How to Streamline Your Blog Workflow, Create More Content, and Stress Less
I have to be honest about something. I struggle with blogging.
It’s not the writing, I love to write. Anyone that knows me will tell you how much I love words. They’ll also tell you not to watch Wheel of Fortune with me, but whatevs.
No, my issue with blogging is the pressure to consistently produce useful, actionable content. Which, as we all know, is the whole purpose of blogging. I write posts that help you build your brand and grow your business, over time you begin to trust me and my expertise in my niche - branding and Squarespace design for small to medium creative entrepreneurs. Eventually you’ve built your brand to the point that you need to level up your website and branding, and you turn to me because of the relationship we’ve built. At least that’s the ideal situation.
And the thing is, I want to help you grow your business. A lot. It’s what I thrive on! But the actual act of sitting down, coming up with ideas (or keeping track of ideas I’ve had over time), then turning out 1000-2000 word posts every week, plus the other writing that needs to be done for the business (newsletters, social media, etc)… it’s bloody exhausting, and being consistent here hasn't always been one of my strengths.
I fully admit that I’m new to the Trello bandwagon, and there are plenty of others out there who know all the tips and tricks. (I’m building a collection of those on Pinterest as I learn, so you can join me over there and learn more.) But since I started using this totally un-fancy little app my productivity has skyrocketed. I have a list of blog post ideas just waiting for me to sit down and write. It's made the process of writing for my blog automatic by taking the pressure out of each step, and now I want to show you how to do the same so you can crank your productivity up to ten for the new year!
I’ll be talking about Trello for other areas of your business soon, but if you aren’t getting traffic to your site the other areas aren’t as important, right? So we’ll start with how I’m using Trello to streamline my blogging and create great content more easily.
Also, make sure you don't miss downloading a copy of my own personal Content Planning & Calendar Trello Board at the bottom of this post!
Create a board just for your blog
First I created a board named Blog. Not the most creative name, but I’m trying to save those juices for the more important words. If you need a primer on getting started with Trello before diving in check out this article first.
In my Blog board the first thing I did was rename all the standard lists. I’ll go into these in more detail in a minute, but the lists I’m currently using are Inspiration, Ideas, Draft, and Queue. Since one of the most beautiful things about Trello is how easily it customizes to your own workflow, you may find that you need different lists than I do… the key here is to make the board reflect and streamline your existing process.
My first list is a bit of a mish mash of things that I want easy access to while I’m preparing blog posts. Here are the types of cards I keep in this list:
Links to posts like this one by Lauren Hooker over at Elle & Co for when I’m stuck. http://www.elleandcompanydesign.com/blog/2014/11/23/50-no-fluff-content-rich-blog-post-ideas
Blogging tips that resonate with me. These might be one sentence quick tips I read on social media or on someone’s blog, or they might be a whole card on guest posting that I jotted down while listening to a podcast. I keep them here so I see them often and remember to implement them. If a tip becomes so ingrained in my process that I no longer need to see it, I can archive that card. (Or save it for a blogging tips blog post. Two birds, one stone!)
Headline ideas. These are pretty abundant on the interwebs, so whenever I see a headline I really like or find an article full of title ideas I save it to a card labeled “Headline Ideas”. Simplicity, yo.
A card that reminds me of my niche. It’s not like I’m going to forget that I’m writing for 30-45 year old strong independent #LadyBosses, but it doesn’t hurt to remind myself sometimes. This card also has my passion, skills, audience needs, and mission statement.
I love this list so much I think I would throw my body across it to stop an oncoming bullet. Or at least generously mourn its death. The title is pretty spot-on, as this is just a list of post ideas. But there’s more to it than meets the eye, so let me ‘splain.
Right now this list has around 30 post ideas on it. That number fluctuates as new ideas are added and existing ideas are implemented. I find that having the list here helps me keep my creative energy flowing and I end up adding to it almost daily.
First I had to jumpstart my list though. I had all of zero great blog posts ideas when I set up this board. My previous plan consisted of “Oh shit it’s Wednesday, I wanted to put a post out tomorrow… what can I write about quickly?!”. Not the best approach to content marketing.
So I started by devouring some articles like the one from Elle & Co above to spark my creativity. I read 2-3 articles, then sat down with a timer for 30 minutes and created a card for every new idea. The fun part is you can create a new card as fast as you can type, so if you get the ideas flowing it takes very little time to put this together. I went from 0-50ish great ideas in no time.
You might be thinking this is just a more complicated way of making a list in a word document. You, my friend, would be wrong. Let me tell you why.
Because Trello Cards are magical.
The beauty of Trello is that it’s like a blank slate. It gives you the digital post it notes and sharpie, the virtual wall, and some really cool features, and you decide what to do with it. So here’s how I set up my blog post cards.
The title of each card is the proposed post title. Sometimes this changes, but it lets me see my posts at a glance. If I change the post title in production I change the title of the card as well.
I use Trello’s labels to add my blog categories. This step might be one of my favorites. Trello has this super simple labeling system where you can add one or more colors to a card, and those colors show up in all your card views. You decide for yourself what each color stands for by adding names to them, and they even have a color blind friendly mode. I named each color according to a blog category, and whenever I add a new post idea I select the proper category or categories. This has two huge benefits for me:
I can easily scroll and make sure my content is balanced. I write about Squarespace design, branding, business, marketing, productivity, & organization. I want to make sure that I’m sharing a pretty even mix of those categories. Since I know my Squarespace label is green, I can quickly scroll through the list and make sure green is equally represented. If it isn’t I know I need to focus more on that category.
I can make sure a potential post fits my overall plan for the blog. Because I enjoy writing it’s super easy for me to get excited about a post idea and just run with it. But not every post belongs on every blog. You don’t come here to read about my adventures in learning Reiki, just like you wouldn’t go to an energy healing blog to learn how to build a website. If I can’t easily label a potential post with one or two of my categories, I know it’s probably not right for this blog and I can set it aside for a potential project later.
I add a checklist. I like to see visual progress. It pleases me. So this checklist feature tickles my productivity bone. I add a checklist to each card that contains the steps in my workflow. Your items will vary, but right now mine are Outline, Write, Edit, Graphic, Schedule. When the items are checked off it shows your progress in the list view. I can tell at a glance if a card is in the writing or editing stage, or if I’ve done nothing to it at all.
Here’s a fun trick to simplify this step. It can get tedious adding the same four or five items over and over, so when you add a Checklist to your card take advantage of the Copy Items From… dropdown. You can create one checklist and use copies on all your other cards!
In the description for the card I create the post outline. Each card has an editable description, and with just a little knowledge you can format that description with Markdown. You could take this to an extreme (there are a ton of formatting options here) but I use simple nested dashes like in the picture below. I designate a certain period of time during my day, usually an hour, and outline as many posts as I can. This way they’re ready to go when it’s time to write.
That sounds like a lot of work per card, right? It’s really not. The whole process of creating an idea card takes about 3-5 minutes, depending on whether I outline it right then and there or not. And when I'm in the "idea creation" phase I don't focus on adding all the cool features to my cards, I only worry about getting the post titles on cards as quickly as possible. You can go back later and add your checklists and labels all at once.
Also, once a card is created you can move it from list to list or even to other boards if need be, so you don't have to recreate that information. Since I like to keep things simple I only use two other lists: a Draft list for posts I’ve started work on, and a Queue list that posts are moved to once they’ve been scheduled.
When I sit down to write I’ll take a look at my Ideas list, see what sparks my interest (or pick something I can easily start with) and drag it to the Draft list. I’ll copy the post title and outline and paste those in a new Google Doc. At this point sometimes I’ll also grab the URL for the Google Doc and add it to the card description, just to make things even simpler for future me.
Once all the checklist items have been completed for my post and it’s been scheduled in Squarespace I add a Due Date to the card using the date the post is scheduled for, then drag the card to Queue. And then something really cool happens…
I get to see it on my editorial calendar! Without any extra work!
Trello has something called Power Ups. They’re cool little features you can enable on your boards that give you an extra capability or somehow integrate with a program. On a free account you’re allowed one Power Up per board, and for my Blog board the Calendar option is PERFECT!
All you have to do is click on Power Ups and then Calendar from your board’s side menu, and suddenly you can view any card with a due date on a nice monthly calendar. Hence the Due Date I set on my cards in the earlier step. Now I can switch to Calendar view at any time and see where I need to schedule new posts, make sure I’m spreading out my categories right, and plan ahead for launches and holidays. The one downside here is for now is it seems you have to be using Trello on your computer to access the Power Ups, the menu isn’t accessible on mobile devices yet. But that seems to be in the works, so fingers crossed.
Get started on your content planning without all the extra work
Because I want you to be able to get the planning portion out of the way and start working on your actual blog, I'm sharing the Trello board template I use for my own content planning with you. Just click the button at the bottom of this post to open it, then copy the board into your own Trello account by going to the board Menu and clicking More -> Copy Board. I've even added some bonuses in there to inspire you and help you get started.
Now that you have a streamlined blog workflow with a built in editorial calendar you can focus on more important things, like actually writing great content and running your business.
Do you use Trello in your business? What are you favorite features?