Strategies & Tactics

In 2019, Resolve to Prevent Productivity Killers

January 3, 2019


It’s 2019, and every independent PR practitioner’s list of New Year’s resolutions should include limiting and managing assignments that kill productivity.

A productivity killer is a work project that consumes so much of your time that there’s little left over for serving other clients or pursuing new business. Such assignments might seem worthwhile at first, but over time they can threaten your practice by preventing you from delivering the highest-value work for all of your clients.

One example of a productivity killer might be a passion project that you handle pro bono for a local animal shelter. You believe in the cause, so you make yourself available at all times to help the organization. But when you look back at the end of each month, you wonder where your billable time has gone.

Or maybe you have a billable project that you absolutely love, but the client takes forever to make decisions, approve budgets and keep the process moving forward. Despite your enthusiasm for the work, the assignment is killing your overall productivity.

How to avoid productivity killers

For passion projects, the solution to managing productivity-killing work is pretty simple: Discipline yourself not to overcommit, and then scale back your work as necessary. Track your time as if you are working for a client.

On the business side, if you’re in the prospecting phase of a client relationship, pay close attention to how the potential client handles the review process. Are they decisive? Are they clear about what they want and how they will define success? Do they know their budget? Do they have a clear timeline for decision-making? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then you might be setting yourself up for a productivity-killing assignment.

But what if you’re already committed to a project that is demanding more and more of your attention, leaving you no time to spend on other clients or business development?

In that case, read your contract again and make sure you’re delivering only what you promised. Be on the lookout for “scope creep,” where the amount of work the client expects for the same price keeps expanding. Are the criteria for success growing beyond the original terms of your agreement? If so, then it may be time to revisit those terms. Even if the situation doesn’t require you to re-draft the contract, then you should talk to the client and manage expectations.

Protect your business model

Remind the client that although you’re doing your best to deliver your work on time and on budget, you are still a resource shared by other clients. Tactfully explain that if one or two clients monopolize your time, they hinder your ability to invest in your own business and better serve all of your clients.

For example, you might subscribe to a pricey media database, the cost of which no single client would justify. Economically speaking, you have determined that with four or five active clients, the cost of subscribing to the database is necessary to deliver the level of service that each of your clients expects and deserves.

When one client consumes so much of your time that you can’t adequately serve four or five others, you might question whether you can still afford that media database on which your business model depends. In that case, it’s time to rein in the productivity killer, for the good of your practice.

Tim O'Brien, APR

Tim O’Brien, APR, owns O’Brien Communications, an independent corporate communications practice in Pittsburgh, and hosts the “Shaping Opinion” podcast.


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