Winning Workflow: Scheduling Tactics to Spread the Workload

Smart time management skills are essential for ad agency employees in our era of needing everyone to work at maximum levels of productivity and efficiency. But for many agencies, hiring has stagnated; in some cases, agencies have reduced staff. That means you may need to retrain existing employees who formerly had more time to devote to assignments, but now must double-up on job functions or assume new responsibilities as your agency workforce shrinks. (If you’re stressed, imagine how your employees feel…!)

Here are some time management tactics you and your valued employees can try to manage workload, ensure that you accomplish tasks, meet deadlines, and even squeeze in some training time and an occasional watercooler session.

Big Rocks – Begin by allotting time for those projects that demand large blocks of time to ensure completion. Schedule these first, and fit smaller tasks around them.

Do the “Worst” Tasks First – We all have projects where the longer you wait, the more intimidating they become. Schedule these “monsters” first and get them out of the way. Often, you’ll find they are less awful than expected, and will enjoy the lift from having cleared the decks for the rest of the workweek. This tactic may also help retrain agency procrastinators into being smarter time managers.

Time Boxing – For larger projects, “box” time into the schedule so you can work on it every day for a few hours. This ensures the project keeps moving forward, even if only in small steps. Often, time boxing helps agency people get a project done faster than estimated. 

Reshuffle to Fit Urgent Tasks – In the agency business, there are always unexpected projects to be slotted in “on the fly” after the day’s schedule is already set. In a smaller agency, this can sometimes mean choosing between two urgent or priority projects where the deadline for one may have to change. If everyone is managing their time efficiently, someone should be able to spot conflicts before they happen and renegotiate deadlines or assignments.

The best case is one person can step up to complete a project, freeing someone else to deal with the urgent item. Or, the new priority may be dealt with without interrupting work in progress (as with establishing a speed-desk for corrections). But where conflicts demand schedule changes, project or traffic managers must negotiate deadlines while doing their best to ensure all clients are adequately served.

Agencies also need to become smarter about identifying what is“urgent” vs. “important.”

Stay Current – Remember to set aside some personal goal/self-improvement time in your weekly schedule, allowing an hour each week to take a video tutorial, read some instructional blogs, or catch up on industry news for a specific client.

Stop Trying to Do Too Much – Yes, we’re all wearing multiple hats and attempting to “do more with less.” (I really hate that phrase.) But most people have a limit beyond which their workload is simply too heavy. Learning to spot when you need help is a skill, not an admission of failure. Missing deadlines because you have too much on your plate is cause to call in reinforcements.

Delegate, ask for outsource support, or ask that some projects be reassigned when your schedule looks insurmountable. And get better at saying “no.” Don’t be rude; be on top of your schedule so you can honestly say, “Sorry, but I have six other committed projects for today; unless we can reschedule B and C, I can’t do G.”

If schedule overload is a persistent problem, have a frank discussion with account service, traffic and project managers about agency workload. Together, you can set some parameters for how much is too much, and when you should go to the bench for backup.