Let’s face it: we all have trouble managing our time. With the abundance of technology available at our fingertips, multitasking has become the norm- but managing priorities, workflow and day-to-day schedules still requires proper time maintenance.
Without an emphasis on time management, projects never get completed, expectations are never met and there’s a big chance you end up becoming one of those people who show up late to everything.
The constant deadlines and priorities in the advertising industry means that the most successful individuals are those who learn how to effectively manage their time.
Over the past week, I sat down with some of our time-management experts at Quinlan and had conversations about how they get their work finished and out the door without blowing up budgets, working all hours of the night or losing their minds. I’ve pulled out five of their most effective time management strategies to share with you in this post — and regardless of your profession, these tips should help ensure your work week is smooth sailing.
1. Plan your Priorities.
Let’s talk about email. Emails can be deadly. The second you open your email inbox, you’re in trouble. The dreadful list of unopened emails is often lengthy, and everything seems so important, and if you are a Type-A personality the idea of an unstructured list of unanswered email can drive you bananas. But if you end up checking emails all day long, you are losing precious work hours that can, in turn, create another time crisis.
The solution? Organize and prioritize.
“Find a way to organize your emails,”Greg Croniser, Quinlan’s director of information technology, says. “Use folders to organize emails by their purpose, and make sure to turn your email off throughout the day. Check your email in the morning, during lunch, and just before you leave to ensure you are not spending your entire day pushing projects to the side.”
Unlimited access to tablets and smartphones creates even greater opportunities to be distracted. Take a moment to put away your smartphone during the day. You will find that your attention will not be consumed with the urge to respond to a request. Avoiding distractions can be a simple step in order to complete tasks on time, leaving space to organize your priorities and maintain a solid workflow.
PRO TIP: Write it down. Miss writing by hand? Break out that brand new calendar and document your work steps on a daily basis. This will not only help you keep track of what you did the day before, but also set ground for any upcoming unforeseen changes or edit. The act of writing also helps you to consider and retain with greater thought and accuracy. Are you more tech savvy? If you must keep your phone tethered to your hip, there are an extensive number of calendar apps such as Planner Plus that allow you to tighten up your scheduling and jot notes to in a customized calendar.
2. Avoid Multitasking.
Once looked as a talent, multitasking is now becoming a national pastime.
Multitasking may seem like a required skill in many professions, especially as advancements in technology make communication faster, easier and more agile. However, multitasking can easily lead to time management problems and it is best to avoid.
According to legend, Confucius once said that“a person who chases two rabbits catches neither.” The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University concur: tests show that multitasking “decreases your productivity by as much as 40%…(and) lowers your IQ and shrinks your brain — reducing density in the region responsible for cognitive and emotional control.”
Forbes.com’s recent post, “Multitasking Damages Your Brain and Career,” noted that “multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.”
Quinlan Director of Content Marketing Ben Kirst sees this in his own work.
“When I try to knock out several tasks at once, I find that it takes me twice as long — or longer — to get any one thing done,” he says. “I may feel like I’m being really productive, but I’ll look at my work list a couple hours later and realize I’ve only made minimal progress on several tasks, and the new work is already pouring in.”
Multitasking can lead to distractions and even mistakes. Ever send an email to the wrong person? Perhaps you spilled a cup of coffee trying to drink it while typing, talking on the phone and handling those folders on your desk. Even the smallest jobs can become a disaster when multitasking. Whether you are a social media expert scheduling tweets while on the phone with an editor, or if you are in the process of writing a news release for a client while catching up on previous emails — one of your projects is may be doomed by a dumb mistake you would have caught if you were just paying attention.
3. Don’t Rely on Overtime.
Welcome to the new and improved world of work, where you aren’t necessarily shackled by the 9-to-5 routine and have more freedom to work when you are most productive. Great, right? Yes, if you are able to organize your time with a little flexibility — but in order to maintain consistency and organization, it is best to not rely on overtime to complete every work task.
If you are working 12-hour days because you are being super-inefficient during the eight you’ve scheduled for your responsibilities, you’re not a hero: you’re a mess.
“Not relying on overtime forces you to get in a habit of getting a project done in the allotted time and prevents burn out,” Kirst says. “Nothing drains me like knowing that I’ve spent a full day wasting time on little distractions and now have to go home and grind out another few hours of work.” People burn out. It’s a common issue in today’s millennial workforce.
The recent LearnVest.com post, “Why Women are Burning Out at Work before 30,” states that “employees who try to be everything to everyone and who are always working to their most-efficient max (and) are extremely at-risk for burnout.”
In the Forbes.com article “10 Signs You’re Burning out- And What to do About it,” The American Psychological Association’s David Ballard, PsyD describes job burnout as: “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.”
Working weekends and staying late every night may help you think you can beat a deadline — but did you perform as best as you could? Did you stay clear headed and energized? Or did you drag yourself through the motions of work to create something you’ll just have to fix when you’re fresh again? Time management can easily become a chaotic mess when you are not taking time to reconfigure your schedule, recharge for the next day, and, of course, getting that recommended 8 hours of sleep at night.
Studies from the National Sleep Foundation show that sleep is imperative to your health and can greatly affect your ability to concentrate and stay focused throughout the day.
Be sure to not overload on overtime and make sleep a priority.
4. Plan for Emergencies.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that we all have emergencies. A typical work emergency could be running to the web development team to fix a client’s website after a virus wreaks havoc on a server, or rushing to the creative team to tweak a design for an ad that has to go to pub ASAP. Although those four letters can be daunting (maybe not as daunting as the four letters you keep shouting to your co-workers in those stressful situations), it is best to take a deep breath, steady yourself and fall back on the plan you prepared in case of emergencies.
Oh, what’s that? You don’t have an emergency backup plan? That’s a mistake. Planning for emergencies can be as simple as adding an extra day to a deadline when planning a project to make sure there’s a cushion if there are last-minute changes or your lead designer comes down with a mysterious case of the one-day flu following a big football game at his alma mater.
Emergency planning can involve building a list of reliable freelancers if you need a job turned around faster than your current staff can manage. Emergency planning can be a little wiggle room in a budget that accounts for unexpected expenses. Emergency planning can mean knowing who in your organization you can call when you need a favor, when you need support on a key decision or help fixing wonky technology.
“People think emergency planning, and sometimes they confuse that with something huge and dramatic,” Frank Conjerti, Quinlan’s creative director, says. “Emergency planning often means knowing who you can count on in a crisis, big or small. When push comes to shove, who are the people on your team, or in your network, who can help you save the day?”
Sometimes, it can feel impossible to plan for some emergencies — but another vital tip is being brave enough to say no. If you are given a task that clearly interrupts another project that is due, be clear and communicate the conflict. LearnVest.com’s “How to Say No At Work” offers proper ways to effectively voice your viewpoint in a situation where it may be difficult to just say “no:”
Find the right time to say no when you are on overload. This will not only help you out in the long run on important tasks but will also help you prepare for future emergencies as well. (Just make sure you say it the right way.)
5. Collaborate with co-workers.
You are the expert in your job (it’s OK, you can admit it!) but it can be tough to manage your time when you have a lot on your plate. Multitasking can lead to burnout, and working overtime can lead to mishandling emergencies. So, if at first you don’t succeed, utilize your co-workers to the best of your ability.
Even if you have a workload that was given to you for a solo project, it does not hurt to get others involved, especially if they are in an area of expertise that is beneficial to your goal.
Delegating and walking away helps no one. Collaborating with other experts in your field or those who could benefit from working with you will only bring better results. Need help scheduling time to do some research? Communicate with your team leader or boss to see if work can be split between co-workers. Looking for advice on what topics to write for your next blog? Another great reason to keep in touch with your co-workers and start collaborating.
“It’s easy to want to be the hero and think you can get work done faster alone,” Jessica Chapman, Quinlan’s director of account services explains. “However, easy mistakes can be made. Pulling in more people may take some time in the short term, but in the long term you will actually save time with faster approvals from clients and have the ability to hand work off effectively.”
When involving your co-workers, be sure to plan your projects wisely. Building, creating and collaborating is far easier when you have a structure in place. A clear, concise planning session with your co-workers will not only help your group understand your timing but will also help determine your expectations. Make sure you have a solid agenda and goals going into a collaboration meeting, though, or else you risk distractions and another pointless meeting (see the Vine above).
Time can be precious — especially with group projects — so be sure to prepare and take notes (a lot), so you can effectively lead the project and address everyone’s questions and concerns about the collaboration. Remember, planning will help generate strategic thinking and that is what everyone wants to get out of their advertising agency.
SO now what?
These five takeaways may help answer your short-term time management problems, but making sure you keep them up is the real trial.
Mastering time management will not only keep work life balanced, but help you progress as your move forward within your career. Don’t forget to make time for those vacation days as well!
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “ By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” So remember- plan wisely and if you fail at first, you will have time to master your projects once again.
Go start your new time management plan and let us know how it goes.
Don’t forget to tweet us @QuinlanCompany!