One of my favorite phrases in this industry will always be, say it with me, “it’s PR not ER.” Although valid, as professionals we still feel the stress of a fast-paced office environment and daily routine, with the constant pressure to be nearly flawless, quick, on our toes and effortlessly creative. The bottom line is, it sure does feel like “ER” sometimes, especially for junior staffers who are brand new to the PR world. Managing a measly eight hours to accomplish what seems like twenty hours of work can be difficult and overwhelming.
Time management is a concept easier said than done, so when the inevitable stress comes knocking, try out the following actions and find what works best for you:
Become a lover of lists. I grew up in a pro-Post-it household – seriously, the Fletcher family jokes that we keep the company afloat. Every day when I sit down at my desk I see two post-its: assignments that need to be completed by the end of the day and those that need to be packaged up by the end of the week. I do this because simply thinking about all of the tasks at hand can become daunting, causing us to shut down instead of jump in. This method might sound a little obsessive, and I admit that sometimes my list overflows to two, even three post-its, but there is something so gratifying about crossing off tasks and crumpling up that note come day’s end. I know what you’re thinking – but what about the trees, Katie? Use your smartphone, or even a Word doc if pen and paper aren’t your style.
Communicate through your calendar. When the day ahead seems especially tough (i.e. endless meetings, multiple projects to prioritize), I turn to my calendar. Looking for gaps between meetings or morning versus afternoon availability helps me visualize where I can be most productive during the course of the day. First thing in the morning, as a reminder to yourself and your team, block off the times that you’re planning to work on specific tasks. Not only will this approach let your teammates know what’s on your plate, but there is a degree of accountability in the calendar appointment that pops up to remind you what you set out to accomplish during that time period. It’s okay to restructure your calendar should a last minute project arise (they always do!) or if something takes you a little longer than expected.
Be transparent and manage up. When I was an account coordinator, a SHIFTer once gifted me an index card with the word “NO” on it and taped it to my computer screen. The purpose was to encourage me to use the word more often, but also to teach me how to push back and manage up. Though many of us want to take on the world and save it all in one swoop, this is an impossible feat. Try to anticipate your day or week and ask for help reprioritizing or reorganizing responsibilities. Don’t internalize the stress of your workload; be vocal during team meetings about what’s going on in your world. Your teammates have their own to-dos, so it’s important to keep each other in the loop and shift work around as necessary.
Go heads down or head elsewhere. It’s easy to stay glued to our desks and computer screens, but sometimes a change of scenery can do the brain some good and provide the perfect productivity boost. When I’m in a conference room for a meeting or call, I’ll avoid breaking my train of thought by staying there afterward (even if for a few minutes) to catch up on email or debrief with teammates. Head to a lounge area in the office or another open desk to escape the regular distractions at your desk. Speak with your manager about incorporating flex hours or a regular work from home day into your schedule to help you stay focused.
Embrace tag-teaming. It is a common misconception of junior staffers that asking for help shows weakness. It is crucial to view your teammates, officemates, and senior staff as assets to your own success. To whip out an old cliché: Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask for assistance. Once again, easier said than done, but you’ll realize with time that the folks around you may have a fresh perspective that will help your professional growth in the long run. Conversely, leaning on your teammates will help you build essential trust and feel more secure in your role on a daily basis. You don’t have to drown in work to prove yourself; these moments truly reflect the core of what being on a team signifies.
Part of life (with or without work) is feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day, but time doesn’t always have to be the enemy. This list is by no means exhaustive, and of course there will be early mornings and late nights, but tackle time head-on instead of sitting in the stress. The clock will always tick.