Agency life can be … overwhelming to say the least. Especially if you’re new to it. It doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of college or if you’re coming off an in-house stint. It’s a fast-paced environment where you’re counted on to become an expert on a number of industries at any one time. Sure, it’s great if your creativity is off the charts and you can come up with some killer ideas. That will always be invaluable. But if you can’t master the small stuff, then you’re going to find yourself struggling to keep your head above water.
What “small” stuff am I referring to, you ask? Funny enough it doesn’t directly have to do with our industry but is applicable across all careers. Say hello to the big three:
- Time Management
- Attention to Detail
Walk with me, will you?
Time is a flat circle. Or of the essence. Or whatever your phrase of choice is. I really don’t care. We are here to get stuff done. After all, we’re in a service industry. The hard part is conquering your to-do list in a timely manner while meeting all your deadlines along the way.
Work with your manager to set realistic time goals for how long it should take you to complete a project. They’ve likely been in your shoes before and can give you a sense of the amount of time a task should take. If it’s taking you way longer, circle back with them and walk through where you got held up. The worst thing you can do is be silent about issues you’re having. You’re a team; their success is your success and vice versa. They’ll be more than happy to tag team a solution with you.
Part of managing your time involves managing your focus as well. When you start a project, commit to it. Don’t check Twitter. Don’t be lured in by awaiting Snapchats. It’s a dark, downward spiral once you do; you’ll look at the clock and realize you just blew 30 minutes getting distracted. If you really need strict enforcement, shut your phone off and implement a content blocker that will yell at you if you try to go to particular websites. (They exist.)
Learning your priorities and knowing what order to tackle each project can be trickier than it sounds. But it really is crucial to staying sane and on time. Part of learning how to prioritize is knowing how long it takes you to complete a task (see above). Once you have that down, you’ll be able to get a better picture of what each day looks like for you project-wise.
Map out what your week looks like from Day 1 (I personally like to do this on Friday so I’m ready to roll come Monday). Lists can be your best friend here. Whether you use Remember The Milk or Trello or a good old fashioned notebook, keeping an ongoing list of your tasks will not only provide a visual way to map out your priorities – but it will also ensure you don’t forget anything along the way. I live my life by lists. I have lists for my lists. And if I don’t write something down there’s a high chance it will be forgotten.
Once you know your to-do’s, start with your most urgent items. I know, duh right? The things that need to be done “now” or by end of day should take precedence. From there, I like to wipe out any items that I know I can get done in 10-15 minutes – things like agendas or call recaps. The best feeling is getting them out of the way so I can focus on bigger initiatives. Remember: just because you finish all your urgent items, doesn’t mean you can’t work on things due later in the week. Got a report due Wednesday? Don’t wait until Wednesday to do it if you don’t have to. It should always be your goal to finish and deliver items before a deadline.
Attention to Detail.
You may not think that anyone will notice the ever-so-subtle font change on a slide. Or that your data reflects page-level metrics instead of root domain metrics. But it all matters, people. And it will be the difference between you being great your job or you being below average at your job. The good news is everyone is capable of having attention to detail. Unless you’re lazy.
Let’s start with the easiest recommendation: proof your work. Then proof it again. Have a coworker proof it. Between our zombie eyes thanks to 24/7 screen staring to being too close to the work we do, having an extra set of eyes on a project can save you from saying your vs. you’re and looking like you need a third grade grammar lesson.
Be an active listener and reader. The age of being constantly turned ‘on’ has left a lot of us as skimmers. Think about it. How often do your eyes cruise right over something & when you go back later you realize you read it differently or missed something altogether? Be careful. Slow down. Absorb the message. This will allow you to deliver the final result that your manager or client is looking for.
Lastly, go beyond the surface of a project. As you’re putting something together, pay attention to what you’re doing. Don’t just go through the motions. Recognize why you’re including the data you’re including or what the purpose of the assignment is to begin with. Not only will this expand your knowledge strategically but it will also lead you to include other things that might be useful.
The tricky thing about concepts like time management and prioritization is that at the end of the day, it’s all about finding a system that works for you. Test out different approaches until you find one that makes for a good habit.
In the meantime – share your best techniques!