The world of marketing is upended. Here’s a framework for what to focus on now.

So, how is your year going? Business as usual, right?

Let’s be honest: who among us is comfortable with the state of media and marketing? The only thing we know for certain is that uncertainty will persist for the foreseeable future. But that hasn’t stopped a flood of think pieces on marketing in “the new normal” or the “post-shutdown reality”. We continue to read about how our work is “permanently changed”, and how to create “content in the time of coronavirus” (okay, that last one is made up).

This sensationalism is being driven by a real fear among marketers that we’re going to have to figure out how the world works… again. That all of the ways we thought we could count on to reach and convert audiences have been made irrelevant. And while we can’t predict the future, nor are we epidemiologists, but we can at least control what we can control: our time, and how we spend it. 

To that end, consider the Eisenhower Matrix.

Popularized by Stephen Covey in his book, First Things First, the Eisenhower Matrix framework helps prioritize critical tasks and better manage your time. (The essence of it originated in a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower, during a 1954 address at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, where he recalled a saying from a colleague:

“This President said, ‘I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.’”

The Eisenhower Matrix defines “urgent” as a task that requires immediate attention, and “important” as a task that furthers personal goals and ambitions. Tasks can be one or the other, both, or neither. Plotting this out in a two-by-two matrix creates an easy way to sort tasks:

This framework translates rather well to the marketing space. Many of the activities we undertake are certainly urgent — you’ve got to love those end-of-day deadlines — but are they important to you and your team’s long-term vision? There are no shortage of pings that compete for your attention, but are they all worthy of urgent attention?

Can you fill out the matrix with relevant tasks that have come across your schedule in the last month? Here’s a list of what I’ve experienced over the past year:

Quadrant #1 has been even more top of mind than usual. Day-to-day execution is table stakes when budgets – and jobs – are on the line. 

But think about what is most critical for your organization or team. Take a step back… oh, three months ago. Would you have considered quadrant #1 tasks to be the most important in the long run? To be the work that differentiates your organization from your competitors?

Marketers need to give themselves permission to spend what time is needed on Quadrant #1, but that can’t come at the expense of planning for the future. We work with clients to formulate long-term visions that weather the storm – or the pandemic – because no matter what happens, business will resume. Your organization will still need to get a leg up on competitors. Your team must still serve the evolving needs of clients and audiences.

So as you plot out the days, weeks, and months ahead, start scheduling around these four quadrants. Try to spend as little of your time in quadrants #3 and #4 as possible — say 10% or less (roughly one ill-advised meeting per day). I know this is easier said than done, but that will maximize the amount of time you can spend in the upper half of this matrix.

Once you’re up there, it really comes down to the way your team is structured. If you have the luxury of a large team, you might be able to spend as much as 50% of your time in quadrant #2. But if you’re an individual contributor, that may seem like a pipe dream. Just remember: it doesn’t matter if the trains run on time if their destination is unknown.

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