Time management! To stew or to sprint?



Efficient time management is not one of the great skills possessed most creative professionals. But we each find our own way of trying to get the right things done in the right time frames.

Deadlines we kind of understand (flexible deadlines, less so) and we have come to understand how to meet them (last-minute-all-nighter anyone?) But that is not the same as the orderly color-coded time management that the “experts” talk about. And then is the enormous number of tools that have been designed to help us. We’ve all downloaded more than one of these and set it up nice and even believed for a few precious days that our problems would be all over. But with most of them we never made it into the second week – and things stayed basically the same.

I have some clients who work best in a sort of sprint mode. Here’s how this works: pick the project that you are going to nail first – set a tight deadline – and buckle down on it till it’s done. Simple. No distractions, no side projects, no real breaks – just a sprint till its done. Then celebrate its completion and then take a breather before moving to the next one.

Another client I work with couldn’t do it that way. He couldn’t stay focused. He likes what he calls “the stew” – where he has lots of things on deck at once and does an hour or so on each one. I was not initially convinced: however efficiently you think you can switch between projects, productive time is certainly lost and your brain takes time to switch gears. (You could look it up. There is research on this.) But if that is what is works for you and the work gets done and it’s work you can be proud of – then that “lost” transition time may be the critical factor that lets you succeed.

Think about projects that you got done in a crunch. Think about when you had too many projects on the boil all at once. What was it that got you through it? Maybe deadline crunch all-nighters were the most successful – in which case don’t fight it – give yourself permission, crack open the Red Bull and don’t feel guilty.

So what works for you: sprint or stew or something else? Be aware so that you can know what to expect of yourself and reduce the panic. Unless it is the stress and panic that is your secret – in which case harness it and enjoy!