To-do lists that only grow longer, not shorter. Unpredictable travel (when travel was allowed). Available 24/7/365 and rarely disconnected. Involved in all the initiatives for all the departments and present at every committee. This makes it easy to imagine why marketers, especially those of us who manage trade shows and events, consistently feel “stretched too thin”’; always 20% here, 30% there, and 50% everywhere else. This doesn’t make us not love marketing or our job. In fact, it’s probably why some of us are drawn to marketing in the first place. I personally like chaos and solving problems. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do a better job of managing my own time.
Here are my top tips on how to be in charge of your own time, when you wear many marketing hats:
Make to-do lists.
Yeah, yeah, yeah… It seems silly to start off with such a cliché “tip” but maybe we do it differently? My list is just a forever long list (sometimes many pages) of things that need done; some today, some next week, some next quarter. But if they don’t go on that list—it’s lost from my mind forever. So, from my master to-do list, I pick 3-5 things that must be done that day and then nothing else gets done until those 3-5 things are complete. Only after that do I start to tackle tasks from my inbox or other items from my master list. Obviously, there are exceptions in our line of business, so strive for progress-not perfection.
Block your own work time.
Again, this probably seems like common advice but maybe you’re due for a reminder… If you’re not controlling the time on your calendar, then someone else will. Make meetings with yourself to complete your work, then be diligent in protecting your time. If you’re on deadline but don’t block work time for yourself, then you can’t be mad at someone else for “needing” you to join their half day meeting and stealing your time. Sure, you can say “no” but be proactive about protecting this valuable and limited resource.
Close your inbox, social, instant messaging, etc.
I don’t mean all the time, but if you’re working on a project and looking to carve out a few hours of uninterrupted time of your day, don’t waste any of that time on distractions such as your inbox, social media, instant messaging, or project management tool that pings your brain constantly. Close it all down. The world won’t crumble. Everyone will survive. Tell the important people in your work life (your manager, your direct reports, people you’re working on an immediate project with, etc.) that you’re “checking out” for a few hours to focus on something important and if they need you for an emergency to text you or come to your space directly.
“No” is a complete sentence.
I’m a people pleaser. I think many of us in marketing are people pleasers by nature. We want to solve problems, we want our ideas and words to resonate with someone so much that they take action, we want our events to go so well that we’re barely noticed. We like to sit back and watch all the pieces fall together and our colleagues do their part, content in the knowledge that we’ve organized everything that’s happening. BUT, being a people pleaser also means we likely say “no” far too infrequently. Or if we do say “no”, we feel a need to justify and add explanations as to why we’re saying “no”. There’s a connotation that saying “no” means we are disappointing someone. But this is not true. NO is a complete sentence—it’s not rude, and it does take practice. Don’t let the awkwardness of the first few times you say “no” without justification deter you from continuing to say it. Protect your time. Say “no” more.
If we don’t say “no” to people, then saying “yes” loses it’s meaning.
If we don’t say “no” to people, then we are letting our “yes” to other people monopolize our time.
Are you saying “yes” because you want to do The Thing, or because you don’t want to disappoint?
As we have covered in the “to-do list” section… there’s plenty. The pile of "Very Important Things" doesn’t seem to shrink… but don’t get caught up in the everyday mundane and forget there are trends to witness, industry changes to keep current on, benchmark data to document, and don’t get me started on keeping up with competitors. This information doesn’t just appear—you need to go hunting! If you’re looking for an area where you can cut corners, this is not it. Be diligent and thorough on this task--you will be a better marketer for it.
Invest in yourself.
If you ask any financial advisor their most important advice, they’ll tell you to “pay yourself first” aka invest in yourself. If you pay yourself last, you may never do it.
I know that mantra may not be EXACTLY possible in business, but it should still find a place in your overall personal development. You should not invest in yourself last! You should be your number one advocate, your number one fan. So, take that class, register for that conference, get that certification, or buy that book. Invest in yourself!
All of this to say, it’s easy to feel overworked, overwhelmed, undervalued, and stretched too thin. But recognize that your time is a precious and valuable resource. Grasp control of your time and take some of these small measures to regain some sanity. You’ll become more effective at getting back on track and reaching your audience.