Are we really all that busy? Sure, we think we are. Then, occasionally, we get properly busy. I’m certain that, regardless of your role and industry, you will have periods of quiet, periods of average, and then periods of having seriously loads to do.
Salt & Vinegar?
I once worked in a fish and chip restaurant and takeaway shop. During the summer holidays, on a Friday night, the local beach hosted a grand firework display. This weekly event drew thousands of visitors, many of whom fancied a fish supper on their way home.
To cope with the demand our boss implemented a strict process, which was a factory line of kitchen and restaurant staff taking orders, cooking, and serving fish & chips, to scale! This was quite a contrast to our usual free-flowing, everyone mucks in, approach. I was usually shovelling portions of chips onto ‘newspaper’, ready for one of two packers to add the salt & vinegar, wrap the bundle, and hand over the goods to our hungry customers.
The process didn’t change, and it worked a treat. However, some Friday nights flew by while others felt like an uphill slog.
Spot the difference
The process worked and I did my job. Those facts remained equal every Friday night.
If I stayed focused on shovelling the chips, feeling the energy of the team around me, seeing the delight on each customer’s face as they took hold of the warm, paper-wrapped dinner, the two hours went by without me noticing. Before I knew it, the last customer walked out the door, and the boss was quickly handing us each a cold bottle of beer.
However, on other Friday nights, those last two hours were excruciating.
On these days, when the fireworks had finished and people began queuing, I’d look up at the queue that was soon heading out the door and over The Square. I couldn’t believe how long the queue would get, and I’d stew over all those people I would have to serve chips for. Every time I looked up; the queue grew. I just wanted to get out of there. The clock ticked ever so slowly.
I liken the queue of fish & chip customers to your long queue of projects that are filling up your schedule over the coming months.
What can we do?
There are two parts to successfully managing the busy periods: process and thinking.
The process you have in place needs to work regardless of whether you feel motivated or not. All projects and work vary in size and complexity, but there are three key aspects to note:
- Scope of work: The steps you need to take to get from where you are now to delivery.
- Diary management: A schedule of the work activities, so you know what to be doing at any given time.
- Open communication: Quick and honest dialogue with colleagues and stakeholders to discuss and progress the project.
That may all sound obvious, but I’m sure many of you reading this have worked in projects that have suffered because at least one of the above has not been instilled.
Your personal approach to a busy period will affect your experience. In the chip shop, if I began my day fretting over how far away 11PM was, if I pictured my friends, who weren’t working this evening, out having fun without me, if I told myself I’d rather be anywhere else, well, you could imagine how my day was going to be! On these occasions, all my focus was on me, and I revelled in picturing a future of pain.
There are two more aspects that will help you with your busy schedule of work:
- Trust the process: Knowing that the right steps are in place removes the need to worry about upcoming work. If you don’t trust the process, work on this as soon as you can (below I share some ideas).
- Focus on the task in hand: Don’t fret about all that work you’ve got to do next week, the work will come when it comes, you only have the here and now.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
We can’t always help how we feel and think. Often, it just is. This highlights the importance of having a process you can rely on.
At Experience UX we have built our processes up over several years, but for all our work there are a few aspects that every process includes and that I encourage you to implement:
These are the jobs you do to get from where you are now to delivery. For example, when we are asked to wireframe, we don’t jump up to the whiteboard and begin to scribe. We know we need to:
- Create quick personas – who are the users, and what are they trying to achieve?
- Map the current journey – understand the current journey and the pain points
- Map competitor journeys – learning from good and bad practice
- Map a new journey – removing the pain, sharpen the focus, meet user needs
- Order the content (hierarchy) – this is a logical list of the content, features, and functions, prioritised from the personas and mapping
The above tasks can each be projects in themselves, but for this task, they are quick and informal steps to prepare for the main event. We schedule an hour for each, then we’re ready for wireframing.
The point here is to not be tempted to simply block-book a couple of days for ‘wireframing’. Instead, schedule the individual tasks that you rely on to lead you there.
Lists are critical in helping the EUX team to be confident that things are on track. Usability testing is a notable example where we don’t need extra project management, but we do need to manage the many little tasks that must happen.
We therefore have a usability testing checklist that is categorised by how long, prior to the testing, tasks need to be ticked. For example,
Three weeks before:
- Write up a test plan and issue to client for feedback and approval
- Sign off recruitment screener and instruct recruiters to begin
- Confirm lab hire (if using)
- Book travel and accommodation (if needed)
We then have lists for two weeks before, one week before, three days before, and one day before.
So many people are working to tight deadlines, and a few people do thrive at this. However, for many of us, our best work requires us to step away. To connect the dots, or to make a perfect recommendation, often requires taking a break from the project, even if that is to finish work early, have a pleasant evening with friends and family, and to get a good night’s sleep.
At Experience UX we do our utmost to leave some space between core tasks, to go off and do something different, to then come back with a fresh perspective. No one will give you this time, so plan it in, and be strict. Your best work will appear before you.
Trust the process
I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having the above in place, especially in busy periods. If you or your colleagues are not feeling in flow, a trusted process will ensure an excellent outcome, regardless.
Don’t look up at the queue of hungry customers. Instead, focus on the one customer you are serving at this moment. The next customer will arrive when it is their turn, and you can serve them then.
Trust the process ahead of you and focus on the now.