9 Simple Productivity Tips for Freelance Designers
You probably know already that it can be hard to get things done and still have a balanced life when you’re a freelance designer. On one hand, if you work too little, you won’t be able to make ends meet. On the other hand, you’re also worried that if you work too much, you’ll miss out on your life.
How can you increase your productivity to a level where you can get everything done and still have a happy life? Here are my tips for being more productive.
1. Work on Creative Tasks at the Optimal Time
A 9-5 schedule doesn’t work for everyone. And, as a freelancer, one of the perks of the job is that you have better control over your work schedule.
Some people are more productive in the mornings, some in the evenings, and some really late at night. You might be able to increase your productivity simply by working at a different time of the day.
How can you figure out when you’re at your best?
- Try working at different times and track your creative output. You can try working in the morning for two weeks, in the afternoon for two weeks, and in the evening for two weeks. At the end of each day, write down what you have accomplished. You can even use a tool like RescueTime to understand and analyze how you use your time.
- Take a look at the data and try to stay as objective as possible. It might be that you won’t see any big differences in your creative output at different times of the day, but if you see a clear trend that indicates you’re much more productive at certain times of the day, consider changing up your schedule so that you utilize those more productive times. Move all your creative tasks to that time slot.
2. Work on Supporting Processes in Batches
Supporting processes like accounting, emailing, and communication with clients is an inevitable part of a freelancer’s life. These tasks might not require so much of your creative thinking brainpower, but are nonetheless important to your overall business success.
The easiest way to speed up tasks in this category is to batch them together. For example, dedicate a time slot in the day for handling all of your emails. Only open your inbox during that time, and deal with your emails until your inbox is empty.
You can apply the same principle to many other chores: Shop only once a week, prepare your meals in big batches, do all the research at once, etc.
Batching can save you a lot of time.
3. Take the Business Side Seriously
As a freelance designer, you probably enjoy spending your time on your designs and working on creative projects versus dealing with the other tasks required to maintain your business. However, one of the simplest ways to earn more as a freelancer is to become a better businessperson. Here are some ways you can improve your business.
- Focus on repeat business. Looking for new clients is probably a major time-consuming activity that freelancers have to engage in on a regular basis. It makes sense to prioritize work that is repetitive over those one-off gigs. It’s much harder to find a new client than to keep an existing one.
- Say "No!" to low-paying clients. Many freelancers start off their careers by taking on low-paying jobs. However, make sure that it doesn’t become a habit, because working with low-paying clients will only attract more low-paying clients. You don’t want that.
- Specialize. Imagine that you’re a tech startup entrepreneur looking for a web designer. Would you rather hire someone who creates websites for all sorts of businesses, or someone who specializes in creating websites for companies in the tech industry? Freelancers are often afraid that narrowing down their niche will lead to less work, but the reality is that it’s not only much easier to get clients when you have a clear specialization, but it also allows you to charge higher rates.
4. Take Care of Your Health
Research studies suggest that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and sticking to a regular exercise routine improves productivity.
What can you do in order to enhance your overall wellbeing?
- Get enough sleep. There’s a very good chance that you are sleep deprived without even knowing it (a majority of adults in our society are). Poor sleep leads to productivity loss. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
- Make sure your diet is healthy. People with poor diets are 15% less productive than those who eat a healthy, balanced diet. There are many opinions on what exactly a "healthy diet" means. However, pretty much everyone agrees that processed junk food, fast food, and sodas are not a part of it. Try to eliminate as much junk from your diet as you can and then replace it with healthier alternatives.
- Exercise regularly. A research study indicates that people who exercise habitually have better job performance. If you’re a freelance designer working from home, your lifestyle is usually even more sedentary than it would be if you were working in a corporate office (which is already a pretty sedentary lifestyle), therefore it’s wise to make a conscious effort to include some exercise in your daily routine. Pick an activity you like — whether it’s weightlifting, martial arts, boxing, dancing, or simply walking for an hour everyday — any physical activity that you can stick to doing on a regular basis is a good candidate.
5. Eliminate Distractions
When you have a regular corporate job, and you know that you’ll have to stay in the office until 5:00PM no matter how productive you are simply because the boss requires you to, it makes sense to indulge in different distractions.
However, when you work for yourself, spending hours watching funny cat videos on YouTube is not only damaging to your productivity, but also to your life.
Think about it: the more time you spend distracted, the more time it takes to complete a task at hand, and the less time you have for your hobbies, friends, and family.
What can you do in order to eliminate as many of these distractions as possible?
- Don’t allow email to dominate your work hours. I’ve already made this suggestion earlier, but I’m going to repeat it again because I think it’s important: Schedule a time slot in your daily routine for dealing with emails and don’t open your inbox at other times.
- Turn off the internet if you don’t need it for work. You might need Internet access to communicate with clients, but chances are that you don’t need it in order to get your most important tasks done. The easiest way to avoid temptations is to disconnect yourself from the Internet when you are working on these tasks.
- Block distracting websites during work hours. When you need Internet to get your work done, turn on an app that blocks your access to the websites that distract you (like Twitter and Facebook). Check out StayFocusd if you’re a Google Chrome user or LeechBlock if you’re on Firefox if you’d like to do this. This way you won’t find yourself commenting on your friend’s birthday photos when you’re supposed to be working.
6. Have Standardized Processes
Many freelancers do the same type of work over and over again. It’s a good idea to develop a specific process for these types of repetitive tasks so that you don’t have to start from scratch every time you start a new project.
How can you do that?
- Track and record all the things you do when you work on a typical project. I know this sounds like a huge hassle, but when you start working on a new project, write down all the actions that you take, from start to finish. It’s even better if you do this throughout several projects. You can even create a Done list (instead of a To-Do list) that will additionally help with motivation.
- Take a look at the records you’ve gathered, analyze what things you do often, and develop a standard workflow. The idea is to create a checklist where all the things that you have to do is outlined in the order in which they need to be done. This will save you a lot of time on your next project since you won’t have to wonder what you should do next.
7. Plan Your Work
Very few people take time to plan their work. It’s much better to plan your work properly and then work systematically than to start straight away and work haphazardly.
Here’s a simple process for planning your work effectively:
- Make a list of all the things you need to do in order to complete a project.
- Sit down and go through the whole project in your mind.
- Take your pen and paper, and write down everything that you need to do in order to complete the project from start to finish.
- Go through the whole project in your mind again. Is there anything missing in your list? Make sure that it’s as comprehensive as possible.
Develop a timeframe for the project that shows what you have to do each week. Now that you have a list of things that you need to do, spread them all out throughout several weeks, making sure that on each week, you have a reasonable workload.
Also, pick a deadline for the completion of the project that is earlier than the deadline set by the client. Most projects usually take longer to complete than what you have originally planned due to all sorts of unexpected events. It’s smart to set your own deadline before the client’s deadline in order to give yourself some extra time in case something goes wrong.
8. Establish Boundaries between Work and Life
Many freelance designers feel like they should be working all the time. This really affects their productivity; they can’t work because they are too stressed out to focus, and they can’t relax because they are too stressed out to relax.
You have to consciously enforce boundaries between your work and your life if you don’t want to fall into this vicious cycle.
It’s a good idea to have three separate to-do lists: daily, weekly, and monthly.
- At the end of each month, make a to-do list for the next month that includes all the
things that need to be done that month.
- At the end of each week, take a look at your to-do list for that month, and transfer
some items to a to-do list for the next week.
- At the end of each day, take a look at your to-do list for that week, and transfer some items to a to-do list for the next day.
How does this habit help you maintain clear boundaries between your work and your life? Simple: once you have crossed off everything from your list, you’re not allowed to add any more items to it.
Yes, that means that if you finished your work for the day at 2PM, or your work for the week on Wednesday, or your work for the month on the 21st, you aren’t permitted to add more tasks to your list.
Crazy? Maybe. But this system can force you to create a better work-life balance.
9. Have a Life!
Have you noticed that when all you have to look forward to after work is watching TV and eating potato crisps, you often find yourself working late into the night? The truth is that you have to want to get things done as fast as you can in order to be really productive.
You can’t stay motivated when there’s no reason for you to do your best. That’s why if you want to be a successful freelancer, you have to make sure that you have a life, otherwise you’ll simply end up spinning your wheels in front of a computer for hours and not getting anywhere.
You will be surprised at how fast you can get things done when you know that you have something fun arranged after work.
You have to take action if you want to become more productive! No amount of reading about productivity will help you unless you take action. It’s easy to read articles about all the things you should do in order to be more productive, but nothing is going to change in your life until you actually apply some of the ideas that you have learned.
That’s why I want you to pick just one piece advice from this article and implement it in your life over the next four weeks.
You will be surprised how much difference a commitment to make a small change can make when you actually follow through with it.
What is the one idea from this article that you will apply in your life in order to become a more productive freelance designer? Let me know in the comments!