atom tips

5th April 2017
By Dan

Peter comes into the office a little sluggish because he didn’t sleep too well. Just before he starts planning his day, he goes through his emails to check if there’s anything new he needs to add to his list.

This planning and chipping away at emails takes him through to 10:30 at which point he’s got to join a brainstorming meeting. Peter knows that he hasn’t actually started on his work for the day yet so opens up his client’s site CMS to complete a simple task while listening to the meeting organiser.

“Honestly”, Peter says, as he leaves the meeting. “Those things are never well organised and I don’t know why they have to take so long.”

He’s back to his desk by 11:45 and is finishing making those CMS changes when he has a quick dive into Google Analytics to see how similar pages perform. Unfortunately, before he can look into the pages report, he sees a big spike in bounce rate and realises he needs to investigate this before continuing. He identifies the problem within 30 minutes checks his emails and then quickly finishes the site changes.

It’s lunch time.

Peter realises he’s not actually started on any of the complex tasks he set out to do this morning, so decides to eat at his desk to make some progress. This feels pretty helpful, as he’s able to write some nice ads with a cheeky “alt tab” over to his friend’s new puppy pictures.

The afternoon begins and Peter begins looking at his most important task but he is distracted by an “urgent” email that pops up. His manager needs all hands on deck for a problem they’re facing so Peter drops everything to help.

After helping firefight the urgent problem, Peter’s manager Becky asks where he’s at with his work and needs a detailed run down. He’s behind with work and Becky really wants to help, so asks for more information on what’s going on. She chats with him on all his tasks and breaks them down.

At the very end of the day, Peter realises there was actually only one thing he really needed to get done so cracks on with urgency. The problem is he gets another high priority email pop up because he made a mistake while updating the site. So he fixes the error while resigning himself to working late again…

Practical tips for avoiding days like Peter’s

The word efficiency is thrown around a lot these days. Everyone seems to be trying to find ways to make their lives more efficient so they can spend more time on the things that bring the most joy and value. We’re no different at atom42, but we also do start with a little nod to when efficiency is not appropriate.

Relationships need time to be nurtured. This is why we always make sure we sit down to check in with each individual once a fortnight. These check-ins are important for the team to feel heard. We also know that strategies and new ideas take time to form so shouldn’t have their time squeezed.

With those exceptions applied, here are a couple of really practical things we do here to make sure time is spent where it’s most valued…

Planning your time

Prioritise by how great an impact the task will have on your KPI and the urgency around the task. We use A-C for importance and 1-3 for urgency so a task like “Upgrade PPC ads to ETAs” might be an A1 because of the deadline around it and the impact it will have on our CTR.

End each day by writing down what you want to achieve the next day and keep it front of mind. You could use fancy software for this or simply stick it on a post-it by your desk for you to refer back to. Doing this at the end of the day gives us a more objective view of what needs to be done and it means work starts faster in the morning.

This approach applies to planning meetings too. Keep people focussed on the goal and don’t be afraid to guide the conversation if there are distractions.

Healthy distractions

Take time away from your desk between tasks. Once you’ve finished something go and make a cup of tea (offer the team a cup too!) to take your brain away from work and give it a breather. When between tasks we should give our brain a break through healthy, positive distractions like a chat with a colleague over a cuppa.

When you are focused on a complex task, try to do one thing at a time to avoid mistakes. Here are four tactics that atoms use to stay single minded:

  • Turn off all email notifications
  • If you need to use your emails then “work offline” so there are no new distractions
  • Place your phone out of your eyeline
  • Close all tabs from previous tasks

Advice from atoms

If you’re one of those tl;dr kind of people then these points are faster to digest…

1. Start with the end in mind

When you’re doing a research based task start putting it in finished product format. That might mean beginning to write the email as you work so you stay focussed on what you need to achieve and then the work is being done concurrently.

2. Get a good night’s sleep

The science behind sleep is unignorable. Get solid rest and you will feel more alert, have better memory and lower stress. This means you shouldn’t be working until 3am. Get a good rest start

3. Clear communication reduces back and forth

Be clear with your questions by putting them at the very top of the email. Let less necessary description sink to the bottom. Avoid ending emails with “Thoughts?”

4. Eat your biggest frog first

This is a phrase thrown around often here at atom and it’s from a Mark Twain quote around doing the most challenging thing first. Anecdotally this has been very successful in waking the brain up early and making all the other tasks of the day seem easier.