The most significant problem for marketers is the lack of time to think. We’re busy with so many things we need to do, from attending meetings to setting up next month’s content calendar or brainstorming with our team. After that, there’s not much time left to sit back and just think about what we can do better.
However, it is crucial that you take some quiet time to identify current constraints and brainstorm ways to turn them around; otherwise, you’ll be playing catch up with your competitors throughout your career.
Why do I need to schedule time to “think”?
As a marketer, you’re always thinking about ways to improve your campaigns, connect with your audience, and deliver results. You’re so engrossed in the day-to-day activities that you forget to step back and look at the bigger picture. A view of the bigger picture is crucial to be one step ahead of hitting your revenue goals.
“Big-picture” thinking comes from scheduling time to “think” about the bigger picture.
It may sound counterintuitive, but carving out time to think can actually be one of the most productive things you can do for your career. Here’s why:
1. That’s where critical thinking happens.
The best marketing campaigns are the result of critical thinking. But what is critical thinking? According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking, it’s “the ability to think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas.”
In other words, critical thinking is about making connections between ideas and seeing the big picture. It’s about thinking creatively and looking at things from different perspectives. And it’s something that can be learned and practised.
The best way to hone your critical thinking skills is to set aside time to think about your work without distractions. When you start connecting the dots, you’ll uncover insights much before your competitors.
2. That’s where the best problem-solving happens.
As a marketer, you’re constantly tackling one problem after the other. Whether it’s a campaign that’s underperforming, a leak in the funnel or finding the next big marketing channel, there’s always something that needs to be solved.
The best way to solve problems is to take a step back and think about them critically. What’s causing the problem? What are the possible solutions? What’s the best way to implement those solutions?
Again, the best way to do this is to set aside time to think about the problem without distractions.
3. That’s where the best ideas emerge.
The best marketing campaigns start with great ideas. But where do those ideas come from?
Earlier in my career, I used to spend a lot of time reading articles on communities like GrowthHackers.com and Inbound.org, and implementing growth strategies shared by other marketers.
The problem with that approach was that these strategies were already tried and tested. They had already been maximized and utilized before they were shared. By the time I implemented those strategies, they weren’t as effective. Brian Balfour has even talked about it in detail.
That’s when I started thinking about how I can discover and optimize growth tactics before they’re discovered by the mass audience and become ineffective. How can I come in early? How can I uncover the best growth ideas myself?
The answer is: By thinking about things critically and creatively. When you take out the time to think, you’re more likely to have those “a-ha!” moments that lead to great ideas.
That’s when I realized I needed to carve out time for “critical thinking”.
3 techniques for making “thinking time” successful
Marketers are expected to be on top of their game in a high-pressure environment that requires quick action and decision-making. If you don’t have time to think, it’s easy for your brain to shut down or even just become overloaded with information.
It can seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day—but you need time away from work! When you allow yourself some quiet moments each day, it gives your brain a chance to process all of the information that has bombarded it throughout your busy day.
To make time for problem-solving, you need to find ways to squeeze it into your schedule.
Schedule “thinking time” in your calendar
Schedule it in advance. If you don’t schedule your quiet time, it won’t happen! It is the same as with any appointment or meeting – if an appointment is not scheduled and confirmed, then there will be no meeting.
Close your email, go on do-not-disturb, mute your phone, close your computer and work on paper if you have to. Disable all possible distractions, and utilize the quiet time.
Be specific about what you need to think about during that time
Be specific about what you need to do during that “thinking” hour. I usually go with one problem at a time, so I can tackle it from multiple angles and stay focused on one thing only.
I think about these 3 questions:
- What’s the problem? What are my constraints blocking me from solving this problem?
- What’s the ideal outcome if I solve this problem?
- Bridge the gap between the two. How do I unblock my constraints? How can I get to the ideal outcome faster?
Record your thoughts
You can record your thoughts using a voice recorder/video, or you could write down your thoughts using mind maps, a plain notepad or a whiteboard. My point is that you should record your thoughts somewhere.
My checklist is usually like this:
- Create a mind map and apply the Theory of Constraints to find a solution to the problem
- Look at our analytics data to find answers
- Talk it out loud by myself.
I prefer to do a recorded screen share (using Loom) and then go through the business problem (talking out loud) like how I’d do for any consulting client.
Setting aside time to think can help you make better decisions and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
The most significant problem for marketers is the lack of time to think. It’s hard to be creative, innovative and strategic when we’re constantly in reactive mode or reacting to our competitors’ moves.
Make time to “think”! And I mean real quiet time—time set aside specifically so that you can identify current constraints and brainstorm ways to overcome them.