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Marshall Atkinson

Shop Management 101: The Tactical Use of Time

It’s your most important resource. Make sure you use it wisely.




ONE CONSISTENT CHALLENGE that every shop faces is the effective use of time. It’s a resource – maybe the most important one you have – but that doesn’t mean it’s being spent wisely.

Throughout your shop, your staff may appear to be busy, but are they working effectively on things that matter? Any time they spend on tasks that aren’t a priority or that involve redoing work that wasn’t done correctly isn’t helping your bottom line.

Establish Expectations

It’s great to have long-term goals such as how much revenue you want to bring in this quarter. Hopefully, you established that before the quarter started and have mechanisms in place to achieve that number.

That’s not what we are discussing here. We are talking about today. Does every single worker in your shop know exactly what is expected of them today? (Stop laughing; I’m serious.) It should be mapped out, with a schedule or list that has been prioritized to put “first things first.” I’m not just talking about your production teams: This goes for sales and , purchasing, invoicing, and your creative group. Even you.

If you want to be more successful this year, then build and implement a tactical strategy for how you use time in your company. This means that for each employee or work group, there is a predefined set of instructions or priorities that they use to map out their day, instead of just working on whatever they happen to get to. That’s the “you get what you get” strategy.

Instead, set expectations for each staff member, ideally based on a customized set of predetermined rules. Every department works differently. Each team member in those departments has different tasks, skills, and abilities. Create a framework where they always know what they should be doing, eliminating the “busy being busy” type of work. Look for software or an app that can help automate the process of setting your staff’s .


Here’s what you are shooting for: Take someone who has 10 things to do today. Make sure they know what those 10 things are. Help them do 18 in the same amount of time.


More things happen when we organize the work. Often, one department depends on something another department does before they can get started. What happens in your company in that situation? Is there good communication, or do things just sit?

For example, let’s look at a rush order. It doesn’t matter what market you’re in: Rush orders are commonplace and a headache for any scheduler. When a rush order comes in, each department should know exactly what to do. Maybe in your shop, rush orders go to the head of the line and are worked on first. You want a process in place where everyone has what they need and the order can be completed from start to finish without having a special meeting or discussion. If that’s not the case, you have some work to do to .

But not just for rush orders – think about everyday, average orders, too. Consider how each department prioritizes its workload to accommodate those jobs so they ship on time.

Say No

One great way to gain more time in your company’s day is to learn that it’s OK to say no. Screen printers pride themselves on taking every crazy job that comes along. Admit it: Right now, you have jobs on your production schedule that are not as profitable as others.

A better tactical use of your time is to concentrate on higher margin jobs, filling your schedule with profitable work that makes sense for your business. But that isn’t going to happen by magic. It will take an on-purpose initiative.


Try saying no to jobs that require overtime to complete when the customers aren’t willing to pay for it. Try sending digital mockups instead of producing samples for your customers to free up some production time. I’m not advocating doing anything that may jeopardize business relationships that matter. What I’m suggesting is to be more judicious with the work you accept.

Be Proactive

One trait that characterizes all the top shops I’ve worked with is their ability to be proactive on a continual basis. They don’t just look at tomorrow’s schedule – they think a few weeks out. They know what’s in the pipeline and are planning for any challenges or issues that the upcoming work may bring.

You would be shocked at the number of companies that don’t plan for what to do down the road. They buy equipment or hire an employee without thinking about what they are going to do with them, like a kid with a shiny new toy. Great companies are forward minded. They’re proactive, which means anticipating both the good and the bad consequences headed their way.

They know how they are going to react when business slows down or speeds up. When they buy an automatic press, they know they will have people who have been trained to operate it effectively. They know how many more screens they’ll need to make to keep up with the . Before they bought the press, they wrote a business plan to make sure they could feed the press work on a continual basis.

If you want better use of time during your day, start by planning for what’s around the corner.

Eliminate Distractions and Problems

We are constantly being bombarded with distractions throughout the day – emails, phone calls, questions, and all manner of things that don’t really matter. You know the symptoms. Employees on the shop floor using their cell phones or scrolling through their music lists. Meetings to review information that could have been handled in an email. Staff members that move like zombies on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons.


Whatever is going on, put a plan in place to eliminate or at least minimize these distractions. We’re all social creatures. A business should have a good culture that is fun and team oriented. If you rule the company with an iron fist, you’ll have employees who don’t want to work there. But you can set the tone and help eliminate distractions.

In any printing or manufacturing setting, there will always be problems. Challenges pop up and we have to deal with them. However, when you find yourself solving the same problems repeatedly, it means you have a time suck that needs to be obliterated.

For example, let’s say you have noticed that your press crews spend a lot of time taping up pinholes in the screens. What’s causing that? To find out, you do what’s known as root cause analysis – a fancy term that means putting on your detective hat to systematically figure out what’s wrong. Your research eventually leads you to the screen reclaiming process, and you learn that a new team member there isn’t degreasing the screens properly, causing the production issues on the floor.

When you don’t interject that problem solving work into a situation like this, nothing gets fixed. Think about the time that is wasted every day. The lost output adds up, and too often, no one even notices. This is why having a continuous improvement program is vital to increasing your shop’s efficiency. There is only so much time in a day. Every moment that your staff isn’t adding value to an order is time that is wasted.

Solve Your Time Crunch

There are a number of ways you can improve time management throughout your company. Personally, I like to use a three-step process called “Identify, Discuss, Solve.”

Identify     Gather your team together and spend some time with a whiteboard or even a legal pad. Brainstorm the challenges they are facing and the issues that result. List every challenge. Some may be silly or appear trivial, but that’s OK. Get everything out in the open.

Discuss     Next, spend some time discussing the list. What stands out? Are there any similar issues you can
combine? Eliminate ones that can’t be worked on or are not relevant at the moment. Then, prioritize the list with
the team. Look for ones that, if solved, could improve other challenges on the list. Get buy-in on which are most urgent. Discuss and strategize each one, then number the top choices.

Solve     Look at the most urgent item and make it a priority to figure out how to address it. Do you have to buy something? Do people need any training? Develop an action plan to solve that problem so it never happens again. Use your team to implement and agree on this change. You’ll create more tactical uses for your staff’s time by getting better.



Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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