Believe it or not, you can work 18 hour days for weeks on end doing seemingly important things and never get anything done. As terrible as this may be, many, many, many people do this. It is a travesty.
Content creators are not invulnerable to this horrific doom. It is all too easy for us to get caught up in meaningless activities- or to engage in typically-functional useful activities to a level of excess that actually makes them counterproductive. Here are ten of the most insidious ones:
Spending too much time on comments
It is wise to read through and respond to comments, but after one achieves a certain level of readership, it becomes impractical to address each and every piece of feedback that visitors leave. When the amount of time you take to respond to comments one morning takes the same amount of time you typically spend on creating new content, you know you have gone too far.
Though your fans certainly appreciate hearing from you, what they (supposedly) enjoy even more is viewing, listening to, or reading what you have to say. Therefore, content creation should be prioritized (very heavily) over comment moderation.
Wasting time on forums
Many online publishing platforms offer forums where content creators can get together, socialize, share tips, and blow off steam. While hanging out in the forums can help you unwind and troubleshoot problems, I know of many content creators who seem to spend ALL of their time on forums. In many cases, they waste their time complaining about their lack of success when all they need to do is stop complaining and start actually working (that is, creating content, improving their already-published work, etc.).
Just as with responding to comments, it is important to rank forum time far below content creation in your list of priorities.
Getting caught up in online groups
It is a great idea to form, join, and participate in public and private online groups. Through these groups, you can gain valuable insights, make important connections, and launch valuable collborations.
That said, there are many online groups that start as functinoal organizations and devolve into political messes, complete with petty bullying and lots of pointless chatter. As soon as you realize you are no longer getting anything of practical value out of a group you have joined, leave (WHILE YOU STILL CAN!!!).
Joining a site just to promote your work
If the only reason you're getting set up on a new platform is because you hear it's a good place to promote and drop links to your content elsewhere online, back away from the Create an Account link. Joining a social network or publishing platform just to drop links is a waste of time. Yes, it takes even more time to be an active, valuable citizen of a social network, but one also stands to gain something from one's time investment, so one can consider that time well-spent.
Obsessing over traffic
While it is exciting to see one's traffic graphs rise, and Google Analytics provides an impressive wealth of fascinating statistics, I have seen many a content creator become chained to these features- so much so that he or she forgets to actually create more content for people to visit. I have also seen people lapse into existential crises because their "traffic fell by 50% over the past seven days!!!!!!" when their net traffic amounted to about twenty visits a day.
Don't sweat the small stuff, folks- and the small stuff includes minor fluctuations in traffic. Focus on regularly publishing high-quality, relevant, useful content and you should be a-OK.
Sending long emails
As Director of Marketing at HubPages, I get a lot of emails from content creators, and am surprised by how long some of them are. I've gotten six to seven (long) paragraph emails that amount to just one simple question, which I happily answer with one simple sentence.
While I myself fall at the verbose end of the spectrum (and can therefore empathize with those who fall prey to this time suck), I have still learned that it's best to keep emails short and to the point- both to save one's own time and the time of one's correspondents. With short emails, everyone wins.
Getting sucked into the Twitterverse
Twitter is an excellent place to keep track of friends and listen in to real time dialogue on subjects that matter to you. That said, it is also a place where one can spend an unlimited number of hours just trying to 'catch up' on what other people have been talking about.
To avoid this, consider putting discrete limits on the amount of time you spend on Twitter, or commit to only monitoring one or two (non-overwhelmed) keywords or groups.
Fighting FOMO on Facebook
While every Facebook account holder is at risk of wasting time on this social network, content creators have to be especially wary of the site, as its various facets (pages, groups, and constant chatter) can really draw down one's productive time. Don't let FOMO (fear of missing out) get the better of you. Let Facebook be and get real work done. If you instead turn to Facebook to not 'miss out' on the goings-on of your friends' lives, you will end up really missing out on one of the most important things of all: developing a robust online portfolio.
One might think that the very definition of multitasking is AVOIDING time sucks by getting multiple things done at once. It doesn't work that way. In fact, multitasking can compromise your efficiency. So stop wasting time in this misdirected attempt to save time and close those extra tabs. Though the prospect of actually focusing horrifies me, too, I must admit that this whole 'one thing at a time' practice actually works.
Certain types of content creators (myself included) fall into the endless pit of online research. Instead of actually creating content, we just look into more and more detail on the subjects we hope to cover. Sometimes, this practice is born from earnest curiosity. Sometimes, it is a product of poor impulse control (Wikipedia, after all, is a minefield of links to more fascinating, if somewhat unrelated, information. And many times (especailly in my case), doing more research is a means of putting off actual work.
No matter how you fall into the research hole, you need to climb out as soon as you realize that your online sleuthing has extended beyond the bounds of your task at hand. The Internet is endless, and so is the research you can do. Though this can be incredibly hard to do, we have to know when you say 'enough is enough.'