I love a clean desk. When my desk is ordered, I breathe better and, most importantly, I think better. Unexpected guests drop in at Little Bird Marketing, and almost always I am proud of the shape of my workspace. I juggle the marketing strategies and budgets for 30 companies and keep on top of many more smaller projects at a time. On top of that, I still direct our own marketing strategy as we practice what we preach for our brand. I also own and operate two other companies. Organization is imperative to get the job done well, and to maintain the rapport and trust we carefully build.
If you've listened to any of my podcasts you'll know I used to have a dirty little secret. On what was my very clean desk was a significant pile of papers. Now, this pile was nice and neat, but it was a stack of what I had decided needed to be done...someday.
At first it seemed simple. I like to keep my electronic inbox clear and down to a manageable number each day. If a project kept lingering in there but was not urgent I would simply print it out (please don't tell the EPA) and place it on the stack. Of course the idea was that whenever I got a free 5 or 10 minutes I would tackle one or two of these less-pressing issues. After 18 months of this led to a stack of papers about 6 inches tall. In some ways there was no harm that this was sitting on my desk, but the mental stress was eating away at me slowly and eroding the confidence I had in being an organized and effective time manager.
Ultimately, what saved me was outside intervention in the form of a devastating fire. As I watched my office burn to the ground it never occurred to me that freedom was waiting to greet me. Obviously, for the next six months I was incredibly busy, and it wasn't until month seven when I was setting up my new desk in my permanent office that I remembered the stack of "to-dos" that were missing. Interestingly enough no one had ever contacted me about something I failed to do. On the contrary, NOTHING ever came up as a result of forgetting these tasks. I couldn't even remember a single one of them to re-create the pile.
I wouldn't wish the experience of losing my entire office on anyone, but I value the lesson it taught me.
There is a deep irony that living a life of simplicity whether at work or at home is actually not simple. It requires a constant commitment to reality checking your calendar, editing your goals, evaluating your mindset about what "should" be done and what "must" get done.
I am tempted every day to go back to my old ways and start this pile again. Sometimes it seems easier to amass this pile than to do the tougher action and learn how to say no and say no quickly.
In marketing there are always far too many options. Clients can even bombard me with a list of things their brand "ought" to be doing. (READ: Everyone else is using Facebook Live, why aren't we?, etc.) The truth is there is too much that CAN be done - instead we must review our constant commitment to the company goals in order to carefully choose what we must, in fact, actually do.
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Living simply means a little something different for each person. Carving out a more simple marketing mix also needs to be different for each company. No matter what the plans laid before you for your marketing strategy, always be asking yourself, "Are these actions necessary to achieve the goals we've set for the company?" If not, chances are they are busy work that seemed like a good idea based upon what others were doing at the time.
You have to commit to simplicity and proper evaluation all day long:
- Every time someone asks you to be a guest on their podcast.
- Every time you read a blog article.
- Every time your sales team says they need a new brochure.
Challenge each "ought to" statement that comes out of your mouth. In the wise words of Brett Baker, famed Sandler Sales Coach and all-around great guy, immediately ask yourself, "Couldn't the opposite be true?" Just when you are thinking, "We need to start blogging more," the next thought should attempt to turn this thought on its head. While the truth may not be that you NEVER need to blog again, the truth might be somewhere in the middle. Perhaps instead of bringing your blog writing up to 4 articles per month you could continue to just write one, source a second from a guest blogger, repurpose podcast content for the third, and share a client testimonial for the fourth.
Questioning your own statement of, "I need to blog more." can lead you to a more clear truth. In this case, your company needs more blogs, but maybe you don't need to be writing them all or at all. This clarity allows simplification to kick in. In turn, simplification gives you greater flexibility to spend the time on what the REASON for writing those blogs was in the first place. Now your time can be spent sourcing the blogs and making sure that the call to actions in those blog posts are promoting your most profitable product or service. In this way you tie new actions back to your company goals. Simplification ensures that you're focusing on desired outcomes and positive marketing ROI instead of just doing more because "everyone else is doing it."
I'm still a big fan of a clean desk, just know that it's a lot of work to keep it clean.
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