Note from Sean: Danny Flood runs Open World Magazine, a site dedicated to helping people design their own lifestyle businesses to add more fun, passion, and adventure in their lives. Danny has traveled all over the world from Buenos Aires to Bangkok, creating tons of epic content along the way.
He also has just a few days left on his IndieGoGo campaign for the magazine.
I just spoke with Danny recently on his podcast, which was awesome, you can check that out here.
Here, Danny is going to show us some of his best techniques to creating killer content, quickly. These won’t be your conventional ideas!
Take it away, Danny.
In a world that’s constantly demanding us to produce faster, sitting down and drafting up great ideas is hard. Writer’s block is real. Coming up with winning ideas is tough.
Is it possible, even as a busy entrepreneur, solopreneur, or full-time employee to consistently produce incredible content on command? And if so, can we harness and unleash this latent energy to attain a god-like aura of efficiency and speed?
The answer is yes.
Take Scott Turrow, as an example. Turrow has written eleven best-selling books which have sold more than 30 million copies while commuting by train to his job as an attorney in London.
JK Rowling, the first billionaire author in history, wrote “Harry Potter” as a single mother on welfare.
If they can do it, you can too.
In this post, I aim to peel back the curtain on everything I’ve learned from running my own content-oriented business. The goal of this post is simple: to help you create high-quality content in the shortest amount of possible.
If you don’t know me, my name is Danny and I wrote and published five books in 2015. During that time I also published more than 150+ blog posts on my site (more than 90% of which I wrote myself), maintained a podcast, and was a guest on over thirty other podcasts.
I’m a team of one and don’t outsource. I also avoid ghost writing and re-hashing / re-wording content like the plague. If I put my name to something, it’s unique, and it’s original.
I’m well known for my unorthodox experiments in creativity, such as turning the Bangkok skytrain in to my remote office. I’m also able to write 2,000 words before breakfast, in a process which I call “creativity on command.”
Now I’m here to report for duty and share some of my learnings.
“I want to pour myself into work that is meaningful. Work that is going to stand the test of time. I want to die empty of regret. I want to die empty of my best work. I don’t want to leave it inside of me.” – Todd Henry, author of “Die Empty”
Creating high-quality content, consistently, is a daunting prospect for most of us. How do we find the time? How do we stay both creative, and productive?
Let me start by saying that I was nowhere near a writer when I started.
Three years ago, I wanted to update my personal blog with my travel stories. I was so scared to stare at a blank document that I recorded all of the content into my iPhone, sent the audio file to a freelancer, and had her transcribe it.
It was a horribly roundabout (and inefficient) way of doing things.
Eventually, I manned up enough to prepare my own content – from ideation to polished product. But I’ve learned quite a bit from my experience running a content business solo these last few years.
Now, I’d like to share a little bit of what I’ve learnt in the form of actionable takeaways that you can also use in your business.
I’ve broken this article down into four main sections, which each offer subsections based on my unique experience. These are topics not often discussed, but you can begin to implement the suggestions in this article to improve your workflow immediately.
I’ll assume that you already have ideas for the type of content you want to create.
The next step is to let it flow and give it form. I’m here to help.
Unleashing Creative Output
“2,000 Words Before Breakfast”
I write fast. Really fast.
I wrote two-thirds of this post (3,500+ words) at Chaeng Watthana immigration office while in the queue to renew my Thailand visa.
Note from Sean: Next to the border zone at Poipet between Cambodia and Thailand, Chaeng Watthana may be my least favorite place on earth.
When I have a piece to write, I’ll often write it before breakfast.
Two words that make it possible: Brain Dump.
That’s what writing amounts to. It’s a brain dump. You don’t second guess yourself, you don’t edit when you write, you just pour out all of your ideas and let em loose.
This is REALLY important.
It makes up the difference between novices who struggle to write 200 words a day and the most prolific writers.
As I start on a new piece of content, I’ll perform what I call a “mind storm.” I’ll write down every idea, thought, or reference I can think of which is relevant to the piece I’m writing.
I DON’T worry about whether an idea is good or not – I just write it all down.
These form the shape of my outline, and then I “brain dump” everything I want to say about each thought from there. Before long my piece takes form and becomes something I can organize, polish, and edit.
But the key is to let the thoughts flow, eject them from the brain and give them physical form.
Don’t ever second guess yourself while you write. Writing and editing need to performed as separate activities.
The Circadian Rhythm
A big part of the game to really “hack” your creative output comes down to having a strong productivity game to start with.
You need to have an understanding of the circadian rhythm and how it governs your daily cycle. You need to understand the difference between high-glycemic foods and low-glycemic foods. You need to understand how to deliver oxygen to your cells.
Let’s start with the circadian rhythm, because knowing how this cycle of renewing and expending energy operates is key to unleashing creative energy. And once you understand it, you’ll gain an unfair advantage.
I came to understand this cycle intimately during the research phase of my book “Hack Sleep.”
From it I know:
Levels of alertness peak in the mid-morning, at around 10:00am. This is also when our willpower is at its highest and the best time to “swallow the frog” and work on our highest-level tasks (such as writing and creative work).
- Exposure to light (especially direct sunlight) is extremely important to create serotonin in the brain, improving energy, mood, and sleeping habits.
- Body temperature dips to its lowest daily point at 3:00pm, making early afternoons the most difficult time to work and the best time to nap.
- Two tablespoons of coconut oil can increase body temperature, unleashing greater levels of alertness, focus, and productivity.
- Eating pineapple in the evenings boosts melatonin production by 266%, improving sleep efficiency and quality.
Knowing how the circadian rhythm works, in my opinion, is a crucial edge for any creator. You can get your most important work done before others even finish their morning e-mail review.
You can also parlay this knowledge into even more competitive advantages, such as polyphasic sleep. I followed a polyphasic schedule for three months last year and my productivity shot through the roof.
During that time, I slept for four hours each night and took two 25 minute naps during the day, gaining an extra three hours, and keeping energy levels high throughout the day.
By waking up at 4:00am, I can easily write 2,000 words before breakfast, because my willpower and alertness levels are at their highest in the morning.
Eating the right foods
Eating low-glycemic foods is also very important. No sugar, no junk food. Yes lean proteins, yes nuts, yes water-rich (fruits, vegetables) foods.
High-glycemic foods (breads, sugar, etc) cause a high spike in glucose, which provides a very short burst of energy. High glucose levels cannot be sustained, and it always results in a crash. On the other hand, low-glycemic foods provide sustained energy levels throughout the day.
To further harness your creative energy, make sure you deliver enough oxygen to your cells. To do this requires anaerobic exercise, breathing exercises, and water-rich alkaline foods (fruits, vegetables). You can also supplement your hemoglobin levels with iron, vitamin C, and folic acid.
Ultra-performance athletes are able to perform at the high levels they do because they have trained their bodies to deliver oxygen. The more efficiently you transport oxygen to your cells, the better you can perform and maintain at a high before fatigue sets in .
Hack: The Lazy Programmer
“Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed… Never do yourself what others can do for you.” – Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Power
One of the core concepts that I’m big on is the principle of “The Lazy Programmer.”
The Lazy Programmer is a philosophy: complete a task by writing the minimum amount of code that satisfies requirements and passes all tests.
Rather than write repetitive, tedious code, programmers are able to piggyback off of each other’s work to create powerful web experiences – making the web more accessible to everyone.
I’ve been using this philosophy to my advantage for years. You can too – it’s about standing on the shoulders of giants, and using what others have already created to offer to further your own ends.
It’s about not doing work that you don’t have to do.
“If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton
These days, this practice is easier and more prevalent than ever. We live in the era of the “sharing economy” and nothing is shared more often than content and information.
Starting from scratch and working your way to an iteration (what we call a “semi- comp” in the world of design) is one of the most daunting, arduous, slowest processes in the creative world. You could spend a week just brainstorming ideas.
Use templates and borrow ideas from others instead.
A good friend and colleague of mine spent $1,000 for a professional designer to create his book cover. It took the designer more than a month.
Meanwhile, I published a book five months later, spent only $10, and created a cover of equal caliber in a single afternoon.
What did I do, you ask? Outsource? Fiverr?
No, and nope.
I used a template from Shutterstock.com and made it my own.
I start by thinking about all of the keywords that are related to the book’s topic.
For my recent book “Hack Sleep,” for example, I wrote down anything I could think of associated with sleep:
“Moon, night, darkness, bed, pillow, counting sheep, alarm clock, nightcap, teddy bear” and so on… exploring my mind for ideas that were possible to build on.
Then I take these keywords and go to Shutterstock and search the images on there to see what kind of concepts professional authors and photographers have come up with on there.
It’s really hard to do this exercise without finding some concept that you instantly fall in love with that conveys the idea you wish to express.
Many images on Shutterstock are Vectors, with layers, which means you can use them as templates and customize them however I like. You can edit the text and imagery in the file in Adobe Illustrator to suit your title.
Shutterstock requires you to sign up for a membership, so the prices of downloads can vary. But the reason I spend $10 is because I chose the 5 downloads for $50 option. It’s definitely worth it, and a great value for the quality of imagery.
In my opinion, Shutterstock is the best stock photography site around.
Another great website to find professional design templates is GraphicRiver. You can find anything you like on there – brochures, business cards, fliers, magazine layouts.
My friend spends $350 per issue to have his digital magazine laid and designed. I can download a template on GraphicRiver with a great design for $12.
Would you rather spend more time and money on a worse design or get a better design while saving a lot of time and money?
The choice is an obvious one for me.
Lazy programmer. Learn it, love it, use it.
The lazy programmer philosophy applies to anything. It’s about 80/20 and finding the shortest, simplest solution to the problem at hand.
For example, if I wanted to find reporters to pitch for my books, I can look at my competitors to see where they’ve been featured and shortcut things by pitching the same places where they’ve been featured.
I have a friend who’s built up a very successful side hustle where he gets paid to travel and speak. I decided I wanted to do the same.
But finding the right people to pitch is hard – and filtering through events is messy. So I made my search much easier pitching the same events and conferences that he’s already been featured (he provides a list of them on his website).
Piggybacking saves time. The shortest and easiest way to make progress is to draft behind the success of others.
And obviously – I don’t need to tell you to do this in an ethical manner. It’s about following the lead of someone who is successful / an expert in an area, not about outright copying or plagiarizing.
Channeling the Mind to Create Content
Richard Bandler, co-founder of NLP, says: “Brains aren’t designed to get results; they go in directions. If you know how the brain works you can set your own directions.”
One way to start your mind in a given direction are to use so-called “tickler files,” based on the research of psycho-cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.
When I was promoting my Indiegogo campaign, for instance, I had to get into the right “mode” mentally before I could start cold e-mailing people.
So I saved three links to blog posts which gave advice specific to e-mail outreach for crowdfunding campaigns, including actual scripts, and before doing anything I would skim over these.
Suddenly, I was in the right frame of mind, regardless of whatever else was going on in my life. The internal resistance – the urge to procrastinate – withered away in silence. These tickler files give you the push forward to acquire creative momentum.
Once my thoughts are channeled in one direction, I batch my work, and spend a half a day (or a whole day) doing only one thing. I ignore the other things on my to-do list until I come to a satisfactory conclusion.
If you start one task, stop, and start an entirely different it taxes you and robs you of creative energy. It results in poor performance, and low word counts.
Studies show that multitasking reduces our productivity by as much as 40% . Projects take longer, and we lose our creative energy and drive.
But we tend to multitask and switch between different documents, apps, browsers, etc. because this “busywork” provides us emotional satisfaction .
And it’s highly addictive.
We need to learn to delay this gratification if we want to become prolific and create great content. When you deploy your mental resources to one solitary task, you will be able to address it from multiple angles and let your subconscious mind go to work to explore the subject matter and come up with novel ideas.
One way to do this involves using REM sleep to your advantage.
In the evenings before you go to bed, think about the “frog” that you will swallow the next morning. This will transmit conscious thoughts to your subconscious which will be sorted through while you sleep.
During the REM stage, your brain is very active and will go to work to discover creative solutions. Evenings are a perfect time time to think about the blog post or chapter you want to write the next morning, and draft up an outline. Then unleash all of the content you have inside of you, and don’t stop.
As your mind becomes absorbed with the topic or task at hand, let all of the creative energy pour out.
In the weeks that followed the publishing of my book “Hack Sleep,” I had an overflow of creative energy and knowledge fresh inside of me.
As a result, I followed up on the heels of the book release with a Udemy course (35+ videos), which I was able to create in less than two weeks. I powered through the course creation with ease, creating 5 – 10 videos on a good day.
If I had waited say, two months or longer, it would have taken me much longer and would have been far more taxing to create the course.
I would have to start again from zero, re-read my book and all my references to start my mind in that direction again. Most likely I would have put off the course creation indefinitely as my focus would be directed towards other projects.
Like Richard Bandler says, “brains go in directions” that we set. Why start in one direction, stop, and then take it in another? Instead, harness your mental energy to go forward until you’ve completed your primary objective.
Lessons and takeaways
Let your mind focus and become consumed by the task at hand. Become so engaged in the creative process and the topic at hand that creative gems float in from the nether and manifest themselves on your screen.
Engage in Discussions
I find that sometimes the best inspiration and content I’ve produced comes as a result of conversations I have during podcast interviews.
Being interviewed lights a spark of creative energy inside of me. I often take notes during the call and type out nuggets uncovered during the discussion immediately afterwards.
After a great discussion, I’m often glowing and bursting with ideas. The after- effect period is a great time to take all the energy and content from the interview and pour it out on to the page.
Batch activities by the day, or half-day, rather than by the hour. In other words, if you start writing, keep writing until lunchtime. Or spend the whole day writing. Don’t spend one hour writing and then shift to some completely different task that’s unrelated.
I find a boost in creative energy by reducing the number of days I spend reading and replying to e-mail. If I’m working on a new book, I may only open my inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving the extra days open to write and pour all of my attention and energy into the content.
Hack: Smart Repurposing
Repurposing content works beautifully, and you can do it in a smart way so that you aren’t just being redundant.
For example, several of my most popular blog posts are actually passages from my books.
I use what my friend Sean D’Souza of Psychotactics calls the “bikini principle:” give people a sexy taste of what you offer and people will desire the full package. This is also often called “the kiss test,” popularized by Eben Pagan, the mastermind behind the online course, Double Your Dating.
In this case, I give away the best pieces of content (or chapters) from my book and post it, for free, on my blog.
Many of the people who read my blog will never read my book, but do appreciate the content I give away for free. A percentage of the people who read my blog are targeted prospects and will be intrigued enough by the content I give away for free that they dish out a few dollars for the e-book.
Here’s another example,when I published “Hack Sleep,” I sent out a broadcast to my e-mail list dishing out a ton of useful content in the form of “sleep hacks” to my subscribers. One gentleman wrote back immediately to tell me that it was the best e-mail I’ve sent.
Here’s the thing – this e-mail had a dual life: it was originally repurposed content that I had originally written for a blog called “The World of Lucid Dreaming.” I took the same document I had created from that post, and sent it to my list as a unique e-mail.
Understand, people who consume your content on one platform are not likely to see the same content on another. 99.9% of the audience on World of Lucid Dreaming weren’t subscribed to my newsletter, and probably had never heard of me before my post was published.
Since I own the content, there’s no reason not to get the most leverage from my time by taking the document I’ve written and publishing it separately on both platforms to two separate audiences.
This is smart content creation and distribution at work, and I think it’s important to always be thinking of different ways you can gain more traction and pull from your efforts.
The Omnipresent Strategy
One of my objectives to gain the most leverage from free content marketing is to put myself out on as many platforms (within reason) as possible. I want to have a presence where the readers and prospects already are, so that they gradually start interacting with my content and my brand.
That means I’m on Amazon, Udemy, and iTunes; I’m blogging / guest blogging, have autoresponders and newsletters. I appear as a guest on other podcasts, on Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Product Hunt, Twitter, LinkedIn, Triberr, Clarity, Upwork, Vayable, Airbnb, Couchsurfing, About.Me… and many others. I want to be everywhere that’s relevant to my brand and to my work.
You never know where your next new lead will come from – but if you aren’t where they are, you’re as good as invisible.
I like to look at the content and information publishing business as a chess board. Blog posts are like pawns, podcasts are knights, books are rooks. Video courses are bishops, private group coaching is the queen.
These are just examples of course.
The cool thing is that there’s no limit to how many pieces you can put on the board – the more you have, the better.
The key is to make sure that each product you offer directs your clients higher up the value ladder.
Content is the present and future, and I truly believe that prolific content creators who can deliver high-quality consistently will be the celebrities, influencers, and leaders of tomorrow.
Have questions about how I hack the world of content creation? Leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer it!
1. Alan E. Mikesky and Heather Hedrick Fink. (2006) “Practical Applications in Sports Nutrition,” 0763754943.
2. Naish, J. (2009) “Is multi-tasking bad for your brain? Experts reveal the hidden perils of juggling too many jobs.” Daily Mail.
3. Zheng Wang and John M. Tchernev. (2012) “The ‘Myth’ of Media Multitasking: Reciprocal Dynamics of Media Multitasking, Personal Needs, and Gratifications”