Hi Maarten. Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to read this article. The answer to your question depends on a number of different elements. If you are a design team of one (as I am now), you clearly will not have the time or resources to go through a full design cycle on every project. It’s likely you are working for an organization that is either extremely small or lacks “UX maturity.” So in this scenario, you will obviously have to prioritize. This assumes you have some autonomy over your work and projects.
With research, you can’t hope to spend the next month or two in the field interviewing users or observing them. You can’t test every design and then run iterations based on the results. At best, you’ll be able to do some of this sporadically. What I have done in the past is to work with marketing or customer service. I have also run surveys to get large amounts of feedback. Marketing usually has a finger on the pulse of the market and what they think users might want. Customer service (like a call center) usually has an idea of where the pain points are. None of these methods are full-proof or even close to the rich data you get from actually talking with users. But they are a huge time-saver and are often better than nothing.
As far as design, I use what little research I can scrounge up to determine where the big problems are and spend most of my time trying to put solutions in place to address those problems. There is usually some low-hanging fruit I can address that doesn’t require a ton of work and results in some quick wins.
Really, this is all about prioritizing. I constantly refocus my efforts on where I can make the largest impact on the user experience. Are you spending the next two weeks on a design system you’ll have to update in 6 months? That’s probably not going to result in a huge impact on the end-user. Pixel perfection, color palettes, prototyping, the projects that only impact a minor fraction of your user base are all time thieves. If you have some ability to choose which projects you will tackle, ensure they are the ones you believe will have the greatest benefit to the project and users.
Unfortunately, a lot of your work will likely be dictated by other teams in your organization. That’s where it gets complicated. You will often find yourself working on someone’s pet project instead of something that really matters. So the last tip is to simply have a lot of patience. Sometimes it takes a while to get to those high-impact projects.