Help with workflow?

So, I’m the ID director/senior ID/project manager/intern herder at my firm. I’m struggling with juggling it all. My Friday is a perfect example… I had no more than 20 minutes of uninterrupted design time the whole day, which is basically nothing. If I wasn’t helping rework an intern’s idea I was being pulled into a sales meeting or answering an ‘urgent’ call or hunting down a colleague that promised me material for a presentation (which I still don’t have! Due Monday!).

None of that (directly) contributes to the bottom line, so here I sit on the weekend trying to catch up on a week’s worth of project work. It’s driving me crazy in general, and when we’re overbooked it’s burning me out big-time.

Does anyone have any workflow habits that carve out the time you need to work through thoughtful, considered designs? I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and turning out mediocre work because of all the static in my day. I thought about asking for a closed office (I’m out in a studio space with the other IDs), but in the end I think that would solve some problems but create more.

I’m not really qualified to answer i think, but it sounds to me like you are simply taking on too much. How large is the company and how many people are you responsible for?.

I’ve been there. It took me a long time to learn how to Direct, Delegate, Guide, Mentor, and Manage. I realize now that while throwing down a hot sketch on a project is super fun (and I still do it at times) I have a lot more value to the company if I can inspire 5 designers to throw down 10 hot sketches with that same amount of time, and guide someone else through pulling together the presentation I need. Think of it more as being a composer/conductor. Beethoven might not have played the violin but the 5th Symphony is still all him.

It is hard to delegate though. It feels like you are shirking your obligations at first, but trust me, you provide much more value to the organization by elevating if you are the director.

I haven’t got in this level yet. But I have seen my sr. designer cope with new interns. I think when you hire someone, you should really know their special interest/quality and ability. For e.g. my sketches are not great, so he would give presentation level sketches to another person that has proven sketching skills. Likewise he will give me research, problem solving, communicating with engineers and manufacturers and model making works because of my ability. Mostly in our studio, one project will be divided and finished by different interns or designers.
I guess you should try to categorize your interns ability. Also “hunting down colleague” sounds like work ethic issues- person is not deadline driven. Either you have to be strict with your associates deliverables or set new rules for working in your place. By the way, I am not sure if you are the principal or an employer at this firm.

Zierlabs: We have about 35 people (6 are IDs, the rest are engineers, misc.). I only have 3 direct reports, but I’m responsible for managing the workflow of all the IDs to a degree. I also work with our engineering groups and participate in sales activity, mostly on framing proposals and providing them with marketing materials.

Yo: I definitely get what you mean, and it’s really hard to let go… being high productivity and type-A is what got me here in the first place. My first and greatest love is working through the questions/answers of product development, and it’s tough to turn that aside for documenting time sheets and sitting in meetings. It’s also a little bit difficult for me to justify only doing management work right at this moment in time, as we just went through a staff reduction and are somewhat overbooked. Right now, I just need to figure out a diplomatic way to tell people to leave me alone so I can get work done. :slight_smile:

Shyamsun: My latest intern is relatively new, which is a bit of the issue itself - I haven’t gotten comfortable enough with her to figure out where she really shines yet, and there’s always a warm-up period for folks fresh out of school. As for my co-worker, he really is brilliant at everything except time management. Most of the time I just make sure I set his deadlines a week ahead of what I need and I’m OK. :slight_smile:

Here are a few things I have found that help, keeping in mind that a little upfront planning can help you to streamline down the road.

  1. Sit down and evaluate your direct reports so you know where there strengths and weakness are thus you can ensure that you are supporting them in the right areas and allowing them the needed freedom in others

  2. If you have a sr. Design with good mentoring skills you need to have them lead the intern. Interns are great but you need to know and realize that many times they take more work to make them effective. Internships more often then naught are about a learning experience for the intern and not really a additional designer… Learn her strengths and weakness asap and play off of them. But remember they are still a intern and you need to create a constructive and nurturing learning environment. And even though the Sr. Designer is in charge make sure to check in on them, if you don’t have a SR design who can properly mentor then define a weekly project / task list with them

  3. As Yo says you are more valuable leading and mentoring the team then trying to do the work your self. Keep a fifty foot approach and pop in on the project were needed. Providing needed direction on design, engineering, and ensuring the deliverable are being met. DONT micor manage the project! but instead steer and motivate, this can be hard as many times we think to ourselves that it would be quicker and easier if we just did it our selves. But this leads to the trap that your designers aren’t happy and you are taking on too much and in the end the project will suffer.

  4. Have at least 1 team meeting a week! I more often do 2 A Monday morning kick off to ensure every one knows were they are going and if there are any issues or problems that the individuals are have … creativity, meeting deliverable, getting needed project info… Encourage them to share and let them understand that you are there to ensure they have the tools do do their jobs. My Friday meetings are once again a touch base so that I can plan out the following week and adjust deliverable and see if any thing new has come up, also a chance to just say GREAT JOB TEAM!

  5. Even though you have 1 or two meetings, with the team you should touch base with them periodically to ensure everything is going smooth. The frequency depends on the person and their ability to manage themselves. Some need it almost every few hours, some every other day.

  6. Define a set time that you are unavailable expect for extreme emergency 2-4 hours a day to accomplish your needed design work. This is of course easy to say but hard to get other people to follow, I use to have a sign I would put up that said do not disturb…(in a humors way)

There are more tips and trick, but I have only so much time allotted for boards… :wink:

Just checked out this list of tips. Some of them might help you find a bit more time in your day…

chevisw: Heh, thanks for spending your allotting forum reply time on me! I’m definitely getting to the point where I value things like that. Thanks for your very practical thoughts. We definitely do some of them - we have Monday meetings too, and that’s where we get everyone together and make sure no one person is too loaded or too light. I love the idea of a quick Friday huddle too - especially when it’s been a hard week everyone needs a pat on the back! I have ended up as the intern wrangler by default - I love helping young’uns get on their feet although it’s more pressure generally speaking… we usually end up with a fully-functional team member by the end. I try not to micromanage - I very rarely get into another designer’s project unless there’s some sort of problem. A lot of my distractions don’t come from the IDs, actually - most come from our engineers and sales people. Today I’ve taken some extreme measures by working from home this afternoon… definitely something I can’t do often, but everyone was clear on their tasks so I retreated to my cloister. Long term, I’m trying to work out a really visible way to indicate a ‘do not disturb’… maybe something like one of those revolving warning lights on top of my computer.

NURB: That list is great - lots of good tidbits there - the ‘don’t check email for your first hour’ is a GREAT one. I’ll implement that one starting tomorrow.

If you feel overwhelmed, Getting Things Done is a good book to read and apply - I find as long as I follow the tips in it, I don’t get overwhelmed. When I was a design manager, I aimed to get into work an hour or two earlier than everyone else, that way I got some uninterrupted time - you can try the office door shut/headphones on Do Not Disturb technique, but not everyone respects it.

I also subscribe to getting in early. A lot of times I’l send out notes to people early on what I need them to get done for the day, and leave post it’s on sketches with suggestions. This way when people get in, they immediately have work to do and it extends my solitary time to get things done.

Also, I took a 3 day intensive course from Franklin Covey on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, sounds lame, but really helped reshape my perspective and methods.

I do make a habit of getting in early - that’s a lot easier on me mentally than staying late, and it’s quiet time to get my mind in order before I have to direct others.

These are all great suggestions, I appreciate all the help. I’m still somewhat new at this, and it’s challenging in ways I didn’t expect.

ModernArt, how long have you been at it? I only ask because my first year or two of it were full of mistakes, mis steps, and long nights! It takes time. We are promoted for being a-type designers then need to learn a new set o leadership skills.

This December marks my first full year. It has definitely been hard but I have had some successful moments. I’ve been able to develop some new processes for how we quote work and how we educate our salespeople ( not in a vacuum of course, but I brought things together). I still haven’t quite gotten the knack my boss had of magically having enough time for everyone.

Give it time, give it time. You will find your way and your rythm.

A short story that helped me is “The Admiral’s Reckoning” by J. Robert King. It is Sci-Fi not nautical.

Yo, do you have any more information on this 3Day course?

Let me get that for ya: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® - FranklinCovey

It was done through Franklin Covey, this was maybe 5 or 6 years ago, but I’m sure they are still available. 2.5 days intensive with homework in between days. Take home DVDs and work books. It was really good for me. Of note, I think if I had done it earlier, it would not have been the right time. When I did it I needed to change some things to be more effective so I was ready to listen and absorb. I think it was $1k-$1.5k?

I just want to say everyone’s encouragement and help have REALLY helped me, even in the short term. I’ve actually been a lot more enthusiastic this week, and was super productive yesterday and today without feeling too harassed! Some of the biggest things were managing my time well at the very beginning of the day, and being firm but respectful about meeting time/consults.Thanks so much!

Keep fighting the good fight!

glad to here it man.