Are You Moving the Needle or Just Moving: Our Gut Check Challenge

Andrea Fryrear on Content Marketing

Soon we will be releasing the results of our on-the-ground test of three very popular time management systems. In case you’re wondering if you should try out one of these or just stick with what you’re doing, we offer this challenge:

Write down everything — every single thing — that you do for three work days.


Look at each item and ask yourself, did this task get me/my department/my company closer to our goals, or was it busy work?

The idea is to get a detailed look at how you’re actually spending your day, and whether or not your time is being invested in the right places.

For those who aren’t interested in being more efficient, effective, and excited about their marketing life, this exercise may not be for you. But if you want to take a hard look at what your day-to-day activities reveal about your priorities, take the plunge.

A warning before you proceed: you may not like what you find out.

Why Examine Your Marketing Efficiency

We’ve all had days when we look up, it’s 3:30pm, and we feel that we haven’t accomplished a single thing.

When you consider the sheer number of tasks that might be on a marketer’s plate it’s easy to see how we get to this place. The question is, how do we get to a better one?

In the professional world of email, chat, meetings, and social media, everyone is bound to have “running in place” days from time to time. They’re inevitable and normal.

A problem emerges when marketers find themselves having these days more and more often. Then they are just moving, but never moving the needle.

This cataloguing exercise is designed to give you a very specific picture of how you are actually spending your time, so you can then determine what doesn’t belong.

How to Start Quickly and Easily

You’re only going to be doing this for three days, so no need to spend hours finding a fancy time tracking software. (That would not be moving the needle.)

For the analysis portion of the experiment a spreadsheet will make arranging the tasks easier, so that’s my recommendation. In fact, you can download our spreadsheet template right here.

All you need is something like this:

8:00 – 8:15am:  Checked email; responded to 3 guest blog inquiries

8:15 – 8:37am:  Read interesting article from email newsletter, got caught up in researching the new calendar tools it mentioned.

8:37 – 8:52am: Went to get coffee. Chatted with Paul in the lounge.

8:52 – 9:00am: Tried to empty email inbox but had to stop for morning meeting.

9:00 – 9:30am: Morning status meeting

9:30 – 9:40am: Followed up on tasks for new article with Samantha.

And the list goes on.

The important thing here is to be very, very specific, and not fudge the list to look better than it is. Nobody is going to see this except you, and for the exercise to work you’ve got to be brutally honest.

Do this for three full working days, so you can account for any anomalies or emergencies that pop up during your tracking.

What to Do With the Information You Get

After you have three full days’ worth of data, it’s time to get real.

Look at each of your entries on the spreadsheet and decide if that block of time actually “moved the needle,” meaning did you get yourself/your team/your department closer to its goals during that time?

The spreadsheet we made will aggregate the time for each of your entries, so you can see how long you spent on each task. Then you can sort the “Moved Needle?” column, separate the “yes’s” from the “no’s,” and add up each one.

After you sort it, the spreadsheet will look something like this:

moving marketing needle

Then just add up the times under the “Yes” and “No” categories. Our sample sheet ended up with 305 minutes of “moving” and 252 minutes of “moving the needle.”

This marketer could use some help. She’s certainly not slacking off, but ideally she would be spending a lot more time on needle-moving tasks than busy work. That’s some good data, but it’s not enough.

As with any data gathering activity, it’s not the information that gets results, it’s what you do with it.

The marketer from our example spreadsheet clearly needs to take charge of her day, and we are here to help. Check out our forthcoming guide to two great time management systems, and you can also download our “A (Better) Day in the Life of a Marketer” ebook.

The ebook includes actionable tips for cutting out 40 hours of email from your month, removing hours of meetings from your calendar, learning to manage multitasking, and structuring your schedule for the best results.

But while we like our ebook because it’s aimed specifically at marketers (and because we wrote it!), there are literally dozens (hundreds?) of ways you can adjust your day to get it to a point that you’re proud of.

Find some that speak to you, commit to them, and get better results from your day.

Conclusion: Knowledge is Scary Power for Marketers

The easy path is to continue treading water and using the old line, “I’ll get to that when things calm down.”

Reminder: this is marketing. Things will never really calm down.

The harder path, the one that will hopefully lead to better job performance and a more fulfilling work week, is to take a hard look at the realities of your day and address its shortcoming.

It’s a scary, powerful self-examination, but you can do it.