This show is a single-topic episode but also a solo show, wherein I share tools, techniques, and habits for collaborating on projects, especially when you, the project owner, are used to being a solo practitioner. If you’re never had to team up with someone else, you will soon. Take a listen and let me know your thoughts!
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Prepare to Share – The Busy Creator Podcast 59
Welcome to The Busy Creator Podcast, from busycreator.com. We feature conversations on the intersection of creativity and productivity. We discuss tools, techniques, and habits you can use, to be your most creative, productive self. I’m your host, Prescott Perez-Fox.
This is episode 59 of The Busy Creator Podcast and this is a solo episode. It’s a bit of a change of pace, like always, the show notes for this episode will be available online at busycreator.com/59, for episode 59. That’s where we have all the links, book recommendations, quotations, and contact details. And we’ll also have a full text transcript of this episode available on the show notes page.
Today’s episode is a week delayed, and I do apologise for that. Aside from all the scheduling drama, I got sick this past week and was in no condition to record my own voice! But I’m back on my feet, and I bringing the good stuff direct to you.
So, on to today’s topic. This is something I’m calling Prepare to Share, where I’ll give you a few strategies and tools for improving your workflow when you have to share your workload with co-workers. Many of us our solo practitioners so we’re faced with a bit of a scramble when confronted with the sudden need to divide a project and effectively manage the priorities. Don’t worry, we’ll cover the mindset and methods, as well as a few great tools you can use to help everything run smooth. Let’s get into it.
Let’s start from the beginning — how does the need to share arise?
Most of us who’ve passed kindergarten have learned to share, in the general sense, but if you’re working solo, you really don’t have to do so on a daily basis, or on an hour by hour basis when working through a project. But if have to team up with someone else — even one other person — you need some systems in place. This can happen if you’re really busy on a project and need to bring on a freelancer, or perhaps you get yourself and intern, or perhaps you join another company on a project, which is the case with me right now, actually. Believe it or not, I’ve been through all three of those particular scenarios and in all cases, introducing someone to your methods, and to your workflow takes a little effort, but is by no means impossible.
Imagine the ideal workflow
Before you find yourself buried in work, and freaking out about your inability to share, it’s useful to imagine an ideal workflow. This can be how your “agency”, even if that’s an agency of one, would work in a totally ideal state. So I actually recommend sitting down and thinking out loud — say things like “first, I get all the images in a folder, and go through and tag all the hi-res, then I created a second folder with the selected images …” and so forth. That exercise will help you articulate how you work, so when you have to explain it to someone else, you’ve already highlighted any potential weak points, or examined the parts of the process that take the longest time or require the most deep thought.
Going one step further, you can now imagine that you’re working with multiple people in the same room. So pretend you’re in a bustling agency, or maybe everyone comes over to your home office, and you get to do things like “print out the first draft of the script, and pass it to Timmy, who will proofread it. Then when Timmy approves it, hand it to Jane who will research images.” Don’t yet get bogged down in the fact that Timmy and Jane aren’t in the room — just imagine the ideal case where these hand-offs take place. You can create a version of this studio in time, but it’s important to know where the roles change and who becomes responsible for certain elements of a project.
I recommend you take some time and sketch that out. It can be rough, and it doesn’t have to be totally comprehensive if you know you’re going to be tackling a very specific project, but before you start sharing and bringing other people into the mix, you absolutely must get clear on where the responsibilities will change.
It’s pretty certain that sooner or later you’ll have to share files. This could be something as simple as a text file, all the way up to raw photos, layered Photoshop files, projects in Adobe Premiere, etc. And while you can email a text file, there’s no way you get by emailing huge multi-gigabyte files with audio or video. In many ways, the problem of sharing files is actually solved by using Dropbox or Google Drive. I’ve actually written about these before but let me quickly give you my rule of thumb — Dropbox is better for sharing individual files, especially if you’re going to zap those files to a client or some outside party, but Google Drive gives you basically a whole operating system with all its document suite. Use what best suits, but in either case, make sure you set up the folders with appropriate permissions beforehand. If you’re a business owner, let’s say, you don’t want someone who’s a freelancer having access to your entire directory tree. Instead, just share the one folder you’re working on, or even grant access to individual files as needed. This follows the slightly older model of the Shared Server, which is more established for companies that have a proper office with IT infrastructure. But the goal is the same, to have all files shared and accessible by multiple people, and saved in a secure place.
A project, though, is more than just a pile of files. If you’ve designed an ideal workflow, you should have an idea of specific tasks that each person will take on. To start simple, you can just write everything down and hand off an actual list to your mates. Take it one step further, and maybe create a whiteboard or a use a corkboard with index cards for something a bit more visual, but still very old-world. If you’re like me, though, you’ll be taking advantage of the world of software and online service and break into something of a lightweight project management application. Now, we’ve actually done an entire podcast about this topic so I won’t recap the entire conversation, but for simple tasking you can go with something like Asana or Freedcamp. You don’t have to use every feature, but the ability to assign single items to different people, and see an update when that item is crossed off the list is important for sharing and dividing the workload.
Reviewing work and iterating
Something that’s a bit more complicated, especially if you’re not in the same room, is reviewing each other’s work and adding specific feedback. You can, of course, just pick up the phone and use your words. For example, you can help someone navigate and say “on page two, top left corner, add some spacing around that logo” and that sort of thing, but that does require that both people are available at the same time, and also doesn’t leave a record. So if there’s a third person that may be interested in the discourse, such as a project manager working with two designers, this already starts to unravel.
I think it’s actually a bit overlooked that PDFs have pretty robust commenting, especially in Acrobat. I know Adobe’s software can be clunky at times, but if everyone involved has the Creative Cloud installed, and gives a few minutes to learning those tools, I think that PDFs with notations are generally quite solid in that you can see the exact positioning of a comment, and see the specific text to be inserted or removed, etc. I definitely come to this with a graphic design bias, but I think that many of us have this challenge at some point and even with images or screenshots of digital designs, we can use similar techniques for notations.
There are some apps available for shared notation like this. Bounceapp is a new one that I just learned about, and seems dead simple in it’s use — pretty much just upload an image and start pointing stuff out. Share it with someone else, and they can get right to work. There’s also Design Sign Off which is intended for presentation and review, and honestly, a whole bunch of other tools. I’d actually be very interested to hear what else is out there, especially for video and photo workflows — like I said, I have a graphic design background and even without that, most of the places I’ve worked have been traditional studios and offices where everyone is in the room, and making notes on paper. But I know that there are lots of you out there in the new media world so help your fellow traveler on this one.
Depending on your situation, your sharing a project doesn’t just mean giving access to files and tasks, but it also means overseeing the collaborators and tracking their time. If you use a time-tracking and invoicing tool like Harvest or Freshbooks, you can create a login for them and have new people add their time input right into the system. Alternatively, you can ask them to use their own preferred tracking tool, and add their hours daily to your own timesheet.
I’ve never been in a situation where someone needed to monitor my computer directly, but there are software titles for this as well, which allow you to see your collaborators’ and contractors’ screens. ScreenshotMonitor is one of these, but these really only prove useful if you have a full-time remote worker and want to keep track of him whenever you like. If you just want to see someone’s screen every now and then, you can use Skype or Google Hangouts to share screens instead of a video feed. Depending on your bandwidth, you could just leave it on the background and operate as normal.
Assuming you’ve set up a common place to store files, you could simply grab images from the web or scan them and save to them to common folder, but if you’re more interested in web-based tools, I definitely consider things like Pinterest. You can create a pin board for a certain topic and invite someone else to contribute. If you feel like you need keep it private, that’s an option too. But honestly, unless you tag a very specific client name in the board’s title, it’s really not an issue. Might as well keep it public.
One advantage of keeping it public is that you can use a service like Zapier or IFTTT to automatically save the images as you and your team pins them. You can also see the items as an RSS feed, but only if the board is public.
There are other services aside from Pinterest, like Dropmark, which is altogether a pretty cool thing that everyone should install, as well as something I just learned about called Niice, with two iis. This is very much like Pinterest, but with the social network aspects stripped out. There’s no commenting or liking, and I don’t even think you can be friends with people — it’s just focused on the images. But the cool thing is that it has some automatic download features baked right in.
To finish off, let’s talk about Backups. Really, this should just be a gentle reminder that everything you’re now sharing, and coordinating on, and collaborating on, needs to be backed up. Just like that ideal workflow I mentioned at the beginning, you should have a backup plan. Preferably, this is automatic, and if you’re saving in a common location like Dropbox, everything is backed up. Same goes with online services. It’s a bit more complicated for folks working with large files like video and audio, or even hi-res images, so just make sure that everyone who’s involved on the project is storing their stuff in the appropriate place — the agreed upon place — so that every gets backed up. If you’re the project manager, by any other name, you really need to get on people to follow the rules. Keep everyone pulling in the same direction and you’ll solve problems before they start.
Alright, so now you’re prepared to share! You’ve got some underlaying philosophies in place, as well as some critical tools and methods for bring others into your solo practice. So, now get out there and do it.
Thanks everyone to listening to this experimental episode! I hope to do more like this, but I discovered that the planning is actually non-trivial! It’s taken me a while to get everything together and write it all out.
Like the other episodes, I’ve listed everything out on the show notes page for this episode which can be found over at busycreator.com/59, once again that’s busycreator.com/59. That’s where you can leave me a comment, and learn about everything that The Busy Creator has to offer. I also want to hear from you about what topics I should cover in a future episode.
Next time on the podcast, it’s back to a more traditional feature — I speak to Kristen Fischer, copywriter and author.
That episode will be released in two weeks. Make sure you subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher, so don’t miss future episodes.
The theme song for The Busy Creator is an original composition by Joaquin Cotler. Check him out at joaquincotler.com
The Busy Creator is a project from Starship Design, graphic design and branding for small business and startups, — visit us online at starshipdesign.us
I’m Prescott Perez-Fox, and thank you for listening to The Busy Creator Podcast. I’m hanging out online so come connect with me. Until next time, get busy — and create!
- Google Drive
- Imagine an ideal workflow before you start sharing it
- Store all files in an agreed-upon place, preferable automatically backed up
- Use a tasking app for simple items
- Review work online and be clear in your writing
- Back everything up!
- Track time and report daily or weekly, if not continually via a system
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