How to Turn Out More Projects Faster … and Always Meet Deadlines

As a graphic designer, one of your most precious commodities is time. After all, you only have so many hours a day to work, and you can only take on so many projects.

But there is a way to maximize the number of projects you can handle with the time you have – and that is by creating a production schedule that will turn you into a lean, mean, design machine.

One of the first things to tackle is helping your clients understand that the biggest cost of producing a promo is not in hiring you, or in the postage or printing. It's time. When you can win their support in keeping your own time to a minimum, it saves them time … and money.

Here are 4 key strategies to use in making your production schedule. They will help you and your clients use time as efficiently as possible.

  1. Work with only one point person in a company. Trying to design by committee is a major time stealer. If a design needs to be reviewed by several members of the team, have them funnel their comments through the point person. If you have questions, the point person is responsible for getting them answered by the right individual.

  2. Use pre-written forms to streamline steps that are similar from project to project. For instance, instead of writing up a new list of questions to ask the client for each project, create a standardized questionnaire that you can tweak as needed. Also create a proofreading checklist to help you run through the proofreading step quicker.

  3. Systematize your information vollection. As you work through a project, new ideas or information will invariably come your way. Set up separate files for each piece of the project. For example, a DM piece might have files for “letter,” “lift note,” “buck slip,” and “order form.” Keep all the ideas and other materials in these files. It's a good idea to organize your work this way using both physical and computer files.

  4. Create a physical, written schedule in MS Word, Excel, or another spreadsheet program. The table will have five columns and 10 rows.

    The header will have these categories across the top: Task, Time Needed, Begin Date, Proof/Check Date, Final Deadline.

    In the “Task” column, list these items: Read Final Copy, Collect Information, Find/Create Graphics, Layout, Proofread, Review by Client, Camera-Ready Output, Approval by Client, Final Delivery to Printer.

    The columns under the other headings will be filled in with dates as you work backward from the final delivery date.

    Your schedule will look something like the one below. Please note, not all boxes will need an entry.

Task Time Needed Begin Date Proof/Check Date Final Deadline
Read Final Copy (from client)        
Collect Information        
Find/Create Graphics        
Layout        
Proofread        
Review by Client        
Camera-Ready Output        
Approval by Client        
Final Delivery to Printer        

You start filling in the table with the Final Delivery to Printer date. Then, you fill in dates you have no control over (such as the date the client wants to see the project from you for his review and the date the copy will be delivered to you by the client or the copywriter).

Next, estimate the amount of time you'll need for each step, and fill in the rest of the table.

By the time you're finished, you'll have a step-by-step progression of the project. You'll know exactly what needs to be done – and when it needs to be done – to turn out more projects, faster, and always on deadline.

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Published: March 23, 2006

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