Walk through any professional services office around the country and I bet you’ll hear a similar theme when asking executives, managers, and practitioners about their workload- ‘there’s never enough time in the day.’
It happens all the time at Portent. I hear it from our team and I hear it from our clients.
For marketing professionals, the list of what we want to do is usually much longer than the list of what we complete. Often, those important but not urgent projects, the ones that we never get to, are the projects that stretch us personally and professionally. Those are the projects that build our organizations. Those are the projects that grow our skill-sets. Those are the projects that make us come alive as marketers.
In a culture that is shifting away from glorifying the 60-hour work week to celebrating a strong work-life balance, working smarter, not harder, is more important than ever.
Working smarter doesn’t mean getting the things you need to do done quickly so you’re done for the day a few hours earlier than normal.
It means staying on-schedule with what you’re doing. It means spending more time on those important but not urgent projects. It means realizing the fulfillment (I hope) in the work you do.
Working smarter, not harder is something I’ve placed a focus on for myself lately. And it’s not just for me- thinking this way has helped our team work more effectively. It’s helped cut stress. It’s helped us stay out in front of what we’re working on and more importantly, it’s helped us deliver better results for our clients.
There are two places I’ve concentrated on during a typical work day to work smarter, not harder.
Plan your day before you do anything else
The first thing I do every single day when I sit down at my desk is plan my day. This can also be the last thing you do before you leave the previous day.
I write down every meeting on my schedule- where it is and what time it starts. Then, I put together my to-do list of tasks and projects to be worked on during the day, prioritizing those most urgent by putting them at the top of the list- if any are due for delivery that day, it’s noted.
Doing so provides a clear roadmap for the day, but also allows me to build in time for long-term projects I’m working to complete. Often times, when I don’t build in the time for that type of work, it goes by the wayside.
Five minutes later, I have my day laid out in front of me- clearly understanding where I need to be, what I must deliver, and what else I’ll be focusing on.
Yes, fire alarms and unexpected things do come up during the day that must be addressed and can throw off that to-do list, but having that list to start that day cuts way down on your ‘what do I need to do next’ wasted time throughout a given day.
Start with what’s hard
Outside of time-sensitive meetings that I must be present for, I get my most taxing and urgent work out of the way as early as possible in the day. Yes, I’m a morning person, but as we all too well know, when a fire starts, it has to be put out on the spot. While we have to give the time that problem or issue requires, doing so can really throw off a day.
Get your deliverables and most important work done as early as possible so you’re not facing a late night if roadblocks do come up during the day.
Work in sprints
Ian, our CEO, is a big proponent of working in sprints and running this way has helped me tremendously. As much as your schedule and to-do list allows, work in 45-minute sprints.
During a 45-minute sprint, forget about your email, close out of Facebook, and yell at anybody who comes by your desk to chat (okay maybe not, but you know what I mean). Use that 45 minutes to focus solely on one ‘to-do’ item without any other distractions.
Get that done and check it off your list. I would challenge that ‘to-do’ items needing more than 45 minutes could be further broken down into multiple ‘to-dos’.
Then, once your 45-minute sprint is done, use the next 10 – 15 minutes to check email, get up to speed on your social profiles, read an article, or chat with team members.
Once you’re caught up, start on another to-do and 45-minute sprint.
Keep your email clean
Inbox Zero is absolute bliss for me.
Typically, the only emails that stay in my inbox for longer than an hour or two are ones that I need to respond to directly before the end of the day.
Otherwise, it’s tools (we’ll get to those later) and a detailed folder system to keep the clutter out.
I am not a “meeting person” but I have a lot of them throughout any given day.
‘Actively meet’ does not mean working through your email while others provide status updates on what they are working on.
Actively meet and make the most of that time. Raise key points. Work through issues. Create resolutions. Clarify takeaways. Layout next steps.
Get out of there.
I certainly haven’t automated my job entirely but there are several tools I use every single day to help me work smarter. The key is finding the tools to help cut down on monotonous tasks, freeing up my time and mind to focus only on the work that matters most.
Here’s what I personally lean on heavily:
Depending on your job function and responsibilities, performance reporting can take up a substantial portion of your work week and it doesn’t have to. Automatically pulling data from multiple sources and formatting that data saves our team a ton of time over here.
Instead of spending significant, unnecessary time to gather data, do the necessary pre-work once so you can focus on analyzing and putting together insights with next steps for action.
For heavy Google Analytics users, create a custom dashboard that aggregates all your most important metrics in one place. One click within GA gets you into that dashboard for viewing. Better yet, schedule those metrics for automated recurring email report that’s delivered on exactly the schedule you need it.
Additionally, Google Data Studio provides a source for more formalized, custom, efficient reporting.
Again, set it up once, update your date ranges as needed, and spend your time on analysis instead of data gathering.
Boomerang for Gmail
In all honesty, this is probably the most important tool in my current arsenal. Boomerang for Gmail allows me to stay out of email agony. Remember when I talked about cleaning your inbox?
Boomerang for Gmail allows users to do two primary things.
First, users can schedule when their emails are sent.
Secondly, and where I see the biggest benefit, Boomerang enables users to move emails out of their inbox and automatically bring them back at a scheduled date and time when that specific email is pertinent again.
Get an email with notes for a meeting happening four days from now? Schedule that email to pop back onto the top of your inbox an hour before that meeting starts.
Asking an employee to follow up with you on an item two weeks from now? Boomerang that email back into your inbox two weeks from now to remind them if you haven’t heard anything back yet.
The ability to file away important messages and emails knowing they will come back when applicable is incredibly freeing as a marketing professional.
Reminders – Mac
There are probably fancier and better tools out there, but Reminders on Mac OS is just plain simple and effective.
It’s not my lifeline for day-of reminders and tasks (I have a daily to-do list for that) but anything that’s further than a day away and not in my email goes onto my reminder list and pops up when I know it will be relevant.
Again, like Boomerang, schedule those reminders to pop back up exactly when you know you’ll need them.
Automated Scheduling Software
I mentioned I’m not a meeting person, right?
The only thing that might be more painful than an extra meeting is going back and forth to schedule a meeting. For one -on-one meetings, use an automated scheduling software.
Take the time to link and set your schedule once in a program like Calend.ly. Then it’s as simple as sending a link, and letting the other person choose the time that works best for them. Drop the back and forth time spent on getting things scheduled.
We use HubSpot, which has a meetings capability, and is integrated with a lot of our other marketing, sales, and client service activity.
Scrolling through my Twitter feed, I find at least 5 – 10 articles a day I want to read. Shockingly, my to-do list in the office doesn’t call for an hour of reading every day.
And I’m not unique at Portent in this. We joke internally about being a “learning hospital” in order to stay at the top of our game, which means a lot of emphasis on keeping up with what’s new, what’s effective, and what’s not. That can mean a lot of reading, and researching.
While I may get through one or two of those articles during the workday, most of my reading comes during my commute into the office each morning and on my way home in the evening.
Pocket helps immensely with this. Save articles straight from Twitter or your internet browser to pocket and have them aggregated in one cross-device place, when you’re ready to read.
These tools don’t automate the ‘thinking’ tasks we face every day. However, what they do allow is to cut down on the nagging thoughts that can sabotage our workflow and brain space.
By minimizing data gathering time and overall grey matter usage on menial or repeated tasks, marketers can spend their time thinking about the biggest issues and deliverables they must finish each day.
There isn’t one way to work smarter.
What works for one organization, may not work in another.
What works for me, may not work for you.
But if you commit to making this part of your process, the reward is to focus on work that’s truly more impactful, as well as more interesting. And the benefits of that higher leverage work will ultimately flow to your organization, your customers, and just as importantly to yourself.
Now get home, recharge, and come back tomorrow ready to do bigger and better things.