Our COO, Anita Malik, says deadlines are handicapping your content. Here's how a little flexibility can save your calendar.
Did I just clickbait you? Perhaps. I also just used a question as a lead. I’m throwing all good content sense off the page in an attempt to get you to close your editorial calendar for a few minutes. Pause your content plan momentarily, and let’s evaluate where the rigidity of your plan could be leading your content astray.
In my 15 years running content teams, I have learned that successful projects are defined by three things: flexibility, originality and collaboration. Is there an environment suited to fast-paced change; is there a healthy balance between competitive analysis and pure, unadulterated creativity; and does the team structure support content by consensus? With a flexible plan, you can answer yes across the board.
Your content organization should mimic the functioning of a successful, rapidly growing business. Researchers from the Ivey Business School found that such organizational success is rooted in the “ability to adapt,” otherwise known as strategic flexibility. Is your content team able to identify necessary changes and pivot quickly to a new approach?
How deadlines handicap your content
Deadline. The word makes us squirm, and the concept can kill creativity.
Deadlines cause us to use more of our problem-solving brain, which means we aren’t using the part of our brain responsible for unique ideas. This shift occurs for both the freelancer or writer on deadline as well as the managing editor or content strategist staring down a publishing date.
“The more stressful a deadline is, the less open you are to other ways of approaching the problem,” said Dr. Richard Boyatzis, a professor in the departments of organizational behavior, psychology and cognitive science, in a Wall Street Journal article on decision making.
Looming deadlines can force teams into ordinary results. “The very moments when in organizations we want people to think outside the box, they can’t even see the box,” added Boyatzis.
The risk: redundant, trite, “who cares” content.
The answer to minimizing or entirely eliminating this risk, however, isn’t a deadline-free zone. Editors, strategists, writers, social teams — we all need deadlines, and we should respect them as a tool that powers consistent output. Structure is a requirement. But having a plan, establishing dates and sticking to them should never take precedence over flexibility.
3 ways to add flexibility to your editorial calendar
Things happen. A flexible structure covers you in times of emergency, during the unplanned absence of critical team members and when a project simply changes direction.
But there is more to flexibility than covering your *ss.
A flexible content plan is about capitalizing on learnings, covering newsworthy events as they happen, and speaking to trends relevant to your audience.
Here are three ways to make deadlines have meaning while adding flexibility to your editorial calendar.
1. Schedule trending days
Too often, editorial calendars are over-planned, leaving no room for trending content. Is it safe to assume you’ll just move things around if something coverage-worthy arises? No. Plans and deadlines cause us to shut out outside noise. We get stuck in our plan.
What goes on the calendar: Schedule “Open” days. These are intentional TBDs. The frequency of Open days will vary based on your overall output and resource pool. Start with one a month as a test if you are hesitant.
How content gets created: Have a dedicated writer tasked to cover your industry’s news beat. Alternatively, keep a small group of trusted freelancers on call, ready to deliver quick turnaround coverage or commentary. Hold weekly or monthly newsroom-style meetings with your team to generate ideas on what trending content you need to cover.
Physically placing an Open day on the calendar forces the creation of timely content. Something has to fill the gap. Need to move an Open day? Switch it with a Planned day on the calendar, and there is no loss or confusion. The same total output, but with flexibility.
2. Assign “stretch” deadlines
I’ll admit it, I struggle with meeting deadlines. True, I run a deadline-driven organization, but in my role, my time and my ideas are unpredictable. If you are looking to add a mix of industry leadership or influencer-driven content to your overall strategy, consider abandoning the due date when necessary for a volume expectation instead. Employ what I call stretch deadlines with a special group of contributors.
What goes on the calendar: Nothing. Well, nothing different than the norm. Your calendar must operate under the assumption that no other content will come in. When the other content does come in, weave it into the calendar where appropriate. If a stretch deadline isn’t met, you’ll still maintain consistent output.
How content gets created: Handpick a pool of authoritative contributors in your company or industry and set volume expectations. Agree to one piece a month, set up a biweekly arrangement or maybe only ask for their wisdom once a quarter. Make the assignment, offering guidance on your calendar’s themes for the month, but skip the due date.
3. Plan only 30 days
Lead time in your production cycle is important, but don’t build it in to your detriment. Plan the calendar 3 to 6 months out, but keep the concepts for blogs, social content and even infographics high-level until you are within 30 to 45 days.
We’re often wedded to concepts that were developed weeks or even months prior. In industries that change rapidly, that’s a dangerous practice. It is never too late to shift gears, and it is far better than publishing content that is irrelevant. Create an environment that supports these pivots.
What goes on the calendar: For publishing dates within 30-45 days out, establish deadlines and specific content. For dates further out, simply list themes or keywords you hope to target.
How content gets created: Give writers access to your long-term calendar and allow them to pitch ideas based on high-level themes. Collaboration is improved and deadlines are based on mutually defined expectations.
Whatever mix of techniques you take from this post, promise me you won’t take the simple, standard route with your calendar. Remember, quality content isn’t easy to achieve, but bad content is. Elevate with a flexible calendar and quality writing, editing and research talent. That’s a plan worth your commitment.
Get more tips on time-based content planning in Mastering Time Management: The Five Primal Flows of Time.