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Take the Suck out of Time-Sucking Tasks

It doesn’t matter where you work, or what kind of marketing you’re doing. Everyone has that one time-suck activity that they can’t seem to speed up or get rid of.

Time Suck Vortex 2

Case in point:

A publisher friend contacted me yesterday to ask I would be willing to share time-management advice with her team. She runs a new lifestyle magazine in Nashville, Tenn. with print, online and live-event components. That means her small staff juggles advertising, marketing, editorial and event planning activities — all on deadline, with multiple deadlines throughout the week.

It’s no wonder that she set up a one-day retreat for them with topics including managing stress and using tech tools for marketing productivity. I agreed to talk a little bit about both, with one stipulation: Could her team members send me their top time-suck stressors? She sent this list back within a couple of hours.

All marketers can identify with several, if not all, of these time sucks.

Here’s my best advice for how to speed up, automate or get rid of stress related to these tasks:

1. Taking (and understanding) notes

Problem: “Taking notes for a post, then later having to sort through them and figure out the relevancy.”


  • Type up your notes as soon as possible. Your short-term memory can hold only a few pieces of information at a time. That’s why you take notes in the first place. You’re keeping your short-term memory free to take in new information. But very few things get transferred from your short-term memory into your long-term memory — and long-term memory is what you’re activating when you’re trying to recall the details of an event a day or two or nine later. Bottom line: the faster you flesh out those notes while your memories are fresh, the better. You simply won’t be able to remember all the details later.
  • Label each page. Use a new page for each main aspect of your interview or research. Take a moment to label it. You will thank yourself later for being so organized in the first place.
  • Circle key points. When someone is speaking, and you’re scrambling to capture the most important points and quote the most interesting phrases, it’s easy to mix up what’s important with what’s interesting. Take a moment to circle or underline the important thoughts. The interesting ones will stand out no matter what.

2. Giving photo attribution

Problem: “Giving proper credit on images used.”


Photo Caption Files

  • Write captions at the same time that you download/name/resize photos. Keep one folder on your desktop that contains only images you download. In the same folder, keep a text file. When you name the image, add that name to your text file with the photo credit and/or caption directly underneath. Include the link. Create a little template for yourself to speed this up even more.
  • Use Compfight. Does it get any easier than cut-and-paste? Make Compfight your go-to tool for finding photos quickly and getting the right attribution.
  • Make it a rule. Don’t even pull a photo into your online article or print design program unless you have the photo credit. If you must, stick a giant “FPO” (For Position Only) across the image and don’t delete it until you add the photo credit. When you’re proofing a page, online or in print, ALWAYS look for the photo credit.

3. Writing better emails

Problem: “Responding to emails in a prompt, professional, yet casual, not too friendly or over excited, yet not boring, way.”


Tone Chart Example

  • Create a simple tone guide. In truth, this person is on the right track for developing a voice. Take a few minutes to make a mini-chart out of the rules, similar to the one pictured above. Then tape it to the side of your monitor. Read it before you write a reply, every reply. Double-check before you hit send. In rapid order, the tone you want to have will become second nature.
  • Don’t overthink it. Chances are, this person falls into the “I write like I talk” category. Does this describe you? The good thing is that you probably sound genuine in writing. The bad thing is that you can come across as unprofessional. Err on the side of genuine. Professionalism can be a matter of proper grammar, spelling, capitalization and punctuation. Master those skills, and what you write will remain professional no matter how effusive your style.
  • Save examples of your ideal style. Has anyone ever sent you an email that you thought had exactly the right tone? Save it! Then refer to it when you’re looking for guidance. Email marketers do this regularly with something they call “swipe files.”
  • Count up your exclamation points. If you’re a naturally excited person, then you should use exclamation points! It’s who you are. But don’t use them on every sentence! Don’t end every paragraph with them! They lose their impact and look juvenile, especially more than one in a row!!! A good rule of thumb is one per email.

4. Managing email overload

Problem: “Managing email inbox. I’m perpetually behind it feels and a massive source of stress … some sort of great calendar/to do list/inbox organizer tips would be great.”

Interoffice Memo ExampleSolutions:

  • Archive everything as soon as possible. If I get an email that requires action on my part, then I make a task on my to-do list. (I use Wunderlist.) Then I tag the email or move it to the relevant folder and archive it. When I get to that item on my to-do list, a simple search pulls up the email I need. If I reply right away, I take advantage of Gmail’s “Send + Archive” button. Emails that don’t require action or replies get archived or trashed immediately. This technique plus the quick-swipe features of Mailbox have cut the time I spend on email in half. Marketing productivity FTW!
  • Unsubscribe. When you’re drowning in email, get rid of the marketing messages first. You can resubscribe later if you’re really missing those Topshop coupons. Use a tool like Unroll.me to make this process super easy.
  • Keep it short. Set a personal goal, such as: “Every email is going to be three sentences/paragraphs or shorter.” Or “If my response is going to require more than three paragraphs, I’ll pick up the phone or schedule a meeting.” Some websites, such as Sentenc.es for three- and five-sentence emails, help you set these goals. Even if it’s impossible to reach such a goal with every email, you’ll find that you start writing shorter in general.
  • Send fewer emails. Before you send an email, ask yourself, “Would I send this information as an official interoffice memo?” If not, don’t send the email. When someone sends you an email that contains information, are you in the habit of thanking them? Why? That’s just one more for you to send and one more for them to read. If you send fewer emails, you get fewer emails in return. Guaranteed. I wrote in more detail about this in Productive Marketing: 3 Steps to a Tidy Inbox.

5. Designing posters and flyers

Canva Design AppProblem: “Making simple posters / flyers / Facebook banners without Photoshop”


  • Canva: Simply put, Canva is the best tool I have ever seen for creating modern designs without Photoshop, Illustrator OR any design experience whatsoever. And it’s free. FREE. Put this on your must-try list.
  • Word, Pages and Google Drive templates: They may not have the most modern designs in the world, but if you want simple, professional fliers this is the fastest route to go. When you create a new file, simple choose the “New File from Template” option for each tool. Browse until you find the format you like. Or you can download more templates from the links here; some bundles are free and some bundles cost $20-$30.
  • Facebook Timeline Slicer: This easy tool helps you create right-sized Facebook images in no time.
  • Social Image Resizer Tool: Internet Marketing Ninjas repurposed an old favicon cropping tool into an all-purpose social media image resizing tool. It’s less visual than the Timeline Slicer, but far more flexible.

What do you think of these solutions? What would you add to the list? Are there marketing productivity issues that you grapple? Email me and I’ll help you out in future columns.

Vortex Photo Credit: Ack Ook via Compfight cc. Tone Guide Chart Photo Credit: Gather Content. Interoffice Memo Photo Credit: Michael Cory via Compfight cc

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As Director of Marketing and Customer Experience at Raven, Arienne Holland divides her time between marketing, communications and understanding developers. Before Raven, Arienne spent more than a decade as an editor and graphic designer for Gannett. She’s a factoid junkie, typography aficionado and middle child who just wants everyone to get along.