Ever wondered why you can’t seem to catch up on your daily work? Every deadline comes around with a sense of dread that you can’t shake, since you are now supposed to do something that would’ve taken weeks to finish in just a few days. And you didn’t procrastinate – it’s just that work overload seems to be a daily struggle, a constant in your work week and, sometimes, on the weekend. This makes your workflow clunky and chaotic, and disrupts your personal life as well. So, what can you do about it?
Maybe It’s Not Your Fault
Now, you probably have a schedule for your weekly, monthly, or yearly tasks. You plan things ahead – then why do things seem to be always lagging behind?
The main issue is that most of it seems out of your control. How are you to know that one of your clients will launch a campaign tomorrow and needs that content strategy today if he hasn’t told you until this morning? Your clients may not be organised in their tasks, or they may forget about you altogether until it is too late to make something you’ll be proud of. Let’s not talk about whose fault it is: the thing is that you have to be able to predict any extra tasks that might come in every week and every month that weren’t properly planned before. Your schedule might be a tight one, but if you organise yourself to make for a few blank spaces, you’ll be prepared to handle emergencies in a calm and collected manner. You must, in a sentence, predict the unpredictable – and make space in your daily schedule for it. Obviously, you don’t know if those things are going to come up or not – but, if they do, then you’ll have time to do them; and if they don’t, that’s a time slot that you can use to make some research, read about some pending issue that you’ve been trying to solve for a while, anything. Time is a precious resource that should be used wisely.
Educating your clients
Even if you plan ahead, and you’ve made a pretty tight schedule that accounts for any occurrence within it, you’ll still need help from your clients to make sure things work. Make your clients understand that the things you do take time, and that unless they are willing to let go of a percentage of the quality you can provide, they should warn you of any events in time. You can rush things, but they must understand that less planning on their side means less quality in the final results of your work. This is quite important. Maybe you can schedule a monthly meeting to discuss everything that’s going to happen during that period so that you can establish reasonable deadlines. If your client still keeps on pushing everything forward in a way that makes you unsure of which job you should take as a priority, then it’s time to apply some pressure. Stand your ground. You may not be able to afford to lose that client, but he is not able to let go of your service overnight as well. You both need each other. Cooperation is key.
Set the rules in the relationship
The saying goes “the customer’s always right”, but we all know that “right” comes in a lot of different degrees. You are bound by a contract to provide a service, within some guidelines. It’s important to make sure your clients know those guidelines. You can’t be constantly rushing towards the next big emergency – and your client shouldn’t as well. Set your goals early on in every professional relationship, and set your own monthly or quarterly goals. Those cannot collide. Clients have to be part of your strategy, obviously. As your company evolves and grows, the relationship between the agency and its clients should evolve as well. With meticulous planning and a strict cooperation, everybody wins.
In today’s world, work that exceeds expectations is rewarded. We look for something different, something that stands out. We need to create work that is special and something different, however, we have less and less availability to create that kind of work. How are we to develop work above the standards when we don’t even have time to create work within the standards themselves?
That’s when Deep Work comes in. The concept comes from the book with the same title by Cal Newport. He defines deep work as the result of a distraction-free concentration that pushes our cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve skills, and are hard to replicate.
What this means is that we need time to focus. Try closing your email for two hours and work with no interruptions for those two hours. You’ll see the results of that kind of work exceed anything you’ve done for the past months. We need to steer away from all distractions to create meaningful, different work.
For this type of work to become part of your daily routine, create your own ritual. First of all, decide, where you’ll work and for how long. You need to specify a location where you know you’ll be free of disturbance to be able to focus on this task. You also need to know for how long you’ll be performing this task, a specific time frame that keeps your work session as a discrete challenge to yourself.
Decide also how you’ll work once you start to work. Create rules and processes to keep your efforts structured. Maintain some metrics for how productive you are being – shut off internet access if you must. You can try to stick to a specific number of words every 20 minutes, if you’re writing an essay. You need this structure in order to assess how this period works for you and how can you make the most of it.
Think about how you’ll support your work. As an example, drinking a cup of coffee before you begin. Know what do you need to keep you ritual working, be it food, drink, or organising your desk so that you can clear your mind.
Creating this ritual takes work as well. It’s a matter of trying and testing which things work best for you. Unless you get your ritual down to the point, it’s not going to work until you discover how to create the perfect environment and conditions for you.
This way, it becomes a matter of urgency to stop, think, and make the time to do amazing work – the costs of not doing so are so much higher. It may seem counterintuitive that you need to stop working in order to work better – but in a world full of distractions, it is urgent to allow yourself to think things through.
Based on Cal Newport’s Deep Work (2016)
Main Photo by Martin Shreder