What if I told you that you could become a better search engine marketer by working less? Sounds too good to be true, right? I’m usually not a big self-help kind of guy, but I realized that many people in the industry can relate to most (if not all) of the warning signs of being too wrapped up in the job.
Warning Signs of SEM Burnout
- Increasing reliance on caffeine or energy drinks to keep up the frantic pace at work and avoid crashing
- Constantly feeling like you are drowning in data
- You don’t sleep well because your mind is racing and/or your body is unable to drift off to la-la land
- Never finding enough time for your other hobbies
- Family and friends are forced to deal with your absence or tardiness more than you would like
- Difficulty staying motivated to work or on-task, productivity suffers
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about work/life balance. For those of us lucky enough to be involved with SEM, it’s easy to see how this rapidly evolving industry can demand much more of our time and energy than ever before. After four years in the industry I recently found myself at a crossroads. I had a hard time focusing on the work and drumming up enough motivation to stay at the top of my game. It was clear that I was getting burnt out.
If you’ve reached that point you know you have two options. Either find another line of work or take a step back and re-evaluate your priorities. For me, leaving the industry that I love was not an option so I focused instead on redefining what I want out of life, both personally and professionally. Here are the six areas I chose to focus on. Your mileage may vary, but I’d love to hear more about how you balance your personal and professional lives.
Obviously we can’t simply stop working. Taking time to re-prioritize and re-evaluate your working habits does not mean stopping work completely. You still have to work hard, keep up to date with what’s going on in the industry, practice what you learn, and teach others.
What’s important is not how hard you work, but how smart you work. I’m not here to tell you how or when you should work, but there are plenty of books and other resources that can help you find your preferred working style. How much of your workload can you outsource or subcontract out? Do you have any processes that can be streamlined or eliminated? Could you produce or find a common template to use as a starting point for client proposals, audits, or reports?
Get More Sleep
Your body needs it. I don’t care what your mind tells you, sleep is essential to maintaining good health and productivity. Some people need more, some people need less. But listen to your body. Most of us have racked up so much sleep debt that our bodies simply learn to function at a lower level and we become unaware of how tired we really are.
Find ways to try to get to bed earlier each night. Don’t watch that last Family Guy re-run. Save some blog posts in your RSS reader for the next day. Find a good stopping point on your current project and force yourself off the computer. Whatever it takes, don’t put off sleep longer than you have to.
Make Time for Friends and Family
Social relationships are part of what make the human experience special. Is your work getting in the way of family time or social time? Clients and bosses will come and go throughout your career, but the relationships with your spouse, kids, friends, and relatives are the ones that will truly stand the test of time.
Remember that when lying on your deathbed, you won’t be wishing you spent more time at work when you had the chance. Re-evaluate your priorities. Are you making time for what really matters in your life?
Get More Exercise
Face it, we all need more of it. The government recommends a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week (or 2.5 hours of moderate exercise). That’s just a minimum. Your body requires and can handle more. You may not notice the toll that sitting in front of a computer all day takes on your body, but over a period of several decades it becomes pretty evident that humans were not built to be sedentary for long periods of time.
Even if your to-do list is pages long and you have gigabytes of unanswered emails, make time to get a little exercise each day. Even if it’s just 30 minutes of walking around the block, it’s better than nothing. You’ll be amazed how it can help take your mind off work and relieve stress. You’ll look better, feel better, live longer, and gain productivity. What’s not to love?
Unload the Information Overload
Given the fast-paced nature of our industry, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the volume and frequency of data. Whether it’s via blogs, RSS, email, magazines, books, podcasts, forums, or any other digital medium, there is just WAY too much information for any search engine marketer to digest. It’s easy to get swamped and feel like you might miss something vital.
You won’t. Simplify. Ditch a lot of the data. Get your news from aggregators. Read your RSS reader less frequently. Try to improve the quality of your interaction with the industry rather than the quantity. For example, if you have trouble keeping up with 50 RSS feeds, unsubscribe from all but 10 of your favorites and try to invest more time in the actual dialog by commenting and responding. Look for ways to get your industry news and information more efficiently. It will save time and you’ll still feel connected and in touch.
Get a Hobby
Pick something you love to do and do it. Just get yourself off the computer and away from work. Do you like to paint, draw, or write? Make time each week to do it. Join a rec sports league. Volunteer at a local charity. Anything other than search engine marketing or computer-related activities will do the trick. Variety is the spice of life.
I guarantee that the additional perspectives you’ll gain and people you meet will make you think about your job differently. My best ideas about work come from the interactions I have in other areas of my life.
Putting it all Together
Again, I’m not a self-help kind of guy, but by devoting a little more time and energy to these pursuits you may just find a refreshing change of perspective about your job as a Search Engine Marketer. This could lead to increased productivity, more free time, and an improved work/life balance. Which, in the end, is all that really matters.
What do you do to unwind and take your mind off of work? Do you think it helps or hurts your career in search engine marketing?