Design is a healthy industry to be part of in this time and age. If you know how to manage your time, there are no limits to the opportunities you will enjoy. If you’ve been professionally designing for any length of time, you probably would’ve have experience having multiple projects all at the same time. Or sometimes, you have to go to client proposals, client meetings, maintenance checks, or do research all at once. This is why time management is a key virtue for a designer.
If you don’t manage your time well, you might find yourselves not accomplishing everything that needs to be done in that day, and with designing where creation is involved, it’s easy to get carried away.
To help you out, here are the 10 most effective time management tips for designers:
1. Multi-tasking with a limit
It’s never good for a designer to be focused on a single task at any one time. As much as possible, try to have at least one major project and another on the works. For example, you may be in the middle of designing a client’s website. On the side, you should have ongoing proposals with at least one other client. In the usual course of a designer’s tasks focused on one project, there will always be downtimes. These times are best used by taking care of another project. Always have these tasks written down on a calendar or planner so you can follow the schedule and also track the status of each of the concurrent tasks.
2. Give your best
Always give your best in any project. You must be wondering what this has to do with time management. Although giving your best in a project may take longer to finish the job, it will make your clients extremely satisfied. This way, they won’t be calling for any revisions. And as any designer knows, revisions always cost you a lot: a lot of time for the meetings and discussions, a lot of follow-ups, and a lot of money you would’ve already earned from a new project.
3. Create a pattern
There are some designers who think that just because they’re artists, they don’t need to be boxed in by patterns. But if you’re in the design industry to make a living, it helps to create a pattern for your tasks. The brain loves the patterns because patterns keep everything organized and help you get the feeling that everything is going as planned. If you establish a pattern, your brain just goes into a different mode at the right time. This would keep you from wasting time just because you’re not in the mood to work on a particular project. Your brain would know that everything is structured, and it will cooperate with you better.
It’s not easy to establish a pattern. Basically, this is trial and error. Try different patterns; see if you design better in the morning or strategize better in the afternoon. Find the pattern that works best for you. Then, once you establish this pattern, try not to stray from it. Sometimes, we can’t keep thoughts and ideas from breaking through. For example, you’re designing a website then you suddenly thought of a great idea for marketing your services. Don’t leave your current job and tend to that new idea. Instead, write down that idea and leave it for the time you have allotted for marketing concerns. This is where a handy planner or a mobile phone with organizational features become essential; and since this should be something you can easily have with you at all times, a mobile phone is more preferable.
One reminder when creating a pattern, though. Remember to allot some time to the general work-related tasks such as reading e-mails, responding to inquiries, reading blogs you follow, and so on. You can get carried away when doing these tasks, and before you know it, the better part of your morning or afternoon have already been spent doing these not-so-important tasks and your projects are still exactly where you left them. If you allot time for them, you can do them but they won’t affect your other tasks.
4. Be your own boss
One problem that freelance designers experience is how they don’t finish their projects at the set time and how they just work on their own sweet timing. But if you want to take advantage of all the projects around you, you have to learn to be your own boss. Set time limits for each project and stick to those limits no matter what. Each project should get only a specific length of time, which you can plan accordingly. You shouldn’t spend more time or less time on that project. This way, you can even insert your own breaks into the schedule, and you can spend such time on other tasks to give your brain a rest. After all, the best rest for the mind is a change of tasks.
You can implement this in two ways. You can apply it to whole projects by setting limits for the entire length of the project, and you can apply it on a daily basis. For example, instead of spending an entire day on a single project in hopes of completing the entire project in just 24 hours, divide that day into two so you can work on two different projects. Trying to complete a project in a day is usually a recipe for disaster because as the day wears on, your brain can also get bored of the task. By mixing things up a bit, you help your brain stay motivated.
5. Balance professional life and personal life
If you are to achieve a focused and motivated professional life, you need a nurtured personal life to go with it. The word here is “balance.” It’s never good to drown yourself in your professional work and not have enough time for your personal life. Even if you devote entire days to your work, always allot time for relationships and personal development. To more effectively do this, maintain a weekly calendar instead of just a daily or a monthly calendar. A weekly calendar helps make sure you spend enough time on your personal life on a weekly basis.
So what are the aspects that should make it to your schedule? First, relationships. Always have time allotted for your family, partner, and friends. Second, personal development. This would include any personal interest of yours such as reading, exercising, running, swimming, or simply relaxing. These are excellent motivators and keeps your brain well-fed and your creativity bolstered despite heavy designing sessions. These personal development tasks can help sort out creative jams, so don’t neglect them.
6. Balance fun and non-fun projects
As a professional designer, it is unavoidable that you sometimes come across projects or tasks that are not really fun to do. The tendency when one is faced with such a mundane task is to dread it and wait for the last possible minute to do them. Even if these projects aren’t much to look forward to, it is actually better to do them first and get them out of the way. These ugly, unfinished projects have a way of haunting you by taking up shop at the back of your mind, and the distraction can affect your performance in the projects that you do love.
If you are lucky to be working only on tasks that you enjoy, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if you’re divided between tasks you are passionate about and tasks you just have to do because they’re bread and butter, then you should allocate time on both in a single day. Achieving this balance helps improve your concentration and prevent that gnawing feeling that you have a boring dreaded task ahead of you.
7. Make your own calendar
Designers are often artistic and visual folks. So far, all these time management tips have told you again and again that it is important to keep a calendar. But not any calendar will do. If you really want to manage time well, you should have a calendar you feel comfortable with. One that will keep you motivated. If your calendar is so messy, you’ll automatically have a cluttered, messed up feeling, which is not a good foundation for any project. But if your calendar is clear, organized, and visually appealing, it can even help put you in the right mood to complete your tasks.
You may want to try putting colors in your calendar, too. You can assign different colors to different tasks. Colors have their way of affecting moods and triggering the right emotional stance. Doing so can help you switch to the right mood instantly so you can start your tasks energetically.
But make sure not to make all your efforts go vain. You spent a lot of time on that calendar, coloring it, planning it, so make sure you stick to it!
8. Organize your files
Your calendar is not the only thing that needs organizing. If you want to manage time, you should pay attention to all aspects of your work. You will notice that there are little things that take up small amounts of time. When you add them up, you’ll see how much time you waste in a day and you never even noticed.
You can start by organizing your files. If your files are all messed up, you spend a lot of wasted time trying to find the files that you need on your PC. Also, your mind will again reflect and absorb the clutter, and this can really endanger your focus and structure.
To more effectively do this, you should also do some archiving. Don’t just put all your projects in one folder on your desktop or documents folder, mixing together both current and old projects. This is one time where alphabetical organization won’t work. Instead, make one folder for all completed tasks and make sure your desk only has ongoing projects. Once a project is completed, archive it again.
9. Maintain hardware and software scrupulously
On a related note, you should also do hardware checks. If your computer has been slowing down, get it checked and fixed immediately. Allot time for checking and maintaining your computer. If not, all the time you spend waiting for your PC to respond or to come back to life will add up to a whole lot of time you could’ve otherwise spent on your projects.
Take all necessary precautions against viruses, spyware, and malware, too, as these can cause your computer to slow down or even damage your files. Protection is key; don’t wait until you’d have to do damage control. But while it is necessary to install the necessary anti virus and anti malware applications, this rule certainly does not apply to all other programs. As much as possible, avoid installing programs that won’t help your work. If you can, keep a separate notebook computer for all your non-work related programs.
Also, make an effort to stay up-to-date with the latest in both hardware and software as there might be newer hardware or software that can help speed up your tasks. Make the necessary upgrades and investments. In fact, some designers even like having an extra monitor.
10. Know what to avoid
There are two things that you should try to avoid: social networking sites and instant messengers. Now, some clients also like communicating via instant messengers. You can make exceptions from time to time, but if possible, do all communications via e-mail. Since e-mail accounts now also have built in chat features, use that instead so you still maintain a business focus and you avoid the occasional buzz or intriguing question or greeting from a dear old friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Believe me, just one question can easily escalate into a full conversation and this can be detrimental to your work schedule.
But since these are part of nurturing personal relationships, do log on to these sites and programs on time you have allotted to your personal activities, but make sure not to log on to them during working hours. Remember that effective time management is not always about what you should do; sometimes, it’s about what you should not be doing.
Have you developed good time management skills? What advice can you share?