The most important thing I learned in my first job was “the art of triage”. I was fresh out of college and as green as they come, so needless to say, there were a few other gems of knowledge from that job too, but triage is how I learned to prioritize!
At the time, recruitment ad agencies were driven predominantly by print media in newspapers and magazines. I’m dating myself by saying that monster.com and its’ friends indeed.com and yahoo jobs had not been born yet. I was living in the Boston area, so most of the ads we worked on were for the Sunday help wanted section of the Boston Globe. We didn’t send digital files back then either, we sent camera ready artwork attached to a physical insertion order. The courier had to leave our office on Thursdays by 11:00pm, at the latest, in order to make the midnight deadline at the Globe and Logan airports’ last flight out for the out of town overnight packages.
No matter how hard we tried to get clients to send their ad requests in early in the week, we always got slammed on Thursdays. By mid afternoon, it was easy to find yourself completely “in the weeds”.
- New ad requests continued to come – “can we still make it in Sunday’s paper?”
- A pile of proofs would be sitting on your desk waiting to be faxed (yes, I said faxed, no PDF proofing yet) for client approvals, rounds of edits would keep coming back from clients and the art department.
- A one word typo stuck in the never ending traffic queue held up final client sign-off for hours.
I quickly learned how to work at a fast pace while also paying close attention to details. It was stressful, hectic, frantic, frustrating and energizing all at the same time. However, when you found yourself in the weeds, it could be paralyzing. An overwhelming feeling of “ it’s too late, I’ll never get all of these ads done in time for the courier”, could bring everything to a screeching halt.
That’s when my manager, Sharon, would step in and perform triage!
- She would stand over the desk and help reorganize the work into piles: incoming requests, ads to be proofed, ads to be faxed, ads with edits – what needed to go where?
- Take a deep breath.
- Take a second deep breath.
- Now, determine what has the longest production time, at this moment? Start there.
- What is dependent on something or someone else, move to those items next.
- Ask for help. What can you hand-off? Can a colleague pick up an extra ad or do a final proofread.
- Involve the Account Executive, ask him to call the client who has not responded all day to sign-off or make edits.
- Are there any extensions available? Can I put a local ad off until the next day and send it by courier instead of sending via overnight delivery?
- Touch each thing once, make a decision on which pile it goes into, and then start tackling each pile one at a time.
Sharon taught us how to be calm in the midst of chaos. She taught us how to save ourselves from drowning by learning to prioritize.
The next time you are feeling overwhelmed with your to-do list, your goals list, or your ideas list - Stop and perform triage. First, take a deep breath. Put things into piles, virtual or physical, whatever it takes. Determine, what things are interdependent on each other, this will naturally start prioritizing your next steps. Identify your deadlines and work backwards, from the final deliverable back to where the project stands right now. This will show you what you need to do first. Ask for help. Are there things you can delegate to someone else? Can you outsource some tasks or projects that you find challenging or that you don’t like doing? Take another breath.
Triage Hot List:
- Organize piles or separate out projects and tasks.
- Identify deadlines.
- Determine any interdependency within a project.
- Work schedule backwards from deadline for each project and task.
- Compare schedules of to-do’s to identify immediate next step.
- Ask for help where appropriate.
- Delegate and outsource.
- Create a contingency plan – know your options.
- Calmly start working on your next steps by tackling one thing at a time.
Try running through this list the next time you are feeling overwhelmed with work. Taking the time to assess your situation and make a plan will keep you from spinning your wheels. Plus, if you identify a project or task that you should outsource, you can always contact Lemon Office for assistance!