When I was a young singleton working for a large PR agency in New York, I was always jealous of my married colleagues who would leave the office “early” (that’s 6pm in the PR agency world) to pick up children from daycare or relieve nannies. The rest of us worker bees would work until about 8 or 9 at night. We’d often slag on the offending managing director behind her back. What made her so special that she could leave early while those of us who “really” did the work toiled in the trenches for mere bread, water and the occasional faint praise for an awesome media placement in the New York Times that she could never get? Screw her!
Now as a working mother looking back, I have a whole new perspective on these “slacker” mothers. What I now know in retrospect, is they had mastered the art of ruthlessly managing their time at work so they could leave to get their kids on time (and avoid nanny overtime or those outrageous day care late pick-up charges.) I now recall all of the emails I’d receive after 10pm from these colleagues/supermoms, who fired up their laptops after the kids were in bed and the house was quiet.
How did they do it? How did they manage to leave on time nearly every day and still stay on top of their busy careers? I have a hunch:
Get in early. I noticed many of these women got into the office as early as 7:30am to catch up on reading and get organized for the day.
Minimize the number of meetings you attend in any one day. Honestly, I die a little bit each time I attend a meeting. I hate meetings and avoid having to attend one unless it’s absolutely necessary. Turns out this is not a bad strategy. Too many meetings are scheduled without a clear purpose or desired outcome. I noticed that the PR executives I worked with carefully questioned the agenda and whether their presence was truly necessary to advance the issue. Alternatively, they did stand up meetings where issues were discussed and decided in the moment.
Discourage drive-bys from Chatty Cathys. They also firmly discouraged the social butterflies of the office from dropping in and sucking precious work time. Yes, it’s sooo exciting that the final installment of Twilight is coming out in November and Jacob is looking pretty hot these days but do you have to dish on the last three movies blow by blow? For sure a little bit of chit chat greases the social wheels in an office but too much mauls your schedule and will leave you playing catch up.
Pick up the damn phone, already. Ever notice how something that should be relatively easy to solve turns into an email thread the length of a Russian novel? Think about it. You send an email. You receive a reply with questions of clarification. You reply. More questions are asked in the reply to your reply. Rinse and repeat for infinity. Always do an office drive-by or pick up the phone and call for something that can be easily resolved with human contact. Bonus, your colleagues will be shocked to actually hear their phone ring. Now, if you are trying to create documentation to CYA, well that’s a different story.
Get out of e-mail hell. I’m in it. You’re in it. We’re all in it. I’ve got 350 unopened messages in my in box right now. I noticed the PR executives I worked with never answered all of their email right away unless it was from a client. Back in my agency days, I could always count on an email from Gina around 4pm. Turns out, this is when she scheduled to review and respond to non-urgent emails. Responding to every ping and ding all day long will ensure you get nothing done. Think of it this way, if someone needs you bad enough, they’ll track you down.
Stop competing to be Hoarder of the Year. A cluttered office is a sign of a cluttered mind. I noticed the working moms at the agency had unbelievably clean desks. Files were in place. In-boxes were clear. There were no random rat-piles of papers stacked high hoarder-style. Nothing is a bigger waste of time than re-printing the same document 50 times because you keep losing it (I’m guilty!), it’s also not environmentally friendly. While we’re at it, you don’t need to keep every trinket you ever got from a trade show or conference. Besides, inhaling the fumes from all that BPA-filled plastic can’t be good for you.
If I could go back in time, I’d apologize to all the women that I made nasty comments about (or thought anyway) when I was young and foolish. Being a working mother at the top of an organization is hard work and it takes phenomenal energy and focus to get as much out of an eight to ten hour day as possible only to then go home and take on the responsibilities of a full-time parent and spouse. I’m eating some humble-pie as I, now a mother to a toddler, strive to keep myself organized and on my game during the day. What do you think? How do you manage work-day time sucks?