shutterstock_128056376For many marketing and creative teams, every day at the office is like a rapid descent into the bowels of hell. It’s chaotic, overwhelming and fast-paced to the point that many days pass by like a blur, leaving team members questioning exactly what, if anything, was actually accomplished at the end of the day. Unfortunately, it’s also a vicious cycle of missed deadlines, fire drills, overtime and blown budgets.

Everyone recognizes the problem, and there’s plenty of blame and finger-pointing to go around. But, there doesn’t seem to be a way to claw your way out of the abyss with real solutions, and we become calloused to the chaos, conditioned into thinking that’s just how it has to be. And, like the classic film Groundhog Day, we repeat the same chaotic descent again the next day.

Like Dante’s Inferno, work Hell takes many forms –nine to be exact—but, there is hope. With the right tools and a new approach, it is possible to extinguish the fire and escape the 9 Circles of Work Hell. Here’s how:

1. Tool Hell

Work has become a torture chamber of epic confusion. You’re running too many tools, all designed for a specific purpose: spreadsheets, Word documents, email, task management, PPM solutions, etc. The mess creates information and communication siloes that result in duplication, outdated information and eons of wasted time. In fact, the average executive loses 6 weeks each year searching for missing information—an average of 1 hour per day, per person.

Escape Plan: Consolidate work management and communication onto a single system that’s accessible by the entire team to minimize or eliminate duplication, lost data and silos. Choose integrated tools that play well with others to streamline processes, rather than add to the complexity. Start slowly, implementing best practices and new solutions in a phased approach so as not to overwhelm the team and bring productivity to a screeching halt.

2. Rework Hell

Every day feels like a demonic carousel of do-overs, going around and around but never making any progress. The lack of complete project data at the outset requires team members to chase down what they need. Along the way, stakeholders disagree on the purpose or expected outcomes of projects, leading to confusion and major mid-stream changes. Everyone is frustrated by missed deadlines, inflated budgets and wasted time. It may be comforting to know you’re not alone. Up to 40% of project spending is wasted on re-work, and your colleagues across the industry are wasting 14% of their day duplicating information, too.

Escape Plan: Align projects with strategic objectives to clarify goals and expected outcomes and ensure everyone is on the same page. Use templates to gather complete project details, such as creative briefs, bidding and purchasing requirements, review/approval chain of command and more. Once stakeholders align on the objectives, keep them engaged with real-time feedback and incremental approvals along the way, housed in a central location, to keep them from throwing a wrench into the works at the last minute.

3. Fire Drill Hell

The work inferno is widespread: nearly a third of workers say “fire drill hell” is their personal flaming purgatory. Fires pop up faster than anyone can extinguish them, and just as one is beat back, another suddenly rages. How did everything become an emergency? With no standardized processes and no visibility into who’s working on what, unrealistic deadlines, over-allocated resources and outrageous expectations result in stress, burnout, missed deadlines, overtime, frustration and disengagement on a massive scale. U.S. companies alone lose up to $300 billion a year due to absenteeism, tardiness, lost productivity, turnover and stress-related medical costs.

Escape Plan: First, identify the problem. Is it poor planning, lack of organization, follow-through or mismanagement? Then, gain visibility into existing workloads and capacity to see where shortfalls lie—perhaps you’re simply over-extended. Once you assess the landscape, identify dependencies and responsibilities up-front so that everyone knows what role they play at each stage of the process, then formalize workflows and plan realistic timelines based on known capacities. Finally, recognize that emergencies will still happen and build in time to deal with them, but communicate the impact of fire drills to stakeholders so that they understand—and approve of—any delays on other projects that result.

4. Silo Hell

Everyone is working in solitary confinement. The lack of an efficient, effective communications platform and standardized tools has everyone completely disconnected. Each team—and worse, each individual—uses their own favorite method of tracking, updating and reporting on project status. It’s a common problem: half of organizations suffer from departmentally siloed information and cross-functional barriers.

Escape Plan: Adopt common systems, tools and protocols across the organization. Standardize on a specific system for tracking project status, communicating about projects and collaborating among team members. Be mindful not to just add more tools to an already crowded silo farm, but choose tools that integrate well to ease the transition.

5. Reporting Hell

Towers of spreadsheet doom overwhelm the office. Pillars of paper and copy upon copy of electronic versions are everywhere, but no one knows which version is the most up-to-date and accurate. Worse yet, projects continue to move forward (hopefully) while spreadsheets live in a static state, which means spreadsheet tracking systems are outdated before the ink is dry. Not to mention the exorbitant time wasted tracking down and compiling reports—time that could be better spent doing real work. The priority becomes completing the report, rather than executing work, and there’s still no clear answer on completion dates or where bottlenecks occur.

Escape Plan: More than 75% of companies say their biggest priority is to improve visibility and awareness of project status across the organization. Start by designing a communication plan and reporting protocol as part of the planning stage of each project to outline who should receive updates, what type of data and how often they need it and exactly how it will be stored and distributed. Use time tracking or work management tools to gain visibility into the existing workload, resources and real-time project status to eliminate reporting altogether and provide real-time status information that’s accessible anytime, to anyone, from anywhere.

6. Meeting Hell

Excessive meetings have turned your team into the working dead, sucking the life, productivity and creativity out of everyone. Status meetings, collaboration meetings, brainstorming meetings and review meetings all add up to mostly wasted time and money—to the tune of $37 billion in salary cost alone for U.S. businesses. Employees end up working overtime just to get the work done that they could have been doing instead of sitting in a meeting.

Escape Plan: Eliminate status meetings with real-time reporting built into the work management system. Eliminate review meetings by using a single, asynchronous collaboration tool that allows for built-in feedback, collaboration and measurement to allow team members and stakeholders to weigh in with input in full visibility of everyone. Of course, since some meetings are inevitable, establish meeting black-out times that preserve and protect some productivity time in everyone’s calendar, and when you do meet, stick to the agenda.

7. Interruption Hell

The classic “flash in the pan” problem has everyone distracted by constant interruptions, including task requests and assignments made by emails, phone calls, drive-by visitors and sticky notes, all of which make it nearly impossible to get any work done. The average employee endures more than 50 interruptions per day at 5 minutes each, consuming about 50% of the total workday. As a result, productivity crawls, frustration abounds and deadlines are missed.

Escape Plan: Establish and enforce a formal work request system to triage and prioritize incoming requests to reduce interruptions from random work requests. Require requestors to submit new work requests to a specific email alias, and use templates to gather all information up front and map requests against corporate objectives. At the individual level, allow creative team members to set “do not disturb” hours where they can concentrate on concepting, copywriting, or design work. And, everyone can benefit from carving out specific times during the day to deal with email, rather than just jumping on it the moment it arrives.

8. Email Hell

Email has become a soul-sucking abyss in many organizations. The constant influx smothers team members in information overload to the point that colleagues have to resend emails “to put it at the top of the inbox,” which only adds fuel to the email hellfire. Nearly 60 percent of workers spend half their day filing, deleting or sorting email information, costing approximately $31 billion in lost productivity. Do you really want to pay employees for managing email?

Escape Plan: The answer is simple: eliminate the use of email for making work requests, status updates, asking for or clarifying information, sharing documents, asking for feedback or approvals and more. Instead, tame the beast by moving all of these functions onto a single work management tool that includes collaboration and notification functions to keep all communication within the context of work and visible to the entire team.

9. Collaboration Hell

Collaboration has become a shower of hot sparks and ashes. Fragments of collaborative efforts are everywhere—email, instant messages, note pads, cocktail napkins. Implementing a purpose-built suite has only made it feel forced and superfluous, and data is still siloed between the collaboration platform, shared folders and email. Despite the rise of business-focused social networking tools to solve the problem, poor collaboration and ineffective communication is to blame in 86% of workplace failures.

Escape Plan: Whether you’re working in a document, spreadsheet, mock-up or proof, collaborate with stakeholders in the context of the work and provide feedback in a central location in full view of the entire team. This way, everyone can understand the reason and process behind changes to eliminate discrepancies, miscommunication and confusion. Don’t simply deploy a collaboration platform and expect it to work—you must eliminate dependence on 1-to-1 channels like email, phone and chat/IM for project-related discussions and instead use a multi-channel platform that captures and records the conversation in all its forms for future reference.

Rise out of the Ashes

If work is hell now, the worst thing to do is to let the brimstone and hellfire continue to burn—it will only get worse. Rest assured that all hope is not lost—you have options to put an end to the perpetual, chaotic downward spiral. With the right tools, tactics, policies, procedures—and commitment to rising out of the ashes—any marketing group can escape the 9 Circles of Hell, regain their sanity and restore productivity to work better as a team and deliver better results.

Read more: