Making Good Time

Wunderman creative director Anthony DiBiase is most productive in the mornings, but last year he realized that his a.m. window is often quickly eaten up by never-ending interruptions. So last September, he started blocking off one hour to do what at times seems impossible: simply think—about ideas, problems and other issues on his plate.

With his door closed from 9-10 a.m. almost every day, the Irvine, Calif.-based exec says his time-management tactic has left him much better off. “You feel like you have some more control over what you do, and you’re doing a better job of it,” he says. “Ultimately I’m a lot more satisfied with how I’m doing my job.”

These days, it’s a stretch to imagine an era when ad execs routinely had room in their schedules for the “three-martini lunch.” Time management is a struggle for almost everyone—but each frazzled worker has to figure out his or her own route to working more efficiently.

Sometimes, the key is communicating better with the boss. Barbara McAdoo, director of agency learning and development at BBDO Atlanta, teaches staffers to discuss their workloads with superiors before taking on new assignments. A boss may not realize how overburdened the person is, or may help the staffer fit in the assignment by getting other deadlines moved back, for example.

The problem for some is that what seems like a few harmless diversions can add up all too quickly. McAdoo advises keeping a log of “time wasters”—how long does it take you to make copies? And how much time do you burn every time you pass loquacious Bob?

Some of those tasks should be cut out, some delegated. “You have to decide the things you’re going to do and what you have to ignore, and hopefully it balances itself out,” DiBiase says, adding that he and other senior creatives should probably let their teams tackle more problems on their own—then seek advice when they get stuck.

It’s creatives who often have the worst time- management skills, says Julie Morgenstern, a professional organizer and author of Time Management From the Inside Out. They tend to miscalculate how long their work will take and end up with an unrealistic list of chores. “It’s really universal among creative people, because [quantifying tasks] is the left side of the brain,” she says. “Time management is math.” Once you determine exactly how long each item on your to-do list will take, Morgenstern says, you can weigh the benefits of investing yourself in a time-consuming task.

DiBiase’s idea of making a time period sacred is also recommended by Morgenstern. “You need to know when your peak creative time is,” she says.

Many creatives and other execs thrive on last-minute pressure. Morgenstern recommends that those who do their best work in crunch mode improvise a crisis by setting a personal deadline a few days before the real one. “You want to create your own tight time frame, which will keep you energized, but you are actually clearing the decks for the inevitable external crisis that will come up,” she says.

What usually come up just at the wrong time are, of course, meetings. Barbara Stampley, an acd and art director at Temerlin McClain in Irving, Texas, always brings work along to meetings. “If other people are running late, I’m not wasting my time,” she says. Mark McGarrah, a partner at McGarrah/ Jessee in Austin, Texas, holds just one 15-minute meeting a week, where account execs tell their colleagues what they will need from them in the next few days. The rest of the time, McGarrah takes a “doctor’s office approach” to discussing issues with his 37 employees.

Some people are most productive out of the office environment (and away from chatty colleagues, ringing phones and incoming e-mails). Stampley says her secret to working efficiently is a nearby French bistro. She and copywriter partner Molly McLaren head to their favorite seats by a fireplace in the restaurant, where they concept for clients such as American Airlines and ExxonMobil. “One time, in five hours we came up with 10 campaigns,” Stampley says. “It helps if you’re at a shop that trusts you with your time.”