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Unless the building is on fire…stay OUT!

September 29th, 2008 · 27 Comments · Agency life, Growing & Learning, Strategy

I know, as an agency owner, writer, speaker and active community volunteer (not to mention dad et al) there are some days when I literally run from meeting to meeting, trying to squeeze in phone calls in between meetings.  And then I wonder…when will I get all the work done that these meetings generated?  Those are frustrating days.  But, to be fair, I do it to myself. 

Sometimes I have to give myself a reprieve.  So I cone myself.Cone1_1

Coning is something we invented at McLellan Marketing Group because all of us need some "quiet time" now and then.  Every employee at MMG has a traffic cone in their office.  When that cone is placed in their doorway, it means, "unless the building is on fire, do not disturb me."

I coned myself for about 90 minutes yesterday.  The week had been frantic and I was riding very close to several deadlines.  I got more done in those 90 minutes than I had all week.  And best of all….I felt great.  I felt calm, I felt successful.  I felt like I was back in control.  Here are some of my secrets to successful coning.

  • Have a commonly understood signal (like the cone) that everyone in your office will honor.
  • Set the example by NEVER interrupting a coned person.
  • Turn your cell phone, regular phone et al ringers off.
  • Do not check e-mail, blog feeds or any other distraction during your coned time.
  • Do not do it for more than 90 minutes (its very frustrating to be on the other side of the cone and need to talk to someone who’s been coned for 3 hours.)
  • Make it a habit.  Do it at least 3 times a week.  Even for 30 minutes a time

Of course, it does not have to be a cone.  Get creative.  As you can see, I have added a skull to my own cone…just to reinforce the gravity of circumstance that one would experience if they broke the code of the cone.

It’s hard to keep those marketing juices flowing if you are feeling bogged down.  Find a way to get yourself some quiet time.  You’ll be surprised at how quickly you get re-fueled. 

(And yes, I have a carpet with a little road on it for match box cars in my office.  Another post for another time!)

How do you carve time out for yourself?  How do you get thinking time, writing time?

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27 Comments so far ↓

  • Daria

    That’s great idea! I like the expression too – cone myslef. I work in the open office hell. It has its good and bad sides. You have always someone to chat with, to do what I call mind battles. But it is hard to get pure time for work, as distractions comes from all around. If I need time whether it is thinking or writing article or next presentation, I simple stay at home. It is impressive how much I can do compared to the same time spent at the office.

  • Karin H.

    Hi Drew

    I don’t work in an office, I have my little showroom to work in/from.
    But at 5pm sharp (or later when clients are in of course!) I ‘close-shop’, switch off email, web and pc and go home.
    When the weather is good I sit in our garden for a while – complete with pen and notepad. That’s where I dot the thinking – writing in peace and quiet, surrounded by nature. Lovely.
    And when partner comes home from his daily work (fitting the floors I sell) we discuss the daily events, the coming events and all other things. And more things get written down for to do the day after. Like a daily directors meeting but then in a natural setting ;-) Lovely

    Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

  • BIG Kahuna

    I solved the “cone” issue in 2002. I shut the doors to our brick and morter office and set all our Kahunas up in their own unique virtual office.

    We have no set schedules or office hours. Work needs to be remarkable and completed and delivered to our clients as promised.

    What happened? I have extremley happy Kahunas and even happier clients.

    I was really nervous when I made the decision to go virtual. Truth is it was the best thing I ever did. Try it for a month and see for yourself. You’ll be amazed!

    p.s. Your readers can check us out in the 2008 StartUpNation homebased competition here:

    link to startupnation.com

  • Megan Tsai

    As a former TV reporter and anchor turned freelance copywriter, I know only too well that work expands to fit the time available. Never once in my years of reporting did I miss having my story ready for the newscast. But, no matter whether I was back at my computer three hours before the show or 30 minutes, the story was always finished just before the tape runner headed down to the control room. Having an enforced deadline (whether it is a 90 minute traffic cone or a six o’clock newscast) is a great strategy for finishing important tasks.

  • Maria

    I thought that’s what that rug was! Love it.

    Great idea… so much better than a shut door, which just makes everyone nervous to know what’s going on in there.

    I’m in open plan and right next to the back door of the office. Talk about distracting! I usually have to just put on my headphones when I want people to leave me be.

  • Drew McLellan

    Wow….I really admire that you can walk away like that. Do you not check the computer at all once you get home?

    Your daily board meeting sounds wonderful! I can just picture you guys sitting out there, birds chirping and the sun setting.

    Boy, your board meetings sound a lot better than the ones I sit through!

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Scott,

    When you went virtual, had all your employees already been with you for awhile? How do you manage team meetings and collaborating/brainstorming etc.?

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Megan,

    Yes, deadlines are very good things — I agree. I think we all do our best work with a deadline. It forces us to make some decisions.

    It also forces us to get past any perfectionism and push to a good solution, rather than never getting to the ideal one.

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Maria,

    Some of us in the office have doors and some do not. So the cones seemed like a very good solution for everyone.

    Do the headphones actually keep them away? I’d think in today’s day and age, they’s quickly become part of the landscape.

    But if it works…more power to you.

    Drew

  • Karin H.

    “Do you not check the computer at all once you get home?”

    Nope, wouldn’t do any good too – deliberately canceled our broadband/internet connection at home. So not even the slightest temptation ;-)
    (And if it rains during some of the late afternoons – we have our meetings in the local pub ;-))

    Karin H.

  • Drew McLellan

    Karin,

    Maybe I want to hang it up and come work for you! Want to interview me in the pub?

    Drew

  • K.Folie

    After reading your blog, thought you would be interested in this…

    CNBC will be airing “The Entrepreneurs” on Wednesday October 1st at 10p ET featuring the founders of Feed Granola Jason Osborn and Jason Wright. They will be discussing the methods which led to their estimated three million dollar a year business. Additional web extras can be found at http://theentrepreneurs.cnbc.com

    Please let me know if you would like any additional information.

    Thanks,
    Kevin
    201 735 4730

  • Karin H.

    Any time, Drew, any time ;-)

    Karin H

  • Matt Dickman

    Drew — This is a great idea. I also love that your door remains open while you are coned in so you are still visible, just with time to think. I am going to begin implementing this immediately.

  • Karl Staib - Work Happy Now

    A great way to create space without making anyone feel bad. To work happy we need alone time. I think a traffic cone is a great idea. It fits in right with my blog. Work happiness comes from also setting boundaries.

    I like the race car rug. It shows creativity.

  • Drew McLellan

    Kevin,

    Thanks for the link. Looks like those guys are much more than pretty faces! I wasn’t able to catch the show (did watch the web extras though) will it air again?

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Matt,

    We’ve found it has really enhanced productivity and people feel like they can carve out thinking time. Which as you and I both know, is a rarity in our worlds today.

    Drew

  • Drew McLellan

    Karl,

    Some would say it shows a boy who never grew up! I like your answer better.

    Drew

  • Ed

    Hey Drew,

    I’ve been reading for close to a year now, but this is my first post. I just graduated from ISU in December, but hopefully I’m still as passionate about marketing and advertising when I’m your age (early 30′s right?). Anywho, I don’t have a cone story, but that rug brought back great memories of my childhood. My grandmother made me several blankets with roadways on them. I would set up little towns on my bed and play “mayor” for hours. If you’re interested in expanding your city limits I could bring them by. Keep up the great work!

  • Drew McLellan

    Hey Ed,

    About time you made a comment! Welcome. It’s a business that is pretty contagious. You either love it or you quickly find another career!

    I bought the rug to go on a hardwood floor in an earlier office. But, loved it so much — it had to come along when we got the carpeting.

    Many a kid (including this big one) have driven cars and trucks along those roads.

    Anyone who suggests I’m in my early 30s gets a free cup of coffee. If you’re still in Iowa, shoot me an e-mail if you want and we can get together and talk shop.

    Drew

  • K.Folie

    Hey Drew,

    No problem I sent additional info to your email.

    Thanks,

    Kevin

  • Drew McLellan

    Kevin,

    Thanks for the e-mail and the info.

    Drew

  • Bridget

    Drew,

    I took a time management course this previous summer and they challenged us to not check our email and voicemail first thing when we arrive to work. I couldn’t believe it and thought the instructor of the course was crazy. Though I have found, that if I go to work and for the first 30 minutes to an hour, dive into some work rather than check my email, I am more productive for the whole day. When you actually think about what would happen if you didn’t come in for that first hour of work – I can tell you, your emails won’t run off and those voicemails will still be there once you “get there” an hour later. Test it out for a day – see what you think!

  • Drew McLellan

    Bridget –

    Boy, would that be a difficult habit to break. But, I am going to try it this week. I would be great to get the day off to a sharp start!

    I often wonder how much more productive we’d be if it were not for e-mail…

    Drew

  • Bobbi

    Are there Mommy cones? Owning and operating a Bed and Breakfast and bringing up baby, it is good to be reminded that gently enforced ‘tuning out’ distractions can be the best ‘tune in’ to productivity, cause on top of beds and food, I’ve still got to keep the creative juices (breakfast of course) flowing.

  • Drew McLellan

    Bobbi,

    You bet! There should be cones for every type of workplace and profession. We all need to have some thinking/focus time.

    And we shouldn’t have to set the alarm for 3 am just to get it!

    Drew

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