... Or How I Learned to Get My Work Done In Time and Not Freak Out and So Can You!
In the world of marketing and consulting, work life balance is something mentioned, but not always attained. Workload can be heavy. Flurries of emails and texts are common place. Presentations are worked on late into the night. Last-minute client demands come in at all hours. My ability to finish fast is seen as the exception, not the norm. But you TOO can lead a life full of rewarding professional work AND have time for the gym and whatever else you like to do. Here's my advice for becoming fast, speedy and super chill too.
Sameness is a wonderful thing
Get up, go to bed, eat and go to the gym at the same time every day. Yes, meetings and life can get in the way of your plan, but trying to adhere to it as much as possible is important. Carving out chunks of time to devote to staying healthy will recharge your professional efforts. No time for the gym? Set your alarm clock for 30 minutes earlier and make exercising a priority. If you can squeeze in a workout after your business day is through, congratulations, but I find I'm too tired/hungry/lazy to make it happen in the evenings. My weekdays look like this:
- 5:40am - alarm goes off, hit snooze.
- 5:50am - get up, put on gym clothes (often inside-out), let dog out to pee, put dog back to bed, go to gym.
- 6:10 - 6:55am - workout.
- 7:10-7:20am - walk dog (often curse at the weather under my breath during this time).
- 7:20-7:30am - coffee & breakfast (often a rice cake with peanut butter or a boiled egg, grab fruit and a granola bar when I get to work to keep myself from chewing my arm off) and peruse Instagram and Twitter.
- 7:30 - 8:00am - get ready, listen to CBC's Information Morning so I know what's going on while I get dressed.
- 8:15/8:20am - arrive at work.
- 8:20 - 8:30am - chitchat with friends, discuss television, movie star crushes and exchange general pleasantries.
- 8:30 - 11:00am - get my best work of the day done. My brain is fed and exercised and I'm ready to work. I work fast, moving quickly through tasks I'd planned the evening before and trying not to get distracted by emails.
- 11:00 - 12:00pm - think about lunch, keep working, but think about how excited I'm going to be when it's time to eat.
- 12:00pm - eat (often leftovers), chat with coworkers. Have another coffee.
- 12:30 - 3:00pm - work, have meetings, review my assignments and plans for the rest of the week, block time in my calendar to work on things that MUST get done that week.
- 3:00 - 5:00pm - tie up loose ends.
- 5:00pm - go. home. (I have a computer, phone and Internet at home. There's nothing I can't finish up from there after I've let the dog out, had supper and enjoyed some downtime.)
- 6:00pm (ish) - eat (from a rotating schedule of things that are relatively healthy and relatively quick to prepare. Heavy prep time is for Sunday) and chat with husband. (Try not to talk about work, but generally always end up talking about work.)
- 6:45 - 7:10pm - walk dog (or play with dog by throwing his toy down the hallway over and over if it's too freaking cold and icy to go outside).
- 7:30-9:00pm - mindless television watching or mindless book reading. Sometimes blogging if I have brain power left. Almost never work on my "novel" (subject of a different blog).
- 9:00pm - go upstairs, get in bed, read.
- 10:00pm - turn off light.
(Note: this general attention to schedules and organization does not apply to all aspects of my life. See picture of closet below for proof.)
A lot of my day job involves helping clients plan what stories and social media content they want to post AHEAD OF TIME according to seasonality, world events and so on. We do this so when a project comes out of nowhere/someone gets sick/a breaking news event happens that impacts their business, they have pre-planned and created the table stakes/day-to-day material required and can fully devote their attention to the curveball.
Life is full of surprises, some welcome, some not. They throw our plans and schedules away and make us change course all the time. For example, during university, if you pull an all-nighter to get a paper done, you are pretty much asking for your computer to go on the fritz. Guess how you avoid that? Get your paper done at least three days prior to the due date. If you want to be a huge nerd (like me), you spend those extra three days making an appointment with your professor to go over any elements in the paper you feel need work and incorporate your professor's feedback into the final version. Then you proof read. Then you pass it in.
Similarly, at work, if you have a big assignment due on Friday at 10am and you've blocked off Thursday afternoon to work on it, I PROMISE YOU a client emergency will land on your desk at 1pm on Thursday, thereby putting your assignment in jeopardy. If you know you owe something to a client on Friday, block off multiple chunks of time at least five days prior to the due date (if possible, I know sometimes it's not) to give yourself ample time to complete the task. This means you'll be able to get your assignment done AND be able to deal with the emergency.
Make an outline
In marketing (and most other professional pursuits) we are expected to do a lot of writing. Proposals, briefs, creative presentations and research reports all involve the written word (and usually lots of pretty pictures).
Don't just start writing aimlessly. Before I began writing this post, I sat at my kitchen table with my coffee and thought about what key points I wanted to hit. When I worked as a journalist, before I'd write up a story, I'd go through my interview notes and think about the most interesting and revealing things that were said. Then I'd think about a catchy intro and how I could tie everything together into one interesting story. AND THEN I would write.
In your work, think about the key things you'll need to relay to your client/boss/colleague. How will you make your point? What research or real-world examples will help to back up your opinion? How can you order your thoughts, ideas and research to create a logical, linear narrative that will clearly get your ideas across? Figure this out before you get started and things will move more quickly. I've seen lots of time wasted on randomly pulling things together in a way that's unclear, just for the sake of getting something down "on paper". Don't do that. Think it through first.
Don't freak out
Everyone freaks out, but try not to. Your freak out emits waves of panic that infect your coworkers. They start panicking about something that might not have anything to do with your panic. Then, suddenly, everyone is freaking out. Just stay calm. If you're freaking out, go outside for a moment of alone time, listen to your favourite song, watch a Jimmy Fallon skit on YouTube - do anything to take your blood pressure down a notch.
The Deadline is your God
EOD (end of day) means between 3:00 - 4:00pm. Anytime after that is too late for anyone to do anything about anything.
"This is due on Monday morning," means whatever is due is due at 9:00am on Monday morning unless otherwise specified.
"We got an extension on this project," means get it done by the original deadline and use the extra time to refine the work.
Late assignments hang over your head like a sharp, pointy, poisonous sword that threatens to slice away your happiness and poison your mind. When you are assigned something, ask for a clear due date and time. PUT IT IN YOUR CALENDAR. Make sure everyone working on the assignment with you understands the timeline. Then, get it done on time. The only truly valid excuse for being late it death. Honestly, why else are you late? Just get it done.
Find your zen
In life you will be surrounded by those who don't share your approach to work. They will freak out. They will get work in late. Your instinct might be to become annoyed and irritable. When this happens, think like the blank face emoticon and find your zen. Do not react. Stay calm. Let them learn from the emoticon that is your face that represents your inner zen-ness.