Digital PR professionals usually wear many hats. In a brainstorming meeting, you are the creative. When you open your email inbox in the morning, go through those replies you received and update all your contact lists and reports accordingly, you’re the admin. In a client meeting, you are the face of the agency. When preparing data-led campaigns, you are the project manager for researchers, designers and writers. If you are in a managing position, you also want to make sure to have time for a one-to-one-catchup with your team members. If that is not enough, your account manager might swing through the door at any time requesting additional information on the campaigns’ progress to update the client. Time management becomes crucial – even on quiet days in digital PR.
Get the most out of a project management tool
Yes, in the same way that a project manager handles all agency proceedings, you should manage your own time and work. Your team is most likely using a project management tool like Asana, Trello or Monday.com to communicate tasks and deadlines. Make use of it!
Create your own project board
Did you know that all of these tools allow you to create your own boards? You can split tasks into smaller sub-tasks and assign individual deadlines. If a project is due next Friday, you can break it out into smaller steps with a milestone being due every day. That will save you from staying longer on Thursday evening. When creating your own board, you can also add recurring tasks, e.g. reporting every last Friday of the month or an hour daily to reply to emails. The tool will automatically copy those tasks and remind you depending on the frequency you assign.
Deadlines, priorities, and reminders
Project management tools also allow you to add priorities to each task and set up email reminders. If there is something due in 3 weeks, maybe set a reminder for the week before. If you plan to pick up a task again in a few days, add the file (or links to the files if they are saved in the cloud) to the task in your project management tool. That way you will not have to spend additional time searching for the file to find out where you had left off.
Plan your week
If you come into the office on a Monday morning, take 15 minutes to plan out your week. Your project management tool tells you what is expected from you every day (including recurring tasks), your online calendar tells you which meetings to account for. Estimate how long each task will take and create a schedule for the week, similar to the class timetable you had in school. You can even put those in your calendar to reserve that time for the particular task. Although, I like to write this down on a piece of paper that goes on the wall next to my desk. That way, it is always visible when my online calendar or project board is hidden behind multiple windows and tabs on my screen.
And now the most important tip of all: If you notice that your week carries too much for one human being to handle, have a chat with your manager. Certain deadlines might be adjustable or there might be another team member to take some of your workload.
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Scheduling calls and meetings
When it comes to meetings and calls – either internal meetings or client-facing ones – try to schedule them in blocks. If you have meetings cluttered all over your day with 30 minutes in between each of them, you lose that entire day to meetings. Small gaps between meetings are not helping with productivity. You need 15 minutes now and then to refill your coffee or go to the bathroom, but 30 minutes are too much for a bathroom break and too little to get any work done. Keep that in mind when scheduling your meetings and calls. That brings me to the next point: breaks! You deserve them!
Don’t skip your lunch break
When you plan your day and estimate how long each task takes, ensure to also leave some room for breaks. Get a refill in your cup, get up and stretch every once in a while. Your back and hips will thank you for that. A little walk to the kitchen to refill your water glass gets you moving, and you make sure that you drink enough throughout the day. If you tend to forget these things, why not set a calendar reminder?
Even on the busiest days, one thing you should never do is skipping your lunch break. You need to eat, and you need a longer screen break. If you are struggling with that, make an appointment. This can be a lunch with your colleagues. If you are using a communications tool like Slack, you can create a channel with your lunch time buddies. Even there, you can set a reminder every day that reminds you of your lunch appointment in the office kitchen. Another way to do this is to book a sports class in your lunch break. Many gyms offer 30- or 45-minute classes of all kinds of sports starting with a relaxing stretch class up to high intensity training. If you are working from home, you can take an online class. You book them, you pay them and that will be your motivation to not skip your lunchbreak. Plus, you get the additional benefit of a workout.
On a side note: You can also add those to your calendar.
Seems like you are all set to make it through the week, meet all deadlines without having to stay longer. There is one thing though to keep in mind: Your estimates about the time a task takes are only working if you focus. You are human! We all lose focus from time to time and procrastinate a little. There are some precautions you can take.
The most obvious one is to switch off any distractions which includes notifications on Skype or Slack. Close your email programme and switch those notifications off too. Not to forget your phone: put it away.
Getting things done
If you know that your thoughts might drift off, try the pomodoro technique. Set a timer to 20 or 25 minutes. Whilst the timer is running, you keep the focus on the task. When the timer is up, you take a break. A more advanced way of this technique is an accountability buddy. Partner up with a trusted colleague. You meet at the coffee machine 15 minutes before your day starts, have a little chat and you both plan your day. You both write down what you want to get done by lunch time. When you then meet for lunch, you can quiz each other about your progress. That way, somebody – who is not your manager – will hold you accountable in a friendly way for the goals you set in the morning. You can also identify reasons why a plan failed. Maybe you miscalculated the time it would take? Maybe you got distracted and you can now identify exactly how this distraction looked like and discover ways to prevent it tomorrow.
Change of environment
There is another tip that might help if you start to lose focus on your work. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it has certainly worked for me. Changing environment is like resetting your brain. When you are in the office, work from the coffee area, the kitchen or a meeting room. If your manager agrees, you can work from the coffee shop across the road. This will also prevent any colleagues interrupting your thoughts with questions. When you are working from home, maybe try the dining room or even the sofa or the garden for a certain time and go back to your desk for the next task on the list.
End of day
It means exactly that: END of day. Your workday finishes by 5.30 or maybe 6 pm. Get up, leave and do something else. We are all guilty of staying long hours because we just want to get that one, quick thing done. The moment we realize it, it is 8 pm and the quick thing had turned into 2 hours. When working in an office it is a reminder when your colleagues start leaving the office. If you are regularly staying much longer than them, something must change. Have a chat with your manager if your workload is too high for you alone to handle.
A sure way to leave the office on time is to have plans for the evening: another sports class, a dinner with friends or even your weekly grocery shopping.
When working from home in times of lockdown, it is very tempting to just keep on working until you fall asleep or get hungry. The things you used to look forward to at the end of the day are not possible and this means you have to find other things. Have a dinner with your housemates or your partner. Pick up a new hobby that you do in the evenings. The online sports class you could have done in your lunchbreak is possibly scheduled again in the evening. Read a book or take a long bath. Enjoy your evening and be proud of everything you achieved that day!
Post published on Thursday January 28, 2021