Episode 130

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A lot of agency owners say to me, “Drew, I know you’re running your own agency and I know you’re running AMI. I know you’ve got some other things on the side like real estate. How in the world do you get it all done and how do you keep yourself organized, on track, and on-time?” So for today’s solocast, I want to talk about how you can get more out of your day.

I know that I may give the impression of being able to get it all done – but I never do. Let me be very clear about that. I don’t. I don’t want to say to you that my “To Do” list is ever empty because it’s not. But it’s manageable and I keep everything moving forward like I need to.

Like many of you, I have spent years trying to crack the nut of my own productivity. I’ve tested tools, tried tricks and heaped hacks into my day. Over the years, I’ve developed a reliable system for managing my world and my day so the most important things get done every day.

And that’s what I’d like to share with you in this solocast. It is my own blend of habits, tools and disciplines that allow me to consistently get all of the important things within AMI, my own agency and the rest of my business dealings done while still being able to take time away to relax and be with family and friends.

It’s possible and it can happen for you, too. I am going to share all of the tools I use, my daily habits, and what I think is my secret weapon for how I move through my day to make it all work.



What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How I use a task list management tool or electronic “To Do” list to keep myself on track
  • Why I break my to do list into “buckets” so they are easy to manage and less daunting
  • How I use my “secret weapon” to prioritize all my buckets and identify my the three things that absolutely must get done the next day
  • Why I think it is important for me to own and manage my own calendar
  • How I take control by chunking my calendar into time blocks that give me the space I need to get all of the daily priorities done
  • How a simple tool like an orange traffic cone could be a game changer for you and everyone on your team
  • Why I am a huge fan of taking time out and being absent from the office
  • My travel routine for how I set up my hotel room, how I unpack everything to stay organized, and the stuff I keep with me at all times
  • My thought process for deciding if I should keep a task on my list or delegate it to someone on my team
  • My biggest time saving tip
  • How I knit all of this together into a system that keeps me on track and on time

Drew McLellan is the CEO at Agency Management Institute. He has also owned and operated his own agency since 1995 and is still actively running the agency today. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year gives him a unique perspective on running an agency today.

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Producing the weekly Build A Better Agency podcast
  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE Bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year — Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”

The Golden Nuggets:

“My secret weapon for time management is Post-it Notes. Every night I look at the week’s to do list and write down 3 things on a Post-it Note that must get done the next day. Then my goal is to get at least 2 done before noon.” - @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Chunking out time on my calendar is an important part of my daily routine. I block out large chunks of time, whole days or half-days, around all of the priorities that need to get done.” - @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “I am a fan of taking time out. It forces your team to solve problems without you. Take a half or whole day and don’t go into the office. You’re going to be stunned at how much you get done when you can crank through the work.” - @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “When I put things into Wunderlist, and when I write things down on my daily Post-it note, I always write a “Yes” or a “No” next to each task which tells me if I should delegate it to someone on my team or keep it.” - @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Turn off the notifications for email on your laptop and your phone. If you were in a client meeting, you would. Why do you think the time you spend actually doing your work is less important than the time you spend with clients?” - @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet


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We’re proud to announce that Hubspot is now the presenting sponsor of the Build A Better Agency podcast! Many thanks to them for their support!

Speaker 1: If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.


Drew McLellan: Hey there everybody. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Today is one of my solo casts. So unlike a normal episode where I have a guest, this is just you and me talking about something that either a bunch of people have asked me about or something that’s come up on my radar screen that I want you to know about. And today I want to talk about how you get more out of your day. And a lot of people say to me, “Drew, I know you’re running your own agency. I know you’re running AMI. I know you’ve got some other things on the side like real estate. How do you get it all done? And how do you keep yourself organized and on track and on time?” And so that’s what I’m going to show you today, are sort of my secret recipe of how I get that done.


  But first there are a couple of things I want to tell you about. So the first thing I’m excited about is I’m excited about all these things, but I’m particularly excited about, as you know, that this podcast is sponsored by HubSpot. And we’ve worked out a deal where if you are a member of AMI, or you’re a podcast listener and you are not yet a HubSpot client, so this is only for new customers. You can work with their salespeople, cut whatever deal you can cut. And then you can get 20% off on that deal by letting them know that you are part of the AMI family. So if you have an interest, if you’re negotiating with HubSpot now, if you’ve been kicking its tires, if it’s about time for you to start doing marketing automation, they are set and ready to go.


  So here’s what you need to do. If you want to be able to access the 20% AMI discount, what you need to do is shoot me a quick email. So that’s Drew, D-R-E-W @agencymanagementinstitute.com, and we will send you a special link, and then you can go to that link and grab your extra 20%. That’s all there is to it. So pretty awesome about that. Another couple of things I want to make sure you know about. We’ve got some great workshops coming up this fall, and registrations are already starting to come in. So I don’t want you to miss out, because you wait too long. So on September 24th and 25th, we will be holding our AE Bootcamp. This is for a more junior AEs. We do an advanced one in the spring, and we do the entry-level one in the fall. So I would say if you’ve got an account coordinator, a project manager, anyone like that, an AE, anyone with five or less years of experience in the business, this is a good fit for them.


  If they’ve got more than five years, then I would say they’re probably ready for the advanced one next March. But anyway, that is September 24th and 25th. You can register online. Just go to the AMI website and look under workshops, and you will see it there, and you can register online. Or if you don’t want to put your credit card into the computer, which I know sounds very 1989, but anyway, if that’s not your thing you can also download a PDF, fill out your credit card information and scan it. Or if you’re really old school, you can fax it to us.


  That same week. We are also holding the management secrets of agency owners, and that’s a two day workshop. By the way, the other one, the AE bootcamp is also a two day workshop. They’re in Chicago. The owners workshop is two days. It is us looking at all of the best practices for running a profitable agency that is sustainable, scalable, and fun to run. And so we talk about everything from employees to money, to process, to systems. All of that stuff gets covered in two days. It’s a very robust calendar of activity. We really dive deep into a lot of those topics, and I promise you’ll learn as much from the other owners in the room as you do from me. And that workshop is September 27th and 28th in Chicago as well. So if you haven’t attended those, or if you’ve got some new AEs on your roster and you want to school them up, by all means, run to the website and jump on those before they sell out, because they always do. So I want to make sure you, my loyal listeners, get first grabs at those seats.


  So again, HubSpot 20%. AE bootcamp, September 24 and 25 in Chicago. Owner’s best management practices, September 27 and 28. And some people ask. Yes, I teach the AE bootcamp and the owners workshops. So I’ll be there too. All right.


  So let’s talk about time. So I don’t know about you, but I never get it all done. Let me first be very clear about that. I do not want to suggest to you that my to do list is ever empty, because it’s not. But I think I’ve got a pretty good system of managing my world and my day, so that the most important things get done every day. So the first thing I do is I use a list management tool. So I love Wunderlist. You’ve probably heard me talk about it before it’s W-U-N-D-E-R-L-I-S-T.


  And what it does is it’s basically an electronic to do list, but it allows me to tag those items to categorize them. So I literally have … I think of them as buckets. I literally have buckets for my agency, for AMI, for my real estate company, for home. Things I have to do at home. Before my mom passed away I had a bucket of things for her because I was her primary caregiver, and so I had a lot of … It was like a part-time job, caring for her and talking to the doctors and checking on meds and all of that. So I’d have a bucket for my mom. I have a bucket for my daughter. I have a bucket for hobbies. I have a bucket specifically of people that I’ve heard about, or I’ve met that I think would be good podcast guests. So I probably have about 15 buckets or so.


  But what I can do is in Wunderlist, I can give myself a task.


  I can assign a task, and it might be research this guy to see if he’s a good podcast guest. It might be pick up my prescription. It might be … Oh by the way, I have a grocery list. It might be call this agency owner or check on them because I know they’re in the middle of a tough negotiation, or they had a big RFP or whatever it is. You can date them so that my today list comes up, my this week list comes up. You can prioritize them in terms of importance. You can also share them with other people. So I can assign tasks to other people. So I’m telling you … Oh and by the way, like all of you, I’m very type A. So you can also go and add a task after you’ve done it, and then you can check it off, and that always feels really good. But that’s my master list. That’s like my brain.


  So in David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, he talks about how when you don’t have a good system for keeping track of everything you need to do, and I’m going to argue that multiple notepads and post-it notes all of that, not a great system, my friends. When you don’t have a great system, your brain can never rest. And it can never really … Because you’re always like, “What did I forget? What did I forget?” And so for me, finding a tool, and I tested a ton of tools, finding a tool that allows me to feel like my brain is empty, and I know some of you may think that happens on a daily basis, but I’m talking about something different. When my brain is empty, I can finally unwind and I can catch my breath.


  So one of the things I like about Wunderlist specifically is that it syncs in the cloud. And I’m sure many of them do. I’ve been using it for several years, and at the time a lot of them didn’t. So the Wunderlist on my laptop, the Wunderlist on my iPad, the Wunderlist on my iPhone are always the same. So if I check the box on one, add a task on one, it goes on all my devices. So it keeps me very current, no matter what device I’m on. But I will tell you that that list is daunting. When I look at that list in its entirety, when I don’t just look at today’s or this week’s, and I look at the entire list … Because I’m putting things in there, I taught advanced AE bootcamp in March, and there were a couple of things I want to tweak on that deck before I teach it again. Well, rather than going in and doing it right then because I didn’t have time, I just created a task and I’ve given it to myself for next February. So I have some really long-term tasks on there. But when I look at that whole list, it’s daunting, and there’s no way I would want to have to look at that list every day and go, “Okay, what do I do next?” It’s just too overwhelming.


  So I love the today, and I love that this week, but even that’s not enough. So my true secret weapon for time management, and I have several, but what my favorite one, if you’re not watching the video I am now holding up a packet of post-it notes. This is my secret weapon. So what I do is I look at every night, I look at my this week list on Wunderlist and I take a post-it note. I create a list of three things. Not two, not four. And I literally, at night, I look at this week’s list, I identify the three things that I absolutely have to get done the next day, and I write those on the post-it note. And I stick it on my laptop, because no matter where I’m going, no matter what I’m doing, sooner or later during that day, I’m on my laptop. I’m usually there first thing in the morning, no matter what I’ve got going for the day, and I’m on it throughout the day. So that’s the one place. That’s the one place that I know I’m going to see it multiple times a day.


  And my goal is to try and get at least two of those three things done before noon that next day, and sometimes that means I’m getting up at the butt crack of dawn to get that done. Sometimes it means I’ve blocked time off and we’ll get to time blocking in a second. But I know that if I get those three things done, no matter what else happens, because my day like yours, goes crazy. The minute anybody in any time zone that I serve is awake, my phone starts pinging, ringing with clients, both on the AMI side and the MMG side, my employees. So my day is lost to me once everyone is awake. So I want to know what I absolutely have to get done, and depending on what’s on that list, I want to manage my calendar.


  So I’ve had a good day. I deem it a good day when I get all three things on my post-it note done before I crash that night. And quite honestly, sometimes I am doing it in a hotel room after an all day meeting or something else. I’m not suggesting, I always get them all done by noon, but that’s my goal is to get at least two of them done by noon. Normally they are bigger tasks. Sometimes it’s a quick send an email or do something else. But normally they take some time, like recording the solo cast, which is one of today’s must dos. But I want to get them done because then I can relax through the rest of the day, and then I can just react to whatever’s happening through the rest of the day. So Wunderlist, and then the post-it note combo for me is awesome.


  And I will say, I love checking the boxes on Wunderlist, but I love crossing off the post-it note even better. There’s something very visceral about crossing that off. And I know all of you type A’s out there, know exactly what I’m talking about. But that’s not enough.


  So there are a couple other things that I do to try and manage my day. The one thing I do is I own my calendar. A lot of people say this. “Do other people book your travel? Do other people do this for you?” And I have a lot of help. Do not misunderstand. I have a great team, we’ve got great virtual assistants, I’ve got great employees, I have a lot of good smart people around me. And I let them do a lot of things that they’re better at than I am. But the one thing I do not let anyone else do is manage my calendar. And here’s why. Because I’m the only one who knows everything that has to get done. I’m the only one who knows what’s going on to the rest of my life. If I’m struggling with a family issue, if I’ve got something else going on, I know what my energy is like. I know how many nights I’ve gotten five hours of sleep or less. And boy, I need to actually sleep in tomorrow. Whatever that is, I’m the only one who knows that. When it comes to travel, I know when I’ve been on five 6:00 AM flights in the last couple of weeks, I can not do another. So I don’t want a book that. I own my calendar.


  But the one thing I do in my calendar is I chunk my time. So I look out. So for April, for example, I’ve already looked out over the entire calendar and I have blocked days. Big blocks of days. Whole days or half days around recording podcasts, around coaching calls, around other things. So for example, today, after I get done with recording this podcast, my entire rest of the day are coaching calls. So what I do is I block the entire day and I schedule those 60 minutes segments so that when I say to the coaching clients, “Hey, here’s the availability of the calendar,” they can grab those times. But for me, it’s like a coaching day and I’ve got several of them throughout the month.


  The other thing I do is I try, unless I’m in an owner peer network meeting or I’m onsite at an agency, I try not to schedule anything before 10 o’clock. Why? Because remember, I want to get two of my post-it note items done before noon. And so if I have a couple hours, two or three hours, seven to 10 or eight to 10, and if you know me, you know that I do not like getting up and being ready to go at 7:00 AM, but sometimes I have to to get it done. So I know that I kept more control of my morning than I’m going to have of my afternoon. So I try and block that time off, and I actually schedule meetings during that time so that no one else tries to schedule time with me, because obviously my staff can see my calendar, and I’m guessing yours can too. And so when a client wants to meet or something and they see it open, they’ll say, “Oh yeah, it looks like Drew’s available.” And then they commit to it, and then I’m stuck in that meeting.


  So I block those times off and I allow those times to be my working time. And here’s the thing. Most of you, if you don’t block work time, actually sitting at your desk working, then that means you work all night and all weekend because the minute you walk in the door is to … Hopefully this does not happen literally, but the minute you walk in the door, your employees are pointing out fires all over the office and you are immediately in triage mode. You are assessing which fires are the hottest and you’re running from fire to fire to fire to fire. And all you do all day is put out fires. And at the end of the day, no wonder you’re exhausted. So you’ve got to actually calendar work time as an agency owner or an agency leader, otherwise it won’t get done.


  And with that, it seems like a really great time to take a brief pause. And then we will get right back to the show.


  If you’ve been enjoying the podcast and you find that you’re nodding your head and taking some notes and maybe even taking some action based on some of the things we talk about, you might be interested in doing a deeper dive. One of the options you have is the AMI remote coaching. So that’s a monthly phone call with homework in between. We start off by setting some goals and prioritizing those goals. And we just work together to get through them. It’s a little bit of coaching, it’s a little bit of best practice teaching and sharing. It’s a little bit of cheerleading sometimes. On occasion you’re going to feel our boot on your rear end. Whatever it takes to help you make sure that you hit the goals that you set. If you would like more information about that, check out agencymanagementinstitute.com/coaching. Okay, let’s get back to the show.


  So, Wunderlist, post-it notes, chunking the time. So again, trying to assign a day or a half day to be for a specific task. So it might be one-on-one meetings. It might be client calls. It might be your new business activity. It might be … Whatever it is, you’ve got to do it, and it helps to do them in batches. Because once you get in a mode … So for me today, once I get into my coaching mode, I’m in great shape all day because that’s where my mind set is for the entire day, and I can just stay focused on those clients and what’s going on with them and helping them advance their goals, because I know that’s today. And for you, you’ve got the same thing.


  The other thing that I love, and we have done this back in my agency for years, and some of you may have heard me tell this story before. We went out and we bought those orange traffic cones. You remember when you were in driver’s ed and you had to drive around those cones, or you see them in construction areas? We went out and bought enough for everyone to have one. And in our office, we have this thing I’m Coned. And if I put that cone in the doorway of my office, or if some of my people who don’t have offices put it in the way of their cube, the entrance to their cube, what it means is unless this building is on fire, do not interrupt me.


  And here’s the deal. Every time we get interrupted, it takes 10 or 15 minutes to get our head back to where we were before we were interrupted. And what I love about the cone is people will walk towards my office and then they just turn right back around because they know I’m Coned. It might be because I have a little skull on a stick, like a kid would carry in a parade. I don’t know where I got it, remember where I got it, but it sticks in my cone. So it clearly says, “Do not cross this threshold unless the building is on fire.”


  And we have some rules around coning. So the rules are, you can only cone yourself twice a week and you can only be coned for 90 minutes at a time. So if you’re working on RFP or you have to write your company’s blog, or you have a difficult phone call to make, or you need to be prepping for an employee review and you really want to be able to be thoughtful about it and concentrate, coning is a great way to get quiet and to get alone time. People have tried other things. They’ve tried putting signs on their door, they’ve tried closing their door. I don’t care how you get it done. I will say the orange cone is very visually arresting. And so nobody’s going to miss it and they literally have to step over it if they want to come into your space, and so they just don’t. It’s really an inexpensive way to have quiet time. And so that’s a great tool.


  The other thing that I am a huge fan of is I’m a huge fan of taking timeout. And what I mean by that is remember what I said before, about the minute you walk in the door, you are putting out fires and that’s what you do all day every day. But if you don’t walk in the door, you don’t know what fires are happening. And by the way, your team is more adept at handling fires than you think. But as long as mom and dad are there, they’re going to let you do it. Why? Because you do it faster and better, and they can give it to you and go on with their day and that’s your problem.


  So I am a firm believer in being absent. So I’ve encouraged many of my agency owner clients to take either a half day, if that’s all you can do, or a whole day, or two half days and not come in the office. So what that would look like is you would get up and you would get ready for work, and you’d be ready to sit down and work at eight o’clock. And depending on your circumstances, you might be one of those people who can work at home and ignore the laundry and the dog and the TV, and just get a bunch of stuff done. For others of you, you have to be out of the house, and I get that. So you’re going to be at a Starbucks or a Panera with headphones on. I don’t care where you go. Or go to the library. A lot of libraries have really cool workspace, by the way, if you have not checked that out lately. It’s a great we work principle only it’s free, normally. And they have wifi and it’s pretty awesome.


  But anyway, wherever you go, take that half day and get your work done, or take that whole day and get your work done. A lot of owners will do an eight to after lunch one day, and then they’ll be in the office full days for the next couple of days. So a lot of people do it on Tuesday and Friday. And they take two half days. I know what you’re going to say is, “Well, maybe I’ll do one morning and one afternoon.” Seriously, when was the last time you left the office on time in the afternoon? So I’m going to tell you right now, don’t even try that. So if you say, “Oh, I’m going to do one morning. I’m going to do eight to one on Tuesday, and on Thursday I’m going to leave at noon and then I’m going to go work.” You’re not going to get out at noon because there’s going to be a line at your door. Clients are calling there’s problems, there’s fires. You feel bad leaving your team stomping out all the fires, so you’re going to stick around and help them put out those fires. And you’re not going to get out.


  This is probably, other than my post-it note, which honestly is like the golden ticket for me, one of the reasons why I’m so productive is by default I have to have this alone time because I’m on planes and I’m in hotel rooms. And so if I’m on a two or three hour flight, if I put earbuds on and I just hunker down and get work done, I can be so productive. And you don’t have to buy a plane ticket to do that. You can do that and hang out at your local library or Panera. But at least once a day … And right now, stop. You are not so indispensable that you cannot be out of the office for half a day. If you were at a client meeting, you’d be gone. If you were traveling, you would be gone. So I want you to pick a day of the week and just try the half day. Just try from eight to one, not noon, one. And don’t schedule a lunch at 11:30. That’s not what I’m talking about. I want you to pack a peanut butter sandwich or grab something to eat at wherever you’re working, if you’re not working from home.


  But this is not a half a day for you to schedule time with other people. This is you time. This is alone time. This is head down, work time. For many of you, this is when you can do the lion’s share of your biz dev work, which I think you should be doing. So whether it’s phone calls or it’s reviewing RFPs, or it’s spending some time on LinkedIn trying to connect with some new people, whatever your tasks are, this is your time to do it. And I want you to take half a day. And here’s what I predict. Number one, the office is going to be fine. They will learn to survive without you. They actually will work muscles that they don’t when you were there, and they will get better. And the more you’re not around, to a certain extent. And there is law of diminishing returns on this, but if you’re not around for a half day a couple of times a week, they’re going to be just fine. So number one, the building will not burn down.


  Number two, you are going to be stunned at how much work you do. So you know how when you work on a weekend or at night, and there’s no one around and you can just crank through the work? Imagine actually doing that during the workday, so you don’t have to do it all night or all weekend? So building will not burn down, you will be astonished at how much you get done, and you will feel a sense of accomplishment and calm because the pressure of getting everything done is a little lessened when you take that really productive half day, and again, try it one day a week for awhile. And for some of you, your calendar may be such that you can’t do this for a month.


  Go into your calendar, As soon as you’re done listening to this, you’re done walking the dog, you’re off the treadmill, you’re off the subway, whatever you’re doing right now. When you’re done with this, I want you to fire up your laptop and I want you to look at your calendar. And the first week that you have a half day, that you can block off, I want you to start doing it. And then I want you to block it off for the rest of the year. Yes, you may have to move some. Yes, you may have to miss some. But even if you get three out of the four a month, that’s awesome. And I predict that if you try this, pretty quickly, you’re going to go. If one is good, two is even better, and you’re going to do it twice a week.


  I do not recommend you doing this more than twice a week. Your team needs you around them. You need to be in the office. You have a lot of meetings. So I’m not saying never go to work. I’m saying, take two half days and make them your own. So you can really crunch through your list.


  And then the last thing I will tell you that really saves my bacon when it comes to getting things done is I’m a little anal retentive. I’m super organized. Even when I go into a hotel room, I unpack and everything goes pretty much in the exact same spot. So that I have … Because here’s what happens, especially if I have a task I don’t want to do, I can find so many other things that must be done at that moment. And one of them is organize. I can’t work in this chaos. I must organize my space. And then I spend an hour putting things where they need to go before I sit down and work. So what I’