If your shop is like most in the industry, right about now is your “crazy time”. The spring to summer season brings an avalanche of business as the weather heats up and everyone wants t-shirts.

During this time, important things get pushed out because of task overload. There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to be able to accomplish everything. This is exactly the time that you and your staff need some time management help.

That’s what this article is about. The shift from being simply “busy” to become more effective.

Let’s Take a Snapshot

Before we get too far into this article I want to list some common problems that creep up in shops that cause an overload of stress. Do any of these circumstances have a familiar ring?

  • Your staff runs from one emergency fire to the next. There aren’t enough clean screens, that ink color wasn’t mixed, someone forgot to order emulsion, a customer is in the lobby and their job isn’t ready.
  • Anxiety levels are at an all-time high as you feel your schedule is out of control. How are we going to get everything accomplished? There is simply too much to do. Freak-out mode activated.
  • It feels like every employee has to ask you a question about how to do their job. Nobody can make a decision or proceed to the next step without your affirmation.
  • As the owner, you feel cornered in doing the most mundane tasks in the shop because “nobody can do it like I can”. So you end up working too many hours in the business when you deep down in your gut know you need to be working on the business instead. You feel trapped.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s outline some points to help you take back control.

Work On Becoming More Effective

In your daily life, stop the busy being busy habits.

Being effective means prioritizing what matters most on a constant basis. For example, think about today. What is the absolute most important thing you need to accomplish?

That’s what gets worked on first.

This means that other tasks have to be put aside for you to accomplish this main goal. So if your number one task is to go see a new potential customer to secure that relationship, you cannot be bogged down by working in production helping box up an order. Make sure you have trained your staff and can delegate tasks so you can accomplish the critical items that need your attention.

Don’t Be Reactive

People often get “too busy” and get pushed into a reactive mode of thinking. It’s one thing after another.

An easy to use tool for outlining next steps is simply to write down your tasks for the next day in a short to-do list before you leave for the evening. Flag the ones that are the most important. Rank these, and prioritize them. If there are other items on the list that need attention, see if you can hand these off to someone else.

Transition your energy into actions that will put your time to best use for your shop.

Effective Leadership Starts With You

In that bullet-point list above, having a calm leader that is capable of motivating a team is the key to resolving those challenges listed.

Always remember, leaders lead while managers follow. You set the direction and pace.

Let’s take each point one by one and examine how good leadership can be effective in resolving the problems.

What’s missing in those first scenarios is a solid foundational process.

Don’t have enough clean screens to use?

Build the process signal to sweep and collect used screens from the floor in enough time to reclaim and coat screens to image. This may take some time to investigate the situation, but once you build that process maintaining that order will be much easier than putting out the fire.

Ink not mixed for the job on a press and it’s causing a delay?

Build the process so that all ink, screens, shirts, samples, and documentation for tomorrow’s production is collected and organized today. Do this by lunch. That way, if anything is missing you still have the afternoon to handle any challenges.

Someone forgot to order emulsion and now you can’t coat screens until it comes in?

One easy solution is to stock two of everything. When one bucket of emulsion has been emptied, and the next container opened, it’s time to place the reorder. Make it easy by creating an inventory order card that is given to Purchasing for the product that is on the shelf, or try using an app to your supplier to reorder from the floor. Build and strengthen your supply ordering process.

Your customer is in the lobby and their order isn’t ready?

Part of your scheduling process could be built so that the production completion date is one business day before the stated ship or pick-up date. All too often in shops, production is working on jobs the same day that it is expected to ship. Shift your process so that the orders are completed proactively from the ship date. Work backward from the date in all departments to achieve that as a goal.

Understand Capacity vs Velocity

Scheduling anxiety is caused by not comprehending how long things actually take in production. That’s where it originates. Shops that ship on time have a keen understanding of how long things take to produce.

This comes from measuring their processes and obtaining data. Quick quiz, do you know the answers to these five questions?

  • In the Screenroom, how many screens a day can you image on average?
  • For orders booked currently, how many screens per day will you need to image?
  • How many minutes per screen does it take to set up a job?
  • What is your production speed per hour for each press?
  • For each shift, what is the downtime percentage per day based on the time period?

Some Answers

Your screenroom output is important because if you ask most production managers what one of their biggest headaches is, they will tell you it is waiting on a screen to be burned for an order “that has to go”. If your screenroom can’t keep up with the demands of the orders coming through, your production schedule is going to suffer.

On press, screen set up time and production speed are the two leading indicators for how many jobs can be booked for that press on any given day. For example, if you know that Press 1 sets up screens on average of 7 minutes per screen, and runs jobs at 375 impressions per hour on average, you can predict how many of the orders on the schedule they will be able to produce daily. Adding more jobs to that schedule won’t mean they will be able to produce them on time just because they are booked.

Also, if you know that Press 1 averages 35% of their day for downtime, that will help with understanding what can be realistically achieved too. This means for an eight-hour shift when you subtract breaks and lunch, you may only have a seven-hour window for production. Of that, 35% of the time is spent not printing.

Which means that your crew is only printing about four and half hours a day. Being unrealistic about how many orders you can produce a day is the leading factor in not keeping an accurate production schedule.

Employee Empowerment

One major aspect of running an effective shop is having great employees and a fantastic shop culture.

For your time management challenge, when your employees keep hounding you for answers take a realistic look at how they are being managed. If you are the micro-manager type and have to control everything, it may not be surprising that nobody wants to circumvent your authority when something comes up they feel iffy about.

Training and empowering your staff can be the key to helping you with your own time management.

It Starts With Trust

If you can’t trust your employees to make good decisions, then you need to take a deep look at your hiring process and the people you are bringing onboard.

Maybe you feel that you have a good staff, but they simply don’t do things like you would. That’s ok, as the answer is simple. Get them the training so they understand your expectations and know how to do things properly. Make it easy for them to do the right thing by providing examples, handbooks, training videos, notes or other materials to reference.

One method I’ve used with success is simply asking “Well, what do you think is the right answer?” when asked about something. Often, the employee knows the answer but they don’t have the experience to know that it is correct. Help them validate their knowledge, and empower them to make good choices.

This leads us to:

Stop Micromanaging

Yes, this means you.

Most small business owners have a hard time letting go. At one point, it was you and a small circle of friends that started the business. But now as your business scales, you are being pulled in new directions constantly.

You know that you need to be concentrating your efforts on the future. However, you can’t help yourself and constantly stick your thumb in the pie.

All that meddling has consequences. I’m sure you have heard of “helicopter parents”. These are parents with good intentions that micromanage their kids to the point that they are constantly hovering around them.

Helicopter Managers

In businesses, some leadership staff can be “helicopter managers”. This means that the crew won’t think or act for themselves. Nobody is trusted or empowered to do anything of consequence. The result is stagnation, low creativity, and zero growth.

To be more effective, get your company moving by empowering people to make decisions and trust them to do the right thing. Will they make mistakes?

You bet.

However, there is growth in that and you can control it with some oversight too. For example, give managers authority to purchase up to $500 without your approval. Then on a monthly or quarterly basis, review their spending and see if anything is out of line. Increase that as trust is earned. Make a list of rules about what to do and how to do it.

So, your mission should you accept it, is to stop being busy and become more effective.

You can do it!



“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” – Jim Rohn

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes.” – Peter Drucker

“Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.” – Stephen Covey



Production Manager Tool

From day one, we’ve been devoted to making InkSoft the most useful tool for printing and customization professionals across the industry. While thousands of users are growing their businesses with InkSoft Stores and the Design Studio, we know we still have a lot of work to do to help print shops run more efficiently.

The next big step is a production management tool. We want to bring InkSoft full circle by providing a powerful way for you to streamline production and communication, ultimately boosting profitability and reducing costly mistakes. Not to mention, solving the challenges outlined in this article.