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Ways We Work

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Rachel Segal

Digital Marketing Consultant & Farmer

An accomplished digital strategist, Rachel Segal has spent more than a decade working with some of the largest brands in the world on their social media and content marketing programs. In 2012, Rachel and her partner Scott moved out of the city and onto a remote island homestead, where she continues to freelance for a number of agencies and between milking goats, feeding chickens and planting seeds.

What do you do?

I’m a digital marketing consultant who works on a variety of different campaigns that may include things like digital advertising, content marketing, social media community management and project management for website design/development. My role can vary greatly depending on the team I’m working with, resources my various clients have and the goals we’re all looking to achieve. It can vary sometimes month to month but is usually a really great mix of awesome people and interesting initiatives I’m proud to be a part of.

I also teach (in-person and online) for UBC Continuing Studies. In 2013 I developed two courses - Social Media & Content Marketing and Project Management for Digital Communications. I feel lucky to get to teach such a wide cross-section of students for this program.

And...I’m a farmer. My partner and I moved from Toronto to Vancouver back in 2011 then went freelance in 2012 - moving to a remote island six hours north of the city where we could learn about agriculture, expand our flock of backyard chickens and acquire a herd of goats.

What do you find most rewarding about your role? Most challenging?

If I were tasked with only being one thing (marketing professional or agrarian) I would be bored. So bored. I love and appreciate tremendously the work I’m able to do for various clients and agencies - it energizes me when I then turn my attention to the passion projects that I hope will one day be more of a business and less of a hobby.

On the other hand, if I were still living downtown or commuting to an office each day, unable to have time for - or be legally allowed to - keep goats and chickens...I’d be restless and unfulfilled in other ways that I firmly believe would make me less inspired in the work that I do every day on a computer.

It can be extremely challenging to maintain a schedule on any given day. We also have a young daughter so usually I block in a 30 minute buffer on either side of meetings/conference calls to make sure that I’m not on the phone or Skype for an extended period of time without having a minute to check on something outside, nurse my daughter or...oh grab something to eat? Pour another cup of coffee?

The days can be a bit long but what we get out of it - the ability to grow our own food, connect with these fantastic animals and raise our daughter in the wilderness...without having to sacrifice career ambitions - makes the whole experience worth it entirely.

How do you stay up to date with trends in your industry/field?

Lately I’ve been working through how my different ‘social media selves’ fit best for my work, my life and what it is that I’m talking or thinking about. Every day I scan through my personal Twitter to see what people are talking about, whether there’s ‘new news’ I need to be up to speed on...but then for the remainder of the day I mostly devote my attention in social media to my blog about our little homestead/farm.

There are also a few newsletters I’m subscribed to and blogs that I might check out, but I feel lucky that at least four times a year I’m challenged with doing a bit of a refresh/overhaul with my UBC courses to make sure the materials are still current. Social media and content marketing change incredibly fast (obviously) and digital project management is growing exponentially. So it’s necessary - and very gratifying - to take that opportunity before the start of each term to really dig in and evaluate what’s changed in the previous three months.

What are your top five applications or programs?

Only five! Okay, I really had to think about this one…

GatherContent. I often work on web projects or course development projects that require a tremendous amount of content development. I started using GatherContent last fall for a client where we were developing a 15 module training series. Without this tool - if we tried instead to deal with version control/file management over email or even on Google would no doubt have imploded the project. Since then, I’ve worked to integrate this tool on as many projects and with as many clients as possible.

The Google Ecosystem. I am a very happy member of the Google ecosystem. Google Drive, Google Inbox, Google Docs, Google Hangouts. It’s all solid, works together and is only becoming more and more integrated. You could use each tool piecemeal but...why would you?

Slack. I started using Slack for one client a few months ago and it’s been incredible to see what it does for our workflow as a team and my workflow as a contractor. It’s made me much more mindful of when/how I’m accessible (instead of being always/never really 100% available because I’m relying on email) and cut down on a tremendous amount of back and forth about minor things making everyone more collaborative.

Asana. My project management software of choice. Intuitive, rewarding, pretty to spend time in. If you’re going to be a project manager, you better have a pretty space to work. I’ve had to use a number of different tools over the years and this is the one that always keeps me coming back. I literally can’t help but let out a “squee!” when a client tells me they’re already using Asana too.

Momentum. Even though I have Asana for the long list of milestones and deliverables, I find it very centering to have a local ‘to do’ list pop up every time I open a new tab. This Google Chrome addition has been a great motivator for me to really hone in on what my biggest focus of the day is (sometimes that may not be work related) and what are the most pertinent to-do’s that absolutely must be completed in the next 24 hours.

Best way to stay on top of email?

Use a web based mail system (Ahem, another gratuitous mention of Google Inbox) and figure out when/how often you’re going to check it. We all have those days where email is going off non-stop, but try to only check it at the top of every hour for a few days. I find it’s much more effective to batch your efforts instead of having to flip back and forth between “I’m working on this document”, “I’m researching this topic”, “I’m responding to this email” non-stop for 8-10-12 hours.

What is your best time-saving trick?

Stop reading articles that tell you people are more effective in the morning or work best at night. When do you work best? I know my best writing is at night. Late, late, late at night sometimes. Is this what I would have said a few years ago? Probably not. But I’m at a time in my life with a young child, lots of animals to tend to and during certain seasons a garden to care for. I find opening a document I intend to write at 8 am...only to find a mere sentence added by 6 be one of the most demoralizing things.

Figure out how your day will work best for you and all the competing priorities you no doubt have...then be willing to change that model if and when it inevitably doesn’t work anymore.

One non-tech thing you can’t live without?

Goats. (sorry, chickens.)

What does your workspace look like?

It looks a lot like my dining room table! Because it is my dining room table. And sometimes my couch, occasionally when I need to sneak away for a business call our bedroom. Eventually it will be the studio we have conveniently situated 30 feet from our small home. But that’s a work in progress.

Usually I move around during the day depending on where I need to be and how much I’m able to multi-task. If I’m in the mood and have the type of tasks that can require a little bit of split attention...then I can successfully work in the front room where my daughter/baby sitter are hanging out. If I need to focus...a quieter, lower traffic space is needed.

Structure of your typical day, how do you divide your time?

6-8 am Diaper, nursing, check email, let chickens out of their coop, feed goats.

8-11 am Coffee, breakfast, feed Isla, continue responding to emails, complete any to-do’s that will take less than 10-15 min of attention each.

11 am Babysitter arrives. More coffee.

11 - 3 pm Work, work, work. Goats! Work, work. Lunch. Work.

3 - 4 pm Take Isla, goats and dog Freya for a long walk. Feed goats, change water.

4 - 6 pm Baby time. Periodic half eye on email.

6 pm Dinner.

7 - 8 pm Wind down, play time, books to read, Isla in bed.

8 pm Lock up chickens. Check on goats. Relax.

9 - 11 pm Work, write, plan. Repeat.

11 pm One last check on goats with extra hay.

12 am Sleep.

Why do you do what you do, what motivates you and makes everything worth it?

Sometimes I think we’re 100% insane to do what we do, despite all the incremental motivations like cuddling with baby goats, discovering the first eggs from chickens you raised, pulling endless snap peas off a trellis...the list goes on. But the days are long and sometimes it can get overwhelming. Or stressful. Things tend to go haywire all at the same time - and we live in an area where it takes up to two hours to reach the amenities we were so used to having at the dial of a button or a quick walk down the street. You have to be prepared. Somehow that precarious balance between vulnerability and ultra-preparation is both motivating and totally fulfilling. Occasionally a little scary.

That being said, there’s a lot of disappointment or sadness too. Animals lost to predators, animals that just aren’t meant for the ‘pet life’. I feel strongly that we’re more satisfied with all the good by embracing and allowing for the experience of the bad. Or simply challenging.

This then translates into a much more pragmatic, realistic approach to my work too. Seeing a piece of content I ‘incubated’ turn into something spectacular people are actually reading? Sharing? Talking about? Making a difference for a brand? Also hugely satisfying, but in a completely different way for my sense of self.

What is the greatest piece of career advice/wisdom you've ever received?

It’s a tie, but they both relate back to the same that I need to have etched into my brain lest I forget. Again.

Don’t be a martyr. I was overworking myself trying to get somewhere - or get away from something - and it was clearly taking a toll on my ability to be the best version of myself both in work and in life. When I first heard this it stung. Really stung. A martyr? I’m just a hard worker! I work hard. People should appreciate that. Oh wait...yeah. The tricky part about being a martyr is it’s not just about how you perceive yourself, it’s about how other people see you. And especially as you’re climbing up in your career, it’s even more important to make time for you, for your family, for your interests and for rest. It’s ok to be idle sometimes. People will respect you more for being able and confident to strike a balance between what’s important at work and what’s important to you. Remember, you’re a role model now.

No one ever received a medal for not taking their vacation days. The same general principle, but a more specific example of banishing the practice of martyr-dom from the workplace. You deserve free time! Relaxation! Adventure! Admiring how many vacation days you’ve accumulated at the end of the year is silly...and can even be lonely. Take that break and come back to work refreshed. With new ideas and energy. Perspective.

Who would you like to see featured on Ways We Work?

Leigh Peterson, Just A Frog, Allison Cross, StoryArc, Karim Awad, Big Time Design