Time Management for Part-Time Bloggers: Keeping Up With Everything You Need to Know in 15 Minutes or Less

There was a bit of a twitter conversation about my blogging this morning, with folks observing that I’ve been posting more lately than I have in the past, and wondering if I’ve become a full-time blogger. I haven’t. I originally came at all of this miles and points stuff years ago, traveling for work, traveling for personal reasons shortly after college — I would head home cross-country several times a year, my girlfriend after college lived in a different city. And my nature is that I read fine print, I read all of the marketing materials that the frequent flyer programs sent me in the mail. And I was kind of blown away by the value propositions I was seeing before my very eyes.

I signed up for a US Airways credit card, got the bonus, but decided I didn’t want to pay the annual fee so I called and cancelled in my second month and got the fee waived. I decided the card was actually worth it later, got the sign up bonus again, and then started wondering how many times I could pull off that trick. That was about sixteen years ago.

Meanwhile I remember getting iDine (now Rewards Network, but before that Transmedia) marketing in the mail, back then I think United required you to have elite status to participate. I thought it was a cool elite benefit, they sent me an offer of several thousand bonus miles for eating at four participating restaurants in a given period of time. I was surprised that the fine print didn’t specify minimum purchases, so I would get myself a soda. All the while marveling at how many opportunities for miles there were, how easy it was to earn them, and how lucrative the award charts seemed.

But my insights have come from actual travel, from experience, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. Plus I need my reimbursable business expenses to meet the minimum spending requirements on all of those credit card signup bonuses! So no, I haven’t gone full-time in blogging or in travel.

The Points Guy, One Mile at a Time, and Frequent Miler blog full time. I’m not really counting Mommy Points since she’s a stay at home mom and that’s a pretty significant job. And Frugal Travel Guy started his blog in retirement, so while it may be his only job he wasn’t really out looking for one.

More power to them, I think that’s incredibly impressive, and in some ways I’m even a little bit jealous. But I love all of the things I’ve got on my plate.

My full-time job, I don’t write too much about the particulars since I try to keep my separate universes, well, separate to the extent that I can. But I actually like it even if it takes up time that I could be blogging or taking award trips, if I can’t redeem an award just to share a new product with my readers quite as often as Ben can. I negotiate contracts, work numbers, and am involved in a ton of strategy in my job and I also think it gives me pretty good insight into the things that I blog here. The point is that the different things that I do are actually pretty reinforcing of each other rather than my seeing them all as separate.

I write this blog of course, and have been since May of 2002. I started it as a way of chronicling my own learning, back in 2000 I sure thought I flew a lot and also thought I knew a lot. Until I met others in the frequent flyer forums who knew and flew much more than I did. I catalogued what I was discovering along the way, and if anyone read it and got something out of it so much the better. It’s sure grown a ton in the 10 years since then, sometimes it surprises me how many people do visit here on a daily basis and I genuinely hope that by sharing my experiences and the offers that I come across that I can help people improve their own travel lives. Because goodness knows that mine has been far richer than I could have ever imagined.

Growing up I flew a lot, my parents were divorced and lived on different sides of the country. And I remember traveling back and forth and walking through first class cabins and thinking that I would never sit up there — I couldn’t ever afford it, even if I could I would never spend so much more money for it, and I couldn’t imagine who would. All grown up I still can’t imagine having the sort of resources where I’d be buying premium cabin international tickets, but I get to travel in a manner I never imagined possible and see my life even in such an unconstrained way — popping over to Barcelona for dinner, stopping in London to try a new restaurant, vacationing in places I thought of as too exotic to ever visit and more than once a year even. And all thanks to this miles and points hobby, and learning how to get more and quality travel at the lowest possible price.

I’ve also been helping folks to do the same, sometimes who don’t have the time or interest to learn it themselves, through my award booking servce. Folks with miles but not the expertise to make the best use of them come to me (and now to us as I have full-time help on this!) and for a modest fee get the trips that they didn’t think were possible, that they’d gotten frustrated searching for. It’s really fulfilling. And it’s gained great recognition, with a listing as one of Conde Nast‘s world’s top travel specialists, a profile in Town & Country, and coverage in the New York Times and USA Today (and elsewhere).

I could easily book awards full-time, but I like being busy and having lots going on. I also love diversification, I don’t know how long a given opportunity will last and having as many different ways of earning a living as possible creates a certain sense of freedom (which made me a useful case study I suppose for Chris Guillebeau’s book The $100 Startup earlier this year. It was very cool sitting up on the main stage in front of over 1000 people at Chris’ World Domination Summit to talk about that story and strategy.

After several years as a Senior Moderator at Flyertalk, and after six years as the site’s member-elected President, I was honored to help that site’s founder Randy Petersen to start a new frequent flyer community Milepoint.com. A lot of folks saw it as a competitor to Flyertalk but that’s never been my perspective. Flyertalk is a great site, after a year and a half it’s still much larger than Milepoint. But I see them as serving different (though overlapping) communities. Flyertalk is 300,000 or 400,000 members to Milepoint’s 75,000. But there are nearly 90 million members of United’s MileagePlus program alone. Not all of them want to engage online to discuss their travel and miles and points. But some of them do, and Flyertalk is a great place for experts but a friendly community with a social media-savvy software I believe will resonate with different members and help improve their travel lives.

Milepoint has been a lot of work but it’s along been great fun. And as a part of that I’ve helped to organize Mega DO frequent flyer trips. And also FT University frequent flyer seminars. I like to think we’re doing things a little bit differently or at least adding value to the members there, bringing the heads of various programs to chat with frequent travelers online (such as the heads of the American, Southwest and Hyatt programs, and even a former Administrator of the TSA). And that the premium membership offerings are valuable too — miles, points, status and discounts. All while doing quite a bit for charity in the process.

I chair nominations, voting, and working with loyalty programs for the Freddie Awards, the voice of the frequent traveler for the best in frequent flyer, frequent guest, and credit card programs. That has me talking to a plurality of world’s programs. It’s probably a half hour conversation by phone with each one, a whole lot of emails, and then putting together spreadsheets to import into the online voting platform.

Throw that all together and add in volunteer work, I serve on the board of a non-profit that I used to Chair, I used to serve on my homeowner’s association board as Treasurer (hint: don’t ever do that, it isn’t worth it, never have so many people spent so much time wringing their hands over the smallest issues).

So why am I oversharing like this? The folks on Twitter were egging me on this morning to share some of my time management tips although I’m not sure that I have any. They wanted an explanation of how I do all of these things?

I try to answer every email. This is actually fun for me. I multi-task. I did step down from my homeowner’s association board, which freed up a ton of time, and I actually moved — I moved within walking distance of my office, I used to have a 50 minute commute each way, so I got back over 8 hours a week of my life and that seemed like all of the time in the world. That’s when I started my award booking service, with all that extra time.

I get up at about 5am each morning, sometimes 5:30 but when I do I feel like I’m behind. I love my coffee machine, I bought it five and a half years ago and got a great bargain, it’s a push botton Jura Capressa that was the previous year’s model on close out and combined with a bunch of discounts so it was something like 75% off and still felt expensive at the time but turned out to be an amazing investment. I’m very particular about my coffee, I order my beans online and have a preference for deep Indonesian flavors. The news turns on, I drink my coffee, and sit on the couch with my laptop.

I open up about 10 different web broswers. I run an update on my frequent flyer balances via Award Wallet. I keep up with the BoardingArea blogs via the Twitter feed. I log into my blog’s control panel to read comments left overnight, and approve those caught in the spam queue. I read my Yahoo email (where I get reader notes, and where I’m on tons of lists for press releases). I read my award booking Gmail. I scroll the 200 most recent threads on Milepoint. I check for anything new at the Traveling Better American Airlines forum.

And then I spend the most time on my Google Reader subscriptions. I subscribe to pretty much every frequent flyer blog there is, if I come across it I subscribe to it. There are a handful that are especially good, that I enjoy reading (my favorites are One Mile at a Time and Mommy Points and I’ll read those first). But I scroll through the titles of all of them so I can be sure not to miss any learning, new developments, or promotions. I do my best whenever I’m posting about something I come across on another website to credit that site, not everyone takes that approach and it’s stylistic so it doesn’t bother me when folks don’t link back to my blog, but it’s how I started seeing blogs behave mostly in the political space when I frst started over 10 years ago so it’s ingrained in my approach.

Writing doesn’t take me very long, something I’ve certainly had complaints about over time is that I don’t edit my posts. I don’t plan out my posts. I just write. I don’t consider myself an especially gifted writer, I don’t have particularly grand turns of phrase, but I think of myself as a functional writer in that I’m usually at least coherent as words spill onto the page. So each post usually takes just a few minutes. Part of that is writing quickly, but most of that is having done this for so long. And that everything I do is really quite integrated — talking to the heads of frequent flyer programs for the Freddies, searching award space for redemption bookings, traveling, and having a decade of conext (and a pretty good memory) — what I want to say spills off the page, and I’m pretty opinionated I usually have something to say.

If you’re searching for award inventory all day long, you already have run most of the searches you need, and know right away which routes are going to have the space you want. So award booking doesn’t take long either and you don’t have to do a ton of research to write a post about routes with award availability, either.

There’s so much spillover in the things I do, or put a different way there probably aren’t good enough boundaries either. During the day if I’m walking between meetings, or between office buildings, I’m on my phone — catching up on twitter, using my Google Reader app to see what’s new. And I have a ton to write later in the evening. I get home and I continue to keep up on news and also write posts, taking a break for dinner. But I’m constantly plugged in, one way or the other.

And there’s little doubt that Gogo inflight internet has changed my life as well. I used to get on a flight during the business day and there would be such a buildup of questions and tasks by the time that I landed that I’d instantly be hours behind. Now, though, I can even pull up a ton of award inventory and piece together bookings for folks. Or answer reader emails. And draft posts. It’s a huge productivity boost that for me is well worth the price.

I guess the lessons I draw, which is really what folks were asking me for yesterday but which it took this entire meandering post to develop are:

  • Always be productive, but since I love what I do that productivity is also relaxing.
  • Get up early, have a routine that’s well-structured to assimilate as much information as possible quickly
  • Leverage technology to make the most of otherwise-unproductive downtime, for me that’s my phone and Gogo internet but also having one laptop that I use for everything that’s light enough to carry anyway (Lenovo u300s).
  • Multitask, preferably over really strong coffee
  • Take on more than you can accomplish, work will spread out to fill available time but if there’s more work then there’s little opportunity for waste or procrastination
  • Hold yourself accountable. Don’t move on from a room, or where you’re sitting, until you finish what you’ve set out for yourself. If you don’t allow yourself to move on you’ll power through.
  • Calendars. This is related to being held accountable. I put a task into my calendar and then I have to do it when it comes up (if I can keep myself from rescheduling it). I schedule phone calls with people or I won’t make them. I am introverted and don’t like the phone, I’m also running around and not always at my desk when I’m at the office. So catching me as catch can almost never works. Setting a definite time for specific activities holds me accountable for those activities, phone calls are just example.

I haven’t ever read any time management books that I’ve found useful, and some of mine may sound trite. There’s a whole literature on this for sure, I’m no expert in it, so take everything that I offer up with a grain of salt and it may not work for you. But at the insistence of several readers there you have my approach to all of this.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is a very interesting email. As a scientist, I run a similar approach in my field. Wake up same time, before everyone else in the house does, and follow the same routing. Different coffee maker, I line my beans organic from Colombia. I appreciate what you do and thanks for the advice.

  2. With the amount of writing you do, it sure does seem like it is a full-time for you.

    Who are the full-time bloggers? I am thinking…
    – One Mile at a Time
    – The points guy

    Is Mommy Points full-time or part-time?

  3. @Dave Op I think I mention this is my post… The Points Guy, One Mile at a Time are full-time in blogging and travel. Mommy Points is a stay at home mom, so doesn’t have a separate ‘job’ but I’m not sure if that counts? Frugal Travel Guy is retired and doing this full-time (I don’t know how much time that is — he IS retired). Frequent Miler is full-time I believe.

  4. I agree with Dave OP out of all the bloggers I read, 20+, you post the most content. I go to your site at least 2-3 times a day because you are there with new news and stories. You must definitely be a type A personality!

  5. Thanks for writing about this. Very interesting as most of your blog posts!

    I have a couple of follow up questions and observations.

    There is a lot of research lately that multitasking is, well, to put it mildly, very very bad as the result is that we do not focus to accomplish a single task as well as we could. I have struggled with this. I need to stop multitasking so much!! Comments?

    Having kid(s) and trying to do this travel blogging WELL part time while holding a full time job, in my own humble opinion, is nuts!

    My original intent of pushing you to write about this concerned mostly tech tips/secrets you could share. It appears you are not using anything special. I LOVE Google Reader and also subscribe to everything that interests me. I also started throwing everything I find valuable to Evernote that may need to reference later on. I also could not survive online without Roboform! I should have known I will not get any super tech tips from you as you stuck with Blackberry for so long:-)

    Do you think the travel blogging (miles too!) space is over saturated and by this time there is just no distinguishable niche to bother getting into?

    I always saw Milepoint as FT competition. You guys are trying hard but you still have not compelled me to visit it as much as I still use FT (daily but not as many times as I used to!). I still have it bookmarked though…

    I am wondering what you think about the affiliate credit card apps income you bloggers receive and the economic viability of it? If that was not available, in my own humble opinion, there will be much less travel blogs out there. I understand the business side of it but I still feel the conflicts of interest are immense! Tough issue, kind of like the abortion issue…u can’t win.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to blog about this, very appreciated.

  6. Add me to those who are “surprised” to be reminded that you DON’T do this full time. I always look forward to reading your posts. Thanks for what you do, Gary!

  7. I appreciate the post and found it both useful and interesting. Thanks for all of your work!

  8. @gpapadop on multitasking I have no doubt this doesn’t work well for everyone and I suppose it has to do with how well you need to do at any task you are multiprocessing — I scan through other blog posts and news items, that doesn’t REQUIRE my full attention although reading through terms and conditions when I’m ready to write about something requires more of that attention. So I suppose I move back and forth between multitasking and not. And I could probably do any given task better with my full attention, but that doesn’t mean I’d be better off OVERALL. And it probably varies by individual. I don’t hold myself out as an expert on this.

    Technology is a big part of my productivity (after I hit publish I realized I *always* have an internet signal, even taking it with me, and also that i take notes on my phone and send them to myself so I don’t lose a thought). But indeed I’m not the most cutting edge technologically.

    As far as whether the travel blogging space is too crowded. Well, when I started I was alone in the frequent travel niche. There are plenty of folks now, I think the trick is finding your unique voice. Looking back at my early postings I certainly didn’t have one. It took a long time to figure out. Some folks stick with it and find out that really works, others give it a go and lose interest. I think that’s cool, since most folks don’t need to read EVERYONE even if *I* try to to make sure I don’t miss everything 🙂

    I can’t really speak to anyone’s motivations for blogging but my own, so would have to leave it to others to answer why they do it. I was doing it for YEARS without affiliate credit card stuff (9 years in fact) and for years (perhaps 3?) before there was a single ad on the blog even. I’ve explained in this post and others why I got started, although it’s certainly nice for some of those years of work to also generate an income component.

  9. Even with no kids, you will also need to be single or have a very understanding partner.

    I don’t qualify for any of the above.

  10. My profession is in my name. I first read your blog starting in 2002 & got alot out of it all these years.

    My travels are curtailed somewhat due to Stage 4/5 cancer. During my cancer (since Oct 2011) We (wife & I) take car trips from our home in Southern Calif (LA area) to San Francisco, San Diego, Central CA coast, & more. We also flew throughout the western USA (SLC,ABQ, etc) plus several mid cons. We hope to go to the East Coast & outside the USA (Europe) very soon. Since I have a stomach feeding tube, transporting 8-9 cans (8 oz) of liquid food per day away from home can be a challenge but worth it!!!

    Bottom line: I get alot out of your blog since 2002 and has went from good to “top notch”. You are my #1 blog (Mommy points, One mile at a time & others are not far behind). A big thank you for putting in the time so we can benefit!!

    PS: I will be flying to Chicago for the Chicago Seminars this evening and look forward to the conference to learn more about our wonderful hobby. (travel, etc).

  11. Wow! Pouring your heart out. That was probably a starting draft a autobiography ;P Very cool and I liked it a lot. I wish that this post would stay on top, coz it really is a highlight for today or this week.
    Kind of sad that the Rtiz/Chase card was over it.
    You should think about having top 2 posts of the week always on top. My $ 0.02

  12. I love it! And here’s what Gary didn’t say, but anyone who has spent time with him could probably attest to…while he does all these things and is “plugged in” most of the day, he isn’t one of those folks who is having a conversation with you while looking down at his phone the whole time.

    I find that is the real trick, to be engaged with the real world in front of you while being engaged in the virtual internet world. With a kid it is even more of a balance, but it is a balance for anyone. Great post. I still think there are two Gary’s though and you keep one locked in a closet shackled to a laptop.

  13. Gary, you just answered that big question I had planned and hoped to ask you when meeting you in person at the LA FTU. Now I have to think hard about another question to ask :D.

    @mommypoints, I agree. There must be two Gary’s.

  14. Thanks for the insight into your blogospherical world.

    I’m very pleased to see that the word “fun” appears twice in this post and that you enjoy both the blog and your other career. Having fun at what you do should probably be included with the other lessons at the end of the post.

    Still curious about how one goes about “scheduling phone calls”. Do you send an e-mail or SMS to the person who you’ll be calling and telling them to wait by their phone at such and such a time and expect your call?

  15. RT LOL.
    Very touching 😉
    What’s with the affiliate links? It’s insulting.
    Start a blog for beginners then.

  16. I want to add my thanks to you, Gary, for your consistent blogging over the years. You have helped me have vacations with my family and friends that would not have been possible. Hope to attend an FT university one day and be able to help my friends out as well. (Although I refer them to your site all the time, they still want someone to just tell them what to do!) Your story in $100 Start Up was fun to read, and inspiring. Keep up the good work.

  17. @Jeff W – hahahaha. I don’t. I do watch Copper, Mad Men, Walking Dead, Hell on Wheels, The Borgias… so I do get TV in.

  18. All of this workers when u are connected, but when traveling that is just not possible for me and then there is the added complication that many new applications like gmail, the new yahoo mail and google drive just wont load over poor internet connections or will not load correctly leading to lost work. Being productive in the usa, and to lessor extent w europe is easy but for hard core travelers it becomes a challenge anywhere else. Technology works where is, and that is not always where you happen to be. Plus there is the added consideration of expense outside of competitive Western markets.

  19. I just don’t get how full time bloggers can generate enough income to survive, let alone pay for hotels or redeem award s consistently…on top of seemingly paying for rent?

    Something is fishy to me. I love TPG and 1 mile at a time, and they do state when accomodations was paid for or if there were invited but still, I don’t get it.

    Assuming $100 to $250 per affiliate link credit card application, to generate $50k a year you’d need about $1,000 of commission a week, so 4 to 10 approved cc applications?

    Stretching to a more acceptable $75k income, we’re talking 6 to 15.

    And at 6 figure, which is enough for some to quit their actual high paying job, we’re talking in the 10-20 approved per week?

    I can’t believe that it’s possible considering how many bloggers there are. What are their other source of income?

  20. ” haven’t ever read any time management books that I’ve found useful,”

    Totally agree. Everyone is different and what things work for one person may be completely different. And that is true for most things in life. I could study (when I had to) while watching tv and still get excellent grades (and confound my parents) while others need total quiet.

    Some people time everything to the last minute while I need to arrive plenty early or feel totally stressed out (I could never imagine waiting to pack until the day of departure).

    Life is too short. Do what you enjoy, try to do it well and try to be nice to others.

  21. Gary, you are amazing! I, too, have a small blog (just started), nothing as elaborate as yours, nor as long standing, and strive to post a few times a week, but even that is very hard since I am a Mother of two teenage boys and also own a rehabilitation clinic and am a Chiropractor by profession. Kudos to you! You are my hero! I love your work, thanks for all you do for our community. ps my site is only for beginners! (like the friends of my Mom, since they are the ones that ask me the most about points!)

  22. Also have a super automatic espresso machine and always looking for recommendations on beans. Curious which beans you order from your supplier? Do you try to stick to low oil beans?

  23. @Eric – anything that isn’t Starbuck is low enough oil 🙂 I order from OldBisbeeRoasters.com, usually Sumatra

  24. Hey Gary – this is an excellent post. I look to you as a hero in this area, so it’s nice to see that even you have some ups and downs as you move forward. Also it’s hard to believe that you are only doing this part time!
    I recently started a blog myself and I am going to use this post as a both a guidelines for what to do correctly, as well as motivation if I hit any walls. Thanks for being a great voice in the FF community.

  25. Thanks, Gary. This is VERY HELPFUL! It is amazing how efficient and productive you are and this is very inspiring.

    It is interesting you mentioned that “Hold yourself accountable. Don’t move on from a room, or where you’re sitting, until you finish what you’ve set out for yourself. If you don’t allow yourself to move on you’ll power through.”. I guess we’ll need to add “Don’t surf the internet” as well, agree? 🙂

    Thanks a lot for sharing!

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