How To Manage Your Time In A PR Agency

If you work in PR you probably find yourself pulled in myriad directions on a constant basis – especially if you work on the consulting side of the industry. This can be pretty overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the industry. So, I thought you might find it helpful to know a few of the tools I use to keep myself from running around like a headless chicken every day.

This system dragged me back from the brink a while back, at a time when I felt overwhelmed, and I’ve relied on it ever since.

1. Always-accessible to-do list

My to-do list, along with my calendar, is my bible. Everything I do revolves around this. So, I’ve adopted a system that lets me access and update my to-do list wherever I am.

I use Evernote to keep track of my to-dos. I can access it on my BlackBerry, on my iPad, on my laptop and on my home computer. It ensures that, whenever I think of something I need to do, I can capture it.

For each item, I capture several pieces of information:

  1. Project involved
  2. Specific task
  3. Estimated time required to complete the task
  4. Deadline
  5. Priority (I number things from 1-3 – for high/medium/low)

This becomes the basis of how I schedule my week and prioritize my tasks.

Power tip: Set up a notebook in Evernote just for to-do items, and just flip a quick email to your account to capture items in that notebook when you only have a couple of seconds. Then, when you have a few moments later, you can go back through those items and add them to your master to-do list.

2. Plan out the week

At the beginning of each weekI  I review my to-do list and my calendar as it stands to identify how I need to allocate my time for each day that week. So, if I have four hours of meetings one day, I know I have four hours to work with. I then work through my to-do list in order of priority, and assign tasks to a day.

I use a simple spreadsheet to accomplish this (thanks to Andrea Pietkiewicz who introduced me to this), with tasks down the left-hand side and days of the week across the top. In the middle I enter the hours required for the various meetings and tasks I need to accommodate. At the bottom I have a total so I can see how many hours of work I’ve scheduled for each day.

Mon Tues Weds Thurs Fri
Task 1
Task 2
Task 3
Total

I have an hour blocked off at the beginning of each week for this process.

3. Defensive scheduling

I now know what I need to do, when I need to do it and how long it will take. The next step is to defensively block-off my calendar. I add every task to my calendar as an appointment, for several reasons:

  1. Because “the work” takes time to do
  2. Because other people will fill the day with meetings if I don’t
  3. Because it helps me to track how I use my time

4. Constantly adjust

The process doesn’t end at the beginning of the week, of course. Things change – tasks take longer than planned; work arises unexpectedly and new meetings are scheduled. I constantly update my calendar as priorities shift during the week. If an item needs to be scheduled, it goes into the to-do list. If it needs to happen in the current week then it goes into the calendar immediately; if the work needs to happen in the future then I have a little more time to schedule it in later.

The beauty of this approach is two-fold:

  1. You know what needs to move to accommodate change. You need three hours for an urgent request from your boss? You know what needs to be pushed and the effect it will have later on in the week.
  2. You have a system for prioritizing your decisions. When someone comes to you with a last-minute task or meeting request, you have a clear list of tasks to which you can compare and prioritize it. Is it more important than Task 2? No? Then can it wait?

Your mileage may vary

I adopted this system in response to a time when I dealt with hundreds of emails and 5 or 6 hours of meetings daily in addition to my “regular work,” and industry events several nights per week. It worked for me, and the way I work. It may or may not work for you.

What systems do you use to manage your time?

(Image: Shutterstock)

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  • Yasmine Kashefi

    Thanks for sharing, Dave! Defensive scheduling is the best idea ever.

  • Time management is a constant battle. I am rather old-fashioned but my system works for me – as emails pour in, I flag the ones that require a response. I try to cut down on the emails coming into my inbox by setting up re-direct folders, which is great if you subscribe to a lot of lists. I used to keep a paper to-do list at my desk, but now I store my to-do list as a draft email, so I can access it from anywhere.

    I try to avoid scheduling unnecessary meetings – if something can be resolved via email, it’s much more efficient to do it that way. Also, never end a meeting without a concrete list of action items that each person is responsible for, with a deadline, in writing.

  • Bill Smith

    Great process Dave, the best thing to do is try avoid unnecessary meetings, and if they must occur, kept as brief as possible.

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  • D-Fleet, that is an intense system. Now I know why you get so much done! One question: did you schedule in time to grow the beard? 😉

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  • Scheduling work is an essential part of running a successful team, so planning the week out in blocks such as this has many advantages. Obviously your work adjusts to accommodate changes in priorities and meetings, so having an online system that is managed by computer and mobile is key to flexibility.

    Prioritising work will allow you to run your work smoothly and please customers. Without a system like this your time management will become a mess. Thanks for your helpful tips.

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  • These are some great tips to remember. I think learning to manage your time in any industry is essential to an efficient workflow.

  • Paige N

    I agree with how you approach your everyday schedule and like the method you use and included. Like mentioned above, I have to have a to-do list each day. I like knowing what my plans in advance are but don’t mind and can adjust when new things come up or need to be addressed. I also prioritize my to-do list based on importance. I try to respond to emails immediately when I get them so that I don’t loose track of them or forget to respond to them in a timely manner.

    • Thanks Paige. Sounds like the only difference with me is that I try to set
      aside blocks of time for dealing with the email deluge. Otherwise, I find I
      constantly have to switch my mind back-and-forth between email and tasks,
      and end up getting nothing done. How do you deal with that problem?

    • Thanks Paige. Sounds like the only difference with me is that I try to set
      aside blocks of time for dealing with the email deluge. Otherwise, I find I
      constantly have to switch my mind back-and-forth between email and tasks,
      and end up getting nothing done. How do you deal with that problem?

  • Paige N

    I agree with how you approach your everyday schedule and like the method you use and included. Like mentioned above, I have to have a to-do list each day. I like knowing what my plans in advance are but don’t mind and can adjust when new things come up or need to be addressed. I also prioritize my to-do list based on importance. I try to respond to emails immediately when I get them so that I don’t loose track of them or forget to respond to them in a timely manner.

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