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#21: Output routine

Ondrej Markus
Ondrej Markus
6 min read
#21: Output routine

Last week sucked.

3 reasons why:

  1. Right off the gate, I burned myself out on writing about my monthly review process. It was 3-4 times longer than my usual Monday post, taking over 8 hours of work. Not a good idea to push myself to finish 2k words in 1 day. Lesson learned.
  2. Then, I got re-stuck on writing the System guide. That never gets old.
  3. So, as a momentary run-away project, I worked on an article that I decided not to even finish because after 2 days of work I realized the idea is maybe strong enough for a tweet, but not an article.

What’s the problem

Unclear next step.

I’ve been here before, so I recognize the problem. Whenever I don't know what's the next thing to work on, my routine crumbles under uncertainty.

Unclear next step breaks my workflow.
Unclear next step breaks my workflow.

My input routine works well. I sit down every morning to write for 3-4 hours without interruptions. That’s pre-decided and effective.

But if I don’t know how to use those hours, it doesn’t matter I’m sitting there staring at a blinking cursor. The time gets wasted. There’s no output.

So, after thinking about this problem on Friday, I realized there is a simple solution: I need a better output routine.

My only current output routine is sharing this weekly reflection every Monday. I sit down to write it in the morning and hit the publish button in the afternoon.

I enjoy writing it (when I don’t make it 2k words). I enjoy the feeling of finishing something tangible I can share with you. It feels like the highlight of my week for months now.

I can learn from this routine. I can take what’s working, improve what doesn’t, and build a better output routine around it.

What's the goal

I need to know what I want this output routine to accomplish for me.

I do know that:

  • Publish more things – I'd like to publish more than 1 piece a week if possible because it feels good and builds positive momentum.
  • Become a better writer – I want to get better at writing. Publishing more things would help me improve faster.
  • Make a living – Soon(ish), I need to create a source of income if I want to keep writing full-time. My output routine should help me do that.

What’s the solution

I have a plan.

It's on my whiteboard:

Inputs → Outputs → Results
Inputs → Outputs → Results

I'll explain.

I thought about the next 6 months in terms of my goals:

  • What are the results I need to fulfill my goals?
  • What are the outputs I need to get these results?
  • What are the inputs I need to get these outputs?

(Technically, there is one more level: What is the process I need to get the inputs? But let's keep this simple(r) and talk about my process some other time.)

Inputs

As I said, my input routine works well. I’m there at my table every morning, doing the most important work of the day (writing) without interruptions.

But without clearly defined outputs, my input routine doesn’t work. That’s what was happening to me the last few weeks. And that’s what I need to fix.

Outputs

This is the output routine I came up with:

Publish 2 articles every week. (On Monday and Thursday.)

Why?

Well, I wanted to commit to publishing more articles several times in the past, but I sucked at finishing things. Perfectionism, writing is hard, and all that.

However, publishing these weekly reflections helped me overcome that. The routine of starting and finishing a piece in one day was sometimes painful but always felt good. It made me a better writer. I am better at finishing things.

At the same time, I sometimes felt overly pressured to ship the piece on Monday when it could use another few hours of work.

As a result, publishing 2 articles a week feels like a neat balance of quantity and quality based on what I know about myself from the last 2 years of writing.

This new output routine fulfills the goal to publish more things (I would produce 51 articles over the next 6 months) which would also help me improve faster as a writer.

Lastly, there’s the ‘make a living’ part that I need to make my work-life sustainable. More on that in a minute.

Results

Thinking about results is crucial for creating a good output routine.

Results are what I need/want my work to accomplish. But, in contrast to inputs and outputs, results are NOT in my direct control.

I can bend my ass over publishing hundreds or thousands of articles, and I might still not get the results I want. Nobody will care, nobody will follow me, nobody will pay for my work.

I can force inputs and outputs. I can’t force results.

What's left is doing the best work I can, keep getting better, and hoping I’m gonna get there before broke or dead.

That's why the output routine is important. It's a way to take aimed shots (create good outputs) at the right target (needed results).

Shooting outputs at the right results.
Shooting outputs at the right results.

Knowing which results are relevant and aiming for them increases my chances of success.

These are the 3 numbers that matter to me:

  • Subscribers getting my articles over email (Goal: > 1000 subs)
  • Open rate of my emails (Goal: > 66% avg.)
  • Income in contributions (Goal: > $1000/month)

Subscribers

Obviously, I want my work to reach more people who could benefit from it. And I think signing your email is a relatively high-quality form of online connection. At least I don't give out my email lightly.

So email subscribers, as compared to Twitter followers, for example, is what I want to focus on to spread my work.

Open rate

At the same time, the number of people subscribed means nothing if they don’t read my articles. That’s why I watch the open rate of my emails.

It’s not a perfect stat because opening the mail doesn’t mean you read it. I wouldn't judge my work on this statistic, but it's information I can do something about.

I already delete subscribers who don’t open my emails. Doing this is a balancing act to increasing the total number of subscribers. Quality is more important than quantity here. I want the number to represent people who want to hear from me.

66% open rate means that my average reader opens at least 2 out of 3 emails. That seems reasonable. It tells me that the perceived quality of my work is at least high enough for people to open the emails.

Income

And then there’s the financial bit.

If I commit to publishing 2 articles every week, I will feel better about asking for money.

I'm thinking about how to monetize my work, and I would like to keep all articles free while giving readers the option to contribute a few $ regularly or once in a while.

If I write good articles and share them, I believe enough people will chip in to make this sustainable for me at least on the barest of levels ($1000/month) by the end of June 2022.

If not, well, that’s the natural selection killing the weak. :)

Killing the weak
Killing the weak

Anyway, I will try as long as I can, because there is nothing I’d rather do than write.


I took until the end of 2021 (2 weeks from now) to decide if I want to commit to this plan. Everything new seems sexy and hot. So I want to let this idea cool a bit, and see if I still want it in a week or two.

I’ll let you know what happens.

Have a good one.

Byye.

Reflections

Ondrej Markus Twitter

I write about designing your life around meaningful work you enjoy.