Q: I just looked at my time sheets—I
worked 70 hours last week. The
week before I worked 63 hours,
and yet I can’t remember the last
time I felt “caught up.” What can I
do to get my life back?
Although the problem you identify is not confined
to the creative world, it does seem that those of us in
the design industry are likely to log a larger number
of hours in work mode than the ordinary American.
The most common reasons seem to be staffing
issues, demands from the marketplace, or a combination
of both. The fact is, whether you work at a
design studio or in-house design department, you
are likely to be understaffed—and overworked—at
various times during the year.
Ours is a deadline-driven business and our clients—whether internal or external—don’t schedule
work as far ahead as we would like. When you add
into the mix day-to-day demands like attendance
at staff meetings, interruptions by colleagues, client
changes, and delays caused by vendors … it’s no
wonder you’re looking at another 12-hour day.
There are a few things you can do to be more
proactive about how your time is spent. Some solutions
are relatively easy and require only a bit of
discipline on your part. Other remedies involve cooperation
or buy-in by others in order to be effective.
A first step in determining whether you are
legitimately overworked is to make an honest assessment
of how you spend your time. When you arrive
in the morning do you jump right in, or are you still
fumbling around getting started at 10 a.m? Do you
lose time at midday by taking an extended lunch?
Are personal calls, e-mails, and net surfing constant
interruptions? In short, are you being honest with
yourself about whether you actually are working while
at work? If you believe that there are ways you can
tighten up your own performance, try these ideas.
1. Keep real time. Many of us keep time sheets for
billing and project tracking. For at least a week be
brutally honest with yourself about where your time
goes. If you’re worried about repercussions, you might
want to keep a second time log in addition to the one
you submit to your supervisors. You may be surprised
to find how the choices you make on a daily basis
affect your overall work experience and productivity.
2. Brush up on skills. Are you spending more time
at work because it simply takes you longer to get
certain parts of your job done? Some people are very
quick at coming up with ideas, others are computer
whizzes, and some are great at project management.
Make an assessment of your strengths and shore up
weak areas with classes or other professional development
3. Choose your time wisely. There are 168 hours
in each week, but not all of them are equal in terms
of the potential they hold for productivity. Many
successful people are early birds: They find that time
spent before their colleagues arrive is often more
productive than later hours. Likewise, an hour or
two on a weekend can yield a better outcome than
the same amount of time during the week because
you can be more focused and direct. Although the
most productive time of day to work may not be the
most convenient time, it can yield a payoff in fewer
hours worked in the long run.
4. Seek input. If you’re truly open about how you
might be sabotaging your own efforts at time management,
ask trusted colleagues for their observations.
Supervisors and subordinates alike may be
able to help you identify time-wasting behaviors or
suggest tasks you could potentially delegate. Clearly,
this requires a level of trust that may not be present
in every workplace, so select your allies with care.
If a thorough review of your own patterns
doesn’t yield the insights you’re looking for, you
might look at other ways to remedy your situation.
5. Get help. An obvious solution to a time-crunch
problem is to hire more people. The trick lies in
hiring to meet the needs of the organization in the
long term. A knee-jerk reaction is to post a full-time
position immediately … but there may be other, less
permanent, and potentially less expensive remedies:
part-time help, freelancers and independent contractors,
even interns. If you’re going this route, remember
to allow for “ramp-up” time for new people;
they may not be immediate contributors and could
cost you additional hours in the short term as you
6. Take charge. Some time management problems
are caused by the inability to say no. If you
find yourself raising your hand for extra work and
assignments, take a step back and assess whether
you are getting a sufficient return on investment
for your extra time. Similarly, if your department
or firm seems to always find itself “going above and
beyond,” consider being a catalyst: Raise questions
about why this has become an acceptable practice.
You might find your voice joined by a chorus of others
with the same concern.
7. Jump ship. Let’s face it: There are a few environments
where work is valued to the detriment
of everything else. These unhealthy situations are
characterized by a tendency to brag about how many
nights and weekends a person works, or the sense
that the workplace is always operating in a crisis
mode. Unless you thrive in this type of setting or
the work is actually that rewarding, saying goodbye
may be your only chance to reclaim your life.