Birds Eye View

My Working Day with Managing Director James Smith

As originally featured in Business Leader

What time do you wake up?

Most mornings I’m up around 6 am. Whether I’m in the office, or not, I find the structure of a routine always puts me in a good mindset for the working day.

What do you typically have for breakfast?

I like to get up and out of the house as quickly as possible, so I typically start with a coffee from a local cafe at Putney station. If I’m in the office, I like to check my emails and the latest industry news while enjoying the breakfast provided by the agency – this could be anything from fresh fruit to croissants, to a simple yet effective cereal.

What is the rest of your morning routine?

Before I make my way to Putney station, a cold shower is a must. Ever since reading that Victoria Beckham enjoys a 90-second shower each morning, every shower starts like this. It’s amazing how much it invigorates you and sets you up for the day!

I really enjoy my 35-minute commute and while I don’t have time to get stuck into a book, it’s the perfect amount of time to get some life admin out of the way. I tend to not look at my phone until the early evening, so it’s good to get it done early. Then if I have the time, I look at my diary and to-do list to set my priorities for the day.

What is the first thing you do at the start of your working day?

I find getting into the office early works best for me, around 8 am – working late has never resulted in my best work. My calendar has kindly been scheduled to include ‘focus time’ between 8 am and 9 am every day and it’s always my most productive hour before people get to the office and meetings start.

Whether it’s in the office or at home, I like to catch up with the team first thing. No day is ever the same and there’s always a new challenge or agency initiative on the horizon so the morning check-in helps set some routine. I also usually have a quick meeting with at least one of the Senior Team which gives me a sense of the rhythm of the agency and where we should focus.

How do you prioritise your day’s work?

If I’ve managed to do it on my commute, I’ll have emailed myself with the day’s priorities. This means it’s at the top of my inbox when I get to my desk (or hot desk). If I can clear the most urgent tasks before 9 am I consider that a success, I hate having a backlog hanging over me!

Do you plan meetings or are they a waste of time?

Having made the mistake early on in my career I’ve always stuck to the idea of never going to a meeting unprepared. When I was a Senior Executive, I was invited to a client meeting without an agenda, innocently assuming that we were going to receive a brief from the team. I turned up and was asked to present our audience work on another part of their business.

While it wasn’t our fault, as an agency we were made to look unprepared and complacent. I was too inexperienced at that point to know the client wasn’t always right, but the shame I felt ensured that I never made the same mistake again.

In planning for a meeting, you can work out what you want to get out of it and manage the time so you’re not filling it unnecessarily.

I always ask how long the other parties have so you can manage expectations and any meeting I put in is always scheduled to end 5 minutes before the 30-minute or hour mark. This means you’re not back-to-back and have time to take a quick break before the next.

Do you have a working lunch or do you take a break?

I’ll always make sure to get outside at lunch – I live on the edge of Wimbledon Common which is great for a brisk walk, or at work it’s usually Covent Garden. Some of my best ideas come when I’m not at my desk and thinking time is crucial, it’s too easy to get sucked into emails or the next big piece of work. This means I usually return to my desk with a few more of my own ideas in my inbox as a reminder.

When does your working day finish?

I try to finish at 5 pm so there’s time to enjoy the evening and our flexible working means that this isn’t frowned upon (I hope!).

Now industry events are back, there’s usually something on Monday to Thursday evenings. Times have changed since we just used to go to the pub – it still happens, but we’ve also got a TKF Theatre Club, (it was Mamma Mia the other day) and a host of other social activities.

How do you prepare for the next day’s work?

It’s largely the same routine on the way home as the start of the day: email myself the next day’s priorities for the morning commute, then switch off. It’s all too easy to never log out of this industry.

What’s your favourite piece of technology?

My drone. Totally unrelated to work but I’ve always loved to see things from a different perspective.

Growing up I lived on a nature reserve, spending much of my summer holidays fishing and riding bikes around the often-deserted stretch of land. While I don’t fish anymore, my mum still lives in the same house. It’s still incredible to see the ponds from the air. It makes me reminisce on childhood memories and appreciate how lucky I was.

How do you switch off?

As well as with TKF, I’ve always enjoyed theatre as there’s literally no opportunity to check your emails and you have to concentrate on what’s in front of you. I find it the same with golf – nothing good ever happens on the course when you check your phone (at least to me anyway).

What is the best piece of advice you have received?

“It might not come naturally to you, but your hard work has paid off” Words were spoken to me by my biology teacher who was convinced I was stupid to apply for Durham University.

I’ve never been particularly academic, but I’ve always been a hard worker. I took this advice from school into my career in media. Right at the start, having lied about knowing how to use Excel, I copied formulas and taught myself until it stuck. A couple of years later one of our analytics team called me an agency super user – that was a proud moment for me and it’s a lesson I always try to remind myself of.