I’m probably my own worst enemy when it comes to a heavy workload; I always need to have something to do, and I find it difficult to just sit and do nothing. In saying that, there is always something that needs to be done, whether that’s within my personal, or business life. My main issue is that I struggle to prioritise and figure out what it is that needs my attention more urgently.
As managing director of Frogspark, my responsibilities include being in charge of sales and acquiring new customers, marketing, looking after our staff, design work, recruitment, the business finance, networking, internal project processes, customer satisfaction, coming up with new ideas for the business as well as managing my own personal brand (in terms of social media). On top of this, there are more immediate things that require my attention such as the Frogspark rebrand and running that project, sorting out the business plan and projections for 2018/2019 as well as the introduction of new services for the coming year. There’s never a moment I don’t have something to be getting on with! Of course, I have a fantastic team around me that help with all of these things, but how do I keep room in my head to consider all these and keep the ‘cogs’ turning?
With all of these tasks and upcoming projects on my radar, it’s impossible to keep track of it all in my head. I wouldn’t be able to get by in a day without my to-do list. I use Basecamp for my ‘master to-do list’; housing my personal tasks and anything that’s been tasked up by myself to the team, or approvals that are needed from me.
I use Trello for my ‘daily’ to-do list, where at the start of each week I look at Basecamp and prioritise the tasks. I prioritise into 4 categories; what’s critical to the business and must be done this week, what’s important but not time critical, what’s a ‘would be nice if it was done’ and then delegate. From here, I distribute these tasks into my Trello by day taking into consideration my diary and what is realistically possible.
Over the years, I’ve learnt that overestimating can not only be demotivating to myself, but can have a major backlash to internal plans, or more importantly to our customers in terms of their expectations.
Something that I’ve learnt over the past couple of years is that when planning my workload, always bolt in an extra 1-2 hours per day for unexpected tasks. This could be staff problems/questions, urgent client queries, quick quotes/pitches I need to be involved with or phone calls. The list goes on really! Doing this helps me to make sure that my flow and expectations on what will be achieved that day/week are not put out of line by new tasks that may arise that need attention.
Back in the early days, I was an absolute slave to my inbox, and it used to consume much of my day. I got so much email that I had to have the wonderful Lucy look after and organise them for me! Luckily now, I have a fantastic team around me now that customers will happily go to before they reach me. To better deal with my emails coming in, I now only check my inbox twice a day; midday, and at around 4:30 pm, before I clock off (perhaps to work a little bit more in the evenings…). That being said, I do keep notifications on my phone, just in case something with an urgent subject drops in. Apart from that, I ignore it and focus heavily on the current tasks I’m working on.
Usually, you hear people say “say yes to more”, and I totally used to be that person. I used to say yes to everything. Rob can you do this – yes, Rob do you fancy coming to this event with me – yes, Rob can you give an interview for – yes. Whilst I think it’s important to stay mindful of not missing opportunities, I have to be stricter with myself these days, I say no way more often than I say yes. Doing this allows me to keep on track with my work, and also make sure I have some time for myself. I even have tasks to analyse all the opportunities to dig deeper into what’s worth saying yes to and what’s worth passing up on. Once agreed, these go into Basecamp, with a priority and from there, I repeat the process mentioned above.
There’s a bit of a joke that goes around the office that I’m not often there, sometimes I’m in a meeting but often I’ve just gone off to a cafe to work. I’m the type of person that can easily get bored and distracted if I sit in the same place for long periods of time, so I find if I try and stay in the office all day every day I get so much less done. I get a buzz out of visiting my favourite places to get a great coffee, sticking my headphones in and just cracking on. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it’s a little bit of escapism for me, and I get two times as much work done If I go on a little adventure with my laptop and phone!
Part of coping with a heavy workload is monitoring my own performance I suppose I would say. I keep a daily diary which I fill in each day whilst I’m at the gym. I answer questions about my day such as ‘how did you work today out of 10’, ‘what problems did you face and did you overcome them?’ and ‘what went well today?’.
Doing this allows me to step back for 10 minutes and reflect on what’s happened throughout the day. More importantly, it helps me understand myself, am I constantly saying that I haven’t been productive because I was doing X Y & Z. So by keeping track, I can better spot holes in my productivity and patch them up as I go, continually growing as a business owner and helping me stay on top of my workload.
This is a bit of a controversial coping mechanism, but it is just the way I am wired up – I never let myself ‘out of jail’. As part of the way I work, I hardly ever celebrate a ‘win’ (such as a new contract), I’m straight onto the next task. Even if I do something good, I am very hard on myself and question why it wasn’t amazing or perfect. I don’t celebrate much at work, I don’t say to myself ‘oh you did well there, you deserve a break’ I’m focused on what’s up next, making sure I lose no time, and I hit my goals for the day.
For each larger task I have, I break down into smaller tasks. From a mindset point of view, it keeps me motivated and makes me feel like I’m making progress at each small chunk. Instead of focusing on the bigger picture, reduce your scope and break it apart into simple and actionable to-do’s that will lead you to reach goals quicker.
I’ve learnt to use the team I have around me, and for each task I have I work out which parts can be done by somebody else. It could be somebody that has a gap in their workload, or simply be somebody who is just much better at that part of the task than me (ie writing – I’m terrible at it!!). Doing this makes sure a task is being progressed whilst other tasks can be worked on in parallel, helping everything run much more efficiently.
So as it turns out, I actually work fewer hours than I ever have right now! Between the ages of 21 & 24 whilst I was starting the business and studying at university, I was genuinely waking up at 5 am and working through until 1/2 am in the morning, no rest and getting burnt out/stressed all the time. I now realise how important it is to recharge your batteries and come back stronger with a fresh outlook, and actually produce higher quality work. Downtime is so important, whether it’s going to the gym, or simply watching the walking dead with my fiancee – it helps me relax. Not only that, but it’s really important for my mindset too. Work can be stressful & tiring, but spending time with my partner and friends makes me happier than I could ever write in this post!
I’m still not an expert in coping with a heavy workload, and I’ve still got lots to learn. So if you’re struggling, my biggest piece advice is not to stress, you’ll figure it all out in the end! Go with methods that help you stay organised, keep motivated and push out great quality work. It’s all worth it, and all works out in the end.
In 2012, I set up Frogspark whilst studying full time at University. Since going full time over two years ago, Frogspark has formed a fantastic team, worked with some great clients and is fast becoming one of the most widely known agencies in the local area.@RobTwellsUK