If you’re a learning content creator today, you’re facing a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the need for high-quality learning content is through the roof. Continuous learning is what today’s employees expect from their employers, and what today’s companies need to stay competitive.
On the other hand, cranking out high-quality learning content isn’t easy. Especially if you’re on a small team with limited resources. As the incoming requests for new training content pile up, often the only person available to create that content is the one staring back at you in the mirror. How can you keep up?
At Grovo, we have an in-house team of content producers whose sole job is to meet the constant demand for fresh, relevant workplace learning experiences. Day in and day out, they work together to grow our Microlearning® library, shipping an average of 50 brand new lessons per month.
One of those content producers is Joe Stanton. He’s notorious for churning out top-notch lessons at lightning speed. I sat down with Joe to discover some of the secrets behind his next-level productivity—and now I’d like to pass them onto you. Here’s what he had to say:
1. Visualize the day ahead.
Every morning Joe takes a few minutes to mentally prepare for the day before him. “As I’m walking my dog I’ll take a look at my calendar, shuffle things around, and picture how the day’s going to go,” he says. “Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way, but thinking it through helps me focus.”
Joe picked up this productivity habit after reading the book How to Have a Good Day, by author and economist Caroline Webb. Webb explains that cognitive biases cause our brains to filter out information based on what we’re already thinking about. For example, if you’re in a bad mood, your brain will automatically notice things to keep you in a bad mood. By pointing his mind at the best case scenario at the start of the day, Joe significantly increases his chances that his brain will help him stay on track—and make it a reality.
What to do: Take a few minutes each morning to picture your ideal day before it begins.
You have more control over your day than you think, according to Caroline Webb.
2. Work distraction-free.
Mark Twain did it in a cabin. J.K. Rowling did it in a hotel. Carl Jung did it in a tower. Did what, exactly? Deep work—the term Georgetown professor Cal Newport coined for long, uninterrupted periods of focus on a single project or task. Newport argues that, in a world of constant distraction, this age-old productivity hack is more necessary than ever.
Following Newport’s advice, Joe diligently schedules out 90-minute chunks of time (the optimal length of a deep work session) to focus on lesson-craft without distraction. “Creativity isn’t this magical thing that comes out of nowhere,” says Joe. “It’s a process—and a big part of that process comes from sitting down and simply blocking off time to be creative.”
What to do: Schedule a handful of recurring 90-minute deep work sessions into your weekly calendar.
Hear Cal Newport talk about the power of deep work in an age of social media.
3. Do your homework.
Skimp on research, and you’ll sacrifice productivity later, says Joe. “For each learning track, I spend a good day to day-and-a-half going through source material and preliminarily jotting down ideas, stories I might use, getting notes down—just looking to understand the topic.”
Creative professionals have long acknowledged Joe’s insight that immersing yourself in your material is a prerequisite for generating good ideas, angles, and concepts. As advertising copywriter James Webb Young wrote in his 1939 classic A Technique For Producing Ideas, “You must be an extensive browser of all sorts of information. For it is with the advertising person as with the cow: no browsing, no milk.”
What to do: Front load your creative process with research so you can work with speed, confidence and fluency later.
4. Use placeholders.
There are always obstacles and potholes on the bumpy road to a finalized piece of learning content. How can you ensure these setbacks don’t slow you down? “One of the secrets to working quickly is to use placeholders as much as possible,” says Joe. “If you looked at a draft of on my lessons, there are lots of places where I’ll have a little yellow highlighted section that says ‘Put in a video here’ or ‘Ask SME if this is the right way to say this,’ or ‘Add a quiz question here.’”
By granting himself the freedom to not have every last little detail perfect on the first go—or even whole sections not fully fleshed out—Joe keeps things moving along throughout the process.
What to do: Don’t lose time making everything perfect right away—use placeholders as you work, then fill them in later.
5. Look for the why.
When the clock is ticking and decisions need to be made quickly, Joe returns again and again to a question that informs all great learning experiences: Why does this matter to my learner?
“Let’s say I’m creating a lesson on how to give a yearly performance review—something a manager might have to do but not want to do,” he says. “I may start out with a story or statistic that helps a learner see why performance reviews are important. Or I might go a little bigger and talk about why reflecting on the past is important. The value of what you’re teaching isn’t always obvious. But it’s up to you to find out what it is—and if you’re not sure, looking for a good ‘why’ is a good place to start.”
What to do: When you’re stuck, focus on why the thing you’re teaching matters to your learner and build from there.
Ready to get started?
We hope you found these tips helpful for taking your productivity up a notch, just like the one-man content machine himself. If you’d like to drop Joe a line to share your own productivity tips (or dig up a few more of his), he’d love to hear from you at email@example.com.