Apologising for not making it to dinner. Replying work emails in bed. Catching up at home till 1am/3am/5am. Spending your weekend at the office. Finishing a report while on holiday. We’ve all worked overtime, even if we aren’t in a creative agency or industry.
In the past 8 years as a UX designer, I’ve taken on more projects than I could chew (first out of excitement, then later, over-responsibility), worked 55 hours without sleep and burnt out. Working hard is so ingrained into our way of living that we don’t think deeply about this until it hurts.
At Meetup #20, I shared a personal and team system to work smart that we’ve been experimenting with at Foolproof. This is by no means a magic bean that you can apply without tending the garden but I hope it gets you started. The objective isn’t to achieve zero overtime but balance and the best use of our time.
#01 Plan the week ahead
Spend 30 minutes every Friday making a list of tasks for the following week. You can use any tool but I love TeuxDeux because you can create customisable lists for longer-term tasks, see everything at a glance and move tasks back/forth easily (read more TeuxDeux hacks).
#02 Prioritise your tasks
Use Stephen Covey’s time management quadrant to prioritise all tasks for the following week. Aim to only have 5-6 tasks within the two ‘Important’ quadrants (because we’re not 100% productive every day).
This is our office manager’s quadrant. Don’t worry too much about ‘sprint backlog’ – it’s an Agile development term that simply refers to a list of tasks that need to be completed within the sprint (in our context, this would be one week).
#03 Block your time defensively
Estimate the time you’ll need for each task. How do you do this for a complex task or one you’ve never done before? You could ask a colleague how much time they took, break the task into smaller tasks or simply make a best guess.
Then add tasks to your calendar – this is important! Defensive blocking gives you the power to shift time for a new request or postpone said request to another week. Keep 20% free time for ‘shit that happens’ as well. Don’t be tempted to add more tasks than time – this is why prioritisation is key so you can shift non-important non-urgent stuff to another week.
#04 Share your week’s priorities
We use Kanban, an Agile framework to visualise work and maximise work done. Everyone adds their tasks to the team Kanban board (one row or swim lane per person) before our weekly Monday morning meeting; this visibility allows us to refine the prioritisation of tasks based on client or business needs. Lower priority tasks may also get bumped to the Blocked column if a new request is more urgent and important.
#05 Review the past week
As the week progresses, remember to update your calendar task events based on actual start and end times. This will give you data on actual time spent vs. estimated time. Keep a log so you have reference times for future planning.
Aside from functional data, reflect on your emotions too. How did you feel when you didn’t have to bring your laptop home? (I felt lost initially; crazy, right?) Why were you upset when you couldn’t push back? What would you do differently next time?
To wrap up, here’s a question that someone asked during my presentation: “My work environment is very traditional/intense. How can I do something like this?”. While environment can make a difference, it’s not the only element that matters. We could be in the most supportive studio but choose to stay late or reply a client email at midnight.
As UX designers, we’re in the business of helping others solve problems. So put your oxygen mask on first and design the way you want to work (and live). Change won’t be easy – I still slip into old habits sometimes – but there will be happiness at the end of the rainbow.
p.s. I’d love to hear your stories if you do try this system! Please say hello at the next meetup.4