How to Maximize Your Agency's Calendar Using Time Scheduling
For most of us, there’s simply not enough time in the day to tick off everything on our to-do lists. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to add more hours to the day if they could?
The discrepancy is even more apparent when it comes to the average agency's workload, whose biggest challenge is scheduling their team’s time effectively. According to Float's Global Agency Productivity Report 2020, 43% of team members say their work is rarely or only sometimes scheduled effectively, and 62% of agency principals identify resource scheduling as their biggest project management challenge.
Failing to schedule our time properly leads to spending our time unintentionally. Ajit Nawalkha, the author of “Live Big: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Passion, Practicality, and Purpose”, says that without time schedules, it’s easy to get lost in the noise and let our environments knock us away from the paths we choose for ourselves. Scheduling our time can help reverse this and help us get the most from every day.
Time scheduling isn't about controlling every minute of your creative team's day; it's about empowering them to get things done and create a schedule that promotes a healthier workplace.
We're going to take a look at the importance of time scheduling in project management and the steps agencies can take to gain more control over their team's calendars and workflows.
Let's get planning!
What is time scheduling? ⌛
On the surface, time scheduling is about allocating your time to get more done.
However, the essence of time scheduling goes deeper than that. It focuses on being productive instead of busy. If you're able to master time scheduling, you can take full advantage of every minute of your working schedule and, in turn, meet your customer's expectations—from delivering their project on time to keeping to their budget expectations.
Time scheduling in project management can be narrowed down to the listing of activities, deliverables, and milestones within the project. By linking time to tasks, it becomes clear that time scheduling can stop your agency from going over budget on projects and overworking your team members. In Adobe's Creative Future Report, which interviewed more than 3600 creatives, budget constraints and being overworked were the two biggest hindrances that affected teams.
When you’re working with bigger budgets, it’s arguably easier to give importance to all parts of the production process. Christina Cooksey, head of creative production at Red Antler, says when you are working with a small budget, the key is to narrow in and prioritize. She says answering questions about where your team can have the biggest strategic impact and what parts of a project can stand out are important for teams to answer on a time limit.
"The focus should be distilling down the most impactful element of the narrative and pushing that in wild and exciting ways that allow creative dreams to blossom."
However, it can be hard to blossom if you are overworked. With 74% of team members admitting they are overbooked on projects at least once a month, and 26% saying this happens 5 or more times, it's hard to see how much free time creatives have to be…well, creative.
Mastering time scheduling can't add more time to your team's day but it can open up their schedules so their time is planned in a smarter way. A project schedule usually includes the start and finish date, duration, and most importantly, the team members assigned to each task activity. For your agency, this means time scheduling involves planning:
✔️ Project milestones
✔️ Tasks required to complete the deliverables
✔️ Dependencies between tasks and milestones
✔️ Resource requirements and allocation
✔️ Deadlines, time frames, and task durations
Presenting this in a timeline or calendar style format is the easiest way for your team to be able to visualize their assigned tasks, the estimated time to complete them, and scheduled due dates.
Now that you know what time scheduling is, let's take a look at how to maximize it in your agency to get your team working smarter.
5 Steps to Maximize Your Agency's Calendar Using Time Scheduling
Step 1: List all of your tasks and assignments
Before you jump ahead and start allocating tasks to your team, you need to write down every task and project that needs to be done.
It is a useful exercise that will help you ensure that nothing is overlooked. If any of your tasks are part of a larger project and are dependent on work being completed by others, check-in with them to make sure everything is on the list. It’s important to include everybody who will be involved.
As you talk to your team and start listing all of the tasks, it's essential to keep your project's scope in mind:
❌ Don't include any tasks that could derail/slow a project
✔️ Try to estimate how many team members you'll need to get the tasks/project completed
Once you've got a list prepared, you need to figure out which tasks are the most important.
Step 2: Define your priorities
It's easy to think that every task on your list is important.
For your time scheduling to be effective, you need to find a way to prioritize each task by significance. Team leaders may find the Eisenhower Matrix comes in handy when they're trying to prioritize their tasks:
The matrix works by prioritizing tasks into four categories:
- Important/urgent: These tasks are priority #1, with a strict deadline. Put them at the top of your list.
- Important/not urgent: Tasks with a little room to move. If you have a project in your pipeline that has an agreed upon delivery date, but is still in the distant future, this box is where it belongs. Because of its "important" tag, this task will move up to priority #1 at some stage.
- Not important/urgent: Anything that needs to get done immediately, but can be done by several people on your team, falls into this category. The tricky part of allocating these tasks is to find a spare space on somebody's calendar to get them done.
- Not important/not urgent: Tasks on your to-do list with no set deadline or urgency. It doesn't mean you should ignore them, but these should be allocated into your calendar when you have spare time without impacting tasks higher up on the list.
Once you've defined each task using the matrix, it's time to figure out how you'll get them all done.
Step 3: Estimate your required project resources (👩👨)
Once you have your tasks laid out in the correct order, the next step is to figure out what resources you need.
To forecast your resources accurately, break down each category (team members, equipment, contractors, etc.) separately by looking at:
- What resources you have
- What resources you're going to need (quantity)
- What resources are available to you (if needed)
Estimate how much time it will take to accomplish every single task by defining the key milestones and deadlines. It's also essential you take into account realistic parts of your team's day-to-day working life, like:
- Administrative tasks
- Holidays/vacation/sick leave
- Emergencies/unpredictable situations
- Missed deadlines
When estimating what you'll need for each task, remember what Parkinson’s Law states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Not every member of your team will be working on a task 24/7, so you’ll need to leave room on their schedules for things like emails, phone calls, and meetings.
Which brings us to our next step—calculating the estimated completion time of each task.
Step 4: Calculate how long each task going to take
This is where the hard work of calculating how long each task is going to take happens.
Getting this step right will ensure that the time scheduled on your team's calendars is as accurate as possible. As step 3 highlighted, it's important to take into account parts of your team's day-to-day schedule (like emails and lunch breaks) that aren’t normally accounted for in a calendar. It's also important to look at your team member's availability and any upcoming public holidays and annual leave.
The best way to make a calculated estimation is to look at past tasks. Try and find similar projects and tasks your team has completed to calculate how long it took to get them done. For example, if it took you 30 minutes to update information on a web page, you can reasonably guess that it will take the same amount of time to update a web page of similar length.
Let's use web design agency Vintage as an example of how to get these estimates as accurate as possible. They say a task-based approach is the most popular and common method for both web design firms and freelance designers to schedule time.
To get an accurate estimate of how much time you'll need to get a project done using the task-based approach, you need to:
- Break the project into smaller tasks
- Decide how long it will take for your team to perform these tasks
- Determine a rate based on your hours rate to each subtask
- Combine all the prices for the project subtasks and add some contingency amount
- Present the estimated costs and time to a client
Along with a task-based approach to estimating time, you can also use a benchmark approach, which is perfect for creatives who do similar work over and over again. Vintage's art director, Olga Shevchenko, says this method is reference-based using your previous work on similar projects.
Also, be realistic—just because you estimate that a task will take eight hours doesn’t mean it will be finished in a day. Leave some room in your team's schedule for them to breathe and take a coffee break.
💡 Pro-tip: If you're finding it difficult to estimate how long your team is taking to complete tasks, try tracking their time. Using Float's time tracking feature, you can now measure how long your team is spending on their assigned tasks. Not only will this help you to understand if your estimates are correct, but it'll allow you to make more accurate predictions in the future. Tracking the completion time of each task is as simple as typing in the number of hours it took to complete each task, and clicking “log”:
Step 5: Build a visual schedule
Here comes the fun part: creating a visual calendar of your team’s scheduled projects and tasks.
A visual schedule allows the whole team to see what needs to be done, quickly. This can include one or multiple projects. For example:
- Task 1: Morning spent on Project A; creating a design for new product launch
- Task 2: Afternoon spent on amends for Project B
Having a to-do list is one thing, but creating a visual representation of it and plotting it onto a shared calendar makes sure everybody in your team stays in the loop. To make it even clearer who is working on what, your calendars can be color coded to identify the different tasks and teams working on them.
The easiest way to build a visual schedule is using a specialized tool. It's no secret we're fans of Float to plan time schedules, and so are hundreds of other creative agencies. Digital director Adam H says his agency takes advantage of Float's color coding, drag and drop editing, and recurring scheduling features to make their task planning easier.
"My team comes in at the start of the day and knows exactly what client they are working on and how long is scheduled to complete the job." - Adam H
An important part of creating a calendar is making sure the entire team is referring back to it. If you don't review your calendar often, tasks may be forgotten, and important work may go unfinished. When your calendar is your single source of truth, the features in your time scheduling tool (like push notifications) are vitally important. For example, using Float's in-app, email, and mobile push notifications, provides three touch points for team member’s to receive schedule updates:
- When a task assigned to them is created or updated
- When a task on a project they own is created or updated
- When time off is requested or updated by someone working on the same project as them
If they forget to check their calendar, Float’s got them covered too. Each team member can subscribe to have their daily schedule emailed every morning, broken down by time allocations, outlining what they need to get done:
Scheduling is the perfect way for your agency to harness the power of time
With creeping deadlines and increasing workloads, research shows resource scheduling is one of the biggest project management challenges for today's creative teams. Instead of trying to cram more work into an already overloaded calendar, it's time for teams to take a different approach. By harnessing the power of smarter scheduling, you can plan your tasks better and schedule them based on team availability, budget, and timescale.
Smart time scheduling requires forecasting your project estimates with accuracy. The most effective way to do this is to reference how your team has delivered projects in the past and the actual time taken to complete tasks. This can then be used as a guide to estimate task hours and schedule your team’s time on future projects.
Happy workers are productive workers! Scheduling your team’s time effectively empowers them to get the job done on time—every time.
Looking to maximize your team's time? Join the 1000's teams that use Float to plan, schedule and track their team’s time on projects. Start your free trial here!