Business

Effective Time Management for UX designers

Ash Lal
December 21, 2020

UX designers often prioritize work responsibilities in terms of their creative ability. However, it’s safe to say that one of the most important skills a user experience specialist can learn has nothing to do with prototyping or interfaces. 

In order to be an invaluable asset to the product development cycle and get the most out of their abilities, it’s essential that designers groom their time management skills. 

This article will discuss some strategies surrounding taking personal accountability, managing deadlines, setting goals, optimizing productivity, and prioritizing the workload.

Let’s dive right in, shall we? 


1. Embrace imperfect action

UX design is an inherently iterative process. The “fail fast,” “the good enough revolution,” and many other approaches are all different ways of highlighting the benefits of taking “imperfect action.”

One way in which the pursuit of perfection tends to slow down projects is when it comes to the maximization of features. Trying to implement too many components, each with too many facets to them, can negatively impact a product in several ways:

  • A lack of project focus;
  • Stretching your time, budget, and resources to the limit by introducing scope creep;
  • An end product that may not be as user-friendly and overwhelms new, adopting users;
  • Holding back the entire project because a single feature does not meet functional requirements;

While every team member’s input is valuable, it’s not always feasible - or desired - to incorporate everyone’s ideas in a single project.


2. Limit revisions

Like everything in life, effective UX design is all about balance. It’s easy to fall into the trap of endless revisions while chasing perfection, particularly at the beginning stages.

Don’t forget the importance of developing an MVP (minimum viable product) — something you can put in front of users and get concrete feedback. To get as close to perfection as possible, you have to see how your product functions in the real world and pivot appropriately.  That sometimes means closing your eyes to some of its flaws and just getting it out there.

Even before you get to this point, you must start developing prototypes and run usability tests.

As important as revision is to develop a great product, so is actual progress. Try to limit the number of major revisions (3 rounds should be adequate) before moving on to the next stage.


3. Run essential usability tests only

It’s hard to overstate the importance of running usability tests during the product design lifecycle. However, usability tests can sometimes result in misleading conclusions that can lead to using up additional time, money, and resources to fix problems that don’t exist.

Many critics contend that most usability tests are run in lab-like settings that already affect the objectivity of the results. Users may also get caught up on relatively tiny flaws or aspects of the app without getting to the real issues.

When running usability tests, it’s important to identify essential aspects of the project and focus on testing for them. For example, General Assembly identifies these as the essential aspects to test:

  • Learnability
  • Efficiency
  • Memorability
  • Error Management
  • Satisfaction

You can go about this another way by testing major features in isolation. You also have to consider objective restraints, such as how expensive and time-consuming tests are.


4. Deep work = peak productivity

“To produce at your peak level, you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.” — Cal Newport, author of Deep Work.

Especially if you haven’t experienced it before, terms like “flow states” and “deep work” seem like unachievable and mystic ideals. That’s definitely not the case. While it does take some time and dedication to make it an easily accessible part of your creative process, it mostly comes down to making some practical adjustments to your work habits.


Getting into, and maintaining a flow state, usually comes down to the following:

  • Limit distractions - e.g., you may want to set “office hours” for questions, meetings, design reviews, etc. - dedicating the rest of your time to hands-on work
  • Avoid multitasking - give your full attention to a single task for an extended period, and resist trying to do multiple things at once
  • Setting the tone - set up your working space to be as productive as possible by keeping it organized, limiting visual/auditory distractions, being ergonomic, etc.

You can also adopt other strategies into your lifestyles, such as meditation, that promotes flow states as well as overall focus and creativity.

Contrary to popular belief, few things are as bad for overall productivity as multitasking. In fact, studies have found that even “adept multitaskers” get less done than their counterparts, not more.


5. Identify and avoid “busywork.”

Logistical and repetitive tasks that are easy to systematically “tick off” are addictive because it taps into our subconscious. However, it becomes a problem when it develops into a compulsion that distracts us from doing more meaningful work.

In his best-selling book, Cal Newport points out how busywork typically doesn’t add much value to the world, distracts us from what matters, and derails our ability to be more creative and tackle more complicated and, ultimately, more rewarding projects.

It also creates problems with regards to creating work-life balance and distinguishing between what’s truly valuable and invaluable work. By learning how to identify and avoid busywork, you’ll be able to focus on what truly matters and get more done.


6. Think strategically — plan ahead

As creatives, we sometimes have an idealized view of inspiration, striking out of nowhere like a bolt of lightning. However, an even amount of planning, strategy, and organization is needed to deliver a complete, successful product.

To effectively schedule your time at the beginning of a new project:

  • Understand what you can realistically achieve with your time.
  • Make sure you have enough time for essential tasks;
  • Add contingency time for "the unexpected”;
  • Avoid taking on more than you can handle;

Doing this takes being able to assess your own abilities and external constraints with brutal honesty.

The group accountability aspect of agile development (i.e., scrumming) is one of the things that has made it so popular. Solo scrumming is a tactic to keep yourself accountable on a personal level. You can use scrumming to regularly check your progress and make necessary changes over small intervals.

With little adaptation, you can easily apply the same principles of scrumming to your projects by:

  • Sprints: A sprint is usually a week-long timeframe in which you have to complete specific goals;
  • Backlog: Used to review unfinished work to prioritize tasks for your next sprint;
  • Sprint planning: At the beginning of each sprint, go over your to-do list and plan how to accomplish items;
  • Sprint retrospective: At the end of each sprint, review your progress. Ask yourself:
  • What went well?
  • What went wrong?
  • How can I improve in the future?

7. Prioritize your work

Prioritizing your work helps you catch up on what you’re already behind on, avoid getting backed up on crucial/blocking milestones, and reduce overall anxiety and indecision.

Generally, it’s helpful to break down work into four categories:

  1. Urgent and important;
  2. Urgent and not important;
  3. Not urgent and important;
  4. Not urgent and not important;

Urgent and important work should be at the top of your to-do list when you do your next sprint planning. At the same time, not urgent, but important, work should still be kept in mind, so your project doesn’t grind to a halt in the future.

One way to establish priority is to identify the feature or design that will block you from proceeding if it’s not finished.


8. Don’t be afraid to delegate

As diligent and hardworking designers, we sometimes feel that it’s our responsibility to finish whatever lands on our plate and are reluctant to push it to someone else. For some of us, it can be a point of pride.

As well-meaning as it might be, sometimes it’s best to put our egos aside and make the best decision for the sake of the project. There’s no I in “team,” and there’s a reason that your team likely consists of different roles with different responsibilities. Someone else might have more free time or is better acquainted with a specific task.

Taking on too much will not only compromise your ability to complete your priority work to the best of your ability but may slow down the entire project. The more important role you occupy, the more vital it is that you learn to delegate effectively.


9. Attend essential meetings only

The key, once again, is to keep the balance. Meetings are there to facilitate and improve your workflow - not obstruct it. Too many meetings can impede creative flow and demoralize team members.

According to ResearchGate, 65% of senior managers indicated that the number of meetings they attend stops them from completing work. 71% said meetings were unproductive and inefficient, while 64% said they come at the expense of deep thinking.

Consider which meetings are necessary, but also how to run meetings more effectively. There are many meeting paradigms out there, but it’s crucial that you develop something that works for you and your team. However, the top ingredients to run effective meetings are:

  • Be clear what type of meeting it is/why it’s called;
  • Invite the right people (and only the right people);
  • Stick to your agenda (but don’t miss opportunities);

Conclusion

You may not be able to rush inspiration, but you can certainly manage and nurture it. Time management isn’t about reigning in your creativity and going about your job like a robot. After all, that’s not why you chose to be a designer in the first place.

Instead, it’s about providing the perfect conditions to reveal your top abilities and make the best use of them. In our fast-paced world, that’s accelerating daily; it’s more important than ever.


Ash Lal
Ash is the Founder and CEO of Prodivy. He was a Product Manager at a large technology firm before starting Prodivy.

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