This podcast is part of an article published on The Digital Project Manager.
You can read the article here.
Ben Aston: Thanks for tuning in, I’m Ben Aston and this is “The Digital Project Management Podcast”. Today I’m joined by Tucker Sauer-Pivonkavonka. Tucker, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Thanks for having me.
Ben Aston: It feels like Beyoncé is like the equivalent to 20 people. She seems to be everywhere all the time, making magic happen, and that’s probably because she’s got a massive staff team, but today, we’re gonna be talking about time management hacks that we can use so we can be as productive as Beyoncé.
We’re gonna get really practical and talk about some of the things that we can do to make more time in our day. These are simple hacks that are going to save you stacks of time and get you on top of your PM game.
But first, let me introduce Tucker properly. Tucker is a project manager at Crema and they work with lots of different clients, funded start ups, enterprise clients, doing lots of prototyping, testing for mobile and web applications. Tucker, tell us a bit about yourself outside the office. What do you like doing?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Sure, yeah. Well typically, I like to go on vacations. I like to hike. I did just buy a new house. All of those things are what I spend my free time doing. I actually just got back from the Bahamas.
Ben Aston: Oh, very nice.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: This past Thursday, so just coming off of vacation this time around.
Ben Aston: Was the Bahamas a good vacation for a project manager?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: It was a wonderful vacation. We actually did pretty much nothing the whole time and just laid on the beach and soaked up the sun. What more can you ask for in a vacation?
Ben Aston: Nice. You said you’re doing some renovations. Are you the project manager of the renovations?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Yeah, to my husband’s dismay, for sure. Yes, I’m definitely project managing our house like nobody’s business. We bought a house in August. So far we haven’t done anything major. But we’re actually queuing up a few projects now that Spring has sprung, so that way we can get moving on some things on the outside.
Ben Aston: Do you put on your business voice and hat in the home when you’re trying to get the project in order, to your husband’s dismay?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Yes, most definitely. I have to put myself in check every now and then and just remind myself that this is not a client, this is my personal life, and I need to give my husband some grace when it comes to that, as well. I don’t need his approval in writing for all this stuff. It’s all that fun, project stuff.
Ben Aston: “Just sign the statement of work. Just sign the statement of work,” yeah. Cool. Tell us your story. How is it that you got into digital project management? I know … I had a quick check of your LinkedIn and it looks like you started off, a long time ago, as a stylist.
How does a stylist become a DPM?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Sure. Stylist was actually a job that I held in college. I worked at a small boutique. I really enjoyed helping my clients feel great about themselves, by dressing them in clothes that made them feel good, which, honestly, has some parallels in the PM world, making your client look good to their boss and their boss’ boss. So that parallel transitioned nicely as I got into project management.
After I graduated, I started as an account coordinator at a traditional advertising agency here in Kansas City. It was a traditional setting, nothing digital, necessarily, in nature. I worked on a lot of print, and also in-store collateral, and that kind of thing.
After I started, though, quickly my digital skills were sussed out by the leadership. The next thing I knew, I was developing a local marketing intelligence platform that we created within this advertising agency. That’s where my digital world started in terms of my professional career.
Ben Aston: Nice. Where did your digital skill come from, then? I’m always intrigued. I feel like that it’s similar to my journey, but where were you secretly honing your digital skills in the background?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Yeah, I think ever since I was a child, I’ve always had an interest in … It started with an interest in computers and understanding how they worked, so when I was really little, I think I was five when I got my first computer, I would take it apart and put it back together so I understood how it worked, at a very generic nature.
Ben Aston: Yeah. Pull out the hard drive.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Right, right. Then, honestly, from there it just came from tinkering with different pieces of software, and not being able to push certain buttons or certain commands, or whatever it might be. It just grew from there.
Then was I was in high school, those skills developed further. Then when I got to college, I came to a crossroads of trying to decide what I wanted to do, in terms of my professional career. I chose to go down the communication route because it was more generic because I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do.
I still kept the digital skills in the background, through some odd jobs or part-time jobs throughout college. I knew that was always the direction that I wanted to go in my career, it was just a matter of what stepping stones do I need to cross in order to get there?
Thankfully, it happened organically with my first job at that advertising agency.
Ben Aston: Nice. I’m always interested with people who have always been interested in digital stuff. You talked about working on little side projects throughout college. Are you working on any of your own digital side projects now?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Not currently.
Ben Aston: Have you got your own website?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: I have had a website in the past.
Ben Aston: You do, don’t you?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: I don’t have anything that I’m focusing on right at this moment, only because this last year has been a huge year in my personal life, both with getting a new home, getting married, starting a new job. All of that comes with its own territory, getting used to your own new flow, so I don’t have any side projects right now, but I’m sure some will come up in the near future.
Ben Aston: Nice. Tell us about what you do at Crema then. Is it Crema or Crema?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Crema.
Ben Aston: Crema.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Yes. I didn’t want to correct you earlier, but yes, it is … We’re called Crema.
Ben Aston: I was mid-flow and I was like … You know when you think, “I don’t know how to say this word.” I’m sorry if I ruined your surname.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: No.
Ben Aston: Was that right or wrong?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: No, you’re completely right. You pronounced it right on, Tucker Sauer-Pivonkavonka. Yes, Crema … Actually, we used to be called Crema Lab, but then people got us confused with Criminal Lab, so we just shortened it to Crema.
I’m a project manager here at Crema, but since we’re a product-focused agency, to begin with, we don’t really have digital in front of our title, because that’s what we’re focused on anyway, so it’s implied.
As a project manager here, I typically fill the role of scrum master and sometimes even product owner, depending on the engagement and level of client need. Outside of those responsibilities, I’m always ensuring my team has what they need to move the needle forward, ensuring that we’re meeting our goals and needs of our clients, as well as always being on the lookout for process optimizations. Just general digital project manager type work.
Ben Aston: Cool. Can you tell us about any projects that you’re working on at the moment that are interesting and that you can talk about?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Some of them I can’t talk about, due to confidentiality, but yeah, I’m working on some really exciting complex projects. Honestly, complex projects are my favorite. That’s why I wanted to get into the digital world is oftentimes, you have this really complex idea, but you need to find a way to make it generally simple for the end-user so it’s not complex to them.
I’m working on a few projects that are right up that alley right now. Those are some of my most fun projects to work on.
Ben Aston: Cool. Let’s talk about the article you wrote. It’s been killing it in the stats. We were just talking about it before coming online earlier. I think it helps that it’s about Beyoncé. Maybe it’s because Beyoncé just got bit.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Good timing.
Ben Aston: People are very excited about Beyoncé right now. If you haven’t checked it out, go and take a quick read. We even created a little infographic for you all to share, so please do share that. Especially if you’re thinking, “Hey, this has been great, but I haven’t really got the time to listen to these two twittering on today,” this podcast is especially for you.
What we’re talking about today is being more productive, not by doing more, but by working smarter. It’s not about being busy. It’s about having the ability to focus on the right tasks without being distracted.
In your article, you talk about five different techniques we can use. You talk about calendar blocking, reducing distractions, energy management, prioritization, and goal setting. Oh, and getting things done in meetings. So if you haven’t read the article yet, go and check it out.
For those are just listening now, can you explain calendar blocking? How does that work?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Sure thing. Yeah, this is one of my favorite things to do, in terms of my different strategies that I employ over time. In its essence, it’s a relatively simple concept. It’s something that people oftentimes think they can’t do because they’re constantly putting out fires, but I’ve been in that world, too, and I know that can be challenging, but I would push those people to try to employ this strategy to get out of putting out those fires constantly.
I would say that the biggest benefit from calendar blocking is setting expectations, both internally and externally, that you need time to do your job and you can’t do your job if you’re constantly getting pulled in a million directions.
I have experienced this a lot, where at the end of the day, you’ve been in meetings all day, or you’ve been pulled in a million different directions, and you haven’t had any time to actually do your job. By simply blocking pieces of time on your calendar for that time, for Get Things Done time, or GTD time, you’ll find that you are basically reserving meetings for yourself to do your own job, which I think is super important.
Ben Aston: Yeah, I think that’s really helpful. For the uninitiated, GTD stands for what, Tucker?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Get Things Done.
Ben Aston: Get Things Done. Is that a … I’m not familiar with that. Well, I wasn’t familiar with that. I was like, “GTD. GTD,” and then I figured it out. Am I the only one that’s not saying GTD?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: I don’t think so. I used to call it … I think in the past, I would have different ways of calling the same thing Get Things Done, but then when I joined Crema, a lot of people here use that same language, so I just transitioned into using that language.
Ben Aston: Okay, cool. How much time do you allow for your GTD time?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Yeah, the times that I select and the amount of time that I choose change from week to week. It’s often based on my workload or what meetings I already have on my calendar. It does vary. Sometimes I only have a few blocks of time that are maybe a couple hours each or maybe even just 30 minutes each. It just really depends on what I have going on.
What I do find, often, is that if I block a big chunk of time, say, for example, two or three hours, I’m oftentimes able to … If I’m able to truly focus, which I know we’ll get into in a moment, but if I’m able to truly focus, I end up getting everything that I need done within half that time, or even three-quarters of that time and end up having free time afterward, because I’m able to enter those deep focus because I allow myself that time to do that.
Ben Aston: Yeah. I think … I always find it phenomenal how short amount of time it actually takes to get some stuff done if you’re actually just working on that one thing.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Yeah.
Ben Aston: But so typically, particularly as project managers, we thrive in this environment where we’re the air traffic controller and we’re trying to guide all our planes down to land and see others take off. We’re like spinning around in our chair and doing 10 things at once.
The reason we think it takes hours to complete a status report is because we’re not focusing on it. We could actually get it done in 10 minutes if we just sat down and focused. I think that focus is a really important part of it.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Extremely so, yes. I think that if you’re not able to sit down and actually get into what you need to, you actually end up being very inefficient with your time. I like to challenge people that love to multi-task to try to narrow that down to one thing at a time for that exact reason.
Ben Aston: Yeah. I think part of this is linked to prioritization and goal setting, as well. This is another one of your points in the article. Can you tell me your process for prioritization and goal setting? How do you go about working out what are the important things to work on and what can wait?
You talked about, a minute ago, about there can be some … Rather than just fire fighting, how do you work out which of the fires are worth putting out and which ones you can let simmer in the background?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Sure, sure. I’ve done it a few different ways, but I think the way that I’ve been the most successful doing it is being very ruthless in the way that I tie value to a specific task or a specific set of tasks.
By value I mean, how much value is it providing myself, my team, or my clients. By viewing my tasks in this light, it allows me to really quickly figure out what I need to get done and in what order. Oftentimes, I find that I thought I needed to do something and in reality, it was not as valuable to get that task done as it was task X, that the client needed something or that kind of thing.
That’s one strategy that I’ve employed that helps me do that, but on top of that, I will each morning, take a look at my tasks list and go through and begin prioritizing using that method.
I think of my day as a mini-sprint. In the morning, it’s my mini sprint planning session and then I get going with my day. That whole day is my sprint. Typically, my sprint doesn’t get too interrupted if I plan accordingly.
Ben Aston: That’s cool. Yeah, I think one thing that I find useful, kind of like what you’re talking about, is in terms of thinking through high-value activities. So thinking, firstly, what are my highest value activities?
Secondly, thinking about what can I do, and only I do, that’s going to make a real difference? Sometimes we can delegate and we should delegate.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Exactly.
Ben Aston: Then, thirdly, thinking about what’s the most valuable use of my time right now? Then, for me, it’s working out, “Okay, well, there’s all these urgent things that I could do and there are these fires raging around me, but actually, they’re not necessarily that important,” so it’s being very clear about what’s important, and what’s urgent, and they’re not necessarily the same things at all.
Things that are urgent always feel important, but the fact is that they’re not, a lot of the time.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Yep. That’s exactly right. I think a perfect example of that is, as a PM, you have your daily tasks that are important to the process that you do need to get done, but what’s urgent is when you have, during standup with some developers and they have some blockers that are in their way that’s impeding progress.
That would be an example to me that’s very urgent that needs to be removed immediately. You need to be aware of that and adjust your day accordingly to handle that.
Ben Aston: Yeah. I think we cut across the whole spectrum of ideas in your article. One of the things you talk about is reducing distractions. This comes back to that focus thing that we were talking about.
You get very practical about cleaning up your notifications, which I know can be a massive distraction, when we’ve got email notifications popping up, we’ve got Slack things coming in, probably another couple messaging apps we’re using, and then our phones, too.
You talk about, in your article, cleaning up the notifications on your phone, but how did you get to that point where you were like, “Hold on, I need to do something about this.” For people who are listening, how do you know when it’s time to clean up your notifications on your phone?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Yeah, definitely. I think we mentioned this a little bit earlier, but I think … I realized when I was unable to stay focused on any one given task, which definitely still happens from time to time, but I would notice that I would see a notification, I’d go look at that notification, and then it would send me down a rabbit hole, or three different rabbit holes, and the next thing you know, I completely lost track of what I was doing before.
The switching cost can begin to accumulate over time. I noticed that my tasks were piling up. I was evaluating why that was happening and then I realized that it was because I’m getting pulled in all these different directions because that’s what notifications are designed to do.
Notifications are designed to pull your attention into whatever the notification’s coming from. It’s competing for your attention. I really took a deep look into what notifications I was receiving and then that helped me identify what notifications I actually need and that provide me value and what types of notifications can actually wait.
I can get into that in a minute, but that’s the route that I went, in terms of finding out that my notifications were becoming a problem.
Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s, for me, it was really telling. I started using a tool called RescueTime. Have you heard of RescueTime?
I have not. I’ll have to check it out.
Ben Aston: It’s a tool that … It’s kind of creepy, but if you don’t mind creepy things … You install it on your machine and what it does is analyze everything that you’re doing. It will look at the websites you’re going to, the applications you’re using, how much time you’re typing, how much time you’re clearly just mousing around and wasting time.
I think for me, the really telling thing is, when, at the end of using it for a week, I looked at how many hours a week I spent on Facebook. I was like, “What? I spend six hours of my week on Facebook,” or whatever it was. I was like, “That’s a terrible use of my time.”
Of course, in the moment, it doesn’t feel like, “Oh, yeah, well, I’ve got six hours to get through on Facebook on this week, so I might as well keep on going.” I don’t think anyone every intends to spend that much time, but having an understanding of, “Hey, in my average week, I’m spending a third of it writing emails. That’s okay. I’m spending this much time in Excel, this much time in Project, this much time in Word,” getting an idea.
It was also able, then, to group it to try and get an idea of different clients you might be working for based on keywords and things. If you’re thinking, “Oh, I don’t think I’ve got a problem wasting time,” I challenge you to install RescueTime.
Or, actually, this is one of the things that you talk about is evaluating your time and doing timesheets. Even if you don’t have to do timesheets, try doing timesheets and you’ll suddenly realize how much time you’re beginning to spend on stuff. I think the timesheet … I really like Toggl. I don’t know what timesheet tool you use, but with Toggl, they have a timer. You can just start the timer, select the project, and you’re off.
Just when you see the clock ticking in the corner and you’re like, “I’m supposed to be working on this task because the clock’s ticking on it,” I think it can really help.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Definitely. Here at Crema, we use a tool called Harvest to track all of our time and we use Harvest Forecast to forecast our time. I know that I find myself, a lot, evaluating where those chunks of time are being spent. Especially then taking a step back and looking …
If I’m feeling really overwhelmed, for example, I’ll take a look at Forecast and see where, contractually, I should be spending my time. That allows me to take a step back, give myself a gut check, and reevaluate where and how I spend my time throughout the day.
It always makes me feel better at the end of that exercise for sure.
Ben Aston: Yeah, cool. Finally, let’s talk about one of the things I think is a really interesting one, in terms of having more time. You talk about getting things done during meetings. I’m intrigued how you actually practically do this.
As I understand the scenario, you’re in a meeting and you realize we’re talking about some stuff. Then you’re like, “Okay, I can action that right now. Hold on, guys, I’m going to make this happen.” So how do you do that in such a way that the meeting flow doesn’t get ruined and people aren’t just sitting there waiting for you to finish bashing out whatever task or email … I’m just picturing you, sat in a room, hammering away on your laptop, and everyone just staring at you, waiting for you to finish.
How do you make that work?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: There’s a couple of points here to make. The first one is that there’s a time and a place for everything. There are obviously certain types of meetings that you don’t want to do this type of thing in. However, if it is, says, for example, an internal meeting that you’re ending a sprint, but you need to get a few questions answered, for example. But I can fire off that question in about five seconds and typically I’ll have an answer before the meeting ends and it will greatly affect the outcome of the direction we’re going in.
Although it might pull me away for that five seconds to type that message, the payoff is greater. It’s about understanding which things you can and can’t do. Obviously, I’m not going to type a big email or try to get feedback on designs in the middle of the meeting. I think it’s all about the types of things you’re doing.
I think that’s an important point, is that if you’re going to get things done in the meeting, it must not pull away your focus from that meeting. You need to be respectful of everybody’s time in that room, as all of their time is extremely valuable. If you’re wasting it by doing your own thing, that’s not respectful.
That’s my point of view on that. It usually is just a Slack message, or something like that, that I just need to shoot off really quick, that might take five seconds in the meeting, but it might take three minutes later because I’ll have to context switch back and remember what I needed to ask. It will take me time to think about it.
That’s how I go about getting things done in the meeting. Definitely don’t want to disrupt anything as we’re in those meetings.
Ben Aston: Yeah, I think that’s really helpful and I think one of the things that we can’t underestimate as PMs is the power of momentum. I think often when we can be in a meeting, and we’re having a discussion about something, and there’s a bit of an impasse because we don’t know the answer to our question, the worst thing is to then have to adjourn the meeting until that data point has been resolved, and then you have to have another meeting. You have to schedule it to tell everyone the answer that you were looking for.
Trying to do everything you can to build momentum, so where there are blockers … There will typically be blockers when we are in meetings and people are saying, “Well, I can’t estimate that because I don’t know this,” so getting those barriers out of the way, as much as we possibly can, in real-time and the getting to get some momentum in our projects and in our meetings so that we’re actually getting people to action things, rather than just go away and find out more information, I think is a really, really helpful comment.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: For sure.
Ben Aston: Talking about … We touched on two or three tools, about Harvest or Forecast, but I’m interested, are there any other time-related tools or other … What’s in your PM toolkit that you-
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Yeah, in relation to timing, and meetings, and things like that, I have been, and members of my team also have been, using a tool called Meetingbird lately. That really helps us not have to spend all of our time coordinating meetings, because you can simply set up available times and it looks at your calendars and your attendees’ calendars and finds a spot that works for you. I know that works really well for our time and our clients, so we’re not going back and forth on manually typing in times in an email that we’ll meet.
Outside of that, using Harvest and Harvest Forecast. I use Asana a lot, for a lot of our PM work. We use ZenHub for a lot of our development-related projects and, of course, Slack and Dropbox Paper. But then we also use client-specific tools as they are needed, like Jira, for example. Some clients would rather have us in their environment, so that’s what we do for that. Then, of course, email is pretty standard.
Those are some of the tools that I keep in my tool kit that I probably log into at least a few times a day.
Ben Aston: Yeah. I’m curious about Dropbox Paper because I always see it. As in, I can see in my Dropbox, Dropbox Paper, but I’ve never been into it and used it. What do you use it for?
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: It is a wonderful collaboration tool. We use it … Think of it similar to Google Docs in the sense that you can have multiple people in a document, working together on it, commenting, that kind of thing, but in a much more intuitive interface.
Not only that but since it is shared on Dropbox and we store a lot of our files on Dropbox, getting clients in there is relatively easy, as well. That’s generally where we store all of our project documents, project journals, that kind of thing all gets stored there. It just allows for easy, quick access.
It has some other nice features, like it supports Markdown, for example. I use an app called Bear for all of my notes, which also supports Markdown for formatting, so those things go hand in hand and it makes it really easy to transition from one tool to the next.
Ben Aston: I’ll have to try it out. I’ll take a look. Cool.
Tucker, thanks so much for joining us. It’s been great having you with us today.
Tucker Sauer-Pivonka: Thanks for having me. I really appreciated talking to you.
Ben Aston: Good stuff. Well, if you’d like to contribute to the conversation, comment on the post and head to the resources sections of thedigitalprojectmanager.com to join our Slack team, where you’ll find all kinds of interesting conversations going on there, too.
Until next time, thanks for listening.