It’s no secret that we’re all working through burnout symptoms, resulting from over a year (for many) of working from home and keeping the plates spinning across all elements of our lives. What I’ve noticed more frequently as of late is we’re forgetting a few key communication practices, as professionals, that could alleviate some of that stress.
I even find myself planting little notes of the tips below around my home & office to help maintain control of my time where I can, because we all know the unexpected will pop up and require our attention eventually. So what we’re addressing here is not only effectiveness, but also efficiency in time management.
Frankly, none of these suggestions should knock you off your feet – most of them are likely familiar or things that have been recommended to you before – but we can all benefit from a gentle reminder now and again, right?
Before you read any further, you can go ahead and note the overarching admission that “it depends” on whether these tactics can work for you perfectly, because there are actually some things we can’t control no matter how hard we try. Hopefully though, you’re able to pick up on something below that gets you back on track just a little bit more.
TIP #1 – BLOCK YOUR TIME AND MEAN IT.
Whether you’re noticing your day-to-day schedule lacking any sort of traceable pattern, or you keep putting off a non-urgent (but important) project because other things keep bumping it from your to-do list…you could benefit from a time-blocking experiment. In the same way you would block off your calendar for a call or actual meeting, you can/could/should use the same method for what needs your concentrated attention otherwise.
I have honestly found this to be quite beneficial when I’m working on creative tasks, because it’s hard to step away from data & finites to think & build, but you can’t do the former without the latter. It’s as simple as setting a meeting on your calendar for yourself to write a blog, and it can help train your brain to put the same priority on those scheduled blocks as you do conversations with colleagues, etc. Some folks use the same blocks every week, or they effectively block their whole day into productivity pods, but I try to hit somewhere in between so I don’t start ignoring the blocks or saying “I’ll wait and handle this in next week’s block.”
A few months ago, I finally set my calendar with a start and stop time through the week to better communicate when I’m available and (combined with time blocking!) it’s given me the grace to implement some of the other tips that follow below.
TIP #2 – DON’T BE AFRAID TO LOG OUT OF CHAT OR EMAIL TEMPORARILY.
It’s a beautiful thing to work with collaborative colleagues and to be able to share ideas or experiences on the fly. However many of us are trained like Pavlov’s dogs to respond immediately to the ‘bloop bloop’ or tiny red flag indicator of a new message, so a live conversation can be an uncontrollable distraction. Of course, most platforms offer a mute or do not disturb function, but the temptation to engage lingers in the literal background of what you may be trying to focus on.
So long as you’ve communicated the short-term disconnection with an away message, auto-response, or something else, you should allow yourself the option of logging out of your inbox, chat, etc. from time to time. Especially if you’ve left an emergency contact route, should your immediate attention be required. You can always catch up and chime in once you’re done with your time block and available again for discussion!
TIP #3 – IT IS OK TO SAY NO (OR JUST NOT RIGHT NOW).
When was the last time someone asked you to hop on a quick call? Probably recently, right? And even with good reason, I’d bet. Next question – when is the last time you said, “I can’t right now, but how about [insert time that isn’t right now here]?” I’m guilty of it, too! I am in sales after all, so the role requires flexibility to other folks’ schedules by nature (see: tips #1 & #2 where I’ve learned my lesson). The reactivity is a hard habit to break, but not if you line up your intention for it.
We aren’t doing ourselves, our colleagues, or our clients any favors by rushing to a dialogue without the proper time to prepare. In my very humble opinion, one quick call tends to beget a few more to track down next steps or follow up, as opposed to achieving the purpose of moving forward promptly. Unless there is a true emergency (and there could be, so those would be outliers to the advice here), take a beat and organize a plan. I use Hubspot’s meeting schedule function in my prospecting & other emails, which gives the recipient the option to open up my calendar and grab a time for a call that works best for them. The one caveat to the availability, is that I ask the widget not to allow calls to be scheduled any sooner than two hours from that time. This way we can still make the call happen, but I can take some time to research and learn about who I’ll be speaking with and their business before we hop in a meeting.
You can guide yourself through testing this by implementing time blocks and logging out of your instant communication channels as discussed above, and if you add Tip #4 to the mix – you may be able to evolve your approach even faster…
TIP #4 – BUILD A PARKING LOT FOR IDEAS, ETC.
One way to combat the instinct to act is to create a space where those ideas for down the road can live. I can’t remember where I heard the phrase first, but someone once called it a ‘parking lot of maybes’ in a meeting and I’ve loved it ever since. Anyone you’re collaborating with can understand the concept pretty easily and it tends to keep the whole crew a little more on track – no matter how exciting the additional direction might be.
That’s really the drumbeat at the heart of this approach, after all. Whatever you’ve included in your agenda or outline is presently active and moving. Prioritizing your topics around what already is can keep your momentum and accuracy for knowing when & how to adjust in the future. Most of us work in channels that allocate budget based on performance of spend to goals, so we have to be deeply accountable for what is already happening before we can expertly guide the next thing. Then, when the time is right, you go to your parking lot (Gantt charts or simple shared docs are great mediums!) and build the next set of stairs.
TIP #5 – INCLUDE AN AGENDA IN EVERY MEETING INVITE.
This one is crazy tactical, and you may have even rolled your eyes at the headline, but I can admit to a tendency to be more detailed in meeting invites I send outside of our Clix team than I am with internal requests. It’s important to use this technique across the board and to practice consistency, because agenda building isn’t a simple task.
Are you someone who is super diligent about including agendas already? Think about adding time estimates to each section (if you aren’t doing that already, too)! If you’re reading this, you probably have a slight tendency to analyze data, and once you add these – you can look back on which sections tend to run over or short and adjust over time. Was the parking lot idea something you got excited about implementing from the above? Tack a review of parked ideas to the end of your existing agendas so everyone involved knows the lot has been updated and you can come back to the opportunity later.
IMPLEMENT & ADAPT
Now these tips are intended to be exactly that – tiny elements of what I’ve seen work well for myself and colleagues – but they may not always apply or work for everyone at all times. It can help to have an accountability buddy to keep you honest to your start/stop blocks or to gently remind you your latest meeting request doesn’t include an agenda. You can further note that any of the tips provided have a ‘manual override’ option of sorts, so if you need to make exceptions, there is room to do that if you deem the situation to warrant it.
The final key comes in reviewing your approach every so often and adjusting to what allows for sanity and success simultaneously.
At the end of the day, time management is one of the most important skills in the digital marketing industry, and unfortunately also one of the first to fall by the wayside when we’re working toward a goal.
How do you keep an eye on your time? Share any tips you have on what works (and what doesn’t!) below!