Five steps to prepare you for the social media marathon


The world of work is different today.  It’s not a 9-5 daily sprint, it’s an always-on, always connected, all-out communication MARATHON.  And like any athlete preparing for an intense and extended effort, it takes preparation — some mental, some physical, and some conditioning that only gets easier through discipline and practice.

I carry a heavy workload.  Throw my commitment to the social web on top of it and I’ve had to make adjustments to the way I mentally, and even physically, approach work every day. Here are a few tricks for handling this new world of work.

1) Schedule every important task. One problem I had was having only a vague idea that I had to work on certain important projects — You know, “get it done by the end of the week,” for example.  But then some distracting snowball would start, it would roll down hill, gathering all my client time with it.  So now I schedule almost everything I do.  I set aside time for blogging, planning, administration, and projects, and then I schedule less important phone calls and meetings around those blocks of time.

2) Don’t apologize for being “on.” I grew up in a world where dad worked 8-5, five days a week and mom was a homemaker.  There was a time for work and a time for family and it was highly compartmentalized and predictable.  That type of schedule is impossible as an employee within a global, digital 24×7 world.  I still strike a balance between work and play, family and customers, but it’s not my father’s Oldsmobile.  I rarely have a day when I don’t work to some extent. I still have a twinge of guilt when I squeeze in a little work on a Saturday but then I realize how lucky I am to be flexible to take time off in the middle of the week because the digital world doesn’t care when I work. As long as it all balances out in the end, forgive yourself for not being your dad (or mom). It’s just the way it is. P.S. My kids are grown. That helps with the flexible work schedule!

3) Get a virtual assistant. Yes, there is a way to get more than 24 hours in a day.  Instead of getting mired in routine administration I can push some work to my friend, a talented stay-at-home mom who is appreciative of a little extra income.  This keeps me focused on strategic work and also affords me the luxury of “dead-ends.” What I mean by that is when I have a wild idea for something, I can have my VA do some research on it before I waste too much time on a concept that ends up going no where. My challenge is to be disciplined to delegate and buy myself more time!

4) Shift perspective. It is not unusual for me to spend 12 hours or more each day in front of a computer. This is not healthy in any way. So I take frequent breaks, I shift positions, I may work standing up or in different locations to provide some ease to the body and energy to the mind.

5) Write ahead. Over the past two weeks I have been absolutely slammed with extremely important, intense client work.  But I was still able to keep up a a high-quality blog with consistent posts because I write ahead.  I am constantly writing posts or parts of posts as the ideas come to me so when that slam time comes I can draw from the pool. I currently have 45 posts in the “draft” pile. Some of them will never see the light of day but I am constantly adding to the inventory of ideas, even if it is just a sentence or an inspiring quote. This is an essential survival skill for anybody who hopes to keep up a blog if it’s not your job.

I don’t have time management down perfectly and never will.   Here’s where I still struggle:

  • I tend to schedule myself with too little rooom for error. When a computer failure hits it can really throw me for a loop.  As a solo entrepreneur, I sure miss the IT department.
  • While the flexibility of my schedule is great, I have a hard time shutting my mind completely down.  I am always twitching with ideas. It takes me at least two days of digital de-tox to begin to relax.
  • I need to jog more than I blog.

As I re-read this post I realized like it might seem that I work all the time. I don’t.  I have lots of outside interests and activities. And my life is a ball.  I do work a lot but it is more like fun than work … most of the time!

How are you running your marathon?   Where are you still struggling?

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  • Kathy Snavely

    Boy, you just nailed how I’m feeling: always trying to balance too much. (And I’m as the PA Dutch say, dopic [klutzy].) I’ve been working on the urgent vs. important (Covey), but it’s a struggle. Thanks for sharing your insights, Mark!

  • Mark

    Glad it connected, Kathy! Thanks for stopping by!

  • Jim LeBlanc

    Some good things to think about. Still, it is hard explaining to my wife why I am linked to that cell phone all the time. Soon they will be attaching the things to us i think! Good post Mark.

  • I find that I often need to shift perspective & the way that I work.

    When I have a “normal” amount to do, I often fit in work here and there that is sort of planning for the future (work on a small part of a redesign of something or other for 5-10 minutes, look up a few keywords for this or that, read, etc). When more pressing work comes round the bend, I shift perspective and think about the long term value of what I’m working on. For example, while some site re-design might bring in more clients when it’s done, it’s much cheaper to keep a client than it is to pick up a new one. So, if I hold off on all of that other stuff (which is still work), I can keep my current client, make them happy, and hopefully have time to do that other stuff soon.

    Of course, this can be a slippery slope…if I only ever did the work that has to be done right now, I wouldn’t be planning for the future.

  • This is a nice post Mark.

    One of two videos I watched when I was in my early career that still to this day impacts me was on time management. And its a perfect fit for number 1. It calls for giving all tasks a letter from A being most important to D being least important. It seems we tend to focus on D’s because they are easy and leaves A’s and B’s too often for last minute. It actually said take the D’s and put them in the lowest desk drawer…not forget about them, but not open the drawer until A-C’s have been addressed.

    Your number 2 though is a tough one. I did outside sales for many many years and sometimes would get emergency calls at night, say a part of an oil refinery or a manufacturing line went down and they needed a spare part asap to get things back up and running. That was part of my life.

    But social is something I am trying to figure out. Not sure if you have ever actually built a community for a client doing the work itself, but I have a business in LA that I have spent since May 1 doing this very successfully (if you have not done this you should do this once, you will learn a lot, and it is F-n hard!). But there is a 3 hour time difference and I find myself running twitter at night (very fun business btw so I don’t mind) But it has me thinking about all businesses and what we expect via social vs what we should expect.

    Most big companies either are open only during business hours for calling customer service. Should we expect these companies now with social here to keep a line open for us via Twitter etc when until now they just closed down? On the one hand I say yes because it is a way to increase your value to the customer. On the other hand I think they never had a late shift person on the phones and we all survived. Maybe it’s an opportunity for competitive advantage, but then why was not the late night operator viewed that way.

    Going to my client who probably makes the mostly delicious gourmet ice cream sandwich on earth they now have rabid fans tweeting into the night sometimes, and being on more hours has increased this brand loyalty.

  • Mark – for me your post reads as though it was written by and for me.

    What works for me when my mind is racing and “twitching with ideas” is accepting this is happening and then choosing to become/be aware of the now, the present moment as I follow my breath and listen to the sounds around me — without any judgments and thoughts.

    I continue with this body-mind relaxation for as long as I want, and choose to return again when I become aware of and accept that my mind is racing and “twitching with ideas.”

    Let me know how this works for you; and thank you for sharing.

  • Mark

    @Jim — Yes, I believe that is coming soon!

    @Eric — This is a very relevant topic for me too. I have been thinking about the need to experiment. I have no time for that right now because I am pretty booked with actual client work. How do I have time to try out new technologies? Tough one. Thanks!

  • Mark

    @Howie — Interesting how there really is no such thing as time zones any more. There is work going on all the time, everywhere and we are connected, aren’t we? Thanks!

    @Rae — Thanks for the great advice. I will try it out! : ) So nice of you to help out with this!

  • Yep. It’s a marathon, but I’m afraid I don’t really have your discipline Mark. So my marathon is run as a series of short sprints, not necessarily in the right direction. But you know what, it is this zig-zag that kind of makes it fascinating.

    I know what you mean about planning and scheduling, and I try to do it as much as I can. But the unpredictability keeps it fun, even if it does make for a few high-pressure moments.

    [But naturally, I would always recommend a thorough content planning schedule to my clients. No one is going to pay for a seat-of-your-pants social media strategy!]

    Nice post Mark, thanks

    John

  • My pleasure Mark!

    I look forward to reading how what I’ve shared with you and your community works for you. Thank you for your generous and gracious support : )

  • Mark

    @John — I would actually pay to see you zig-zagging around the office. Perhaps this would be a way to monetize your blog : )

    And by the way, the one thing I DON’T schedule is content. In fact I think that can be a problem! Most other things though are firmly embedded in my Outlook calendar.

    So you and I are at odds on this topic. We should write about and have a blog duel.

    @Rae — You’re very welcome!

  • I spend long hours in front of the computer myself and tend to get frequent bouts of burnout when I eventually can’t stand do do anything, let alone work, on a computer.

    Taking up a (non-computer related) hobby actually cured that right up nicely. I can first hand witness that shifting your perspective is great for eliminating that feeling you’re drowning in your work.

  • A blog duel? Now you’re talking. But whilst I would love to lock horns with you on another subject, my heart is not entirely in this one. You see, I have to say that I would like to be more disciplined [and I think my colleagues would like it too]. My zig-zagging is a happy side effect of my less than rigorous planning – happy from the point of view of personal curiosity, but something that I really should limit. Although I do contend that planning extremists who refuse to budge from the plotted course because it is on an Excel spreadsheet somewhere are missing out not only on a bit of fun, but on the discoveries that extend knowledge and lead to all kinds of spontaneous breakthroughs.

    Don’t think I’m shirking away from a blog duel though – just choosing my battles!

  • Mark

    @Johnny — Thanks man. I often walk out side — or even work outside!

    @John — Well it sounds like we agree violently on that point so we’ll have to look for another opportunity to duke it out. Cheers.

  • Yes, yes yes. You have clearly mastered the time management challenges where I currently struggle. Very inspiring, love the post. It hit home; I recently quit my gym…and you reminded me what I already knew. Gotta schedule more, including time to go jog:)

    PS I added your blog to my blogroll and referred to your comment on Jay Baer’s recent blog in my last post.

  • @Mark. Yeah, it’s tough to balance the need to do paying work today against the need to prepare for (potentially better) paying work tomorrow. This is of course what a lot of small business owners deal with when they’re not natural marketers. Marcus Sheridan over at TheSalesLion.com is probably a good example. Marketing doesn’t (or well didn’t) directly pay his bills because he was a pool & spa guy, but he made the time & it made a tremendous difference in his business’ success.

    That being said, many people would I’m sure agree that it is usually more satisfying to being doing work than it is to be preparing for tomorrow…which is again part of the difficulty in balancing the two.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    @Rhonda — I’m glad this help but I am far from mastering it. Last night my wife and step-daughter were watching a movie. I opted out to catch-up the blog reader. Good use of time (because I wasn’t interested in the movie) or missed family opportunity? I strive forbalance and usually achieve it but there is always doubt. In the end you have to “do your best” and be satisfied with that.

    Thank you for adding me to your blogroll. That is kind of the ultimate honor around these parts, isn’t it? Thank you!

    @Eric — Such a very real issue. I am slowly delegating and freeing up a little time but the irony is, if I marekt too much or too well, it just busts me at the seams again! This has been a big learning for me as an entrepreneur — managing the ebb and flo of client work, knowing when to cast the net and knowing when to pull in the net. It’s fascinating and frustrating at the same time. Always an honor to have you comment my friend.

  • @Mark. Definitely. My dept (the digital marketing arm of our agency) is at a point now where we’ve fulfilled so well on our contracts that we can’t keep up with requests for new work. Please excuse that if it sounds self-congratulatory. I just want to use it as an example 😉 As a member of a larger agency, I feel like it’s much easier to turn down work & not have to think so much about whether we’re giving up work that could end up being really meaningful to us in the future. As an solo consultant though, I’m much less comfortable with that. Learning how you feel you’ve best walked that tight rope seems like it would be invaluable as a model for many entrepreneurs. Maybe, you’ll have to do a webinar or short ebook on the topic…well, time permitting of course ^–^

    Thank you very much, Mark. Glad to be participating here.

  • I jog after putting the kids to bed. It was great in the summer because it stayed light so late. Now it gets dark too early. I’ve found that I need multiple goals for jogging. Just one doesn’t cut it.

    I’ve also been tempted recently to purchase a standing work station. I read recently that the human body was not made for sitting and standing is healthier (don’t quote me because I forgot the source).

  • Thanks for the tips, Mark. Scheduling out my day better and blogging ahead are the two I am really trying to improve on.

    One thing that has worked well for me is taking time every morning before I dive into client work to write posts or read other blogs. That way I don’t get to busy and overlook those two areas.

  • Great post Mark. If I struggle with anything it’s allowing myself to, and therefore enjoy, being “off.” I need to work on writing ahead. I’d definitely be less stressed about keeping my blog content current. Thanks for good things to think about.

  • Mark

    @Justin + @Michael Glad these tips had an impact on you. Hang in there!

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