Hands up if you are list person? Yes? No? I’m not just talking about work now, in everyday life as well. Still no? Wow, that’s impressive – You should tell me your secret.
I think it’s fair to say that to be good at fashion development or production you need to be organized. Some people use paper, some use apps like Trello and Evernote but whatever the method, using some form of ‘list’ or organizational tool is essential practice with the number of aspects that need to be juggled within a project. But list making is not just about being organized; it’s also about helping to maintain a focused and motivated outlook in the task ahead so that you see progress as it happens. For me, these points are key and these are what I’ll be giving you tips on in this post.
Now, I think it’s also fair to say that being organized doesn’t always come naturally to people and for me it was the same. It’s something that has taken me years to manage and I have learnt the hard way by forgetting things or by just feeling overwhelmed by workloads.
Here is how I learned to love a list:
Around 20 years ago, I went to a time management course paid for by my then employer. It was one of those two day set ups in a beige, characterless conference room of a London Hotel filled with eager folk, pens and papers to the ready, waiting to soak up those all essential words of wisdom by some guy called Frits. I remember his name, randomly enough because usually Fritz is with a ‘z’ but he announced himself as ‘Frits–with-an-s’. This course was 20 years ago, strange what you remember: ‘Frits-with-an-s’.
Without going into a minute by minute run down of the course, what he taught us was to break things down stage by stage into bite size pieces, a piece of advise which I give to teams even now. His route was starting with a monthly schedule and dividing it first weekly, then daily,then hourly. What this does is make tasks or events more manageable which is crucial when faced with something big like planning a wedding or a product launch.
For me, the first time that this method of planning really kicked in, I was working at a new brand, which was setting up from scratch in its development and production department. What this meant was that I needed to hire a team, build a sourcing strategy (find factories), create internal processes, and build the information flow documentation (decide who did what). Quite a complex set of tasks and not something I had actually done before. So how did I start? Being old school and preferring to use a pen and paper (don’t judge) I took each section and divided it so that it was broken down into the smallest of detail:
Product groups / Countries of manufacture / buying office / agent / factories /Contact person / email address
Departments / Positions / / Salary / Job Specs / Recruitment agents / Adverts
Key Documents / Format / Templates
Once I had listed all these in a ‘waterfall list’ (items trickling down in size) I found it easier and less daunting to attack each point and I was able to cross things off the list giving me a sense of accomplishment and progression. If my list had been simply: ’ Set up the whole development and production structure for a large international fashion brand’ I would have probably quit after 3 hours and taken up basket weaving instead. As it was, I worked through the detailed list striking things off it, reviewing and updating the list daily and weekly. I’m not saying that this set up was easy or things went according to plan, but by having a detailed plan of action and by reviewing and updating it on a regular basis, I was able to make progress and slowly build the department.
This takes me to another point: Reviewing and updating your list on a regular basis is a good thing and is essential for progression.
While working through a project, large or small, work or personal, you will notice that tasks and deadlines will change on a regular basis. This is not because you are not managing the list efficiently, it’s the just the nature of the beast. You are working with external forces (in development: factories and fabric mills, for a wedding, cake makers and florists) that also have their own lists and priorities, which may not match yours. Because of this, be prepared to update and review your list on a regular basis, changing priorities and adding new tasks. This process is a positive thing as there is nothing more satisfying that starting a new list and seeing how much has been crossed off the old one, or at least I think so.
Overtime, maybe your list will get smaller as you strike things through, or maybe it will stay the same length but will have different tasks on it because of a different project. But what should stay consistent is the way you approach it.
Here are my key tips on learning to love a list.
- Break the task down into bite size pieces, from large to small (don’t be afraid of adding detail to make it easier)
- Literally strike things through when they are done so that you see the progress.
- Accept that things will change and that you can’t control everything.
- Review and update on a regular basis.
Susie Breuer runs the consultancy Co-Lab54.
For more Industry related tips check out the book Blue is The New Black.