If you’re a personal finance enthusiast like myself (or even if you’re not), you may have heard of Dave Ramsey. He’s best known for his 7 Baby Steps, a money management plan to help the average person get out of debt and begin saving for the future. On his website, blog, and radio show, Ramsey talks a lot about the many ways to approach paying off debt, and has popularized the avalanche and snowball payoff strategies.
Now you may be wondering, what does Dave Ramsey’s philosophy have to do with marketing?
In my career as a marketer, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my time management skills and make sure I’m prioritizing the right tasks. When I first heard of the avalanche and snowball methods for paying off debt, I instantly thought about how these are also great ways to approach productivity.
Read on to learn what Dave Ramsey’s debt payoff program has taught me about how to better structure my days as a marketer, and find out how you can take a page out of his book when it comes to mapping out how to achieve your professional (and personal) goals.
What is the Avalanche Method?
Also known as the “stacking method” or “debt ladder,” the avalanche method refers to the practice of making minimum payments on all outstanding debt and then putting any leftover money toward the account with the highest interest rate, regardless of balance. For example, someone with a $10,000 credit card balance at a 20% interest rate and a $15,000 student loan at a 5% interest rate would prioritize paying off the credit card. Though the results are far from instant, the avalanche method cuts both the time and money it’ll take to pay off a high-interest loan. It also brings you a sense of relief because you’re tackling the largest burden first. Much like a physical avalanche, you’re getting the big, heavy thing out of the way before moving on to the smaller ones.
“The largest burden” can mean many different things in the context of your work as a marketer, and that meaning varies from person to person. For some, it may be the task that they know is going to take the longest amount of time to complete. For others, it might be the most difficult task that they feel the least prepared for. Tasks might also feel burdensome due to a lack of motivation or excitement about them. Whatever your reason for avoidance is, we all have things on our to-do lists that stick out to us as giant feats. Take a look at your workload and figure out what your “biggest thing” is that you have to do — that’s the source of your avalanche.
What is the Snowball Method?
Conversely, the snowball method is centered around making progress through a series of small wins. With this strategy, excess funds available after making all minimum debt payments are put toward the smallest balance first, regardless of interest rate. As you pay off each low-balance loan, every small victory compounds and adds to the proverbial snowball. This gives you the motivation to keep going and move toward the larger balances.
In the workplace, shallow work is the equivalent of low-balance debt. Things like following up on emails, updating spreadsheets, and scheduling meetings are all necessary parts of our days as marketers. These types of tasks can generally be completed pretty quickly and don’t require too much cognitive effort. We tend to look at shallow work as the low-hanging fruit we can pull down to be able to say we “did something.”
You may have heard the saying “the hardest part is getting started” — essentially, the snowball method applies this mantra to your work day. Once you’ve gotten your day started and completed a few simple tasks, you’ve built the momentum that enables you to take on larger and more complex tasks with ease.
Which Method is the Right Method?
It depends. Personally, I vary my approach based on each day’s workload and deadlines. If I have a lot of shallow but time-sensitive tasks on my plate, I’ll knock those out before I move on to a large project that isn’t due yet. If none of my work has an immediate deadline, I prioritize chipping away at the assignment that’s causing me the most stress.
Your mileage may vary. Even when nothing appears to be holding you back from working on your most difficult or time-consuming task, you might need the momentum from a “work snowball” to get started on it. After all, we’re humans, not robots, and our motivation ebbs and flows. Each day, lean into the way you’re feeling and use that to guide how you approach your workflow. For most people, some sort of combination of the two methods will ultimately work best.
Another nuance to keep in mind is personality. Some people are early birds and some are night owls. Not all time is created equal, and there are going to be times of the day when you just naturally feel more productive. Harness those peak hours to focus on your biggest priorities. Depending on your work schedule and the amount of flexibility you have at your job, this can manifest itself either as an avalanche or as a snowball.
Prioritize First. Adjust Your Schedule Second.
The avalanche and snowball methods are great ways to approach both paying off debt and getting things done at work. Before you get too caught up in deciding which of these strategies is best for you, remember that the top priority is delivering high-quality work on time — the way you structure your schedule in order to get there is secondary. After all, every productivity tip out there is simply a means to an end.
Also, keep in mind that priorities will sometimes change, and you don’t want last-minute pivots to leave you frazzled. Whether you choose to approach productivity through the avalanche or snowball method, make sure you remain flexible, adaptable, and realistic when planning your day.
Collaborate When You Can.
And, finally, another way to keep your priorities straight and your level of contribution solid, talk to your team members. Chances are, they’re facing similar avalanches and snowballs and working through the process together can increase efficiency as well as motivation on the job. If you were drowning in debt, think of the people around you that would throw you a lifeboat, because you’d do the same for them.
While it’s wonderful to be able to work autonomously, you may find yourself in need of other ideas, processes, philosophies, and support down the road. If you don’t have team members within your organization, find people outside of your organization that may be in similar roles. Or find solid marketing partners who act as an extension of your team; working alongside you as you “slay” your marketing goals (ahem, DD Agency).