Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to talk to nearly a hundred marketers and one of the most common questions I was asked was “How do I get it all done?”. After tracking my activities over a month or so, I have identified some common practices that I do on a daily basis to get more work completed during normal business hours. I am going to share those with you below, but first I will give you a brief background of me and my commitments.
As most of you know, at least regular readers, I am a marketing manager for an engineering firm, a wife, a mom of two small children, avid sports fan, and blog writer. I feel that I fall just between Gen X and Y with values of each generation important to me. I feel that my “efficiency” quest began in high school when I was taking AP classes, played sports, and worked part time. I still wanted to hang out with my friends so I had to figure out to fit it all in. It wasn’t until I began my AEC marketing career that I discovered that there was an entire industry dedicated to time management and efficiency. That is when my geekery exploded!
I will share more of my background and personal stories in the tips below. Also, don’t forget as part of geekery, I LOVE to hear from others on their great ideas to get more work done. Leave your tips below in the comments. I will update this post with all of the amazing tips I receive!
Tip #1 – End Work at a Designated Time Each Day
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on what perspective you’re reading from), I had to leave work every day by 5:20 pm no matter what. This is because I was responsible for picking up my son from daycare every day. I knew I had to be walking out of the office by 5:20 pm to make it to the daycare by 6:00 pm or I would be charged $1/minute. This helped me learn the limits of what work I could reasonably complete in a given day. It also put a finite deadline to my day which created a sense of urgency each and every day, not just around proposal deadlines. I found that I worked a little faster beginning at 3:00 pm.
This is not to say that I never worked late at the office or at home. I had to learn to plan ahead to when I thought I would need to work late to make other arrangements or plan to check out a laptop (until I eventually got my own).
If you already have kids, then you are already doing this to some extent. You skip to the next step.
I have noticed that my coworkers without kids often stay until well after dinner time, but may or may not get the same amount of work completed. Because they do not have a daily immediate deadline (like picking up a kid) they do not work with the sense of urgency.
TAKE ACTION TODAY: Identify a designated time each day to leave the office. Then, set an alarm and/or calendar request to remind you of that time. Then, leave the office at that time. Try this for two weeks and see if you work speed increases. Report your results below.
Tip #2 – Make Two To-Do Lists
I love lists! As a Type A person who manages a career, home, volunteer work, and this blog I live by my lists. From my time as a waitress in high school, I learned that if I do not write something down I will forget it. I still have flashbacks of the white-haired snowbirds yelling at me for forgetting their side of mayo at the little pub I worked at in Venice, Florida.
There are many ways to keep track of your to-dos—pen and paper, Outlook and fancy software systems like Franklin Covey. You will have to find what works for you. For me, I use a small and pretty notebook with lined paper. My husband, a Project Manager for a contracting firm, uses Franklin Covey.
With my pen and paper system, I keep two lists. The first is written in the page of the notebook and lists EVERYTHING I need to do. Over the past few months, I have started using headings and bullets for each area of my work, organizations I am involved with, and home life. This helps me keep track of everything that I need to get done. I add to it as stuff happens and/or gets assigned to me. As I complete each item I get to cross it out. (This is fun for me.) For instance, I dropped my iPad last week, so I have added under “Home” go to BestBuy to replace. I update this throughout the week and then either on Friday or Sunday make a fresh one for the new week. This has really put the emphasis on a new, fresh week.
The second to-do list is made daily. I usually take a Post-It note and write the day of the week and 2-3 items I NEED to get done today. They are usually very time specific. I only list 2-3 items because I learned very quickly that is really all I can commit to completing in any given day. This is because, as an AEC marketer, everyone else comes to you to put out their fires and fulfill their requests immediately. Everyone’s request is an urgent, important, and high priority. I learned to focus first on the 2-3 items that must get completed today first. If I had fewer interruptions that day, I would work done my master to-do list as time permitted.
TAKE ACTION TODAY: Start your master to-do list using pen and paper. Then each day, identify the 2-3 must-get-done-today tasks and work on those first. Try this for two weeks and see if you are completing more tasks. Report your results below.
Tip #3 – Set Realistic Expectations for Each Day
I already described this a little in Tip #2. When I started in this industry, I way underestimated how long certain tasks would take me and how many interruptions I would get. When I started adjusting my expectations of what I could complete, my mood changed and began leaving each feeling accomplished instead of beating myself up.
Tip #4 – Minimize Distractions
We now live in a multi-screen, multi-tasking, background noise driven world. All of these create distractions from our primary responsibilities. This had always been one of my sore spots. About three years ago, I read the book The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. The premise of this book is to create a business that can run on as little as four hours per week so you can live your life. However, for my purposes, the section about eliminating distractions hit home.
Without going into too many details on all of his philosophy, I will share what I have tried and implemented successfully.
First, I keep my email window closed while I am working on assignments. This allows me to be 100% focused on the task at hand instead of looking at that little Outlook window every few moments when a new message comes in. His book suggests just checking twice a day (once at noon and once at 4:00 pm), but I have found that I check email between each completed task. My mind has to shift gears to begin working on another task, so I allow myself to open my email and check.
You might be afraid to do this at first, but trust me no one will really notice and if there is a true emergency someone can always pick up the phone and call you. (Gasp!)
Also, if you have an instant messenger program, put up the “Do Not Disturb” while you are working on your tasks. Others can see that you are still there, but know not to disturb you.
If you have the pleasure of an office, shut your office door while you are working on tasks. I had a door with a window and even when I had it shut, people would still knock on it to come in. I would shake my head no or not look up from my desk. Then, when I completed my task I would walk over to their office to explain my reasoning.
If you work in a cubicle, I would suggest investing in a pair of high quality, noise canceling headphones. You don’t have to wear them all the time, but do wear them when you are working on your tasks.
Remember, you are eliminating distractions to get more work done; to be more productive for your firm. If you explain this to people, they should understand. If you need further assistance explaining, the author provides some language in his book.
TAKE ACTION TODAY: Take the email challenge. Don’t open your email until your 2-3 identified must-get-done-today tasks are completed. Do this each day for two weeks. Report your results below.
Tip #5 – Know When You’re Most Productive
There are certain times of the day and the week that your feel like you’re more functional or alert. For me, that time is in the morning and generally earlier in the week. By 3:00 pm each day, my brain feels like mush and it is harder for me to concentrate. On Mondays, I am super energetic and can work well into the evening. However, come Thursday evening I am ready for bed by 9:00 pm.
Knowing this, I try to plan my different types of tasks at these periods of time. For instance, if I need to write, research or edit, I try to knock those types of activities out in the morning hours when I know my brain is most alert. Conversely, I use the afternoons to make follow-up calls, schedule conference calls, coordination and other non-thought provoking tasks. If I have control over setting up meetings, I always opt for the afternoon. I do this throughout the week. I try to complete my most challenging, most creative tasks in early in the week and leave my more repetitive tasks for the end of the week.
You may not have complete control over all of this, but first identifying the times throughout the day (or night) and the week will help you begin to try to lump appropriate tasks into your most productive hours.
TAKE ACTION TODAY: Track your energy level, alertness, and brain power each day for two weeks. Keep a log of when you feel most alert (time of day and day of the week) and when you feel sluggish. Report your results below.
Tip #6 – Reward Yourself
We are so hard on ourselves. AEC marketers are some of the hardest workers in our firms and often do not receive enough credit. I have learned to get around this by rewarding myself. After doing this for some time, I have found that it has turned into self-motivation as well.
Now, I am not talking bonuses or prizes, but I am referring to little victories accomplished each day. Here is what I mean.
Remember, that master to do list I described in Tip #2? Well, the reason that I like to keep it on paper is to physically cross out each task completed. I tend to keep the list throughout the week and use it as a scorecard to reflect on my accomplishments throughout the week. It is just a personal reflection, but it helps.
Throughout the day, I use my 2-3 must-get-done-today assignments as rewards too. After I complete the first one, I stop, take a break, go for that coffee run, and/or check my email, check Facebook, LinkedIn and/or Twitter. If there is something that is fun or appeals to me on my to-do list, I wait to work on that my 2-3 daily assignments are completed. It helps to keep my focused and motivated throughout the day.
TAKE ACTION TODAY: Start rewarding and recognizing your achievements in your daily and weekly life. Let me know how you do this in the comments below.
Don’t forget how much we learn from other AEC marketers. Share your tips and advice below in the comments. I will update this post with all of the amazing tips I receive!