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How You Work Matters

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A colleague recently asked me if I had any tips on how to “work faster”. Once we both agreed that working “smarter” is a much more ideal situation, we addressed the biggest issue, as I see it. That issue is a severe lack of awareness and self-control, generally speaking, amongst our everyday American workers.

I’ve long suffered the same illness and am just now learning how to proactively fight back. Most of us simply chalk it up to “that’s the way it is”. You know what I’m talking about – meetings where nothing seems to get accomplished, email pop-ups constantly jumping across the screen, deadlines being readjusted on a daily basis, a seemingly endless amount of “red exclamation point” projects that must be the new priority. It’s quite rare that I get through a day in which I am able to bang through my to-do list in any planned or sensible order.

Personally, my biggest challenge is finding the time during the work day to get my “dig in and get it done” type of stuff handled (writing decks, research, building budgets, POVs, etc.). It’s become damn near impossible to string together an hour or two of quiet time to give undivided attention to such projects. Add in the fact that I’m a compulsive “address it as soon as it comes in” email manager and you have a disastrous situation. So, I find myself waking up early mornings and getting that work done before 8am. At first glance, I didn’t think twice about it and just pushed forth, actually happy that I found some sort of solution. But as I thought about it more and more, I realized just how unhealthy my (and most of your) time management approach was.

There were two issues I’d like to specifically address.

1) I’ve always been a pretty successful multi-tasker and I eventually allowed that skill to negatively affect me and my work. I was doing way too much at once and found that while it certainly made for more quantity in my output, the quality was sacrificed. I’d be writing a memo and an email would pop up, so I’d immediately address that so it didn’t add to my to-do list. Then the phone would ring and I’d pick it up, taking on another task. Next thing I knew, it’d be 6pm and that memo wasn’t even halfway done yet.

My solution? A variation on the Pomodoro Technique, in which you work intensely on one project for about 25 minutes, then break for 5 minutes. My mind (and I imagine yours, too) seems to operate much more efficiently and effectively in short, intenst bursts. That’s exactly what I like best about this technique – it works with the human mind, not against it. And the short time allotments (25 minutes) help me justify radio silence via email and phone because, let’s face it, the world ain’t gonna burn to the ground in less than half-an-hour.

2) As an unconventional marketer, I live and die by my creativity. It’s the main bullet in my marketing gun. There is no less creative time, for me at least, than when my mind is a buzz with eight tasks, updated Twitter timelines and a full inbox. When the time came for me to have a personal ideation session, I found myself doing two things; leaving my office in favor of another room in the house and waiting until things got quiet, either early in the morning or late at night.

I just finished a great read on Ferran Adria, the well-known chef from Spain who is celebrated for consistently infusing his menu with never-before-seen food combinations and presentations. One chapter was dedicated to his creative process and really helped me through my challenges. Recognizing that creativity was the foundation upon which his success was built, he put much effort into the creative process. Although he had dedicated office space at the restaurant, he purchased separate space for a creative workshop, completely designed from floor to ceiling for one thing and one thing only – ideation. No office space, no desks, no balance sheets. When he and his team went to the workshop, they knew it was for that one sole purpose. While I am not yet in the position to build a separate workshop space, I have set up a silo’d area of my existing office for just that. No computer, no phone, just brainstorming and inspiration.

These techniques may be of use for you or they may completely miss the target. All that matters here is that you begin to live your work life in a more conscious manner and realize that you can control your approach and resulting output.



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Growth obsessed startup co-founder (MusicBox) and strategist-for-hire.

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