and Kim Vij of The Educators’ Spin On It

Linky parties are a great way for bloggers to increase their traffic. Learn how Dallas mom blogger, Crystal VanTassel, grew her blog from 100 pageviews a day to 100k pageviews a month by utilizing linky parties.

Also, Kim Vij, a Florida kid activity and education blogger, shares tips and pointers for running a successful linky party and utilizing social media to promote her parties.

Parties mentioned: After School Linky | Virtual Book Club | Around the World in 12 Dishes

Why Should You Participate in Linky Parties?

It’s a great way to network within your niche. Linky parties allow you to be an expert in your field. You could participate in 20 parties a day. It’s much more efficient to take one idea and promote it 20 times. Watch your Google Analytics to see which linky parties are performing the best.

How to Manage the Links You Submit to Linky Parties

Crystal created a simple spreadsheet. She picked 5 parties for each day of the week. Each post was shared and marked in the appropriate column on the spreadsheet.

This consistent sharing grew her site from 100 daily pageviews to 1,000 week then 10,000 month, then 30,000 month, then 50,000 month. Now she consistently gets over 100,000 monthly pageviews.

She also gets great traffic from PinterestDon’t miss these videos on increasing traffic with Pinterest: Pinterest Tips & Tricks with Jennifer Fishkind, Pinterest Tips Part 2, and Pinterest Scheduling: ViralTag vs. Ahalogy with Kelly Dixon.

Linky Party Strategies

Crystal links up three posts each week (evergreen content).

Kim links up eight posts each week (to diversify the content for different content/readers on her site; seasonal and evergreen); can also re-promote seasonal content from previous years. It keeps the momentum going and drives traffic to more posts.

Some parties also promoted on Pinterest, get comments from party host, get comments from readers.

Did you know that you can Grow Your Blog Traffic with Linky Parties? Hear how one blogger grew her traffic from 100 pageviews a day to 100,000 pageviews a month by utilizing linky parties.

Managing Linky Parties You Host

How to Start or Host a Linky Party

Share the load with Co-Hosts (ideally 4). This exposes your audience to new blogger/content. Broad parties can get lots of submissions (600-900) while content specific parties may receive less (70-90). Then, use the Linky Parties to create roundups. For example, Crystal hosts the Mommy Club. It’s an easy post to pull together and also gets her traffic for best mom advice. After the linky closes for the week, she creates another post featuring some of the posts from the prior week. She can also create other posts that are a collection of posts submitted around the same topic like these St. Patrick’s Day projects.

How to Promote Your Content

Share on Facebook and Pinterest which parties you participate in. Keep in mind that the first 10-20 submitted links tend to get the most views along with the last few links submitted to the party.

How to Format Your Posts/Links

Use your best image. A clear, crisp beautiful image is best. For recipe/DIY posts, first image is pinworthy with text, but also include a simpler version to link up. Use a short, powerful description (usually a max of 40-50 characters).

How Do I Find Linky Parties to Link Up With?

Pay attention when you read blog posts to see if they share a link to a linky party where they submitted their post or look for a “Where I Party” page. Crystal recommends several on her blog post Blogging Tips: Over 50 Places to Share Your Ideas.

Visit others’ links, you will find new parties to join. Ask your tribe mates. Don’t have a tribe? Watch this video: Tribes (Finding & Use them) Then, monitor the referral traffic you receive over the next 3 months.

What is evergreen content?

Content that is always relevant, no matter what.

YouTube video:

How to Manage Your Blog and Busy Summer Days

Managing your blog during busy summer days can be both stressful and overwhelming. Kelli & Crystal came up with this topic based on their real life struggles. Then, the question was asked on the Learn to Blog Facebook page.

Managing your blog during busy summer days can be both stressful and overwhelming. Kelli & Crystal came up with this topic based on their real life struggles.

The summer’s biggest struggles are: time and content.

How Planning for Summer Content is Different

Kelli writes about homeschooling and things teachers want. These may not be needed in the summer. Traffic can change during the summer because your readers are spending time with their families and less time reading blogs.

Think about what you can do over the summer to keep your traffic up. Repeat what worked by looking in Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. If you are just starting to blog, then think about what YOU need this summer and write about those things.

Have a plan…that’s realistic and going to keep you happy. What is bringing me results? Create that type of content again and again.

Summer Schedules Are Different

We may have vacations planned and kids may be home all day. During the school year, we used to be able to wake up before/stay up after kids were sleep. Crystal’s tip is to get 2-3 hrs of work done in 1-1.5 hours without family distractions. You can wake up before, stay up after, do both, or work during nap time.

Even 10-15 minute chunks can be effective. If it’s an hour, make sure it’s spent working.

What to do during that time:
Ask yourself what absolutely must be accomplished this summer – every day and every week. Finish your priorities. Don’t get sucked into or sidetracked by social media or games. Set a timer (like the quad timer that they recommend).

Easy Ways to Get Traffic in the Summer

1. Facebook
Instead of reading about your friends are doing, use our social media time to get traffic. Join and participate in Facebook Groups that can help you get traffic.

2. Pinterest

Repin from the source (pinterest.com/source/yourblog.com). See what’s doing well from your blog. Then, use a Pinterest scheduler to build off of that momentum. Get together with a group and do the same for each other.

Managing your blog during busy summer days can be both stressful and overwhelming. Kelli & Crystal came up with this topic based on their real life struggles.

Quick Ways to Generate Content:

If Webmaster Tools shows you’re getting traffic for a particular keyword, create another post on that topic. Link to posts you’ve written on the topic and search for links from others on the same topic to create a roundup post. Post a message on a Facebook Group or in your tribe that you’re looking for links on a particular topic. Within a few days, you’ve got everything you need to create a roundup post.

Spend 5 minutes a day going through each Facebook Group to see where you can submit your links or request links from others. Find ways to work with other bloggers to work together swapping links, creating guest posts, etc.

If you have a limited amount of time to create content, share your real life in the summer and relate it to your blog content and audience (i.e. sharing one photo and a story vs. a perfectly written 500 word post with 5 beautifully stylized pictures). Use photos from your phone, share books you’re reading, and include Amazon links.

How to Take Old Content and Create New Content

1. Share one new idea + links to other posts you’ve published to create a roundup. This was Crystal’s advice to keep it simple. Make sure you follow the blog post template: 150 words introduction, link to keyword, tag, category, or landing page (using anchor text), and share 5 links of older content.

You need to create roundups to remind old readers of the content you posted before or introduce the new readers to your content. You can create a roundup of links from your site with 5 posts . If you are creating a roundup from others’ content, aim for 20-30 links. But, don’t let rules keep you from posting something.

2. Take one idea and create multiple posts from it. This was Kelli’s advice because in the same amount of time you would spend on one post, you can create multiples. Use a post template. Sit down once and create 10 different printables (or other type of content). Share one in each post (x 10). Then, create a roundup post linking to all of them.

3. Create shorter content. If you normally publish 1,000 word posts, start dividing into three posts making a series. Readers don’t have as much time and you can stretch out your content to create a series during the summer. We also talked about this in the Summer Blogging Tips hangout and how Eat at Home Cooks does this.

4. Publish a “weekend reading” or a “links I love” post. Create a post sharing five things you read this week. Share links to those posts and explain how they’re helping you. Could you do that with 5 friends and each of you sharing each other’s posts? Work smarter, not harder!

Schedule Your Blog Life

  • Schedule blog posts
  • Use Facebook scheduler or Post Planner
  • Use a Pinterest scheduler
  • Use Hootsuite to schedule tweets
  • Setup auto populated feeds where your blog auto posts to Twitter, Google+, etc.

This keeps you active and in people’s minds and is just through the summer.

Coming Up With Content Ideas

  • Check Google Analytics and see what’s doing well. Create more content like that because your readers like it.
  • Check Webmaster Tools and see what’s doing well, duplicate that success, and create more like that.
  • Create a post sharing items that you’re using this summer (i.e. when we go to the pool, we take this floatie, this sunscreen, my kids have these bathing suits, and here’s why, link to items on Amazon). Don’t make this so hard!

If you are struggling to come up with topics, go to Pinterest. Check the most popular pins on Pinterest (of others’). Recreate that type of content for your blog and pin it. Pinterest generates quick traffic and gives you ideas.

Don’t worry that you’re being a copycat because everything has been said and done before. You just need to put your spin on it. For hot topics, check social media for trending searches/topics in your niche.

Where to Work

Crystal’s method:
Put your work area in a common area of your home to stay aware of younger kids’ activities. Her husband is at work and Crystal is there alone with the kids.

Kelli’s method:
Put your work area outside of the common area if older kids are more self-sufficient. Her husband is home during the summer (because he’s a teacher). She wakes up before everyone else and works. Then, when they get up, she fixes breakfast, runs errands, family time, etc. Then, she works again around lunch time and continues same pattern throughout the day.

Consider what works best for you and your family. Maybe you can work for an extended time in a common area or maybe you need to move to a private area for short bursts of time (20 min or 1 hr).

Get Help

Trade time with a friend or family member. Use the time wisely (if you have 4 hour block of time, you need to be able to get a week’s worth of work done in that period of time). Once a week, go to a fast food restaurant, get a treat, and they play while you work. Have a play date swap once a week.

Keep Track of Ideas

Keep a notepad with you, write them down. Use your phone to keep track of ideas (record a note, type in a note, call home and leave yourself a message).

Editorial Calendar for the Summer

Maybe you have to scale back to 3 posts a week.

Amplify that message as much as possible – Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, etc. Ask others to share your content, too (like suggested above).

Dana White of A Slob Comes Clean features other during the summer. Maybe you reach out to other bloggers and ask them to send you 5 links to their content, introduce them to your readers.

Watch the hangout for Week 64: How to Manage Your Blog and Busy Summer Days:

At 54:38, you don’t want to miss Crystal’s words of encouragement.