What do Harvard University’s endowment, the Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan, and health insurance company Humana, Inc., have in common?
They’re all worth approximately $37 billion – which is also roughly how much unnecessary meetings cost the United States economy every single year in wasted productivity.
Although some meetings are crucially important, many are not. Despite this, we still spend between 35-50% of our time in meetings (and even more if you’re in senior management), sitting around nodding awkwardly at something that could have been better summarized in a short email.
While you may not be able to completely eradicate meetings and other time-sucks from your professional life, there are plenty of things you can do to save precious time, increase productivity, and generally get more done.
However, what might be the most revelatory time-management tip to one person may be completely useless to another. That’s why we’ve segmented this list of time management tips into sections by category. So, whether you’re a PPC marketer or a social media specialist, you’ll find plenty of ways to save time and be more productive.
Every week, be sure to carve out a specific time slot that is completely meeting-free. It could be first thing on a Monday morning, or late on a Friday afternoon.
Whichever day and time you choose, make sure that everyone on your team knows that you’re unavailable for meetings during that time period. This will help you get more accomplished without dreaded meetings looming over you. Speaking of meetings…
When you do have to schedule a meeting, it’s tempting to simply book a conference room for 30 minutes or an hour and invite everyone on the team. While this is sometimes necessary, most meetings can actually be wrapped up much faster – especially if everyone involved is either standing or walking.
Image via NPR
Standing and walking meetings encourage brevity, and can help everyone stay focused on the top-priority topics that require urgent attention before getting back to work. Plus, walking can be great for improving concentration and getting some steps in throughout the day!
As we mentioned earlier, one of the biggest time-wasters in the modern workplace is useless or unnecessary meetings. However, when a meeting absolutely has to happen, make sure everyone’s on the same page by sending an email to all attendees requesting a summary of what is hoped to be accomplished by the end of the meeting and a clearly defined objective. This not only helps reduce time wasting by catching everyone up, but also ensures that once the clearly defined objective has been accomplished, everyone can get back to work.
The best managers and executives are those who are open and available to their staff. WordStream’s CEO, Ralph Folz, takes great pride in being on a first-name basis with every WordStream employee (not to mention actually remembering all those names in the first place). However, one potential downside to this attitude is the temptation to intervene in any and all problems whenever someone comes to you for help or input. If this sounds familiar, consider trying out an open/closed office door policy.
Let your staff and direct reports know that if your office door is open, it’s totally fine for them to come in and ask questions or seek input. If the door is closed, this means you need to be left alone to get stuff done. This also eliminates the need for emails or instant messages inquiring about your immediate availability.
“If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” is an adage that will be familiar to most managers. Whether through a tendency to micromanage or a lack of competent staff, many managers have likely experienced strenuous workloads or genuine burnout by taking on too much work.
If things start to pile up, recognize when to delegate tasks to others. Not only is this important for both your staff’s professional development and sense of engagement at work, it also frees up precious time that you could spend doing other things. It’s tempting to do things yourself to make sure they’re done to the proper standard, but learn to recognize when this approach becomes problematic.
It’s often said that PPC is a marathon, not a sprint, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of work to do when optimizing multiple PPC campaigns. If you’re not already, consider learning automation techniques to take some of the more tedious work off your plate and save time.
AdWords scripts and other tools can automate many of the routine tasks you perform in your own or client accounts on a daily basis. You don’t need to be a Computer Science graduate to get started with scripting in AdWords, and it can make an immense difference.
This tip might not seem like a traditional time-saving tip at first glance, but one of the biggest time-sucks in PPC is trudging through a poorly structured account. It’s far easier – and faster – to optimize a well-structured PPC account on a regular basis (a PPC best practice) than it is working with a PPC account that looks like it was set up by your six-year-old-nephew.
Although there are several ways to structure an AdWords account depending on its objective, the figure above is an optimal way to structure a PPC account for maximum efficiency and relevance. It might seem like a lot of work to make these changes to an existing account, but as the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
I’m a big fan of notebooks. I carry a notebook and pen almost everywhere I go, and while I greatly benefit from the tactile experience of writing something down (which can also make memorization more effective), I also use a wide range of free, web-based software tools to help me get stuff done.
There are dozens of free software tools available to PPC professionals. Obviously, we’re quite partial to our own range of free tools, such as the AdWords Performance Grader, but there are plenty of other tools that can make your life as a PPC professional a lot easier. Check out this post on 29 of the best PPC tools, or the PPC section of our list of 99 online marketing tools, and see if any of them could save you time and effort. We’ve also shared our favorite productivity tools for marketers.
For PPC managers, reporting can be a double-edged sword; although thorough reporting can show you precisely what’s working (and what isn’t), it also presents the opportunity to completely overwhelm you with data you don’t need – not to mention the time it takes to actually produce the reports in the first place.
If you haven’t already, try scheduling reports in AdWords to save you some time. These reports can be customized to report on the criteria and metrics you specify, and sent directly to your inbox at a frequency that works for you. Granted, these reports may not be as exhaustive as those you might show a client, for example, but they’re a great way to get a quick look at the metrics that matter to you before diving deeper into the data you actually need.
No blog post will ever be perfect. We can – and should – strive to produce the very best content we can every single time, but sometimes the temptation to edit and rework a content project endlessly is way more of a time-suck than its worth.
Know when to move on to the next post or project. Resist the temptation to tweak every single sentence until it’s “perfect,” and learn to recognize when a project meets your blog’s editorial standards – then get started on the next post.
I’ve talked about using outlines before (in this post about how to write a blog post), but it’s worth repeating.
Writing blog posts according to even the roughest outline can save you tons of time in the long run. It reduces the possibility that you’ll go off on tangents in the post itself, and also lets you visualize how the finished post will read as you write it. This can be remarkably effective, particularly for longer or more complex posts. You may not always need to work to an outline, but give it a shot and see if it can help you save time and work more productively.
Since communication is the very essence of content marketing, it makes sense that sometimes, as a content creator, you need to talk to other people about content. This could include conversations with your editor or content manager about style and tone, or with potential clients about their content needs. However, when it comes to down brass tacks and you need to get some writing done, eliminate as many distractions as you can when it’s time to work.
The struggle is real.
Obviously, what constitutes a distraction to one person may be completely essential to another, such as music. I rarely listen to music when I’m writing, as I find myself better able to focus in complete silence, but I know other writers and content professionals who simply cannot work in silence, preferring the bustle and energy of coffee shops or the introspection of music in headphones.
Whatever works for you, do it – the faster you can work, the faster you can move on to the next project or wrap up your day.
At first glance, content marketing seems completely straightforward – you produce the content, publish it, then promote it, right? That’s all well and good if you’re only working on a single project at a time, but more often than not, this is a luxury we can’t afford, and we end up working on multiple projects simultaneously.
One of the best ways to save time as a content professional is to ruthlessly organize your editorial workflow. Personally, I find Trello to be immensely useful for this, as its panel-based progression-style workflow makes a lot of sense to me, and lets me see at-a-glance which projects are at what stage, i.e. research, drafting, revision etc.
I won’t insult your intelligence by saying “use scheduling or automation tools” as a tip in its own right, but I will suggest that you examine your engagement data before scheduling your social media updates.
Social media scheduling and automation apps like Hootsuite and Buffer are great, but automating when social media updates are published doesn’t automate the process of actually creating them in the first place. Even composing individual tweets takes time, and if you’re scheduling your updates without looking at when your audience is engaging with you the most, creating all those tweets and updates will be for nothing. Only create tweets and social updates for publication at times that are likely to drive higher engagement.
Although Facebook posts may appear to be more substantial than the comparatively ephemeral updates on Twitter, you don’t need to painstakingly craft impeccable masterpieces every time you tweet or update. In fact, the chances are pretty good that if you look back through your post or update history, many of your tweets and updates already share similar characteristics anyway.
With this in mind, consider building a repository of social media update templates for the channels you’re focused on (more on this momentarily). Think of these templates as the bare bones of a tweet or update. Simply leave space to fill in timely or relevant details and accompanying imagery and you’re on your way. Yes, this approach requires an initial investment of time and effort, but it might pay off big-time in the long run.
Many small businesses that aspire to a greater social media presence look to large brands as their role models, and seek to emulate the behavior they see i.e. maintaining active accounts on all the major social media networks. For many companies, this isn’t just difficult – it’s counterproductive.
Contrary to common misconception, you don’t necessarily need to be on every single social media platform, only those that are the most relevant and active for your audience. WordStream, for example, has a very active presence on Twitter, as that’s arguably the social media platform of choice for digital marketers, PPC experts, and many of our readers – but we’re not on Pinterest, simply because it isn’t relevant to our content or the needs of our audience.
Only focus your time and effort on social media channels that are delivering the results and engagement you want, and don’t waste time creating updates for channels that aren’t showing any return.
Your audience expects and deserves personal attention on social media. The potential for genuine interactions is what makes social media so compelling, after all. However, although you should be directly engaging with your followers, that doesn’t mean you can’t implement automatic updates for your brand-new content.
Tools such as IFTTT can update your social media accounts automatically when new content is added to your RSS feed, eliminating the need to create and publish updates entirely. There are also dozens of plugins and extensions for platforms such as WordPress, too. That said, don’t get too lazy and automate everything – your audience wants to interact with a human, not a faceless robot.
When your manager gives you a new project, ask for an estimate of how long they expect the project to take. This can help you prioritize more time-sensitive tasks over those you have longer to complete. This also allows you to gauge whether you’ll need additional help to get it done on time, and can also help you identify potential bottlenecks that might push a project past its deadline.
Image via ux.stackexchange.com
If a project is taking you way more time than expected, ask your manager if it’s still worth the effort – this can help you avoid “throwing good time after bad.”
Tackling brand-new projects that you’ve never worked on before can be exciting and great for professional development, but sometimes, these kinds of projects are the very worst time-sucks.
Image via/copyright Getty Images
If you’re asked to do something that’s outside the typical range of your expertise, consider outsourcing the work to a contractor. Discuss this possibility with your manager if you’re feeling overwhelmed or anticipate that a project will take too much time to complete yourself.
It’s important to stay in close contact with your colleagues, especially in distributed teams or when working on complex projects. That said, it’s sometimes worthwhile to close your email and instant messaging applications for a while to get some uninterrupted time to focus on the task at hand. If you’re thinking about doing this, just be sure that everyone involved in your project is aware of your plan ahead of time, and that you can still be reached in the event of a mission-critical emergency.
Ever sent a colleague a simple email with a quick question, only to wait an entire workday for a response? Waiting for an email response can waste precious time, so if email or instant messaging isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to catch up with the person face-to-face. Oftentimes, you can accomplish more during a short in-person conversation than a lengthy email chain.
By this, I don’t mean set aside time to look at Internet memes. WordStream’s founder Larry Kim is renowned for hunting “unicorns” – projects, techniques, and methodologies that yield incredible results, or opportunities that most marketers fail to see, let alone capitalize upon.
Unicorns – make time for them.
Sometimes unicorn projects can present themselves unexpectedly, so don’t be afraid to reprioritize those projects over stuff you’ve already got on your plate for the time being – focusing on a unicorn project may have far better results than several lesser projects, making the unicorn project a much better use of your time.
Sometimes even the most productive day can be derailed by an unexpected bottleneck. To avoid spending too long on certain projects, make a note of how long your work tasks take to complete on a regular basis. This will allow you to identify potential time-sucks before they creep insidiously into your everyday workflow, as well as help you inform your manager of potential obstacles to your productivity.
This might sound counterproductive, but taking regular breaks throughout the day can actually boost your concentration. Be sure to take at least a 20-minute break every four hours or so, and try to get up from your desk and move around during your break.
Working hard, or hardly working?
The Pomodoro Technique can also be very useful. Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, the Pomodoro Technique is a time-management strategy in which you work for a focused period of time (usually 25 minutes) before taking a short break. The amount of work you complete in each “Pomodoro” (the Italian word for “tomato”, a reference to the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used as a college student when devising his technique) determines how long your breaks should be. You can read more about the Pomodoro Technique on Cirillo’s official website.
Alternatively, if you’re really struggling with a project or task, consider taking a break from it overnight, working on something else in the meantime, and starting again the next day with fresh eyes and an invigorated attitude!
If you’ve got a lot of stuff going on simultaneously, consider planning your workday ahead of time. On Sunday night, for example, you could try putting together a list of tasks you have to complete the next day. That way, you already know exactly what you have to get done, and can effectively prioritize tasks based on how long they’ll take or whether additional help from colleagues is necessary. Try not to plan your day too precisely, though – it’s important to have enough flexibility to tackle important projects as they emerge.
Perhaps the most insidious threat to your productivity is that amazingly powerful mobile device in your pocket. Smartphones have revolutionized how we do pretty much everything – including goofing off. If you’re the type of person who’s always glued to Twitter on their phone (I’m looking at you, Larry), try not just switching it to Airplane Mode or turning it off, but actually physically putting it away for short periods of time. Relax – the world won’t end if you don’t have your phone on you, and you might actually find yourself getting more done.
You don’t need to be sitting at your desk to be productive. It’s never been easier to keep up with work when you’re out and about, and there are literally dozens of opportunities throughout the day to get little tasks out of the way while you go about your day.
Stuck waiting behind someone writing a check for a pack of breath mints at the supermarket? Catch up on a couple of emails. Need to finish writing a document before work? Take a taxi or an Uber rather than driving to the office.
Similarly, “batching” smaller, shorter tasks such as answering email can be a great way to get more done and save valuable time. When you do identify a potential opportunity to catch up on some work, try working on batches of small, related tasks and see if it helps you focus during these shorter periods of productivity.
Dealing with email is a constant struggle that almost everyone can relate to. However, there’s one little trick that I use to help me cope that I cribbed from the Getting Things Done productivity system by David Allen, which is the “3-Minute Rule.”
Basically, if you can deal with a request by email in three minutes or less, do it immediately, without question. If it’s going to take longer than three minutes, leave it for dedicated email time later. After a while, this becomes almost like muscle memory – you’ll find yourself quickly identifying whether an email is a brief distraction or a major headache, and act accordingly. You’ll be amazed by what a difference this approach can make.
Originally from the U.K., Dan Shewan is a journalist and web content specialist who now lives and writes in New England. Dan’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications in print and online, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Pacific Standard magazine, The Independent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other outlets.
See other posts by Dan Shewan
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