Ben Childs
By Ben Childs | Uncategorized | January 2, 2014

Task Management for PPC (Part 2)

In Part I, we went over the reasons why using a dedicated task management system is imperative to getting sustained, scalable, success in AdWords. From keeping you focused on what matters, to making sure that nothing important gets forgotten, there are too many benefits not to be using one. In this post, we’ll walk through my personal task management journey, from my days as a freelancer to the systems our tech team utilizes today.

Pen & Paper

I’m not proud, but I started out using pen and paper. In those days, when a new client signed up I would go to Sudachi (a sushi restaurant about 5 blocks away from where I lived), get a $2 beer and write out as much as I could about what I’d do in the account and the order in which I’d do it. Some of this had already been formulated during the account audit, but this was a chance to actually write myself a functional road map.

sushi bar
Sometimes you just need to lock yourself in a room and strategize.
For ongoing management, I used legal pads to keep an ongoing list of the things that I had done, and a separate list of things that I had yet to do. In terms of a “system”… well, there really wasn’t one. My task list for the week was compromised entirely of whatever the client wanted me to do and whatever else seemed like a good idea.Pros

  • Visual: As a visual thinker, pen and paper allowed me to stay focused in that way (this could mean increasing font-size in my handwriting to make a task three-times larger than other ones (BRING DOWN CPC!!!), drawing outlines and stars next to important items, etc.). I didn’t have a system, but if something was important, I could make it look important.
  • Tough to go numb: A problem that I’ve had with digital to-do lists: if something just sits there for a while, for whatever reason, your brain can just go numb to it. Without getting too deep into the science, this happens less when handwriting on paper as this interaction using more senses and connects you to the work in a more intimate way.
  • Customization: You really can organize however you want. I used basic lists, but if I felt like mind-mapping or making a basic kanban board, it was possible. If I wanted to batch tasks by client, due date, or by type of task (early on, I could just put some music on and do negatives for all my clients in succession), I could. I didn’t need to use Google to see if my task management system could do it.

Cons

  • Forgetting: Pen & Paper fails in the most critical way – it’s extremely easy to forget things. It became difficult to remind myself how long it had been since I’d done something. The fact that your computer will never forget a task is certainly a benefit of going digital, whereas with paper, you get out what you put in (and you have to put in a lot).
  • Reactive: Using Pen & Paper, I was always beholden to the most obvious outstanding tasks (whether dictated by the client or the account itself). I kicked into gear once the problem arrived (and generally not beforehand). One of the benefits of using recurring tasks is that it keeps you proactive in the account and out in front of problems. There are ways to do it on paper, but I never got there.
  • Codifying: This could be another blog post in itself, but a major benefit to going digital is that it makes it easier codify what works in an account and scale that knowledge by copying and pasting. Over time, you refine your processes and master them in a manner that’s easy to communicate to someone else. In the early days, rather than following my codified “new account set-up” process, I’d be at Sudachi reinventing the wheel each time, which would lead to a lot of extraneous clicks.

What I would’ve changed I can’t really recommend using Pen & Paper if you’re working on campaigns with any complexity. I did it simply because it was what I inherited from the previous company that I worked for. That being said, it really works for some people. If you must:

  • Get organized: I should’ve used a binder with client-specific folders to keep all of my notes. I should’ve also put meta-data on all my notes (dates, outcomes, notes on my notes, etc.) so that they meant something when I looked at them later. I also should’ve kept a master page at the front where I kept the broad strokes (went on Bing, paused main campaign, etc.) that I could see them over a timeline.
  • Create a master list section: This would be where I housed my codified to do lists. Got a new client? I could open it up to “new client set up” checklist and never forget to connect Analytics to AdWords again. Time to do weekly maintenance, monthly report or quarterly review? I could open it up to the section and at least have something to work off of (and improve upon!).
  • Use calendars: Even if I missed a deadline, at least I’d know what I’d missed (and what I still needed to do!).

Trello After some serious Googling, my next stop was Trello from Fog Creek Software. It uses customizable “boards”.  Trello is really popular with Development and Sales teams, as you can put items (bugs or clients) through stages of a process with ease. I used the basic Kanban set-up of To Do-Doing-Done with each card representing a client. Once I had finished their weekly report, I moved them to Done.

trello

Back of one of my client cards.
Pros

  • Visual: If you logically set up your board(s), it’s extremely easy to see the current status of your projects.
  • Focus: It was really easy to see which accounts needed work on that day and specifically what I needed to do. Clients in “To-Do” had to wait their turn, and when I moved a client to “Done,” they were done.  I’d add any ideas, communications, etc. as notes into their card.  I’d get to them later, once they were back in the “Doing” pile.
  • In-card notes: I could create notes and checklists, assign due dates, and attach files/reports on the back-side of the cards. Each card kept a logged history, so I could easily access an overview of the recent things that I had done.

Cons

  • No recurring tasks: The way I used it, I was being reactive, just like with Pen & Paper. There’s a workaround (see below), but whatever looked like it needed attention at the beginning of the week went on the back of the card. As I’ve mentioned in the past, if you only work on parts of the account that are screaming for attention, the rest of the account will soon be screaming right along with them (this is not a good thing).
  • Variety of scaling issues: I used Trello pretty poorly, (see below, again) but even so, it would be tough to keep everything straight if you have multiple accounts.  It’d also be nearly impossible to get other people up to speed if they weren’t using the board every day and communicating via internal commenting. If you’ve got 50 specific tasks across 12 accounts, how do you know what your next actions are on a personal-board (not client-board) level? I’m sure I’ll get an email from someone with the easy answer, but like I said… I’m sure I used it poorly.

What I would’ve changed: As I mentioned above, it’s easy to see now that I was using Trello badly (back when I used it about a year ago). If you’re interested in Trello, here’s how I would use it for AdWords management today:

  • Each client gets its own board: There are too many moving parts in an account to put it all on the back of one card. I should’ve put everything that I didn’t want to forget on the client’s board, classify how often it needed to get done, and gone from there.
  • Copy boards: Having a basic set-up template is just so valuable. I should’ve created a dummy board that had the majority of the recurring work I wanted to do and then copied that board for each client. Much like the “master list” above.
  • Create a “comments” card: There is some robust internal commenting in Trello. However, if you’ve got 40 tasks that each have a card for a specific month of work, hunting down your next task is going to be tough. For my mental health, it would’ve been way easier had I just kept a “comments” card, that I used like an internal CRM, making it easy to get someone (or myself) up to speed.

Asana After trying out both Trello and Asana at the same time for a little while, I settled on a move to Asana. It was prompted by the need to scale my AdWords management principles in anticipation of hiring technicians to work within the accounts, and it has really fit the bill so far. Pros

  • Scalable:  Although there aren’t “template” projects, creating your master list of projects to duplicate is easy. When a new client signs up, the basic roadmap for success  just needs to be applied then tweaked to fit their business needs.
  • Built for teams: It’s really easy to assign entire projects to people, or tasks within the project. We can comment within the system to keep a record of interactions, opportunities and concerns. We can also follow tasks to make sure that they get done, which is good when we’re teaching new employees. In fact, Asana brags that it creates “Teamwork without email,” and it comes pretty darn close.
  • Solves the problems in Part I: Asana is a dreamland for recurring tasks that we can overlay to make sure that we stay proactive and nothing falls through the cracks. It also has a central task list, where everything that’s due soon across projects is in one place, which keeps us focused on what matters, no matter how big.

Cons

  • Still a list: Although calling it a to-do list would be doing it a disservice to its in-depth capabilities, at the end of the day… it’s still a to-do list. If you’re a visual person, like myself, it can be difficult to interact with Asana in a way that makes sense or compels you to action.
  • Time/Calendar integration: Asana touts to be something that runs/controls your life from within the platform, but you can’t set due/dates or reminders for specific times. While there is some calendar integration, it could be way better, where events could be made projects, and tasks (or projects) could be made events.
  • Mobile: The Android app was recently released, and we’re still waiting for the iPad app. However, it has come a long way. Trello, on the other hand, has amazing apps that I love, and are very intuitive. Asana still beats pen and paper in this category, however.

The point of all this is, when you’re working in AdWords, keeping what you’re doing straight is almost as important as what you’re doing. Perhaps more so. As with anything in life, the specifics of how you go about setting up your system aren’t nearly as important as just using something. Consistency beats optimization here. What Systems has helped you to success in PPC Management?

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