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The power of the to-do list

When I first entered the PR world, I felt like a tiny boat being tossed around on a rolling ocean of non-stop emails, ever-changing deadlines, proliferating media channels and multiplying tasks that always seemed to be escaping me. This can cause a fair amount of stress, and if you are in the throes of PR anxiety, I fully sympathise.

But for everyone feeling battered by press releases and drowned in admin, panic not, because help is at hand. There is a tool so easy and simple that it’s usually forgotten, but it has the power to save you from going under by structuring your day like never before. It’s the to-do list.

With so many activities taking place simultaneously, PR professionals are expected to be superhuman multitaskers, but there is simply no way to structure such complex work in your head. Relying on your memory for even a day will lead to tasks overlooked, phone calls missed and meetings forgotten about. Give your brain a break and treat your to-do list like your helper.

Compiling my to-do list is the very first thing I complete in the morning, and so must you! My days, weeks and months absolutely revolve around it. I prefer the old pen and paper approach myself, but if you are digitally minded then Excel or even Word can make excellent notepads.

The main rule is that absolutely everything should go on your to-do list – from planned activities to snatched feedback from your colleagues and ideas that pop into your head – because keeping track of your work is essential. My to-do list is ordered like this:

  • Top priority tasks that must be completed as rapidly as possible
  • Tasks to be finished within the day
  • Upcoming tasks in their order of urgency
  • A box for research to be completed
  • A box for people to follow-up with including colleagues, clients or members of the media
  • Lots of notes scribbled down in the margins about just about everything

Your to-do list in action

With my list in my mind, I have a quick chat with team mates about the deliverables, as well as upcoming work and what remains to be planned. All new actions are added, as well as any urgent requests that have appeared in my inbox in the meantime.

Now I’m on to the top priority tasks on my to-do list, including press releases that are scheduled to be dispatched around 11:30. This gives me some time to ensure that all of my client’s key messages are being communicated effectively and engagingly before I press send.

Once dispatched, I call the media to confirm that the targeted outlets have received the news. That’s one follow-up on my to-do list complete. Then I snatch a moment to compile clippings for my clients and call the media monitoring agency to chase any pieces of coverage that have gone astray. I monitor the news closely to make sure I’m aware of absolutely everything that appears about my clients, as it’s important that nothing slips through the net.

I always try to carve out at least an hour a day to read blogs, newspapers and magazines – this is the research box on my to-do list and it is essential. Twitter is a good way to catch the top news headlines at light speed and monitoring social media platforms helps me to spot trends and identify media/bloggers that are relevant to my clients. The world of PR is a very dynamic place, which means that we have to keep ourselves alert to any changes in the wind.

As new tasks raise their heads, they are methodically added to my to-do list as I work through the jobs that need to be completed within the day. This stops upcoming demands from overwhelming me and also guarantees that I don’t forget anything. At the end of the day, I feel a deep satisfaction when I see all of the tasks that have been ticked. In the morning, uncompleted things from my yesterday’s to-do list are transferred to a new blank page and the process starts again.

Whilst this conveys a typical day in a PR world, the role varies considerably. What I like most about the work I do is that I can create a different day’s work just about every day, but to keep on top of this, a to-do list is vital. If you don’t write one already, then you’ll find it to be a game changer.

Joyce Mourad is the Account Executive of Cicero & Bernay Public Relations. An independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai and offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the GCC. |