Social Media Strategy

Are You Getting Better or Just Getting Busier?

It’s tough to keep up. (image from

Jay Baer Blog PostIn a remarkable interview in the recent Esquire magazine, Teller (of the famous magic duo, Penn & Teller) reveals his practice routine to master a new trick he has developed called the Red Ball (whereby a ball appears to roll all over the stage, moved by the mind).

Writes journalist Chris Jones, “He practiced at a mirrored dance studio in Toronto, and at a cabin deep in the woods, and on the empty stage in Pell & Teller’s theater. After every show for eighteen months, he would spend at least an hour, by himself, trying to make the Red Ball obey.”

Now that he is performing the piece, Teller says, “In six months or a year, it will start to settle in my bones. In ten years, it’ll be perfect.”

10 years.

Many of us have read Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion (from his book, Outliers) that it requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a true expert. (terrific infographic of the concept here). I know very few people who disagree with Gladwell’s thesis. After all, we’ve been told practice makes perfect since we were cherubs.

Teller has a stellar quote in the interview:

Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.

We know mastery takes time yet we rarely defend the principle, going from knee-jerk to whipsaw and chasing the flavor of the day as if being first, rather than being the best, was the core objective.

Better, or Busier?

This is the age of the Invitation Avalanche. Every customer or prospective customer of your business is besieged by offers to friend, follow, like, watch, read, view, click, print, and “engage.” And every time you agree to add another social media channel, or expand your content marketing without the aid of additional resources, or in any other fashion do more without also doing better, you are not improving your ability to cut through the avalanche, you are diminishing it. You’re just becoming noise.

I get it. I really do. This always-on world where I can consume – via a smartphone – no fewer than 40 blog posts about today’s changes at Facebook while still in my underpants eating cereal, is not particularly conducive to patience and restraint. We see new “opportunities,” and competitors and benchmark companies trying interesting new approaches, and we want to get in that game as well. If blog posts generate traffic, why not publish one per day? Why not two per day? Why not seven? Let’s add video. And Pinterest. And a mobile app. And skywriting.

It’s so very easy to get caught up in a mentality of “more is better,” and it makes the often thorny issue of measurement fade into the background, as we find ourselves justifying our marketing actions based on volume, not behavior.

I’m guilty.

We’ve moved this blog from three posts per week, to six. I started a podcast. A daily email newsletter. I have 8 Webinars scheduled between now and the end of the year. We have three eBooks in the works. And a new full-length book (Youtility) I’m currently writing. Is tackling that array of content and communication creating mastery, or is it creating noise? Is it accumulating 10,000 hours, or is it atomizing them into 1,000 hours in each of 10 different arenas?

Am I getting better, or just getting busier?

Are you?

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  1. says

    Love this post, Jay. It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea of producing more, especially when we live and work in an industry of over-achieving, hyper-active professionals. And when opportunities are all around us.

    I’m actually reading The Toyota Way right now, and it has me really assessing what is critical, and what is non-value added waste. This applies both to my own priorities and commitments, as well as the services we provide to clients.

    I’ve always been a quality over quantity guy, but I think I’ve often fallen short in practice.

  2. Hashim Warren says

    I’m reminded of this advice from Teller:

    Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth.

    “You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest.

    My partner, Penn, and I once produced 500 live cockroaches from a top hat on the desk of talk-show host David Letterman.

    To prepare this took weeks. We hired an entomologist who provided slow-moving, camera-friendly cockroaches (the kind from under your stove don’t hang around for close-ups) and taught us to pick the bugs up without screaming like preadolescent girls.

    Then we built a secret compartment out of foam-core (one of the few materials cockroaches can’t cling to) and worked out a devious routine for sneaking the compartment into the hat.

    More trouble than the trick was worth? To you, probably. But not to magicians.”

  3. says

    First off, I find you brilliant. Always have. So I’m more than willing to consume more content. 😉 That being said, as a marketer I really feel overwhelmed. I spend every day feeling like I didn’t engage enough, when in truth I’m the most connected person anyone in my office or personal life knows. The more I try to do the less I think I actually do. I think this will all backfire on us at some point.

    • says

      Thank you Rhonda, that’s very kind. I’m not sure about a backfire, but as I was out in Vegas last night with four very close friends, and we were all tapping away on our phones, it made me wonder what we’ve wrought.

      • says

        @jasonbaer:disqus: As you know, the “out in Vegas last night with four very close friends, and we were all tapping away on our phones,” stuff makes me very … well … not sure of the exact word, but I really worry that we spend so much time SHARING with the world – even with people we don’t know and never will – that we forget to live in the world. I realize this was not exactly the point of this blog post, but your reply to Rhonda got me thinking (again). No need to reply – just an observation.

  4. says

    Hi Jay. I wonder if it’s some sort of natural competition some ambitious people feel first to be “part of the scene” and then to one-up our own past successes. I’m thinking it’s no different from the semiconductor world in which Moore’s Law drives circuits to get faster, smaller, thinner…times 2!; every two years. Scientists push themselves and each other to adhere to it. Moore’s law doesn’t exactly drive them; it just lurks there expectantly.

    Marketers who want to match that pace must enlist some help of course, but because it is achievable, and because it’s human nature to push, push, push; we just do. Definitely, media becomes an obsession if you don’t put some personal limits in place. (Like “no phone in the bedroom, five minutes in nature daily,” etc.) Recently I wrote a post “Subject lines that get noticed in bed,” similar in sentiment to yours today. : )

  5. says

    I love the metaphor of “atomizing,” because it does evoke turning your fountain of content into a fine mist. It’s easier to turn on a fountain than to run around misting people all day :) I’m hoping we’re coming to a time when everyone can stop, catch their breath, and refocus on just doing the things that advance their mission. Also, still trying not to picture you checking your phone while eating cereal in your underpants…must…rinse…eyeballs…

  6. says

    Well put! I find myself talking clients into getting better and not busier and sometimes forget to apply this to myself. One I get past the image of you in your underwear eating cereal I will rethink my posting strategy.

  7. Doug Brown says

    It’s especially hard to steer wide of the more-is-better mentality with all the new platforms coming at you constantly. Which ones should you ignore and which should you focus on? It sure helps to have a thematic niche to keep your blinders in place, and a schedule that you vet by someone who is interested in your sanity. That was a helpful post Jay.

  8. says

    “More is better” is a tough one. In many ways, more IS better. I’d rather have an email list of 1,000,000 than 1,000 (assuming there were not 999,900 “dead” email addresses). Same thing goes with all other social networks.

    As far as blog posts, Hubspot has crazy website traffic due to the frequency and amount of content it publishes on it’s blog (at least I think that’s true).

    I’m a big believer in focusing on what you are good at. Ideally, you can strike the balance between what you are good at and what you like to do.

    What worries me is how much time we spend SHARING and CREATING vs. actually DOING and ENJOYING (see my reply to another comment in this post).

    Thanks for getting me to think this afternoon, Mr. Baer. See you in PDX.

  9. says

    I think busier is better if you can leverage activity with headcount. At the same time if busier with headcount support equals positive and optimized ROI, it is better. I believe it is the smart John Jantsch that says clarity is one of the most important aspects of business. I would agree.

  10. says

    Frequency is good…assuming that it’s not frequency for the sake of being frequent. If writing more means the quality goes down, then it’s not good. Sure, you could pull off 6 blog posts a week, podcast, book, juggling chainsaws and whatever else you want to add into the mix…but if the result is a product or service that is just “meh” than you are better off going with the less frequent option. We’re all different. Some get better the busier they get and others get worse. It’s a matter of recognizing what you are capable of.

  11. says

    Great article, Jay and something that I think many of us think about. We’re always constantly pushing to take on more, improve efficiencies and find more downtime. Some of this is that we get smarter with how to use our time or we’re able to use our time differently than we could before.

    When I first started at Citrix, I attended every possible meeting to get up to speed faster. But now I only attend a select number of meetings while aggressively blocking out my time to work on projects. This ability to shift has allowed me and my team to take on more projects and increase our output.

    I also agree with you that at some processes we get better over time and therefore are able to process at a faster speed. I’ve personally seen this in many areas of my life.

    I’ve always found that the busier I am and the more different types of things I have on my plate, the better I perform. I’ve tested pushing everything else off of my plate and found that I’m less efficient than when I’m working across many different projects, both personally and professionally.

  12. says

    Jay–How did you end up answering this question yourself? For me, I think it depends on the day. There’s days where I think “man, I’m getting better” and other days where I think, I need to re-tailor my schedule (again), prioritize, get more disciplined, and get on “it” better. But then, it’s all a part of the process that leads to (hopefully) gradual improvement. Have you or others experienced this on/off mix of emotions in your own learning process?

    • says

      Alexandra, the truth is I really don’t know. Right now, it’s getting busier – no question. But, I am working my way through a big pile of commitments, and once I see the bottom, I’m going to try to be a little smarter and more selective. Especially for next year, when I’ll have a new book (and book tour), I’m going to have my hands full, so I’m going to attempt to do more stuff with less stuff. We’ll see!

  13. says

    This is such a great article, with such a great message, I actually stopped to read the whole thing! I tell the clients who bring me on for social media consultation they need to be involved in the platforms and start engaging, but so many of them don’t understand social media PERIOD, it makes so much more sense for them to pick one or two platforms that really fit their business and have fun with it – for so many reasons! Trying to post to every single platform is not doing a small business owner any favours – it becomes a chore and they won’t do it to the best of their ability. When they don’t get results they abandon the process, which is such a shame. Quality over quantity, every day of the week.

  14. says

    Timely article for me. I’m trying to sort out a balance of keeping up with new information while leaving time to be a “producer” of work. I’m coming to the conclusion that while everyone out there can read Venturebeat and Mashable, and everyone can tweet, perhaps I’m the only one that can create what I’m creating… So I need to concentrate on that.

  15. says

    Jay, awesome post. I’ll answer your final question: I am getting better. But amid the busyness, I’m getting better SLOWLY and at today’s pace of change, slowly getting better is just another way to fall behind.

    So I’ll toss my hat in with @twitter-755294:disqus and make 2013 the year of focusing more of the business and really getting better.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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