PR Insider: 5 Ways to Manage Work Overload

Shawn Paul Wood
Shawn Paul Wood

Corporate and agency public relations professionals have considerable demands placed on them on a daily basis. The nature of those demands may change from one person to the next, but it all boils down to learning to manage a life in PR.

From delegation to prioritization, here are the top five ways to help you can manage PR overload and become a better steward of your talents for your clients and team.

1.     Define “ASAP.”  This is a particular mandate for the younger pros out there. Count in one day how many of your managers, directors, and corner-office types come to you with a task involving the ubiquitous deadline of “A-S-A-P.” Yes, of course you need it as soon as two hands can develop carpal tunnel for this document, but you have already experienced this same vague sense of urgency 19 times already. You know? Today. Don’t be afraid to push back for a more succinct answer. “ASAP” could be “in an hour,” “after lunch,” or “end of the day.” This will help you prioritize your work and manage that burden balanced gently across your shoulder blades.
2.     To Prioritize is to Categorize. You have a bajillion things to do and only eight days this week to do them. At least, that’s how it feels, which is why it’s not only important to develop your own personal checklist, but add categories to them. What are “hair-on-fire” tasks? What are “deadline-pending-or-else” duties? What are the always looming “just-need-to-complete” jobs? And then the “meh” things to do but could be next week? Be sure most of your day doesn’t go past the “B” categories. Wrap-up the day with “C” and “D” tasks to watch the things vanish slowly but surely.
3.     Be Candid. Face it. You are a diligent PR pro. If you weren’t, people would not be consistently bombarding you with the aforementioned ASAP requests. You have a sinking feeling about saying “No” to that one cantankerous colleague, so just postpone the task. Be candid about your responsibilities and tell them something like, “I can get this done, but I have these five priorities to complete first. Do you mind if I ask someone else for you?” Nine times out of 10 you will be thanked for that because the job is something he or she just checked off their list. It’s the PR circle of life. 

4.     Go Away. It may be lunch, a quick walk down the stairs, or even a mental health break, if that’s your thing. I used to take 15 minutes and drive around the block or go to the gas station to get a king-size carbonated beverage. That simple task separates you from the desk, if even for a moment for you to recoup your sanity. Moreover, you can scream at the top of your lungs and beat up a tree or something. Whatever you do, do it elsewhere. That free time is necessary to thinking straight, working well, and lasting longer. 

5.     Mark Things Off with Attitude. Sounds petty but it works. This is the secret to having a “to-do” list – scratching them off. It feels good when you finish a task. It feels even better when you finish it with a little authority. Take that pen and scratch the task with force. Beat the priority list like it owes you money. Get up from the desk when you finish something and go for a “victory lap” around the office. Talk to people, get some water, or fake a trip to the bathroom. And don’t be afraid to strut. Then return to your desk for Round Two. 

There’s an aphorism you may have heard from your significant other, “It’s the little things that mean the most.” These things are little but if you learn to master these tasks, they will matter the most between you taking 15 Tylenol a day and all your work home with you at night, or having a nice quiet dinner and watching your favorite TV show wrapped up in your “I Heart PR” Snuggie.

And I just marked this article off my list. (You should see me shake my moneymaker now.)

Shawn Paul Wood is a 20-year veteran of public relations, copywriting, and journalism. He is currently CEO of Woodworks Communications in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas. Follow Shawn: @shawnpaulwood