Ideas are easy, but execution is tough.
Can you relate? Do you have lots of ideas but aren’t sure which ones to pursue? Or maybe you start working on something, but then a new idea comes along that piques your interest. You jump to that one and then struggle to bring either project to completion.
Ninety-two percent of successful B2B marketers value the craft of creativity (compared to 74% of the overall sample of B2B marketers), but how do you move from ideas to execution when you’re feeling overwhelmed and your to-do list is overflowing?92% of successful B2B marketers value the craft of creativity, compared to 74% of overall sample. @cmicontent Click To Tweet
While, of course you need to have a laser focus on your content marketing mission, goals, and audience, how are you going to make the time — and find the mental space — to get the work done?
This post includes tools, tips, and ideas you can start using today to gain control of your ideas and make time to create something meaningful.
There are four main steps you need to take in this specific order:
- Make a list of all of your ideas.
- Delete ideas that are no longer meaningful to you.
- Prioritize your ideas.
- Remove distractions so you can truly focus.
How to Train Your Brain for Content Marketing Greatness
Make a list of all your ideas
While ideas are essential for great content, addressing too many at once can be paralyzing. Think of all of the new ideas showing up in our inboxes and in our meetings.
And, as the idea list grows, it becomes increasingly tough to focus. We start to think about one idea, and then jump to another. And then we don’t want to give up any ideas that we have thought about because of the time we’ve invested — and the promise of what could be. Jessica Abel (who I recommend you follow if you are interested in your creative practice) calls this idea debt:
Idea debt is when you spend too much time picturing what a project is going to be like, too much time thinking about how awesome it will be to have this thing done and in the world, too much time imagining how cool you will look, how in demand you’ll be, how much money you’ll make. And way too little time actually making the thing.
How do you get past this cycle of idea debt? Start by centralizing all of your ideas in one place.#Content execution tip: Centralize all of your ideas in one place, says @MicheleLinn. Click To Tweet
There are a lot of ways to do this — starting with a simple notebook or spreadsheet — but I’m personally a fan of Trello. Not only can you list all of your ideas, but you can add notes to each one as you think about them in more detail — and then prioritize them with ease.
Delete ideas that are no longer meaningful to you
Once all of your ideas are listed in one place, you need to decide what to remove.
While I am far from a pack rat when it comes to stuff, I sometimes have trouble getting rid of ideas because I think “There could be something there,” or “I might as well finish what I started.”
But, I recently took my own advice and spent time truly going through all of the ideas I had listed and getting rid of A LOT. Some good reasons for shedding an idea:
- Is this idea a duplicate — something similar to what we’ve already done?
- Could this idea be combined with a similar idea?
- Did the idea excite you at one time, but no longer “sparks joy”?
One of the thoughts that helped me let go of a lot of ideas came from Arianna Huffington, in her book, Thrive:
I did a major ‘life audit’ when I turned 40, and I realized how many projects I had committed to in my head — such as learning German and becoming a good skier and learning to cook. Most remained unfinished, and many were not even started. Yet these countless incomplete projects drained my energy and diffused my attention. As soon as the file was opened, each one took a little bit of me away. It was very liberating to realize that I could ‘complete’ a project by simply dropping it — by eliminating it from my to-do list. Why carry around this unnecessary baggage? That’s how I completed learning German and becoming a good skier and learning to cook and a host of other projects that now no longer have a claim on my attention.
Prioritize your ideas
Next, it’s time to review what’s still on the list and decide what you want to tackle next. As mentioned, everything you do needs to support your content marketing mission, goals, and audience. If they don’t do this, they need to come off the list — unless they can be reframed in a way that would support these key tenets. Of course, a documented content marketing strategy helps keep you focused.If your ideas don’t support your #contentmarketing goals, they need to come off the list says @MicheleLinn. Click To Tweet
Here are a couple reasons for prioritizing an idea:
- Does this fill a gap in our editorial?
- Is this something I am passionate about and can write with enthusiasm?
I ended up with a few lists when I was finished:
- Ideas to tackle quickly
- Ideas I want to keep on the radar but not yet invest time in
- Ideas to evaluate (this is where I put new ideas so they can later be evaluated)
- Ideas I’m archiving “just in case” (But, honestly, I don’t see myself coming back to these.)
What Should Your Content Marketing Priorities Be in 2016?
Remove distractions so you can truly focus
Now it’s time to create! Oh, this is so much easier said than done — and so much has been written about how to do it. But, here are some of my favorite ways to make time and actually create.
Choose five things
A couple of people on the CMI team told me they spend a bit of time at the end of each day choosing five things they want to accomplish the following day (not coincidentally, this article was on my list of five things for today). There is no one right way to do this; find what works for your system.
Clare McDermott uses a system called the Emergent Task Planner. Cathy McPhillips evaluates her to-do list at the end of each work day and chooses three to five things she wants to accomplish first the next day. She jots these down on a sticky note she puts on the cover of her planner. The next day, she won’t start on anything new until her list is complete. I use Trello for my to-do list and recently added a column called “5 Things for Today” to which I simply drag the tasks on which I want to focus.At the end of each day choose five things to accomplish the following day says @MicheleLinn. Click To Tweet
A few notes about choosing your five things:
- Make the tasks specific. For instance, one of my tasks today is to write a solid draft of this article, while another one was to get to a certain point with another project that doesn’t have a finite end date.
- Be realistic. If you know your day is full of meetings or other commitments, choose five things that are very doable. Or, if you know you can’t do five things, prioritize a few things you know you can do.
The Pomodoro technique is a widely used method of focusing chunks of time throughout the day. You turn off all distractions (email, phone notifications, IM — everything) and work on a dedicated task for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, then repeat. (It’s what I’m using right now so I can complete this article.)
This is a great visual of the Pomodoro technique from Chris Bailey:
If you want to take this method even further, I highly recommend this article from Chris Winfield: How to Work 40 Hours in 16.7.
Get into a routine
If you are trying to make headway on a specific project — or if you simply want more time to create — make it part of your daily schedule. It’s a simple (yet not-so-simple) way of making something a habit.
If you don’t think you have any time to add one more thing, consider this simple concept called 100 blocks. The premise is that each of us has approximately 100 10-minute blocks in our day, which is 16.67 waking hours (you can add or subtract depending on how much you sleep). Once you start looking at your day in these 10-minute chunks, opportunities arise, as it’s so easy to whittle away 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there. Chances are, if creating something is important to you, you’ll likely be about to find three blocks in your day.
Use technology to turn off distractions
If you need some reinforcements to stay on track, many apps and programs can help. Some disable websites where you find yourself wasting time, while others track your time so you can truly see where it’s going. I like the recommendations from this article by Stephen Altrogge: 14 Tools to Help You Avoid Distractions and Stay Focused at Work. And, this quote stuck with me as well — and I hope it helps you, too:
Researcher Matt Killingsworth found that distractions actually make us less happy. Those who are able to give their focus to one thing at a time are much more satisfied with life. Distractions are destructive.
Yes! Having that time to focus on something creative truly makes me more satisfied and excited about my job. So choose a project (even if it’s small), turn off all distractions, and get to work.
Over to you: Does this seem doable or just one more thing to do? What tips do you have to accomplish meaningful work?
Why not make reading the tips, insights, and trends from experts in CMI’s newsletter one of your five things to do? It will be nice to check it off your list without consuming too much time and you’ll learn something at the same time. Subscribe today.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute