What Marketing Can Teach Us About Time Management

If you’ve worked in marketing during the last few years, you’ve no doubt heard these buzzwords: data, automation, vanity metrics, planning.

As a marketer-turned-productivity-professional, I’ve quickly realized these principles directly correlate to many time management habits and skills.

Here’s what I mean:

Track your time.

As a marketer, every decision should be informed by data, right? The same holds true for your time management. For example, how much time do you spend on your smartphone every day?

Guesstimating in marketing will get you in trouble, so why do it in time management as well? Use an app like Moment (sorry, iOS only) to measure your smartphone usage, including the amount of time you use each app.

Even if the data doesn’t surprise you, it will help you make better decisions about how to spend your time.

Don’t fall for vanity metrics.

As data-driven marketers, it’s easy to become mesmerized by vanity metrics — data that doesn’t make a tangible impact on our goals. In time management, this illusion is known as mistaking motion for progress. Or, as my dad says, getting caught up in the thick of thin things.

I used to think that working 10-to-12 hours a day meant I was being productive. Eventually I learned (the hard way) that a long, hard workday doesn’t necessarily indicate meaningful progress. As with most anything in life, it’s not the quantity of your tasks and activities in a workday, but the quality of them.

To steer your productivity ship closer to the port of quality, use the Eisenhower Matrix to make virtually every decision easier and more profound. At the same time, focus on Deep Work, an environment of distraction-free concentration, so you can produce better work in less time.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Automate good habits.

Automation is to marketing as carbon is to oxygen, and time management is no different. In fact, the easiest way to guarantee good time management habits stick is to automate them. That is, to make a single decision, or take a single action, today that will lock in success tomorrow, the next day, et cetera.

For example, Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, plugs his router into a power strip equipped with a timer, and sets the strip to automatically turn off at 10 o’clock every evening, to ensure he stops using the Internet by this time every day. In doing so, Nir goes to sleep earlier, wakes up earlier, and the cycle repeats itself time and again.

Other examples of using technology to create good time management habits include:

Planning will make for better days.

Every modern-day marketer knows content calendars make for better content. You know, content that gets published at the right time, through the right channels, to the right audience. Yada, yada, yada.

In time management, a daily calendar (formally known as Vertical Planning) makes for better days — days in which you get to do everything you want to do, not just everything you need to do.

Vertical Planning is the practice of architecting each day, hour-by-hour, with hard (but agile) deadlines for when you’ll finish each task or activity, and when you’ll move on to the next.

Think of your days the same way doctors think of theirs — with pre-defined start and stop times for each appointment. The only difference is, their appointments are with people, while yours are with tasks and activities.

In short, Vertical Planning is the single-greatest decision you can make to go from surviving (doing everything you need to do every day) to thriving (doing everything you want to do every day).

Josh Hoffman is the founder of Hack My Time, where he helps people do better work (and more of it) in less time.