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Making Time Zones Work For You

By Stephen Northcutt

Making Time Zones Work For You

We live in a global world. I am in Germany as I write this and just finished working on a project with our partner in Japan. Before that, I was completing one of my tasks as marketing chair for SANS Boston 2010 and sent my work out so that teams in Arkansas, Hawaii, and Virginia could work on the next step. Most people complain about time zones, they consider them an impediment. Let's consider some strategy to make time zones work in our favor as opposed to being a problem.

When you are in a leading time zone

I am in Stuttgart Germany, that is five hours ahead of the East Coast USA. At the beginning of the workday, I have an opportunity to drill down and do work. Five hours from now as they start to wake up, they will start sending and responding to emails, making requests, needing information. For me to be maximally effective:

  • Try not to be involved in meetings and other minimally effective work activity in the morning, this is prime productive time.
  • Be sensitive to the needs of the people in lagging time zones, make a point of checking your email at least once in a ninety minute period, this can be a good time to schedule one hour meetings.
  • Push as many phone call meetings to the end of the day. You are generally less effective at the end of our work day, this is a good time to do less productive work, however remember to take notes, when you are tired your short term memory is not as effective.

When you are in the primary time zone

For SANS, the U.S. East Coast is the primary time zone. That is where our accounting and East Coast NOC are located. I make sure to spend a minimum of several weeks per month in this time zone. When I am on the East Coast, the folks in Asia will have written their emails while I am sleeping and that is followed by a wave from Europe. For me to be maximally effective:

  • The first thing I do is run through the recent emails, usually before breakfast. Prioritize Europe over Asia, Asia is probably asleep. Then eat breakfast, try not to skip breakfast.
  • Many SANS people work out next, I prefer to do that at the end of the work day.
  • Meetings and phone meetings work well in the morning when you are in the primary time zone.
  • This means I have to try to do my primary writing and research just before and just after lunch, that takes discipline.
  • Late afternoon is reserved for phone meetings with our team in Hawaii, or if no meeting, do a quick check of email and get back to writing and research

When I am in the lagging time zones

For me, this would be West Coast conferences and work from the office in Hawaii. When I wake up in the morning, Europe is essentially headed for bed and the work day on the East Coast is in the last stages. One really crazy thing is that Hawaii does not have daylight savings time. Part of the year you are five hours behind the East Coast, the rest of the year, six. For me to be maximally effective:

  • As soon as I get a mug of hot green tea in hand, go straight to email. What has happened, what is critical, did my boss or another partner write?
  • Breakfast, try not to ever skip breakfast
  • After breakfast, hit the email again for the secondary notes and at the same time kill any stupid email. After my first pass looking for top priority email, I try to start at the top and process everything as I hit it and do so as fast as possible. If I run into an email that takes more than 15 or 20 minutes to handle during this pass, I will usually come back to it.
  • I try not to schedule phone meetings till 9:00 A.M. Hawaii time, this give me time to use email to develop situational awareness.
  • 9:00 A.M. sharp I start the phone meetings for the day, in general I have a window of 9:00 - 12:00 except for the West Coast.
  • Lunch
  • Check email one last time, it should have died out by now.
  • The afternoon in Hawaii is my primary research and writing opportunity
  • Near the end of the work day, have some time for reflection. What do I need Europe or the East Coast to do when they wake up tomorrow? Put those emails into play, this is a huge part of making time zones work for me.


I don't have a really great strategy in Asia. I usually go to speak and when I am not needed on the floor I'll be in my hotel room pounding out email and trying to keep my writing and research on track.

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