A junior digital marketer once asked me how they could get more done. Or more specifically, how could they get enough done to keep ahead of their workload.
We were both working for a company that had vastly understaffed their marketing department, and her stress level was always much higher than mine (in her opinion anyway).
So she wanted to know – how do I get all my work done? Was I using some special trick or tools to stay on top of my workload?
The answer for the most part was simply experience. I wrote her this email, which she recently told me (years later) really helped her, so I fished it out of my old outbox to share with you.
(Note: The below is a condensed version … to save you time.)
1. Plan your day every morning.
Everyone (especially in Digital Marketing) has to juggle long and short term goals in my experience. So every morning on your journey into work, or when you are making your first coffee (or having your first smoke) make sure you know everything you have to do TODAY.
When you’ve got that list covered, think about the things you should start to do soon. Only think about the things with no deadline that you could do if these first two lists aren’t overwhelming.
To make this easier, you can use a tool like Trello to make checklists for each project you work on to keep everything straight. I also personally make a daily (or weekly, or monthly) checklist too, as they really unclutter your mind.
The point is to not have to keep worrying that you are forgetting something by having everything written down. Know your goals, know the order of your goals, and KNOW that you haven’t forgotten any of your goals.
I highly recommend using Trello to manage your whole workload actually. As well as projects, you can have a misc checklist to add any random idea that pops into your head. This helps make sure that you aren’t forgetting your best ideas. It also means that you aren’t constantly worried that you are forgetting something essential.
Being able to focus without these annoying worries will make you so much better at your job it’s ridiculous.
I personally use a notebook for meetings, in which I mark actions with a special symbol, then weekly (at a minimum) go through it, and transfer all the actions to my Trello boards. This means I always re-read my notes too, which is super useful.
It also means I judge actions I told myself to do later, and decide whether I should actually do them. This cuts down on dithering in meetings as I just write down everything in the moment and decide what’s important later.
2. If you have spare time, use it to make things easier for yourself in future.
It might feel good to sit back and relax when there is finally a lull in your usually busy day. However using that time to make your life easier in future will lower your stress a lot more in the long run than spending an hour on Facebook.
Here are some useful things I do when there is a lull:
- Build/update a database of problems I’ve encountered
- Implement a better naming convention
- File all my old emails (having an empty inbox actually really helps your focus)
- Create a random report on something I’m curious about
- Go through my misc lists in Trello
- Take a (short) course or read a digital marketing newsletter
- Build a report building spreadsheet – one where you can download a report onto one tab, and then format another tab so it automatically generates a well formatted report
Literally no-one is looking out for Tomorrow You, except for Today You.
3. Email everything.
Just in case something goes wrong it’s always great to have a trail of who said what along the way. This goes double for actions you take following a spoken conversation – make sure you state what was said when you confirm you did the thing they wanted.
If you don’t do this, you are leaving yourself entirely open to being blamed for others mistakes, as well as making it easier to forget why you did something in the first place.
For example, a salesperson once begged me to stay late on a Friday night to get a campaign live for the weekend (that he had just signed moments before). I was young, and he was convincing so I did it in double time and told him in the pub over the road that I had sorted it. The campaign spent £20,000 over the weekend (as it was supposed to), and on Monday he realised that the advertiser didn’t really exist (it was malware that only kicked in on the Saturday).
There was ZERO emails about this turn of events, and the salesperson on Monday claimed he never told me to set it live. Luckily he was a known liar (to management), and everyone knew there was no reason I would have stayed late if it didn’t HAVE to go live late on Friday night.
Still, until my boss absolved me of my ‘responsibility’ for the problem, I was losing my fracking mind out over what had happened.
No email = no accountability trail. Email everything.
This was me for like an hour.
4. Don’t stay late every night.
Everyone has the occasional emergency which requires a late one, but if you have to stay late at work every night something isn’t working. Maybe you need to work out how to do your job faster, be more organised, or just better. Maybe your company is taking advantage of you.
Whatever it is, you will not actually be a better employee by staying late. This goes for working through your lunch every day too.
Your brain needs time off, and more than that, you are only being paid for your regular hours so don’t lose sight of that. Be flexible, but don’t be taken advantage of.
This goes double in new jobs – people will expect you to do whatever you have always done. If you work 9-5, then the amount of work you get done in those hours will be thought of as the amount it is possible to get done. If there is a lot more work coming down the line, it’s more likely that more staff will be hired (as they should be) if you haven’t shown yourself to be overly flexible.
5. At the start of every meeting, or conference call, write down everyone’s name and job title.
This can help keep you focussed on what a meeting is about. It also stops you from being embarrassed by a question from someone you’ve never met.
It will also help you to immediately refocus on the level of meeting you are at. If everyone is a manager or higher, then it’s probably a strategy meeting rather than a process one. This means don’t get bogged down in minutiae. Instead focus on bigger things which need approval or decisions made about.
If everyone is junior then you are probably the group doing the actual work so you can really hash out what needs to be done.
6. Always prepare for meetings.
Set an alarm for the day before every meeting to spend some time working out your point of view on what is being discussed. It will make you seem more capable (and rightly so!) as well as reduce the length of the meeting.
When you go into a meeting, always bring a pen and notepad. If you bring one and don’t need it, that’s fine. If you don’t bring one and you do need it, then that’s a huge pain.
You should also always bring a cup of water (or tea or coffee if it’s a long one). If you are bringing a hot drink, make it in advance so it’s cool enough to actually drink in the meeting (and not just a weird prop you carry around!).
Also always try and have a gulp or two of water before you leave your desk. Most importantly, have a mint (or a sweet – but not gum) just before the meeting starts. Being hydrated and having increased blood sugar will make you more focussed, and better at any meeting. Polo’s (lifesavers to Americans) have been temporarily raising my IQ for years!
Bonus Tip: Make as many small decisions as possible the night before.
Choose your clothes / lunch / route to work the night before if you can. Apparently we only have so much decision making ability each day, so save yours for the important stuff.
I hope all this helps. If you’ve got any productivity tips of your own, please feel free to share them too.