It's not easy being a marketer in today's fast-paced world.
You're pulled in a thousand different directions and there's always another thing to do – launch A/B tests, build landing pages, tweak subject lines, create campaigns, etc.
You can always find things to do, but the problem is most marketers are terrible at managing their time and priorities.
It's not something we’re taught so instead we try to accomplish everything. As a result it leads to stress, feeling overwhelmed, dissatisfaction, poor work, and burn out.
Here are my simple tips on becoming a more productive marketer while taking back control of your schedule. It's not about helping you get more done, but helping you get more of the right things done.
Let’s jump in:
⏳Use your calendar
I'm surprised by how many marketers don't use some form of a calendar to manage their time.
Without a calendar, you have no sense of where your time is being spent and that puts you in a vulnerable position where it’s easy for other people’s priorities to trump your own.
You have to remember that your calendar is a reflection of your most important priorities.
Here’s what mine looks like:
In my experience, the most productive marketers have their days and weeks thoroughly mapped out in their calendars which allows them to stay in control of their time and schedule.
⏳Pay yourself first (with time)
In personal finance, there's something called ‘paying yourself first.'
The idea is when your paycheck lands, you want to put a portion of that money into your investments and savings before you do anything else. If you don’t, you’re likely to get to the end of the month with nothing to put towards your future.
Highly productive marketers do this with their time.
Open your calendar and start scheduling blocks of time for yourself. Schedule them months ahead and make them recurring wherever fit.
Here are some of the important blocks I have in my calendar:
- focus blocks for high energy, high priority work
- admin blocks for low energy, low priority work
- family blocks for family time
- study blocks for reading, course work, etc.
- workout blocks for my training
- relaxation blocks for lunches, walks, etc.
Pro tip – use a different color code for each type of block so you can more easily visualize how your time is being spent each week.
Here's why mapping out your blocks is important – as weeks go on, new requests for your time will start coming in (meetings, phone calls, appointments, etc.). These will now have to be planned around your scheduled blocks because those are already living in your calendar.
This is how you pay yourself first in time.
⏳Know your H.A.B.U.T activities
A focus block is a set of time used for your most important work. One thing I see marketers struggle with is not knowing what to focus on during these times.
I coined the term ‘H.A.B.U.T activities' with my team at Crossrope.
These are your Highest And Best Use of Time activities. They get you the highest return on your effort (in your role) and have the most needle-moving potential.
Note that these activities typically require the most mental energy:
- If you're an email marketer, this could be creating emails, designing new a/b tests, or improving your key email flows.
- If you're a content marketer, this could be writing good content or planning your content strategy & calendar.
- If you're a paid media specialist, this could be creating new ads or crunching through data to find insights.
The goal is to identify your 5-7 HABUT activities that move you closer to your objective. Schedule these activities during your focus blocks which can be as long as you’d like.
⏳Batch your marketing chores
All marketers have admin and recurring tasks. Tasks you have to do on a daily or weekly basis.
They’re typically responding to emails, making calls, sending reports, updating dashboards and other chores that must be done, but don’t move the needle very far.
Here’s how to approach these –
First, understand that these are generally low-energy activities meaning they don't (or shouldn’t) require a lot of brain power. Avoid doing these tasks during your focus blocks.
A trap I see a lot of marketers fall in is they spend half their focus block responding to emails and updating reports. They feel like they’re getting work done but really they've just wasted a high-energy period to process low-energy activities.
Instead, schedule admin blocks in your calendar where you can batch these low-energy activities all at once. Highly productive marketers use low-energy blocks to process low-energy activities.
⏳Learn the shortcuts
As marketers we use a lot of tools and do a lot of repetitive tasks.
Highly productive marketers take the time to learn their tools and master the shortcuts which allows them to perform repetitive tasks more quickly.
One of the best places to start is email.
For many of us, managing our inbox is a big part of what we do. It continues to be one of the primary communication channels within organizations. Learning a handful of Gmail keyboard shortcuts has saved me a tremendous amount of time over the years.
Here are some of the best ones to start using today:
C – compose a new email
R – reply
A – reply all
F – forward email
L – apply label
E – archive email
U – jump back to inbox
Ctrl + Enter – send message
Shift + U – mark as unread
Start using a few of them and you'll notice a difference.
When you're mapping out your calendar, make sure you're blocking off time for breaks.
Remember – if it's not scheduled, it often won't get done. If you don't have breaks blocked off in your calendar, it makes it easy for others to schedule their priorities over yours. This is where you see people eating lunch while on a Zoom call.
Productive marketers know the importance of taking breaks, especially when remote work is further blurring the lines between our personal and professional lives. You need time to take a breath, to let the mind rest and wander, to let the eyes relax.
Make sure you're scheduling time for lunch, for walks, etc.That's what lets you get into flow state when you go back into focus mode.
Once you've got blocks of time scheduled in your calendar, you want to make sure you use them effectively (especially your focus blocks).
Start by removing all distractions.
Your environment will have a big impact on your productivity. We've all heard about the costs of distractions and interruptions – it takes more than 25 minutes, on average, to resume a task you were working on after being interrupted. That's a big loss of time.
What's even more challenging is that it's never been easier to get distracted. We’re all working from home and checking our phones over 150 times per day. All it takes is for one single glance to get you down some rabbit hole and out of flow.
Here are some simple tips to set yourself up right:
- If you're working from home (who isn't), try to find a space where you're least likely to get interrupted by others
- If you can't find a quiet place to work, consider getting noise cancelling headphones
- Keep your phone in another room or, if you do need it OR keep it on do-not-disturb mode
- Turn off desktop notifications for the same reason
- Put yourself in do-not-disturb mode on Slack
The fewer distractions you have, the more effectively you'll be able to use your blocked off time.
⏳Create a prioritization system for incoming tasks
It would be nice if the only things we had to do were our H.A.B.U.T activities. But that's not the case.
If you're working on a dynamic marketing team, you'll have new ideas, projects and requests coming at you every day. Some of these are from your team, some are from customers, some are from books or podcasts and others are just ideas that pop up in your own head.
If you don't have a prioritization system, you'll get crushed.
A trap I see marketers fall into is they'll try to do every single task that comes their way as soon as they get it. They feel they need to get everything done all at once. While you might get a pat on the back for moving quickly, this is an easy way to let your own (important) priorities get away from you.
A prioritization system is designed to help you filter all the incoming items you get.
Start by keeping a running list of all the activities and ideas that come in so you can review them later. As you’re processing the list, ask yourself one thing – does this activity move me closer to my objective or further away?
If it moves you closer to your objective, you can prioritize the activity higher and do it sooner. If it moves you further away (a shiny object), you cut it, delegate it, or prioritize it lower on your list.
It takes time to build out a good process for this it’s worth the effort.
⏳Plan your day the night before
I see a lot of marketers starting their day without a plan.
When you don't have a plan, you either end up focusing on other people's priorities or you fall back into the trap of doing low-energy tasks which feel productive.
Productive marketers start their day knowing exactly what they're going to be focusing on.The best way to do this is to plan out your day the night before (or at the end of your previous day).
You want to sit down with your calendar, your list of H.A.B.U.T activities, and your running list of incoming tasks that you've been logging and processing. Identify what 3-5 items you want to focus on for the upcoming day and put them in the order from highest to lowest impact.
When you start your day knowing exactly what you'll be focusing on, it makes you feel more confident and less overwhelmed.
⏳Shorten your meetings
As marketers, we spend a lot of time in meetings so you want to look for opportunities to cut these back where possible.
Parkinson's law states that work expands to fill the time allotted. Or more simply, the amount of work required to do a task adjusts to the time available for its completion. If you give yourself two weeks to get a project done, it will take you two weeks to get it done. If you give yourself one day to get it done, it will take you one day to get it done.
I find a similar thing takes place with meetings.
If you schedule a two hour meeting, you'll end up taking the full two hours to discuss something that maybe could have been discussed in 30 minutes. Conversations go on tangents, new topics come up, and you deviate from the goal.
The solution is to shorten your meetings.
Go into your calendar settings and adjust the default meeting time from 60 minutes down to 45 min or 30 min. While you're at it, toggle on the ‘Speedy meetings' box to give yourself a bit of a buffer between meetings (if you have a lot of back to backs).
Meetings are important, but these should not be taking you away from your high-leverage work.
⏳Use time stacking
While I'm all about focusing on one thing at a time, I find there are some activities that can be done well in parallel. This is what I call time stacking, or pairing two activities that don't require equal amounts of focus.
You're likely already time stacking all the time, but here are some examples of how I time stack activities in my life:
- I listen to audiobooks & podcasts while I'm driving
- I practice my Spanish while I'm out for my morning walks
- I read through saved articles (Pocket app) when I'm waiting (eg. oil change)
Time stacking is an effective strategy for getting more done in less time.
Just be careful with how you're using this strategy. You don't want to stack activities that don't naturally go together or that take away time from something important. You don't want to time stack when you need to focus on a task or be present with your family.
Take some time to brainstorm how you can take advantage of time stacking in your own life.
There you have it. You now have the tools you need to become a highly productive marketer. My hope is that you can use at least one of the strategies I’ve outlined in this article to take back control of your time, your schedule, and your life.
Becoming more productive is a journey so make sure you’re patient with the process. Not everything you try will work, but it’s important to keep experimenting.
And keep in mind that even the most productive people are still human. And so are you. You'll still have off days. You'll still default to low-energy tasks during high-energy periods. You'll still forget to take breaks. You'll still end up in a long meeting that could have been shorter.
That’s just part of the journey so enjoy it.
Srdjan (Serge) Popovic
Engineer turned CMO. Enjoys writing about marketing, productivity, & personal dev. Will drop the occasional dad joke.