Trees and Forest

Working for Today While Planning for Tomorrow

We’ve all heard the phrase you can’t see the forest for the trees, but in the design world, if you’re not seeing both, you’re in trouble.

Deadlines are always coming. If you don’t have one today, chances are you’ll have one, two, or six tomorrow. That’s just the nature of how work ebbs and flows in our office. While we may have excellent planning that balances out milestones to prevent deadline clumping, maximize output, and minimize craziness, inevitably, delays and changes circumvent all this and lead to a hectic day or maybe even week. And on the occasions that the stars align and the delays from multiple clients conveniently remain balanced, there is still the matter of keeping up with how those changes affect the workflow.

There seem to be rather dichotomous personalities out there when it comes to deadlines: those who look at the day’s deadlines and focus on checking them off (trees) and those who look at the whole project’s deadline and focus on wrapping up in the end (forest). There are successes and challenges with both of these perspectives.

For the tree lovers, they know what needs to go out the door today or what is scheduled, and they will work until it gets done. If they finish early, woohoo! This is great for meeting the milestones. However, they may lose sight of the bigger picture and miss out on opportunities to work ahead or rearrange for a more efficient workflow. They may also suffer more when delays cause deadline log jams.

For the forest rangers, they see the final deadline and they understand how much work has to be completed in the given time. They understand the need for efficiency and how personal delays or making the decision to shave off a day can affect the end game. However, they may become caught up so much in the end goal that they miss (or nearly miss) the milestones in between. Or they may be so overwhelmed by the amount of work to complete that they have difficulty with either knowing where to start or getting the motivation to do so.

For great success in the design world, a hybrid of these is ideal (think ambivert vs extrovert or introvert). It’s a matter of working efficiently for today and getting things done while also keeping what’s coming down the pipeline in our peripheral vision. This allows for flexibility when a client needs an extra day for proofing, copy isn’t ready, or any of a handful of other challenges affect a timeline. ‘Client isn’t ready on project X? Okay, then I can move project Y’s deadline up in priority and get that out early. I’d also better keep an eye out in case it affects project Z.’

In the end, it’s about appreciating the complexity of the forest while still caring for each tree individually.

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