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That One Thing

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, March 14, 2018

With deadlines approaching and multiple requests hitting left and right—Anne, are you going to be able to get to that letter today?  What about that Task Order?  Can you review this contract now and provide comments by three o’clock?  I have a meeting at four—I’ve reached the inevitable conclusion that there isn’t enough time to get it all done on a given day.  Why couldn’t I get that one thing accomplished?  It was the first thing on my “to do” list!  I sometimes jokingly refer to this phenomenon as work-induced A.D.D. 

Yes, I’m a user of the “to do” list.  I write it out every day, usually the day before, so I can focus on those items that need to be accomplished, either that day, or during the week.  If I don’t, I stress out and my poor little brain won’t turn off at home because I worry about forgetting something that needs to be done at the office. 

I go to work.  The day is progressing and I’m moving fast and furious.  The wheels are turning and things are moving right along.  I’m productive, right?  Sure I am, but I’m looking at my list, now modified with multiple pen colors; check marks here; additions there, and there’s that one thing, still undone.  I tell myself it’s the next thing I’ve got to do, before anything else—except there’s another email request.  It will only take a minute to shoot a response back.  A phone call.  A quick drive-by question from a co-worker.  A need to clarify something from someone else at the other end of the office—need to catch them while they’re actually in the office.  Two hours have gone by and I still haven’t gotten to that one thing. 

It isn’t just me though so I’m readdressing something basic that I touched on quite a few years back in a Behind the Design article.  Most of us (if not all) juggle time management on a daily basis. 

More and more often, I wonder why I’m unable to accomplish everything I need to.  Where does the time go and why can’t I get more of it?  Well, first things first: time doesn’t go anywhere.  It isn’t lost and I can’t get any more or less of it.  I’m living it. 

Time management is not about managing time, it’s managing myself around it.  I did a little research into the matter and came across some very helpful hints I thought I would pass along.

Time management is crucial in business (time is money) as well as on a personal level.  Too often, how we spend our time is only thought of in terms of “What am I going to do today?” and “What should I do next?” 

The first step in effective time management is not to develop a schedule, but instead develop a time strategy based on a short list of priorities every day.

How long will it take me to accomplish that one thing and what do I need in order to get it done?  How do I work best?  What time of day gives me the most focus?  

Me, I am easily distracted by “bright-and-shiny” email.  Now, I turn off outlook for the duration it takes me to accomplish the task. 

Establishing priorities is subjective, especially when dealing with activities that are neither urgent nor particularly important in relation to other tasks requiring immediate attention.  Take a look at the job that just isn’t getting done and see if it can be redefined in terms of the ultimate benefit received for doing it. 

I am not ashamed to admit that I am a procrastinator when it comes to a few things needing to be dealt with.  There are many reasons why: I haven’t really committed to doing it; I’m afraid of doing it; I don’t place a high enough priority on doing it; I don’t know enough about it to do it or, I just don’t want to do it. 

The fewer priorities I focus on at once, the more productive I am.  Multi-tasking is great in theory, and a popular trait to list in job descriptions but does it work?  Not for me, or at least, not anymore.  My role is now specialized whereas twenty years ago in my career, I was trying to discover my niche and could juggle more.

Next, try to make sure day-to-day issues don’t push priorities.  Constant interruption kills any hope of effective time management.  (Earplugs might be helpful.  Mine are shaped like headphones.  Oh wait, they are headphones!) 

I have learned that it is best to be prepared for the unknown events that will inevitably pop up: the last minute project my boss plops on my desk needing to be done now.

Finally, it is important to keep career life and family life separate.  In doing so, you can create a value-based time management plan.  In layman’s terms: spend more time on what you value most.  Make a list of what is important to you.  How much time do you devote to the top three priorities on your list?  Does the way you spend your time truly reflect your values?  Are you mistaken about your priorities?

So, with all that, I can safely say that I successfully got that one thing done and off my “to do” list.  Whew…

Check out some valuable SDA resources available to you for items that might be on your “to do” list:

Share your tips in the comment box below for getting things accomplished in your daily world!



Anne McNeely,  CDFA is the Project Administration Manager

for Fentress Architects in Denver, CO

Tags:  SDA  Society for Design Administration  Time Management  To Do List 

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To Do or Not To Do.... Lists!

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 20, 2017




Whenever I see an article about organizing your workday, I read it.  I am always looking for new and better ways to remind myself, organize myself, clean up myself and am still looking for the perfect solution.

One of the topics always covered in these articles is the TO DO list.  I love To Do Lists, and have tried many times to organize myself with them.  Daily distractions are the bane of organization, and To Do Lists are the key to overcome this.  I asked people in varying positions in my office and found that everyone in fact uses To Do Lists, but in different ways:

Typed To Do Lists  
I have a Word version set up as a table with a column to check off when an item is done.  The advantage to this (or similar in Excel) is that you can sort and resort depending on your changing priorities.  Sometimes I print these out in different colored paper to catch my eye or to make a priority list for a specific topic or project; or on card stock vs. paper.  I have also color-coded items to set priorities.

I’ve used special notebooks to keep my To Do list so that I can always grab it when I need it.

The iPhone has built in apps for “Notes” and “Reminders”.  Since we always have our phones, we can access our To Do lists easily from anywhere.

I’ve used Outlook Tasks; and I have also put “to do” items on my calendar so they pop up as a reminder.  If you share your calendar with others, the key here is to mark the calendar time to show the listed task time as “free” not “busy”.

Post Its

One of my principals uses a To Do list but uses Post-its as a triage tool, so that those specific individual items get done the same day and he can throw away the Post-it.

Index Cards
We have card stock cut into index-card size, with our logo and a grid on it.  Another of my principals uses these so he can carry it in his jacket pocket when he goes out of the office or works from home.  This same principal tells me he sometimes adds a completed task onto his list just to get the psychic boost of then crossing it right off!

One More – A Great Idea

I recently read an article that made a lot of sense to me.  Most of the articles on To Do lists talk about having a list and giving the items rankings so they are prioritized.  I often think EVERYTHING on my To Do List is a priority, so that doesn’t work so well for me.  However, this article made the case for a To Do List each day with only TWO items on it.  The items should be chosen because (1) they have been put off and are now weighing on you, or (2) accomplishing it will create a sense of happiness in achieving a goal.  I agree with the first reason, since I am a great believer in guilt as a motivator.  I would be concerned about the second reason, since many unimportant things can create happiness but not accomplish things that really need to be done.   I have taken this advice, however, and each day I put a short list on a Post-it of 3 to 5 items , depending on how big the tasks are.  I hang the Post-it at the bottom of my monitor so it is always visible throughout the day.  This doesn’t eliminate my overall very large To Do list, since you can go to that if you complete your top 3.  BUT, you need to put a laser focus on those 3 to 5 items.  We all wear many hats, and it’s too easy to be diverted by someone showing up at your desk or choosing a quick little set of tasks to feel something has been completed, but effectively taking time away from the big ones.

Stephanie Kirschner, our Executive Director, presented a webinar very recently that touched on some of the above, but also include valuable tips on determining your productive time of day, productivity software, and maintaining perspective.  You can access the recorded program here.

What do you do to keep yourself organized and performing?   Share them in the comment box below. I’m always happy to get more ideas.



Pat Leyden, CDFA is the Vice President, Facility Security Officer for WSP in New York.

 She serves as the 2017-2018 SDA National Treasurer 

Tags:  Organized  SDA  Society for Design Administration  To Do List 

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