When you get to work in the morning, do you know exactly what to prioritize first to succeed as a community manager?
Do you have a clearly defined role that makes prioritizing your work throughout the day simple?
And, if you have both of those things in place, do you have a clear understanding of how you can delegate or automate the work at hand so you can continue to grow in your career and your ability to serve your community?
If you answered no to these questions, you’re not alone.
In fact, if you answered yes to any of these, you’re living the dream of the majority of community professionals today.
In a series of posts about the needs of scientific community managers, the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) recently identified that the number one challenge faced by scientific community managers is how to prioritize their workload.
Nearly one-third of scientific community managers call prioritization their biggest challenge. The other challenges that they identify are a result of this problem: Their teams are too small, their roles are part-time, their teams are not quite aligned.
Prioritization is a challenge shared by community professionals no matter their area of expertise or interest. With shortages of funding and unclear expectations, many community managers struggle to prioritize their most impactful actions and work towards achieving their goals.
As COO of a company that serves community professionals, I’ve spent the last few years—and the last 9 months in particular—thinking tirelessly about this problem and how to solve it for myself and for our team. Not every day is a perfectly productive one, but we’ve come a long way. And because we’ve worked hard to prioritize what is necessary and cut back on what is not serving our members best, we are now poised to take our community programming to the next level.
So how do you begin to prioritize all the work a community manager does on a daily basis? Let’s tackle this once and for all.
If you have not yet stepped back to the see the bigger picture as a community builder, it’s virtually impossible to plan your day-to-day work. No two days are the same in this profession, but you should still be able to see how all your daily tasks add up to something larger.
The only way to get clarity is to look at your work at quarterly, weekly, and daily plans at regular intervals.
Quarterly planning (which I organize for CMX in March, June, September, and December) is a time to halt the day-to-day grind for a few hours for prep as well as meeting time. During this time, you can look back at what you’ve done and forward to where you’re going. This is often a multi-day process you can complete and customize based on your reporting structure and team size.
Once a quarter, you should:
The easiest way to get at your highest priorities at this level? Rank your projects by how effectively they further the community mission, vision, values, the business value you drive, and overall growth and/or engagement of your membership.
Once a week (it’s best to do it on a Friday afternoon when you’re feeling low energy), it’s time to look at the week ahead before the madness of Monday knocks on your door — er, email inbox.
Once a week, you should:
Once you’ve done weekly and quarterly planning, this piece becomes science rather than art. If you take 15 minutes at the end of the work day to look over what you have on your plate the next day, you can get yourself started off on the right foot.
If you don’t do this, you tend to get sucked into a vortex of messages and emails the next morning that can derail your entire day.
Now, how do you prioritize and tackle all that daily planning? Let’s jump in.
The 80/20 rule is the golden rule of prioritization for community professionals: 20% of your work will contribute to 80% of your results. What is that small portion of work that will have the most consequence for you? That’s where your priorities are. You can look at this quarterly, but you should also look at it daily. What is the one task on your list that will make the biggest impact? Carve out time for that before checking your email or doing anything else.
When laying out your tasks to complete, chunk tasks within the same project and complete them all together, so your brain isn’t split, especially among right- and left-brained tasks.
For instance, if you are planning an AMA in your community, this project is going to take several intermediate steps to complete, from booking the “speaker” to creating an event page to sending out invites. All of those steps should be laid out before the project begins, but if you have more than one of those tasks to do in a day, do them together.
If tasks don’t fit under a clear project, it’s time to question why you’re doing that task. Four questions you should ask if a task doesn’t fit into a project deemed as important in your quarterly or weekly planning:
There are two types of projects: those in the planning stage (pre-execution) and those in the execution stage, where you are testing things and doing the day-to-day work.
Don’t try to work on more than one planning-stage community project in a day. Planning takes immense brain power and energy and is best done when you feel fresh, not exhausted from planning something else for your members.
Once you’ve figured out your most important priority tasks, put a time estimate on them. Then add 30% more to that estimate just to be safe.
Community managers need real emotional breaks to take deep breaths and get back in touch with their own needs (namely, to eat a real meal and bond with co-workers or friends while doing it).
This is how you begin to restore yourself emotionally after a hard day hits. It’s how you recover so you can do your best work.
Meetings take time too. Make sure you add that time into your tasks for the day.
Those are really your only options unless you want to work a 14-hour day, which is only sustainable in the short term.
Just get out of your zone and start over. Nothing at work is so important that it is worth sacrificing your own well-being. Find someone to talk to or simply step outside and breathe some fresh air.
You cannot channel your empathy, compassion, and care for others outward into your community if you have not taken the time to channel it inward to yourself.
And, at the end of the day, that’s what productivity strategies are all about: being your most productive, most cared-for self so you can bring that care and service to enrich your community members’ lives. That is how community professionals work when they are at their very most productive.
Note: You can join the AAAS’ Community Engagement Fellows Program now.