Hidden Workflow Tips

Marshall Atkinson shares 10 tips for getting more work produced per day

Go ahead. Walk out onto your shop floor and take a good look around. What do you see? Is everyone working? Are orders getting produced and shipped out the door? But despite the seemingly obvious amount of effort that is being generated before your eyes, you still feel that nagging in your gut that you could be getting out more work.

You are in luck, my friend. In this article, I’ll share 10 tips for getting more work produced per day.

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There is nothing worse than finishing up a job and not having everything ready for the next. Our first tip sounds easy to implement, but it may require you to rethink your workflow and organization a little bit.

The easiest way to be ready for the next job is to spend some time the day before gathering everything you need. Around lunch, print the schedule for each machine in your shop (regardless of decoration method) for any job that needs to be produced tomorrow. If you can, organize these in order of priority.

Then, as the day goes on, spend some time gathering everything required for each job and line up the orders by each machine, staged in priority order. This should include all shirts, consumables (buckets of ink, cones of thread, etc.), samples, work order documents, and mockups.

When your production crews come in, every job they need to run will be assembled for them with every item needed. Plus, there is a printed schedule for them that outlines what’s required for today’s production.


It’s been said, “What gets measured gets improved.” In shops, there can be a lot of unnecessary downtime. Are you measuring this?close up color countdown 39396

Don’t just look after the job is complete and the crew is breaking down the old one and setting up the new. Although that changeover matters, sometimes it is the untrackable time that is the culprit.

Try this. In the morning, after a break and right after lunch, what time is the first shirt completed in production? Within five to seven minutes? Longer?

I’ve been in shops where after each of these periods you won’t see a completed shirt for up to 30 minutes. That’s about an hour and a half of unscheduled downtime. But unless you start looking, you can’t begin to improve this.

If you use a production log, be sure to track the daily production downtime and record it. Hold your crew accountable for the unreasonable amount of unproductive time.


Your crew needs to know the rules and have clear expectations about what is important in your shop. For example, one crew has to unbag a set of 500 shirts before they can run them. Who owns this task in your shop? The embroidery or screen-printing crew? Receiving? Someone else?

If you want more orders produced per day, your machine production crew should have this task already handled before the shirts are in their area. Setting crystal clear expectations on what is important and who owns these tasks is crucial. Otherwise, you’ll find that a press isn’t running a job because they are spending time unbagging boxes of shirts before they can start printing.

Put an end to the ‘not my job’ syndrome. Make sure everyone knows that the most important thing in your shop is decorating a shirt. When that function isn’t happening, the shop isn’t making money.


Production scheduling is one of the hardest things to master in most shops. It’s akin to being an air traffic controller. Due to the complexity of the orders and the nature of the work, there are a lot of variables that can influence whether the shop stays on track or not.

Regardless of the software your shop uses, one great trick is to schedule all orders to the workstation they will be produced on, the day after the job is entered into the system. If you have a good estimate on how much work each production crew can handle a day, it is easy to see when they are full of work and can’t take on any other jobs. But that won’t work if the dates are padded.

You have to use real dates for a production schedule, so everyone knows when that job has to leave the building. Having a schedule that shows the dates and production equipment to be used ahead of time allows the rest of your shop staff to understand their own internal deadlines for art, purchasing, receiving, etc.


Have you ever heard the phrase “Many hands make light work”? In production, this is a cold, hard fact. Whether it is staging jobs by the production team, setting up for the next job, or cleaning up at the end of the day, sometimes a helper can really accelerate performance.

Instead of stopping to add ink to a screen, what if someone was walking around doing it for you? Maybe you have those 500 shirts to unbag. Another person ripping into that plastic would go a long way. But does that mean you need to hire another person? Not necessarily. Your management team can do more than bark orders and sip coffee. If one department doesn’t have much to do, you can redeploy a person somewhere else to help out.

Sometimes, though, when you are in your busy season and slammed, just bringing in a temporary worker or your neighbor’s cousin’s kid can make a difference.


I’ve been to plenty of shops over the years. There is one thing that I can tell you about the ones that pump out a lot of work, and that is that they are immaculately clean and superbly organized. That’s not by accident. The ink is kept inside the bucket. All floors are kept free of clutter and debris. Things are lined up with military precision and labeled. There is a method to that madness, and that is one of working faster.

When you don’t have to stop to clean your hands because you just grabbed an ink bucket handle, that means you can be onto the next step in the process. All of the screens needed for tomorrow’s work for each press are stacked on movable carts for each press so that they can be wheeled over in one step.

To achieve this level of awesomeness, the shop culture has been built that dictates this is the shop way of working. Slobs and unorganized people are trained to do things the “shop way.”


Have you ever had to walk a work order up to the front office to ask, “Hey, what’s this mean?”

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Has an order sat in shipping for a few days or more because you were waiting on a shipping address? How often do you audit how information is used and conveyed in your shop?

Besides missing information, you could also examine standardizing language to instruct your staff to make decisions. For example, ‘Full Front’ could mean that the art is sized to 12″ wide and will be printed 3″ down from the bottom of the collar. ‘Rush’ means that in every department this order skips to the head of the line and is worked on first.

Think about all the ways information challenges can cause disruption or speed bumps in your shop. Ask yourself, “What do we need to eliminate to keep this from happening again?” Test that theory and then implement it.


Many shops try to skimp their way through. That might work early on, but sooner or later, you need to use professional tools for the job. Understanding how to use these tools and getting your crew to use them consistently will elevate your performance.

For example, let’s talk screens. As my friend Alan Howe puts it, “Screens are equipment.” What he means by this is that a lot of shops emphasize their presses, but very little thought or effort into how they build their screens for production. Mesh count, emulsion thickness, tension, and other factors can play havoc on a press if not built properly. Yet, some shops put their worst employees in the screen room. Despite advances in materials and equipment technology, the screen room is often the last to get upgraded.

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How trained is your staff? You would be surprised the impact that a good cross-training program can have on a shop. For starters, when your crew learns different facets of the work around the shop, they can understand what quality should look like with other processes. For instance, the press operator will understand why screen tension plays an important part in screen registration. When your art staff gets training in how to set up a job, they can grasp how the print order makes a difference in how they build a file. With more knowledge, your employees can make better decisions. Quality goes up, and misprints, do-overs, and errors drop.

Start with identifying the top core things you have to know in each critical step in your shop. Write these down, then schedule slots for your staff to start learning them in short 30-minute chunks of time. Keep track with a spreadsheet. Make sure your crew has time in the driver’s seat doing the real work so they can practice.

I like to use what I call the Rule of Three, which for every key step in your shop, there are at least three trained people that know how to do it well. You need three because the first person is the primary job holder. The second is their back up. The third is there for when both the first- and second-string folks are out.


This is my favorite phrase this year because I believe it says so much. Think about it. What is a priority for you? Something that no matter what, you will do what it takes to accomplish it.

You wouldn’t miss your marriage anniversary or your kid’s sports game. Those are priorities. Things get pushed out of the way to make those events happen. In your shop, have you identified what needs to be a priority? For example, jobs shipped on time and correctly could be a priority. This is something you could measure.

It doesn’t matter much if you do a good job all along in production, but if the order ships late or to the wrong address, it is a failure.

Investigate all the actions needed to make an order ship on time. What is the friction point that slows everything down? Do you have an action plan in place to make that part happen faster? Don’t be afraid to make changes and take action.

This article appears in the July issue of Printwear. Don’t miss out on other industry-related articles like this one. Subscribe here

Allee Bruce

Alexandria Bruce

Alexandria Bruce is the former managing editor of GRAPHICS PRO magazine.

View all articles by Alexandria Bruce  

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