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Chaos in the Writers Room

They’re a wild bunch. Loud, raucous, laughing instead of keeping their heads down. You hear them all day throwing balls around or doing impressions. Your creatives: they’re basically a bunch of children.

Now, the fact is that the ability to be spontaneous and relatively unstructured is the sort of thing that creativity thrives on, and God knows the absolute last thing you want to do is shut down your writers’ ability to do good creative work. But sometimes it can feel like the hard part is getting them to work at all instead of poking around on Twitter all day.

So here are four things you can do to get them to be a little more productive.

  1. Commit to the Work in Advance
  2. Organize Deadlines – and Stick to Them
  3. Build a Routine Around Content Delivery
  4. Structure Accountability

Commit to the Work in Advance

Nothing – and I mean nothing – has done more to improve productivity in my writers’ room than committing to certain jobs in advance.

There’s a lot of reasons for this. But the main one is that it provides focus. You don’t let tasks float, and you don’t let creatives set their own agendas; that’s creating far too many opportunities for things to slip by week after week after week because, well, something else came up. Committing means that everybody has goals they have to hit. The work that needs to be done is clear, upfront, and easy to comprehend.

And once you’ve committed, you let your team loose to get the work done at their own pace – as long as they’re hitting their goals. This is a fantastic compromise between a freewheeling writers’ room where nothing ever really gets done and a regimented machine where nothing of any value gets done.

Organize Deadlines & Mile Markers – and Stick to Them

How do your creatives know what is and isn’t priority if you don’t make sure that deadlines are being adhered to?

This sounds straightforward, but it isn’t always; creative agencies set their own deadlines 90% of the time. We take the initiative in proposing and executing marketing plans – which means that we’re the ones who are responsible for the timeline. Being diligent in maintaining that timeline is hard, but incredibly important.

Setting deadlines – and mile markers to track progress in bigger projects – lets you and your team properly prioritize the work that needs to get done. Just make sure you’re building some crumple room around them for unexpected revisions, especially if you have the sort of team that thrives under the wire.

Build a Routine Around Content Delivery

We’ve all been there: the client is owed a copy deck and nobody ever sent it to them. Your content writer put it together, saved it to the team Dropbox – and then never told anyone about it. This isn’t a problem of productivity; it’s a problem of organization. And it’s one that it’s really easy to solve: build a routine around content delivery so that this kind of problem doesn’t happen.

You need to have clearly defined responsibilities and processes for making sure that the right content gets to the right people in the right way. That means establishing what is supposed to happen as soon as a content piece is finalized. Who is responsible for delivering it? What’s the next step for this project?

Build these routines into your work by including this information into whatever system you use to organize work; if it’s Asana, include in the task the next steps to be taken; who is the content to be delivered to? Is the writer herself responsible for implementing in the CMS? That’ll help avoid these kind of fusterclucks.

Structure Accountability

Ultimately, someone is responsible for making sure every piece of content gets written, implemented, and delivered. It’s time to figure out who that person is. If you leave it open-ended, nothing will get done; you need to land somewhere, so that someone is staying on top of this.

In other words, every content piece needs a project manager who makes sure it’s getting done in the right way, at the right time, in conjunction with a larger strategy, and is being delivered when and where it’s needed. That might mean taking some responsibility away from your creatives. It might mean giving them a little more. Really, the only way you can sort this out is by honestly assessing the experience and skillset of your team; can they handle project management, or are they the quintessential space cadets, head in the clouds like an Irish poet?

If so, maybe don’t put them in charge.

However you implement the specifics, the overall mission in getting your writers’ room in order is to create manageable, attainable goals with clear followup actions and reliable project leads who can keep the wheels turning.

Because seriously, if you let them do it themselves, it’s all gonna turn to crap.