12 tips for time management plus mistakes you should avoid
It’s fair to say one of the key attributes of a great PR is being able to manage your time. It doesn’t matter what sector of PR you work in, where you are based in the world or how experienced a PR practitioner you are, it’s an essential component of being an effective PR. And it's never too early to start creating some great work systems.
Hayley Cole from Stellar and I discuss why time management is so important, how tracking the time it takes to complete each task can make a huge difference to your productivity, what some systems are you can use and the biggest mistakes PRs can make with time management. Plus, we give you 12 tips that will help you get through your workload more efficiently and effectively.
WHY IS TIME MANAGEMENT IMPORTANT IN PR?
It's not just PR, time management is crucial in any job. It can be particularly challenging when you work within a PR agency and are managing multiple clients with several projects and campaigns
No-one can be expected to remember what to do and when it needs to be done by so in order to manage your time efficiently and get your work done in an appropriate time frame, you need to understand how long each task will take you and its deadline
“In my 20 years of doing PR, I still review my tasks every day so there's no escaping it. Create a system now that works for you and be diligent at using it.”
WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF TRACKING HOW LONG IT TAKES TO DO EACH TASK?
Once you understand how long it takes to do each task, you can plan your workload more productively. It will be very easy to see that the 12 tasks you've assigned to Tuesday are going to take you 16 hours to complete. So you can review and reassign priority before that becomes an issue on the actual day
Knowing how long it takes you to do a task means you can challenge workload assigned to you. A manager may estimate a collection of tasks will take you six hours to complete but you can see historically that it's likely to take you eight hours, or perhaps just three. Which means you can make them aware in advance of how the workload needs to be adjusted
If your workplace doesn't have a system in place for tracking hours, just make a personal note yourself. That way, the next time you come to do that task, you have a clearer idea of how much time to allocate for it. As you get more efficient at doing it, it will take you less time
Listen to the full episode on The PR Pod podcast for more insight and tips on managing your time. You'll also find this episode on your fave podcast players, just search "The PR Pod".
WHAT ARE TIME SHEETS?
It's a way of tracking every increment of your work day. Each system is different but it may log every minute or blocks of minutes
Time sheets allow managers to see where each staff member is spending their time which then enables them to understand whether you/the agency are over servicing (spending too much time on a client) or under servicing (not spending enough time on that client)
Some clients will want to know where/how the hours have been spent and how that compares to output and others are not interested in seeing, as long as the job gets done
WHAT SYSTEM SHOULD I USE FOR TIME AND TASK MANAGEMENT?
Everyone will have their own system and method so you're going to have to do some exploring to find one that suits you
Your company may have one in place they'd prefer you to use and if so, make sure you understand how to use it properly
Regardless of the system you choose to use, if you're working on a project/campaign/client that has multiple people involved, you'll need an overarching project management tool to keep track of the project as a whole, and who is responsible for each task. You can then pull the tasks you're responsible from that into your own system
Once you know the tasks you need to accomplish, you'll need to assess how long each will take you to do, and then assign a deadline to them
Some people love using a notebook to put together a weekly task list and then create a daily list from that. Crossing items off that list can be very satisfying!
Outlook has a Tasks tabs which is very easy to use and it's free (this is what I use). It may take a little playing around with to get used to. You can customise categories so you have ones for each of your clients/projects and then you can sort per day/week/next day etc or per client/project. You can assign/delegate tasks to another team member plus you can link actual emails to the tasks if you need. It's great. I've been using it for about seven years and it changed my life (in a task management kinda way!)
if you're not a fan of either of those, just google time management systems to see what else is out there
Regardless of what system you use, you have to be diligent with it. The more time you invest in creating an efficient system, the less time you'll need to spend on managing your tasks day-to-day
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISTAKES PRS CAN MAKE WITH MANAGING TIME?
Not appreciating the flow-on effect from not finishing a task by the deadline. Someone else in your team may be relying on you completing a task in order for them to do the next component so understand how your task fits into the broader project and communicate if you're struggling to complete it in time
If a manager needs to approve a piece of work, you need to give them at least 24 hours to do so. You don't know what tasks and priorities they're working to. Plus, they may have a whole heap of feedback you need to incorporate in so you need to have allowed yourself enough time to do multiple amendments
Not assessing how long they need to do each task in advance. Spend time looking over your list and it's likely you'll be able to sort any time management issues before they become a problem
Not reviewing tasks on a daily basis. It's very likely you'll get new tasks coming in every day, which you couldn't foresee. So, you'll need to adjust your task list as and when they do which might mean reordering priorities
Not challenging time allocated to them by managers to do a task. If you know you can do it quicker or it takes you more time, then advise them in advance
Not speaking up when you can see you won't meet a deadline. You might be worried about the consequences of admitting you're struggling to complete something but trust me, the consequences will be way worse if a manager has to chase you for it and you admit you're nowhere near finished. SPEAK UP! It might be fine and your manager is happy for you to spend longer on it or it may be that someone else will need to help you out. Either way, it shows you respect the value of everyone's time
12 TIPS FOR TIME MANAGEMENT
Look at the week ahead and what you need to achieve, and then break the tasks down per day
Allow time for unforeseen issues/tasks that may pop up
Not sure how long it will take to complete a task? Ask a manager or team member
At the end of each day, review your tasks allocated to the next day and reassess priority. Something may have changed since you wrote the list so you need recalculate you've got enough time to complete them. It means you can arrive at work and start being productive immediately. Alternatively, make it the very first thing you do when you come in to work each morning
When you're new to your job, it's unlikely you can glance at a list of tasks and magically keep in your head how long each will take. Pop the time in brackets at the end of each task so you can very easily see how much time that day's tasks will require
Google the time management quadrant, it will help you prioritise your tasks
Look at doing the most annoying task on your list first. Get it over and done with and you won't be annoyed by it for the whole day!
See if you can break down one task into smaller elements. It might feel less overwhelming to tackle it that way
Recognise your strengths and weaknesses in achieving tasks. If you know you can't sit down and focus on one task for three hours, then break it up by doing a smaller task in between
Take a break from your screen. Go for a quick walk around the block to get some fresh air, grab a coffee or flick through the newspaper
If you need to concentrate and you've got a chatty team-mate, just let them know you need to focus for an hour or so
Turn off your email alerts. Most email systems are set up to ping when a new email comes in and show a new email icon. Turn these off and then you won't get distracted every time a new email comes in
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