How to Magic Yourself Better

Categories Scratched, Thoughts

We do a show that we release as a podcast about being better designers. It’s called The Nudge. In it we try to cover some of the issues we think designers face and try to find people who can teach ways to improve on that.

But we don’t often talk about the things we’re currently doing as a studio to make us better designers; The things we’re doing to make ourselves work smarter.

Recently we finished two massive projects. One was the ANZ Shareholder Review. We’ll post a full case study about that shortly. The other was the redesign of the way one of Australia’s major sporting bodies presents itself to the world.

These two projects took up every resource we had and then some. Many of us worked without weekends and up to 80 hours a week to complete these jobs on time.

That’s not a brag: It’s an admission. It shouldn’t have happened. We should have been able to work smarter and avoid working harder.

During those two projects we already started looking at what we can do next time to make the work go easier. We knew that the way we were working wasn’t great but we were stuck for the moment. Mid project isn’t a great time to swap between task managers, for example.

But then again, is there ever a great time to do such a thing?

We were using Basecamp for our task management and project related communication. Or I should say, we were kind of using it. Basecamp became a dumping ground for files and messages, tasks that were never completed. It was a graveyard of work we had done, work we had intended to do, and it never gave us an understanding of what was happening right now.

We think this might be where our problem was. Basecamp is an excellent product but it just wasn’t working for the way we do things.

Right now we’re trying two new (to us) products: Slack and Asana.

Slack is a good team communication tool that many of our colleagues and friends had recommended.

Asana is a task management set of apps that gives the opportunity to categorise tasks in a number of ways, nest tasks to be as granular as we like, and offers snapshots on projects and their progress over time.

We’re still in the early days of using these systems and we’ll try to keep you updated on what we discover about them and ourselves.

At the moment, though, it’s also important for us to realise that these systems can’t make people work better but they can offer the opportunity to improve our processes.

Just like buying a new notebook doesn’t make you write that novel and having a new bat doesn’t make you a better cricketer, having new productivity tools isn’t going to magic us into working better. It will take tenacity, discipline and support from each other when things get tough.

We’re lucky as well that we work in a team. Hopefully we can do that better soon too.

This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog

Professionally ticked off

Categories Scratched, Thoughts

Two people checking their todo lists

Here’s the thing about being in business: you never want to look unprofessional. If you don’t think you’re in business, look around you. Do you have a job? You’re in business. Does someone give you money in exchange for goods and services? You’re in business.

There is a level of service expected in business and it is called “professionalism”. If you are looking unprofessional, you present the opposite of the level of service expected.

One of the ways I get around this problem is with a todo list. You know those moments when you’re working and you think: “I’ll just check Facebook or Twitter,”? Those are moments when your mind is wandering and wants something else to do. Chances are you have something else to do. If you aim to be professional, you bloody better have something else to do.

Continue reading “Professionally ticked off”

10 Minutes

Categories Scratched

Mess. I make a lot of it. It might be a simple thing like getting undressed before bed or opening mail in my home office, but somehow I end up with piles of metaphoric crap all over the place.

I used to, periodically, spend a couple of hours cleaning every few weeks, cursing my inability to keep things clean. This was particularly a problem in my home office where there wasn’t anything like the urgency of clothes in need of a laundry.

Receipts, DVDs, cords, paperclips, articles and mail grew in bacteria-like colonies across my desk, in my in-tray and on any surface that was not already so covered in detritus that they couldn’t take just a little more.

A large part of the problem was getting the time to do a major clean. Almost nothing feels better than taking a horrible mess and tidying it, organising it and finishing with a workspace that doesn’t require apologising to visitors. The transformation is tedious and not at all like the make-over montages we see in teen cinema. Nor is it like the instant-tidying clicking that Mary Poppins led us to believe was possible. It’s laborious and mind-numbing. So it’s more than just a time problem, it’s a motivation problem.

Who in their right mind would want to put themselves through that? Yet I did on an irregular basis.

One day recently I found myself with 10 minutes to spare. I started cleaning my office and found that I could actually make some progress. At the end of the 10 minutes I just left it where it lay. But I felt good. I made progress.

I realised that I often have 10 minutes at various times in the day that I used to waste with playing some game on my phone or performing vanity searches on various engines.

The next day I found myself with some time again and this time set a timer. 10 minutes. For 10 minutes and no more I’d file, sort and dispose. The alarm sounded and I walked away.

10 minutes is nothing in the course of a day. It’s a disciplined amount of time and it doesn’t vary. 10 consecutive minutes would sometimes be just before going to bed because it was the only time I had spare but delaying sleep by 10 minutes isn’t going to make much difference.

After 5 days my inbox was clear, there was no detritus on my large desk (I have a door on two filing cabinets) and I could actually start working on other areas like book shelves, filing draws, et cetera.

I am not the sort of person who puts things away as soon as they are used. I never have been and it’s unlikely I ever will be.

A simple restriction and predetermined end point was all I needed to maintain some kind of order in my home office. I extended the same rule to my bed room and it was amazing. 10 minute blocks over a series of days made such a huge impact that soon it was 10 minutes of maintenance or more efficient organisation.

I started to expand the idea of 10 minutes to other areas of my life. Finances, photo-tagging and any other mundane but somewhat necessary bit of organisation I required.

The process fell over. I stopped doing anything. The list of 10 minute things became too daunting. I found myself looking at it and thinking “Well, that’s 90 minutes I require to get all of that done.” Suddenly nothing gets done because I have the same problem of not knowing where to start.

I cut the list back to just keeping my personal areas tidy and organised.

It’s an exercise in discipline of the achievable. I’ll need to adapt that to other things that need to get done. Maybe those are once a week tasks. Maybe once a month. The trick is finding the balance between the time I’m willing to spend and how quickly the rubbish can pile up. It’s an ongoing process.