As one of Embryo’s newest additions to the content team, trying to hit the ground running in a fast-paced industry has been revitalising and, admittedly, sometimes a little overwhelming! Agencies thrive on a diet of great ideas, happy clients and dynamic output – that has to be measured minute by minute with project management tools, reports, daily tasks and time audits – to ensure the process is as effective as possible.
This is why time management is key, even right at the beginning, in helping you understand how best to use your working hours to fill your briefs, chipping what looks like a huge workload into digestible chunks of time, and keeping stress levels to a minimum. It’s honestly one of the best soft skills you can learn and will serve you well both in and out of the office!
So what is time management, exactly?
Marketing agencies are experts at delegating and handling huge periods of time, usually spinning multiple plates for clients on retainer. With each contract representing a certain amount of work needing completion in a time block, PR strategists, content writers and marketers are expected to roll with the punches and get everything done to great effect. According to research, the average marketer spends around 16 hours a week on routine tasks, adding another time constraint on top of all that client work. So we really can’t afford poor time management skills.
Even within our office, there are numerous ways people manage their time and everyone will find a trick that works best for them. Task list makers, time trackers and priority sorters all get the job done – but hacking into work blindly always gets the same result: time wasters!
Failure to get your ‘ducks in a row’ workwise can have a hugely detrimental impact on productivity, causing insufficient workflow, higher stress levels, poor work output and problems with your professional reputation. The panic to get caught up on a missed list of tasks can start to bleed into your actual time at home, causing ill mental health and the inability to ‘switch off – and everybody deserves a proper work/life balance.
Which time management method will work for me?
The trial-and-error process of figuring out what works best for you might seem like poor time management, but you’ll soon reap the benefits. Usual suspects include breaking your hours up into productive 15-minute time blocks, with an aim of boxing off your achievable goals first. Or set a time limit on your routine tasks before dedicating a bigger time frame to larger projects. Some of these work best with the help of time management apps, such as Notion or Pomodoro, so you’re not tempted by common distractions like notifications.
Eat the Frog, Time-Blocking, Pomodoro, Eisenhower’s Matrix, and the Old-Fashioned To-Do List
A favourite by name alone, the ‘eating the frog’ system works best for procrastinators who struggle to prioritise tasks they have no motivation to do. By prioritising the most important (and usually most challenging task on your list) and dedicating a period of time to it, you’ll get your ‘frogs’ boxed off first. Nothing else gets done until that task has been completed, so be strict with your time audit, before moving on to the rest of your list.
Time blocking is one of those time management tricks that simply divide up your work into smaller chunks. During each block of time, you focus on a single task or a group of similar tasks which works well for people who like routine. Unlike a to-do list, time blocking not only gives you the task but dictates when to do it, allowing you to dedicate more time to tasks that might need further attention.
Using a time-tracking tool alongside this method works well, so you can visually see your blocks as you bust through them – which is always satisfying.
As well as being the Spanish word for tomato, the Pomodoro method is all about using the time you have to your own advantage, rather than carving out extra from other sources. Traditionally used for studying, this version breaks the working day into several 25-minute chunks – with a punctuating five-minute break within each one – and after four rounds, you can take a longer 15 or 25-minute break. Each segment of the day is your ‘Pomodoro. The sense of urgency on the timer gives a kick to easily distracted brains but includes enough downtime to stop anyone from feeling overwhelmed or burned out.
For those of you that need a visual timer to keep you accountable, you can always get a Pomodoro pop-up timer that can count down each slice and even log your breaks.
This impressive method isn’t half as complicated as it sounds. Simply put, this helps you note the most urgent and pressing tasks and gets you to focus on them, getting rid of any temptation to spend extra minutes on time wasters. Grab a pen and a notepad and jot down all your tasks for the day, before categorising them into the following:
- 1: Things you don’t want to do, but really need to get done.
- 2: Things you want to get done – and actually need to get done.
- 3: Things you want to do, but don’t need to do.
- 4: Things you don’t want to do, and probably don’t need to do.
If you struggle with consigning time to tasks and find yourself whiling away precious hours on projects that don’t need immediate attention, Eisenhower’s Matrix works wonders. Plus, it’s fantastic for people working on content writing, multiple PR campaigns, and across clients who tend to have lots of different pieces on the go at once.
If you’re pretty principled already, the oldest time tracking solution in the book is… a book. Or a notepad, paper and bullet points. It’s not flashy by any stretch, but this technique is basically an agency stripped back: nothing but lovely clients as headings, their goals underneath, and many many points of deliverables. The best lists combine a mix of smaller, urgent jobs that can be polished off quickly before larger, many-armed tasks under a particular project. There’s no better feeling than glancing over your day as neatly presented things-to-do, barrelling through and boxing them off one by one.
Sometimes the best methods are Frankensteins’ Monsters of the above. Nabbing one section that works and stitching it with another to suit the timeframe at hand are viable options, alongside digital time management systems or trackers. There is no particular right or wrong way of blocking your days and tasks, as long as you’re in control of the time spent and get everything done to the best of your ability. You’ll get the hang of it in no time at all!