Smashing Magazine recently retweeted something that I’ve recently becoming increasingly interested in.
Designers are a skilled lot, knowing how to write code, create logos and do just about anything with Photoshop. I’m not saying we’re all the best coders and logo designers, but when you have skills like that, it’s often you’ll find people coming to you for help with things that might take you away from the tasks which are more important or valuable.
There are only a certain number of hours in the day, and when you bounce from task to task without finishing anything it make you feel swamped and frustrated. Time management is not something they usually teach as part of a Computer Science degree. Here are some of the techniques I use to keep me on track.
1. Each Day, Write Out Your List of Goals
Each morning, or even better – the evening before, write down the most important things you have to accomplish the next day. Then write the number beside each one in order of priority, so you know which one to tackle first. Some people group them into A, B and C tasks, so do whatever works for you. With a visible list in front of you, you can physically strike off each item as they are completed. You will feel less swamped and spend less time looking for folders and files or trying to remember what it was you were asked to do next.
The other advantage of this is that when a product manager asks “what are you working on?”, you can just talk him or her through the list. If they were going to ask you to do something more urgent, it will assist them in determining whether or not they should ask another designer, based on what you already have in your to-do list.
2. Minimize Unnecessary Time Blocks
… like meetings. Unless there is a specific agenda by the person leading it, I am skeptical about how much actually gets done in meetings.
I am more likely to invite people to have quick, informal design review sessions around a desk. It’s easier to go through different designs, or pull up an example of another website somewhere sitting around the same screen.
If you’re being brought to meetings and you’re not sure if you’re really needed there, you can use the list drawn up in Step 1 to show how busy you are. Ask someone to send you the notes, or give you a quick recap later on when you have time.
3. Schedule Checking Email
Because email is such a prevalent way to communicate within an organization, I find it’s often used by people to send unimportant requests that could distract you or interrupt your current task.
If it’s urgent enough, someone will walk over to your desk and ask you to look at the email they sent. I check my email only a few times at specific intervals over the course of a day (9am, 11am, 1pm etc). Turn off the distracting notifications that pop-up. Don’t become a slave to every email that gets sent to you.
Limit the access people have to your time. If something is important enough to warrant your full attention, it should be scheduled before hand, well in advance. Set a precedent among your coworkers who attempt to inject randomness into your day.
4. Reward Yourself
Say to yourself “when I get this done, I’ll get a coffee” or have some small reward system in place to keep you disciplined about finishing tasks.
Take control of your time, and actively use it to get the high-value, high-priority stuff finished first.