We don’t always talk about the things that don’t go well. I think that’s because things that don’t go well can fall into a few broad categories. At some level, it’s easy to obsess about the things that haven’t gotten better yet.
When you do that, it’s entirely too easy to ignore the things that are going right. When you do that, you can’t be sure that you’re spending your time on the right activities. You can’t prioritize properly with an obsession like that nagging at you.
That’s why, in hindsight, I’ve always remembered the times where “good,” couldn’t be the standard, fondly.
I’m really not sure how we had ended up in a situation where I actively had my hands on that many projects. I try really hard to limit the number of things I do at any one point in time, but earlier on, I had a habit of making decisions based on the exact number of hours a task would take.
If we agreed to run an ad that would reach 10,000 people, I would figure out how long it would take to reach that number of people given the constraints of the account.
Some clients we work with are looking for help launching a product. That means devoting a lot of resources upfront and then doing work to keep the campaign operational for some period of time. It’s hard to do anything else when you’re working on a project like that.
Some clients we work with are looking for a little bit of help over a long period of time. They might need help with a weekly blog or someone to monitor traffic over time.
My system worked great for working with these two types of teams. I figured out how to balance both perfectly. I’d spend some time each hour checking up on accounts that needed slow managing. I’d schedule blocks of time to work out coordinated pushes.
You know what happened?
Something I wasn’t expecting.
At the time, my thinking went something like this.
Because we had figured out how to work with about 6–7 teams at once, I figured that we could work at a slightly more aggressive pace while we started experimenting with backfilling additional capacity.
It wasn’t a horrible plan, but one of the things that changes when you start to grow your customer base is that the types of clients you work with changes. That can mean that you quickly need to learn new ways to solve old problems.
I didn’t expect to be managing 11 accounts that spring so long ago, but I was, and I needed to figure out how to do it quickly.
I knew that breaking the task up into smaller parts helped with the pieces that were well understood.
This is always one of my first steps.
When I made it, I started to notice the tremendous amount of time we were spending on “ideas.”
The hours I’ve spent with user numbers on a whiteboard, the long nights I’ve spent pouring over maps of neighborhoods and purchasing data, those have been some of my favorite experiences. But what I noticed was that if I sat a limit for the amount of time I allocated to such activities, it almost always got hit — as long as it was realistic. You wouldn’t take 5 hours to plan a new email, and you certainly shouldn’t take 100 to plan a logo.
I try to avoid time based measurements with our team because I think they make it too easy to abandon “finishing” work.
I had an editor years and years ago who told me a really smart thing. Said, “karl, the average reader can read 124 words per minute. type real well, and you can type ’em just about as fast.”
I don’t think that holds true in every case, but the spirit behind the ethos is something I’ve always held with me.
See when I was working through eleven accounts, I had to learn how to identify the difference between something we were doing and something we might like to do. I had to make sure that we spent more time doing than we did thinking about doing.
It’s easy to fall into a routine. A stable campaign needs W number of hours a week. A blog needs X number of articles. We need Y new images for Z new posts.
The trouble with that is, when you fall into that routine you forget what you’re doing in the first place. So you start to ask yourself if there’s a better way.
You start looking for a short cut to get around what you’re doing. You start looking for a better process. It’s only normal.
After a while though, if you stop to look you’ll find you’ve spent more time thinking about work than you’ve spent actually working.
It’s true for writing, and it’s true for ad ops. When you’re serious about doing work, you’ve got to take time seriously, but the only way you get there is to think about what you’re really doing and let yourself get right down to the task at hand.