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How to cope as a team of one in internal communications

Today I'm going to answer a question from a reader about how to cope as a team of one in internal commuications. Here's the question:


I’m struggling with being a lone communicator. In an organisation where me, myself and I is internal comms, I scratch the surface with everything, and don’t feel I do a particularly great job of anything as I’m spread so thin. I’m tearing my hair out. And all while I run to stand still… the extra unpaid hours still don’t make much of a dent. Any guidance on how to tackle this would be warmly appreciated. Thank you, Joanna.

Ooof, I can FEEL the frustration through the screen, can’t you? This internal communicator is tired, fed up and really feeling stuck on the hamster wheel.




The first thing I want to tell you, because this is super important, is that if you feel like the reader quoted above then YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I hear this sentiment from internal communicators all the time. I hear things like:


  • I’m drowning in work

  • Being a team of one is impossible

  • I’m so busy but I’m not really making any impact


I’ve been that lonely soldier myself. I’ve been a team of one. I know how hard it is and how impossible it feels. I’ve posted about this on LinkedIn before and the post went crazy with 110,000+ impressions... always a sign I've hit a nerve.


But here’s the good news. There are practical things you can do to get off the hamster wheel, slow down and start to make things better. Let’s look one of these practical steps today.


Map out your time


If you often get to the end of your working day and you wonder where all the time went, you look at your to-do list which is still full despite a frantic 7 hours of work and you feel exhausted but frustrated at the same time, then I really recommend that you stop what you’re doing and map out out your time.


Take 15 minutes out of your day, turn off your notifications and shut down your email and create some data to show you how you’re operating at work. Because you can’t slow down or create space for impactful work until you first understand how you’re spending your time right now.


Here's how you can do it in internal communications


So here’s the practical exercise you can do. Think about all the tasks you’re juggling right now and map them out uin this template.



Write down everything and get granular, things like “Set up Zoom call for CEO townhall”, “Meet Head of IT to build relationship”, “format newsletter content into our digital tool” or “evaluate success of last comms campaign”. It’s helpful to go back through your sent items in your email and your calendar to remind yourself of what you’ve been spending your time on. Write down all your tasks for the last 2 weeks, or whatever period of time you think will give you an accurate picture of how your time is being spent.


Then sort your tasks into four categories as follows:


  1. Urgent and important (tasks that are aligned to the objectives in your comms strategy and have a deadline involved. i.e. there are consequences if this doesn’t get done on time)

  2. Important but not urgent (tasks that are aligned to the objectives in your comms strategy but do not have any deadline involved – this is often the stuff you push to the end of your list like building relationships, measurement, evaluation, strategic planning, creative thinking)

  3. Urgent but not important (tasks that have a deadline and need to be done, but aren’t aligned to your comms strategy – these tasks should be delegated to someone else)

  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that have no deadline and don’t make align to your strategy – things like party planning committees, pointless recurring meetings, reports that no one reads - things that you shouldn't be spending any time on at all)

Then stand back and have a look at it. Which category is the biggest? You may be surprised (or not) at how much of your time is spent on urgent work. Maybe everything is reactive in your role. And you may notice that the “important but not urgent work” pile is the sparsest. This is the stuff that will make you feel rewarded and fulfilled but because there’s no deadline it’s the easiest to push to the end of the list when you're drowning in urgency.


Now write down some reflections on this exercise. Create some data. For example, what percentage of your time are you spending on urgent work? What percentage of your time are you spending on work that is neither urgent nor important?





Discuss your findings


You now have enough information to have an evidence-based discussion with your boss about this. This is not a confrontation. This is a conversation. You might say something like:


“Hey boss, I got curious lately about how I’m spending my time because I really feel I can be making more impact in my role and bringing more value to the business. So I mapped out how I’m spending my time right now and was surprised at the results. Here’s what I found [discuss the data]. Could we have a conversation about how I could begin to make some changes to reduce the amount of time I spend on work that isn’t aligned to our comms strategy? I’d love your help to figure this out.”

In this way, you’re opening up a data-driven conversation and you’re actively asking your line manager to collaborate with you to reduce your busywork and increase the time you’re spending on important work. In this conversation you can suggest tasks that you should stop doing completely and get agreement from your manager to stop doing these.


This is the first step you can take to getting off the hamster wheel and begin to feel less frustrated and more satisfied.


Thanks for reading and stay curious,

Joanna


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