Jono Alderson is a globally recognised expert in digital strategy, SEO, analytics, WordPress, speed, martech, conversion rate optimisation, growth and more.
Balance the Grind spoke to Jono about his varied role at Yoast, managing projects with Trello, working from home, reducing friction in his life, and more.
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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?
I started out as a developer, working on tiny local websites; butchers, bakers, florists, and so on. I’d taught myself HTML and some rudimentary CSS, and I was keen to take over the world.
So I set up a little consultancy with some friends, and we had loads of fun – despite having no idea what we were doing! I dreamed of more, though, and through some lucky accidents and great timing, I fell into a digital marketing agency.
I ended up working on much bigger projects – big web builds with lots of moving parts, people and politics – and worked with some super-smart people. I learned a lot, and eventually moved around a bit.
By then, I’d picked up a bunch of skills in broader/deeper web development, SEO, analytics and other areas, and started dabbling with public speaking.
2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?
Fast-forward, and I’m now “Special Ops” at Yoast. I’m not sure what that means, either!
Mostly, I do a bunch of R&D, product development, “SEO stuff”, and make sure that we’re “dogfooding” at Yoast. I love it. It’s really exciting to be working on projects, code and standards which end up on literally millions of websites.
Beyond that, I’m increasingly poking and prodding at WordPress itself, and I’m proud that suggestions and improvements which I’ve proposed are now out there on a third of the web.
All of that’s particularly exciting because there’s no rule book. We’re tackling a lot of complex SEO, logistics and conceptual challenges right at the cutting edge.
3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
My days vary a lot, depending on what I’m working on.
I tend to be either buried in big research & development projects (which might span several months), or I’m just nibbling around anywhere where I think I can make myself useful.
I’ve spent a large chunk of the last few months researching and working on our big Schema integration, so I’m starting to think about what’s next.
That might be improvements to our plugins and products, making sure we’re achieving best practice on all of our own websites and content, or something else entirely. Who knows!?
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you prioritise your workload?
I quite literally live out of Trello. Every task, project and “to-do” gets neatly organised, prioritised, tagged and scheduled.
I tie that up with my inbox (which operates in a strict Inbox Zero mode) and Google Calendar. I use some extensions to automatically syncronise my calendar to Trello, and vice-versa.
That means that at any given time, I have a clear view of what’s next, urgent, important, or valuable. I constantly re-evaluate those lists, juggle priorities against impact, and plough on. It’s as chaotic as it is organized, but it works for me.
5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?
I find balance in seeing, understanding, and prioritising everything based on the complete picture. So my relaxation, home life, holidays, gardening and other activities all get blended into my calendar and Trello boards.
That’s pretty much the opposite of “work/life balance”, but I find that the more I try to artificially separate those areas of my life, the more stressful it is when those barriers inevitably blur and erode.
Instead, I muddle it all up in a big soup, and run my whole life on a continually re-evaluated judgement of effort/reward. My work, hobbies (reading, gardening, cooking), travel, etc all get blended together.
6) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?
I’m lucky enough that I can work from home for some big chunks of time, so I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into my living space.
I love to plod around in the garden, cook from scratch, and just enjoy being in a space which I’ve tailored to suit me.
I’m a bit of an introvert, though – so when I’m travelling or at conferences, I try to find a little quiet space which I can escape to and unwind. Nothing beats a quiet, comfy corner, and a book (and, maybe a glass of wine).
7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
I actively seek to reduce friction in everything I do.
As I work, relax, travel, or anything else, I take note of things which are stressful, challenging, frustrating, or which are otherwise ‘frictiony’. Where I can, I take action to remove or reduce that friction.
That might mean buying a better laptop, upgrading a flight, changing my schedule, or something else entirely. The tactics and solutions vary, but everything goes into a Trello to-do list, then gets evaluated during a quiet moment. Life gets easier, happier, and more productive.
8) Are there any books you’ve read that have helped you with work-life balance?
I read a TON of books, but, they’re exclusively fiction. I’m an enormous sci-fi and fantasy nerd; give me space-ships, wizards and dragons (sometimes all together).
That makes it extremely difficult for me to read ‘business books’ – I get bored waiting for the twist; the alternate reality, the time-travel, or the magic spell. I don’t think that’s a problem, though.
The books I’ve read help me enormously. They challenge my perceptions of how the world might work, they introduce new ideas and concepts, and they explore “what if”.
That stretches my mind in ways which help me to develop brand strategies, marketing tactics, and content projects. It’s also my favourite way to unwind!
9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
I never stop learning, I care deeply about all of the work that I do, and I never accept that the rules are fixed. I see every day, every conversation, every project as an opportunity to challenge the status quo.
One of the biggest propellants of my relative success has been a willingness to push; to ask the awkward questions, to challenge behaviours, and to demand better from everyone and everything.
That includes me, and my own skills, too. I never settle for ‘good enough’, in myself, the work I do, or the people I work with.
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