Have you found yourself overwhelmed by your responsibilities? Are you stuck executing sub-optimal tasks and tactics because you haven’t had time to develop the strategy to the level you want it?
Time management is a buzzword, but there is a good reason for that.
Digital marketers are more and more busy. And if you have more than one or two channels to focus on, you can find yourself overwhelmed. I have multiple channels for multiple brands to worry about.
Set up and optimise Google ads, do keyword research and build links for SEO, get the social media posts up and report on engagement. Back to the ads to add negative keywords, then reply to that one email that got back to you after reaching out to ten for links.
It’s enough to drive anyone insane.
My time management trick that works
There are many ways to go about it. I recommend a simple method. Meetings with yourself. Most people when they sit in meetings with others don’t let incoming emails and messages distract them. They don’t get up and leave a meeting after 5 minutes, come back for three minutes, leave again after ten minutes, and so on. That wouldn’t go down well with whoever you’re meeting. But that’s exactly what you do when you jump on an email or a message while sitting at your desk working on projects. You literally walk in and out of “a meeting with yourself”, which in this case is whatever task you are currently working on.
In other words, you respect the time slot alloted to physical meetings. You need to start doing that with your key tasks as well.
But first, a breakdown on my work methodology.
I personally operate with three time streams when I do time management for marketing.
- BAU (business as usual)
BAU Time Stream
In the business-as-usual time stream, I use one Trello board where I have seven lists. Inbox-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Done.
Any new task is added as descriptively as possible directly onto the card. I try to avoid adding lists or more info outside of the card name as that means I have to click into it, and to me that’s distracting. Think of how you manage user experience on your website. You don’t want the user have to click several times to get to the good bit that makes you money. I use the same logic for my BAU stream.
Looking at the image above, you can immediately see that I can use this to plan my days, and that it’s immediately obvious what the task is. If you prefer to add more details inside each card you are of course free to do so, but for me it just clogged my flow.
The BAU stream is also great for emails. I try to have 2-3 time slots where I go through my emails. If the email requires a response and it’s easy, I do so immediately. If the email requires research or thinking, I add that task to my BAU list as the title of the email, then I search for it later and reply once the work is done.
Projects Time Stream
This is where I move from being a marketing executive to a marketing strategist. For me, most of the projects come from my own analysis and prioritisation of what needs to happen to achieve my objectives, while some are projects assigned to me by others.
No matter the source, I set up another Trello board called…you guessed it; projects. This one also has seven lists. Project Bank-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Done.
You can see there are fewer cards on this board, but here I click into the card as it’s more notes and checklist driven and requires several sessions per project (if it doesn’t it’s BAU).
I also make sure I plan my week so that each project gets the TLC it deserves. The project bank is for future projects but also for projects that I do not plan to work on this week.
Really? This needed its own headline?
Yes. Occasionally, even though I work in-house at the time of writing, I track my time as if I were a freelancer or at an agency working per hour. I use Toggl, but there are several trackers out there. When I do, I often record one week at a time and set up 5-8 categories which all my work fit into.
When I start working on something, I press play, and when I stop I press stop. I’m very granular, so a trip to the coffee machine stops the clock.
What does this have to do with meetings. Can you guess?
You’re right. When I track my time, I’m almost always shocked how much time is lost to meetings. I’d say about half of them are unnecessary or too long. My record for effective meeting time in a week is 15 hours. That’s two full work days.
This system works whether you have 0 or 15 hours of meetings a week, but failing BAU is much more likely to get you sacked than delaying projects. So when there are a lot of meetings, projects suffer. And it’s projects that get you up in the world, BAU just keeps you in the job. Of course if you are amazing at executing tasks you can make a career out of that, but the fun is in having impact at work, and that means that you need a lot of project time.
If all you take from this article is “dodge meetings” (and be strategic about when you attend), you’ve made a huge improvement. Bonus tip: have fewer meetings but add some meeting prep into your BAU list. You’ll perform much better in the meetings this way AND you get more project time. Double boost.
A day in the life of a digital marketer
On Sunday evening, I allocate 10-20 minute to get a broad overview of my week. I pay special attention to how many hours I have available to get through BAU and to work on projects. The formula is the hours I plan to work that week minus meeting time = hours I can divide between BAU and Projects.
Next I notice which days are meeting intensive and not, and I use this information when I assign tasks to days both on my BAU board and my Projects board. You always need to have 1-2 hours in reserve per day for important tasks that pop up. If your colleague is off sick and you get stranded with a large email send that he or she was going to do, you’ll be glad you did this.
One key tip: be ready to roll with the punches. Don’t get emotionally attached to your lists to a point where not completing it ruins your day. But as a general rule, your lists should be empty when you leave the office.
Bonus tip: This methodology works great with Cal Newport’s “Deep Work”. If you haven’t read the book, do it now.
The one task to rule them all
So let’s say I’m 10 minutes away from the end of the work day on a Tuesday night. Before I go, I will go into my calendar and schedule in blocks for emails, BAU and projects for Wednesday. This allows me to adapt to the flow of the week as it unfolds. Somehing like this:
0900 – 0930: Emails
0930 – 1100: Projects
1100 – 1230: BAU
1330 – 1500: Meeting
1500 – 1600: (leave open) – if nothing comes up, convert to Projects
1600 – 1700: Experiments (bonus for a later article)
1700 – 1730: Emails
Don’t forget the mentality of this system: take each time block as seriously as you do a meeting. When you are working on your projects from 0930-1100 you are having a meeting with yourself, and don’t you dare disrespect your time by checking your phone or walking out of the “meeting”.
Double bonus: I have a Trello card in projects called “upskilling” which is time I use to read articles and take notes about recent developments in my areas of interests to make sure I’m on top of developments. You should do the same.
A new hope
In a world of ever increasing work load, this system has served me well to balance execution, reactivity and strategic progress.
I hope you find this helpful to improve your efficiency and retain your sanity.
Anything you’d do differently? Please do share in the comments.