Gini Dietrich

How Time Management and Deep Work Go Hand-in-Hand

By: Gini Dietrich | September 19, 2017 | 
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How Time Management and Deep Work Go Hand-in-HandAbout three months ago, I wrote about time management—about how to work less than six hours a day and accomplish more than you do now.

I promised I would come back with an update on how it worked for me, and ideas you can steal.

The short story is: I worked more than six hours a day.

But.

I accomplished a ton more than normal.

It also doesn’t work as well as it sounds on paper.

I know, big surprise.

But I was committed to trying—if only to provide more realistic tips for you.

The Time Management Challenge Doesn’t Work

If you travel a lot, it is pretty much impossible to work less than six days and accomplish more.

I’ve done five speaking engagements in the last three weeks—and time management now is a farce.

My inbox is stuffed full of emails, my task list continues to grow, and I have a list of ideas in my notebook five pages long.

They say it takes a week to catch up for every day you’re out of the office.

But, with my new time management model, I want to prove that wrong.

I’m going to bet that time will be reduced by more than half.

It also doesn’t work if you spend most of your days in meetings.

My Mondays, Tuesdays, and half of Fridays are full of meetings, and that’s all I can accomplish.

But Wednesdays and Thursdays?

You can bet I have focused and uninterrupted time to work those days.

And, it doesn’t work if you have a day full of constant interruptions.

It could be you have meetings spread out throughout the day.

Or colleagues who like to chit-chat.

Or you keep email and Slack and your social networks open all day.

Those little interruptions, while seemingly manageable, make it impossible for you to get your best work done.

When Time Management Does Work

I’m not going to sit here and pretend we don’t all have different days.

And, in some cases, we can’t control anything, let alone try to work only six hours in a day.

But there are some time management things you can do right now to start just once a week.

Choose one day that is yours. A day you will not let anyone interrupt.

When I started doing this, it was Fridays.

I’ve since learned that’s not such a great day because clients and colleagues need stuff before their weekends begin.

Now I prefer Wednesdays or Thursdays.

Just choose one day.

And block it off on your calendar so no one will schedule meetings and, more importantly, so you will protect the time.

Then, at the start of each week, decide what you’re going to do on your deep day of work.

In two-hour increments, block your day off even further.

How You Can Build Your Time Management Routine

So, let’s say you choose Thursdays.

On Mondays, look at your task list and decide what you need to accomplish that week.

Then start blocking your time.

On Thursday from 9-11, you will do one part of the project.

From 11-11:30, you will check email, Slack, and your social networks.

Then, from 11:30-12, you will get some lunch.

From 12-2, you will work on the second part of the project.

Then take another hour break.

From 3-5, you have one more block of time.

And voila!

You’re finished…and you’ve accomplished a ton.

I’d even venture to guess, if you really wanted to buckle down, you could skip the two breaks and finish working early.

That’s always fun, too.

Eventually, you’ll add more than one day to your calendar.

This will allow you to accomplish a ton every day—and focus meeting time only once or twice a week, as I do.

My Routine Has Changed

Now that I’m back from my whirlwind trips—and have no travel until the end of October (yay!)—I am going to get back into my own time management routine.

When I wrote about this at the start of summer, I had a routine that worked.

But now my Small Child is at school much further away, and I have to leave 30 minutes earlier to get her there on time.

(For those of you with kids, it’s almost shocking when they go to school and have to be there on time. Am I right? No more lollygagging in the mornings!)

Not to mention, it’s about to get too cold to ride outside, so I’ll soon be on the trainer.

Here is what my schedule on Wednesdays and Thursdays looks like:

  • The alarm goes off at 5 a.m., and I feed and walk Jack Bauer.
  • I am on my bike—inside or out—by 5:30.
  • I wake up the Small Child at 7:00 and we leave at 7:30.
  • Right now, the easiest (and fastest) way to get her to school is on my bike. It takes me an hour, roundtrip, so I’m at my desk by 8:30.
  • From 8:30-9:00, I check emails, Slack, and the social networks. Then I’m ready to buckle down.
  • From 9:00-11:00, I do not let distractions get me. I turn off Slack and email. I don’t open social media. I’ll work on my most pressing priority.
  • Then I take a break. Typically it’s to eat because I’m riding three hours a day right now. Mmmmm…food.
  • From 12:00-3:00, I once again focus. I already know I cannot write a blog post after 3 p.m., so I spend the first part of that time block writing the next day’s content. Then I work on my next priority.
  • At 3:00, I open my distractions and allow myself to answer emails, get to the things people need from me, stop ignoring my team, do my busy work, and check in on the social networks.
  • Then, from 3:30-5:00, I have one more burst of deep work before I jump back on my bike to get the small one from school.

That puts me at more than six hours of deep work, but it works for me.

And, if I really had the brain power, I could probably work straight through without breaks.

The two hours of breaks I have scheduled could morph into doing other things around the house or eating bonbons and getting a massage.

But then again, if I did that, the smaller stuff—like email and social media and Slack—would get ignored.

Then it would pile up, and I would need to use my deep work time to catch up.

The Moral of the Story?

The moral of the story is, for most of us, it’s pretty impossible to work only six hours a day.

Sure, it can be done, and maybe you start out doing it just once a week and build from there.

But, in our line of work, there are journalists and clients and executives and colleagues who work 24/7.

And need stuff when we’d prefer not to be working.

It’s just the nature of the beast.

That doesn’t mean time management and deep work won’t work for us.

We can control some of it.

And that is my challenge to you.

Choose one day every week that is yours and protect it fiercely.

Define what it is you are going to accomplish before that day arrives, and work hard to do only that.

I guarantee you will look forward to that day each week, and it will be your most productive.

Now it’s your turn.

What have you found works best when you have large projects to accomplish?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Adam Cormier

    Lots of great stuff in here! Time management can be easier said than done… and you outlined an approach that can work for a lot of people, especially in agency land.

    • I hope it works for people in agency land. I know when I worked in an agency, it was pretty difficult to command my own schedule. But if you block out one day a week, people tend to adjust.

      • Adam Cormier

        It also helps to start and end each day. Start – outline the day’s priorities, etc. End – review accomplishments and prioritize unfinished projects for tomorrow.

        • Love that! I am going to review accomplishments right now. Thank you!

  • Love this…I also cannot write any original content after 3pm. It’s the witching hour. You know what would be a good topic for another post? Time management on the road…how do you try to keep some semblance of continuity with health, work, and family while traveling?

    • Oh man. That’s a GREAT topic. I’m not sure I have the magic pill for that, though. I’ll have to think about it. It’s really, really difficult (one look at my inbox will tell you that’s the case). But you just gave me an idea…hmmmm…

  • I agree that I can’t write much after 2 or 3 pm. I set aside that time for more analytical or rote-type work. I try to do my writing first thing in the morning. I’m fresher and my manager doesn’t come in until later (after working from home). Office interactions are more difficult (and I’m as guilty as my co-workers) to manage. I can have a mean focused look when I’m concentrating! Sometimes I have to explain my on/off status. Chuckle.

    • You should wear sunglasses and noise canceling headphones and see who dares interrupt you!

    • Debbie Johnson

      I find closing my office door helps manage the office interactions.

  • Dawn Buford

    Time management is personal to each and every one of us, but I think we can all agree that taking one day for ourselves is doable. I also have a hard time concentrating on getting any meaningful work done late in the day, so that is when I take time to catch up on business reading.

    • That’s a really great idea. We all could do better about doing our deep work when our brains are most engaged.

  • I find this process is great for my morale alone… The first time you outlined this, I was skeptical. Jamming everything into a certain period of time/claiming certain timeslots or days for certain deliverables, just doesn’t seem like it would change or help the way I work. Wow. Was I wrong.

    A to-do list alone didn’t do it for me. I have a digital one, and one in my notebook, but I also started slotting actual appointments in my calendar for each task. Sometimes I would run over on one, or under on another, but my ability to get through the tasks themselves, and ensure I was productive, was much, much improved.

    Some days go off the rails, but if I have that plan laid out the night before, it’s not hard to get back on track the next day, or the next week.

    • Some days definitely go off the rails (or months…like the past 30 days for me), but part of the reason it works so well is you can adjust based on what other obligations you have at the time.

  • Liz Reusswig

    Hah…again with the frogs! I’ve been anxiously awaiting your follow up on this! Honestly, I expected you to say it worked magically. Mainly because you’re, well you know, magical! 😉
    For most of us, I think the important thing is to regularly focus on tweaking your plan to fit your needs and like you suggest, build in time to deal with “distractions.” Setting up routines & systems, delegating and/or tasking out items you don’t have to do personally (and being honest about what those are!), and scheduling time each week to review what works & what doesn’t all go a long way towards time management sanity.

    • I am seriously look at Pixabay frogs and figure out which one works for the topic. And sometimes I change the headline to match a frog image. LOL

  • I don’t know about this, “Choose one day every week that is yours and protect it fiercely.” I can see myself freaking out already.

    What I found works very well for me is waking up earlier, like two hours earlier and focus on doing deep work, whether it’s writing, brainstorming ideas, research, etc. I call that “me time.” I accomplished a lot ever since I started this approach (a few months ago).

    Because I prepare in the evening what I will be focusing on the next day, each morning I’m pumped to get into it. And yes, I do that over breakfast.

  • My biggest struggle has been to remove myself from constant response mode. But I’m getting better, and the better I get, the more efficient I get. And it’s bittersweet to except the world can continue to turn without me for a few hours, but it can, and I reap the benefits.

    My most efficient time is always between 5-8am. So my eventual goal it to have one more solid block in the day like that and then spend the rest of my time responding to emails, working in Slack with our team or the PR dream team, or in meetings.

    I’m getting closer and seem to be able to do it at least once or twice a week now. I don’t quite reach the same level of productivity as my morning “golden time,” but I’m getting closer.

    It’s definitely a WIP for me

    • As long as you never remove constant response mode for me.

  • Jess

    I love the honesty of this post! I definitely struggle to set up a great schedule that properly manages my time. I err on the side of being overly organized and have a to-do list for every day of the week to try and keep me on track.

    • Do you bullet journal?

      • Jess

        Yes! I love bullet journaling, it’s the only way that I feel completely organized and on top of my work.

        • I was going to suggest it, if you weren’t already doing it. It sounds like something you would love, especially with your to-do list for every day of the week.

  • Carrie Hane

    Your original post along with some other happy coincidences led me in a journey to discover my most productive schedule. So for a couple weeks at various times this summer, I tracked and observed what was going on. When was I most productive? Realistic with planning? Completely off?

    What I discovered was that I can be super productive Monday and Tuesday and start fizzling out on Wednesday. So I blocked Mon & Tues off of my meeting calendar. I don’t have big blocks of time like you but I do set timers for varying amounts of time – either to limit how long I spend on something or to keep me focused for a specific amount of time. Since having that schedule (and being home for more than 2 weeks at a time), I’ve been more productive and been able to mostly finish for the week on Thursday, with just some small tasks and meetings on Fridays.

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