You can find dozens of really good applications, books, and blogs on how to simplify your work, become more productive, and manage your time. Much of this advice is good, but it doesn’t cover how to manage the deluge of “tasks” that come along with social media and creating content: e.g. responding to invite requests, direct messages, answering blog comments, publicizing content, reading blogs, following people, monitoring online reviews, etc.
If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed – and many of the content marketers I talk to are (big time!) – the solution isn’t “manage your time better.” Instead, it’s about changing how you work in response to how your job has changed.
I know, because things came to a head for me a few months ago. I was dropping too many balls as the number of tasks for which I was responsible had snowballed.
Instead of running to yet another time management book or tool, I began to look at how I work, what was causing problems, and finding ways to reduce or eliminate them. Here’s the process I used that any marketer can use, too, whether you’re a consultant, freelancer or corporate marketer.
1. Keep track of your work flow
Keep this step simple – otherwise, you won’t do it. Keep a sheet of paper next to you and note the following for three to five days (just take notes – don’t try and “fix” anything yet):
- How long “typical” tasks take
- If you get interrupted or distracted – and why
- If you spend time looking for “lost” details or documents
- Whatever else is specific to your situation
2. Determine your bottlenecks
As you keep track of your workflow, note what causes you to lose time or get bogged down. This can be anything from looking for “lost” information in email or a file folder to having to deal with a computer glitch. A few things you can look at include:
- Tasks – When you agree to do a task, how do you record it and where? How do you ensure it gets done?
- Documents – When someone sends you a document via email, how do you deal with it? Do you download and file it immediately or do you let it sit in your overflowing inbox – or worse, delete it by accident?
- Follow-up – When you need to follow up on a task or project, how do you remember to do this? Do you keep a running list in your head or do you keep sticky notes everywhere? What’s your system for dealing with information that comes via social media, postal mail or even fax?
- Passwords – If you’re like me, you’re awash in passwords. Not only do I have my own passwords, but I have my clients’ as well. Managing them has been a nightmare.
In addition, consider your emotional state as you deal with these things. What makes you feel overwhelmed: Too much email? Too many tasks? Too many demands at once? Brainstorm ways to eliminate or change what makes you feel bad.
3. Design your own system and processes
By doing the above exercise, I learned three very important things about my workflow: almost everything takes longer than I think it does; almost everything I do is task-based, not project-based; and I spend a lot of time looking for stuff because I’m disorganized.
After thinking about how I work, I set about making changes. I share the following to show that the best system is designed around you – not someone else. Here’s what I did:
Switched software applications – Once I realized that I manage dozens of tasks every week, I changed from Basecamp, a project management system, to Highrise (both made by 37Signals). Highrise is marketed as a CRM app, but it has this really cool functionality that lets you manage tasks by client (or “contact”) and by due date. I customized it to how I work and now I know when I need to make follow-up phone calls or emails and when a task is due. I now see my task list by day and by week, which helps me stay focused.
Created a custom whiteboard – I found myself wanting to write out all of my clients and their ongoing tasks on a piece of paper so that I could see “the big picture” – but I couldn’t erase things or easily update the list. My solution was to paint a huge whiteboard on my office wall using IdeaPaint (a cool new product). Now I can see all of my clients and the tasks associated with each one. And, it gives me a place to write down ideas as they occur.
Minimized my overflowing inbox – I filter all of my email through Gmail and the new Priority Inbox feature is the best thing Google has ever designed. Now I see only important (priority) mail at the top. The rest gets filtered down in the “general” inbox; my virtual assistant deletes 99% of it so that I don’t have to deal with it.
Retrained myself – My biggest problem with my workflow was that I lost information – in email, in file folders and in piles on my desk. I’ve had to train myself to deal with stuff as it arrives versus letting it pile up. This has been a work in progress; I’m nowhere near perfect but I am much better.
I started this process because I was tired of feeling anxious around getting everything done, and while change didn’t happen over night, it did happen. I feel much more in control and less panicky. The trick, I know now, is to design your own system that works for you.
Do you have tips or strategies you’ve used to manage your content marketing tasks or to minimize overwhelm? Please share them.