How I work • 2 June 2007 • The SnowBlog

How I work

It's been interesting talking to people about our new team structure. Often they've looked horrified and said 'but Emma, how on earth will you cope with all the work?' Interesting question, and worth a post, I reckon. I'm no better than any other small publisher at the actual publishing side of things. I am just as bad (because, face it, no-one gets it right 100% of the time) at picking sure-fire winners as the next woman. But I don't think I'm being too egotistical when I say I am a lot more efficient than most people. Take time management, for instance. What do you do when you get in in the morning? Turn on your PC, fire up Outlook, get a cup of coffee? Browse your email, action a few, and leave the rest in the ever-expanding intray? Do you look at your long to-do list, add a few things, and start to chip away at it in no particular order? Then get fed up because 30 emails arrive in one go, so you start to go through them? Here's what I do. I get in, and immediately open and start working on my Current Big Project. That is usually some major typesetting or editing project (it's City Cycling's layout at the moment). I don't even open Outlook, or a web browser. I work on the project for an hour or so. In the old days, (like, a couple of months ago until I learned all this stuff) I used to put off major projects like that, thinking that I could only do them if I blocked out a full day to do them. Obviously I never have a full day free, so they never got done. If I start to work on them first thing with no procrastination, no coffee-getting (well, maybe one), no email checking, no interruptions I can do a bit on them every day until they're done. Another thing I've discovered relatively recently is that having an Uber list, or Ever Growing List of Doom, is a bad idea. It's not motivational to have a list that you can never reach the end of, and the large things on the list, for the above reasons, never get done. Instead, I have a rolling daily to do list. I look at my outstanding tasks and assign them a deadline. Then I estimate how long each one will take. Say I was planning a Monday: I would look at the tasks that had a deadline of Monday or Tuesday, and plan out Monday until the total of the time-estimates came to 8 hours. I bump the rest to Tuesday, fill that up, and so on. I include time on the schedule for interruptions, meetings and phone calls. I also block out three half-hour slots for dealing with email in bulk - it's so much quicker than being interrupted each time an email arrives and dealing with them as they come. So by the end of each day I know I've done a full day's work, and that there are no tasks outstanding without a time-slot. Everything's managed and I can go off training, or home, with a clear conscience. I also do things as they arise, little and often. No more saving up invoices until there's a big batch of them lurking in the intray, which I used to do until recently and which resulted in Nightmare Bookkeeping Day. I get them, I input them to Sage, I set up the electronic payment with a pre-set date, I file them. I am always up to date. Another area is automation. I've been investigating Indesign scripts recently. Once you get past the fact that it's all a bit techie, it becomes second nature - plus, thanks to the Lovely Internet, there are scripts out there posted up by kind people for no money that do most tasks. I found one today that takes all the images in a folder and lays them out in a pre-selected catalogue format, and uses the file names as captions. The example worked with a 5000 image folder I tested it on. Hmmm, I wonder if that will ever come in useful... like, every month! XML, management reporting, ONIX and so forth are other areas where we've got our processes down to a nice, smooth, automatic flow. Finally I have to say that we are more skilled than most publishers at using the tools of our trade. I consider us to be expert Photoshop and InDesign users. This really came home to me the other day when I did some training for another small publisher. I was really quite amazed that anyone manages to get anything done in publishing if they don't know about master pages, auto-numbering, autoflow and paragraph styles in layout programs - simple stuff, and barely scratches the surface of what the programs are capable of, but the alternative is days of work or the cost and hassle of managing freelancers to do it for you. So I've been saying to people who wonder about whether I can manage all this work: don't worry. I think we've got it covered. I even get the sense that having fewer people around might encourage me to find even more efficient ways of working - and might save a couple of hours a day of chatting! Like I say, I don't think it necessarily means we're going to have a million-pound bestseller - there is a lot of magic to publishing that doesn't automatically happen, no matter how organised you are - but at least we're not going to be bogged down by the hundreds of small, dull tasks a publisher has to do. We have plenty of time to spend on the stuff that matters.


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