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April 15, 2014

Creating Space in an Era of Busyness

April 15, 2014

It has been two months since our 2014 Winter Factory Week. I’m still tired from what was essentially a 40-hour, all-hands-on-deck stratgic planning session. It was probably the most intense Factory Week I have participated in.

That said, it was also the most “spacious.” By that I mean that we had only a very rough agenda, we didn’t time box much of anything and we allowed ourselves the opportunity to explore rabbit holes. In fact, it was basically a week-long exploration of SmallBox’s purpose, strategies and processes. Essentially, we used our own Discovery Process on ourselves.

You know what… it worked!

We came out with a number of great insights and recommendations for ourselves. Perhaps the most powerful of which became our 2014 rallying cry:


It is a reflection of the week itself, but also a goal for our team to look at how we work, and how we want to work better.

We ended up at “create space” after meandering through the murkiness of such concepts as “permission to take risks” and “permission to fail,” among others. I still believe that those two concepts are at the core of what we mean when we talk about creating space. But it's broader than that, too.

So what does it mean to create space inside a growing, successful company full of driven perfectionists? Here are a few key strategies we plan to employ as we create space inside SmallBox.


Upon reflection, we aren’t very good at soliciting – or giving – critical feedback to our teammates. In 2014, we will be planning our projects with the space to solicit, give and receive constructive and critical feedback. This means increasing timelines by a small margin, in some cases, but also planning ahead to allow teammates the opportunity to look at work and offer thoughtful ideas for improvement. We also anticipate a lot of shoe fives and kudos along the way.


We are a company of doers and problem-solvers. Almost everyone in the company has their own set of tactics that they employ in order to attain SmallBox’s goals or complete work for our partners and clients. This has led to a lack of reproducibility and efficiency in everything from code to deliverable documents. One designer might create a briefing in MS Word, while another works in Omnigraffle. There were very few templates, and we found ourselves recreating very similar content over and over again, from scratch. Now, during 2014, we’ll be able to trim timelines and budgets by relying more heavily on templates, sharing software knowledge, and creating an asset library for commonly-used visuals.


At only 20 people, we are a relatively small shop. We have a good number of awesome and loyal clients, and we like to offer as much of our individual talent to each client as possible. This means that we often have designers, developers, strategists, account/project managers and everyone else on WAY TOO MANY projects. In many ways this is because we are overspecialized in some areas. Often, it's more because we all want to work with everyone, because our partners are so great. That said, we know that we can create space for SmallBoxers by allowing them to focus on a smaller number of client projects at one time, thus reducing “tool time” and “brain clutter.”


Something else that some of us noticed coming out of Factory Week is that we tend to create our own clutter during the day. We tend to overwhelm ourselves with distractions. We shift gears between projects, social media, industry blogs and articles, learning new software or techniques, going to lunch with friends and colleagues, and other such distractions. While all of these things are good, productive activities on their own, the pursuit of all of them in the course of a single day leads to a lack of mental space to do anything at our absolute best. We need to create spaces within the day to really focus on projects, and then time box our distractions such as social media, email and the like.


The combination of all of the above practices will lead to more space in our days and more room to explore and discover. By being intentional about how we spend our time, how we plan projects, and how we allocate resources, we can create better outcomes for our clients, more innovative solutions and ideas, and greater mental health for our team.

So, how have you created space in your organizations? Tell us your success stories!

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