Jennifer and Mickey discuss growing a digital web agency, keeping cash reserves in the bank, daily blogging, and being intentional about practice.
When I decided to finally create this podcast, I knew I wanted it to be relatable and actionable, not some guru love-fest. While it might be interesting to hear how a multi-millionaire guru with personal and professional staff does things, it’s not exactly relatable and what works for them isn’t what’s going to work for me (or likely, you) right now.
I knew I wanted to talk with freelancers, business owners, entrepreneurs, and professionals who are getting it done day in and day out about the reality of making work and life work well together. So I extended an invitation in my email newsletter, inviting those in my community to join me for a conversation.
Mickey Mellen submitted the first Seeking Satisfaction guest application and I was so excited! Mickey and I have been in the same circles for a long time but until this conversation, we had never had the chance to chat one-to-one — and this was my chance to get to know him better, learn more about his digital agency, and ask him about his daily blogging practice!
In this episode, we talk about his web agency, the dynamics of having a business partner, building a team, financial hiccups and frugality in business — and how keeping cash reserves in the bank helped their team weather the pandemic.
We also talk about:
- How Mickey finds time to publish a blog post every single day, how he stays on track, the benefits blogging daily has created in his life and business, and the difference between blogging for others and blogging for yourself.
- The impact positive habits, getting up early, and morning routines can have on the rest of your day.
- Why “getting to zero” matters and how building processes that have a completion point can clear the decks for deep work and rich play.
My biggest takeaways from our conversation, however, came from our discussion about the importance of understanding your priorities and the notion of practicing practice — of being intentional about how you spend your time and using your time to hone your craft and get better at the things that are important to you.
I can’t wait for you to listen!
Mentioned Sites, Resources, And Tools:
- Anki Flashcards
- Roam Research
- Chris Lema
- Seth Godin
- Content Camp: Brand Messaging
- Kathy Drewien
- Merlin Mann
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
Get To Know Mickey Mellen
Mickey joined forces with Ali Green to form GreenMellen in 2009. Since, he’s served as the Technical Director for the agency, helping clients with all manner of technical and business advice. A frequent speaker and sharer of knowledge, Mickey has also led the Atlanta-based A Brighter Web Meetup since 2012. He also blogs daily on his personal website and co-hosts the Brighter Web Podcast with Robert Carnes.
With nearly two decades of experience using WordPress, Mickey is an active supporter of the annual WordCamp Atlanta. He’s also a recent graduate of the altMBA program. Mickey lives in Marietta with his wife, Kelly, and their two daughters.
You can check out Mickey’s courses on Roam Research, Notion, and blogging at academy.mickmel.com. You can also connect with Mickey on social. He’s @mickmel on all the things, including Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Extra Minutes Training With Mickey
To learn more from Mickey Mellen and discover how he stays on track as an agency owner and prioritizes the things that are most important to him through the use of daily and weekly rituals, check out the Seeking Satisfaction Extra Minutes Membership.
Members receive Extra Minutes bonus training from Jennifer and podcast guests like Mickey that provide valuable insights and lessons to help you build a better business for only $15/month.
Mickey’s Extra Minutes bonus training continues the conversation from the podcast on creating personal and professional habits through the use of daily and weekly rituals that set you up for success and help you meet your goals.
Saying I’m blogging daily is easier than saying I’m going to try to blog three to five times a week, because then it becomes easier. “I’m going to do it three times a week” becomes once or twice very easily. If I say it’s every day, I just make it every day. So, I have a handful of things daily.
Welcome to Seeking Satisfaction, a podcast that encourages you to live inspired, embrace imperfection, and seek satisfaction. I’m your host, Jennifer Bourn, freelance business mentor, course creator, and agency owner.
Today I work with clients I love, do fulfilling work, and have the freedom to live the life of my choosing. But things weren’t always this rosy, which is why this show looks at the systems that power successful businesses and fulfilled lives, going behind the scenes with entrepreneurs, freelancers, and professionals, to discover how they juggle work and life, manage kids and clients, handle stress, and tackle unexpected challenges.
If you are seeking greater satisfaction in your work and life, you are in the right place. Today, I’m here with Mickey Mellen, co-founder and technical director at GreenMellen, host of the Atlanta-based Brighter Web Meetup and co-host of the Brighter Web Podcast. Mickey, thank you for joining us.
Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here. Looking forward to what you do with this podcast. It’s going to be fantastic.
Thank you. Now, you are an agency partner, you’ve got a team of six additional staff, you’re a dad of two with kids around the same age as mine, one in high school and one starting college…
Exactly, the same. Yep.
And you blog daily. Give me a little bit of background on how you came to do all of these things. What did your story look like?
Back in the early two-thousands, I worked at a big church just outside of Atlanta and there were five of us on the communications team. So, it was a staff of like a hundred. It’s a megachurch. And one of those was a woman named Ali. She left in 2008 to start her own design company.
I left around the same time to start my own web development company, but I don’t design, and she doesn’t develop. And so, we decided we need each other’s help and accidentally started an agency in like 2009. And it was really just the Mickey and Ali show for a couple of years.
And then eventually we decided, she was getting too busy with design, let’s hire a designer to help her, and I’m getting too busy with maintaining all these sites, let’s get someone to help me. And over the years, every year or two, we would say, we’re getting too busy with this one role. So, let’s hire someone to fill that role, and here we are. It was not until I guess, 2020 that we made our first hire to grow the business versus just to expand the capabilities of what we were doing.
That’s an interesting distinction. Hiring to do the work versus hiring for growth to accommodate more work and expansion.
Yeah, that was very deliberate and it took more effort to make that hire, I guess, because the other ones would make our life easier, and hiring Robert in this case — he’s a fantastic messaging strategist, that was a service we didn’t really have, and we knew that hiring him not only would cost us more — it would take more of our time rather than relieve it.
But it’s been worth it to be able to offer that service to our clients and expand what we’re able to give them.
Now, you’ve been able to grow. You went from the two of you to now a team. But growth isn’t always easy, and the team is probably the hardest part of growth, right? People are your greatest assets but also sometimes your biggest pain.
Oh yeah. It can be tough.
You shared with me that some of that growth around the people and the staff and the finances of the business were cut challenged.
That came to a head in 2018ish. Tell me what that was like. What was happening in your business?
So, really it was just replacing one of our employees. She left for a great opportunity. So, replacing her turned out to be a challenge and what we found was we hired for culture rather than skills. Which is what you’re supposed to do, and generally, that served as well. We hired a great guy. He was fantastic and he was just an awful fit for the job.
Now, the job for that time was project manager and project manager. You put your head down and answer a thousand emails and he was a dreamer and a schemer and planner, and he was fantastic, but that wasn’t what the role was. We needed him to put his head down and do it. And as it turned out, we ended up giving him…
Let’s put it this way. The boss I had at the church years ago called me and said, we’re looking for someone to help with our web team, but we need someone that’s a schemer and a dreamer and a planner. I said, “I have just the guy maybe, but I don’t know if you can afford his salary.” And the salary that they were planning for was literally the exact same amount we were paying him.
And so we said, okay buddy, bad news and good news. We love you. You’re fantastic. I don’t think it’s going to work but we have a job lined up and he’s been there for years now just kicking butt.
What serendipity to have that show up right when you needed it.
That was great. But then, of course, we were without a project manager again. But it turned out that Brooke, our copywriter and other things, turned out to be a great project manager. She just didn’t know it. And it took her a while to lean into it. Now she is just fantastic at that and just keeps us all humming, so it’s worked out well. But having a hire like that — we had them for six months. That was a lot of money that went out to pay him that we didn’t really get much out of.
It was an expensive mistake, but I have a little more heart for it because you can hire people that don’t care. They treat your customers poorly. Bad work ethic. There was none of that. He was a great guy. He worked hard; it was just a bad fit. So, I have had more sympathy for that situation, but it’s still hurt when you’re a small business — tossing twenty-five grand out the window is not good.
What would you say to people who are in your same shoes? A small business. They know they need to grow. They’re looking to bring on a new employee, and get some help but maybe they’re nervous about making the wrong hire. Did you learn some tips on what to look for or what to do? What not to do?
We know what the perfect way to do it is. We’re just not able to do it very often. It’s to hire someone as a contractor for a while. Work on some jobs with them to get to know them and then bring them on full-time.
That’s what we did with our developer years ago. She’s been with us like eight years now or something. We’ve worked with her for a while as a contractor. We told her we want to hire you we just can’t quite afford it yet. And we kept working with her, and finally, we were able to hire her, and we knew she was fantastic and is fantastic.
It’s been great, but not every role you can do that with. If we were to lose one of our employees today, we need to replace them with a full-time person as quickly as we can.
And I don’t have a great answer for that. It’s tough.
So, sometimes as a business owner, especially when you can do design and development as you and Ali can, you get stuck in the doing a lot of times and it can be hard to step out of that. That’s often where a lot of the overwhelm, where you’re overworked, you’re overwhelmed, you’re overcommitted, and you get to a point where you’re just over it and you need help.
How did you shift your mindset to think about bringing in somebody and stepping back from being the person doing all the doing?
I think in both of our cases, it was that we had more than we literally could do. And in Ali’s case, I think she got tired of design to some degree. She’s very talented at it. She’s never loved it though. So, she was happy to give that up development took me a little bit longer. Just because I didn’t mind it as much. But now our developer, she’s been with us so long, she is way smarter than I am. So, I couldn’t really help with a lot of things, even if I wanted to. So that kind of solved it for me there.
Nice. Now, you had also shared with me earlier that there were some financial hiccups along the way with your agency growth and that is something that is so relatable to pretty much anybody who’s in a growth trajectory. What issues did you run into? What challenges and hurdles did you encounter on your growth path?
Someone explained to us a long time ago that while your revenue goes up in a straight line, hires are like stair steps. Like you’re going to go from nothing to suddenly paying a ton of money every month for this new employee.
So, finding the timing to hire the right person versus working more hours to cover was really tough. And we got a little tight at times, but Ali is a fanatical saver. We keep more money in the bank than I think we even should, which is great though. I’m not pushing back against it a bit. She is great at that, which has really helped smooth us out over the years.
I think if it was my company, we would have probably two more employees and a whole lot less than the bank right now. We’re both pretty cautious, which hurts a little bit. I think it helps to have that visionary that’s always pushing things forward and neither of us are that person. But it also keeps us very safe.
Two examples that come to mind are…
One, when we first looked for an office space back in 2013, we found this building that we’re in now still and there were two offices. There was one that was perfect for us. It was exactly what we needed and there was one tiny one that we could make work and it was like half the rent. We did the tiny one just because we didn’t want to commit ourselves to spend too much money and we regretted that almost immediately because we thought having an office was amazing. It was fantastic and we should have gotten the bigger one.
But then, on the other side of the things, when COVID hit. We saw a lot of agency friends, specifically in certain niches that were having to lay people off and furlough and do some things. And our staff got quite worried, like what’s happening with us, and we were able to tell them Ali has kept so much money in the bank over the years that, even if things fall apart, we’ve got six months, we’ve got 12 months.
We laid out different scenarios saying if all this bad stuff happens, we’re still around for 18 months. If this bad stuff happens, we’re around for two years, if all the bad stuff happens, we’ve got like a year to go. And we were able to put their minds at ease because of her pushing to keep us saving more.
And she’s still not happy with how much is in the bank. And that’s good.
She sounds like my husband. He’s never happy with how much is in there.
And I know she has the same thing at home where she’s always fighting to save more there, which again I want to spend, I want to buy things. But I totally appreciate what she’s done for us by forcing that a little bit.
Having that runway to be able to encounter and tackle tough periods like the pandemic, or to be able to provide that reassurance to your team because you have that savings and runway available to lean on if you need to, provide some pretty incredible peace of mind.
How has putting some of that in place — making sure that you have the savings and you have the capacity to support your team — impacted the rest of your business growth?
I think it’s made us less nervous.
We don’t feel like we have to win every job that comes across, or we’re not going to make payroll next week, even when times are tough. Again, I credit Ali for a lot of this. We never were worried about making payroll, like making payroll has never been a problem. We’ve had enough there.
We certainly see down months where we lose money for the month, but we have enough to cover it. Not having to worry about winning every job helps. And really that helps you generally win more jobs too, if you come across as more confident, and not having to cut prices and beg and stuff… I mean, you do that you end up losing the job anyhow because you look kind of weak there. So, it’s kind of a win-win on that front.
Yeah, people are definitely attracted to confidence.
Correct. Exactly. And that helps with that. That helps give us more confidence. And then when it came to COVID, we never really saw much of a dip from that really COVID was pretty good for us just because our clients were doing more stuff online and needed more help.
The one little mistake we made… We decided we wanted to open up our books a little bit more to the team to show them that we’re healthy. So, we scheduled something on our calendar. We call it State Of The Mellen, just kind of the state of where things are, and a few of our staff members saw that coming and now they want to have a meeting to talk about the company. Like, oh my gosh, what happened? And so, we had to say real quick, no, no, it’s a good meeting don’t worry. It’s not bad. But I can see how we kind of messed up there saying, hey, we need to talk about the company with everyone all together here to come in.
It was a good thing, but it scared them a little bit.
Yeah. Being clear on that messaging is probably pretty helpful.
Yeah. We missed that at the very beginning. We picked it up pretty quick.
So, on top of your agency, on top of your meetup, on top of your podcast, you blog daily. That is a serious commitment. There are so many people that struggled to create any kind of content, let alone hit publish on a daily basis. What’s your secret?
So, I do have one big secret and you just said it, it was hit publish every day. I don’t necessarily write every day. We see people — Chris Lema, Seth Goden, those kinds of folks — that when they blog daily, they’re writing every day. And my schedule, while it’s much more flexible than it’s been, I’m sure you know, as your kids get older, you have commitments, but it’s still more open than it was before. So, I’m able to write a good bit but I can’t do it every day.
In the morning I get up and I have a post ready to go and I’ll spend five- or 10-minutes cleaning it up. But my maximum or my minimum commitment is five or 10 minutes to get it published and out, as long as I’m staying ahead of the game, you know, on the weekends or in the evenings or when I have other times.
So, that’s part of it and then the other part, for me, has been having the right motivation behind blogging daily, using Chris Lema again as an example, he writes for others, you know, he writes to share his wisdom and give people tips. And it’s fabulous. I mean, his content is amazing. And I did that for a while years ago, but I ran out of steam.
My blog now is really for me, following more of the Seth Goden approach, rather than Chris, where I’m unpacking ideas and thinking through things and sharing them with the world. If they want to read it, they can. If not, that’s fine. I’m trying to teach myself through blogging and sharing so, I think it’s benefiting me more than I think Chris’ posts benefit him in terms of knowledge growth. So those two things help.
That’s a really interesting shift in perspective.
So many times, we think, I have to blog to get clients. I have to blog to grow my visibility. I have to blog to grow my business. I have to create content for other people, to attract other people, to appease and appeal to other people. But this is a different mindset. Blogging as a way to work through your own ideas as a way to clarify what you’ve got going on in your head. Blogging for your own fulfillment and learning it’s a different kind of switch.
Did you find it easier to stick to it when you sought more personal fulfillment from blogging?
So, the short answer is yes, I did. I mean, I stuck with it. I don’t know, 600 days in a row now or whatever it is, but you’re right that most blogs are for other people to grow SEO and all that stuff. And that’s very valuable too. Our company blog is written from that perspective. It’s a couple of times a week, but my blog doesn’t get thousands and thousands of visitors.
It’s not meant for that. So, if you want to blog to grow your business and get more clients, then blogging for yourself is not the right answer. I’m hoping that the blogging I do, the writing I do, and the thinking I do makes me better in pitch meetings with clients, makes me a better speaker, and maybe better on podcasts
What I really noticed that got me going on this was again, using Chris and Seth as examples, if someone asks them an off-the-wall question and they will always say, I have three thoughts on that. Like they know the answer already, and they have a detailed breakdown of what it is because they’ve taken the time, months or years ago to write up in a blog post where they first thought about the idea and the kind of structured the post and thought about their answer and laid it out.
So, when you ask them later, here are my thoughts. And I know Seth has what, 8,000 posts and Chris I’m sure has multiple thousands. You know, they’ve worked through a lot of ideas and are there for that much more impressive end.
Well, it’s the notion of practice. I was having a conversation with some folks in one of my programs the other day, and I get asked and I’m sure you get asked all the time: how do you do it all? How do you come up with this off the top of your head? How do you remember this? How do you always have an answer?
And my response was practice and its practice in your own messaging, practice in your business, flexing that muscle of putting your thoughts down on paper, well, paper, digital, whatever. But getting those thoughts out of your head and putting them together in a framework, really solidifies those things so you’re able to draw on them in the future.
So, you’ve noticed an impact from your daily blogging on how you show up as a leader in your business and with your clients. How has that helped you?
Again, you said the words that I’ve said to other folks: it’s clarity of thought. This helps me clarify that. I’ve written about it in a blog post somewhere about blogging versus journaling. Someone journals every day. That’s fantastic. I mean, journaling is great, but you can kind of get your ideas out and call it good and leave it there.
If you’re publishing to the world, even with a relatively small audience, you could try to get ideas down, but then you’d be forced to refine them and come up with anecdotes and make it into something coherent for everyone else. And I think that is really where it solidifies better in your head instead of just getting an idea out, actually shaping it, and forming it, and pulling pieces in can make a big difference.
And then I also take it a step further with certain quotes I use, ideas, and stuff. I put it in a flashcard system I go through every day to memorize quotes and stuff. Putting them in there helps with that as well. Any key quotes or any key little things I throw in there just to try to help solidify better. Because an issue that I still haven’t solved is if I wrote something great six months ago, it’s probably gone. Like, I’ve largely forgotten it.
So, I’m trying to figure out ways to get better with that.
Again, using those two guys as examples, they talk about the same thing every so often just kind of repackaged. I feel kind of shy about like, “I already talked about that once three years ago, I shouldn’t do it again.” And I absolutely should because no one else remembers that, including me. I need to be better about recycling content, reframing it, and re-solidifying it.
I think we’re all guilty of that. We think somebody already said that — I’ve already said that — so I can’t say it again.
Yeah. I’m very bad about that.
When you say the same thing with consistency over time, that’s when it really starts to gain traction in your own mind and with your audience in Content Camp: Brand Messaging, it’s one of the things that we talk about and focus on a lot is that we’re coming up with all of these different components of your brand messaging, and they feel similar.
They feel repetitive because we’re talking about the same message but in different packages and different contexts and in different ways repeatedly to build that traction and that authority. So, being able to revisit those concepts over time, can be incredibly helpful.
For sure. I think even revisiting them at the same moment can be helpful.
And I’m bad about that too. When leading a meetup or something I’ll say here’s what I want to say and here’s what you should learn and have a good day, versus here are the things I’m going to talk about. Let’s talk about it. Let’s unpack it.
Saying the same thing over and over I think is good to help bring a point across. If I were ever a preacher at a church, people would love coming to my sermons because I’d be in and out in like five minutes. Like, here’s this, here’s the scripture.
I’m bad about saying here’s what you need to know. So, I trust you to hear me the first time and off we go. And that’s not really always the case.
That is true. Now, you said something I want to go back to. You mentioned flashcards and not off-the-shelf flashcards. You’re putting your own content in. Tell me about these flashcards.
So, it’s an app called Anki. It’s been around for decades, and it’s based on the idea of space repetition. Basically…
- If you learn a new fact today, you’re going to maybe forget it.
- Relearn it tomorrow and then you’ll probably remember it for two or three days.
- Learn it in three days again and now you probably remember it for two weeks.
- Before long you’ll have something memorized for good.
This software uses an algorithm when I open it up, it says, “Who does Content Camp?” I say, “Oh, Jennifer Bourn does.” Okay, cool. Well, tell me tomorrow.
And there are off-the-shelf cards in. I throw in geography and things like that. I feel like I’m very bad at geography compared to the average person. I want to be better at it. So, I downloaded the geography deck and put it in. It says, what country is this? Bermuda. But I throw in quotes, and people, and places, and just whatever I want to learn. I saw a quote that said, Anki makes memory a choice.
Kathy Drewien — I came to her meetups a lot and they were fantastic. But I noticed before the meetup started, that she’d be in the corner of the room, doing this little pecking thing with her fingers. Like going through everyone’s name and practicing.
I always thought, “Kathy is so good at names.” And she’s not. Kathy practiced names a lot. She worked at it. She made learning people’s names a choice versus me hoping I remembered who the people were in the room. She sat back there and intentionally did it. So, this is my way of trying to intentionally remember some things.
So, you’re using the flashcards to practice things that you want to remember. You’re using blogging to practice getting and crystallizing ideas and getting clarity on things that are important to you, working out those frameworks, and getting that out of your head. How do you also use the notion of practice to improve in your agency and with your team?
That’s a good question. And that one, we’re not as good at it. We have a budget set aside for employees to go learn and go to conferences, go to events, buy courses, and stuff. And then we have what we call learning lunches, periodically. We’ve been bad about this lately, where we’ll all find a great video from a Seth Godin or from whoever, you know, some great talk one of us has seen that we want to share with the others and try to be intentional there. But we’re not as great at that for learning practice as I’d like to be.
I think we’ve gotten very good, especially with Robert and some of our newer hires that are pushing our marketing out more, being very consistent with dropping marketing and being great there. As a company, we’re not great about the learning piece yet. And that’s something I want to work on more. I think a lot of our staff individually is they have similar practices to mine, but yeah, that’s one we do need to work on.
It’s a tough piece. When we look at revisiting skills, and not even just the skills of doing our job, but the soft skills of communication and empathy and check-ins — and these things that really make a team run smoothly.
Yeah. That’s tough stuff. And yeah, the skills to do our job, for the most part, I think, are taken care of by doing our job. You know, our developer — I bet if you asked her, she would say she’s learned pretty much all she’s learned by doing her job. We say, we have this new feature we need, and she doesn’t know how to build it, so she goes and learns how to build it. Soft skills are easier to let slip and that’s something we need to get better about for sure.
So, let me ask you this: There’s a lot going on in your life and you’ve got your family and kids and everything that you do outside of business as well. What are some of your tricks to finding the time to blog? I know you said you don’t necessarily write every day, but you find time in your schedule to sit down and create content in advance?
So, I think part of it is the stage of life I’m in. I want Ali to start blogging more often but she has like a two-year-old and a five-year-old and it’s just impossible. And so I’m giving her grace. I said you’re going to start blogging every day in 15 years. That’s fine.
But I’m at that point, my oldest is off at college and so she’s not around and the 15-year-old doesn’t really want to spend that much time with me necessarily, you know, she’s in a room listening to music stuff. I find myself with more time.
But then part of it too is to be able to take advantage of little breaks of time, like Anki, the flashcards I study. I just got to pick places here and there. If I’m waiting in the doctor’s office, I can knock out a few cards or maybe write down an idea. I have, I break things into smaller pieces as much as I can.
The biggest challenge I have in blogging is that my posts are relatively short and to the point where it’s coming up with more ideas, and most of that comes from the car. It’s finding the right podcast to listen to. And in the car, a lot of times I hit that little magic button to speak to the assistant. And when I get back to my desk, there’s a note sitting there like, oh yeah, I can write about that topic. And that makes it a little easier to kind of get it in pieces.
The evenings helped too. I tend to stay up later than the others in the house so that gives me a little more free time there just to catch up on that. But that is the key. When I have an opening, if I have a couple of hours free, I can knock out four or five posts. And that way, I’m covered for most of the week.
And I try to stay at least a week ahead on posts too. So if I do get super busy and don’t have time to do anything, I still got it covered for at least a couple of days. But it’s not a super easy answer there either.
So, when you’re drafting a post, you’re not necessarily sitting down at a keyboard. This might be talking in your car, talking through an idea out loud, or having that being pulled into a note that you can then go back to.
Well, no, I don’t. I don’t do long notes in the car. It’s usually just ideas.
Yeah. Now there are people that do that and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s fantastic too. But I normally just say, oh, here’s the idea like, I heard Gary V the other day said he loves purple people. Like people talking about politics, people are a little bit red and a little bit blue. If you’re all in one column, he doesn’t trust your opinion. But if you’re able to see both sides, he does more. So, I’ve made a note that said, I trust purple people more. And that’s one of my ideas out there.
I want to play with a little bit more, but I just made a note and that’s all it said. And that’s enough to remember what it was and then, yeah, when I have time, I kind of flesh them out a little bit there. And when I have more time, I drop them into WordPress and get them ready to go.
So, there are always a bunch of different phases, but any step has only a couple of minutes to move it along to the next piece. Like any piece of the post is 10 minutes, flushing it out, getting it into WordPress, polishing it up. Again, these aren’t 1500-word posts either, which really helps.
That’s actually a really fascinating way to talk about it because so often the initial gut reaction when you tell somebody, you should blog, you should be creating content, we need to be starting a podcast, is, oh my gosh, that’s going to take me so much time. Where am I going to find the time to sit down and write that post that might take me hours?
But you’re breaking it up into these little. Chunks that are easy to do and not having to necessarily come up with the whole thing at once. When you’ve got an idea, you’re adding it to your bank. When you have a little bit of time, you’re fleshing out a little bit of that idea. When you have some time to publish in the morning, you are rounding that out and getting it done.
Have you found that’s been one of the keys to making sure that you’re able to stick with this over a long period of time?
Yeah. Well, part of it too is that saying I’m blogging daily is easier than saying I’m going to try to blog three to five times a week because then it becomes easier. I’m going to do it three times a week becomes once or twice very easily. If I say it’s every day, I just make it every day. So, I have a handful of things daily.
Then something else that kind of ties to this is like Seth Godin says he’s not on social media at all but the average person spends a couple of hours a day on it. Where did that time come from? Like we’ve inserted the two hours a day of social media into our lives and pushed other things aside. And that may be an easy place to pull from for a lot of people. Can you make more time like that or steal some time back from that? It’s out there if you want to get it. And some people just don’t want to and that’s okay too.
Priorities. It’s all about priorities. You’re going to spend your time aimlessly trolling Facebook or Twitter, or the Instagram explore page or you’re going to get some stuff done. It’s up to you.
What is a tool that you can’t live without — one that you wish you’d discovered a lot earlier?
This one didn’t exist earlier in life, but I can’t live without it: it’s called Roam Research. It’s basically a note-taking tool, not unlike Evernote or some of those. There’s one called Obsidian that’s more like it, but that’s where my whole life goes. Basically, all my notes go in there: Blog ideas, book reviews, notes about our talk today… anything goes in there that love.
It has a great way of linking concepts to one another and back from other ones. All your ideas kind of meld together and that’s where a lot of my posts come from. I’ll start typing about something and say, “I think I wrote about that before,” and I could link the ideas together. You’ll notice a lot of my blog posts reference old posts because I put them together in that tool.
Roam Research is phenomenal. Obsidian is a little more privacy-focused and cheaper so a lot of folks use it instead, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I’m so into Roam Research now, I’m kind of stuck there and it’s fantastic.
For quick notes, I use Google — you can use apple notes or whatever — that’s what I take in my car. But I keep that at zero. I consider that like an inbox. Stuff goes in and I process it out. Most of it goes into Roam either as notes to save for later or often as blog post ideas. I’ll tag it with blog posts so I can look what notes I have with that hashtag and say, “I’m going to work on that one some more today and open it up and just drift around in there.”
It’s a good tool for navigating through your brain. You know, there are no categories, there are no buckets to put things. You just sort of follow it through and it’s weird but amazing
So, Roam Research is your one source of truth?
I love to put notes from client calls there too, but it’s Mickey’s brain, not GreenMellen’s brain. So, I’ll often take notes there and then move them into a team Google Doc, and just put a reference saying, “These notes moved over there.”
Nice! And how much easier it is to find everything when you’ve got that one source of truth and you’re archiving everything together in one spot?
Yeah, that helps a lot for sure. And that’s the challenge we always face. I’m sure you have too. With any agency tools — there are the Zohos and things — that have all the tools in one place. But they’re all kind of okay versus all the separate tools that are all awesome, but then they’re all separate.
So, as an agency, we’re more in the all-the-separate-tools that are awesome camp. We have Google drive for that stuff. We have ClickUp for tasks, and Slack for communication. They’re all fantastic tools but they don’t really talk to one another.
We are pretty clear as an agency: if you do this kind of work, it goes in this place. Tasks go in ClickUp. Notes go in Google drive. Fleeting conversations go in Slack. but even then, it can be kind of hard to remember. I think it kind of ebbs and flows.
We’ll combine a few tools to streamline things but then realize it’s not as good as we’ll break it back out again and then combine a few others. I like playing with different tools and I think there are advantages to switching from time to time.
I heard the analogy that a good principal of an elementary school will move their teachers every couple of years to make them clean out the corners and really give fresh thoughts to things. And I’ve seen that to be true when the move like project management tools, there’ll be old tasks and projects and cobwebs, and it gives us a fresh look at things, but I don’t want to move too often that my team will kill me. But from time to time it can be helpful.
I have found that designers, and developers, agency owners tend to experiment with software more than anyone else.
Oh, yes, for sure. And I’m as guilty of that as anyone.
It is a constant struggle. So, what do you do to ensure that you have a great day and remain in a positive headspace? When you’re dealing with clients and teams and unexpected things — fires pop up, we run into different challenges — it can be a little bit hard to stay on track, stay positive, and stay focused. What do you do to manage that?
So, I have a couple of thoughts. One is that we don’t have bad clients. I mean if we do, they become ex-clients. We’ve fired clients if they treat us poorly. And again, a big enough breadth of cash in the bank and clients. We have enough where if a client treats us poorly or treats our staff poorly, they’re gone.
Our staff sees that too and that helps them. They see that we have their back with that. And it’s the same with our team. Our team does not talk poorly to us. We don’t talk poorly to them. It’s never an issue with our team but bad things do happen. It’s just a matter of having the right tools in place. We just try to stay, stay ahead of things and that helps a lot.
Where my headspace gets the worst is when I’m not on top of things. David Allen says in Getting Things Done, you’re having a mind like water. If you throw a small pebble in a pond, it’s a small ripple. If you throw a big rock, it’s a big ripple — and it’s responding appropriately. If I don’t have an eye on my inbox… If I know there are 30 emails in there and I don’t know what they are, that’s when I get a little frazzled. Because maybe there is a big rock in there, you know, I’m not sure.
But that’s also why we have our team keep their inbox at zero to the extent possible. So that way, when something comes in, they’re not having to measure it against everything else. They can respond appropriately to that one — that’s a small rock. Don’t worry about it. And that helps keep us at least somewhat level.
Okay. You’ve mentioned inbox zero a few times. That is like the Holy Grail of business owners. That seems sometimes unachievable. How do you get people to inbox zero? Is it a constant game of moving this into a PM (project management) system and not using email?
I mean, it helps that Ali and I have both done that naturally for years. So, it’s not one of us is good about it and the other one’s bad about it. We should lead by example and yeah, part of it is getting it into the proper system — and I think that’s the main thing. I’ve written about this a lot and thought through this a lot.
Really anything that comes to your inbox is something to do. It’s frankly, someone else’s to-do list they’re handing to you, which is a whole different discussion, but everything just has an action to be done. I need to reply to this. I need to add it to my calendar. I need to put it in Roam Research.
So just do it and move on. It becomes pretty easy over time.
If you’ve watched the office, when they do office Olympics, Pam makes the little cheap metals out of yogurt lids, and Ryan goes immediately and throws his in the trash. He says, “Look, I can throw it away in six months or I can throw it away today. It was really sweet, but it’s going to end up in the trash either way.” And people do that in their inbox and say, “I’m going to hold on to this email for six months and then I’m going to delete it.”
No. You need to learn pretty quickly that’s kind of email I trash. So, I’m going to trash it right now instead of waiting and chewing on it and messing with it.
Oh, my gosh. I feel so seen
The other thing I loved, so Merlin Mann was another one. He’s been a productivity guy for years. Um, and he has an analogy about making sandwiches.
- If you’re at the sandwich shop and you’re in the back making sandwiches, you’ve got an order that comes in for a cheese sandwich. Okay. I got a cheese one.
- You have one that comes in for a ham sandwich. I got that.
- Then a ham and cheese and then a Turkey and cheese.
- And you’re like, “Huh, maybe I’ll put the cheese ones together and I’ll put the meat ones over here.”
- No, just make sandwiches. That’s all you’re supposed to do.
So, people that are diddling around in their inbox, like let’s sort it this way. It’s like just start making sandwiches, just knock them out. And again, there are some people that you’re not going to get to, and you can recognize that sooner. It helps, but easier said than done for sure.
100% easier said than done. So let me ask you this. You have got. Roam Research. You’ve got different tools, processes, programs, like rituals that you do every day to keep you focused and keep you moving towards your goals.
For someone who might be struggling to stay focused and keep their goal a priority in their life, if you could leave them with one thought one, tip one piece of advice, what would that be?
Wake up earlier and then by extension go to bed earlier because I get most of my ritual stuff done, the things that I want to do every day, the blogging, I try to work out. I do Duolingo. I do the Bible study stuff, almost all that happens before anyone in the house wakes up because once the day gets going, you don’t know where it’s going to end up necessarily.
So even if it’s perfectly planned out, there are fires, there are sites that can crash, there are dance lessons that got canceled — who knows what’s going to happen. So, the things that matter most, I try to get done before six o’clock. I have plans for other things throughout the day. You know, I have like the Anki cards, I squeeze in where I can and get other ideas, but that’s not as important.
So that’d be my, my top tip.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone from getting up at 6:30 am every day to 6:00 am to 5:30 am and now I’ve considered like 5:15, to make my day a little bit better. I’ll kind of keep moving it down. Cause it’s just so productive. And again, in my world, I’m not having to write a blog post in the morning.
That’s the key, you know, it’s just, it’s already there. It’s written, we’ll read through it one more time. Make sure there’s no big blaring error and just publish. And so, it’s not the big kind of have the big writing brain on at 5:30 am. I’ve just got to be able to hit publish. So, it makes it a little easier.
I can’t even tell you how happy I am that you said to get up earlier because that is something I believe in so wholeheartedly. And we’re going to talk about that a little bit more in our Extra Minutes Session, but Mickey, for now, thank you so much for joining me.
Where can listeners connect with you online?
So, you can find everything about me at Mick Mell — MICK Mell — mickmell.com is my blog. That’s my name on LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook and whatever. And our agency is GreenMellenMedia.com.
And you’ve got some courses at mickmel.com.
I do. A few courses, one about Roam Research. One about Notion. And then one about how to get blogging and some of the strategies that I use for that. So yes, absolutely.
Well, thank you again so much for joining me and sharing some more about your journey of seeking satisfaction.
Thank you so much. This was fantastic.
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To hear more from Mickey and learn about how he prioritizes the things that are most important to him through the use of daily and weekly rituals, check out the Seeking Satisfaction Extra Minutes Membership. Members receive Extra Minutes from podcast guests like Mickey that provide valuable training to build a better business. You can find details about the Extra Minutes Membership and Mickey’s bonus training in the show notes.
Until next time, may you live inspired, embrace imperfection, seek satisfaction, and have a fabulous day.