3 Ways to Reclaim Your Agency's Time

August 18, 2015 Ashley Spurlock

reclaim-time

To say your agency is busy is to put it lightly. With multiple simultaneous projects, teams and clients dispersed across the globe, demanding clients and stakeholders, and constantly shifting priorities, you work in perpetual chaos. The work is engaging and challenging—which you enjoy—but operating in continual crisis mode gets exhausting. It's difficult to find the work–life balance you want, you feel like work owns you, and burnout is on the horizon.

How can you tame the work chaos beast?

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Keep reading if you've ever experienced:

  1. Too much work with too little prioritizing
  2. No visibility into who's working on what (even those random work requests)
  3. Procrastination and no time for creativity

Pain 1: No Process for Prioritizing Projects

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Most agencies juggle multiple projects at once, each with dozens, even hundreds of tasks. But like 68% of organizations that have no process in place to help prioritize their projects, agencies often struggle with how to effectively prioritize work across multiple projects. Without a process in place to identify high priority projects, teams and creatives default to completing projects with the loudest stakeholders, those that are the easiest to complete, or those with the nearest deadline rather than those with the highest value.

Nearly 24% of people say their work priorities change daily, resulting in a shift in their workload.

The Fix: Prioritize Work Across Multiple Projects

Effective work prioritization is crucial to meet client expectations, hit profit targets, and balance resources. Rather than trying to prioritize work manually on opaque spreadsheets, create a process that is automated and transparent.

Centralize request management. Because agencies often work 24/7 and frequently work with remote freelance talent, use a cloud-based tool that automates the process and provides a central location to track, prioritize, and assign work. This gives all team members the ability to see what the work is, the assignment, priorities, and when it's due.

Define the requirements and gather expectations. All requests should include a client brief that clearly outlines the project scope and its requirements. Review this brief with the client to make sure you both agree on what the work is, when it will be completed, and what success will look like for the client (i.e., improved time to market, lower cost to administer services, etc.).

Develop a system to evaluate the priority of requests. Weigh work requests against each other and prioritize in alignment with the company's strategic initiatives and goals. Use a scorecard, a tiered system, deadlines, or requestor importance to determine which projects have the highest priority.

Pain 2: No Insight into the Work Getting Done

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Keeping clients and other stakeholders up-to-date on the status of each project is one of the biggest challenges agencies face. Mix in freelance talent and remote staff, and you'll find yourself buried in emails and meeting requests just gathering updates for the next client call.

Little visibility into the actual work creates a vacuum of tasks, projects, and approvals that get lost. The typical solution is to hold meetings, make phone calls, or send emails and then use spreadsheets to track everything. This process eats up time you don't have, days you can't spend, and meetings that should be spent on billable work. And tracking project info on spreadsheets is prone to major errors—at least 88% of all spreadsheets have errors.

More than one-third of marketers say delayed approvals make work late twice a week or more.

The Fix: Know Who Is Working On What

To conquer the problem of keeping your project status up-to-date, you need real-time visibility into how the work is getting done. Fortunately, it's easier to get visibility than you may think.

Ditch manual processes. Say goodbye to meetings, phone calls, emails, and spreadsheets. Start using a cloud-based tool that allows your team to provide real-time status updates from anywhere, any time.

Track how long the work takes. Have team members track the time they spend on each task. Use an online tool so that individuals can track their time as they work. Data posted after the fact is often inaccurate.

Reward your team for tracking their work. Getting your team in the habit of keeping their work status updated and tracking their time may take some effort. Select a tool that is user-friendly and provides incentives for your team to use the tool.

Pain 3: Chronic Procrastination

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In the U.S., companies lose between $200 – $300 billion a year from employees' tardiness, burnout, decreased productivity, turnover, insurance costs from employee work-related stress, etc.

Of course, agencies are no stranger to burnout, turnover, decreased productivity—but unlike other organizations, it's often a lack of time to be creative that leads to procrastination rather than the overwhelming amount of work. Without time to be creative, creative work can't be completed. Roughly 70% of creatives report that they don't have enough creative time while over 60% say they have creative ideas, but not enough time to put them into action ("Free the Creative," September 2013).

In teams already lacking the process to prioritize work, it becomes even easier for individuals to push complex work further down the pipeline in favor of simpler, quicker tasks that require less creativity. In fact, some may think finishing several small tasks is preferred (or fool themselves into thinking this). After all, more tasks are getting done. They just may not be the large, complex, creative tasks that take several days or weeks to complete—the ones that truly need to get done.

70% of creatives report that they don't have enough creative time ("Free the Creative," September 2013).

The Fix: Break Big Pieces of Work into Smaller Pieces

Prevent procrastination by breaking every project into tasks and subtasks with key milestones or delivery dates throughout. When work is organized this way, it feels less overwhelming, it's clearer what needs to be done, and team members are more intrinsically motivated to act.

Create templates. Agencies work on a lot of different projects, but with often with repeatable steps. Templates help define the tasks required, delineate the skills needed, and prioritize the order in which the work needs to get done. Having templates in place makes it quick and easy to then assign work based on tasks and job roles.

Assign the work by the task. Assign tasks to individuals based on the job roles required. This way, when people look at what they need to do, they are only looking at one small piece at a time (their task), which makes it seem easier to complete.

Set milestones. Milestones are composed of a group of tasks and subtasks and should be assigned to the team. They are a good way to ensure your team is on track and that key deadlines are met.

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