Deep Focus: The Unheralded Skill of Digital Marketing Leaders

— January 29, 2017

digital marketing leaders


Keeping up with changes in the digital marketing space can often feel like a job unto itself. Search engine algorithms are always evolving and new tools are continuously being developed (and being pitched to us by fellow marketers).


The sheer pressure of keeping up with so many tools and technologies while constantly assessing what new product may be of value can, if we let it, soak up a significant portion of our work days.


And when this is paired with working in trendy new open-layout office spaces—where enclosed spaces for focus are often limited and everybody can see and hear everything everybody else is doing—a recipe for productivity disaster can begin to form.


This recipe intensifies when you factor in that many of us in digital marketing—especially those of us working for scrappy startups and small businesses, are also tasked with managing and monitoring the company’s social media presence.


Why is social media worth mentioning? Because as Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, told me in an interview:



“social media platforms are ad engines hand-crafted to be as distracting as possible to transform your hours of attention into revenue.”


So how can digital marketing leaders improve their capacity to establish deep focus—that prolonged period of uninterrupted time to work on a single task—when the role itself often means entering into spaces perfectly built to be distracting?


Here are 5 tips that have helped me and may be of value to you as well:


(1) Make Focus Part of Your Company’s Culture


This is easier said than done, but every seemingly insignificant step towards it can be an investment that pays off not just for you but for the company as a whole.


Our team takes focus seriously, and it’s what has served as the backbone for much of our success. If a colleague needs to have writing time or otherwise have their head down for a few uninterrupted hours, we’ve created a safe space for them to do so.


How?


It all comes down to the basics of effective communication and the building of trust. Rather than simply disappearing for a few hours, let your colleagues know what you need and what your plans are. A perfect time to do this is during a morning scrum session.


Trust is then built from what you achieve. If you tell your colleagues you need deep focus time from, say, 1-4pm, and at the end of it you deliver what you promised, they’ll trust you—and it also sets the stage for them to do something similar.


This is one important way that deep focus can slowly become part of your company culture.


(2) Choose Tools Wisely, And Master What You Have


While the constant allure of shiny new digital marketing tools can be exciting, it’s important to assess and master what you’re currently working with. If you’re maximizing what’s in your existing tool kit, you may find you don’t need to constantly be on the prowl for what’s next.


As a digital marketing leader, however, it’s also important to establish dedicated periods of time to explore new tools. A great way to do this is—rather than opening your email when every new product pitch comes your way—create a dedicated period of time in your schedule where you check such emails.


Remember: Even a quick glance at your email inbox can pull you out of deep focus and disrupt hours of your work.


(3) Get Yourself a Digital Marketing Dashboard


I can’t stress this one enough. There are so many metrics us digital marketers want to measure. And too often they all feel like moving parts that demand opening a separate tab or tool to accurately capture.


This is a surefire way to divide our attention and make us feel overwhelmed—especially when we are tasked with reporting these results to our executive team in a way that makes sense.


A digital marketing dashboard can pull all the metrics you possibly need to know—from Google Analytics, Slack and Salesforce to every major social media outlet and even basic spreadsheets—and wrap them into a gorgeous real-time dashboard that lets you see everything in a single glance.


Pulling all that data into a single dashboard will catapult your ability to focus on (and take action on) the digital marketing metrics that matter.


(4) Create A Personal Focus Practice


I spend 30 minutes each morning in sitting meditation. It’s a practice that allows me to focus—to strip away all distractions and simply focus on my breath. In addition, it’s truly a practice. As distracting thoughts enter into my mind, meditation helps me be aware of them so I can then better choose how to respond.


This has immense carryover into our work lives—where so often we get distracted and, without thought, take action on that distraction rather than recognizing it and then choosing how to respond.


Your practice need not be sitting meditation, but it’s important to carve out periods throughout your day where you are training your brain to get accustomed to working for prolonged periods of time. Remember: Being distracted isn’t just something that happens and is out of our control; it can actually be a habit we form.


(5) Sign Off The Internet


Stay with me on this one. Nicholas Carr’s book titled The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. In it, he writes:



“The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.”


A fantastic way to break free from the “interruption system” is simply to log out for a bit. If you’re working on tasks that don’t demand your being online (and it’s easy to rationalize that you need to be), consider turning off the WiFi on your computer.


I’ve found this a wonderful way—even if just as a signal to myself—to set the stage for deep focus on a single task.


After all, as Newport writes, deep focus is a way to:



“wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual ­capacity.”


Isn’t that, on some level, what we’re all striving to do?

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Author: Cameron Conaway


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