The Schedule

Published at Oct 13, 2020

Let’s face it, as a digital agency, we sell our time to deliver creative work. How we schedule that time defines how a typical working day looks like here. We use scheduling to bring more calmness into our lives while also increasing the quality, and here’s how.

Why should you bother?

We’ve gone through it: Delayed projects, stressful deadlines, working extra hours, or even on weekends. None of that should be required to run a successful company, and we are pretty happy that no one in our team is doing that anymore.

Yes, you can get a lot done in a 10 or even 14 hours day, sure! But that’s just not sustainable. If I had worked a long day, I was useless the next day. If I did work like that for a few days or even weeks, I needed a really long break afterward. Otherwise, I wasn’t able to concentrate on the things I’d like to do.

I often heard that people think to deliver the best work right before a deadline. They say procrastination actually helps them to be the best version of themself. I think that’s just not true and don’t get tired of telling them. From my experience, that’s a problem of perception.

All creative work needs time. You won’t like your first draft after a while. Your first draft will probably even look stupid after a while. That’s because it is. Even if you’re a superfast 10× designer/developer/whatever, you’ll always start foolish. You only get better, smarter, and more experienced with … yeah, experience. And that just takes time, no shortcut here.

Unfortunately, a lot of companies act the same way. They think people need constant pressure to be productive. And depending on how you feel about productivity, the numbers support them. But when you value quality, it’s not just about the sheer number of tasks someone gets done. It’s about how well it’s done.

Quality needs time.

I think you’ve got my point. Good things need time. But then there is real life, sure.

When clients contact us for the first time, a fair amount of them starts with: “We need this done by ____ (put unrealistic deadline here), is that possible?” And we all know the answer is: No. Though I see a lot of people who answer with: Yes. It’s what they think the only allowed answer is.

Maybe, they think they actually can make it if they do a few things differently. Perhaps pausing another project, asking someone for help, adding more people to a project, working faster, working extra hours or on the weekend. I tell you the truth. None of that will help. Sure, you will probably be a little bit faster than in other projects, but it will feel exhausting, or you will sacrifice quality, or even worth, both. That’s how it is.

Of course, some people know it’s impossible and lie to their future clients. But let’s forget about them. I don’t think a lie is a good start for any kind of relationship.

From the beginning, we make our schedule transparent for our clients, so there is no surprise for them. They know exactly when we plan to work for them, and when not. That’s what we think is a reasonable basis for a relationship.

Enjoy a calm workspace.

If you already nodded a few times on your way through this post, let’s agree on the ideal working environment:

A lot of uninterrupted time

The productivity killer number one is interruptions. Any meeting, call, and message can pull you out of your flow state. There is a lot everyone can do to get rid of those interruptions, like disabling notifications or closing communication tools before trying to get into the flow.

There are also a few things you can respectfully do to improve the situation of others. Find an answer to your question in our knowledge base, collect your thoughts throughout the day, or just wait for a scheduled meeting in a few days. Most things can wait. I know you don’t believe me, but they can. Try it out!

There is a ton we can improve as a company to get rid of distractions too. First of all, it’s the workload in general, which shouldn’t be too high. Internal and external communication should be straight on point. Some people are very talented in raising questions with their communication, some people answer questions. You definitely want to be in the second group.

Well defined project scopes

Easier said than done, but projects need to have a clear scope. What exact problem do we solve, for whom, and why, are all questions that need to be answered. Many teams try to figure out how projects should be approached before starting, but there’s no need to do that in advance. I mean, that’s our job as designers and developers, isn’t it?

If you do that, it’s only a matter of time until something doesn’t work out as expected, and everyone in the team is clueless what they should do then. But if everyone knows the exact problem, they can figure out solutions on their way.

Few projects to concentrate on

Some people need more projects to work on in parallel, some people need fewer. 2-3 projects running in parallel are perfect for us (depending on the size, complexity, and role).

We always have situations where we just don’t know how we solve something and need some time. It’s good to jump to a different project to work on something completely unrelated now and then. Just to come back to the first project the other day and find a solution promptly.

Also, there are always situations where a client stops us. For example, to reconsider the direction based on new learnings. It’s great to continue to work on a different project until the client had some time to figure their stuff out.

It’s still an interruption, and you know what I think about interruptions. We definitely try to avoid that kind of situation, but we are working with new clients every month, so we can’t foresee everything and try to prepare for breaks in advance instead.

Time to try different approaches

One big misconception is that some companies expect people to solve problems with their first approach. Though, that’s not how quality evolves from my experience. You always need time to throw away what you did and start from scratch. In most cases, the result will improve with every iteration, and even if not, you’ll be more confident with the first approach then.

That time needs to be planned from the beginning. Otherwise, you won’t be able to go a few steps back in your process.

How time scheduling helps here.

I mentioned a few different ways to improve the situation for the whole team already. From the perspective of a company, I think a realistic schedule can have the most significant impact. I try to share how we approach that here.

We use to schedule the time of our team transparently. It’s basically a timeline for every team member, where you can arrange the projects. Team members get a summary of their schedule on Monday morning.

Nothing special, but it works for us. Anyway, you can use a spreadsheet or whatever you like, no need to use what we use.

1. Plan for days, not hours.

We plan for days only. There must not be a single day, where someone has two different projects. Always keep in mind that switching the focus to another project is expensive.

2. Eight hours is too much.

Depending on the contract, role, and experience of a team member, we schedule 4-6 hours a day. We don’t expect anyone to start their day, work 8 hours straight, and call it a day then. It’s not how it works, so we don’t plan that way.

We all need some time in-between too. Whether it’s to slack around, ask someone how the recent holiday has been, watch a video, or whatever. That’s how we all do it—no need to feel bad because of that.

If someone can do more on a specific day, fine. But it’s not what we expect.

3. Make it transparent.

Anyone has access and can look at the schedule for the whole team. We schedule new projects with the project team, and anyone can ask to change the plans anytime.

But there is only one person responsible (and able) to change the schedule in the tool. We started to have multiple people doing that, but that led to chaos a few times. One person overlooking all priorities is enough for our team of eleven.

4. Plan months ahead to avoid surprises.

Most of the time, our schedule reaches as far as two months in the future.

We plan new projects as early as possible, most of the time before sending an offer, in all cases before it’s commissioned.

5. Obey the schedule.

We don’t expect the team members to adhere to the exact days in the schedule. If we scheduled something for Monday, you’re free to work on it on Friday. However, we try to put all project members of the project on the same day, so it’s easier to reach out to others that probably work on the same thing simultaneously.

And we expect people to actually use that amount of days on the scheduled projects. If that doesn’t make sense, everyone can reach out anytime, and we try to find a solution that works better.

We try to not interrupt someone with a surprise project or force someone to jump to a different project. You should already know what we think about interruptions by now.

That said, there are situations where we need to act quickly, for example, a critical bug in a project. We’ll jump in on that quickly. And now and then, we need the expertise from the team for new inquiries. Most of the time that works out, as we don’t schedule the whole day anyway.

For us, it’s mostly about respect.

We do everything we can to work together respectfully. We value the time and concentration of other team members. We’re thankful for every creative who works with us, and we want to show that.

One more thing: If you like what you’re reading and want to join us, we’re looking for a Frontend Engineer (f/m/*) and a PHP/Laravel Developer (f/m/*) in Berlin, Germany.

If you have any feedback or question, don’t hesitate to hit me up on Twitter. Thanks for reading!