I wrote the following in a stream of conscious writing exercise one morning. Some are tips, some are unformed thoughts and some are things I find myself revisiting over and over again.
If you don’t agree with something, cool. You don’t have to. In fact, it would be weird if you did agree with everything.
Read through, keep what you like and discard the rest. Then go make your own list, I’d be interested to read it.
Also, some of this leans heavily towards SEO because that’s what I do. But hopefully the ideas here can apply to your industry & work too.
45 tips, quotes & thoughts for working solo online.
1. Ask the (right) questions
Ask the right questions to get the right answers. (Thanks Dad!)
Question doesn’t have to be a straight up question either:
- Seed keywords: you need to give SEO tools the right inputs to get the right outputs (keywords)
- Finding things: you can find almost anything on Google with the correct search.
- Getting results: you can get more traffic/sales/magic beans by solving the right problems
The opposite is also true here: answer the question.
Don’t dance around questions like some mad politician trying to impress fools.
If someone asks you how much something costs… tell them how much it costs. Don’t waffle on about how complex your workflow is and the results you get. Sure that’s important, but not if they’ve asked a simple question.
Politicians are trained to avoid answering questions which comes across as unnatural and annoying (because it is).
TLDR is your friend here.
Sometimes it’s impossible to answer with a simple yes or no. If you do need to expand, sum up with a TLDR at the end that answers the question.
2. Getting stuff done
Picked 3 big things to do each day. Try and do tasks that take less than 5 mins right away. Repeat forever.
If you care, here’s a little bit about how my *very* idiosyncratic productivity system works:
- every task i have to do get’s added to a trello board, then i split them into either personal or paid.
- paid projects take priority, personal things i do if i have time. although i do look for ways to combine tasks to get more stuff done
- i pick the things i must do and do them.
- sometimes i trick my brain by saying “if you do these, you can to work on personal ‘fun’ stuff after”
- if i get on a roll, i sometimes end up doing more than 3 things. but i’ve found if i start the day thinking i’ve got to do 99 things, it creates a stress. whereas doing 3 + 97 things because you are on a roll happens naturally and doesn’t seem as daunting.
- it’s quite a chaotic system but it largely works. it’s rigid enough to get things done but also can be flexible when life events occur.
- i also do a lot of thinking. i combine this with either climbing, hiking, biking or dog walking. these are leisure activities but it’s where thoughts are processed. i’ve found that doing this means when i sit down to work i work, and not think about work
Find a way to get stuff done that works for you. If you are spending longer managing tasks than doing tasks, it might not be working.
3. Eliminate stuff
I don’t really watch tv, follow sports or play video games.
Never been a thing for me so I don’t mind removing them from my life. You don’t have to remove the same stuff.
Point is: you need to free up time somewhere, so get rid of the things that don’t interest you.
4. Anti role models
Scan through LinkedIn posts, money Twitter and other hustlers content once a week or so. And then work hard NOT to be like that. Be humble but profitable.
5. Build rituals
Motivation can be hard, especially working on your own. Rituals and patterns can trick your brain into working (even when it doesn’t want to).
Lions Mane + coffee works for me when I want to do deep work.
A ritual can be anything.
It could be as elaborate as going for a run before you start writing that long form blog post. Or as simple as getting a specific drink before you tackle your inbox.
6. Work when you want to work.
Figure out when your brain works.
For me, creative work is best done in the morning, grinding in the afternoon & thinking/research in the evening.
Find your flow, then get on with your work.
7. Optimise your work space
Make your work environment somewhere you want to work. For me, that’s some cool artwork, somewhere to do pull ups and trees out the windows.
Also, change up your work environment occasionally.
Once a week I will go work outside (if the terrible British weather allows) or go work in a different room (ideally with lots of natural light) or even a coffee shop.
Different locations can trigger different work outputs so go experiment.
8. Project management tool
Use the project management tool with least friction.
Notion, Google Sheets, Asana etc. Use whatever you don’t hate using. I like the simplicity of Trello + a pen and paper checklist.
My Trello set up is deliberately simple:
- DUMP – drop every task I need to do here and label + break down into smaller tasks on the card
- TO DO – stuff I need to do + due dates
- WAITING – sometimes you finish a task but need to wait on someone to review it, so those wait here
- BLOCKED – sometimes you can’t finish a task due to something outside of your control, here they go
- DONE – completed tasks live here
Day-to-day I’ll write a to-do list on real life paper and tick items off with a real life pen (like a savage).
9. Output is only as good as your inputs
On days where output = crap, it is usually because:
- I’ve eaten crap food
- I’ve had crap sleep
- I’ve had no fresh air
- I’ve not moved my body
It’s useful to think about those 4 items before you give yourself a hard time for having a crappy day. Fix what you can control but don’t dwell on it.
10. Anti-bucket list
Create an anti-bucket list: a list of things that make your life better by not doing them.
For me that’s meetings (among other things).
Yes, I know they do need to happen sometimes. But a bullet point list of actions often removes the need for them.
Meetings for the sake of meetings are the worst.
Whilst we are on the subject, if you run a software tool and insist on having a zoom meeting to persuade me to sign up to your tool, I won’t be using your tool. I’m sure this works great for enterprise clients and big players. That’s not me.
If you force me into having a meeting, I’ll be disproportionately mardy*, throw my toys out the pram and do my hardest to avoid using your tool. (I’ll be civil and not say anything because of reserved British-ness)
*mardy: in a petulant bad mood; sulky or grumpy.
11. Beware context
Context switching is the mind killer.
Constantly switching contexts and tasks is mind-numbing and makes you lose momentum.
Remove slack notifications and emails from your phone.
This is especially important if you do the bulk of your work from home. You need to have a divide between personal and business space.
Waking up and seeing a load of unread messages first thing is not the one.
Have hobbies away from a screen. Ideas don’t happen at desks.
Don’t know where to start choosing hobbies?
Wikipedia has your covered: List of hobbies
Automate stuff (but only once you’ve done it yourself a few times).
If you are working largely solo online, you will need to automate something eventually.
A few examples of things I’ve automated:
- Invoices – pretty easy to create custom PDF invoices with Google Sheets
- Reminders – Slack notifications (via Zapier) to remind me of weekly tasks to do
- SEO workflows – lots of specific marketing tasks sped up with APIs, spreadsheets and stuff
- Gmail filters – automatically label and filter emails
15. Go outside your industry
Talk to people who don’t work in your industry.
If you work online (and especially for SEOs), you can get quite caught up on the latest SEO tactic or tool or whatever.
It’s easy to get fixated by these things which often don’t really matter.
Accidental SEO tip:
Have a small group of close friends in real life who know nothing about SEO.
— Jake (@jsvxc) August 12, 2021
16. Do your own thing
Marketers marketing to marketers
… it’s unavoidable. Step back and realise it’s all bullshit really. So do your own thing.
Don’t chase things because you think you should.
- Don’t care about having a fancy car? Don’t get one.
- Don’t care about speaking at conferences? Don’t do it.
- Don’t care about jumping on the latest trend? Don’t.
None of these things define you if you don’t want them to.
Create your own definitions.
SIDE NOTE: Go read the parable of the fisherman and the businessman…
… then go do your own thing.
17. Sharing is caring
What’s old news to you might not be old news to someone else. Same applies to skills + resources. Sharing is caring.
You can learn pretty much everything online for free. Largely because people who know what they are doing have taken the time to create something to share their knowledge.
The internet is full of terrible people (I’m looking at you gurus, LinkedIn, YouTube comments and local small town Facebook groups). But a lot of good stuff exists because of really great people sharing things online.
Don’t let the bastards win. Share the good stuff.
18. The abyss
If you stare too long into the abyss, the abyss stares back.
I’m paraphrasing Nietzsche (badly) here. But it’s a thought I circle back to a lot.
The meaning I take away here in terms of working online is this:
If you spend all your time looking at the success of others and other negative stuff, eventually you’ll end up feeling pretty shitty.
19. Status symbols
Build your own status symbols.
Not having to wear a uniform, use public transport or go into an office is my signal of success. You do you.
20. Enjoy the process
Learn to enjoy the process.
The only two guarantees in life are death and taxes.
No one knows what’s at the end or what the purpose of life is. So, in the meantime, make your own purpose and get on with the process.
You get bonus points if you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy the process, sorry, but you are going to have to do it anyway. So might as well enjoy the ride.
21. Shift value
Take what works in other domains and apply it elsewhere.
Basically: steal ideas/methods/processes from one place, and apply them to your business.
Btw, I’m not talking about straight up theft here.
More like, taking proven concepts from one industry and applying them to another.
Example: take Zapier automations that are commonplace in the tech industry and apply them to one-man band local services. It could be a game-changer for them but it’s not re-inventing the wheel, just shifting it.
Everything is a remix anyway.
22. Work in public
Being public and #buildinpublic is popular but you don’t have to build the next Facebook to engage.
You can engage by sharing what you are doing, encouraging others or just sharing ideas.
I haven’t created anything noteworthy or built a big startup. Yet I’ve stared sharing thought’s and tests on Twitter recently.
I’d say it’s kinda working:
23. Knowledge gaps are normal
It’s okay not to know everything. It’s not okay to pretend to know everything.
Not really much to add to this one.
24. Stack your skills
Skill stacking = combining skills to make yourself unique + useful.
- Copywriting + WordPress building
- SEO + spreadsheets
- Community building + social media
Skill stacking (or a talent stack) is a concept by Scott Adams. Basically, if you want to be good at something in life, you have two paths:
- Become the best at one specific thing.
- Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
25. More human than a human
Humans work with humans. Sprinkle your own unique brand of human onto the stuff you create.
26. Save ideas (because you will forget them)
Capture ideas. Save things you like: tools, ideas, articles, images, jokes, quotes etc. Things can resurface A LOT later once your brain has processed them.
(more on where to save ideas later)
Swipe files and collections of things you like are great to browse through when you’re stuck in a creative rut.
Sometimes the best ideas are average ideas you allow to grow. (although sometimes they are just shit, sorry)
Life is too important to take seriously.
― Oscar Wilde
28. Decision fatigue
Reduce daily decisions.
I always wear black clothes so I don’t have to think about stuff clashing. I eat the same 3-ish meals during the week. I buy brands I know I like to avoid nasty surprises.
I feel personally attacked. pic.twitter.com/SQSnkyhqiY
— Jake (@jsvxc) July 15, 2021
29. Music for different types of work.
I listen to nostalgic music when wanting to get stuff done.
I listen to 80’s action movie music when doing boring admin work.
Fast punk rock for graphic design. Grunge for thinking. Heavy metal for all purpose doing.
30. Be boring
Don’t avoid doing grunt work. Doing boring work is like doing reps. Put in the time.
Also, you are never too good to put in the reps. Remember the Dunning Kruger effect :
‘…people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their ability as greater than it is.’
The more you know, the less you know.
31. Oooo look at that
Shiny object syndrome is real.
Try to avoid it.
Based on my Namecheap account alone, I can offer no advice here.
32. Get the basics
Don’t neglect the basics.
Good SEO work (and a lot of biz stuff) is just doing the basics over and over again.
There are few shortcuts for putting in the time and building a solid foundation of skills.
After all, you wouldn’t fire a cannon from a canoe.
Being good is more about consistently getting the basics right.
Like most things in life, online business (and definitely SEO) it is all about consistency.
34. Get ideas out of your head
Talk or write when working through ideas. Things sound great in your head until you get them down on paper.
I use Bear to store notes, ideas, links, thoughts etc. I like Bear because it’s simple & easy to use, looks nice and is cheap. Oh and it syncs across all my devices so I can save stuff anywhere.
Use whatever app you like. Whichever you go for, spend a little time organising your notes. You can see in the left panel in my Bear app that there are some broad categories. I always try to save things to the most descriptive tag.
Believe me, this makes it 1000 times more useful when you are trying to reference something later down the line.
Iterate and irritate sound similar for a reason.
This is one of those pretentious thoughts you have in the early hours of the morning after a long working session. At the time you feel super smart like a caffeinated Nassim Taleb gorging on your own mad ideas.
In the cold light of day it’s less impressive but I still kinda like it.
TLDR: write down all your thoughts (even if they sound stoopid and pretentious).
36. Don’t spoil the broth
Too many cooks spoil the broth. But not enough equals bland food.
Collaboration is great. But sometimes more hands on deck does not result in better work.
37. Be kind (you SNOUTBAND MUMBLECRUST* )
Be kind to others.
It’s easy to say that’s shit. It’s harder to offer ways to improve (but it’s way more useful to everyone involved).
Related: if you don’t have anything nice to say
FUCK OFF YOU FUCK keep it to yourself.
*And in case you were wondering:
- SNOUTBAND: someone who constantly interrupts a conversation, typically to contradict or correct someone else.
- MUMBLECRUST: from the name of a stock character in medieval theatrical farces (a toothless beggar).
38. You don’t have to care about all things all the time
You don’t have to care about everything. It’s impossible anyway so don’t worry about it.
People don’t have to like you.
In fact, if everyone likes you and agrees with you on everything, you are either asking the wrong questions, in the wrong room or being boring.
Caring is finite. Make sure who and what you are caring about is worth it.
39. Schedule me time
I like to go on long bike rides on Saturdays.
I often don’t look at a screen for the whole day. It’s bliss.
But then on the flip side, I really look forward to getting back to a screen and working online. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.
Your ‘me’ time doesn’t have to be a bike ride. It can be anything you want.
It’s counterintuitive, but by scheduling in time where you DON’T work, you get more done when you DO work (sometimes).
40. Systems + processes
Build simple systems. How do you know it’s simple? If you can come back to it in 3 months and understand wtf is going on it’s a simple system.
Some tips for building systems:
- Choose your base – one place to store all your documentation, that’s logically organised
- Create process documents (or SOPs) – write detailed but concise steps + screenshots + video walkthrough of all repeatable tasks
- Automate / delegate – look for places to speed up workflows by using either robots (automate) or people/VAs (delegate)
- Improve what you can – these are living docs so don’t expect them to stay perfect for long.
- Rinse and repeat – over and over again.
41. Kill open loops
Open loops are tasks left unfinished. They float around your head and use your brains RAM. Finish or remove to free up brain power.
More loops = more mental clutter.
How to close the loops in 3 steps:
- Write down all your open loops (everything that you need to do)
- Use a note taking app if you want to. Or write it down in a notebook or wherever.
- It doesn’t matter where. What matters is getting the loops out of your mind and onto physical or digital paper.
- Apply the 2 minute rule
- A lot of the tasks that end up clogging your brain are actually pretty small.
- The email you need to respond to. Those links you need to update or feedback you need to leave. Or turning off auto-renew on another domain you are never going to develop into a money generating site.
- If it takes 2 minutes to do, just do it.
- You’ll get the mental satisfaction and productivity boost from ticking off and you’ve just ticked something off your to do list.
- It’s win win. The loop is closed. Move forward.
- Do what’s left.
- If you are in the position that you can delegate stuff, then do it.
42. Same boat
No one knows what they are doing.
Some are better at masking it than others.
We are all monkeys on a spinning dirt ball.
If you are building a business online or following a non traditional career path: you are no better than someone working a 9-5. It’s not a competition. We can all win in our own way.
Hustle if you want. But I’d rather build a humble business:
‘Simply built, simply run and generate dependable revenue and profit.’
(term coined by Ian Nuttall & it’s really stuck with me)
44. Top tip no one talks about
Learn to shut the fuck up.
You don’t actually have to have an opinion on everything.
Doing > talking about doing.
It’s no more true than in the SEO world.
Do plumbers spend all their time talking to other plumbers about plumbing? Probably not…
There’s no email list to sign up to or product to buy.
I wrote this list of stuff because I wanted to. I didn’t even map it to a keyword so I could rank for it.
(But if I did, I’d want to rank for the keyword: getting shit done 2,900/mo)
Anyway, go away and write your own list. Don’t research or look at other peoples work. Literally sit in front of a blank doc and type. You may be surprised what you produce.
If you do write something: send it to me on Twitter, I’d love to read it.