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Nicole Williams, 27 Sep '16

Increasing Your Marketing Team Productivity - 6 Ways to Stop Distractions

How many notifications a day is too much? Here are six ways to effectively shield yourself from a notification overdose, so you can remain focused and keep up team productivity.

69% of marketers say they struggle having enough time to get things done. It’s easy to assume that this is due to the higher complexity marketers now face, yet there’s another culprit quietly stealing away our time - notifications and interruptions! By managing these distractions effectively you can feel like you’ve magically created more hours in the day!

The average office worker will check their email 30 times every hour and is interrupted 56 times. Marketing teams face even higher distractions as they balance internal communications with customer communications, social accounts and marketing automation alerts. Marketers juggle these constant distractions with creative and data driven tasks that require focus, a tough ask that has real costs.

One of the most important activities that requires marketers’ full attention is strategic planning, and, later on, executing that strategy in a structured way. Flooded by requests to fight fires left and right, all things ‘strategy’ are often the first to go out the window. Aligning marketing tasks with business goals is almost never an emergency. It’s never actually urgent, but it’ll surely cost you when you neglect it for too long.

So, to keep up everyday productivity and to keep your company on track for the long term, it’s crucial to take away distractions. Not only will you be able to perform your daily tasks in peace,  you’ll also have plenty of time left to really think through your marketing strategy and to update it regularly.

The real impact of distractions on marketing teams:

  • People spend an average of 11 minutes on a project before they’re interrupted. It takes them on average 25 minutes to get back to the point they were at before a distraction (UC Irvine study)
  • Jonathan Spira, author of  “Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization,” estimates that interruptions and information overload eat up 28 billion wasted hours a year (Wall Street Journal)
  • The effects of interruptions on workers’ productivity, energy and work satisfaction cost an estimated $588 billion a year in the US (Basex Research)

Is your office chatroom a productivity killer?

Last week I started back at work after a few months traveling the world. While away I had a laptop but no smartphone. My digital habits had adjusted to consume social media, content and alerts in blocks not constantly throughout the day.

Back in an office, I found myself in the unusual situation of getting to only add back the apps/notifications that were highly beneficial. I was able to examine the practices and habits of my team with fresh eyes. I was suddenly aware of how much time was being stolen by emails, app alerts and other interruptions.

One of the biggest surprises was how little I missed our team messaging app Slack. It had been an integral part of my work day prior to travelling, but now the constant alerts and pings seemed needy. When I reached out to ask colleagues questions I was struck by a sense of being an interrupter. Slack sets an expectation of real-time responses, yet very few requests actually require that.

Slack promised to end workplace email but it’s quickly turned into a firehose of notifications.

"With you in my life, I’ve received exponentially more messages than I ever have before. And while it’s been awesome to have such a connection with you, it has been absolutely brutal on my productivity - Slack, I’m breaking up with you.” 

Samuel Hulick  

Since returning to work, I’ve consciously changed the way I use Slack, only opening the app in between tasks to check alerts rather than letting alerts interrupt me. I’ve also steered away from downloading the Slack app onto my phone. This allows me to block off after hours for thinking time on other projects I enjoy (like writing for the great folks at Boardview!).

Identify the source of distractions

Understanding the causes for distractions is the first step to managing them and improving productivity. One idea is to ask your team to track their time for one week and share any surprise findings. I’m sure most people would be surprised how often they check email if they actually measured it!    

If you’re working in an Agile marketing team then during a sprint retro is a great time to discuss distractions and come up with ideas to improve productivity.

6 ways to stop distractions and increase productivity

While it may not be realistic to reduce distractions completely, it is possible to manage them to have a smaller impact on productivity and creative thinking.

Marketing managers and team leaders often set the example for the team and can unknowingly encourage habits that destroy productivity. Here’s some suggestions for tackling distractions and improving team productivity:

1. Clarify expectations on responding to external alerts

If your team has customer facing communications channels like social media or live chat then work out who will respond to alerts when. Share the load so that team members don’t feel they have to drop everything all the time.

Without clarifying this the whole team has sense of responsibility and feels compelled to jump into the tool whenever a new alert pops up. We experienced when we first implemented Intercom’s live chat on Overtime we developed response guidelines that minimize distractions but still allowed quick responses to hot leads.

2. Encourage team members to create time blocks

If I don’t schedule time blocks into my calendar to work on tasks that require focus then quickly my calendar is filled with meetings, leaving only short periods in between to “catch up” on emails and notifications.

Make it explicit to your team that it’s ok to schedule a meeting with yourself to ensure that you have the time available to do your best work.

3. Create a Team Code of Conduct

Agree on team expectations for when/how to communicate with each other, especially in messaging apps like Slack which come with a real-time expectation of response.

The idea isn’t to close yourself off to team members, but rather ensure you're all on the same page. For example you may decide that requests that are non-urgent are sent by email not Slack so that they can be handled more efficiently.

4. Schedule time for distractions

Email, Slack and other communication tools are not evil. It’s important to collaborate and keep open communication within your marketing team and with other teams. But if we attend to distractions instantly they end up taking over, instead work on scheduling time for distractions, like checking emails first and last thing in the day only.

5. Lead by example

If you’re committed to reducing your team’s distractions it’s important you show this. Don’t email/message your team at all hours as it sets an expectation to respond at all hours. I sometimes store up emails/messages to send in the morning even if I’m working on them during the evening.

6. Encourage shared learning

One thing I’ve noticed about Slack and other team messaging apps is that quickly they become the place to share updates and learnings. While sharing is great, chat rooms aren’t always the best place. In the noise of channels important updates can be overlooked and it can be hard to search for past information.

Orchestrate formal feedback loops to store company knowledge rather than informal, sporadic sharing. Intranets and shared documents can be a better place to store this information to ensure it’s accessible and not lost into the history of gifs and in-jokes.  

Less distractions, more productivity, simple?

Constant distractions breeds a marketing culture of firefighting and reactiveness. By working on reducing distractions you can unlock higher productivity and satisfaction. Moreover, you’ll have time left to really think about marketing strategy, and to make sure daily marketing tasks contribute to long-term company success.

Agile marketers make small changes with continuous improvement in mind. In the same way you tweak and test your advertising campaigns, it’s valuable to keep improving your marketing team processes.