As a busy agency, our team is quite familiar with the importance of time management. And no Olive is more acutely aware of the impact poorly managed time can have on productivity than our project manager. She keeps our entire team on track week after week, which makes her the logical choice to offer up these tips to improve time management, output, and morale. Though she spends her time governing an agency team, the principles she applies to project management can easily be applied to your internal projects.
In the ever-changing environment that is marketing, I’ve often wondered, “is it even possible to stick to a deadline without running our team ragged?” Quite simply, yes. As long as said team understands the power of good time management skills. Okay, it may not be the simplest of answers when it’s time to tackle multi-faceted campaigns and strategies, but there are a few things you can do as you approach each project to make sure it stays on track.
Ask a lot of questions from the get-go—even those you think have obvious answers. After those questions are answered, create a list of tasks and then outline the steps it will take to execute each one. Without gathering this initial information, I find it’s all too easy to miss the less obvious steps, and the project can quickly veer off track. This upfront information helps to create the basis for a solid project plan.
Of course, even the best of plans can be derailed when more immediate needs arise or when resources are shifted, but planning ahead is still the best way to stay ahead. At the start of each week, I plan out that week’s project to-dos—even going so far as to list out a rough number of hours team members should spend on each task per day. This list is accessible to all team members and updated in real-time via Basecamp (my current project management tool of choice). This small step makes it easy for everyone to plan (and often re-plan) their days and stay on task.
When putting together a project plan, it’s key to share that plan with your stakeholders before executing. This will bring any red flags to the surface before they can impact project outcomes. Perhaps the approval process will be interrupted due to a staff retreat or vacation. Or maybe your proposed end date is much later than the powers that be expected. Setting expectations with your project team and stakeholders can help avoid miscommunications and prevent potential hiccups down the line.
Very few people are fond of accounting for the worst. It may very well be an optimist’s greatest fear. Still, whenever possible, planning for, say, two additional projects during a given week and at least one resource being out sick can keep you from missing deadlines. Even if you’re the only one working on a project, it’s important to realize, not everything is completely in your control. When determining how many hours you will spend on a project during any given day, avoid scheduling a full eight-hour day. Instead, plan for about five to six hours to account for last-minute meetings or urgent to-dos.
Focus is key in maintaining efficiency, but some personalities handle this better than others. Some are distracted by a messy desk, chatty coworkers, daydreams, or a squeaky desk chair. For me it’s the ease of the Internet at my fingertips. Figure out what pulls you off track and work on blocking it out. I promise you it can be done.
This doesn’t mean you have to document your hours to the second. Or that everyone will keep a close watch to make sure it doesn’t take two and a half hours to clean up your Salesforce data when you thought it would only take two. It’s more of a future tracker—a means to ensure that project schedules are accurate and a chance to correct them for future projects if they’re not.
Shying away from help is the norm. You don’t want your boss to think you just aren’t cut out to handle the work, right? Despite whatever fears you have, you’re only human, and it’s very likely that anyone else would feel the same pressure. In fact, your call for help indicates that you’re doing everything you can to maintain efficiency and to prevent your company from missing a deadline. This is never a bad thing.
I’ll admit I rarely take this piece of advice, but I firmly believe in it. On your busiest of days, you may feel like you don’t have a second to breathe, let alone eat a meal. But taking even 10 minutes to de-clutter your mind and re-focus (Pinterest and Instagram are two of my preferred re-chargers) can make you infinitely more efficient during the rest of your day. Your brain on overdrive can become pretty fried and mushy, which is certainly not ideal for productivity.
At Olive & Company, we create processes and track them so that we know how to better execute in the future. This is crucial. If we don’t retrace our steps and assess inefficiencies, we’ll never improve upon them. It’s a continual battle to maintain a project’s flow from the beginning, but it’s one that can become less of a struggle the more we glean from our mistakes.
While there’s certainly no foolproof way to keep your projects on track with quartz precision, bringing a series of methods to what can often become madness puts you in a much better position than diving in with no plan in place.