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Three Accounts, Eight Hours: 12 Time-Management Tips From the Trenches

By Jennifer Hellickson, PerkettPR

In public relations, timing is everything. From embargo dates and reporter deadlines to billable hours and crisis communications, there’s a good chance we’ve got it scheduled down to the very last second.

But that very same factor is also why CareerCast ranked PR executive as the fifth most stressful job in America for 2013. Besides being under constant pressure to perform in a time crunch, we’re also operating under an expectation to squeeze more results out of fewer resources, and doing so while juggling multiple clients and shifting priorities.

So even though, according to a recent work-stress survey by Harris Interactive for Everest College, the majority of workers (83 percent) are stressed out by at least one thing at work, being bogged down by a perpetually-growing task list is one major reason why PR execs tend to score off the charts in terms of anxiety. 

PR-related job stress is inevitable, yes, but you can help alleviate it by considering what you can control—and working on that. Here are 12 tried-and-true time management best practices for PR pros.

  1. Keep a to-do list. It’s motivating to see what you can (and do) get accomplished each day. Prioritize items based on how you work best, tackle a tougher task first so it’s not left to the last minute, and factor in some small wins to keep you motivated throughout day.
  2. Keep a to-don’t list. Consider ranking tasks by “value.” First work by deadline, then by value, to complete tasks. Move low-value tasks to days with more down-time, delegate them to team members who have spare time—or consider scrapping them altogether if they keep getting pushed off. 
  3. Stick with a system.Once you find something that works, keep with it. For example, I use a paper to-do list, an email filing system and Outlook reminders. But that might not work for everyone, so take advantage of the plethora of new smartphone apps and cloud-based tools to stay on-task.
  4. Be realistic.Nobody wins when you over-promise yourself and then under-deliver on results. Instead, carefully calibrate expectations to meet reality, and spend the rest of your time executing on the items to which you agreed.
  5. Chunk your time.Factor in your natural work flow and do similar tasks in batches. Consider turning off email for an hour or two to be able to focus on a sole task, such as writing. Although it initially feels counterintuitive to productivity, you won’t believe how much faster you’ll work and how much more creative you can be when not constantly multi-tasking.
  6. Plan ahead. Again, it may feel counterintuitive to spend time thinking about things rather than just doing them, but it’s about engaging differently and anticipating big-picture challenges that can help save you time in the long run. Create simple strategies around the following questions: What happened previously? What should happen now? Who needs to be involved? Why are we doing it? By when does it need to happen?
  7. Limit time sucks. Need a 10-minute brain break? Things like Facebook or water-cooler chats with co-workers can help you mentally switch gears, but set a 10-minute time limit so you don’t slip into the downward spiral of status-update-oblivion. Every so often, identify areas where you aren’t making optimal use of your time, and either cut them out entirely or restrict them so they don’t become problematic distractions.
  8. Over-communicate. We work virtually at PerkettPR, so we’ve gotten to be very good at this as a team, whether it’s sharing documents via Dropbox, developing strategies on a call or simply circulating ideas and updates via email, but it’s just as important for working in-person. Prevent any possible holes by making sure there are specific owners for actions, deadlines are clear and that there’s an overall understanding of the bigger picture.
  9. Don’t procrastinate. We all like to think we work well under pressure, but let’s put this issue to bed once and for all: We don’t. Instead of waiting until the last minute for divine inspiration to hit, take advantage of those moments between the peaks and valleys of your day to get ahead, especially in a job as unpredictable as ours.
  10. Automate, whenever possible. We can certainly use technology to our advantage, so simply set it and forget it! For example, schedule a week’s worth of tweets via HootSuite, set calendar reminders for deadlines and leverage Google Alerts and other monitoring tools to save time on what you’d otherwise be doing manually.
  11. Clean it up. Attention, PR Pig-Pens: Cleanliness is essential when it comes to staying organized. It’s estimated that every year, each person spends an average of 76 hours looking for things—including emails and electronic files on their computers. So clean out your inbox, get your desk in order and tie up any loose ends that will only keep you awake later that night.
  12. Prepare for tomorrow. Priorities change by the minute, but pausing at the end of the day to reflect on what you did—and what still needs to get done – can make the next day much more manageable. Don’t shut down your computer without having an idea of tomorrow’s to-do’s, which will help save precious minutes in the morning as other priorities (inevitably!) arise.

There’s no question, time is a precious commodity, but in PR business it can also work against you if not managed properly. All it takes is a little forethought, some simple tools and realistic planning, and you can take back control of the clock and focus on the things that really matter—like scoring some great hits for clients!

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