Three of the Best Books to Transform Your Digital Marketing Company

Over the last few years, our team has been looking for ways to transform our company, push our creative abilities, and ensure that we are constantly evolving to provide better results for our higher education clients. So, our leadership team asked a tough question: How do we ensure that we’re not getting stagnant? Well, the solution was pretty simple. We needed to learn from other professionals, inside and outside of digital marketing. We’re not in the higher education space simply because we believe there is an opportunity in the industry to provide better marketing efforts; we’re in higher education because we believe in the power of higher education. Therefore, we personally challenge ourselves and all of our employees to never stop learning, and I have read a few books that I think are important to help transform any digital marketing company.

1. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

deep-work-cal-newport

Cal Newport, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, asks a simple question in his new book, Deep Work: How can an invidual focus on the tasks that matter most? This is a question I have been pondering for a while. In the digital world, there are so many distractions, and our clients’ goals are big (rank #1 for computer science online), and they take sustained effort and creativity.

But when you break down the types of work that digital marketers have, it comes down to deep and shallow tasks. Shallow work consists of all the emails, the admin, the busy work that is necessary but doesn’t require a lot of brain power, and Deep Work consists of the big tasks that can move a company forward. For example, filing a report for your client on how many links you built in Q3 is a necessary task, but it’s somewhat superficial work. However, creating a strategy overview that will help that same client rank number one for a relevant student-generating keyword can directly impact a company’s bottom line.

Cal Naughton examines how to build a working life where there is more focus on the deep work. Some of the biggest takeaways from his book are as follows:

  • Social media is a distraction: Yes, I know this sounds like blasphemy. Even though digital marketers need to have a social presence and maintain the knowledge of trends, the constant chirps of tweets and notifications from Facebook and other platforms will distract you from deep, focused work. Turn off your notifications—or completely remove yourself from social media when you’re under a deadline or working on a big project.
  • Slack and other workplace communication platforms can be great, but they can also kill your productivity. If you’re on Slack, then you are probably aware of how many times you’re interrupted by a notification or a message. This constant form of communication helps teams stay connected, but it also distracts individuals. Turn off the Slack function or hit the snooze button and allow your mind to stay immersed in the bigger projects.
  • It’s important to think about focus as a muscle. It’s something you can train. The more you focus on deep work, the more your mind develops. You’re literally developing your neural circuitry. If you can focus on a task, you’re not just being more productive, you’re working on the very structure of your mind to perform at a higher level. Time productivity sessions and follow the Pomodoro technique.
  • While there is a lot of focus on being productive and efficient in the workplace, it’s important to take the same lessons for deep work in the office and apply them to your personal life. For example, Cal Naughton mentions that your mind isn’t like your bicep, which tires after exercise. Your mind never stops, but what it needs is different forms of activity. So, while you might have an important deadline to meet with your client, it’s important to take the time away from your work and focus deeply on relaxing or another activity. Give your mind a break and schedule “free” time for your mind to wander.

2. The Undoing Project: A FRIENDSHIP THAT CHANGED OUR MINDS.

9780393254594_198Michael Lewis is, of course, famous for many books, including Money Ball, but what Lewis didn’t know when he wrote Money Ball was that he was going to miss something critical to the history and logic of his most famous book. In the beginning of the book, readers learn that Lewis owed many of the lessons in Money Ball to two Nobel Prize winners and Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

Basically, the book is about how Kahneman and Tversky created a Nobel Prize-winning theory and how that theory altered our perception of reality. It sounds complicated but there is a key lesson that digital marketers can take from the book: Humans are inherently emotional, not logical. What Kahneman and Tversky were able to show through their studies was that people were making poor judgments in uncertain situations, and they relied on their gut rather than data and logic.

So, what does this have to do with digital marketing? It comes down to a key lesson in communication that can help digital marketers talk to their clients and co-workers. Since individuals make decisions based on emotion, it’s important to recognize how issues are framed. Kahneman and Tversky’s studies showed that people changed the way they responded to situations depending on how it was framed. This is an important lesson for digital marketers. If we can think about how to frame strategies, ads, content, etc., to our clients or to the marketplace, then we may be able to push initiatives that are risky yet rewarding and help educate our clients on the benefits of a digitally focused strategy in the world of higher education.

3. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

creativity_incOut of all the books, Creativity, Inc. might have been the most enjoyable. It’s not just because it’s an unbelievable treasure trove of advice on how to build a creative organization, but it also goes into great detail about how Pixar was created as well as behind-the-scenes insight into their movies.

Storytelling is the root of great digital marketing campaigns, and Pixar and Disney are the best storytellers in our world. What is key about the book is that in order to build an organization that is focused on quality storytelling in their messaging, it’s essential to build candor and positive feedback into their organization. If a company does not share the ability to be candid with each other because of hierarchies that stranglehold opinions, then the organization will never grow.

Everyone in the Pixar building, according to Ed Catmull, from the janitor to the director, has the ability to create an idea that will move a project forward. (Think about Ratatouille and the expression: “Anyone can cook.”)

In our organization, we’re trying to find ways to strengthen the structure that breeds candid and constructive feedback. One suggestion in the book is to hold “Notes Meetings.” It’s a simple concept. Individuals in the company submit questions to a leadership team on things they are struggling with. It doesn’t have to relate to a specific department, and the leadership picks the questions and sends them to the team. Then they have a meeting where everyone freely tries to problem solve the issue. This is an opportunity to improve the way feedback is delivered and develop candor. Great ideas can not become great unless they are challenged by people who care about mutual success.

21122451_10100725895142291_2139116181006518570_o (1)

Joseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.

How to Reduce and Manage Workplace Stress

We’ve all had the feeling of being tired, stressed and burned out from work. The physical and emotional repercussions of work-related stress can be detrimental to productivity and overall well-being, and it doesn’t seem to be improving for most workers. In fact, 70% of calls made to phone counseling lines at Workplace Options, a provider of employee-assistance programs, were related to stress and anxiety. Even more troubling, the same provider found that there was an 18% increase in calls made from 2016. With this trend clearly not slowing down, here are some tangible tips that can help you regain control over workplace stress and anxiety while becoming more productive and efficient.

Create time for mindfulness and deep breathing

From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, employees and employers alike are becoming more aware of the benefits of applying mindfulness in the workplace. With studies showing that mindfulness is associated with reduced stress and positive brain changes, it’s no wonder that these exercises have become so popular in business settings. There are a number of apps to choose from that will guide you through meditative practices, and you can even integrate some of them into your office communication platforms so that the reminder is more top of mind. Here at Circa, we’ve integrated the Stop, Breathe, and Think app into our messaging platform, Slack.

Allow for focused work, free of distractions and multitasking

Multitasking has been shown to inhibit productivity and efficiency. For those who feel like they have a million things being thrown their way, it can be easy to fall into the deep pit of multitasking. Not only does this add to stress and anxiety, but it undermines the ability to get tasks completed as thoroughly and efficiently when compared to more focused, singular work methods. Some effective ways to combat the temptation to multitask include:

  • Removing yourself from an environment of distractions, if applicable. We have an open office floor plan, as many millennial-dominated offices do today, and having a separate and secluded room that we can retreat to in order focus on more demanding or challenging tasks has proven to be a great addition.
  • Using time management tools like the Pomodoro timer. While these are fairly simple, straightforward tools (essentially fancy timers), they can be incredibly helpful in allocating dedicated time to each task while also preventing you from spending an excessive amount of time on any single one. This can help with workflow and make a heavy workload feel much more manageable.
  • Using noise-canceling headphones when you require heavy focus. Research has even found that music can have a calming effect when in high-stress situations.
  • Turning off notifications for messages that impede your ability to concentrate and focus. For example, we use the communication tool Slack almost constantly throughout our workday. In order to lessen the temptation to check Slack, email, etc., I have found that it is helpful to turn off any notifications and/or alter the settings to “do not disturb” mode (which is available for most messaging apps).

Take a walk

Studies have found that taking a brief walk (15-30 minutes) can result in calming effects. To capitalize on the benefits even more, apply meditative practices during your walk. Need to chat or brainstorm with coworkers and want to kill two birds with one stone? Merge walks and meetings into one. This can even help to jumpstart creative thinking for a more productive (not to mention healthy) meeting.

Be strategic about your notification settings 

It’s important to set boundaries between home and the office in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance. If you constantly have notifications alerting you of new work messages or emails, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for failure (unless you have spectacular self-control). Most people feel tempted or obligated to respond to an email if they see it, so dedicate a period of time outside of work where you don’t receive messages or make a point to only respond to urgent inquiries if you’re in a situation where you still need to monitor them. With our communication tool, Slack, there are options to set notifications to “do not disturb” mode, which is a simple and effective solution to this problem.

Find a project management tool that works for you

There is nothing more overwhelming and stressful than having more tasks than you feel like you can keep track of or keep up with. This is why pinpointing a project management tool that helps you to stay organized can be a huge stress reliever. I personally use Trello to manage my tasks and have created a system where I can prioritize them accordingly, as well as add notes, due dates, etc. Some of my colleagues rely on other tools and apps like Evernote, Wrike and even Google Calendar. Whatever your system is, find something that makes you feel organized and brings you greater peace of mind.

 

Caroline-Black-and-White-tan-3-4Caroline brings a wealth of knowledge in communications, marketing, and account management to the Circa Interactive team, and she has worked with partners such as HP, Cisco, and Adobe. Graduating with honors in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Oregon in 2011, Caroline now plays a key role in Circa Interactive’s digital PR strategy by building long term relationships with internationally recognized media outlets on behalf of our clients.