Do you often feel overwhelmed by how much you have to do?
This is a short quick fire episode where I answer a question I hear most frequently from creative agency account managers.
The subject of productivity, time management and general overwhelm with number of tasks needed to be completed comes up a lot.
Often being stuck managing the day to day firefighting distracts us from doing the things that are more valuable like thinking about ways of adding more value to the client’s business, looking at trends, working on client relationship expansion, client development planning etc.
So here are 10 tips (plus an extra bonus one I added!) for ensuring you get as much of your Day to day workload completed as possible so it frees up space to do more thinking and planning.
Account managers who want promotion to account director realise the only way they can work on more strategic tasks (client development plans, solving client business & communications challenges) is to be more time efficient.
Let me know if these tips have been helpful and please share any others you’ve found beneficial so I can share with everyone else.
Welcome to the Creative Agency Account Manager Podcast with me, Jenny Plant, from Account Management Skills Training. I’m on a mission to help those in agency client service keep and grow the existing relationships, so their agency business can thrive.
Welcome to episode five of the Creative Agency Account Manager podcast. This is a solo episode and this is all about how to be more productive.
What I’m going to do now and again is have an episode where it’s very short and hopefully valuable to you. And it’s going to answer a question that typically I hear from creative agency account managers. This one is about productivity because it’s a very, very common thing. Lots of people complain that they tend to lurch from one disaster to the other, or they tend to use their time not in the most effective ways.
So most people are looking for some kind of productivity hacks or time management strategies. So I’ve just got 10 top tips, these are the tips that I found the most helpful in my career. And I hope they’re useful for you, so I’m going to go through them one by one quite quickly.
So number one is know what your business wants. Know what the agency wants you to be focusing your time on. I know that might sound obvious, but sometimes we can carry on doing what we think are the priorities. But, actually, the business has another idea. They want us to focus on another area. This also is important if you’re starting a new job, so you might want to develop a 90 day plan. A 90 day plan is where you think, ok, what are the three key big goals that I want to achieve in the next three months and then you go to your boss, talk it through, and say ‘these are going to be the priorities for me’. You get that agreement and then if you get side tracked after those three months, or you get extra task put onto you and you can’t cope, then you can go back to your boss and say, ‘look, we did agree that these we’re going to be my three key priorities on. I’ve just been taken off track, so help me get in alignment’. I think sometimes where people go wrong with this is that they don’t feel they can ask for help. And I think everyone at some point struggles with overload. So if you’re feeling like that right now, I’d like to encourage you to discuss it with somebody else because sometimes it helps, particularly if you’re speaking to someone more senior in the agency who can help you prioritize your workload. So that’s number one.
Number two is to minimize distractions. Now we all know that in our life right now we find it very difficult to concentrate for five minutes on anything. But it doesn’t help with focus. When you have pop-ups coming up, so many of us work on Microsoft teams or Slack, or we use WhatsApp groups and if we have all of these distractions, there is a study to show that if you’re working on a task, it takes 15 minutes to get back to the task that you were working on. If you’re distracted, close all those windows down, give yourself a chance to be able to focus on one thing at a time. I promise you it’s something that I still struggle with, I’ll be honest. However, when I do close down all distractions and I focus without looking at pop-ups and distractions, it really helps me be more productive.
Tip number three is to limit the number of times you check your emails. Now, some of us like to have our emails up all the time on and as soon as we see one pop up, we go and have a look at what it’s about. But the same principle applies in terms of minimizing distractions. I always advise that you check your emails three or maybe four times a day at certain times of the day. So once in the morning, once a lunchtime and once in the afternoon or evening, because again it gives you a chance between checking emails to have deep focus time.
Number four – talking of deep focus time, we need to understand the benefit off working on those really important tasks, versus the urgent task that tends to come in. So we want to be working on important, not urgent. If you are familiar with the Boston Matrix, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. If you’re not familiar with the Boston Matrix, I really recommend you look it up. It is essentially a grid that you can use to plan all of your tasks on along the top. You have urgent and not urgent along the left hand side. You’ve got important and not important, and each quadrant represents your different tasks and where you want to focus. As much of your time is possible is in the non- urgent and important box. And this is typically the segment off the matrix that you tend to find things like client development plans, client business research, perhaps strategizing and reflecting And, as you get more senior in your creative agency account manager role, you’re gonna be wanting to spend more of your time there. So get into the habit of looking at your tasks and thinking which ones really are going to move the needle in the client’s business or which ones are the ones that I should be focusing my time on.
Tip number five is to consider Parkinson’s law. Now Parkinson’s law is the law that states a task will take the amount of time that you allocated to it. So if I say I need the report back on my desk in two days time, you’ll get it done in two days and you’ll put that amount of effort in. If I say you’ve got two weeks to get me the report then you may procrastinate. You may draw it out. So think about the way you tend to work and think about whether that suits you. Whether you really respond better to deadlines and set yourself a deadline for achieving a task, it’s amazing how much more productive you can become.
Tip number six is, are you saying yes to other people’s work, are people delegating to you? That shouldn’t be. Sometimes if you’re in charge of a team, your team will start delegating their workload to you and this often happens to people who are people pleasers. Now again, hands up. That totally fits my description. When I was working as a general manager, I would often be really, really available to my team, and I didn’t want to say no. I didn’t want to turn them down, but what ended up happening was someone turned around to me, my coach at the time, and said, ‘you are getting your needs met’ and now that really shook me up. I thought, gosh, how rude. But actually he was right. I was getting my needs met by being available and helping others because that’s my natural state is to help others. But what you need to do is protect your time. Because, actually, what was happening was I wasn’t getting my own work done because I was being available to everybody else until the very end of the day. And that was making me tired, grumpy, frazzled. So it’s a vicious cycle. So just question yourself. Are you saying yes, too much and taking on other people’s work that you shouldn’t be?
Tip number seven is all about planning in advance. Now a few tips here I have found that if you can do this in your agency, you may do this already, is take a long term view of the calendar. So think about booking your holidays as much in advance as you can so you can start planning the year around those holidays. Secondly, on the more medium term view, between a month and three months, think about all of the clients you’re working on and some of the projects that are going to be important in the timelines and the actual points in time during those three months that you are going to be busy. And put it in your calendar, mark it in your calendar, when these times are because these key times are times for you to make sure you’re looking after yourself and making sure that you’re keeping your energy levels up. It also will become apparent if there’s any overlap. So maybe you’ve got several clients you’re working with and many of them, their projects are kicking off at the same time or deliveries around the same time, so make sure that you’re at least aware. And that also gives you the opportunity to flag it to your senior management team, because maybe you’re going to need some extra resource to help you around that time. Short term planning – it’s all about looking at your calendar or your to-do list. But the night before now, I use a month to view calendar which of these big, sticky things, which you can see if you’re watching on YouTube. But it’s basically where you see a whole month and you can just update them manually on the other side. There’s actually ‘by day’ so you can actually write down, if you’re a paper and pen girl like me, for the month some of these key milestones for your projects that you’re working on.
Tip eight. I’ve alluded to this, but it’s calendar blocking, time blocking. This has really transformed the way I manage my time and I now block time in my diary for absolutely everything, including leisure time, even stretching my legs time and I’ve really found that it’s helped me be much more productive. So think about blocking time for all of your task. So rather than having a long, unwieldy list of things to do, which inevitably you don’t get to the end off and you end up feeling a little bit disappointed with yourself that you didn’t achieve everything, think about putting each of those tasks into your calendar because again, it helps you think about ‘well, is this really urgent?’. ‘Is this really important and how am I going to make sure that I schedule enough time for it?’.
Tip number nine is to continually review what you’re spending your time on with a view to considering whether you can systemise it, or use a tool rather than you spending so much time. So if you’re talking about tracking your time so you can monitor how long task take then I use a tool called Toggl. It’s toggl.com, and it allows me to track the time that I’m spending on each project and then after a few weeks, you can look back and think, ‘gosh, I seem to be spending an awful lot of time on developing timelines’, for example, and then you might realize we’re still using Excel spreadsheets for timelines, maybe we could systemise this. Maybe we could use a tool like Monday.com or using Microsoft Project so that you can use a tool that will make that speedier. Similarly, if you look at your calendar and you realize you’re spending an awful lot of time in meetings, maybe they’re weekly meetings that don’t necessarily have to be an hour, it doesn’t mean to say that every meeting has to be an hour. So think about, is this meeting a good use of everybody’s time? Could it be shorter? Could it be more succinct and, then again, ask people what they think and suggest some different format for that meeting or different length of time for that meeting.
And tip number ten is to restrict your availability for meetings. Now, often in an agency, this has to be a policy. But I know of many agencies that are saying things like, let’s have a no meetings Friday, no internal meetings Friday or Monday or both. And this has been something that’s been discussed as a wider agency team. So everybody’s got a view on what could be more beneficial. And what that means is that people can’t book meetings in your diary that you haven’t given approval for. Also, it helps to manage your own personal time because during these times, I’m recording this mid September you know, we are coming out of the lock down period, it’s the Covid-19 situation. Many of us are working from home with multiple distractions and a schedule, some of us are taking children to school. But I think this is about culture, and it’s about talking to your agency to look at collaborating as a team and thinking, ‘would this be more beneficial to maybe restrict internal meetings to certain days of the week or maybe certain times of the day, which are suiting more people?’. So have a think about how that could work for you. Personally, I try to block out Mondays and Fridays to have no coaching, no training sessions and no external calls and meetings so that I can focus on content creation, on planning, on doing all of the work that requires deep concentration. So that’s my top 10 tips.
I’ve got a bonus, one for you, but let me just run through those tips again.
- So number one was know what the business wants, so that you’re focusing your time in the areas that the agency actually needs. So check with your seniors.
- Number two, minimize distractions. Stop those pop ups.
- Number three, limit amount of time you check your emails, three or four times a day max.
- Number four, understand the benefit of working on important but not urgent tasks. These tend to be your deep work. The ones like client development planning, etc. And these are the ones that really going to move the needle on your career.
- Number five is Parkinson’s Law. Are you allowing yourself too much time to do one particular task? Could it be done more smartly?
- Number six. Are you saying yes, too much? I’m not saying no enough.
- Number seven, are you planning in advance? So think about your long, medium and short term planning tools that you use so that you can put those milestones in your diary in advance.
- Number eight, calendar time blocking. So use your calendar to block times for meetings, for planning for everything that you need.
- Number nine, make sure you continually review how you’re spending your time so you can see how you can leverage tools that you could use and then..
- number 10, restrict availability for internal meetings, and that’s something you probably want to discuss as a team.
The bonus tip that I’ve got is something that my coach, Osman Sharif, said a while ago, which really, really helped me. Think about, if you are working from home, having different places in your house for doing different tasks. So, for example, if you are creating a plan or having to really focus deeply on content creation, then think about going into your lounge to do it or going to sit by a window to think, or maybe going to a local hotel reception and sitting there for an inspirational environment. Because sometimes we try to do absolutely everything at our desk, but sometimes it means that we’re not the most productive we could be. So if your brain associates your desk as a place that you do lots of quick turnaround tasks phone calls, meetings, emails, then you need to change your environment so that your brain, then all of a sudden has a different feeling and it tends to operate in a different way. So I tend to do all of my thinking somewhere else other than my desk. And if you’re in the office environment, then going into a meeting room and closing the door so that you’ve got that deep focus time.
So I really hope this has been beneficial. I would love to hear from you if you have any other tips to share for creative agency account managers. May be something that you use all the time, a tool, or it could be a methodology or just a tip.
I’d love to hear your views, so if you I would like to share with me your feedback, I’d love to hear from you. It’s email@example.com, and I’ll see you on the next episode.