Most marketing and communications offices have a constant stream of incoming requests. There are the usual major projects—websites, writing, editing, designing, emails, etc.—but there’s also what I like to call “the extras.” These can be part of a major project that has additional, unplanned revisions, or individual tasks like an unexpected all-community email, meetings, professional development, crisis communications, or tackling a passion project off the ever growing wishlist. Balancing all of the extras while keeping up with the regular work can be a challenge. So, how do you deal with it?
1. Set an “extras” hour and day.
Years of running a marketing and communications office have taught me that there are always random things that come up at the last minute, as well as a ton of items that need to be processed/finalized. So, I plan for that in my weekly schedule.
- Devote at least an hour a day to “housekeeping” tasks: email, voicemail, clean my desk, organize files, and other small tasks that need to be done to keep my workspaces in proper order. Put it on your calendar and honor it like you would an actual meeting.
- Plan to have a no-meeting day to address extra projects or pending assignments that got delayed because of an extra. Saving it for the end of the week is often ideal.
- Value add: Fewer unexpected late nights, and, in the rare event that something unexpected doesn’t pop into my schedule, I have the luxury of getting ahead on a strategic project or dipping into my wishlist and tackling something that wasn’t planned.
Pro Tip: It’s ok to say “no” or “not yet” to a request, even if it’s an amazing idea. Be respectful of your time and your team’s time and plan only what you can reasonably accomplish in a given week.
2. Adopt aspects of scrum methodology to improve workflow.
Figuring out how to make time for extras was a challenge for me; however, adopting aspects of scrum methodology improved organization and allowed me to better manage projects.
- Truly determine how much you can accomplish in a given time frame by assigning point values to each project and prioritize tasks accordingly.
- A point is an arbitrary measure that takes into consideration time, complexity, effort, and unknowns. For example, a typical marketing email might use two to three points, but an email for a department known for having more revisions and complicated requests might need a point value of five to eight.
- Determine how many points your team can accomplish in a given week or month (it’s trial and error for a few weeks while you test it out).
- Value add: Build in time for the extras while developing a better understanding of how much time and effort goes into particular projects.
Pro Tip: Once you have an average number of points that can be accomplished in a week, honor it and assign it accordingly. Use these point values when negotiating deadlines and project scope with other departments.
3. Implement project management software.
Using tools to track assignments and set automatic reminders for deadlines helped my work become automated. My top choices?
- Trello® has scrum plugins that you can use and is a simple drag-and-drop system of lists and cards. Each card has room for deadlines, labels, checklists, comments, assignments, and more.
- Basecamp is a bit more complex with some added functionality beyond Trello, like chat services and the ability to assign tasks and deadlines at a more granular level.
- Value add: Not only do these project management tools provide automated reminders but they also serve as a blueprint for next year. Just copy the project and update!
Pro Tip: Invite other departments and individuals to your software and assign them to tasks or projects, even if they aren’t using it regularly. This allows the system to automate reminders for their components of a project.
4. Track the extras in your project management software.
Add a board or card (depending on the tool) to log the extras, even if it is just a quick note.
- Determine where you’re getting bogged down.
- Anticipate which departments need more training in a particular area.
- Anticipate the times of year that you need to scale back on strategic assignments.
- Value add: Have a better grasp on what’s happening and when, and look for trends to help you figure out how to better work with other departments to reduce the extras.
Pro Tip: Use labels on your boards or cards to easily track which departments, projects, or individuals are the biggest culprits for creating extras and how many assignments are last minute and/or unexpected.
5. Combine your tools.
While I saw great benefits from scheduling “extras” time, utilizing project management software, and implementing scrum planning, I received the most value from the combination of all three.
- Better plan your days, weeks, and months.
- Better negotiate project timelines with others.
- Value add: Make a case for needing more support by clearly identifying deficits in staffing and skill sets.
Pro Tip: Use a service like Zapier® to connect various tools to your project management software, like Google® forms to Trello or your browser to Basecamp, making it even easier to manage projects and improve workflow.
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