Philly Creative Guide

Here's the Thing

Bill Haley

Under New Time Management
by Bill Haley, 1 Jul 2009

Bill Haley is President, Interactive of Allied Pixel (www.AlliedPixel.com), an integrated media production firm specializing in the convergence of HD video, web and interactive media. He is also an evangelist for PhillyCreativeGuide.com. He can be reached at bill.haley@alliedpixel.com.


Randy Pausch died a year ago, on July 25th, 2008. You may remember him as the Carnegie Mellon professor who gave the "Last Lecture" that nearly 10 million people watched on YouTube. Two months after giving that lecture, he gave another lecture, this time on the subject of time management. I suppose you could ask: Who better to talk about time management than a man dying of pancreatic cancer? If you have one hour and 16 minutes to spare, and want some advice that will change your life, watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTugjssqOT0.

People say things like "there just aren't enough hours in the day... " because they usually have more tasks on their plate than they can accomplish on any given day. This can lead to stress, ulcers, job dissatisfaction, burnout, pet mistreatment, divorce and murder.

So we need to find a way to accomplish what needs to be accomplished, each and every day. It's a particular challenge in the creative field.

The term "time management" is a misnomer because we can no sooner manage time than we can manage the weather. What we can manage are our habits regarding our use of time. And that has mainly to do with knowing what you want to do, and what you don't want to do.

A disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on time management. It is a topic that interests me greatly, though, and I have read and listened to some really smart people in the field. And from that, I have distilled some habits that have been very helpful in my life.

I use a three-step scale to prioritize things:

  1. Things that must be done today.
  2. Things that must be done sometime soon.
  3. Everything else.

Each day before leaving work, I think about tomorrow and what items fit into categories 1 and 2. And the next morning, as I'm getting dressed, I review that list and make sure I'm prepared. What about category 3? Forget about it, at least for now. Those items are distractions.

I use Outlook to organize my day. I actually schedule specific times for doing category 1 items. I put category 2 items on the calendar as all-day events.

What about long-term projects, things that take weeks, months, years? Break them down into bite-size chunks. Even the biggest project is made up of many small tasks. Focus on one task at a time, and move the ball down the field a day at a time. The longest journey starts with a single step, Confucius say.

I am always impressed by people who have neat desks. I had a friend who was a VP at ABC. He had offices in New York and LA. In each office was a massive desk that had not one scrap of paper on it. Just a phone. And when you walked into the office, you were immediately struck by the idea that this guy is in control. And he was.

Without sounding too much like your mom, there is much to be said about keeping a neat work area. Besides the obvious practical benefits, a tidy work area has some really sweet psychological benefits. It somehow lifts a mental burden from your shoulders and allows you to attack work with new-found freedom and energy.

If you have a messy desk, take these steps:

  1. Take everything off your desk and temporarily pile it on a conference room table, or kitchen table.
  2. Take a photo of your beautiful virgin desktop and put it in your top drawer for inspiration.
  3. Go through the pile, one piece at a time. Organize it by making three piles, one for each category I mentioned above.
  4. Then go through Pile #3 again and throw out everything that isn't essential to your success and happiness. This will account for about 90% of everything that was on your desk.
  5. Get a nice, sturdy, all-metal desk organizer and label Slot 1, Slot 2 and Slot 3. These are the new homes of the three stacks you now have.
  6. Review the contents of each slot every day, and be ruthless about tossing category 3 items out.

I promise, this is a very liberating exercise.

The two biggest time wasters in the world are email and meetings. I get an average of about 80 legitimate emails a day. Can you imagine if you got 80 phone calls a day? Crazy, right? Well, what's the difference?

As emails come in, I triage them. Some require immediate response, others I flag to respond within a day, and most of the rest get deleted immediately. Most emails require only a sentence or two in reply. Many don't need any reply at all. If you get multiple emails from one person throughout the day (a.k.a. friendly spam,) reply to all with just two emails – one in the morning, one in the afternoon.

Meetings should rarely be longer than 30 minutes, and certainly not more than an hour. Before you agree to a meeting, ask two questions:

  1. Is my attendance at this meeting imperative to its success?
  2. Is there an agenda (written or unwritten) for this meeting, with specific objectives?

If the answer to either question is No, please click on the Decline Invitation button.

LinkedIn and Facebook are soon to become honorary members of The Biggest Time Wasters in the World Club.

Frederick Taylor pioneered "scientific management" in the late 19th century. He carefully observed factory workers as they performed their tasks, and then devised new, more efficient ways for them to get the job done.

We could all use a Frederick Taylor in our lives.

Have you noticed that some people just seem to get more done than others? These people have mastered three life skills: Focus, Efficiency and Traction.

Focus is simply the act of working on just one thing at a time. Successful people work on just one thing at a time. Multitasking is, frankly, a waste of time.

Efficiency is getting from point A to point B in the fewest possible steps. It's the art of expending the minimal amount of time and energy to accomplish a task.

Traction has to do with judgment. It's the antithesis of "spinning your wheels." It's knowing what to do in order to reach a goal. It's being able to solve a problem with one phone call instead of five.

Get these three things working for you and you will be One Dangerous Creative Professional.

So you just spent some of your very valuable time reading this article. I hope it was time well spent. See you next month.

Print Article Brought to you by: Bill Haley | President, Interactive of Allied Pixel