There’s a lot that goes into the recipe for productivity.
And nothing comes close in terms of impact to a well-developed habit.
Habits help you keep on track with the least amount of energy spent. They are the shortcuts we all need to survive in this crazy world of ours – and they are especially helpful for digital professionals operating in a constant state of change.
This will not be a detailed guide on how to set up habits – there are far better sources for that. But I wanted to talk about the habits that marketers need to develop in order to survive and thrive.
There’s always more to do.
Your task list is seldom clear at the end of the day.
And this doesn’t mean that you’re inefficient – you’re hard at work and trying to do the best out of your allotted X hours of work. It’s all the same for all marketers. But the difference between a good marketer and an excellent one is that the latter knows precisely which tasks to focus on and which ones can be left hanging.
Often this means differentiating between the urgent and the important tasks. You might be familiar with this distinction – if not, this is a great overview of the so-called Eisenhower Matrix. But what does it mean when it comes to marketing? There are a lot of important tasks that can be done at any time – and that is left undone because of that. Improving old blog posts, reviewing your tracking setup, cleaning up social media accounts… All things that will are important and that we often forget about.
Here are a few other examples, courtesy of Orbit Media:
Getting into the habit of reviewing tasks and assigning priorities is the bedrock of efficient marketing work.
Steps to take
Schedule time each morning to review and prioritize your tasks. Make sure you focus on the important stuff.
Create checklists and automate
A lot of the work you do feels unique at the moment but you’ll need to repeat it at a later moment. This applies to almost anything – from planning up your Christmas campaign to writing, designing, and distributing new content.
There’s a lot of complexity to take into account. So you’re better off not needing to think about the dull repeating steps. To that end, getting into the habit of automating or at least creating checklists is important.
I’ve written checklists for launching new monthly events on our science platform. I’ve automated the process of collecting content ideas and scheduling social posts straight through Trello with Buffer. Believe me, these minor improvements save you both time and the need to coach others through performing a task at every step.
Of course, there are diminishing returns. Spending time on automation can backfire so make sure what you’re automating happens at least once a month.
Steps to take
Keep a running list of your tasks and be mindful of the ones that you perform over and over again. Develop a checklist that will help you save mental energy for remembering the details – or straight up automate the execution if possible.
Build feedback loops for your customers
Good marketing stems from understanding your customer. It’s nothing new as a concept – but how do you make it a habit?
My advice here is to create “feedback loops” in your product and customer communication touchpoints. Spending some time in advance to build this as a system will give you a constant stream of incoming information. And with every bit and piece, you will understand your audience better.
I do this primarily through my newsletter. Once a person signs up I immediately ask what their situation is:
Obviously, the reply rate of these is only a couple of percent. But the people that do reply give me a ton of valuable information – and with each email received, my understanding of my target reader improves.
A lot of marketers I meet think of customer research as this big one-off thing you do before launching your product. But it’s an ongoing job – and building feedback loops helps you work on it without spending too much effort.
Steps to take
Look at your customer journey and identify some places where you can add feedback loops. Then just sit back, relax, and read the replies that come in – I guarantee they will be illuminating. Bonus points if you take the time to reply to most/some of them.
Constantly sharpen your saw
Digital marketing is developing at breakneck speed.
You always need to do a lot of reading to keep up with the trends. And this is one of these “important but not urgent” things that often fall by the wayside.
And then, crucially, set time aside to practice what you learned. Active practice works way better than passive learning – and it’s critical in a professional setting. After all, you’re not going after theoretical understanding but practical skill development.
I don’t think that this point would be a revelation for anyone. But it’s one of those things you know in principle but you never truly focus on. So I suggest you do that now.
Steps to take
Set aside time during the day for learning. And I don’t mean just saying “yeah, I’m gonna set time for reading, DEF-I-NITE-LY!!” Schedule it in your calendar so that you don’t let anyone else occupy this time. Add 20 minutes of learning to your daily task list.
Dedicate time to reflection
If your workdays are anything like mine, then you’re probably also surprised by the end of the week rushing up. In the blink of an eye, it’s time to wrap up some final tasks and get off your laptop.
Not so fast!
You forgot one important step: taking the time to back up and review your week.
Reflection is a powerful habit to work on because it ensures you’re purposefully going down a path of improvement. It also helps you see some early signs of burnout or being generally unhappy with how your professional life is developing.
I usually set time aside for this on Sunday mornings. The house is still quiet, there are no blinking messages on my phone or other pesky interruptions. I go through a series of questions that help me pinpoint how the week went and what I can improve moving forward. This includes asking:
- What went well? What am I proud of achieving?
- What didn’t go as planned and why?
- What can I start doing to make my days better?
- What should I stop doing because it isn’t serving me well enough?
- What can I do better and improve on?
I would do a quick weekly check-in with these questions and a more thorough overview at the end of the month. But no matter what cadence you choose, the process of asking alone is what’s useful. It helps you be mindful of how you’re moving forward and the steps you need to take along the way.
Steps to take
Dedicate some time in your week for reflection. Set it in your calendar. For best results, make it all a pleasant ritual – a steaming cup of coffee and something sweet can be a simple way to transform this from a tedious chore into a part of the week you’re actually looking forward to.
Connect with the broader community
I passionately hate the concept of “networking”. It sounds to me like something forced, where you need to plaster a smile on your face until your muscles start hurting, just sipping away at a cocktail and turning into a whirlwind of So-what-do-you-do?’s.
But being part of a community? Sign me up for that!
There are a ton of different communities out there – local or online ones. Think about LinkedIn and Facebook groups, dedicated websites like Growth Hackers or Slack communities.
You join a community to collaborate with peers, strike a conversation, and share knowledge. You gain community points not by smiling and handing out business cards but by generating value for others.
Especially for a freelance professional, the sense of community is just as important as the opportunity that comes with new business contacts. But to get any of the two, you don’t just need to sign up – you need to be there.
Steps to take
Set aside some time for interacting with online communities. Since there’s always more than you can handle, you will need to timebox. I usually tie this habit to my afternoon coffee or tea. I make myself a cup right when I feel my energy levels take a dip. I then spend 20 minutes or so to check my favorite groups, engage, and respond.
The whole thing gives me a short half-hour break from work and ensures I’m out there talking to people even if I’m stuck at home.
I understand I already created a lot of additional work for you. Taking time for reading, reflection, community engagement… and all of that on top of your actual work tasks. How can you manage it all?
The answer might surprise you.
To accomplish more, you need to switch off more often. Take time to exercise, read, look away from a screen. The more recharged you are at the start of a week, the better you’ll feel, the more focused you’ll be, and the more you’ll be able to do.
Switching off and dedicating time for yourself and your close ones is also an important anti-anxiety pill. And just the right thing to do – after all, we’re marketers, we’re no brain surgeons. And if the President of the US can adopt a “family first” mentality and preach it to his staff, I’m pretty sure you can do it, too.
Steps to take
Plan for no-screen time and family time just as you’d plan work meetings. I’d generally make Saturdays screen-free, focusing on reading, drafting out thoughts on paper, spending time in nature, cooking… all favorite pastimes that give me energy. And don’t try to compensate for this time with more work or staying up late on other days.
Write things down
Think of your brain like a bucket. Or a delicate porcelain cup, if you prefer a sophisticated image.
You only have so much space in there. So to focus on something specific, you need to make room for it by clearing your mind of non-important stuff. The best way to do that? Write it down.
Here are just a couple of examples:
- If I get an idea for a new post, I’ll create a note in Evernote and add to it later.
- Any new task that pops up during a client meeting goes straight to my Todoist inbox.
- I pour the last drop of milk in my coffee? I take my phone and type “mlik” with sleepy fingers in the grocery list I share with my partner.
- If I stumble upon an article I might want to add to existing post ideas, I’d just add a link to the post draft note.
- While reading a book I will write down quotes or concepts I might want to return to in the future.
And (going back to a previous point) everything that’s a recurring task gets automated and everything that’s a common process gets its own template.
The habit of writing things down does two things. First, it helps you clear your head. Second, it helps you have a paper trail to return to. It might be as simple as checking what you agreed on as a campaign approach during your last team meeting. Or more complex – like linking a book you’re reading with something you read two years back.
Steps to take
It all comes down to having the right tools at hand. I use a combination of offline and online methods: a paper journal and digital tools like Todoist and Evernote. Your setup might look different. But spend some time to create one that works for you.
Tiny steps for peak velocity
Habits take a long time to develop but they are worth every bit of effort. Think of them as the stabilizers of a plane.
They may look tiny compared to the main wings but they are what makes sure you’re stable as you pick up speed. And that’s as important for reaching peak professional velocity as the work of your main thrusters.