Winding its way through the roaring waters of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, the Zambezi River rumbles and churns with foaming white water rapids, steep drops and rocky boulders. Ranked as one of the top ten locations in the world to go white water rafting by National Geographic, the Zambezi River is, from personal experience, both terrifying and an incredible adrenaline rush.
Trapped under the raft after the first time we flipped over, I was certain that this was my end. I was overwhelmed, out of breath and wildly grasping for the surface. I was drowning (or so I thought) but within seconds, I had risen to the water line and was able to grab the hand of my guide who helped pull me back into the raft.
Working in public relations may seem far removed from my experience on the Zambezi, but with the peaks and troughs of a typical work cycle, it is important to learn how to keep your head above the water when multiple projects, with multiple upcoming deadlines, suddenly appear on your desk.
Rapids are classified by numbers; one being the easiest to maneuver through, and five being the toughest. In PR, there are class-one days and there are class-five days. Sometimes accounts are slow. Clients are reviewing work, there is a lull in media outreach or your deliverables have been submitted for review. These days are manageable and low-stress.
Other days, an onslaught of work finds you without enough hours in the day and a seemingly insurmountable mountain of projects. These are class-four and class-five days. On the Zambezi, one of the class-four rapids is called the Gnashing Jaws of Death. One of the class-fives is simply named Oblivion. With names like these, it isn’t hard to imagine what a class-four or five work day might be like.
So how do you find a calm space in the midst of such a chaotic, overwhelming situation? Here are a few tips:
- Take a break. It may seem counter-intuitive, but giving your mind a chance to clear and breathe is like hitting the reset button.
- Make a list. Not only will this help you identify the work you need to complete, it will also provide you with a sense of accomplishment as you check each project off.
- Create a timeline. Build yourself a schedule with approximately how many hours you will spend on each project. Realizing that this is a dynamic document, it will help you prioritize projects based on the length of time you anticipate them taking.
- Consult your team managers. Letting your team leads know your schedule and workload is critical to staying afloat. Perhaps deadlines can be adjusted or another set of hands brought in. Your managers are there to help you, but can only do so if they know where you’re at.
Most importantly, know when you are about to hit a class-six rapid. Aptly named the Devil’s Toilet Bowl, this class-six rapid forced us to leave our boats and walk alongside the river – letting our rafts toss and tumble amidst rocks and whirlpools. If your workload is unmanageable, as this rapid was unrunnable, learn that it is okay to say no. Talk to your managers, explain your situation and ask for help. That is why each raft has a guide who is proficient and knows the river well. It is better to flag that you do not have capacity than to try to do it all and compromise quality.
Every account has a lifecycle, meaning spikes and class-five days will eventually come to an end. Remember that as you feel yourself struggling to find the surface.
And would I suggest taking a trip down the Zambezi with all its ups and downs? Absolutely.
Image courtesy of Christopher Jensen.