Productivity in the Age of Flexible Working: Tips and Tools with Millie Collier

Millie Collier

This week, we’re joined by Millie Collier, Marketing Manager at Finally Agency, a B2B Marketing Agency that specialise in engineering and manufacturing. Millie is joining us today to share some insights and tips on how she did it.

Victoria:  Welcome to this week’s boss to boss podcast. In our interviews we feature remarkable people doing imaginative things in often unimaginative markets, usually in the world of B2B. This week, we’re joined by Millie Collier, Marketing Manager at Finally agency, B2B marketing agency that specialises in engineering and manufacturing. This year, Millie has been exclusively responsible for all marketing functions of the agency, and subsequently has had to perfect her time management and productivity skills. Millie is joining us today to share some insights and tips on how she did it. Millie, thank you so much for joining me.

Millie: Thank you. Thanks for having me. It’s weird to be on the other side. I’ve produced a few podcasts over the last year. So it’s a bit strange being the guest for one.

Victoria: So I suppose where you’ve been sole bearer of the marketing responsibilities for the agency, you’ve had to master the art of productivity and time management, what would you say are the most important rules to follow to keep yourself productive?

Millie: Yeah, “try” to master I think try being the operative word. I’m always learning and you know, it’s about finding what works for you. And I like listening to podcasts and reading about productivity and all that kind of thing. But obviously, everyone’s different. So what works for some one person won’t work for others. So if you’re trying to like, literally copy and paste what someone else is doing, and it’s not working, it’s not that it’s something wrong with you, it’s just that you might benefit from a different way of doing it. And I think it can be really easy to get carried away with the actual productivity side of it and finding that method, when you forget, like, actually, once you’ve written your to do list, you, you then have to do all the things on the list, right? And so I think, yes, you just can’t get carried away with like trying to find the best routine. Obviously, it is important, but what’s more important is actually like showing up every day, and getting things done. So like I don’t really have a traditional manager in the sense of like, no one’s breathing down my neck and asking where all this work is like, I have to just show up and do it. Because if I don’t do it, it’s not going to get done kind of thing. So yeah, I think just showing up and trying not to get carried away with finding the best way to do things. Sometimes you actually just have to start and get things started at least.

Victoria: Yeah, definitely. I think it all – I mean, you kind of touched on it there – but it all comes down to drive at the end of the day, that’s the bottom of the pyramid, that underlying factor, if you don’t have the drive to be productive, or to manage your time, well, then you’re just gonna struggle to find it. And like you said, you have to wake up every morning and show up. And as long as you show up and you get started, then you’re already miles ahead of people that aren’t even trying to be productive and have this output from their work. I’ve read a lot about the 1-3-5 rules when trying to improve my own productivity. For those that don’t know, the 1-3-5 rule is to tackle one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks each day. However, I found this isn’t always possible and can almost decrease productivity when trying to stick to such a structured format. Are there any techniques that you’ve tried and tested and found not to be successful?

Millie: Yeah, so I’ve not actually heard of the 1-3-5 rule, but it kind of sounds similar to what I find that I come back to. I haven’t really found anything that’s been totally unsuccessful. I think I’ve tried a few, like quite a few different things. And then in the end, what I’ve kind of come up with for myself, because like I said, like, it’s about what works for you. It’s kind of like, inspired by lots of different things. So what what I do is like, it kind of came out of like this overwhelm of, like, “oh, I spent so long trying to find the right method that actually the works will just piled up and, and and just need to get stuff done”. So basically, I just started by doing a massive brain dump of every single thing that I could think of that I needed to do, from like literally like replying to someone’s email to like something bigger, like writing a blog or planning a campaign. So like literally just write it all down on a scrap piece of paper and pretend to be a very long list. But then what you find is on that really long list, it’s not everything on there you need to do it’s kind of be some things that you want to do or would like to do and some things that you could do. So then I kind of need to go through and prioritise, actually what do I need to do? And then also how long is this going to take and we’re going to be able to get it all done in the week. So I firstly write things down and then in like the margin or next to it I write down how long I think it will take. And that could be like five minutes stagger, you know, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, whatever it is. And if it’s like getting up to like really long, then that’s an indicator that possibly that task or need to break down into smaller tasks, because otherwise, it’ll just say, like, I don’t know, plan a campaign. And then it’s like, well, actually that a lot goes into that. So I need to break that up. And I’ll do that I’ll write the times. And then I take like three highlighters, I usually use like pink, blue, and yellow. And I’ll go down the task list and highlight the highest priority ones in pink, medium and blue, low priority in yellow. And then I do that as well for the time. So anything less than 30 minutes, I’ll do yellow, an hour, two hour blue, anything over three hours be the pink. And then like you can see really clearly like, what do I really need to do what’s going to take up most of my time, and I use that to put into my calendar to do time blocking, because I do find that quite useful. That’s like a method I tried before, like blocking out the time on your calendar. So I use that brain dump, and then that organisation to put into my calendar, and all of the ones that were like really quick, like under 30 minutes. I do those before, before I even put the rest in the calendar. So I just get all of those out of the way and done. Because realistically, like it takes less than five minutes to reply to an email, if that’s a small, like quick task to do. And then generally, it only takes one hour to do all of those, like quick tasks, whether they were low priority or high priority. And then you can see like, okay, right, I can plan out the rest of my week using that list. So that’s been really, really helpful for me. And that is like a massive met, because of all of the different tasks that you know, the ones that are out there that you can try. So I’ve just think that’s the one I come back to time and time again. And now as well. I’m really grateful. We’ve got Hannah, who joined the marketing side at finally earlier this year. So now when I do that big brain dump, I’m like, Oh, brilliant, like Hannah can help with all of this as well. So yeah, yes, it was a bit of a weird one bit random, and but it works for me.

Victoria: yeah, it’s so subjective, what works for some might not work for others. And I think the time element that you’ve just mentioned is something that when I started this role, and I had to start planning my own time and stuff like that, it was something that I initially did overlook. But it’s almost just as important as writing down the tasks themselves. Because like you’ve said, if you’ve got a big task, that’s going to take you three hours, and you’ve just got it written down, and you’re not thinking about the time that needs to go into it, you can easily overlook it. And then before you know it, you’re behind on it, because you haven’t put down and realised how long it’s gonna take you. And it is all about trial and error at the end of the day. I think it’s something that shouldn’t be understated and can take weeks or months to find a routine that works for you. Most marketing roles are incredibly diverse, and some tasks are creative. While some require more critical thinking and are extremely data driven. And others are a mix of the two. What advice do you have for marketing professionals looking to balance their creative thinking with structured routines that support productivity? And they some people say that it’s better to do creative tasks in the afternoon or some in the morning. So what what have you found sort of works best for you when looking at the two different tasks? 

Millie: Yeah this is like, it’s like the big question, isn’t it? Because I think a lot of marketers and a meet, especially like, I’m a generalist marketer. So the talks that I do have are really varied. So yeah, it’s like, oh, how do you what do you do first, and actually, last week, I was at inbound, which is hub spots, kind of like annual conference. And then had Andrew Huberman there who’s like a neuroscientist who talks a lot about productivity. He’s got a podcast. And I think he’s written a few books, but he, if you heard the phrase, like, you gotta eat the frog. Like when you like the biggest scary tasks, like first thing in the morning, like the big critical ones. So I think he’s a big believer in that. So he says, do the critical thinking tasks, almost like the the tasks that you just don’t really want to do at all and that they’re not not creative ones? First thing in the morning and get it out of the way. And then he’s, he’s the believer, have you saved the creative and like, kind of idea generating tasks in the afternoon? Well, I think what he said was really like he was really pushing rest. So and I think that really made me think like, oh, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a proper lunch break. I think that like a lot of us do. So he was like, if you do like that critical work in the morning And then have, like decent rest, like go for a walk, like get away from your desk, get away from your screen. And when you come back in the afternoon, you’ll be refreshed. And you will be able to do that creative task and do it well. Because I think what, what normally happens is people, whichever way they go, they’ll say like, they did the big critical task in the morning. And they don’t really get up and have a break, and they just plough through the day. And then when it comes to, like two o’clock, three o’clock, they’re like burnt out already. And it’s like, oh, now I have to, like do this big creative task, but I just don’t have the energy or the motivation to do it. And it’s because they didn’t take a break. And it kind of like, it’s obvious that and that’s what lunch breaks for. Right? But no, I feel like nobody ever takes them, maybe, maybe that’s just me, but I’m always just like, oh, just eat at my desk. And I’ll just keep going. Whereas I feel like, whichever way you prefer to do it, because like sometimes, if it’s just even writing, I find that I’m better at writing really early in the morning, I think I’m just less in my head because my brains like not awake yet. So I can just like write, without being, oh, that sounds rubbish. I’ll just write. Like, whichever way you do it. And I think that’s a personal thing. Like whether you want to do creative things in the morning or in the afternoon, I think either way, if you have that lunch break, and that rest, whatever you come to do in the afternoon, you’ll be more productive at because you’ll be like your body will just be better prepared to sit down and work for another couple of hours or whatever it might be. So yeah, we’re all maybe guilty of not taking proper lunch breaks. But I think it’s easier said than done.

Victoria: No, I completely agree with you. It’s like exercise at the end of the day, isn’t it, if you’re in the gym, you’re taking rests there, you need to give your brain the rest as well, especially from switching from one side of the brain to the other switching to the creative side, you do need a decent amount of time just to let your brain relax. And then when you come back to your desk, you’re fresh in it and you’re starting something completely new with a different area of your brain. And yeah, like you said, I think we’re all guilty of not taking lunch breaks, especially when you’ve got a crazy busy day, that ends up just  working against you at the end of the day, like you said, you feel burnt out. So it’s something I’ve done, especially over the summer, whilst we’ve had really nice weather, whenever it’s my lunch break, I always try and get outside just to  get some fresh air and have that pause. And since I’ve started doing that, I found him so much more productive in the in the afternoons. It’s crazy. So I think yeah, although it is trial and error for everyone, I think everybody should try and have a bit of a rest or try and have a bit of a lunch break. Because it’s not gonna work against them. At the end of the day, it’s what they need is what their body needs. You mentioned recently, you’ve currently gone through a major rebrand and a new website. Do you feel long term projects are harder to maintain productivity? And how do you break down your tasks for such a feat? That I assume it requires a lot of collaboration work? Do you find it harder to maintain productivity on group tasks where you’re having to fit in with other people’s schedules?

Millie: Yeah, so we’re currently rebranding at the moment I think it’s Yeah, been a very big task. Were aiming to launch a new brand and a new website for the new year. So it’s also since go. And yeah, we’ve got an amazing team at finally, obviously, like I said, Hanna joined the marketing side internal marketing side earlier this year. And so just between me and her, we’ve been finding, you know, our feet at the best way of working together. Because for me, it was really weird for like a year if it just being me and everything just being in my head. To then like working with someone and and building that team. Just us too. So that’s been like a journey for us. And Hannah’s great and we worked together really well. And then also obviously, the wider finally team where, you know, me and Hannah can’t do everything ourselves. But we do have access to the copywriters, the designers and like the other marketers in the agency. So when they’re not working on a client project, we can kind of pinch them for for finally stuff. And that’s where I think like the you need to be quite flexible, and be able to respond to the changes and that collaboration and communication because it’s, you know, if they’re blocked on a client project, and they’ve, you know, suddenly got some time, that’s great. We can, we could use them. But then if something does come in for the client, obviously that’s the priority for them. So we use we use forecast as like a project project management software, and it works really well. We use that across the agency, and it works really well for everyone to see everyone can see everyone’s schedules is really transparent. So if someone has got time, you can see that and You can just message them and say, Oh, hey, do you have an hour to help me with this thing? And we also have amazing project managers as well. And they meet every Friday and Monday just to like, make sure everything that’s in the schedule can get done. Or if there’s a gap that can be filled and like all of the client work is, is getting prioritised. But yeah, I think it’s that flexibility and the communication side of it, I think, as long as you’ve got that nailed down, then it makes the collaboration so much easier. And, yeah, just being that, you know, flexibility isn’t being able to have that buffer time to like, respond to things and push things back if you need to. And it not all being like, you know, big deadline, we need it now. Like, if you have the time and you’ve planned it out, then nothing should be like that. Stressful, easier said than, again,

Victoria: I think it’s especially important with a lot of people working remotely, whether it’d be hybrid or fully remote, to keep that communication line open, because it can be easy just to go about your day. Meanwhile, someone might know something important about one of the tasks that you are doing or know something coming up that needs to fit into the schedule. And because you’re not there face to face with somebody, it gets overlooked. And then it does cause problems later down the line. So I’ve got a similar thing with a couple of people in my team in the team that I’m in, we have three meetings, just like 1520 minute calls a week just to catch up. And so we know where we’re all. And if there’s any help that we need, we can ask it during that time. So we’ve got time allotted every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, just to catch up and ask for help. Because I think it’s also when the communication isn’t always there, it can be quite hard to see someone else’s workload and if they need help with something and they might not ask, because they think that you have an incredibly busy workload as well. But you might have a spare hour in the afternoon that you can help them. So yeah, I do think communication and flexibility are like the two most important things from working within a team and work in hybrid or remote roles. I saw a study recently by Bain and Company, and they found that 15% of company’s time is spent in meetings. And 50% of these meetings are deemed unnecessary when you’re working on these collaboration projects. How do you avoid unnecessary meetings?

Millie: Yeah, so I think, like, genuinely were actually really good at this. I’ve never really been in a meeting and thought, you know, you see those memes. And it’s like, the meeting that could have been an email. Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that. So we have Slack. So we’re always like messaging each other anyway. And then you can just jump on a call, like if you need to. But yeah, I think people are pretty good at saying, actually, like, not right now. But I will help you later. Like if they’re busy. So everyone’s pretty good at managing their own time, like because we have this much structure. So we don’t have managers per se. So everyone’s just accountable for their own work and getting things done. And then that does mean like you can reach out to anyone for help as well. It’s not you don’t you’re not blocked by just only being able to, to talk with one person. You could you can you know, everyone will help everyone kind of thing. With the meetings. Yeah, I don’t. So I don’t tend to join client calls. Because obviously I work on the internal side. Yeah, we’re about 30 people, as an agency. And yeah, I think we’re all pretty much on the on the same page. And if someone can’t join a meeting, then it’s not like the end of the world. They’ll just like because they’re you no independent and responsible for their own work. They’ll catch up when they can. And yeah, I think we’re pretty good at the avoiding unnecessary meetings.

Victoria: That’s good. I think when you’ve got those like, messenger star chats, it’s so easy just to drop a quick question in there. And by doing so, you’re saving so much time in meetings, because it’s not just jumping on a call and then ask them question then jumping off, it’s always you have to Hey, how was your weekend, you have a bit of a five minute chat at the beginning of a meeting. And then you have a bit of a five minute chat at the end of the meeting. So something that could be asked quickly over a chat suddenly turns into a 1520 minute meeting when it just absolutely doesn’t have to. And that’s not to say hold off on the niceties. But obviously, it doesn’t need to happen in every meeting. And therefore you’re just saving so much time throughout your day, just by dropping someone a quick line. Yeah. And I think yeah, I think maybe at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone started working from home, there wasn’t there was a lot more time spent in meetings, but I think companies that are carrying on with remote work or hybrid work they reckon eyes, this statistic, and especially agencies where your charge charging by the hour, you know, the value of your time. And so you know not to spend a lot of that time in unnecessary meetings. We’re also moving away from decades of micromanagement with an increase in working professionals being their own managers, choosing their own schedule lights do flexible working. This is allowing individuals to have a great work life balance, however, I can’t help but feel employees may not always have the tools required to successfully balance their work and home life. What’s your take on flexible working? And are there any specific tools or time of the day that you feel most productive?

Millie: Yeah, so with flexible working, I think is so important. And Finally, the agency have actually, like, we, I was gonna say, we have flexible working before it was cool. So before COVID, we actually were already working quite a flexible system. So basically, we have core hours between 10 and three, and we do 35 hour week. So those are the two hours in the day, you can you can make up whenever if you prefer working at night, then do it at night, if you prefer, you know, an early bird, do it in the morning, or appointments and just life generally, you can work around it. So you could do it eight hour day, one day or five hour day, the next day, as long as you’re getting all your work done, then, you know, he’s got quite a lot of autonomy. And with that, and I think that is a major factor in productivity. Because I think when you feel like you own your time, you’re more motivated to spend it wisely. Like you’re not being dragged out of bed and forced to go to the office when you don’t need to like it’s almost like, you feel like you’re going to work because you want to and you’re choosing to rather than that you have to obviously that obviously feels like you’ve got more control over it. Yeah. And I like hearing stories from friends about the working hours and managers and you know, having to go into the office and it just makes it I think, without that sense of trust from the employers. And like the feeling of all you have to do it like somebody else or something else is making you do something thing that makes things like unenjoyable. So yeah, and like what time I’m, I always feel more productive in the mornings. I’ve just always been an early riser. So yeah, I’m usually starting earlier. But then because of the way we work, I get to finish early as well, which this summer has been lovely.


Victoria: Yeah, it is, I feel like once you start working in a job that has flexibility like that, you realise just how important it is to you. Like you said, like you, if you start early, you get to finish early, and then you can go out and enjoy your evenings. I’ve previously worked in roles that were very structured with hours and haven’t had that flexibility. And now that I do have that flexibility in the role that I do. It’s something that I never want to take for granted, because it’s truly opened up everything. There’s very few times where people will ask you for plans in the evening. And you’ll have to turn around and say no, because you do get to plan your hours and you can work your job around your life. And I think more and more companies are starting to adopt that now because they just see how much work gets done when they’re not micromanaging time. And yeah, I know that there’s so many studies out there about employee satisfaction and just how employees feel about it. And I think the previous worry by employers were was that, oh, no, my employees, they’re just not going to do any work. But I think it’s really refreshing to see that that’s just not the case. And people do. People are working at their job most of the time because they love what they’re doing. And they’re passionate about what they’re doing. And that’s what you should try and find an employee and if you feel like you don’t have an employee that is passionate, and can manage their time, then I suppose it raises the question of why they’re there in the first place. Thank you so much for joining me, Millie that was really  interesting to hear all your insights about productivity and time management. I hope all the listeners have enjoyed what you’ve had to say and I’m sure they’ve got some tips that they can take away and put into their schedule and hopefully improve their productivity and time management too.