As part of our series on Productivity we’ve interviewed Rochelle Dancel about her own personal productivity and the solution to juggle between different jobs.
Rochelle Dancel is Head of Digital at beautiful world, a fundraising, marketing and communications agency in London. She is also a web producer for a Toronto based production company and runs her own digital marketing consultancy.
Meetings are often cited as being unproductive – whether that’s because they run on too long, are unfocused, fail to result in action (the list is endless!). Please share your experiences and your tips for keeping meetings productive.
I work in a number of different team structures, and all of them have different dynamics and working styles for what works productively. For example, at the agency, the core team is small and based in the same space, so our meetings are short but frequent; in fact, sometimes our best work is done in an impromptu, informal meeting.
When I work with virtual teams, the meetings are scheduled, usually with agendas and lots of planning behind them; this is often necessity, because it's very difficult to get a group of people to meet virtually at the same time, especially across time zones. The key thing I've found to move things along is to set expectations about what you want to accomplish and be clear about what you need before the meeting so that you can be focused on getting it in the meeting. Making sure that there are next steps means you can move forward, and the meeting time isn't a write-off.
How do you manage your own personal workload?
My combined personal workload is a constant juggling act. However, I find that setting expectations and flagging any potential problems or issues as early as possible usually pre-empts any major disasters. I also have a UK based virtual assistant who takes care of my freelance back office tasks, such as invoicing, and I use the US based virtual assistant service, Fancy Hands, for all manner of internet research e.g. travel arrangements, booking office space when I'm away, finding specific lists of contacts etc. This allows me to focus on actual project work.
At the agency, we schedule everything and we cover it off in our Monday morning meeting so that we all know what we're doing. However, more often than not, a spanner is thrown into the works, and schedules have to be shifted and our project tasks have to be re-prioritised. It's often just a simple case of sitting down together, hammering it out and ticking things off.
How do you manage collaboration between your employees? Are there any tools or apps you’d recommend?
Everyone I work with uses a Google Apps integration of their choosing. The one I use most frequently is Google Calendar, with different calendars shared across different teams. In terms of project management tools, I'm trialling Asana with one of my teams at the moment, and so far, apart from being free, I quite like it because it's stripped down and doesn't have anything that's superfluous to requirements.
How often do you check email a day? Do you have a system for managing your inbox?
I have two inboxes to juggle in the day - my agency inbox and my freelance inbox.
I check my freelance inbox at home first thing in the morning. I deal with project emails from my team first that require me to do something so that they can progress. I then acknowledge all essential emails, delegate admin emails to my virtual assistant, and leave the rest for the evening.
When I get into the office, I open my agency inbox and read any emails pertaining to current projects first, starting with the most urgent. I do this for no more than an hour when I first get in, otherwise I'd spend all morning responding to emails. I block out time in the day for project work and meetings, so I check my email periodically around those times.
I check my freelance email on my phone for no more than about 15 minutes at lunchtime, and will pick up the phone to clients or partners if required. When I get home, I respond to the remainder of my freelance emails, alongisde any freelance work. I also do a quick check of my agency inbox later in the evening in case my team has emailed me with prep for the following day.
What are your tips for working efficiently when you’re away from the office?
I would say have all the tools and files you need to get your work done. In the office I have a desktop and a laptop, and the same again in my home office, plus my ipad and netbook, so the one app I cannot live without is Dropbox. Before Dropbox, I would have to email files to myself, and version control was always a challenge, so I have the biggest Dropbox account possible to hold everything.
I used to try and have native versions of all services and software; however, as I have multiple machines, and I travel a lot, it's just more convenient to pay a little bit more for premium cloud services.
I think you have to be quite honest with yourself and more aware of your own working style. For example, I know when I'm away from the office my attention span is usually a lot shorter, so I try and work somewhere that doesn't have a lot of distraction. I also tend to be more methodical, breaking down tasks and working in shorter bursts.
Your top productivity tip
If you had to give one tip to small companies looking to grow and improve their output, what would it be?
I would say be realistic about what you can accomplish with the time that you have, especially if you are growing your business around an existing day job or other commitments. It is much better to give yourself time to focus on doing fewer things really well than to rush and try to do many things barely adequately.
What ROI have you seen on your efforts to improve productivity within your company?
I think that good planning and scheduling always sets people up to move forward with certainty, which enables them to be more productive because there is a path to follow, and this is always good for team confidence as a whole. We also keep tabs on the number of hours that people work and actively encourage them to take their time off in lieu, to prevent the pressure of being productive from burning people out.
Personally speaking, increased productivity for me directly correlates with efficiency. And if I can be more efficient, tasks are completed faster, and I have more free time. Applied across the board, we always evaluate which processes were the most successful, and we build these into future planning and projects.