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Tips for SEM Time Management (and Sanity)

Published: October 3, 2012

Author: Sean Marshall

You can get this sucker back under control.
Time management is a fascinating subject. While much has been written on the subject over the years, the spike in smartphone adoption and subsequent tethering to our virtual lives has changed everything. I’ve tried to read up as much as possible on the subject and have come away with a slew of recommendations everyone should try to stick to. With apologies to each article’s author, here are my favorites (and a couple originals).
1)      Stick with 25- or 55-minute meetings. Your high school didn’t stack classes back to back without giving you time to get from one to the other, so why do the same with meetings? I always found it funny that people would challenge their teachers, asking “How is this going to help me when I’m older?” and yet forget the simplest rule to scheduling.
2)      Create an agenda. Five minutes of meeting time can mean 150 minutes of company time if 30 people in the room. Not creating meeting agendas is selfish, and I’m as guilty as the next guy. One person has to sacrifice time for the benefit of others. If you’re the one calling the meeting, you’d better respect everyone’s time.
3)      Start work before 8, and don’t schedule any meetings until 10am. This one just occurred to me last week. In order to fit everything into my day, I’ve been starting earlier and earlier. It finally dawned on me that, besides starting before everyone else, the best way to be productive is to work without interruption. Now, there’s no need to block off 4 hours (not taking breaks will numb you to the work you are doing) but in my mind there’s nothing better than the first 2 hours of the day, when everyone else is just settling in.
4)      Take breaks and/or leave early (when appropriate). The 9-5 is dead, and we’re all subject to taking work home on nights and weekends. So why stay married to old concepts? If you find yourself losing focus, take a break or go home altogether. Obviously, previously scheduled meeting times should be adhered to, but if you aren’t going to give it 100%, go home. I find it impossible to focus after 3pm on Fridays, and I would much rather knock out a couple hours of work over a hot cup of coffee on Saturday morning (thanks to my dog, it’s now quite easy to get up at 7 on Saturdays). The new paradigm may cost you some evenings, but there’s no reason you can’t get that time back in different ways!
5)      Find an hour or two to unplug, completely. I stole this one from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. While I don’t have kids, I do have a fiancé, and we love good food and good TV (some may argue watching TV isn’t really unplugging…I disagree). Having a couple of hours to eat together, laugh together, and refocus my mind is essential. Note: this can’t be accomplished in 30 minutes, and you MUST leave phones off the dinner table. Admittedly, a couple glasses of cabernet will help.
6)      Have select email check/answering times. This one is tricky. I’ve read that the trick to being a great emailer is to respond quickly and succinctly. To that I say: try Skype or another instant message platform; if I’m a constant slave to my inbox, my head’s not completely in other projects. If anyone needs to get a hold of me THAT badly, call me. My number is at the bottom of every email you’ve ever received from me.
7)      Short week? Don’t do 5 days’ work in 4. This one really drives me crazy, and I hear it from people all the time: “Wow, I’m cramming 5 days into 4 because of Labor Day.” Nonsense. Learn to say no. What’s the point of having a day off if you just make it up somewhere else?  This might seem to contradict my views on leaving a couple hours early and doing work Saturday morning, but this is about more than making up lost time. There has to be a line somewhere or else burn-out is inevitable. It might not happen today, it might not happen in a few months…but it’s going to happen. Your hair will turn gray, you’ll get less excited about work, and you’ll realize that cramming this stuff in just wasn’t worth it.
Ultimately, the best time management advice I can give to people is to prioritize better. When you’re moving a thousand miles an hour, everything feels essential – and it isn’t. SEMs are in a unique position in that they can keep score and measure the impact of the work. Treat your time like you would a bid. Transparency and insight into performance is great, so eat your own dog food and apply the same logic to YOUR time.
– Sean Marshall, Director of Client Services

25 E Washington Street
Suite 420

Chicago, IL 60602(650) 539-4124


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