In the modern 24/7/365 warp speed of the decorated apparel industry, it may sometimes feel like you are drinking from a firehose when it comes to finding and utilizing information. There is simply too much to process.
So what happens then?
Instead of gleaning something usable, everything is ignored instead.
This is one of the reasons why businesses don’t evolve as fast as they probably should.
That new idea that could help rockets by while your head was down doing something else.
The daily numbers you need to understand are hard to gather and use.
There never is enough time in the day.
You never stood a chance.
So what is a good strategy then for keeping your eyes, ears, and most importantly, your mind open?
Let’s kick some ideas around and see what we can find.
Look a squirrel!
That’s how it often feels sometimes. Have you ever been working on something and then ten minutes later realize that your attention took a sharp right turn into nowheresville?
This happens to me constantly. Yep, you are not alone.
I’m interested in everything, so I’m constantly working to limit my field of vision to get more work finished.
Call it a “Horse Blinders” theory. If I don’t see it, I won’t jump down the rabbit hole.
To be able to free up more time to dig into new information, you need to be able to process your normal information quickly.
This happens by controlling your distractions.
There are a gazillion strategies for this, but the top three that I employ daily are these:
Only Check Email Three Times A Day
How many critical things do you get sent to you daily? Hardly any. Most of the time anything in your inbox is inconsequential and not very urgent.
Sure, your customers are sending orders and questions, but 99.9% of the time responding a few hours from now is ok. Just not the next day, ok?
Think about this.
If you check your email every five minutes, you are checking your email about 96 times a day. That’s about 93 more instances of OCD than you probably need.
I check email in the mornings, around lunch, and sometime near the end of the day. That’s it.
The rest of the time I’m working on value-added tasks.
When I target my email, it is during these chunks of time I’ve allocated for that task.
Trust me, if something is super urgent they will call you.
Also, I absolutely try to maintain a “Sunshine Rule”, which is that I will try to respond by the end of the day.
Even if I don’t know the answer.
I’ll acknowledge that I’ve seen your note, and I’m working on it.
Bonus Tip: Unsubscribe to as many things as possible. Why are you getting that notice anyway? If you have deleted an email from a company more than twice, you need to consider this. Quit wasting your time managing garbage.
Close Your Door
Assuming you have one, use it.
Hang a note on it that says, available in 45 minutes. Then, dig into whatever you are working on and finish.
When a co-worker stops and asks, “Hey, got a sec? I want to go over the…” Your answer is “Nope, I’m tied up. Let me find you in an hour or so.”
Interruptions are one of the biggest reasons why nothing gets handled.
How many times have you been interrupted and when you looked back down to continue you forgot what you were doing for a moment or two? That happens to me all the time.
It’s like my brain is on a temporary vacation.
If you can limit the intrusion into your mental workflow, you can keep a steady pace going.
Maybe you don’t have a door. Try noise canceling headphones, or even moving to a conference room.
Processing the information is linked to your ability to focus. Use what works for you.
Also, if you are the person that feels the need to keep interrupting people…can’t you see that they are busy? C’mon dude.
Rank Your To-Do List
What is the most important thing you need to do today? Can you define and rank these?
Put first things first.
For a lot of people, they kick the can with that important task and don’t start on it until it is too late. Then it get’s pushed to tomorrow.
If possible, schedule your workload today for what you have to do tomorrow. This can be as simple as a scribble on a post-it-note that you stick to the side of your computer monitor.
For production, you’ll get better results if you stage the floor today for what should go out tomorrow.
This means getting the schedule built by about lunch. Schedule each workstation with the jobs they have to produce in the order they need to complete them.
Spend the afternoon pulling this stuff. Line it up, so your crews only have to walk about three feet to get what they need to do their work.
By the end of the day, everything that has to go out tomorrow is already lined up and waiting to be worked on.
How many times have you wanted to work on a job and realized the screens weren’t ready, the ink wasn’t mixed, or there was some other delay that stopped that action from happening?
This information based process solves that.
The key to this is grabbing the correct information right now for tomorrow’s workload and delegating it out to your staff so they can execute the plan.
Make it easy and build the process so there is only one right way to maintain the schedule.
When you plan your work ahead of time, your responsibility is simply ensuring that the action happens.
It’s much simpler to manage.
Those that understand the information can make better decisions. That’s a cardinal rule in any business.
But, carving out the chunk of time or the method to get that information can be arduous.
I read constantly. I talk to a lot of people and have plenty of things due that have specific deadlines.
My theory, as my 14-year old son Jack can attest, is that “if you aren’t early, you are running late.”
Here’s how I execute:
What Time Is It?
Do you have access to a calendar and a watch?
If so, you are in possession of one of the greatest organizational duos known to man.
A calendar plan.
The concept is simple. Add to your calendar that you are going to work on a task for 30-minutes. Maybe an hour.
This is a scheduled event, like going to the doctor or dentist.
Then, that’s what you do.
I know it’s incredibly audacious to plan your tasks out for a day and then stick to that plan.
If you are on Chrome there are even apps that can block major time-wasting sites from your view. Maybe your graphic artist (or you) likes to hang out on Facebook instead of working on that project that is due.
Install WasteNoTime and limit that during specified work hours.
Use A Whiteboard
Whiteboards are great. For about $20 you can hang one on the wall in a position so that you have to look at it every day.
I have one in my office with a short weekly to-do list, KPI’s I’m tracking, and the goals that I’ve set for the Quarter.
It is so dominant in the room that you can’t help but look at it.
Anything that is remotely important I write on the board. I use different colors of markers to indicate different things.
Some of these items I’m updating daily, others are weekly.
The great thing about a whiteboard is that it is in your face.
Got a press that needs a part replaced? Use the whiteboard as a reminder to order the part.
Maybe there is a new marketing initiative or sales program you want to build. Write down all the steps and erase each one as you complete them.
Create SMART goals, and not only list the overall goal but your percentage to completion of the goal. This has always worked for me as it shows your effort, but that delta gap to what’s left.
“Look! We’re 12% away from nailing our sales goal! We can do it!”
I like a whiteboard as it segments the pertinent information. Unlike a spreadsheet, you don’t have to log in.
Plus, it’s public.
Want to hit a goal or remind yourself to do something? Write it in big, fat, red letters.
There’s a great story about how Charles Schwab was able to get his steel mills to ramp up production in the factory in the early 1900’s.
For the day shift, he asked how many sets was the crew able to complete. The answer?
So he grabbed a piece of white chalk and wrote a gigantic number six on the floor of the mill. The night shift came in later that day and asked, “What’s with the six?”
“Oh, that’s how many sets the day crew was able to complete in their shift.”
The next morning instead of a six, there was a very large seven in its place.
“Take that day shift!”
The night shift wasn’t going to let the day shift get away with that! So they ramped up their efforts and did one more.
Then the day shift just had to crank out more than the night shift again.
Soon, a strong competition developed. That bottom of the barrel mill became the top producer in no-time.
Earlier I mentioned whiteboards.
They also make these in small, legal pad size. Perfect for installing next to your crews on the production floor.
Take the daily production information you are tracking, and write the results from the previous day on that board for each press.
Let’s say you assigned 2,289 impressions of work for the day on Press 1. If they achieved that number or more, write it in black marker.
Less than that?
It is marked in red.
By the end of the week, who has more black numbers? Who is the top producer?
Buy those crew members all lunch.
That’s the information you need to not only celebrate but encourage. Can you imagine how much more production you could get each day if your crews viewed their work as an athletic event?
Find out not only who your winners are, but who are your losers.
Information Gathering is On-Purpose
It won’t happen by accident.
But to be able to gather and use the information, you need to be specific about what is important.
Do you know what is important to your shop?
I know that sounds sort of ridiculous and maybe even a tad insulting.
Don’t mean to offend, but I talk to plenty of shops that position themselves in a reactive way, instead of with proactive effort.
All hell breaks loose and everyone slaps their forehead and screams, “How did this happen?”
You were super busy, and then sales dropped off a cliff.
That customer you’ve had for more than a decade has a new twenty-eight-year-old in charge. He wants to make an impact and sees things differently. You don’t even understand half of what comes out of his mouth.
In your gut you know you should be getting more produced daily, but nobody knows what to do to improve. Not to mention, you are grossly behind in the schedule. How will you put together a plan to catch up and push out more work daily?
All of these start with pulling in and deciphering the right information. Let’s take a look:
Sales Should be Four to Eight Weeks Out
Most shops only think in terms of what’s on their plate right now. Currently, you have “x” number of jobs booked.
That’s great. Congratulations!
Around the corner will you be just as busy? How many jobs can you produce a day?
To understand and predict your future you need to be able to interpret the tea leaves to get a grip on your future. That is 100% in how you gather and process your sales information.
Want to dive in deep on building a better understanding of how to gather and use available information to predict what will happen in your shop next month?
Read this blog article I wrote on that very subject.
Build the Information Pipeline
For this industry, there are many fantastic resources out there for you to use.
Frankly, there are zero excuses for not being informed.
Not sure where to look? Hey, I’ve got your back.
Click, follow, subscribe, whatever it takes…but started your information pipeline coming into your shop.
While I’m probably going to leave some out (sorry if that’s you – shoot me a note and I can edit this article), here are some I recommend:
Impressions – I write for them, and they put on the ISS Trade Shows. Read their articles and go to the nearest trade show. If you can’t go every year, at least every other year should be baked into your learning routine. Take your staff. Subscribe to the magazine. Leave it out for others to read.
Printwear – Yep, I’ve written for them too. They produce the NBM series of trade shows. Read their articles and go to the nearest trade show. If you can’t go every year, at least every other year should be baked into your learning routine. Take your staff. Subscribe to the magazine. Leave it out for others to read.
Images Magazine – From the UK, but don’t let that deter you from grabbing the newest copy or subscribing. You guessed it, I write for them as well and have an article in just about every issue. Subscribe to the magazine. Leave it out for others to read.
SGIA Journal – I am a big proponent of joining the Specialty Graphics Imaging Association because there is tremendous value in belonging to an industry association whose sole purpose is to deliver impactful information to its members and make you better. One benefit is this outstanding magazine. I’ve written for them as well. Join the association today. Get the Journal. Leave it out for others to read.
Screenprinting Magazine – I have a column in every issue called “The Marshall Plan”. That’s right. I’m a columnist. This is a fantastic resource with some of the top minds contributing incredibly detailed articles on complex problems you are facing every day. Subscribe to the magazine. Leave it out for others to read.
Mine. First, thanks for reading this article! If you like this one there are about 230+ articles on this site. It’s on an infinite scroll, in the order they were published. Use the search window and type in your biggest problem or question. I’ll bet there are a few that address whatever issue you have in your shop.
Ink Kitchen – One of the best industry blogs out there. My pals Rick Roth and Tom Davenport put this together, and you can find them at most major trade shows. Just look for them and their “Know It All” shirts they will be wearing.
Ryonet’s Blog – Ryonet does a fantastic job with relevant posts about just about everything in the industry. Their video series rocks. Pay attention.
InkSoft – Ok, I’m a little biased here as I write and publish two articles a month for InkSoft. If you like what I have here, check those out.
Erich Campbell’s Blog – Into embroidery? Erich is your guy. You’ve read his stuff in the magazines I’ve listed above. Click on the link to read his personal blog stories about the embroidery world.
The Print Life – I’m lumping a video blog (or vlog) into this category. Cam Earven posts his journey of building a manual print shop and all the effort it goes into running that.
PromoKitchen – PromoKitchen is a leadership group that I’m part of, as a volunteer as a “chef”. Their goal is to be thought leaders and ask some tough questions. All while building a community that is focused on mentorship. The chefs and others in the industry post blog articles that are as timely as they are insightful. There are some articles from me there as well.
The Big Idea – this is the podcast that I host for InkSoft. Episodes come out on the second and fourth Thursday of every month. I’m interviewing the top minds in the industry, and they drop ten thousand knowledge bombs per episode.
2 Regular Guys – Terry Combs and Aaron Montgomery’s passionate look at the industry. Always fun and entertaining, these guys bring fantastic insights every week. Lately, they have been doing live Facebook feeds, and you can listen in later if you just happen to be printing shirts or something while the show is on the air.
PromoKitchen – guess what? They have a podcast too. Fantastic interviews with the leading people in the industry. Well worth your time as you will discover a treasure trove of information you can use.
Building Your T-shirt Empire – this is Cole Lundstrom’s podcast and it’s great. It’s all about building your t-shirt business from the ground up.
What To Do With All Of That
I just listed sixteen points of information that you can use to make your shop run better.
Are there more? You bet.
For instance, I have three eBooks out too. (Shameless plug)
For most folks that are heavily involved in this industry, they can’t carve out enough time to get through even 25% of that.
If you have more than one person in your company, you could divide up the responsibility of following these sources. If something is in alignment with what you need in your business, they could recommend or share the piece with others in your group.
It doesn’t have to be all you combing through this stuff looking for nuggets of information that will work.
Paying attention is half the battle.
Let me know if you need help. That’s what I do.
One more thing.
Stay tuned for some news in about a month or so on an industry educational event I’ve been putting together with my friend Tom Rauen with Envision Tees. I can’t spill the beans yet, but I think you will be very interested.
“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” – Kofi Annan
“More information is always better than less. When people know the reasons why things are happening, even if it’s bad news, they can adjust their expectations and react accordingly. Keeping people in the dark only serves to stir negative emotions.” – Simon Sinek
“True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.” – Winston Churchill
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