Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Time Tracking Tool

Like most designers, I hated Excel. Then one day the best boss I ever had (an engineer, by the way) introduced me to the wonderful world of spreadsheets.

Excel is a very powerful tool once you get to know it. I don’t know that much, actually, but I have developed a few tools to keep track of design traffic and time. Last year I wrote about time measurement and mentioned briefly how to go about tracking time and tasks.

Today I want to go deeper and share with you a tool I created to track the time and activities you do on a daily basis.

It’s pretty simple. With it you can:

· Establish categories for your activities.
· Know how much time you’re spending in such activities, and filter by category.
· Find out if you’re wasting time in meaningless tasks.
· Find out if there are tasks you can delegate, empowering your employees.
· Measure how much time you’re spending at the office.

Also, as I said in the article I mentioned earlier:

You may find that it's more effective to hire a consultant to take care of certain time consuming activities or you may even ask for your suppliers to absorb such activities which would make your operation even more effective.

You need to be aware of how long do your typical projects take, in order to have accurate planning, and how much to charge.

You can plan more strategically ahead of time so that you know if you need to get some outside help for that big project that will be coming next week or if you have some free time to spend on leadership activities with your staff. In other words, when you know how long will your projects take and how they're organized in any given time frame, you get a broader vision of your business.

So without further ado, here’s the tool and the instructions:

I call it my "Follow Up Activities" spreadsheet. You can download the Excel file here. This is the file as I use it, and this file has been filled for activities for five days, as an example, but feel free to adapt it to your needs!
It’s basically a table with the following fields: Month, Day, Start, Duration, Category, Description and Comments.

Month: This is a text field. I like to name it "00-mmm" where “00” is the number of the month (for instance June would be 06) and “mmm” is the first three letters of the month’s name. Why? Because it allows me to sort by number of the month, instead of the name, so that January will always be at the top, for example.

Day: This is a number field. Type number of the current day.

Start: This is a date/hour field. Type the hour of the day in which that particular activity started, in 24 hour format.

Duration: It’s a date/hour field, with a formula where the duration of the activity is calculated by the starting time of the following task minus the starting time of the previous task. In the picture above the formula would be =C4-C3 for the first cell and then that is copied down on the cells of the D column.

Category: This is a text field. You define the categories of activities. In this example I’ve created seven categories. There’s one called “Breaks” where I record the times I spend on breaks and lunches.

Description: This is a text field. Type a description of the task. I use the same name for the same activity for example I always write “Packaging database” for that particular activity instead of using several different names for it.

Comments: This is a text field. If you wish to add something else like who you met with or if the project was billed, etc.

Now for some instructions:

· Data should be input by the minute, every time you change activity, you need to go there and input that information. This is key, and it needs to be done rigorously and with discipline. This way you always have current information and you're not stuck with having to type several days worth of information.

· The last activity of the day is called “Exit”. You only type the start time, but you must erase the formula in the “Duration” field for this activity.

· When the day ends, I like to use the “Comments” cell of the activity to add up the total hours I spent at the office that day. This is just a SUM formula that adds up the duration of all the activities. For instance in this particular day I was at the office nine and a half hours.

· There’s another worksheet in the Excel file, called "PT%", where I’ve added a Pivot Table report that will tell me how much time I’ve spent in each category or task. Pivot Tables are dynamic, and I can change the fields at leisure. For instance, instead of percentage, I can change it to hours.

· And I’ve also added a graph to illustrate those times.

Neat, huh? Well, I think so. Do leave some comments if you have some ideas about how to improve this tool!

All the best!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Design resources: 2 articles

Here’s two articles I read this week from How Magazine, that I want to share with my readership.

Get A Life (And Other Remedies for Creative Atrophy) by Jenny Pfalzgraf.
When creative impulses are few and far between , designers often turn to outside sources for a boost. Whether it's hiking in the mountains, getting a tattoo or bringing your pet iguana to the office, this freedom to explore your inner child feeds your business finesse.

The Proof is in the Process by George Shaw
A teacher once told me, "Anyone can be creative on their best day. If you want to make a living at this stuff (graphic design), you've got to be creative on the days when your car breaks down and your wife leaves you." I thought he was trying to get me to listen to country music, but eventually, I figured out what he was talking about.

All the best!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Design resources: Coroflot.com

A place where designers gather together!

Coroflot.com is an online community dedicated to all the branches of design, where designers can promote themselves through:

· Uploading their resume.
· Uploading their portfolio.
· Joining groups (Like D Colombia).
· Searching jobs (Mostly abroad).
· Commenting on other designers work.
· Networking.

If you are a designer, then you need to be here.

I’ve actually used this site to recruit designers before, and every day it is becoming more and more popular in Colombia, so do take the time to post your information here. I’ve been a member for years.

As colombian (And Latinamerican designers) we need to stick together, help each other and promote latinamerican design. This is a great place to start.

Germán Salamanca had already commented on this site last year, however the site has had a revamp this year, so it’s worth it to check it out now and enroll if you haven’t already.

All the best!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Latin American Design Events

As a second post today, my friend Leonardo Mora told me about three design related events going on in Latin America.

Design Fest, in Guadalajara, México.

Latinamerican Design Summit, at University of Palermo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, already gone for this year, but coming up again next year.

Is it be possible for we colombians to organize events like these?
Or maybe our designers will join such events!

All the best!

How can I?

The other day I was listening to a radio show and one of the people cited a question that got me thinking about Colombian designers’ attitude towards design and work in general.

How can I…?

I don’t think I’ve been on the field as much as I would’ve wanted. Still, It’s no secret that I get this impression that many Colombian designers (and some Latin-American designers, maybe?) suffer from “third world” or “small” mentality, where we’re basically living and working by default.

This was especially evident when I went to the 10th Design Showroom at my university a few weeks ago.

So, they call themselves “lucky” if they can land a job. A job, which for the most part, is very poorly rewarded in our country. I think it’s easy for young designers here to get into a self-pitying pattern where external circumstances define their future as people and as professionals.

And so they find themselves waiting for a company to offer them a job, waiting for that lucky break, basically waiting to see if maybe the stars align so that they can get a better quality of life and maybe, just maybe, pursue their dreams.

So… back to the radio show I was listening. How can I…? And fill in the rest yourself!

How can I add value to this company?
How can I make my portfolio all the more attractive?
How can I be different from other designers?
How can I make some money?
How can I make work easier and more effective?
How can I help this customer reach his goals?
How can I make this logo different?
How can I approach this issue from an unexpected angle?
How can I make this project innovative?
How can I do better work?
How can I learn more and grow as a designer?
How can I stimulate my creativity?
How can I change?
How can I become the person I want to be?
How can I land the awesome position at that amazing company?

The list goes on! Did you notice something? This question immediate causes your brain to come up with answers! Notice that it’s a completely different attitude than “Why can’t I get a job?”

Do write some comments and list some more “How can I…?” questions. I’m sure it’ll be fun!

All the best!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Learn English!

As I’ve said before, Latin American designers must speak English. This will open up doors for them everywhere!

However, I am not the bearer of good news. I think when it comes to English (or any other foreign language, for that matter) there are two kinds of people:

· Those that really have to work at it.
· Those for whom it just comes easy.

Unfortunately most people are in the first group, and that’s the bad news. Such people need to really work at it and be disciplined to learn.

There are basically two (and a half) ways to learn English, in my opinion:

Option 1: Take a course.

This means doing all the exercises and walking the extra mile by enrolling in every English speaking activity they can think of. Watching TV in English (no subtitles) like news and movies, listening to music in English, attending events organized by the UK and American Embassies or English institutes such as Berlitz.

So, if you’re up for the challenge of being consistent, disciplined and reaching your goals, this is a way to do it. If this option speaks to you, allow me to recommend the British Council and Wall Street as two good institutes.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the first person that has really learned like this. Learn to speak well, I mean. Anyone can “kind of speak pigeon English”.

Option 2: Travel abroad.

In my opinion, this is the fastest and best way to learn English. And most people have this idea that maybe it’s too expensive. I can assure you, there is always a way. Spend at least six months abroad, learning. I recommend you do this through an institute, so that you have some structure to follow.

Now here comes the “half”:

For those special people for whom English comes easy (like me, it’s a gift) there is another way. I never did go abroad to learn English, the first time I went to the US, I’d been speaking English for years. In fact, I learned in about six months when I was twelve years old.

How? I used to be a TV-holic, so just by watching English spoken TV shows with closed captioning (subtitles in English) I learned how to use sentences, the context, grammar and pronunciation. I did help myself with some English textbooks to understand the structure better.

If you are this kind of person, congratulations! All you have to do now is work at it, so that you won’t forget it. Watch TV, listen to shows and write in English daily!

And here's a little tip for all of you who are learning: Don't over pronounce words so much. We spanish-speaking people tend to over pronounce, but in english there's no need to do that. In fact, english can be pretty much mumbled and it will still sound ok. This will make your speech sound more natural, less latin.

I guess the advantages of speaking English are obvious:

· You can access tons of information on the web (and many different sources, such as books and newsletters), about every topic imaginable.
· Podcasts and audiobooks are at your disposal.
· You can join networking communities online and exchange information with people from all over the world.
· Out of this networking, great business opportunities may arise.
· Access to the latest global news.
· A valuable asset for your resume.

I have an English friend (from England, actually) who’s learning Spanish and he says that as an English speaking person, if he learns Spanish, he’ll be able to communicate with the vast majority of the planet. I think he’s right.

And in this day and age, Colombian (and Latin American) designers cannot afford to be left behind.

All the best!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Design jobs: 3 great articles

As a second post for today I want to place a link to three articles from How Magazine which I think are very relevant to young designers today:

Creatives Wanted: How to Prepare Yourself for Today's Job Market
Turning Up the Volume: Teleconferencing Etiquette
Five Sure Signs Your Job Is a Dead-End


Design resources: Springwise.com and Trendwatching.com

This week I’m going to present young designers with two more resources they can use to expand their creativity and be on top of the latest news.


“Springwise and its network of 8,000 spotters scan the globe for smart new business ideas, delivering instant inspiration to entrepreneurial minds from San Francisco to Singapore. Time to start the Next Big Thing!

Springwise scans the globe for the most promising business ventures, ideas and concepts ready for regional or international adaptation, expansion, partnering, investments or cooperation. Ferociously tracking more than 400 global offline and online business resources, as well as taking to the streets of world cities, digital cameras at hand.”
Need I say more? In Springwise you’ll find the latest, most wackiest and smartest business ideas from around the globe. It will:

· Be a source if design inspiration.
· Be a source of news and design trends.
· Be a source of practical ideas even you can implement.

Check it out and subscribe to the free newsletter! The latest issue covered:

Product placement agency targets YouTube
Marketing & advertising

Crowdfunding software projects
Media & publishing

Zero cents per minute Update
Telecom & mobile / Marketing & advertising

A social marketplace for clothes hounds
Fashion & beauty

Solar-powered vending machines
Eco & sustainability / Food & beverage

Helping seniors relocate
Life hacks

Free love at the food court
Marketing & advertising

Freeze-dried eco burials

You can search their webpage by date or by industry, or you can even submit an idea!
Why not give it a try?


“Trendwatching.com is an independent and opinionated trend firm, scanning the globe for the most promising consumer trends, insights and related hands-on business ideas. For the latest and greatest, we rely on our network of 8,000+ spotters in more than 70 countries worldwide.

Most of our findings are aggregated in a free, monthly Trend Briefing, which is sent to 130,000+ business professionals in more than 120 countries. (…) Our trend findings help marketers, CEOs, researchers, and anyone else interested in the future of business and consumerism, to dream up new goods, services and experiences for (or even better, with) their customers.”

In other words, they spot market trends, given them a name and then they follow up on them and show different examples. Some of the trends are:


Visit their trend page, to see more!

This is where the world is headed, so designers, beware!

All the best!