One of the key areas I’ve been trying to improve recently is my own time-management and productivity. In search engine marketing (SEM) it’s very common to have a wide-range of tasks and projects on-the-go simultaneously. Personally, I don’t have a project/account management background, but it is something I’ve been very keen on improving. And a large part of this is ensuring that I’m working productively towards key goals and targets – as opposed to being reactive and busy for the sake of being busy!
A great help to this recently has been by learning about GTD (Getting Things Done) by David Allen. If you don’t know anything about GTD or David Allen, when you get a spare 45 minutes I would strongly recommend watching this video presentation given to the Googleplex in 2007:
So how can GTD be applied to search engine marketing?
I’m sure there’s still a lot more I could learn and will pick-up as I continue to try and improve my method of working and being productive. But I’ve listed nine ideas which I’m already starting to put to good use below:
Organise key projects – Each month I will create a list of client projects in a spreadsheet which need to be finished. Rather than completing this on an ad-hoc basis I try to structure and plan when I’m going to focus my attention to a particular project and review how much effort is required.
Break projects down into action points – For example, keyword research for a large e-commerce sports website is likely to be a time-consuming project. If this was listed as a single project I may not know where to start and as a result be less very motivated towards beginning this. But by breaking this down into a smaller action points, this means I would have more manageable tasks such as keyword research for Nike running shoes, Adidas running shoes, tennis rackets etc. This way I’d also get a better feel of how much progress is being made at each stage and how much effort is required to complete each task and the project in full.
Use your calendar to set mini-project deadlines - In search marketing it’s very easy to get interrupted, sometimes these are necessary – but other times there are more important tasks you could be working on. I find it useful to set a schedule of monthly work and also to set project deadlines in my calendar to help ensure that any key milestones are met. This helps to make sure I’m aware that this is an important task I should be working on and aiming to achieve.
Inbox-to-Zero – David Allen talks about having a “mind like water” and clearing your psychic RAM. Having an empty inbox is a great way of achieving this. If you only learn one aspect of GTD, in my opinion this is likely to be the most valuable. Rather than looking at an inbox full of emails, I will review this several times a day and instantly apply an action to each email scanned. By applying the two-minute rule, I will respond to the email if it takes less than two minutes, file the email into it’s specific folder for reference if no response is required and delete emails which are not needed.
I have also created two new folders, @Actions and @Waiting For – the @ sign is to ensure that this sits directly below my inbox. @Actions contains all of those emails which require more thought and attention than two minutes, I move these into it’s own folder so that when I later spend time reviewing all outstanding actions these are listed. @Waiting For is for items I have delegated or I’m waiting for a response on before I can proceed with an action. These lists should be reviewed regularly to ensure that you remain on-top of all important tasks.
Get in “the zone” – Avoid unnecessary distractions and multi-tasking – If you’ve got an important task to complete, make sure this is what you focus on. Try closing your email for an hour and just concentrating on a single action or task with all of your attention dedicated towards this. During key tasks/projects I would strongly recommend trying to avoid any interrupts (unless urgent) and working through the actions you have prioritised for yourself, as opposed to what has been asked for most recently. We all like to think we can multi-task and do 17 things at once, but in reality you’re unlikely to get much done that way. For example a 5-hour block of time spent on a single client is usually far more effective than spending an hour a day for 5 days.
Allow for and expect interrupts – Of-course a large part of your job role will be reactive, in many cases this can’t be helped. PPC especially often requires immediate attention when this might be unexpected. However, if the only work you are doing is reactive, it’s very unlikely you’ll be meeting your goals when looking at the bigger picture. When interrupts occur, make sure you carefully review whether this is more important/urgent than the task you were previously working on and allocate enough time to ensure that this doesn’t cause a major setback to any plans.
Consider energy levels and time before beginning a task – this is something I hadn’t thought of too much before, but if you’ve had a long day or are feeling unwell you’re possibly not in the best frame of mind to start writing a detailed SEO report, for example. Instead, your time may be spent more productively doing a less strenuous task such as completing mileage expenses, replying to emails or writing a blog post. Plus if your going into a meeting in the next 15 minutes, rather than starting a large task which requires a lot of thought and attention, perhaps catching-up on your email. Then you can begin the original task once you can dedicate more time towards it.
What’s the next action? – Get things moving on a long-term project or idea by asking and defining what is the next action? This can help to improve your motivation towards working on a project, or maybe even scraping the idea completely. Either way at least this is being dealt with now instead of just sitting there.
Make time for internal projects – From a business perspective, search engine marketing revolves very heavily around consultancy effort and billable hours, that means it’s very important to ensure you are working efficiently. Especially if, like myself, you want to have time left over for non-client work such as blogging, social media networking, visiting conferences and working on internal projects. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to improve my own productivity and as a result I’ve already been able to dedicate more time towards this, for example creating a monthly newsletter, passing the Google Analytics Authorized Consultant program and providing an interview and blog comments in addition to client work during the last week.
I would definitely recommend reading about GTD in more detail, but these are the items I’ve found most useful so far. So what are your top tips?