Anyone who’s worked closely with supervisors on design projects – be they teachers, clients, or family members who ask for favors – surely understands the importance and value of deadlines. Since becoming a teacher myself, I’ve come to better understand how initial homework and assignments build upon each other to enable students to progress fluidly through a course up to the final test or project, while (mostly) retaining previously studied principles. Likewise, when dealing with clients, the first steps are often the most important, and meeting initial deadlines helps to build a solid rapport with the client. (In fact, I’ve heard some freelancers mention that it is often better to slightly overestimate the time required to finish a task, so that when they finish early, their clients beam and boast of their accomplishments – as well as pass along high recommendations. After all, it’s much better to have a little extra time on our side than be squeezing everything in up to the deadline).
Organizations and clients, particularly those which hire professional graphic designers or design teams, are never solely interested in a single ad campaign, T-shirt design, or book cover. Rather, they depend on designers to help mold their brand image and present it to the public. As Kathryn Best writes in Design Management: “The important aspects of managing design, irrespective of the job title, are about understanding the strategic goals of an organization and how design can play a part…to achieve these goals as successful outcomes.” (Best, 2006, p 12). Here, Best clearly points out that using design to help an organization meet its strategic goals is one of the most significant aspects of design – it’s not only about making things look “cool.” And we, as consumers can all agree that the strategic goals of organizations are often driven along timelines. In order to begin a new ad campaign to correspond with a certain holiday, or to reveal their latest technology at a certain developer’s conference (think Apple), or even to ship pre-ordered books and merchandise on time, each organization must develop and maintain its own strict (or flexible – Blizzard’s Star Craft II…) deadlines. Imagine how detrimental it would be for an organization to release a Public Service Announcement declaring that their pre-ordered merchandise would not be available to ship for a few more weeks on account of the designer not meeting a deadline. Without a doubt, the public outcry would be huge (depending on the size of the company), customers would take their business elsewhere, the company could potentially lose a huge market share if a competitor’s product came out sooner (think Playstation, Nintendo, and Microsoft), and the designer would undoubtedly be “let go.”
In school, deadlines are no less important. Successfully accomplishing tasks on time helps to build a good rapport with the instructor, maintains a good GPA, and helps students to slowly increase their knowledge of the subject as each assignment and reading builds into the next. Additionally, in trying to “[understand] the strategic goals of [the school]” students need to remember that their school does its best to produce top-quality talent in the fields they teach, and not meeting deadlines will not help the school to build its reputation in the field of education. Therefore, being on time with work, and in fact ahead of time if possible, will help both students, and the school, to build their reputations as professionals.
Two of the most interesting things I’ve ever read about time management actually don’t talk much about time managing at all. The first is the book The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Their premise throughout the book is that, “managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal.” (Loehr & Schwarz, 2003, Cover). Another section speaks about to-do lists and personal planners – both good things – but that, “without the right quantity, quality, focus and force of energy, we are compromised in any activity we undertake.” (p 4).
In school, quantity time is spend in study is one of the most important methods to learn a new skill. Graphic designer Jack Cheng borrows some ideas from the famous linguistics researcher Paul Pimsleur when he says that “we have a [messed]-up perception of time…When trying to develop a new skill, the important thing isn’t how much you do; it’s how often you do it…memory isn’t linear; [even] if you spend the same total amount of time studying, the time you spend in between significantly affects what your brain does with the information. Learning is the space between the doing.” (Cheng, 2009). He then goes on to graphically illustrate Pimsleur’s ideas about language learning later in his post.
Therefore, it is with these two principles in mind – energy management, and our frequency of performance – that we should create and follow schedules.
However, I find that rituals and habits help me in time management far more than planning schedules (this is another principle discussed in The Power of Full Engagement). Rituals and habits simply dictate my body to action without much conscious thought on my end. Too much thinking about a certain action or plan often drains me of energy and causes me not to follow through with my plan no matter how non-specific or detailed it is. Therefore, it is important for me to establish habits early on in any endeavor in order to be successful throughout my efforts.
Generally, I work during the day, and my wife wants my attention after I come home, so the best time for me to dedicate some hours to personal endeavors is in the early morning. Since I wake up fairly easily, this is also when my energy levels and focus are the highest. Additionally, as I plan my weeks, it is best for me to think of each day as a slightly different aspect of my work. For example, on Mondays, I do a lot of reading, Tuesdays are good for blog posts, and so on. Each day I strive to spend at least one hour in the morning working on something – to maintain maximum retention of previous efforts and maximum focus during the quiet of the mornings.
What about you?
How do you think about time management and deadlines? How do you manage your time and stay within your deadlines?
Best, Kathryn. (2006). Design Management. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA
Loehr, Jim & Schwartz, Tony. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement. New York: The Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Cheng, Jack. (2009, September). Thirty Minutes a Day. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from Jack Cheng’s website http://jackcheng.com/30-minutes-a-day