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Don’t Let the Toddler Trap Torpedo Your Content Productivity

Toddlers examine one thing for a few seconds, then something else catches their eye, then they quickly move on to something else, ultimately leaving in their wake a trail of orphaned blocks, half-eaten strawberries, and half-dressed dolls.

If you’re not careful, your content process can act like those toddlers and your content team could be tripping over projects like a sleep-deprived parent stepping on Legos in the dark at 2 a.m.

Let me show you what I mean.

Your team is working on a series of planned blog posts.

Your email chirps.

Your company is launching a new product and needs a new web page NOW. What!? They forgot to tell you earlier the announcement goes out today. You put some content team members on it.

Your chat pings.

The events team received a value-added benefit for a sponsorship. They need digital banners for the event website and a landing page to send them to. You put some people on it.

Your phone rings.

The head of marketing informs you a competitor is in the news – and not in a good way. He wants to use the opportunity to publish countering pieces about your brand in a jump-in-your-DeLorean-and-do-it-yesterday fast manner. You put some people on it.


Where’s your grand content marketing strategy now? It’s the unassembled blocks that you dropped for a mid-afternoon snack, which you dropped to change a doll’s clothes, which you dropped to pick up a picture book. You have a good team and good leadership, but toddler tendencies sneak in.

And that’s a problem because some of those projects will spoil if not finished in a timely manner. You may miss a market opportunity or fumble your seasonality cycle or cede business to a competitor. But these traps can be avoided. Here’s how.

Avoid the toddler traps that disrupt your #contentmarketing programs, says @halwerner. Click To Tweet

1. Have documented goals and guiding principles

Repeat them ad nauseum. Often the nexus of impromptu marketing has to do with a lack of focus or a lack of discipline. Having your content marketing goals and principles documented should guide decisions about which projects to take on.

Documenting #contentmarketing goals & principles should guide decisions about which projects to take on. @halwerner Click To Tweet

Paint them on the wall. Stick them to everyone’s cubes. Having them in front of employees keeps them top of mind even if it may seem like overkill.

The better a project matches your documented goals, the greater a chance it has to get on the schedule. With many projects in the pipeline, it is easier to prioritize the stuff you’re going to do when you have documented goals.

2. Formalize what must drop to pick up new work

Most teams or departments have a limited number of people and bandwidth. Even outsourcing work takes internal resources. Helping others understand the impact of picking up a new project can help ensure that priorities aren’t ignored for shinier objects – unless those objects help the content marketing strategy’s success even more.

To do this formally, document major content projects and relevant details, then work with leaders to prioritize them.

Every team is different, but these are common prioritization criteria:

  • Predicted impact – How many sales, subscriptions, or leads will this generate?
  • Level of effort – What kind of time and internal resources will this take?
  • Cost – How much will external resources, like video post-production or web development for interactive content, cost?
  • Dependencies – What other things must happen to allow this initiative? Does it make sense to start working on it if dependencies are still incomplete?
#Content project priority criteria include: impact, level of effort, cost, dependencies, says @halwerner. Click To Tweet

Having this type of information for each project adds clarity and makes it far easier for stakeholders to evaluate and prioritize. Projects with high impact and low effort likely should be top priorities. Projects with high effort and low impact might not stay on the list at all. Or you evaluate a project that looked promising only to uncover that it hinges on a dependency that may not get resolved.

Let’s say your content team has the capacity to handle and is working on three major content projects to complete by the end of the quarter. A product marketing manager requests a fourth project requiring significant effort.  Armed with documented goals, guidelines, and project priorities, the head of marketing can now decide if the newly requested project is worth postponing progress on an existing project.

3. Ruthlessly apply the 80/20 rule

Focus on the things that give you the most bang.

Following the 80/20 rule (Pareto) principle, roughly 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. Or 80% of your traffic, leads, etc., comes from 20% of your content. If you figure out what that hyper-effective content looks like, you can spend more time creating and promoting it for dramatically greater results. For example, if your content team covers five topics, which one yields the most conversions? Expand your tactics on that topic.

Successfully implementing the 80/20 rule enables you to concentrate and maximize your effort and budget not only on content creation but on distribution and promotion as well. Knowing (and documenting) what works best also enables you to better prioritize (or reject) new projects.

4. Communicate a clear picture of realistic bandwidth

To avoid frustration, leadership and requesting teams must understand how much your team can produce in a given time. On average, people underestimate how long it will take to complete a task or project by about 30%, according to a study. And that research evaluated people estimating their own work.

People underestimate how long they’ll take to complete a task by about 30%. Read more>> Click To Tweet

Not sure what’s a realistic time frame for a content marketing task or project? You can use one of these methods.

Day averaging method

This method is less accurate but far less work to calculate. It also is a good option until you have enough data to do the timesheet method discussed next. Evaluate completed projects – pick a reasonable time span to assess (the longer the time analyzed, the more accurate the averaging will be).

  • Find the start dates and end dates for every project.
  • Calculate the days between project start and completion.
  • Categorize each project based on your team’s focus. For example, if the team focuses on content production, your categories could be the types of tactics. If the team does end-to-end initiatives, categories could include project types like new product launch, seasonal campaign, newsletter cycle, etc.

Let’s say you identify that three type A projects and six type B projects were completed in the past three months.

Type A project average: 18 days + 26 days + 31 days)/3 projects = 25 days

Type B project average: 3 days + 14 days + 6 days + 11 days + 8 days + 4 days/6 projects = 7.67 days

It’s far from perfect, as there are a ton of confounding factors hidden in the vague time frames. But for most teams, it will be better than nothing. And when you’re ready, you can graduate to the timesheet method.

Timesheet method

If you track team members’ time for projects, this method works well. If you don’t, consider doing it for at least a limited time to get a baseline assessment. Track at least 30-minute increments (preferably 15 minutes).

You can use printed timesheets (though assembling data takes more time) or create shared spreadsheets in tools like Google Sheets with standardized job codes and formulas to add up hours more easily. Project management and time-tracking software also are available.

As you set up the time-tracking process, identify project and functions (e.g., strategy, editorial planning, writing, editing, design, development) so team members can track correctly.

The calculations are the same as used in the averaging method except, instead of days, minutes are assessed. By tracking time, you can understand not only how much time the project type took but how long each function took.

Average infographic time:

23 hours (project 1) + 15 hours (project 2) + 12.5 hours (project 3) + 16.5 hours (project 4) + 18 hours (project 5) / 5 projects = 17.2 hours per infographic

Average function time for infographic:

Editorial planning: 2 hours + 1 hour + 2 hours + 3 hours + 2 hours / 5 projects = 2 hours per project

Topic research: 4 hours + 1 hour + 2 hours + 1 hour + 2 hours / 5 projects = 2 hours per project

Copywriting: 5 hours + 4 hours + 2 hours + 5 hours + 4 hours / 5 projects = 4 hours per project

Design: 10 hours + 8 hours + 6 hours + 7 hours + 9 hours / 5 projects = 8 hours per project

Content entry: 2 hours + 1 hour + 0.5 hours + 0.5 hours + 1 hour / 5 projects = 1 hour per project

Build the schedule

The next step is to build in dependencies and order of tasks. In this example (for the timesheet example for infographics), most tasks depend on others, but two (topic research and copywriting) typically can happen concurrently. Now, this chart looks more like this.

The chart represents a data-based estimate of how long this type of project should take in a perfect world with no other projects assigned.

The next step is to map multiple projects against actual resources, not just resource types. I’ll keep it simple for the sake of this example. In this chart, an infographic is represented by orange and a sponsored social post is represented in blue.

If these were the only two projects, both should be done by the end of Day 2. I suggest building in a few hours of spillover in case you encounter snags in a project. The sponsored social post still would be done by Day 2, but the infographic would go to Day 3.

You can see potential bottlenecks early in the projects around editorial planning and copywriting. Since each of these functions is a single point of failure, if either is overloaded, it can create a domino effect of delays. By having this chart, you can identify solutions to avoid those fatal bottlenecks.

Remember non-function time. Not all available hours are created equal. Ever met a content professional who never goes to a meeting? Me neither. Do your best to get an idea of how many actual project-focused hours each of your team members has in an average week. It can’t be 100%.

Once you have your benchmarks, don’t forget to share them before projects get kicked off. Let requestors know what they should expect as soon as you can offer them a reasonable estimate. Don’t be overly optimistic.

Will your project management grow up?

By setting up a solid routine and process, those shiny objects, noisy notifications, and loud demands won’t be so distracting. If your content team and leadership identify the goals, set the priorities, focus on what’s important, and communicate clear expectations, your content marketing program will be a full-fledged grown-up ready to deal with whatever challenge arises.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute