©Nina Geometrieva

Overtime, part of the job?

Working around the clock. Crunch time. Extra hours.

We are all familiar with these terms, may be too familiar. Running after time is definitely an unpleasant feeling. You know, when you wish a day would last 48 hrs instead of 24hrs. When you have so many things to do that you don’t even know which one to start with.

The digital industry is an industry in constant growth, evolving at the speed of mega octets per seconds. To stay competitive, digital agencies pushes boundaries always further. Trying to do more with less time. And that’s probably the problem : time versus ambitions.

“This project will be a hit, we want to do great, deadlines are tight but think about the awareness it will bring!”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first one to be ambitious and wanted to push the limits on a new project. But it’s not about to stop being ambitious, it’s about to start being realistic and organized.

At the beginning of a project, you know you have a certain amount of time to create it. So knowing that you need to first make a planning of production. Meaning you need to estimate how many people should be involved in the team and for how long, to have a successful project at the end, fitting your deadlines.

Then, to avoid wasting time later in production, the best thing to do is to list all the tasks each team member needs to do (even if they are still blurry at this stage, you’ll refine them through the production) and set priorities. I’ll probably always remember a good tip from an intervenant, back at Gobelins school, who advised to always add a 30% time security at the total of all the tasks estimation. For example let’s say you have 10 tasks to estimate, the total of each one will need you to work 10 hours to be able to achieve them properly (let’s say 1 hour per task to keep it simple). Well the trick is to add 30% to those 10 hours. 30% of 10 hours = 3 hours. 10 hours + 3 hours = 13 hours. The advantage of doing that is to prevent a too optimistic tasks estimation and decrease risks of overtime because of a bad estimation.

Speaking about risks, it’s really important to estimate them for each tasks. Is it doable? Does this extra feature is really important? Do we need to do R&D time to achieve it? Can we start prototyping without waiting for the final design? Does doing it in 3D will take too much time, what can be an other alternative? Those questions have to be asked for each team member, knowing their forces and weaknesses to avoid facing huge problems close to the deadlines.

Finally, set priority for each tasks is really important too. High priority, medium priority, low priority. You better set high priorities on the core of a project rather than on the secondary features. Make sure the heart of the concept is done and works well before to start polishing everything else.

Doing all that will help the team knowing precisely what to focus on in a weekly / daily basis and considerably avoid risks. Regular check in will help too. It’ll allow the team to know where everyone is at, and to find solutions together to eventual problems. Having a clear workflow matters. Overtime is most of the time the result of a bad management which is not efficient enough and not organized enough.

Let’s remember working overtime is not helping in any ways. It first makes you less productive because you’re actually working too much hours in a row. At some point you need to have the time to step back to think about what you’re doing and to find the best approach to do it.

Then, you have higher risks to do mistakes because focusing becomes harder, your body and brain are asking for rest. You’ll not be able to discern what works from what doesn’t anymore. The result of rushing everything because of tight deadlines will be for the project to lack into several fields, such as a concept not strong enough, a shaky UX, an inconsistent visual design, or a buggy development.

Finally, too much overtime increases the stress level a lot because of the pressure to fit the deadlines. It can cause sleep troubles as well and will definitely lead to a burnout, or worst (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/copywriter-dies-working-30-hours-row-article-1.1551317).

Everyone already knows all of that, but the digital agencies mentality kind of “encourage” these overtime habits on several plans.

  • To do good projects you need to do overtime. A lot of digital agencies have actually this mindset. That overtime can’t be avoid, that is something inevitable, something you need to deal with. It can even become a contest in a way, of doing the maximum overtime in a row, like unlocking new overtime records! And of course extra hours are rarely, to not say never, paid. At best, you’ll have few days off to compensate.
  • Cutting off budget to be more competitive. As a result the deadlines become too tight but the ambitions stay the same. So the only way to create what the client paid for will be to work overtime.
  • A job of passionate people. Most people in the digital industry are passionate about what they are doing. But it’s not because your job is your passion that overtime should be considered more ok. However, I’m not saying to say no when a project needs a little bit of extra time, if you care about it, it’ll even be natural to spend more time on it. There is just a difference between the overtime you choose to do, and the one you have to do. It’s even more frustrating when it could have been avoided in the first place (bad management / bad workflow). I’m not speaking about stay later at the office 3–4 days a month, I’m speaking about stay later every weeks, or even every days, and work during the weekends. Not having a life beside work is not part of any contracts, and should never be.

“If you don’t finish the website in time, it’ll be the end of the world.”

Have you ever heard someone saying that? No. A lot of people in the digital industry are making a big deal about deadlines, almost saying it’s a matter of life or death. Well sorry but it’s not. Our jobs, as important as they are on a lot of different levels, are not saving life in any ways. They provide entertainment, highlight brands / companies and their products, promote events, exhibitions or movies, and can even create services to make our everyday life better.

I’m not saying that deadlines are not important and should not be respected though, I’m saying unrealistic deadlines, which involve crazy overtime, are a real problem. Work needs to stay fun and to leave you some time to enjoy life beside. If not, make a move.