How to Prioritize Your Work As A Community Manager

Carrie Melissa Jones
October 12, 2016
November 3, 2023

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.

Quarterly, Weekly & Daily Community Manager Prioritization

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

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:

  • Re-establish or confirm the entire organization’s priorities so you can see how your work fits into that big picture.
  • Meet with your manager(s) to share your results on all of your projects. Give yourself a pat on the back for what you’ve accomplished!
  • Talk about where you’re falling short and why. Are you taking on too many projects? Does a whole project need to be scrapped? Is there a reason you haven’t made strides in some projects? Or do you just need to find more creative ways to move the project forward?
  • Assess the success of each program you run. I love Kim Pham’s matrix for community planning, which can also be used as a perfect low-barrier starting point to defining your KPIs. (If you haven’t defined those yet, you should make that a project for next quarter at this time too.)
  • After meeting, set a deadline to create a plan of action to grow the programs you have, cut them, or revamp them to make them more effective.

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.

Weekly Planning

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:

  • Look at those quarterly goals and see how your work that week pushed those goals forward.
  • If your work didn’t push those goals forward, be ready to figure out why. Scrap things that are unnecessary.

On Friday afternoons, you should:

  • Look at your to-do list for each day in the upcoming week. I use Asana, so this is very easy to do in the “Sort Tasks by Due Date” viewing panel.
  • Rank them by how they move the needle on the priorities you have set for the quarter.
  • If you don’t yet have a grasp on what’s coming up in the next week, it’s time to ask yourself why not. Do you need to spend more time planning the individual steps inside your projects so you can hit the ground running after the planning is complete?
  • Add your meeting times into the to-do items in your task list for each day in the upcoming week. They take time too! You need to account for that.

Daily Planning

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.

How To Prioritize Your Work as a Community Manager

1. Use the 80/20 rule to assess the priority of your projects

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.

2. Break down all tasks into projects and bucket them together

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:

  1. Is that task urgent and important?
  2. Is this task falling to you by default and you’re not questioning it? And are you doing it at the expense of your other projects’ success?
  3. Can you delegate this task to someone else or automate it in some way so you can get back to prioritizing your community projects?
  4. Is this task actually just part of a project that has not been clearly defined yet? Set about clearly defining that project, deciding whether it is high leverage, and then return to the task with more clarity.

3. Sort tasks by stage of project: planning stage or execution stage

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.

4. Allocate a time estimate to the task (then add about 30% to it).

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.

5. Build in 15 minutes between meetings and treat yourself to a real lunch break

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.

6. Add up your meeting time for the day

Meetings take time too. Make sure you add that time into your tasks for the day.

7. Now add up meeting time + task time. If the number goes over 8 hours (or 480 minutes), here’s what you do:

  • Re-prioritize. Think through the 80/20 of this individual task. What’s a thing you could do to make sure you never have to do this again or at least shorten the time it takes you to do it?
  • Delegate.
  • Automate.
  • Push to a later date.

Those are really your only options unless you want to work a 14-hour day, which is only sustainable in the short term.

8. If you get overwhelmed, take a walk or talk to someone.

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.

Carrie Melissa Jones
October 12, 2016
November 3, 2023

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