It’s not news that marketers need to manage our time carefully in order to be most effective at our jobs. The hard part is finding a time management tool that can stand up to the daily grind (and regular avalanches) that marketers face.
So we asked three team members here at MarketerGizmo to try out three different time management tools for a week, and let us know how they stacked up.
Here’s how the classic Getting Things Done system, its offshoot Zen to Done, and the Italian creation Pomodoro worked for us.
Zen to Done (ZTD) was rated the most highly by its tester, followed by Getting Things Done (GTD) and Pomodoro. The important thing we noticed was that our own personalities and daily routines greatly influenced our choice of time management tool and whether or not we enjoyed using it.
Getting Things Done, Marketing Edition
This system, often abbreviated as GTD, was created by David Allen and covered in his book by the same name. According to the website, “GTD enables greater performance, capacity, and innovation. It alleviates the feeling of overwhelm — instilling focus, clarity and confidence.”1
Who doesn’t want that, right?
MarketerGizmo Test: 4 Stars
Sandy took on GTD for a week, and found it very satisfying, partially because it aligned with how she likes to work. She felt that she was already doing a lot of what GTD recommends, just not consciously.
On our agile marketing team she found it particularly challenging to take the necessary time to reflect and clarify. When she forced herself to make time for those two steps, she found that she became more productive.
Sandy’s feedback: “I am a task master, so the doing part is easy. It is taking time to reflect and clarify that I found challenging but am mastering. David Allen says that if you’re overwhelmed you lose perspective, and I couldn’t agree more.”
The relationship for Sandy was clear: more reflection and clarification definitely lead to better productivity. “The key to GTD is being mindful!”, she says.
For those unfamiliar with the system, GTD breaks down into five stages:
- Capture: Collect what has your attention. Use an in-basket, notepad, or voice recorder to capture 100% of everything that has your attention. Little, big, personal and professional — all your to-do’s, projects, things to handle or finish.
- Clarify: Process what it means. Take everything that you capture and ask: is it actionable? If no, then trash it, incubate it, or file it as a reference. If yes, decide the very next action required. If it will take less than two minutes, do it now. If not, delegate it if you can; or put it on a list to do when you can.
- Organize: Put it where it belongs. Put action reminders on the right lists. For example create lists for the appropriate categories — calls to make, errands to run, emails to send, etc.
- Reflect: Review frequently. Look over your lists as often as necessary to determine what to do next. Do a weekly review to clean up, update your lists, and clear your mind.
- Engage: Simply do. Use your systems to take appropriate actions with confidence.1
Since its meteoric rise to popularity in the early 2000s, there have been many former GTD converts who have abandoned the system. Their reasons vary widely, but common complaints are:
- Its focus on next actions can be limiting, especially in one’s personal life.
- The fixation on tasks over projects can be difficult for creative professionals and those in highly intellectual fields like academia.
- The output of the GTD system is focused on shallow tasks rather than deeper projects.
Nonetheless, it can help marketers immensely, particularly when we are buried under a never-ending pile of individual tasks.
Marketing with Zen to Done
The popularity of Getting Things Done led to many offshoots designed to counteract its limitations, and one of these was Zen to Done (ZTD) by Leo Babauta. According to him, Zen to Done “focuses on the habit changes necessary for GTD, in a more practical way, and it focuses on doing, on simplifying, and on adding a simple structure.”2
Heidi, our resident marketing yoga pro, seemed like a good fit to try this one out, and she was an immediate convert.
MarketerGizmo Test: 5 Stars
As with the previous tool, Heidi tried out ZTD for a week. Once again, she picked a system that appealed to her working style and found it to be a great fit.
The focus on avoiding multitasking and focusing on simplicity “seemed like common sense” to Heidi, and she found this organizational style fit very well in our agile environment.
Leo Babauta created this system to combat what he sees as five shortcomings of David Allen’s tool:
- GTD tries to get you to change many habits at once, which rarely works. Zen To Done focuses on one habit at a time.
- There’s too much focus on the system and not enough on the doing with GTD.
- There isn’t enough structure in the Getting Things Done system. ZTD adds optional daily habits to help structure the system.
- GTD doesn’t discriminate among all the things coming in and doesn’t provide priorities. Instead Babuta’s tool tries to eliminate non essential tasks so you can do a few things really well.
- Little focus is given to long term goals in the Getting Things Done system, while ZTD helps you zero in on important tasks on a daily, weekly, and long-term basis.2
Heidi’s favorite part was the immediate capture system, which for her meant “using a small book to carry around with you and take notes about your tasks – also using a planner to plan it out.”
As with GTD, this part of the system is very applicable to a marketer’s day, where we have an influx of tasks and demands. Taking a few seconds to process and prioritize can save us hours later on.
Final words of advice from Heidi: “Decide right away where something needs to go – whether it needs your attention right away, or if you are putting it on the back burner, but definitely organize as you go – don’t let things pile up.”
Drawbacks of Using ZTD
From our own acid tests, we found little negative to say about Zen to Done. It fit in well with our marketer’s day, and we didn’t find any situation in which it broke down or stopped being effective.
For those who have problems with the basic premise of ZTD (the instant capture with a notebook or the constant and consistent habit changes), you might run into trouble. Otherwise the system is flexible enough to accommodate most working styles.
The Pomodoro System Applied to Marketing
Pomodoro was the oldest system that we reviewed; it got started in the 1980s by Francesco Cirilli. Its focus is on working with time rather than against it, avoiding burnout, and eliminating distractions by forcing short breaks after super productive periods of work called “Pomodori.”
This was my system to review, and like the other two reviewers I chose it because it seemed to jive with how I already structure my day.
MarketerGizmo Review: 2 Stars
In all honesty, it was a long week for me while using this technique. I was expecting a fairly seamless integration but found sticking to the 25-minute size of a Pomodoro frustrating.
On the surface Pomodoro’s system is much simpler than either GTD or ZTD. It has four basic parts:
- Pick something you need to focus on 100%. Set a timer for 25 minutes (one Pomodoro).
- Work on your task for 25 minutes without stopping or deviating. If your phone rings, don’t answer it. Same goes for email or chat or texts.
- When the timer goes off, mark your Pomodoro as complete and take a 5 minute break.
- Go back to your tasks for another Pomodoro. After four consecutive Pomodori, take a longer break of about 20 minutes.
Sounds easy, right? The problem is that a lot of my day is spent writing and researching, and inevitably the timer would ring right as I was in the middle of a good writing flow, or while I was digging into some great background research.
Then I had to interrupt my work to take the required break.
The system is designed to help you eliminate distractions, but the whole system began to feel like a distraction to me.
I’d see the timer counting down and start to get frantic because I was still in process and didn’t want to stop. Then I couldn’t enjoy my break because I was stressed about getting back into the flow I had broken.
I stuck with the 25 minute intervals for the week to hold true to our goal of testing the systems as they were designed, but if I decide to revisit it I’ll definitely be using longer Pomodori.
Benefits of the Pomodoro Technique
If you spend your day hopping around from task to task without being able to focus your energies, this system would be ideal for you.
The 25 minute Pomodoro length would be a good chunk of time for those who are new to a time management tool; as you get comfortable with it you could extend the time to an amount that works best for you.
Using the timer and forcing yourself into a deliberately short sprint of work is a great way for people who are bombarded by external demands to still achieve their most important tasks each day.
So while I found it troublesome in its original form, I think the system as a whole can be helpful. I’m considering trying it with 45 minute Pomodori, and if I do so I’ll update my review here.
Conclusion: Try Something Today
A short 30-minute research session will equip you with all the information you need to try any of these systems, so you have no excuse not to try one this week.
We do recommend committing to a single time management tool for a whole week so that you can get an accurate feel for how it fits into your work day. You need to account for normal and crazy days and see how your chosen method works in both.
Whichever system you choose — GTD, ZTD, Pomodoro or something else — the goal is to help you feel in control of your workflow so you can manage your tasks and your day.
1. Getting Things Done
2. Zen to Done