The Step By Step Guide To Productivity For Marketers (And 7 Free Tools You Can Start Using Today)
Wether you're working part time or full time on your projects, time is the one resource you'll never get back. Actually, out of all the problems people email me daily, the lack of time comes second to not knowing what to do next.
The truth is, the battle for productivity is one of the hardest ones to win because it's all about consistency and ongoing effort. It doesn't matter how epic your getting things done system is if you can't maintain it over time.
Being productive is particularly difficult for marketers because of several reasons:
- The hardest part of the job is knowing what to do and figuring out what to do is rarely structured.
- Our job consist of dozens of small different tasks, the time between each task being an incredible opportunity for distraction to sneak in.
- There's a ton of information and shiny new objects passing us by daily, lots of them are very appealing, compelling you to drop what you're doing to pursue them.
While I can't promise this guide will solve all your productivity problems, I can promise it will tackle the issues listed above and help you get your projects going with whatever limited time you have.
What you will learn in this post
- What the mindsets of the productive marketer are
- How to setup your working environment to increase focus and productivity.
- How to manage an email when you ask hundreds of people to reply back to your autoresponder.
- How to organise your day to reduce burnout and increase stuff done.
- How to work with others remotely yet efficiently.
Step 1 - Adopt the right mindsets
While they're not necessarily the most actionable, having the right mindsets and priorities is probably what will improve your productivity the most. If your goal is to do everything yourself, plan big things that fail most of the time and work hard, you probably won't do very well.
Here's some of the biggest mind shifts I had in the last 4 years that really improved my ability to get stuff done.
Don't work hard, get stuff done.
When you have a job, you're usually paid to work a certain number of hours. While objectives do exist, they're sub par to working time. You can miss your objectives and not get fired, but you can not not come to the office and keep your job.
When you run your own projects, it's the opposite. Nobody cares how long you're working on it. People care about the result and the profit.
Plus, if you get as much done with less time, you have more time for things like personal development, family, entertainment and overall enjoying the success you've had. This in turn increases motivation and in turn increases productivity. It's a virtuous circle.
Work in small batches to avoid large scale failiure
This one is taken from one of my favourite books, the lean startup.
It tells the story of a dad and a daughter who have 100 invitations to send and the task consists in:
- fold the invitations
- put them in the enveloppe
- close the enveloppe
- stamp the enveloppe
They both took a different route. The daughter decided to work in batches, the dad decided to do them one by one.
Reason dictates that daughter must have gotten her 100 done faster because she was more efficient.
Yet when it came to practice, they realised the invite was not fitting in the envelope. How many invites did the dad fold to figure that out ? one, how many invites did the daughter fold to figure that out ? 100.
That's why before planning big scaled campaigns, you should always run the process on a small scale and figure out what the roadblocks are.
When struggling, get back to the why
While it's easy to be motivated while chilling out and reading this blog post, it's not so easy when you are struggling with a task, when you can't solve a problem or just when you have to deal with a long tedious task.
Often times, your mind will get off and you will open a facebook tab, check the news, start chatting with someone as Described by Pat Flynn.
When I asked the Asian Efficiency guys how to deal with that, they told me : have a way to remember why you're doing what you're doing and get back to your initial drive for the bigger picture
How to get back to the why:
Build yourself a Vision board with all the things you want to attract in your life through the project you're working on. When struggling, stare at the board and enjoy the motivation kick.
Outsource anything worth less than your hourly rate
Lots of marketers and entrepreneurs suffer from the "I can do it so I should do it" syndrome. I certainly have for a long time.
I can do a bit of photoshop so I was doing my images, I can do a bit of editing so I was editing my podcasts and videos, I can do a bit of tech so I was handling the technical end of our sites etc.
At the end of the day, my day was filled with tasks that could be outsourced for $10-15/h when I am able to charge $150-300/h to consult with people for their strategies.
That means that 1h of doing strategy consulting paid for an entire day of someone doing those low value tasks for me.
Today, my initial outreach is outsourced, graphics are outsourced, editing is outsourced, proof reading and editing is outsourced, hell I'm even considering outsourcing writing and simply producing mind maps of the posts then editing them and adding my personality to it.
Adopting that mindset will multiply the amount of things you can get done and essentially transform your solo operation into a viable business.
Forget multi tasking
Here's the #1 reason I love tablets and mobile: You can't multi task on them yet. It forces you to focus on one task.
Multi tasking is a myth, all your brain really does is switching from one task to the other, preventing you to produce quality output. If you want to get something done, focus on it, finish it and move on to the next thing.
How to prevent multi tasking:
A great way to prevent multi tasking is to run your browser in full screen, cut notifications and allow it to open a single tab (like I am doing as I am writing this article).
Plan long, plan often
The #1 challenge of information based jobs is not really to do stuff, we actually don't have much to do to be successful. No, the real challenge is knowing what to do. How many times have you finished a task or arrived in the morning wondering "What can I do next?"
Usually we go on and wonder on our email and start replying to people, checking social media and generally wasting a bunch of time not working towards intended goals.
How to prevent Lack of Planning:
When you're wondering what to do next, take the time to run through all the current projects, list all the remaining tasks and if necessary, plan a strategy session if most projects are coming to and end.
It's better to take an hour planning to then be 2x more productive.
Store shiny new objects for later
In this industry, new tactics, blog posts, podcasts etc come in all the time. Don't stop what you're doing to consume them. Build a system to filter and store the best ones and have an allocated time to consume them. Opportunity drowning is real and I keep seeing people running left and right to eventually end at the same spot.
Here's a suggested how to video to achieve that filtering:
Step 2 - Adapt Your Working environment
Now that we got the principles right, the first step is to get the work environment right. Did you know that simply because of back pain, US companies are losing an estimated 7.4 billion/year ? This sho
Work station setup
This one is vastly subjective as it depends on personal preferences, budget and type of work. But here's how I've setup my work station and why.
1 High Resolution Screen instead of 2-3 screens
If you remember the mindsets discussed above, multi tasking is a bad thing. That's why contrary to many people, I prefer 1 big high res screen that allows me to have several windows opened at once if needed but favour a 1 window setup to avoid distractions.
For those defending the 2 screen setup, studies have shown that productivity increases with the number of pixels available, not screens. Hence the emphasis on high res displays.
For the apple fans
For the others
Obviously a fast computer to go with that screen is a must but you can build those for under $500 nowadays if you're mostly performing simple marketing tasks.
1 Back Supporting Chair
Did you know that back pain costs 7.4 billion dollars to US companies every year ? Many of us spend top dollars in high tech gadgets yet get the cheapest office chair from office depot.
Feeling good where you're sitting is what could make the difference between 30 minutes of sustained focus and 1h30. You'll pay back for that extra $100 you threw in in just a week.
I personally opted for the Markus chair over at Ikea ($169). It's not super expensive but maintains both my back and my head whether I'm actively supporting myself or want to fall back on it.
Once again, feel free to adapt this to your budget or local stores, what's important is that your chair has lumbar support as well as head support.
Here's a real life picture of my desk and the full setup.
That's it, you really don't need more. You're better off with fewer high quality base items than a ton of gimmicks.
However, standing desks seem to be a trend right now yet they're not good for everything. Ikea just released a hybrid that I'll probably test in a few months time and report on the results.
If you can't afford all these items don't worry, just start with what you have and slowly upgrade. I didn't start with a 5k screen, far from it. Plus, I'd look around on e-bay for well preserved second hand items, you can probably cut the price in half if needed.
Here is the one true productivity killer: notifications. They're everywhere if you're doing any kind of marketing. Social media, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, Email, RSS and the list goes on.
If you're on windows, well it's not really built in so you're kind of well off but if you're on mac, use the Do not disturb function when doing focused work, otherwise, you'll get off every 5 minutes. There's an option in the notification centre for that.
Oh and if like me you have your phone on your desk, make sure to setup quiet hours so only phone calls go through. These things are distraction machines :).
Music & Entertainment
If you studies around, music can either help or distract. It depends on what you're doing. If you're trying to learn, music gets on the way.
If you need to focus on getting something done, music without lyrics that you're familiar with (i.e a short playlist you play on repeat) will help maintain the focus and bring some rhythm to what you're doing.
If you need to move fast, pick a high BPM playlist, if you need precision, something more chilled with a slower BPM will help.
Depending on what you like, I recommend trance music, lounge music or classical music.
Here are some Spotify playlists you can just subscribe to if you want:
Recommended Spotify Playlists
If the task is very boring and repetitive, you may consider re watching a tv show or movie. I.E something you know already but will keep your mind busy while executing the less brain demanding task.
Step 3 - Change The Way You Manage Your Email
Email is where money is made, it can also be an incredible time sink.
Think about it. When you pick up emails, you're basically taking someone else's demands and making them your priority. That's why you need to limit email, especially when you run autoresponders and get dozens of people reply to you every day.
Here's what it looks like for this very site on an average day:
Changing your email management system is by far the best way to make room in your life and working day. So far, the best method I've found is called inbox zero
Here is a short video explaining how to implement it:
Basically the goal is to only check email once or twice a day and empty your inbox completely before you close it. When you encounter an email, you have several possibilities:
- Delete - If you have no action to take on this email, delete or archive it.
- Delegate - If someone else needs to complete the task for this email, tag it with "delegate" and once a day, check this tag to follow up on people. I also use Yesware to bring those back to my inbox when the task is due.
- Respond - If replying takes less than 2 minutes, reply right away and get done with it.
- Defer - If it takes more than 2 minutes, tag it "deferred" and allocate time later to deal with all deferred emails.
- Do - If an action takes less than 2 minutes, get it done now and archive the email.
Keeping it short (unlike this post)
Writing emails can be incredibly time consuming. If your reply needs more than 3-5 sentences, pick up the phone and sort it out by voice. It's usually much quicker and avoids never ending time sucking back and forth.
Step 4 - Create A Trackable Task System
Now that we've cleaned up your email, you're starting to accumulate "todo's" with the defer function. Todos come from a multitude of sources and being able to process them and prioritise them is at the core of productivity.
Online todo systems can be a pain to maintain but when you get them to work, they'll multiply your productivity. Here's the setup we recommend
The #1 reason people fail at following up with task systems is because of poor task definition. As a result, you can't complete the tasks, the system gets cluttered and you get stuck.
Luckily, management guru Peter Drucker came up with a task outlining system that helps preventing this from happening. It's called the SMART task system.
Here's what it consists in:
Specific - When you read the task, can you understand EXACTLY what needs to be done ?
Measurable - Can you measure the effect the task had on your objectives ? What's the metric ?
Achievable - Can it realistically be done ?
Relevant - How is it contributing to the overall objective ?
Time Bound - When is it due ? What's the deadline ?
Example of non SMART task: Build 20 backlinks
Example of SMART Task: Obtain 20 guest post links from online marketing blogs by March 31st to improve my domain authority.
Just go through each of these questions when setting up your tasks and you should be in good shape.
Very Basic Getting Things Done
I'm not going to go through the entire methodology and I warmly recommend the book, but here's a very simple infographic on how you should consider processing incoming tasks:
Now let's look at the real life way of dealing with it and recommended tools.
There's a ton of task systems out there and all have unique features that are kind of nifty. However, I tend to recommend Wunderlist for the following reasons:
- It's free.
- It works on all platforms (ios, android, windows, osx).
- It's simple yet has all the functions needed.
- It looks great (makes it motivating to open your task system)
Step 5 - Structure Your Day
Now that we've figured out your task system, it's time to look at how you're going to go and execute. Did you know the human mind can concentrate for 90 minutes at a time maximum ? That means planning to work 3h on a project is quite unrealistic and you probably won't be very efficient.
That's why I suggest you divide your working time in 60-90 minute time periods and group your tasks per type using context (hashtags on Wunderlist) to create small batches of similar tasks across projects and get them done at once in the day.
Using your calendar
In order to plan your working time, you should use a calendar tool. I recommend Sunrise, it's beautiful, works across all platforms and plugs into Google calendar.
Then start adding time periods with different types of task throughout the day depending on your schedule, and natural ability to get stuff done at different times of the day.
If you're a morning person you may want to put focused work periods in the morning and less intensive stuff in the afternoon.
In my case, the different types of tasks are:
- Personal / Gym
- Email / Misc
- Planning / Strategy
- Personal education
- Team training & management
Now that you're setup, simply open the context you need to work in for the current time zone and get going with your tasks.
Dealing with the unexpected
Obviously, life doesn't exactly work like clockwork and there are times when you'll need to get off this well planned schedule to deal with emergencies and important tasks.
It's fine, this is merely a guide to help you get more out of your time. Feel free to cheat on it if you have to.
You know how when you go to the gym the best way to improve is to track your progress ? Well it's the same with productivity. That's why I recommend you install a free app called Rescuetime. Rescuetime will track your activities and classify them as productive or not.
You will then gain access to beautifully laid out reports on where you spend the most time and an overall productivity score for the day. Here's a screenshot of mine the other day:
Once tracking is installed, I suggest you try different day layouts and challenge yourself to improve your overall productivity score.
Obviously, you want to go for something you can maintain as well. There's no point getting a lot done in 2 days and then needing a week to recover.
Step 6 - Work With Others
This entire post has been about working alone and improving your own productivity but greatness is achieved in teams.
I don't have time to go crazy on team productivity and it may be its own post someday but I suggest you set your team up on Asana (free for up to 15 people) and use the same todo methodology over there as described on Wunderlist. I like Asana because:
- It's free
- It works across all platforms
- It allows sub tasks
- It's action based, not discussion based
- You can setup sub tasks
Ongoing system maintenance tasks
This is it ! A "simple" productivity system designed for marketers and information workers. However, as you can imagine, a system like that doesn't always flow perfectly.
There are tasks you will never finish, there are plans that change and we reshuffle things regularly.
It means that you should "update" your system regularly based on these or your task list will become irrelevant and cumbersome.
I suggest you revise your task list after every planning sessions as well as at the end/beginning of the week.
One thing that's starting to work well for Mark and I is to check on each other's todo's in order to stay accountable as well. Try it out ! Find a buddy and share your respecting task lists.
What do other online marketers say about productivity ?
Keep your meetings and action plans as simple as possible. When Spencer and I plan out our week, we have one phone call and come up with a list of 5 or so super-actionable things to take care of. That's it.
That's the extent of our action plan. To me, an hour spent rearranging tasks in Asana is an hour wasted. I do the same with my writers, but on a daily basis instead of weekly; each day, we take 15 minutes to hammer out what needs to be done.
Then they go do it. I've trained them, and I trust them. I just answer questions, provide feedback, troubleshoot, encourage and check the work. It's always seemed much easier than managing workflows in some fancy productivity software. Nothing will ever beat a 5-point bullet list.
Productivity is all about focus and management. It might sound simple enough or even stupid, but that's what it all really comes down to... Look at it like this...
How many projects are you working on that make the majority of your money (or bring results)?
It's probably only one or two sites (or campaigns)...
Yet we still find ourselves trying to find new ways to make money online. A good example of this would be to hear how someone is making money with mobile or social media, then stopping our efforts on what's working best for us and trying to start something new.
Not only are you starting something new to spread yourself even thinner, but you are now taking away your efforts from what's already working for you. Throw in time management and this can be seen even clearer.
Want to get more done in the day and see how much you are wasting time?... Track how many time you check and use social media throughout the week and you will be surprised at how much time was accumulated and potentially wasted throughout the week -- then multiply it by 52 weeks!
If you're interested in learning more about productivity, I suggest you check some of the blogs bellow!
Let me know in the comments bellow if you have any question about the topics talked about in this post!