Time is on your side (except when it's not)

By RocketAir Crew
April 12, 2021

How to manage project workloads to meet your deadlines.

You’re on your own

If you consider all the things millennials have given us—Facebook, Instagram, Pete Buttigieg, and a weird obsession with the color pink—one could argue that the generation’s most underrated gift has been forcing us (or at least those of us here in America) to begin rethinking our approach to work.    

Specifically, millennials are known to prioritize jobs that offer a favorable work-life balance over those that only offer more money; they are less interested in the stability of the traditional 9-5, 40-hour work week that their parents worked; and they have even changed how companies think about the layout of their offices, trading out the dreary rows of cubicles for an open space floor plan—or even ditching the conventional office altogether and setting up shop in a co-working space.

And as Generation Z begins to enter the workforce, the changes the millennials have brought about are likely to stick around because their younger brethren are seen as embracing a less traditional approach to the work life as well.

“Today’s young workers have been called lazy and entitled,” Claire Cain Miller and Sanam Yar wrote in the New York Times. “Could they, instead, be among the first to understand the proper role of work in life—and end up remaking work for everyone else?”

To be sure, working differently doesn’t necessarily mean working less; it’s just rethinking how you get work done. What millennials and other young workers want is flexibility, according to the Times, which includes “paid leave for a new baby, say, and generous vacation time, along with daily things, like the ability to work remotely, come in late or leave early, or make time for exercise or meditation.”

What younger workers have shown is that technology—both the hardware and software—has advanced to the point where we can legitimately work from anywhere now and work on different schedules. But for anyone who has ever worked as a freelancer can attest, with great flexibility comes great responsibility: When you aren’t working a 9-5 job and don’t have a boss breathing down your back while you sit at your cubicle, time management becomes an even more important skill to ensure that you’re meeting deadlines.

Time management is something most UX designers have to wrestle with on an almost constant basis as you juggle multiple projects with different deadlines. And as the industry increasingly embraces a distributed workforce, many designers are not only working on different projects simultaneously but doing so across multiple time zones.

Know when to say no

So, if you’re a designer who’s under the gun and trying to meet deadlines on multiple projects, how do you effectively manage your time so that you allot enough hours to each of these projects, allowing you to not only meet your deadlines but also produce high-quality work? The first step is to not find yourself juggling deadlines on multiple projects in the first place; or, at least, that you aren’t juggling so many projects to the point that you begin dropping the ball on any of them.

“Although it might go against your natural inclination (UXers tend to be a very helpful bunch) you need to be prepared to say ‘No’ to new projects coming in, or at least look at which projects needs to be put on hold to accommodate new ones,” advises Neil Turner, a UK-based designer who publishes the UX for the Masses blog. “Try to focus on one thing at a time, finish what you need to do, and then move on to the next piece of work.”

Turner also suggests that you “focus on what is most important, not necessarily what is most urgent” because “if something is urgent but not important, it can probably wait.”

Whether you work full-time for a design firm or work as a freelancer for multiple clients, it’s important to know your limitations. Turner uses the analogy of spinning plates, noting that spinning one plate on a rod is relatively easy, but as you add more plates it becomes increasingly difficult to handle.

“Just like spinning plates, you should keep the number of projects on the go at any one time to a minimum,” he writes. “Take on too much, and you’ll soon be picking up the broken pieces off the floor.”

Perfectly imperfect

The thing about being a designer—or, really, any creative person – is that perfectionism is essentially in your DNA: You want to get every font, every color, every spacing, every graphic just right. This is obviously a great way to approach your work, but only as an end result.

In other words, you have to take the long view of each project and keep in mind that the first finished design you hand over to a client is never really the finished product because there will always be further tweaks to be made. This is why you should prioritize the deadline over a perfected product.

“Working on something over and over until it’s perfect not only takes up valuable time, but much of that work will likely go to waste when the first usability testing comes back with proposed changes,” according to the Motivate Design blog. “Simply getting an idea to a ‘good enough’ mock-up is often sufficient for good UX design research.”

And the quicker you get your mock-up to a “good enough” state (rather than attempting for perfection), “the sooner valuable feedback can begin to inform the design process.”

However, it’s important not to get carried away with the feedback and the tweaks you make to a project. Ryan West, a product design leader at InVision, suggests “limiting it to 3 revisions and let the team know after the second revision that you’ll do one more to be nice,” informing them that after the final revision you have to move onto other projects.

“Everyone has dealt with teams that want an excessive number of rounds of feedback and revisions,” West notes. “When it reaches the point of diminishing returns, it’s a time waster.”

Don’t lose focus

Of course, all those tools that have made it much easier for us to work from anywhere can also make it difficult to get any work done. Our phones, our apps, our 75 open browser tabs, and perhaps the biggest culprit: Slack, everyone’s favorite work frenemy.

Maintaining focus has always been a key to completing tasks on time, but it’s even more important as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stay focused in our hyper-connected world.

“Turn off Slack and email,” West advises. “It is not your master. Put time on your calendar to check these and only do so 3 times a day—morning, lunch, afternoon.”

On his UX for the Masses blog, Neil Turner recommends working in 25-minute “distraction-free blocks” in which you refuse to answer any email, text, phone call or Slack message unless they’re absolutely urgent. This means setting a timer and getting your 25 minutes of uninterrupted work done; once the timer’s up you can spend about five minutes checking emails and responding to texts, messages, etc. Turner explains:


I've found that this cycle of 25 minutes of distraction-free work, followed by 5 minutes of reconnection time is a great way to get lots done, whilst still being connected to the 24/7 demands of the modern world.


Meanwhile, interaction designer Tiffany Eaton reminds us that it’s important to take breaks in order to maintain our productivity. By walking away from your computer for a breather or to take care of other things, you can clear your head and minimize distractions while you work.

“As designers, working with breaks and constraints allows us to focus more on the problem and provide a framework in order to achieve a goal,” Eaton notes. “This is essential in the design industry when time and money are limited. Focus can be hard when your brain is constantly stimulated.”