To Do More, Plan For Less

by Casey Daline


Today, I’m offering a quick tip about a tactic that has helped me manage time in the face of unexpected changes.

I work as Pivot’s traffic manager—this means that it’s my job to make sure the design team has the right time available and organized enough schedules to get done all the work assigned to them by various marketing consultants and coordinators at Pivot. While this seems a simple enough task (at least it did to me at first), it turned out to be far more complicated than I imagined.

Perhaps the most helpful tip I’ve picked up along the way seems a bit counterintuitive, and that’s to plan for unplanned time.

My instinct, as a person who both a) wants to please people and deliver on commitments and b) likes lists and schedules, was to plan things out down to the minute to accomplish the most. That’s how you create maximum productivity, right?

As it turned out, that doesn’t always work out too well—because unlike my meticulously curated schedules, real life doesn’t work in pre-planned 15-minute increments.

Emergencies happen.
Last minute change happen.
Print deadlines happen.
And really, life happens.

At first, I found this totally confounding—first of all, what was I doing wrong? My schedule being blown to pieces on a daily basis made me feel like I was doing poorly at my job. And second of all of all, couldn’t everyone understand that they needed to play by the rules (and by “the” rules, I mean my rules)? And thirdly, didn’t anyone understand that they were RUINING MY LIFE?

Eventually, I came to realize that in any business where you’re working with other teams and outside factors, unexpected things happen. We can’t always adhere to a schedule.  That’s not a bad thing! You can’t expect that all projects will allow a 24 hour grace period to fit into your task list.

To me, setting aside time with no tasks seemed really backwards. To get the most done, I wanted to plan out a well-ordered day. A day where in the morning, or even the night before, you know what all needs to happen before the day is over. That’s like organizational and managerial bliss for this girl. But that’s not reality—at least not in in most businesses. Things you marked as “print-ready” come back with edits. Website designs get tweaked last-minute. A client loves a piece you did so much they want to launch a whole new campaign based on it. Things happen that you can’t plan for.

With the help of a coworker, I realized that we needed to plan for unplanned time—that is, give myself and the designers less work (sometimes, much less work) than I knew they or I could accomplish in a day. At first, we found it difficult to spread out tasks more intentionally, but the extent to which it helped keep everyone’s lives manageable was distinct.

The result was that “interruptions” (meetings, last minute changes, projects that take longer than expected) stopped being interruptions, and started being something we’d planned for and set aside time to handle.

If you’re having a hard time accomplishing your to-do list because of interruptions, start tracking how much time a day you are pulled into other things, and the reasons why. Can those reasons be addressed? Or are they simply part of how your job or industry works? If the latter is the case, consider planning a chunk of your time that is set aside for those unexpected emergencies, meetings, or every day facts of your office life.

Leaving space for unexpected projects and meetings has helped me, and our team, accomplish more in one day (and more on time) than when we planned things out down to the minute.

It seems backwards at first—but give it a try! To do more, plan for less.

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