Extreme Productivity (Part 1 – How To Stop Putting Things Off)

While I was on a long vacation, I started reading the book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen. (I know, I know, that doesn't sound very vacation-like. But I did spend most of my days having fun. See photos below.)

What I read led me to examine the way I schedule tasks and how much I focus on the amount of time to spend on each.

As a result, I discovered that while I no doubt got more done compared to simply winging it, I could increase my productivity and feel less stressed by adding one simple step Pozen suggested.

That step benefited my writing and my publishing business tremendously, including in these four ways:

I'll talk about the first one today and the rest over the coming weeks.

The added step is to identify the purpose of each task. Seems pretty basic, right? Well, it is and it's not.

Knowing What You Plan To Accomplish

Under Pozen's approach, when you schedule any task or event in your calendar you list next to it what you intend to accomplish by doing it.

At first that struck me as waste of time.

For most things, I thought my goal too obvious to bother thinking about. For instance, the purpose of advertising books on Amazon or BookBub is to increase sales.

Why spend time writing that down?

The other downside I saw is that my calendar has limited space. I use a paper appointment book because it helps limit my screen time and it's easier for me to get organized on paper than any other way. I don't have a lot of room on it to put in extra info.

To my surprise, though, forcing myself to define what I hoped to accomplish made my entire week more productive, and I felt full of energy, despite that I’m still struggling a bit with jet lag.

Beating Procrastination

Keeping my bookkeeping up to date for my author business, which includes balancing my accounts and paying bills, is a task I often put off. I do so despite that in my calendar I set aside one morning each month for it.

My purpose in scheduling the task seemed obvious.

Good bookkeeping is just good business so you pay bills on time, avoid overdrafts, and gain a good sense of your finances. So this task in particular seemed like a silly one for writing out what I hoped to accomplish.

But when I made myself think about exactly why I wanted to update my bookkeeping every month, immediately what came to mind was the end of last year. I hadn’t balanced my accounts in over 6 months. (Though I did pay my bills. I wasn't that much of a procrastinator).

Productivity And Time

Because I waited so long, the time it took for each bank statement tripled due to how much more difficult it was to track down missing entries. A month after an expense or of receiving income, I usually remember what a $35 payment was for.

Or I can easily find an email about it.

Finding the same charge or royalty payment 6 months later is much harder. Especially if, for example, the company to which I made the payment, or that paid me, has a different name from the brand names it uses on its products or platforms.

All that extra time spent on bookkeeping is time I can’t spend finishing a novel, creating a large print edition of a book, or practicing law and getting paid an hourly rate.

In short, spending more time on bookkeeping costs me money.

Time Off In Paris
I really did go on vacation.

Putting off bookkeeping tasks cost me money in another way, too.

Productivity And Money

My mental picture of what I'm earning in royalties versus my expenses is usually overoptimistic. (For more on that, see A Major Mistake Using Amazon Ads To Sell Paperbacks.)

Balancing my books makes me take a good look at the actual numbers. If it’s 6 months down the road, it’s too late to get back 6 months of spending on an ad that’s costing too much. It's also often too late to double down on an ad with great returns. Things change quickly, and reader interests may already have shifted.

In contrast, a monthly snapshot of spending and earning means I can quickly adjust.

The Purpose

So what purpose did I list in my calendar next to my bookkeeping task? Increase income.

Seeing that purpose this past Wednesday prompted me to pull out my bank account statements and balance my books first thing in the morning. And I felt great doing it.

That's all for today. Until next Friday when we'll talk about increasing motivation and energy

L.M. Lilly

A Major Mistake Using Amazon Ads To Sell Paperbacks

This year I've been experimenting with Amazon Ads for my books, both fiction and non-fiction. I've been trying to be as thoughtful and careful as I can.

Yet I still made a big mistake.

One I'm embarrassed to write about. But I will because maybe it'll prevent another author from doing the same.

Sales And Percentages For Amazon Ads

The Amazon Ads dashboard (for the U.S., where I'm based) shows your ad spend and your total sales. You can look at it for different periods of time, including the current day, week, month, or year-to-date.

It also calculates for you a percentage of what your ad costs compared to your sales. So if your total sales were $100 and you spent $30, your average cost of ad per sale was 30%.

The thing to remember is that this figure is a percentage of sales, not royalties. If most of your books are priced so that you earn 70% in royalties, a 30% cost of sales is pretty good.

I knew all of this.

Yet because I failed to take into account the difference between my ebook and paperback royalties, I didn't realize for weeks that I was running ads at a loss.

Selling And Losing

The first novels in my two series earn a 30% royalty and the rest earn 70%. My non-fiction ebooks are mostly at a 70% royalty. So I thought any total percentage below 50% would mean I was earning more than I was spending.

And that worked pretty well for January. As I wrote about in Advertising Books in 2019, I figured if I expanded my ads and gradually spent more I could raise my total sales and come out ahead.

I knew I'd likely lose some money as I tried different ads. That's why I checked every day to see how the ads were doing and what they were costing.

What I didn't factor in was that my paperback ads would trigger the most sales.

Because I initially published paperbacks mainly so readers would see the higher price, highlighting what a good deal the ebooks were, I hadn't been looking at the profit margin.

Which I found out the hard way when my writing workbooks started selling well.

Know Your Paperback Royalty

On a paperback, what you earn depends on a formula based in large part on the length of your book.

So it's not a flat percentage. One $6.99 paperback might earn me $2 and another only $0.50. I don't have any priced in a way that gets me a 70% royalty. If I did that, the prices would be far higher than those of similar books.

I didn't think about any of that when I expanded my Amazon Ads to my workbook editions and started to see my sales climb.

It wasn't until I neared the end of the month and compared royalties to sales that it hit me that on most paperbacks I earned less than a 20% royalty. As my cost of ad per sale was often around 45%, that was bad.

The more paperbacks I sold, the more money I lost.

Adjusting Up And Down

It turned out not only were the royalties low if I planned to keep advertising, publishers of similar books priced them higher than mine on Amazon. Once I saw that, I adjusted the paperback prices up by $1 each ($2 for the longest book).

Even at the new prices, though, my royalty is around 28%. So I also lowered my bid for each click.

It's been a bit hard watching slower sales. I really enjoyed seeing those spikes on the sales graph! But not enough to lose money on ads.

Since then I've watched the total royalties for each month (which you can find on your KDP Reports page) and it's staying above the cost of the ads. Which means it's time once again to try to increase ad spend.

I hope I won't make any more mistakes like that, but it is all part of learning.

That's all for this week.

I'm taking the next few weeks off (my longest vacation ever and the first one in quite a while). But I'll be back at the end of the month. Until Friday May 31–

L.M. Lilly