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$.75 per minute

A small calculation. Say you earn $90,000 per year, amount which translates to $.75 per minute. Half an hour of disorganization per day translates into $4,500.00 of lost productivity per year.

I am a sucker for efficiency. I am constantly trying to find better ways in which to go about something that I need to accomplish. Whenever I have some downtime I will work on furthering this information, and working out kinks and little details. I have also had many a conversation with fellow designers, lawyers, business people, artists, architects, and stage managers, among many others, as to the solutions that they have been able to gather and apply to the daily work.

Do you believe you are using your space, time, people and resources in the most efficient and valuable way? Are you taking advantage of every detail in order to increase productivity and reduce overhead? Or are you losing time and energy trying to find files, remembering who was in the call last week, who is writing the brief or when things are due? Are you chasing your accountant and playing phone tag with your advisor?

No matter what you do, or where you do it, a few things that you can do:
1. Listen. Ask the people who work with/for you what they think? Which improvements they would make.
2. Analyze. Think about any changes thoroughly and implement them one by one. Test them, make sure they are working before you move ahead to the next thing.
3. Review processes in a systematic way. This will help keep your opinions objective.
4. Plan for the long-term, and work in the day-to-day schematics.
5. Streamline technology.
6. Set up a filing/archiving system early in the process.
7. Take into account the area you will be working in, and the kind of activity that will be done and work with that information. Place furniture and equipment in places that make sense! (i.e., please don’t place the file cabinet across the hall if you use it 20 times a day.)
8. Patience. You will get there.

There is no master set of rules or guidelines to follow. Each business and each individual is different, and the process should be adjusted for each case. But we are not reinventing the wheel here, and many people have great ideas on how to accomplish this, and it is great to hear what other people have done to solve the problem you face now.

Care to share?

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PUBLISHED ON Nov.19.2004 BY bryony
Hrant’s comment is:

Half an hour of inefficiency per day?!

I'm lucky if I get half an hour of efficiency per day...

I find Efficiency quite a beautiful thing - consistently more so than formal aesthetic appeal for one thing. But sadly being a great admirer doesn't make me even an average practitioner. It's like the "plus-size" woman gazing longingly at the svelte vixen. Like Prince Charles implied recently, Nature is not subordinate to our desires.


On Nov.19.2004 at 12:29 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Yes, but if you make $30,000/year, a half hour of wasted efficiency only costs you 25 cents a minute and $1,500 a year. Of course, either way it's 20% of your so-called profits. Er, I mean my so-called profits.

On Nov.19.2004 at 01:03 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

$1,500 a year

or a month’s rent…

On Nov.19.2004 at 01:07 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

5. Streamline technology.

Aaahh, technology. Great for improving efficiency when it works. Great for destroying efficiency when you hit a glitch.

On Nov.19.2004 at 01:15 PM
Ron H’s comment is:

If we were all efficient with our time then who would be left to spend time reading and writing on Speak Up.

On Nov.19.2004 at 01:24 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

You Guys just moved from the Windy City to The City that never sleeps.

I moved ten years ago to my current resident on the Waterfront.

32 Years of Memorabilia. I haven't found half the stuff I'm looking for. And all my boxes were labled.

Recently found some stuff. I was looking for six years ago.

So much for efficiency !!!!!

I'll bet you and Armin will have the same problem.

Don't care how organized you are.

My file cabinets are mountains and mountains and avalanches of manila folders.

Where I'm writing from, looks as if the U.S. Marshalls just set someone on the street.

Kills me to see those Picturesque

Photos in Design Publication(s) of neat and tidy

work stations.

Does anybody REALLY live like that ???!!!!! (uughh)

On Nov.19.2004 at 02:06 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

I'll bet you and Armin will have the same problem.

Ha! Think so?

I beg to disagree.

Exactly one week after the moving company delivered our belongings, every single item, vase, book, and winter hat was in it’s place.

Not a box in sight.

Everything running smoothly. (I even managed to remove 98% of the boxes in 3 days in order to have them pick-up by the recycling truck).

Things can run smoothly if you plan ahead, and get you shit together.

I am a true sucker for efficiency.

On Nov.19.2004 at 02:15 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

Getting back to office or work related efficiency, certain practices have helped me manage my time:

- Specific mindset: If I get sick or go on vacation, and miss work for 3 days, anyone should be able to pick up my files and work seamlessly from them. This means that the information is organized, file names are descriptive of content, folder names make sense, information on the project is readily available… It also means that I am not looking for stuff myself, or trying to understand my notes, or what the client meant.

- I keep all information in one binder, with post-it flags separating information, from history, from meetings or phone calls (also labeled by date), from concept development and any other necessary section.

- I also tape or staple all contact information related to the project to the inside front cover of the binder (client, printer, photographer, sales rep…)

- There is also a pen, a stack of post-it flags and a small note pad in each binder.

- I use the same structure to keep files on the server/computer for all projects. That way, navigation becomes innate and seamless. Things are always in the same place.

- I try to have as many phone calls as possible during a designated period of time (usually 9-10 am) which will reduce the amount of interruptions during the day. Usually it is followed by another half hour at the end of the day.

- As I receive emails, file them in the right folders with the proper follow-up notes. Later, during another designated time slot I will respond, forward, archive, or do whatever is needed. Again, this reduces the amount of interruptions during the day, as well as distractions.

- Once a week I clean my office meticulously. A fresh start, clean and refreshing.

On Nov.19.2004 at 02:29 PM
brad’s comment is:

where do we draw the line between efficiency and obsession/compulsion?

On Nov.19.2004 at 02:31 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

It helps when Armin gives me THE look.

When organizing and planning starts to take up time I should be dedicating to other stuff, or when it is not adding much to the on-going system. Added value vs. time gained/lost.

On Nov.19.2004 at 02:36 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Ron, if we added up the billable time of everybody who reads Speak Up during work hours I'm afraid we would be able to pay the national debt. Not that I'm complaining.

Back on topic… I always feel like I'm wasting time, like I could be doing so much more within a certain timeframe. It's all in my head I think, because eventually I get things done. Being efficient in graphic design — not the business of graphic design — is tricky: how can one make choosing typefaces more efficiently? How can we select PMS colors quicker? How can we translate "think outside the box" more efficiently? With experience, of course, you know what works in certain situations and it is easy, and efficient, to default to those things. This can, at times, be confused with laziness.

> where do we draw the line between efficiency and obsession/compulsion?

Um, if you are the husband, we don't…

On Nov.19.2004 at 03:02 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Efficiency is a relative thing, just as busy work isn't really work at all.

I find that when I procrastinate, I feverishly organize and tidy things up, flag folders, catalog paperwork, etc — which all seem efficient, but is in fact, non-productive. When my desk is a jumbled mess, I'm really flying through an insane amount of work.

The ability to multi-task is first and foremost the ability to focus and segment mentally. That's efficiency if you ask me, and each person gets there differently.

Successful executives have an organized mind, not necessarily an organized desk or desktop. Everything else is prep work.

On Nov.19.2004 at 03:10 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Efficiency is for the stuff you don't want to do: dish washing, toenail clipping, taxes, moving, production meetings...

In other words, declare victory early and often; then go about your life.

On Nov.19.2004 at 03:51 PM
Greg’s comment is:

Ok...something I thought of at the end of the day, as I was rushing to get a file prepped for the printer was, what about all the time where you're doing more than a minute's work inside a minute? A strange quirk of my personality is that I probably do my best work on a tight deadline. Maybe it's because I love challenge, or because I'm a procrastinator, but for some reason my brain works better when I'm pushed. They say you can judge someone's work ethic by how they squeeze their toothpaste...if you squeeze from the middle, you're a lazy procrastinator, and if you squeeze from the end then you're anal retentive. What if you squeeze from the middle then fix it later?

On Nov.19.2004 at 11:58 PM
ps’s comment is:

efficiency is certainly something that i believe is of importance. it might even help some designers to get the competitive edge, by making seemingly impossible deadlines, by simply getting stuff done. i strive for efficiency most of the time. but i think inefficiency is important as well. the best designs sometimes need a detour to find the surprise that makes it stand out. just like gps systems are a great way to find your way around town, the problem with them is that you cannot get lost anymore. and getting lost is one of the most exciting things one can experience. the same problem with the services that deliver only the news to you that you care about. sure both examples will increase your efficiency. but, how can you expand your horizon if every step is predetermined. come to think of it, starbucks fits that category as well. sure you know what you'll get, but you might miss out on the neighborhood flavor next door....

the key probably is to find that right mix. to know when efficiency is a must and when inefficiency is just fine.

On Nov.20.2004 at 12:53 PM
Rob’s comment is:

I'm one of those often wait until the last minute to do some of my best work. I've tried many systems to better organize myself and make myself more efficient but for some reason, in the end, it never really sticks. I know a lot of what I do is driven by my interest level and when I'm bored, I waste a lot of time doing, well I can't always remember what I was doing when I was bored, I but I know it's not always productive.

And while I applaud the fact that there are no boxes left in Bryony and Armin's new home and everything is in its place, it sounds a bit too perfect for me. It's the flaws and inefficiencies in life that make it real. I'm not knocking the need for operating more efficiently but it shouldn't rule your life.

But some of the things I have done and still do that can help:

Keep one, and only one, place for notes and daily details. I have one notebook to record calls, conversations, issues, etc...And I use it everyday.

It supplements my Palm Pilot which is the center of my so-called organizational system. And still, those piles of paper just keep coming back on my desk.

On Nov.21.2004 at 12:07 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

the best designs sometimes need a detour to find the surprise that makes it stand out.

Efficiency buys me extra time to wander around and doodle, and think about solutions for any given project. The fact that I don’t waste time searching for contact information, or misplaced files gives me the opportunity to procrastinate in the areas I deem need them.

I agree that the best ideas often strike us when the deadline is looming and we are tight in schedule, after endless doodles and walks around the office. But it is at this point when being efficient also plays an important part. All the other stuff that you need for your deadline is ready, the boards are cut to size, the conference room is reserved the theatre tickets are in your bag. All you need is the great idea, and there is nothing to distract you.

Efficiency is for the stuff you don't want to do: dish washing, toenail clipping, taxes, moving, production meetings...

Information sorting, print bids, client entertainment, email correspondence, contact baby-sitting, ordering supplies, all the things that happen every day around The Design.

I'm not knocking the need for operating more efficiently but it shouldn't rule your life.

It is a way of life, not a rule of life.

On Nov.21.2004 at 07:09 PM
ps’s comment is:

bryony... i'm a little worried about armin... how is he holding up in the efficiency drill?

On Nov.21.2004 at 11:26 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

> client entertainment...

Bryony, never ever disdain an opportunity to have wine!

On Nov.22.2004 at 12:27 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

bryony... i'm a little worried about armin... how is he holding up in the efficiency drill?

If I promise home made cookies, he will do OK. If no cookies await at the end of the rainbow, a little probing is in order.


Another thing I consider essential toward an efficient environment is communication. When you are working with a group of people, large or small, you need everybody on the same page, updated in the project and up to speed on deadlines and deliverables, among many other things. Any confusion, misunderstanding, I though you would, was I supposed to do that, you were supposed to call, didn’t you send it yesterday? Will make the process and the project in general much harder to complete, and you might even strain your relationship with your client which in turn would require more attention and devotion in order to compensate for past problems. Communication is key, not only for you, but for each member of the team.

On Nov.22.2004 at 08:40 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> how is he holding up in the efficiency drill?

I do my best… I do my best…

One of the things where I am keen on being efficient is in my file naming. All file names must make sense. I can't stand logo_good_final_final_08_a.ai… actually, most files I find have no suffix, are ridden with two or three periods, have exclamation points and are full of spaces. I never leave an empty space, it's always an underscore, and I can't fathom leaving a file with no suffix, specially in OS X where a suffix can save most corrupted files.

File naming becomes increasingly efficient when designing large web sites. If images and HTML pages are named correctly you can work quite efficiently. I was once trying to teach HTML to a co-worker and we would spend, literally, five minutes looking for one image in the hard drive.

On Nov.22.2004 at 09:15 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

I'm salaried. Like many americans, I get paid regardless of my efficiency or lack thereof. Oddly, we live in a society where efficiency isn't really rewarded. Being AT work is regarded the measure of your ability...not necessarily how much you actually PRODUCE at work.

As Homer Simpson said:

"You just go in everyday and do it really half-assed. That's the American way."

Words of a very wise man.


To offer a bit of help, I did learn (from this site, actually) of the 2-minute rule. If you can do a task in two minutes or less, do it now, rather than adding it to your to-do list. I found it a great way to clear your mental 'to-do' list of all the minutia that you have to finish during the day.

On Nov.22.2004 at 11:22 AM
jo’s comment is:

Getting back to office or work related efficiency, certain practices have helped me manage my time...

What struck me about Bryrony's comment (and most others') about efficiency is that it's directly related to organizational systems, or to put it differently, ways to manage information. Organization is like having a regular oil change in your car--things run more smoothly.

For me, efficiency results in a system for managing files on my computer (logical file naming, centrally locating often-used photos, etc., archiving old projects on my firewire drive), a system for documenting everything that happens to a specific project (one folder for a project that has all the proof slips and whatnot), and a system for managing communication (legal pad documenting who to call, what to do, and folders for project-specific e-mails).

This compulsion applies at home, too... I have my bills and receipts filed in order of date, projects and papers from college filed according to semester (with many "process" drafts and printouts), etc., etc. I can't function unless things are filed and organized; it's like having a twisted ankle when you're trying to run a marathon. The more on top of things I feel (organization-wise) the more energy I can devote to working towards a project, rather than panicking about not knowing where I am in the process of things.

I also break up my day with little departures, like walking around the office and spacing out occassionally... it gives a fresh perspective on the project.

On Nov.22.2004 at 11:42 AM
szkat’s comment is:

i relate to that - when my unpaid bills are waiting in a stack (not scattered around), when my bed is made and my clothes are hung up and the living area has been swept...

i feel sometimes like the order of my home is a literal metaphor for the order of my mind. i feel like i can breathe better when everything's up off the floor, which frees me up to take a running start and crash onto the couch, sketchbook in hand. when i come home and throw my coat on the chair and kick my shoes off by the back door, it's like i'm being lazy. why not just hang up my coat? if you start being not-lazy in small ways, it's easier to be not-lazy in bigger ways and in other parts of your life. so yes, i'm saying hanging up my coat helps me keep the names of my files tidy :) it's a practice and habit of doing it right the first time instead of doing it better, later.

On Nov.23.2004 at 10:15 AM
Randy’s comment is:

This reminds me of the “triple bottom line.” No I won't talk about eco-efficiency, but maybe satisfaction-efficiency: how quickly, most effectively, and with the most enjoyment I can do something. When I procrastinate doing the small things, it usually makes the small things stressful and the big thing at the end even more-so.

I was reminded of a helpful rule by a coworker yesterday when I proposed two options for after-hours work today: dinner first, then work; work first, then dinner. “Work then dinner,” he said, “Do the hardest thing first. - Stefan Sagmeister." Thanks Adam.

On Byrony’s point about being efficient in some areas to allow inefficiencies in others. Systems of organization and a defined process create a stable base that’s handy for jumping into experimentation-procrastination-creation mode. The efficiency is the parachute, and the creativity is the freefall. While all that exploration may not be “efficient,” we know it is one of the core components of our unique skill-set. As has been said, with some organizational skills and strategic planning, it can happen as one part of a process that is quite efficient.

On the specifics of the actual tools:

- a web-based project management tool

- physical folders to accompany each project, linked to project management tool with codes

- a remotely accessible server that stores all working and archived files

- iCal

- events and reminders synchronized with phone

- RSS feeds of project updates

- all file names include project code and content codes

Does anyone use VersionCue? I'm curious to hear how it performs.

On Nov.23.2004 at 01:01 PM
danielle’s comment is:

lovin the feedback on this thread. bryony: i admire you. I DREAM of being that organized. Sometimes I think I'm doing well, but then stuff falls thru the cracks and reality sets in that my "system" is a MESS!

I love systems, procedures, routines and the concept of efficient organization, but I just can't STICK to any of them. They turn out being nothing more than good ideas. I think I'm most consistent with my use of iCal, but I also have a costly planner with sporadic entries, scattered notes (blame that on my fetish with new office supplies), and still dream of getting a Palm. Sure, I love to keep things in writing somewhere and I THINK I can keep track of them all, but it's not efficient!

My file organization works great, though. I agree with Armin all the way! File organization needs to make sense. I make sure to go thru my current folders periodically to delete "versions" that I don't need, fix funky filenames (and relink them, if applicable), file all PDFs + proofs in their respectable folders, etc.

Anybody out there work(ed) from a home office? I do, and it's been an endless challenge. My quality of work has decresed, but my efficiency has suffered even more. There's no set schedule, nobody pressuring me to get something done, no guilt that keeps me from doing non-work stuff on work time, no "eyes" that impel me to keep busy when I get sidetracked. How do you do it?

If only I could get injections of motivation.

On Nov.23.2004 at 04:15 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

I love systems, procedures, routines and the concept of efficient organization, but I just can't STICK to any of them.

I would suggest you start with something small, like recording you phone calls with clients and vendors in a notebook. Once you have a good handle on that, and it is part of your ongoing system, then add a new process or system that will enable efficiency. The usual mistake people do, is that they decide to “reform” themselves, or that they are really going to get organized this time, and try to do to much at the same time.

On Nov.23.2004 at 04:35 PM
Damien’s comment is:

Bryony, great topic.

So does anyone want to share their project filing system - I recently overhauled mine returning back to the freelance world, and wondered what others did. I also found it necessary to spend a day working out a solid archiving/backup system.

What do you do?


On Nov.25.2004 at 01:19 PM