It was an unseasonably warm, sunny day. I’d completed and sent off an important deliverable ahead of schedule, and was patting myself on the back for a good day’s work.
But as I got on the bus home an uneasy feeling began to surface.
That assignment took about 3-4 hours of long, hard work. Then I’d taken a break for lunch, returned to my desk, and…
Where had the rest of my day gone?
I had been working. Social media scheduling, emails, troubleshooting, measuring metrics, etc. But my work hadn’t been focused, and as a result I couldn’t pinpoint any other tangible achievements for the rest of the time I had definitely spent “working”.
After that little epiphany on the bus, I started thinking about how to be more productive and ensure I was able to account for every hour in my working day.
Although it’s very difficult to be 100% productive all the time, here are a few practices which should at least give you a fighting chance:
Plan your next day in advance
Try it. Spend half an hour or so at the end of each day writing a list of things you need to do tomorrow; from major assignments to the daily tasks like social media scheduling (more on that below), getting back to people you need to contact, etc.
It’s not rocket science, it’s just a simple trick which lets you hit the ground running the next day, instead of wasting your best hours, while you mind is still fresh, getting things in order.
Use a tool like Google Calendar to block out time for specific tasks, or even just a good old-fashioned pen and paper.
Less social media… much, much less
Yes that’s right: a content marketer just told you to cut down drastically on social media. But let me clarify:
Social media is an extremely powerful marketing tool, which can greatly benefit your business if used properly and appropriately. However, it’s also a never-ending vortex of mind-numbing, guilt-inducing unproductivity.
Isn’t it funny how easily a little research for a blog or report can morph into an hour-long Wikipedia binge?
Or how you can start off reading some articles for inspiration, then click through to an unrelated article on the same site (“this’ll just take 2 minutes”)… only to regain consciousness 45 minutes later grinning maniacally at that video of the guy being interviewed as his kids invade his office — which you’ve already watched maybe 50 times.
It’s OK, I’ve embedded it here — just stay with me for another few minutes, please:
The power of social media and its pitfalls actually stem from the exact same source. Social media has given human beings access to endless amounts of information at an impossibly rapid pace. On the one hand, that has empowered people in so many ways — but there’s also a downside.
In recent years, a number of studies have illustrated how being bombarded with digital messaging — including social media — has left us with lower attention spans than goldfish.
But aside from the long-term effects of social media-bingeing, in the short-term it’s just an extremely easy way to procrastinate.
Use social media as you would any other tool: as and when you need it. Schedule a specific time for it, set objectives, and don’t go on “just to check.” Using a social scheduling platform like Buffer or Hootsuite can help you concentrate all your social media work into a set period of time.
And if you need to download any social apps on your phone, keep them logged into your company profile, or whatever other account you use in a professional capacity.
Don’t read your emails when you get to the office
Obviously this doesn’t apply to urgent messages which require an immediate response. But a great way to kill a productive day is to begin it by “checking emails.”
Personally, I use my bus journey to trim down my inbox. Anything I can reply to straight away (most things) from my phone I do then and there, and any important emails which can wait and which require a little more time I “star” and save for later.
Keep your eye out for important emails, sure; but don’t get distracted by the less urgent ones.
I once worked at a company where taking breaks was discouraged. Not explicitly, but the work culture was such that it was frowned upon to just “take a break.” This actually brought down the quality of everyone’s work considerably.
Of course, any good manager knows that regular breaks actually increase productivity, not to mention morale. It goes without saying that this only works within reason — too many breaks are just another way to procrastinate!
Try using breaks as “rewards” to yourself for completing specific tasks.
Don’t just “do stuff” — think long-term
People striving to be productive can often fall into the trap of just doing for the sake of doing. This, too, is a sure way to waste your precious time.
For example, if you’re a content marketer you shouldn’t always be writing. In fact, you should be spending some time each day reading to gain inspiration, and going over your metrics and analytics to learn what kinds of content to focus on.
Reading in particular may sometimes feel like a waste of time; why aren’t I creating some content of my own right now instead?! But, to quote Stephen King: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
You only have a certain amount of hours each day, so making sure you’re doing the right things at the right time — as opposed to just filling your time with “work” — is crucial. Some of those things will yield tangible results (like writing, or executing a campaign), while others set you up for success later that day (or week, or month, or quarter). All are important.
We all want to be helpful team-players. And we should be.
But something you just need to say “No.”
If you’re in the middle of an important task, or even taking a quick break, you need to be focused on your key objectives for that day. If a colleague is asking you for 5 minutes of your time, ask yourself if you can afford it right now — and whether what they are asking really is that urgent.
If you’re feeling a little burned out, it might even be good for you to switch to something else briefly. But if you’re in your groove, walking over to their desk for a couple of minutes for something that really could wait will break your momentum. If that’s the case, and if it isn’t something urgent, just ask them to come back later. They’ll understand.
None of this is rocket science, and it all really just boils down to being organized and scheduling your day. But often the simplest pieces of advice are the best.
Learn how to create more personal, effective marketing campaigns, by following these seven steps:
Image by FirmBee from Pixabay | CC0 Public Domain