What Saturday Night Live Taught Me About Time Management

When Tina Fey was first promoted to head writer at SNL, she was stressed over all the sketches she had to edit and felt there was no way she could have the show ready in time. So she asked Lorne Michaels, the executive producer, “What happens if it’s not ready?” And Lorne replied, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready.  The show goes on because it’s 11:30.”

SNL logo

The show doesn't go on because it's ready. The show goes on because it’s 11:30.

Nothing like a hard stop deadline to give you focus
When you’re facing 90 minutes of dead air time on national TV, not having the show ready is not an option.  If you’ve ever watched an entire SNL show (not just the Will Ferrell highlights), you know that some of the sketches could probably have used a little more attention and tweaking.  Big whoop.  Because that’s nothing compared to the fact that they have never missed creating a full show for 36 years. While you may not have such a highly public deadline for your projects,  you know the feeling of having to get something done when there is absolutely, positively no extension.   The last train of the night is taking off. The new buyers take possession tomorrow morning. The bin Laden story has to be written in a hour or it will miss getting in the print version. It focuses you and somehow you get the job done in the time you have.

Do you spend an hour on a 5 minute job?
In addition to helping you get tasks done, deadlines also keep you from spending too much time on projects that should only take a few minutes.  Replying to a meeting request, straightening your desk, or sorting through your home mail should take just a short time.  It’s easy to get sidetracked and suddenly an hour has gone by with no tangible results.  There’s a famous saying called Parkinson’s Law that states:  “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” You know how much time it takes to get basic tasks done. So limit yourself to that amount of time, then move on.

How to create deadlines when there’s no hard stop deadline?
As exciting as running on adrenaline can be, you don’t want to have crushing, hard stop deadlines as the only way to get things done.  So how do you create deadlines when there isn’t a do-or-die one?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Allot a specific chunk of time to just focus on one task– no multitasking.  I will spend 60 minutes writing a post and nothing else.
  2. Commit to your Accountability Wingman.
  3. Consider getting a professional coach.  They’re like a Wingman on steriods.

Just go for 95% perfect
You may be thinking, though, some things really do require an extra amount of love and attention because you want it to be just perfect.   Your big presentation at an industry show, your proposal for a book, or your dinner party with your in-laws.   Absolutely, you want to spend a good amount of time creating something magnificent. But where is the point of diminishing returns? Here’s what a wise creative mentor told me when I was producing my first radio commercial. After a couple of hours it sounded great but I still wanted to edit it to Be Perfect. The mentor pulled me aside and explained that these little perfectionist tweaks could take at least another two hours.  He explained that you want to get something so it’s 95% perfect.  Because that last 5% is at going to at least double the effort and expense. And besides, that last 5% is usually subjective anyway.

Mojo Moves

  • Instead of working on a task until you get it done, give yourself a time limit
  • Become comfortable with the idea of 95% perfect is good enough. It will take you forever to get to 100%
  • Be accountable to finishing on time with the help of an Accountability Wingman or a Coach

Photo courtesy of television-ratings.info

Got some time management tips?  Share below.

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  • http://www.pointatopointbtransitions.com Catherine Morgan

    Outstanding post. Embrace the concept of “good enough”! Very important. One can get very stuck trying to get to perfect and is anything ever really perfect? It could always be better and then maybe it never gets done.

    The other point is something I coach people around all the time – especially job seekers. Anything is more interesting than filling out one more online form. All of a sudden getting an oil change or organizing your closet seems much more appealing. I actually used that as marketing copy for a product because when I followed up with a client who should have been applying for jobs, she *was* organizing her closets.

    • http://www.mojo40.com Susan Kim

      You bring up an excellent point– if it could always be better then maybe it never gets done. And maybe, that’s subconsciously what some people want. By not finishing the task, you won’t have to risk facing criticism that it wasn’t Perfect.

  • Rich Spitz

    I once had to get a CRM system done by August 23. Why was that a significant date you ask. It was because the clients main contact was pregnant and that was her due date. The date wasn’t changing whether we were ready or not.

  • http://www.mojo40.com Susan Kim

    Rich- What a great example of a hard stop deadline. Babies wait for no one.

  • http://40plusandfabulous.com Sondra Wright

    Outstanding Susan! I’m a stress thrill seeker myself, often pushing projects until the last minute. But..for me it serves a purpose because I’m left with no other option but to get it done and get it done right. Otherwise, the “perfectionista” in me spends waaay to much time tweaking, revising and revamping – a REAL time waster.

    • http://www.mojo40.com Susan Kim

      Perfectionista– what a perfect word!

  • Jason

    Guilty perfectionist hear (sic) ;)

    (This post took a mere 30 seconds)

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