How to work SMARTER not HARDER

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    • 6th July 2018

    The summer holiday season is fast approaching and what’s common in creative agencies is fewer people tackling the same workload.

    However, having a work-life balance is highly important for overall well-being and for job satisfaction. As a creative recruitment agency we know and understand both. To help our candidates out in the summer heat (and maybe even give our employer clients a few pointers) here’s some tips on how to work smarter not harder.

    Work SMARTER 

    The saying “work smarter not harder” has been part of work and especially agency life for awhile [since Allan F. Morgensen in the 1930s] and there are a few different interpretations.

    The overall consensus is not to get overloaded by to-do lists, especially when these keep getting longer. Instead, tackle each project from a strategic point of view and always make sure you have:

    • Specific information
    • Measurable success or results
    • Achievable targets
    • Realistic resources or budget
    • Time-Bound deadlines that all involved know about
    • Ethical approach to how to achieve the task
    • Recorded communication, deadlines and progress

    This approach will help you keep productive no matter the task and ensures others know what you already have on your plate, discouraging them from more adding more tasks.

    Escape the holiday mayhem 

    Completing briefs while people are away is standard in creative agencies, but ensure you’ve thoroughly read through the tasks you’ll be supporting your work colleague on. While they’re away make sure you’ll able to apply the SMARTER model to each task.

    Likewise, when it’s your turn to enjoy some sun (or any other summertime activity) be sure to give your colleagues enough time and warning to review your holiday brief, so they can ask you relevant follow-up questions.

    Keep your head above water 


    You’re an important part of the team and if you’re struggling with the workload, there’s a simple yet often overlooked solution: ask for help.

    If you don’t let people know that you need some backup, then no-one on the team will know. One of the great things about agency-life is that everyone is willing to muck in.

    Delegate tasks using the SMARTER model. When you’ve got spare availability, make sure to let others know that you can take on some tasks to help out.

    Action Priority Matrix 

    Even with the best team in the world by your side, sometimes you’ve got to tackle the bulk of your projects solo. A great technique to stay on track without putting the extra hours in is the Action Priority Matrix.

    action priority matrix grid

    This four-grid matrix can help you turn your overwhelming to-do list into a manageable beast instead.

    ‘Quick wins’ is for attractive projects that have high impact and high returns. This could be the final touches on an important project you’ve been trying to finalise for some time. Start your day with the quick wins. Not only will you be able to tick things off the list, but you’ll gain a great feeling of accomplishment that will fuel your productivity for the rest of the day.

    ‘Major projects’ are the beginning stages of quick wins and are likely to require more of your time to plan. Try to block out a few hours in the day for these, so you can advance them to the quick win stage.

    ‘Fill-ins’ are tasks that will need doing, but are small or have longer deadlines than other tasks. It’s easy to let a fill-in take up your time, but it’s not the best use of your time. By identifying which of your tasks counts as a fill-in you’ll be able to see when it’s best to do them. If you have spare time at the end of the day, then a short 30 minute or 10 minute fill-in task can help you round-off a productive day. Also consider fill-ins when delegating to others when applicable.

    ‘Thankless Tasks’ – as the name implies – should be avoided. These could be distractions or you getting called in to something that doesn’t have anything to do with you. Think if you’re the right person for the job before agreeing to the task. If a colleague is struggling with their emails and the IT team is at hand, let them handle it instead of you, as they’re the experts. There’s being helpful and there’s taking on ‘thankless tasks’. It’s good to learn how to identify these.

    Graphic Designer tips and tricks 

    Every role has some handy tips and tricks to save time and work smarter. As a graphic designer you’re often working towards tight deadlines while using a lot of different time-consuming tactics. Here are some useful ones for graphic designers:

    workspace of a graphic designer

    Know your shortcuts 

    It’s worth spending some time (if you haven’t already) on getting to know the best shortcuts of all your tools. There’s more to it than knowing Undo (ctrl + z). In Photoshop, for example, some of the best shortcuts include brush shortcuts and switching between tools. Design Hill has collected the top 12 shortcuts for Photoshop here, but knowing shortcuts across all everyday tools is a must.

    Build a frequently used library 

    Let’s face it certain icons will repeat themselves throughout your graphic design project life. If you need the Twitter icon, a calendar icon or an arrow icon, there’s not necessarily a need to start these from scratch every time. When all you need is a colour or icon size adjustment, try having a readily available library open to swiftly copy and paste from. This library can help you keep the workflow rolling.

    Archive it – Don’t become a raider of the lost artwork 

    Whenever you’ve completed a project, be sure to archive all the supporting files of this in one folder that’s easy for you to quickly find. These supporting files should include things like assets, brand guidelines and font files. Your future self will be grateful, when in six months’ time a project from the same client wanting a similar style as last time comes in.

    Marketer and Digital Marketer tips and tricks 

    As a marketer, you spend a lot of time managing campaigns across marketing channels. Being organised is a must; here are some handy tools to help you keep all those plates spinning.

    Google homepage on a tablet

    Let me Google that for you 

    Google Docs is great if you’re putting a proposal together and need input from multiple departments at the same time. Being able to edit a document at the same time speeds everything up. The ease of document use also makes setting up a project Gantt chart fast and simple.

    The devil is in the detail 

    Not to play devil’s advocate, but when you’re developing a marketing campaign across department teams you need to give everyone the task depth they need. Trello cards are great for assigning individual tasks with tailored deadlines and you can include as much or as little detail as you need.

    Prepare what you can when you can 

    Social media is a core channel of a marketer’s and digital marketer’s role. Tools like Hootsuite and Socialsprout are ideal for keeping on top of posts and timings. By preplanning and scheduling in social posts across channels in advance, you’re able to not only reduce time but reduce your overall stress levels, too.

    PR Tips 

    PR pros are notoriously known as multitaskers who always have a finger on the pulse. They manage this by keeping a close eye on what’s going on across multiple channels and sources. Here are some tips of the trade to help you with that smarter approach.

    Person multitasking on computer and mobile phone

    What’s your tool arsenal of choice? 

    So much to track and so little time. But fear not, as there are multiple tools like Google Trends, QuickSearch and Buzzsumo to help you stay on top of breaking news or important trends.

    Need to find a journalist fast? Tools like HARO (Help a reporter out), Cision Gorkana or LexisNexis Newsdesk can speed things up. There’s also some Twitter smarts to keep in mind like #journorequest.

    Prep, prep, prep 

    Project management tools like Google Docs, Float (a nifty scheduling tool) and Trello ensure you can do that important prep work. You can also stay on track with other colleague’s commitments via Float, so you can book your project timings in.


    People in PR have little time, so if SMARTER takes too long, how about using GPS: Goal, Purpose, Scope.

    This speeds up briefing when you’re working in a team and can even help with pitching ideas to senior management.

    We hope this exploration of tips on working smarter not harder is useful for our candidates. It might even be a nice reminder to our employer clients to not let the holiday mayhem take over the office.

    If you’re a candidate looking for a creative recruitment agency to help you take the next career step, give us a call on 0113 209 5705 or send us your CV to join our list.

    Or if you’re an employer looking for a creative mind with a strong work ethic to fill a vacancy at your agency, give us a ring to discuss who your ideal candidate is.

    No matter what your summer plans are though, remember to work smarter not harder and enjoy a positive work-life balance.