Ultimate Marketer’s Guide to Productivity Part 1: Email and Scheduling

To say that marketers are busy is a dramatic understatement. We’ve got dozens of demands on our time and attention, which can leave us feeling like we’re only putting out fires and never really making progress.

For us, an AtTask survey that was released last fall really drove this point home and made us realize that us marketers might need a little helping hand to get their days back under control. So we undertook some research of our own, put our (very frazzled) heads together, and came up with a four-part approach to getting back in control of our days.

productivity for marketers

Once you’ve implemented the hacks outlined here, and in the second part of this series, we hope you’ll be having better marketing days all the time.

3 Email Hacks That Save at Least 48 Hour Per Month

We’re all a slave to our inbox in one way or another; email is one of those love/hate parts of the modern workday that we just can’t get rid of. But a 2014 study of how marketers spend their time revealed that 63% of marketers spend three or more hours PER DAY on email.

Three hours a day is way too much time to spend on email.

Applying basic organizational systems to your email overload can reduce the time you spend on email by 80%. That means that by simply improving the way you handle this necessary professional evil you could get at least 12 hours per week back into your working life.

Who wouldn’t like to eliminate 48 hours of email from their month?

Try these 3 strategies to help you hack your inbox:

Strategy #1: Turn Off Your Email Notifications

When you’re trying to do anything that is not answering email, turn your email notifications off.

No, I’m serious. Turn off your email. It’s ruining your productivity and sucking hours out of your day. Turn it off.

We’ve all had something like this happen:

You’re cranking out a great piece of blog content, only to be interrupted by the ping of an email that you feel obligated to glance at. Then it turns out to be a “crisis” that interrupts your work, and by the time you’re done handling the email fallout the momentum of your previous activity is totally gone.

It doesn’t have to be this way if you’re not getting email notifications throughout the day.

Sure, there are some instances where email blindness legitimately isn’t a possibility. But even those accustomed to being instantly available via email might be more flexible than they think.

Strategy #2: Batch Your Email

Now that your email isn’t haunting your every waking moment, it should free you up to process your emails at two set times during your day. Set aside 30 minutes to an hour to deal with them systematically one by one, and then don’t look at them again until your next processing session.

Here’s how to batch:

  • First, find emails that need a response right now, and work through them one by one. Respond to each one as quickly as you can while maintaining the appropriate tone.
  • Second, identify any emails that are assigning you a time sensitive task. If it’s urgent, write it down to tackle right after your batching session is done. If it’s not urgent, add the task to your calendar. In both cases, delete the email.
  • Third, get ready to clear your inbox by moving non-urgent messages into your folders.

A useful folder system within your email client is absolutely vital to the batch process. It will allow you to confidently move emails out of your inbox and into a folder, where they will be neatly filed and won’t be distracting you with their tempting subject lines.

An email folder system needs to be personalized, and you should be prepared to tweak it as you go along, but some common ways to organize email folders are:

To Read: this folder is where you put things you want to read but that aren’t urgent. Interesting newsletters go here, but only if they actually include an article of value. Scan them first to make sure they don’t really belong in the trash.

Important Note: For the “To Read” folder to work, you actually have to read it. Set aside time every other day, or once a week if you don’t get much incoming information, to really dig through these pieces of content. Read the good stuff; delete ruthlessly.

To Respond: here’s where those non-urgent response emails go. If you have time at the end of your daily batching sessions, respond to a few.

Emails Related to Your Specific Needs: Take a moment to think about the kinds of emails you regularly return to, and what categories they fall into. Make folders for those categories, and you’re done.

Personally I’m not very fond of folders in my current job, because we use chat to communicate internally and I’m not communicating directly with customers whose email chains I need to review quickly.

On the other hand, when I was working at an agency I had folders for each active client as well as more general company information.

Find a system that works for you, but above all get things out of your inbox.

Your folder setup is also something you shouldn’t be afraid to overhaul if/when you find it’s not serving you. If you’re ever hesitant about where to move an email to get it out of your inbox, it might be time to rethink your folders.

Strategy #3: Alleviate Anxiety with Autoresponders

Stressed about people not getting a response when they email you? The autoresponder is your friend. It lets people know you won’t be constantly checking email, so they’re not expecting an immediate reply.

When I first read this strategy in Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Work Week, it was a revelation to me.

Tim suggests setting up an autoresponder like this one:

Greetings, Friends [or Esteemed Colleagues],

Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to email twice daily at 12: 00 P.M. ET [or your time zone] and 4: 00 P.M. ET.

If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until either 12: 00 P.M. or 4: 00 P.M., please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.

Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more to serve you better.


[Your name]

I read this, realized how much easier it would make my day, and was a little terrified. It seemed so much like cheating.

At the time I was spending an inordinate amount of time handling inquiries about a particular client’s reprint permissions. I’d get basically the same email dozens of times a week, and I typed out a unique reply to each one.

My actual autoresponder was more like this, but it accomplished the same purpose:

Thank you for your inquiry about [Client’s Comic Strip].

We greatly appreciate your interest in [This Cartoonist’s] work, and we hope that we can work with you to meet your needs. However, [Mr. Cartoonist] is very particular about how he permits his work to be used, so we ask that you review this quick FAQ [link] to see if your request falls under our reprint guidelines.

If this page does not answer your question, please fill out a permission request form [link] and we will contact you within two business days with a reply.


[My Name and Contact Information]

Immediately the number of emails I answered directly each week went from several dozen to less than five, and I got zero complaints.

With the time I saved I was able to finally take a breath and look around me to find other ways of streamlining the processes of my department. This gave me even more time to devote to more valuable tasks, and the whole thing snowballed beautifully.

I got a promotion, and a raise, all thanks to being more efficient with email tasks.

Hack your email. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Do It Before Lunch: Two Hours That Make Or Break Your Productivity

most productive times of the day

Research by the Creative Group

The graphic above is pretty clear: marketers reach their highest levels of creativity and productivity before lunch. We’re pretty evenly split about whether our peak times are 8-10 or 10-12, but the consensus is clearly that those morning hours are make or break periods.

Now, let’s do an experiment.

Open your calendar, and look at when you have your meetings scheduled.

The vast majority of mine are clustered right smack in those all-powerful morning hours, and I’m willing to bet that’s the case for many of my marketing peers.

I suspect this because a separate poll conducted by AtTask found that 24% of marketers blame unproductive meetings for destroying their productivity.

So the problem is clear: the majority of marketers work best in the morning, yet many of us are being sidetracked from our prime productivity time by meetings.

The solution: hack your schedule. Make the most of every single minute in your ultra-productive and ultra-creative time slot to attack your most demanding projects.

Shut Down Distractions for An Hour Each Morning

Pick your two favorite hours in the super productive 8-12 window (preferably consecutive, but do what works for you), and sequester yourself with your two most vital tasks for the day.

If you can’t do it any other time during the day, turn off email and chat notifications during these hours. For those with contacts who expect instant responsiveness, enable an autoresponder indicating when you’ll be back.

Now that your email isn’t a distraction, eliminate social media noise by turning off Tweetdeck or other feeds.

Next, if you have one, mark yourself as “busy” on your public calendar so no one will schedule you for a meeting of any kind.

Put on noise-cancelling headphones and/or music to jam with, but DO NOT TAKE YOUR CELL PHONE.

Finally, go to work.

If being able to achieve this level of focus means getting to work 15-30 minutes early to get coffee, answer email, etc. before you dig in, then that’s fine. Make it happen. Your goal is to block off 2 full hours for pure productivity before noon.

Be explicit with yourself about the goals of this time. Don’t sit down in the silence with no plan of attack, or you’ll spend part of your valuable time planning and organizing. Unless that’s your vital task (such as planning a new site launch or social media strategy), have your checklist ready to go before you go into your pre-noon cocoon.

Empower Yourself to Be Creative Before Noon

If your vital tasks also call for creativity — be it graphics or writing or something else — you also need to make sure the environment is conducive to that type of work.

Here you’ll need to do some soul searching to figure out what kind of environment fuels your creativity. Is it:

  • Clean and pristine: no distractions, nothing on your desk, nothing in your hand, nothing going on.
  • Surrounded by artistry: your favorite music, some beautiful scenery, some clay to fiddle with.
  • The power of the group: a room full of people coming up with new content ideas, or sketching a new landing page, or brainstorming ideas for a new tool for your customers.

Whatever it is, don’t leave it up to chance. Deliberately foster the right sort of space for your creativity to flow, and hunker down there during your prime creativity window.

Only a fraction of your productive pre-lunch time might be spent in “creative mode;” don’t feel that you need to devote your whole window to this unless your vital tasks demand it and/or the creative spirit is really moving you.

Baby Steps: How to Get Started

Two hours may sound like a scary amount of time to be sequestered and forced to “be productive,” so take it a little bit at a time and see how it works for you. I think you should start with at least a 45 minute window, because anything less won’t actually give you enough time to accomplish anything major.

Do two separate 45 minute blocks, maybe one at 8 and one at 10:30, to see which time you like best. Then start expanding from the one you prefer.

I’m definitely a morning person, so I really jam on the days when I can make it into the office by 7:30, take 15 minutes for coffee and email, and then head to an unfrequented corner to write until 9am when my daily meeting takes place.

Having a block of time, preferably one that falls during these hours of peak productivity and creativity before noon, will massively increase your output in a week and help you break out of the “putting out fires” mode that can so easily derail marketers.

How Much Time Will You Save?

There’s a lot of space in most of our days for improvement. All we have to do is take those first few steps to finding that space. Those first steps are likely to be the hardest, but also offer the biggest payoffs.

Between email and scheduling adjustments and managing multitasking and meetings (which we cover in Part 2 of this series), a better day is just around the corner.

better marketing day


This was originally inspired by “A Day in the Life of a Marketer” published by AtTask, but we wanted to go beyond the challenges marketers are facing and give them tools to overcome those obstacles.

If you’d like a printable PDF of this infographic, you can download one.

Or, if you want a nice ebook that dives into all the topics you see in the infographic, you can download it here.

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Andrea Fryrear
About the Author:

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea loves to dissect marketing buzzwords and fads looking for the pearls of wisdom at their cores. Her favorite topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling (and less stressful) marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for business. When not scrutinizing the latest agile methodologies, Andrea can be found on the volleyball court, at the park with her two delightful kids, or baking “calorie-free” cookies. Connect with her on Twitter @AndreaFryrear, or on LinkedIn.

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