Tips on Working from Home in Marketing

Inset of steel mill painting by KroyerIn my job at “Acme,” I mostly work remotely from home. It can be difficult at times to focus on the project at hand with so many distractions at one’s disposal (and no one looking over your shoulder). Here I will share some tips that have been working for me to stay on task when I’m sitting in front of my computer screen in my loafers.

  • Get in the work mindset early. In the morning (and even the night before), try to think about what needs to be done for your work. It doesn’t have to be an intense planning session, just let your mind do some light brainstorming to get in the right groove mentally.
  • Take scheduled breaks. There’s no use in burning out by working for long periods of time. Scheduling breaks for yourself ensures you put in the right hours while also getting the rest you need throughout the workday.
  • Think about work during breaks. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it can help prevent a lapse in concentration after the break is over (or can help stop you from extending your break indefinitely by going off on a web-surfing tangent).
  • Try renting a coworking office space. This can be useful if you do almost all of your work from home. I’ve tried this myself but actually found that I can focus better at home. Nevertheless, this may work well for others.
  • Visualize completed projects. Sometimes it’s difficult to stay on point because you’re working on so many things that it seems nothing gets done. Help yourself out by taking a moment (or during a break) to imagine what a project will look like in its completed state (and the feelings of reward you will experience once it is done).
  • Track your workday. A tool like Toggl has helped me stay “on the clock” when I’m at home and has the added benefit of reporting to you on what projects you’ve worked on throughout the day (and week).
  • Set short- and long- term goals. Distractions love it when you’re not sure about what you should be working on (and how that project fits into the bigger marketing picture). Fight them off by having personal goals for the day, week, quarter, and year (whatever works for you).
  • Stay accountable to someone. If you have free reign in your work and are finding it difficult to stay motivated, commit yourself to a regular report that you share with a higher-up about the progress of your work. You’ll also feel a sense of reward when you show someone else all of the work that you have completed.

What strategies do you use to stay motivated when working from home in marketing?

Dealing with Uncertainty in Marketing

Uncertainty painting insetIn a previous post, I talked about some tips for overcoming mental blocks in marketing work. Along similar lines, I want to focus today on the topic of uncertainty in marketing projects. Uncertainty can arise for many different reasons, and it proves difficult to deal with sometimes. Perhaps there are not enough analytics available to truly measure performance of a project in a meaningful way. Or, maybe you’re launching a campaign using an untried new media outlet. And sometimes just the ever-changing nature of the 21st-century marketplace can cause anxiety because of the unknown.

Here are some tips for marketers facing such scenarios that have helped me in the recent past to deal with uncertainty (though I’m no expert on the subject).

  1. Overcome roadblocks in a systematic way. If you’re stuck on something, make sure to identify what the “pain point” of that project is. Then, list steps to overcome those obstacles. Finally, note the next action that would be required were you to start tackling those problems. Now you have an idea of what has to be done and where to begin working.
  2. Know when to focus and when to walk away. Drilling into a task and entering a pace of “flow” is very helpful to make rapid progress on a project. But if you’re feeling stuck with a certain task–like a hamster on a wheel–working on something else to clear your mind can be a helpful tactic.
  3. Communicate effectively to management. If a project faces uncertain results for a variety of reasons, tell this to your higher-ups so that both you and your bosses are viewing the situation under the same lens. This goes a long way to avoiding situations of misaligned expectations.
  4. Seek to quantify and stay accountable. This may seem counter-intuitive, but more accountability can help reduce uncertainty if structured in a productive way. Whether they are budgets, project statuses, or KPIs, metrics and realistic goals shared with others can help induce a positive feedback loop of motivation and recognition of your work (when set targets are achieved).
  5. Just work through it. Keep in your mind that “this is a difficult, not an easy situation” and to not expect easy results. Knowledge of that fact alone should help ease the anxiety of expectations that you may set on yourself.

What ways have you found to deal with uncertainty in your own work?

Overcoming Mental Blocks in Marketing

Everyone experiences this. You’ve planned your day. You move on to the next task on your schedule. You pull up all your supplemental files and programs. And then you’re stuck — an imperceptible but nonetheless powerful force is preventing you from proceeding with the task at hand.

So what can you do about this problem? I want to share a couple of tricks that have helped me recently overcome such mental blocks.

Oftentimes such moments of indecision lead to procrastination, which may be rooted in some “pain points” related to the task. My first trick is to write out the subconscious points of pain that are making me want to avoid whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing. The simple act of acknowledging these avoidance areas and setting them to paper (or screen) will at least propel them out of the realm of the subconscious mind.

Secondly, I find for me that oftentimes a task seems more difficult than it is because I am lacking some knowledge related to it (or just need a refresher course). Taking a break, reading some blogs, or watching some tutorial videos on a site like Lynda.com can go a long way in dispelling the feelings of avoidance related to a task. Learning also contributes new ideas and sources of inspiration, which always tend to cast a fresh ray of light on even the most seemingly odious task.

Marketing Blogs That Inspire

Amid the constant hum of everyday work, it pays to sit back and appreciate the broader impact of one’s vocation and how it relates to one’s life in general. I did just that today. For inspiration, I found three marketing-related blogs that take a broader view of business apart from the usual “10 Tips on How to Boost Your Social Media Presence” type posts. I’ll share them with you below.

The first is Seth Godin’s blog. What I like about Seth is his pithy philosophical approach to work. I also admire that he posts an article each day, almost as a discipline. That’s something I’ll try to aim for — divided between my three blogs (personal, academic, and vocational).

The second blog is A Learning A Day. Similarly, Rohan, the writer of the blog, posts once a day, which makes these first two blogs continual sources of inspiration to come back to on a daily basis. He even mentions Seth as a major source of influence in his own life and work. Such thoughtful, dutiful blogs are refreshing (to me, at least) amid the hustle of everyday work and an ever-changing business climate.

Finally, there is a classic: Signal v. Noise. This blog is from the founders of Basecamp, a company from my hometown of Chicago. I was first exposed to their work via their book, REWORK, which triggered an awakening in me about the possibilities of different types of work cultures. I will return to this blog, though they post less often than others.

Vocational Inspiration for Marketing

Sushi from the film, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"Marketing is difficult to do well. There are whole industries of inspiring marketing tools to fuel the creativity of the professional marketer: social media outlets, project management software, marketing automation utilities, analytics packages, and much more. But what about broader sources of inspiration for marketing as a vocation?

I have found several documentaries on Netflix to be personally inspiring. They are not about marketing per se; rather, they exhibit individuals who are wholly devoted to their craft. The first two feature prominently the Japanese culture of work and how seriously certain craftsmen approach their trade: Jiro Dreams of Sushi and The Birth of Sake.

From these two documentaries I learned the importance of the long-run view of work. Marketing success is rarely something you can capture in the first few years of work. It takes many years to master even a new craft such as digital marketing. Expecting an immediate windfall of prosperity in marketing can lead to disappointment.

A documentary literally closer to home is Crafting a Nation about upstart craft beer brewers in America. From this film, I grew to appreciate the amount of obstacles that lie in the path of most professional endeavors and how much hard work is required to overcome them. This is true of marketing as well. Sometimes it is difficult to appreciate the value of work when many of one’s digital campaigns (especially in the early phases) are underperforming. It’s one thing to say to oneself that marketing is an iterative process, it’s another quality entirely to convince oneself that things will improve in the long run as one perfects a craft.

This brings me to my final question: how does a professional marketer improve their craftsmanship? Well, marketing is both creative and analytical work. To the former end, radio personality Ira Glass (of This American Life fame) describes in this interview the process required. Nothing else is a substitute for hard work and perseverance to bring eventual results in creative projects.

If you’re looking for sources of vocational inspiration, check out the ones I listed above. What others resources have inspired you to keeping your marketing chops sharp?