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How do marketers really spend their time at work?

How do marketers really spend their time at work? Kent Lewis
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According to a recent study, marketers are only able to devote 36 percent of each day to primary job responsibilities. The rest of the day, they appear to spend in meetings. Just kidding. The truth is that marketers spend the entire day scheduling or attending meetings. If you don't believe me, check out this compelling chart I created:

How do marketers spend their time at work?

While I am pulling your leg, there is a bit of truth to meetings being a primary time-consumer for marketers. Although I'm a business owner, I'm also a marketer by trade and I realistically spend at least 80 percent of my day in meetings. That sentiment is shared by a few of my colleagues who responded to an informal survey I created for this article:

How do marketers spend their time at work?

The other major time-suck for marketers is email. Reading and responding to email can be a full-time job. I estimate I minimally spend 20 percent of my day in email. My peers appear to agree:

How do marketers spend their time at work?

If I spend 80 percent of my day in meetings and the remaining 20 percent on email, then when do I get the work done? After hours, as Gina mentions above. And I'm not alone, according to research: Nearly nine in 10 marketers (89 percent) log in to work/work email outside of standard business hours during a typical work week. Here are a few additional compelling statistics about how marketers spend their day:

  • Eighty-five percent of marketers log in on weekends to keep up or catch up with work.
  • The average marketer spends almost a third of their time completing repetitive tasks.
  • Strategy and planning along with design/content takes up 87 percent of digital marketers' time, when building campaigns.

The numbers are compelling, but don't seem to add up. There is a reason for that. The 80/20 rule holds true for marketers (and most professionals): A majority of work is completed in a small amount of time, which frees up the rest of the day to sit in meetings, answer email, or as Chris mentions below, surf social media platforms.

How do marketers spend their time at work?

Workfront conducted a comprehensive study in 2015 and asked the question: "What gets in the way of your work?"

The answers were not surprising, but frustrating nonetheless:

  1. Wasteful meetings
  2. Excessive emails
  3. Inefficient or non-existent processes

The chart below provides additional detail:

As I alluded to in the introduction, marketers are only able to dedicate a third of their day to primary job duties, as illustrated in the chart below:

As you can see above, the major distractors include email, administrative tasks, and meetings. Unfortunately, nearly 10 percent of the day is spent in wasteful meetings. The challenge is to minimize administrative, non-essential tasks and interruptions. I've outlined my "Swing" methodology for addressing these issues in this article.

To address the necessary evil of regular meetings, one must be properly armed with a bag of tricks. Unfortunately, very few professionals are trained to host or participate in a meeting. As a member of Entrepreneurs' Organization, I was introduced to Mastering the Rockefeller Habits years ago and have utilized its meeting methodologies, which have dramatically increased the efficiency and value of our meetings at Anvil.

Routine tasks can be a killer, both to creativity and quality. Repetition breeds boredom, which in turn breeds sloppy errors. HubSpot has identified the most common routine tasks for marketers, as outlined in the chart below:

Not surprisingly, chasing data is the primary culprit. Marketers are accountable for results, which requires measurement. Measurement requires collection and analysis of data. While various analytics tools aid this process tremendously, data still requires a good deal of time to collect, organize, and analyze. As mentioned previously, email fills every marketer's day. Outside of data and email, however, routine tasks, especially for digital marketers, involve landing page creation and optimization, social media, and list management. This information may only be a surprise to senior executives or traditional marketers, who are not active in day-to-day execution of marketing activities.

When it comes to managing digital marketing campaigns, most professionals prefer to focus their time and effort on strategic planning or design. Unfortunately, only a very small percentage of marketers enjoy data collection, testing, optimizing, or reporting. This isn't surprising, but it is a powerful reminder that senior managers need to hire talent with a passion for data and reporting to round out the marketing team.

We've covered how marketers are spending their time at work, but now let's move on to how they should be spending their time each day. I've put together a few recommendations below that will improve marketer's efficiency, productivity, and all-around success during the workday:

Preparation

As the old saying goes, success is 90 percent preparation and 10 percent perspiration. As such, any successful marketer will spend a few minutes planning at the beginning of each day (bonus points for weekly, monthly, and quarterly planning sessions). I typically start my work week on Sundays, reviewing my schedule and setting goals and timelines for various action items for the coming week. One of the best ways to prioritize activities and maximize your time is to use the Urgent vs. Important matrix. In essence, filter each of your activities for the day/week onto one of the four quadrants:

Honesty is key. You must be able to justify your placement on the grid: Is this activity truly important and urgent? Far too many of our daily activities fall within the Not Important or Not Urgent categories and should be ignored. Do you really need to update your Facebook status right this moment? Probably not. Utilize this matrix when planning your day or week, and you will see your productivity increase dramatically.

Preparation goes beyond pencil to paper or pixel to Excel spreadsheet. Progressive marketers should consider meditation on a daily basis, even if for just a few minutes. In fact, two minutes seems to be the magic number. Take power posing, for example. Just two minutes of posing like a superhero has proven to positively impact performance. Let us not forget the all-important diet and exercise. Getting enough sleep and eating right can significantly impact your performance day-to-day.

Professional development

Far too many of my coworkers and managers over the years devalued professional development. I'm a big believer in the growth-minded philosophy; you can continually improve your personal and professional success via continuous learning. It can start with reading articles and books or watching webinars or YouTube videos. Serious marketers pursue additional training, certifications, and formal education. The most overlooked aspect of professional development is building a network, which I've valued highly enough to create an organization around it: pdxMindShare

Connection

While meditation may help you connect with your inner child, it may not facilitate external connections. As mentioned previously, I'm a big fan of networking, but not just to form new relationships. Most of the managers I've had over the years were not good about nurturing connections with their employees and other key constituents. I've addressed this concern at Anvil by instituting weekly, monthly, and quarterly check-ins with employees and clients. Keep in mind, check-ins should be face-to-face if possible, phone if not. Emails do not count as a meaningful touchpoint. To help foster connections at Anvil, we use Insights profiles as a framework to communicate internally (and externally with key client contacts).

Reflection

One area with which I struggle is the art of reflection. How can we set a course toward our ideal future as a marketer, without knowing where we've been and which direction we're currently heading? I'm quite comfortable setting goals and measuring progress on a regular basis. I've written about this topic in relation to finding The Swing. That said, I could do a much better job evaluating the journey. One approach to reflecting on recent successes or failures, particularly for marketers, is "the debrief." An industry standard protocol, debriefs or post-mortems provide a powerful framework for marketers to evaluate campaigns or client relationships. I recommend expanding debriefs to all parts of your workday. The second tool vastly underutilized by marketers is the practice of mindfulness. Spending just a few minutes a day meditating can provide perspective on past and future performance.

In the end, you're either part of the problem or part of the solution. Make sure you know you spend your time wisely, or you'll end up like this pie chart:

Sources

What Do Marketers Do All Day at Work? 
How Much Time Do Marketers Spend on Routine Tasks? 
Survey: Marketers Spend One-Third of their Time on Repetitive Tasks  
How Digital Marketers Allocate Their Time 
Marketers Only Able to Devote 36 percent of Time to Primary Job Duties
The State of Marketing Work Management 2015 [infographic]

With a background in integrated marketing, Lewis left a public relations agency in 1996 to start his career in search engine marketing. Since then, he’s helped grow businesses by connecting his clients with their constituents via the...

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