We’ve all seen how work has changed over the past two and a half years.
Remote work, once rare, became the norm, especially in industries like online marketing which can easily be done remotely.
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as 71% of workers were working remotely.
That said, many digital marketers already worked remotely.
I’ve been fully remote since 2012 and before that, worked hybrid (mostly remotely) for five years. I know many who have done the same.
Remote work has its benefits and challenges. One of the biggest challenges is productivity.
Being productive while working remotely has always been tricky. There are distractions at home that don’t exist in an office.
I would argue, though, that an office has distractions that don’t exist at home.
Water cooler conversations, impromptu meetings, people stopping by your desk to chat, and an open-office environment – all are distractions that can make workers less productive.
Add to that the Great Resignation and tech layoffs due to a possible recession, and you might be overwhelmed and find it difficult to be productive no matter where you work.
Not to worry – here are 10 things to eliminate from your life to be more productive at work.
Whether you’re working from home or in an office, distractions can be a problem. Distractions can come from your surroundings, such as house cleaning, the TV at home or coworkers in the office.
Technology, which is designed to make us more productive, can also be a distraction.
For example, just now as I was writing this, a meeting reminder popped up on my screen.
Meeting reminders are probably a necessary distraction. But do you really need to be notified every time you get an email or a Teams chat?
Turning off unnecessary notifications goes a long way in reducing interruptions and improving productivity.
I disable email notifications entirely. No flying envelope on the screen, no sound, nothing. I check email at regular intervals but don’t react every time one comes through.
Same thing for Teams or other IM chat notifications. I mute notifications from group chats, treating them like email. Otherwise, my Teams notifications would be going off all day.
Enable only the notifications that are absolutely necessary, and mute or disable the rest.
I leave meeting reminders on because without them I’d never remember all my meetings. But I know people who don’t even have meeting reminders going off. Experiment and decide what works best for you.
We’ve all been on a Zoom call where we’ve given in to the temptation to check email or chats. Especially now that so many meetings are happening via technology rather than with people sitting around a table, it’s easy to pop over to Outlook and start reading.
Resist the temptation to multitask.
While you may think multitasking makes you more productive, it actually doesn’t.
Frankly, it’s also rude.
Make every effort to give the meeting your full attention. That way you can focus on any takeaways and to-do’s that might be assigned to you.
And if you find yourself in a meeting that you don’t need to be in, ask to drop. Or decline the meeting invite.
It’s OK to protect your valuable time. Decline meetings that you don’t absolutely need to be in.
And if you’re the one scheduling the meetings, consider whether it needs to be a meeting at all.
Meeting culture is broken and people will thank you for helping clear their calendar.
3. Working without breaks
Have you ever been so busy that you feel like you need to stay chained to your desk to get everything done?
I sure have.
It’s hard to step away when you have so much to do, so many meetings, and so many people calling, emailing, and IM’ing you.
Do it anyway.
Taking short breaks improves productivity and helps give you a fresh perspective on the tasks at hand.
I like to walk, and I take short walk breaks a couple of times a day. Outside, if possible.
The fresh air and movement help clear my head.
I’ve often found that the solution to a problem I’d been scratching my head over becomes clear as day when I step away from my desk and get some fresh air.
If you can’t get outside and walk, at least step away from your desk. Walk the hallways of your office or home. Go up and down stairs if you have them. Get your blood pumping.
And don’t forget about lunch breaks.
Many of us work through lunch, concerned that taking 20 minutes to eat will set us behind.
Take a break, even if it’s just for a few minutes to grab a bite and eat it, slowly.
4. Repetitive work
Do you find yourself performing the same task, day after day or week after week?
Pulling reports, checking budget pacing, and reviewing performance are all regular part of any digital marketer’s routine.
But if you find yourself doing repetitive work, see if you can streamline it.
If you have junior staff, delegate!
We have a rule on our team that if a manager finds themselves doing a task more than three times the exact same way, we make a video illustrating how to do the task – and then delegate it to a junior team member.
It’s amazing how much time and effort this has saved our busy managers.
Now, I realize not everyone has someone they can delegate to.
Before we were part of Merkle, I was pretty much running my accounts solo.
If that’s the case for you, don’t fret! See what you can automate.
I think a lot of us forget that we can automate report pulls from Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, Facebook Ads, analytics platforms, bid management platforms and pretty much any tool we’re using to evaluate performance has a way to create automated reports.
Use them. It’s so much easier to react to a report in your inbox than to have to create it from scratch every time.
Scripts can help automate routine tasks and save tons of time.
5. Unnecessary meetings
I’ve mentioned meetings a couple of times already. Meetings are such a big part of many digital marketers’ workdays.
Often, meetings are necessary and unavoidable. We all have to meet with clients, for example.
But many meetings are just unnecessary, especially now that so many people work remotely.
I worked remotely long before the pandemic. But I noticed my calendar filled up dramatically once everyone else was remote.
It seemed like conversations that previously would have been a quick phone call or email had now turned into a meeting on the calendar.
And when a meeting is on the calendar, meeting organizers feel like they have to fill the scheduled time.
Resist this temptation.
If you just have a question for someone, call or email them. Don’t schedule a meeting.
If a meeting is necessary, think carefully about who needs to attend. Invite only those who are critical to the objective.
Speaking of objectives – preparing for meetings goes a long way to keeping them productive.
Every meeting should have an agenda listed in the meeting invite. This helps attendees prepare.
Distribute any materials – reports, screenshots, etc. – ahead of time if possible so people can review them and prepare questions.
Have a plan for the meeting. If you’re leading the call, prepare what you’re going to say, how long you’ll spend on each topic, and what outcomes are needed.
Don’t leave a meeting without outlining next steps. This helps prevent additional meetings.
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6. A messy calendar
Whether you use Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, Calendly or some other calendar program, getting a grip on your calendar is key to being productive.
Don’t limit the use of your calendar to meetings. I schedule blocks of time to get things done. Otherwise, someone will fill my time with more meetings.
If you use Microsoft Outlook, their Viva tool will actually help you schedule “focus time” where you can block open times to focus on task completion.
And protect your time. Have a set start and end time for your workday, and stick to it as much as you can.
Sure, urgent meetings outside of normal hours can and do happen – sometimes they’re unavoidable.
But for regular meetings, work with your team/client to see if you can find a time that fits with your schedule so you’re not regularly attending 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. meetings – unless that’s your preference.
7. A messy workspace
What does your workspace look like? Is it neat as a pin, or covered with clutter?
Most of us are probably somewhere in between. But if you can get closer to “neat as a pin,” you’ll find your productivity increasing.
Research cited in the Harvard Business Review “has shown that our physical environments significantly influence our cognition, emotions, and behavior, affecting our decision-making and relationships with others.”
Many people were forced into working remotely when they didn’t really have the right space for it.
I get that. We dealt with that in my own household at the start of the pandemic.
But at this point, if you’re still remote, it’s likely at least partly by choice. So whatever and wherever your workspace is, see if you can clear the clutter. You might be surprised at how much more productive you become.
Yes, we all get news from social media. You probably found this article via a social media link.
In the SEO and SEM space, social media has been around since before it was called social media. I fondly remember the old SEO forums of the early 2000s, where members of the community gathered to ask questions, share news, and just chat with each other.
But constantly checking social media is a real productivity killer.
Instead of keeping Twitter open all day, set times that you’ll look at it. Maybe you only check your feed first thing in the morning, at lunch, and before logging off at night.
Just don’t stay on there all day. You’ll find you’re much more productive.
9. Pressure on yourself
We all put a lot of pressure on ourselves. It’s human nature.
How many times per day do you think, “I should be able to do all this! Why am I struggling?”
Try to go easy on yourself.
Be realistic about what you can get done in a day. If you’re feeling overloaded, sit down with your manager and lay out all the tasks on your plate.
Ask your manager to help you prioritize. And be clear with them about how long it will take you to complete everything on the list.
As mentioned earlier, set a time to shut down every day. Do not answer emails all day and night.
If you must have work email on your personal phone (and I know this is the reality for many of us), turn off your notifications and do not open your work email app after hours. The emails will be there in the morning.
Search engine marketing is rarely life or death. Aside from emergencies like a website going down, most problems can wait until the next morning.
Going hand in hand with putting pressure on yourself is dealing with self-doubt.
Just this week, I had a moment where I felt like I just couldn’t do the task that was being asked of me.
And I’ve done paid search for more than 20 years.
We hear a lot about imposter syndrome. According to Healthline:
“Imposter syndrome, also called perceived fraudulence, involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments.”
Try to push past imposter syndrome.
You were put in your job because your supervisor had confidence you could do it. So unless you lied about your qualifications, be confident!
You can do this!
Showing confidence goes a long way not only in increasing your productivity, but making clients feel at ease.
It’s OK to confidently say, “Let me look that up and get back to you.” I say this on calls on a regular basis.
No one expects you to have every answer at your fingertips. Don’t hem and haw – just say you’ll follow up.
Being more productive leads to better results
I hope you can apply some of these productivity tips to your work life.
Here’s to eliminating productivity blockers and getting more done with less stress.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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