I hardly know a Product Marketing Manager who isn’t overwhelmed by his or her workload. As I’ve written previously, this is at least in part because of the vast number of activities that PMMs “should” be doing – how can you not being doing your job properly if you don’t, at least, have a full content marketing strategy, a mobile strategy, a full list of researched and refined personas, a great Twitter presence, a nicely written weekly blog, a monthly webinar, a multi-threaded email nurturing campaign, remarketing, GDN etc etc? All done by Friday if possible?
So part of the problem is that there is too much we “should” be doing – though as I wrote, I think most of these things should be dropped if only for our own sanity. But that’s only half the problem – the other is the way in which many PMMs work, including often, myself. Even if we’ve restricted our Work In Progress (WIP) down to four items, we still often find ourselves context-switching between those four things through the day – effectively spinning multiple plates trying to keep on top of all of the activities that do genuinely need to be done.
Context switching is a well-known problem in any field of work. The gist of it is that, by constantly switching between tasks – often including minor admin tasks such as checking and replying to email – you lose a lot more than just the time it takes to switch tasks. You lose the momentum you’ve built up in something, the time it’s taken to get your focus and flow flying so that you can make real progress. And the problem is far worse for difficult or creative jobs – switching between admin tasks (e.g. from email, to filling in an expense form, to sitting in an “update” meeting) is very easy because, quite frankly, you don’t really need your brain for any of these. But trying switching from something like “Think about the core strategy for my marketing plan for next year” to “How are we going to get people to read our articles on X or Y?” – very difficult indeed; and you’ll lose a lot of time trying to figure out “Now, what were we thinking about those articles? Where did I get to last time? Let me re-read my notes…”.
So it’s a bad thing. But how do you avoid it? I’m trying something at the moment, which is working really well, so thought I’d share it. Completely by luck I read the following book:
(It was a random £1.19 offer purchase on Amazon).
Now half the book – the second half – isn’t great. It’s a little too full of pat phrases about “Creative thinking” and a bit too close to a self-help manual for my liking. But the first half has a handful of really great pieces on productivity and “How to get more creative work done”. My favourite quote, about email:
This quote isn’t about context-switching per se, but about the related problem, that’s sucks up as much of our time as context-switching – email interruptions.
Anyway, the primary bits of advice that I’m taking from a number of chapters, and that I’m currently trialling are:
- Figure out what time of day you do your best work. For me this is most definitely the mornings, starting as early as possible.
- During this time (in theory, when you’re going to do your best work), undertake a single, important task (say, for 3-4 hour stretch) that requires critical thinking.
- No interruptions, period. For me this means email is switched off, office communicator is off, anything on my phone that could interrupt is off, Skype, Yammer etc etc – basically everything.
- No meetings. A 30 minute meeting in the middle of a creative period, and you might as well kill two hours.
- Push all admin to the afternoon – no email replies (of course you’re not checking it anyway, are you, so you wouldn’t know to reply!?), no updating task lists, no taking 5 minute breaks to check your company Twitter stream, nothing.
And so far – it’s been great! I’ve managed to write a long blog post, a couple of big plans, think about a couple of quite tough problems all just in the first week. The hardest part is that you have absolutely nothing to do all morning except the single task. And that’s tough if, like most marketing people, you’re used to jumping between tasks endlessly trying to spin the plates. I keep thinking “Surely there should be something else I should be doing now?”. But no – you’ve got the one thing to do, and that’s it.
But the point is – you’re paid to think, come up with great ideas, solve difficult problems and add some real value. Replying to emails, having catch-up meetings, updating To-Do lists etc are just the necessary part of working in an organisation and, though necessary, aren’t where you’ll ever make a big difference – and if you don’t give yourself time to singularly focus on tasks, how are you ever going to come up with that great, big idea that could turn your marketing strategy around?