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Gini Dietrich

Time Management: A Challenge to Make You More Productive

By: Gini Dietrich | January 13, 2014 | 
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Time Management: A Challenge to Make You More ProductiveBy Gini Dietrich

The new normal.

Doing more with less.

Logging 15 hours a day in the office.

Never shutting your computer down.

Working through weekends.

Having dinner with your family and then getting back on email.

Eating lunch at your desk.

Trying to figure out the elusive time management.

Do any of these sound familiar?

We are in a race to outdo one another in how busy we are and it’s harmful not only to our mental stability, but to that of our productivity and even our physical well-being.

Society Expects Us to Always Be Working

In some cases it may not be up to you.

When I began my career, I had to bill a minimum of 7.5 hours every day and put another 15-20 hours a week into new business. By the time all the administrative work (traveling, expenses, time entry, meetings) was included, I easily worked 80-100 hours a week.

It was required to get promoted and I didn’t know any differently.

Back then, email was just beginning to infiltrate businesses and you certainly didn’t have the opportunity to work from home.

So, every Saturday, I’d join the rest of my team in the office while we worked on the things we didn’t accomplish during the week.

I have very fond memories of that time with my team. We were all in it together and we had a great time. We played just as hard as we worked…and the play time was always in the office.

Our time management was rewarded based, literally, on the sheer number of hours spent in the office.

Now, when I think back on it, the bubblegum blowing contests and pulling pranks definitely could have gone away in favor of getting our work done during normal business hours.

But that wasn’t the culture and you certainly couldn’t make partner by not being in the office six days a week, even if some of that time was spent screwing around.

It was how I was trained and what I grew accustomed to. So much so, in fact, in the early days of Arment Dietrich, I expected the same of my team.

As it Turns Out, We’re All Busy

Today, of course, we’re dealing with unemployment rates that don’t seem to want to decrease (I read an article last week that said unemployment is finally down simply because people have stopped looking for jobs) and, for those who are employed, having to do the jobs of two or three people as business leaders remain skittish about the economy.

It’s a cycle and it will eventually change, but right now we’re all busy…and we’re not afraid to answer the “how are you?” question with how busy we are.

Clay Morgan sent an article around to our team that talks about this phenomenon.

In “Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are,Meredith Fineman uses the example of preparing to go on a date. The guy who had invited her out said he was “crashing on deadlines” and asked her to make the dinner reservation.

Never mind the fact she should have told that guy where to stick it, that behavior makes it sound like he’s so much more busy than she is and his time is way more valuable. He can’t even make a dinner reservation to impress a girl?

What is the world coming to?

We are all busy. Maybe you have a house full of young kids or you’re launching a start-up or you travel Monday through Thursday or you work for an organization like I did at the beginning of my career.

Whatever it happens to be, we all have 24 hours in our day (until Adam Toporek and I can figure out how to start auctioning off extra hours) and we all have the same amount of time to get things accomplished.

Time Management Challenge

But, here’s the deal: The longer you spend staring at your computer screen, the worse off you are. Our bodies were not built to spend 15 hours a day working.

In fact, we can really only focus on something for about an hour before our bodies and minds need a break.

During that time, we tend to wander over to Facebook or Twitter or visit one of our colleagues, but heaven forbid we go for a walk or go to the gym or even go out for lunch.

Society has become such that that is frowned upon and keeping insane office hours are what’s rewarded.

But I have a time management challenge for you.

This week, tell yourself you do not have the weekends to do any work and that you have to get it all accomplished in a mere five days.

If you’re really serious about it and don’t give yourself that extra two days, I guarantee you will get everything done because you will be focused. You won’t spend an hour on Facebook because you know you can’t make that hour up later.

Or maybe you tell yourself the computer doesn’t open after dinner. Or you’re not staying in the office past 5:30 p.m. Or you’re going to sleep in an extra hour (this is one I could use). Or you’re going to take a lunch break to exercise. Or you do something productive with that 15 minutes you have until your next meeting.

Try it. For one week.

It goes against everything we’ve been taught to believe. Certainly there is no way we can do more in fewer hours.

But not only will you get more accomplished, you’ll be less stressed, less hurried, and less harried.

And then, the next time someone asks you how you are, you can answer with, “refreshed,” or “productive,” or “fantastic.”

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

140 comments
KensViews
KensViews

Amen, amen, amen, Sister @ginidietrich Four things I might add to aid productivity: 1) STOP trying to do everything. Invest more time (yes, I said that) to determine what's most important, and focus on doing that; 2) Related to that, identify and stop doing, or do less of, the unimportant things, and time-wasters. Until you do that, you'll never have "enough" time; 3) Replace multi-tasking with uni-tasking. Although technology seems to allow us to mult-task, our brains aren't wired that way. You'd be amazed how much more efficient and productive you'll become when you focus on something intensely and without interruption for 15, 20 or 30 minutes; and 4) Return my calls.  :)

iwanskic
iwanskic

I don't think it's about having time but taking your time for something, whatever that may be. If someone tells me he doesn't have time for this or that I can't believe him. Life is about setting priorities and living according to them. Imagine what happens if I give the person above 10'000$ to do something he or she previously declined to do. Will the person still say that he or she doesn't have any time to do whatever I asked for? I frequently refer to this example if someone tells me he or she doesn't have any time for anything else. In my opinion it shows that life and our choices are all about setting priorities. In Ghandi's words: "action expresses priorities".

jdrobertson
jdrobertson

Could it be employees do not take vacation time because they love their job OR could it be they just don't have a happy home life or perhaps because they have a devious boss who'll transfer them to a lesser assignment out in the boonies the minute they walk out the door? Could it be their interests are so narrow they wouldn't know what to do or where to go if they were out on their own for a change of scenery. And since their storage space is so limited they'll just have to take their phone along with other various and sundry pieces of electronic equipment with them in the interest of security. Despite gorgeous ladies in gorgeous gowns, wonderful speakers and distinguished company I couldn't help noticing the other night at a big ticket restaurant 5 out of 6 diners had their phones glued to their ear and the rest made a place for them (phones) next to their knife and spoon in the event an important call comes in. Boorish, yes! Standard practice, yes! Nobody on the volley ball court just outside the window or in the pool or just enjoying each other's company. Hey! Have a great vacation! yippee! Wow! Let me know if you're having yet! 

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

Don’t sell it short Gini, I think we can get that auction thing to work!


While I never cared for that Times piece, your take on this is an approach that I think brings a lot of value.


I know people who are busy for what seems like busy’s sake; I also know people who are legitimately just busy. Their goals, responsibilities, or both simply exceed the workable hours in a month — no matter how effective and efficient they are. 


While a lot of short term busyness has to do with timing, I think in the long term it always comes down to tradeoffs and priorities — less money for more time, less audacious goals for more “balance”. (And I think it’s important in a forum like this to keep in mind that if you have a choice in any of this that you are very fortunate; many people do not.)


The best thing I’ve ever seen on this topic is a NatGeo documentary called Stress: Portrait of a Killer. Pretty sure I saw it on Netflix. Can’t say it’s changed my life much in the short term, but at least I know what the goal should be.


Now, if you can just send me this post once a month for a reminder, I’ll be all set! :)

JodiEchakowitz
JodiEchakowitz

I think this is a very timely post for all of us @ginidietrich as we look to kick off the new year (still can't believe we're already two weeks in!) with some new goals to guide us. 


With having a virtual agency, our approach is certainly different from those who work in a traditional office environment. But I would love to get some insights on the time management challenge from those companies who offer flexible hours, flexible vacation time. Are employees more productive when they can come in as late as they want or leave as early as they want, or take as much (or as little) vacation time as they want - so long as their work is done? Any thoughts on this?

bradmarley
bradmarley

I think a lot of us are scared to leave at 5:30, or not open our computers on weekends, because we think somebody is going to overtake us, and then our future (with the same company or line of work that promotes these thoughts) will be put into doubt.


I've worked hard the past few years to lessen the amount of time I spend working, while still getting the same amount of work done. There are days where I have to work late, but they are few and far between.


I enjoy this saying: Work to live, don't live to work.

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

Very timely post for me, too, Gini, as I have a week of both major work obligations and major life obligations ahead! Thanks for the thoughts. Sheryl Sandberg seems to espouse the same when she talks about leaving at 5, though her version does allow for working evenings and weekends sometimes. I think we can prioritize ruthlessly when we know our time really IS limited, but when we fudge a little, we end up not eliminating items that should be dropped as lower priority. 


Reminds me of the old snooze button dilemma... if alarm clocks never were built with them, most people would be better at waking up. 

theredheadsaid
theredheadsaid

Or we can have the kind of culture that doesn't judge us by our work output!

jono.smith
jono.smith

Great post, and a good opportunity to remind people that if you don’t take vacations, your staff won’t either. I spent two years living and working in London, and one of the more interesting transitions was working in an environment with 5+ weeks of mandatory vacation. Needless to say, those were the two happiest, healthiest and most productive years of my life. So take all your allotted vacation this year, and be careful of companies where the executive team wears their lack of vacation like a badge of honor.

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

I've been waiting to read a post like this! Thank god it's not just me who thinks this way. 

It's good to hear this from an actual professional. As a youngin', I keep thinking with fear, "Oh, god -- this is my future? 15-hour workdays?!" You actually inspired me to write a post I've been meaning to finish, Gini. So, thanks for writing this!  :-)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@KensViews I have some thoughts: 1) Are you saying *I* need to stop trying to do everything or is this to the masses? 2) I actually have a list on my desk of things only I can do. If I'm about to do something that's not on that list, I delegate it. 3) I totally, 100%, agree with this. I know some of my team will argue against it, but I truly believe focus is the only way to do things efficiently. 4) The last time you called, me I returned it!

Latest blog post: Goodwill is Good Business

BillSmith3
BillSmith3

@KensViews @ginidietrich Some of the best advice on top of Gini's. I hate the myth of multitasking and I dread that word when I look at job descriptions because it is a myth. 

theredheadsaid
theredheadsaid

@jdrobertsonIf I'm understanding your point, I can say that times in my life when I didn't have a lot going on personally, I became more of a workaholic, to fill the time. And all work and no play makes theredhead a dull girl.

amysept
amysept

@ginidietrich I was strict about it, but over the past few months those boundaries have slipped! Good reminder to get back to it :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JodiEchakowitz I have a very productive team, though I have to push them pretty hard sometimes on not working too much. I force vacations - even a few days off - when I can tell they're not getting enough balance. We also have unlimited vacation time. You get you stuff done, you can be off when you like. 

Latest blog post: SEO is Not Dead

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@bradmarley I think it's harder for someone in a job like you have. If I were still working for a big agency, you can bet I'd be working a zillion hours a week to stay ahead. It has to come from the company's leadership first.

Latest blog post: SEO is Not Dead

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@bradmarley I kind of find it difficult to get on board with the idea that working isn't living. Maybe I'm an unrealistic idealist, but I feel like it's possible to find work that aligns with your life and values enough that you'd keep working even if you were wealthy enough to retire. That's my goal, anyway.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@jelenawoehr Speaking of, have you seen that video on Reddit from the guy who couldn't figure out why he was oversleeping? He set up a camera in his room and discovered his dog was turning off his alarm when it went off. Freaking hilarious!

Latest blog post: SEO is Not Dead

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@jono.smith I used to operate that way...and then I realized how dumb that was. I like the idea of five weeks MANDATORY vacation. Sounds like something we should adapt.

Latest blog post: SEO is Not Dead

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JRHalloran I really think this way of thinking will be gone in the next 10 years. Your generation won't stand for it...and I love that about you youngins! You understand there are many ways to work and sitting at your desk from 7-7 every day ain't it.

Latest blog post: SEO is Not Dead

KensViews
KensViews

@ginidietrich   My thoughts were of course for the entire @SpinSucks community. I'm SO glad you agree with me on unitasking. BTW, @Jason K  @Lindsay and @Laura think you should agree with me on everything. Only #4 was directed at you, and I was merely banking advice for my next call!  BTW, IT"S SNOWING HERE!

jdrobertson
jdrobertson

@theredheadsaid@jdrobertson Perhaps I could have presented my point in a more artful manner. I was trying to say there are forces outside the workplace exerting great influence on the worker bees. There is a not so small minority of workers who  can't wait to get to work because they feel secure in an environment where there are rules and as long as the rules are followed they cannot get themselves into trouble. To them the outside (of the workplace) world is a chaotic mess.

bradmarley
bradmarley

@ginidietrich Probably true. Every day when we have to enter time we are reminded, if only indirectly, how much "work" we've done. You know as well as I do that the person who bills 7.5 hours can do just as much as the person who bills 11. Management needs to say that it's okay to shut it down at a normal time - especially to those who are just entering the workforce. A work life balance is important, even if you have no other commitments. That's my thought.

bradmarley
bradmarley

@jelenawoehr That's everyone's goal, no? To find work that defines us? I'd love to find it. Maybe when I do my opinion will change. :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@jelenawoehr @bradmarley I agree with you, Jelena. My dad likes to tell people I created a job for myself that allows me to do what I love (write). I love to write. Love. But I sometimes need a break. I go through down periods where I just don't want to write another word...and it becomes work. And then my passion returns. So I think, even when you're working your passion, you still need time off.

Latest blog post: SEO is Not Dead

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

@ginidietrich I agree! I swear, if I ever start an agency of my own, I'm going to have a strict rule -- the first two hours of every workday are yours. Go to the gym, pay your bills, go grocery shopping, etc. -- get all of that stuff out of the way before noon. 

After lunch, you do work unbothered by every other worry in your life. 

Sound like a plan? (I'm serious.) Is it possible? 

theredheadsaid
theredheadsaid

@bradmarley@ginidietrichYeah, and the faster/more efficient workers get "rewarded" with extra work for being fast/efficient!  That turns good workers into "butts in seats" workers who wont' work hard if they get penalized for it!
Luckily being self-employed, I can bill based on what I am accomplishing, or charge a higher hourly rate. If they remark, "boy you're expensive!" I can confidently say, "well, I have been doing this so long I can get it done well in half the time of cheaper labor."

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@Randy Milanovic @ginidietrich @bradmarley Well done! I always read those "what people regret on their deathbeds" stories and they're always all about "nobody regrets not spending more time at work," and I'm over here like "DAMN STRAIGHT I WOULD REGRET THAT IF I HADN'T ACCOMPLISHED ENOUGH!"

bradmarley
bradmarley

Randy - I admire your tenacity in beating a shitty disease into submission and moving your business to the next level.

If I owned my own business (that incorporated elements of my passions) I would probably have a different take on this topic. But in an industry where the number of hours we work is still held in such high esteem, I am almost more focused on ensuring I maintain a balance.

Randy Milanovic
Randy Milanovic

@ginidietrich @jelenawoehr @bradmarley Agreed. In 2009 i was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. As I lay in my hospital bed, I had an epiphany - that I hadn't accomplished enough yet. Charged with that realization, I fought back and won my battle, reinvented my business and launched one of the fasted growing online marketing firms in North America. Exhilarating as this has been (and continues to be), I make it a point to take at least one weekend day off and enjoy a big sudsy bubble bath. :-)

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@ginidietrich @bradmarley This is true. (And why is Disqus now tagging me in my own replies to people replying to me??? It didn't do that before! Um... anyway.) However, I think for people who have work that aligns with their core values, their recreation will be similar in that sense. For instance, I love to write too, but what I do when I'm tired of writing--ride my horses--isn't all that different in terms of what it represents to me. Writing is all about constantly tweaking and building until it's perfect, and so is the type of horsemanship I practice. I could go on and on about the similarities in mindset, but I need to go ride a horse.

Digital_DRK
Digital_DRK

@JRHalloran @ginidietrich JR, I've heard that Google's work model is even more relaxed, Google has no work hour restrictions, the only stipulation is that you meet or exceed your responsibilities, goals, objectives.  

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