For this series about the crossover wisdom between work and life, we talked to Michele Linn about focus and making space for meaningful work. Michele is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research which helps marketers develop and publish original research that grabs their audience's attention. Previously, she led the editorial team at Content Marketing Institute (CMI). She has written hundreds of marketing-related articles and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences.
Work on the Right Things, One at a Time
There are busy people and productive people. Busy people always talk about how busy they are. Productive people get things done.
As a marketer, it’s easy to be busy. We all have a to-do list a mile long that reflects all of the things we could do. To be productive you need to identify the right things to work on instead of moving from one shiny idea to the next.
As Joe Pullizi [founder of CMI] once remarked to me, we need to be like “a horse with blinders.” Know what you want to accomplish, get laser-focused, and then knock them off our list one-by-one.
I’m in the midst of starting a new business. We have a plan for how we want to grow and what we want to be known for.
You can’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.
Part of this building process is saying "No" to ideas and some revenue-generating projects. Some of these decisions might not be great for Q1 revenue, but will hopefully will pay off in the long term.
Figuring out what those right things are applies at home as well. There are so many opportunities for my family to be busy with activities. While we cherish our friends and family, we started saying no more often so that we feel a sense of calm instead of frenzy. Sometimes an afternoon playdate is fun for one of our girls, but if this comes at the expense of my (exciting!) Sunday afternoon spent prepping meals and folding laundry, it may not be worth it because the week will be disorganized.
Make Space to Create Something of Value
So many marketers lament that there’s not enough time to create something meaningful. While time can be tough to come by, too many of us have poor work habits. Instead of doing the tough work of thinking through the problem at hand, or communicating something in an approachable way, we often jump from this to that, and end up with little time to create anything.
In Deep Work, Cal Newport writes about how we need to give ourselves space and time to work on projects that are meaningful and tough to accomplish if you’re always “on.” Over the past year I’ve been adopting this mindset in my work. It’s not always easy, and it’s a constant process. I’m a believer in the “Pomodoro technique” and noise-cancelling headphones to help me focus even when every part of me wants to move on to something easier.
While I can’t stop my brain from coming up with ideas, I’m pretty deliberate about how I work. I can tell you exactly what I’m going to work on this week and next week. It might change, but I try really hard not to move on to the next thing or take on anything new until something is done.
I’ve been channeling that need for focus into our household, too. It’s easy to find 20 things to do like researching new windows or planning a trip. While research is often necessary, I’m a big believer in finding a “good enough” option and checking it off the list so we don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.
Don’t Compare Your Beginning to Someone Else’s Middle
I’m a big believer of getting outside my comfort zone and trying things that are difficult for me. This past year I decided it was time to speak at more events. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s easy to feel disheartened watching the pros command a stage, the audience and their message, and wish you could be like them.
But here’s a gem I picked up this year that has become a bit of a mantra (and I wish I could remember the source): You can’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. So while I still watch seasoned speakers, I no longer feel pressure to perform like they do. Instead, I remind myself that I’m learning something and (hopefully) getting better with each presentation. Thinking through how to tell a story in a verbal format instead of a written one has been very useful.
These lessons apply to parenting as well. The other week we tried archery for the first time. Both of my daughters were getting frustrated that their arrows were not getting close to the target, but after a pep talk and a reminder that you need to begin at the beginning, they appreciated the outing for the experience instead of their performance.
Crossover Wisdom is a series of interviews about the leadership theories, practices, and experiences that have had a positive impact on our lives beyond work. Follow me on LinkedIn or sign up here to receive updates when we post new interviews.
I am an independent leadership and management writer, editor, researcher and journalist. For the past ten-plus years (wow, has it been that long already?) I have helped business leaders and companies tell powerful stories.
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