Time management tips for freelance designers

Oh, freelance life. No alarms, no rush-hour commutes, no scary bosses. Bliss. Of course, while there are perks to being a freelancer, we know it’s far from an easy existence. In fact, when surveyed, a quarter of freelancers admitted to putting in over ten hours of work a day.

It turns out as bosses go, you are quite the task master!

Today we plan to take away some of that overwhelment by sharing tips on how to manage your time and be more productive without sacrificing creativity.

Define your schedule and stick to it

One of the best ways to avoid stress is to write a plan. Mapping all your activities and deadlines into manageable blocks on a daily schedule will give you a structure to follow. It will also reassure you that if you stay on track, there are enough hours in the day.

There are some great project management tools out there that you can use for this. The key takeaway is to define your goals and stick to them.

“But there’s just too much to do!” we hear you cry.

Freelance work can be feast or famine so sometimes it can get on top of us, despite our best efforts. If the work is piling up, take another look at your work stack and prioritise. Does everything really need to be done now, or can some of it wait?

In the same way, if your schedule is already full don’t be tempted to take on too much by saying yes to yet more clients (we’ll come back to this in setting boundaries).

Slay your saboteur

We all have that nasty voice in our head that tells us we can’t do it or we aren’t good enough. Some call it Imposter syndrome, some call it the Saboteur. Today we’re going to call it Alan.

Alan’s superpower is being a huge self esteem and productivity killer. He spends all his time worrying and saying horrible things in your head, which stops you from getting anything done. Do these thoughts sound familiar: “What if it’s not right?”, “I’m bad at this”, “I’ll never get it done in time”?

Telling Alan to shut up doesn’t always work, but sometimes you can trick him by saying “Ok, can we discuss this later Alan?”. By the time later arrives, he has usually forgotten what he was so bothered about.

Set clear boundaries

When your income depends on the number of clients you get, it’s easy to become a people-pleaser.

This monster rears its ugly head in a number of ways. Perhaps you put in extra hours that you don’t charge for just to keep a challenging client happy? Or maybe you say yes to every job when you are already overworked?

As your own boss, there’s no-one to tell you what to do or stop you when you are doing too much. You need to be assertive and set clear boundaries yourself. Think Donald Trump and build a wall.

Having boundaries means being firm on your working days, your start and end times, how people can communicate with you and when you’re on a break. You don’t need to answer every call or email instantly and you don’t need to work unreasonably long hours. Make sure you are paid fairly for your work by recording how long you spend on each job.

If you work from home and live with someone else it can be easy to get distracted. You might be put off by loud music, or be drafted into housework and child-care ‘because you’re there’. Have a chat with your housemate or partner to help them understand your working needs. For example, if you have a home office, ask that they don’t disturb you during ‘working hours’. To avoid this conversation causing conflict at home, you could also try these assertiveness tips:.

Try eating the frog

No, we haven’t gone mad or moved to France. Eating the frog is a well known technique for avoiding procrastination.

The idea is to do the most challenging job at the start of your day, because then you’ll know the worst part is out of the way. And nothing could possibly be worse than eating a frog (no offence to French cuisine). Psychologically, this approach may help you to get more done as all the jobs you do afterwards will seem easier by comparison.

That said, as a creative you might prefer to save your frog for later. That’s fine if it works for you. One of the joys of being in control is the flexibility to adapt your routine over time to suit your own working style.

Be aware that admin jobs, client calls and meetings can cannibalize your creative time. Try booking these on separate days so that they don’t distract you from being productive.

Don’t let creative blocks get in your way

The pressure to be creative when you are on a deadline can be a real stinker. Blocks can happen for all kinds of reasons – perfectionism, fear, tiredness or a preoccupied mind. The best way to prepare for them is to expect them to happen and factor in extra time. If you end up working faster than expected you’ve got  a great excuse for some downtime.

If you really get stuck, sometimes it helps to do some exercise for a few minutes. This is because exercise can alleviate stress by affecting the limbic system in your brain. When we are in a fearful state, the brain focuses on survival and shuts down non-essential functioning –  like our creativity. Exercise reverses the process, which is why great ideas often come to you when you’re at the gym or out walking.

Recommended reading: unlock your full creative potential

If you want to read more about managing your time or developing creativity, here are a couple of great books that can help you do just that:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

What’s in it for me?

The Artist’s Way is a twelve-week programme of activities and exercises that unleashes your inner artist by breaking down your mental barriers. It teaches you to do, not to doubt.

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

What’s in it for me?

We all have the ability to do great work, but without courage and a willingness to be vulnerable, we often let our fear of imperfection block our talents. Known by many as ‘the vulnerability lady’, Brené Brown’s book is a study on to overcome shame and that sense of not being enough which is holding you back.

Designers, we’ve got plenty more to inspire you

Looking for your freelance tribe? Artwork Bazaar is a supportive, collaborative space that celebrates the artists and graphic designers behind the creative work. Find out more about the benefits of joining the community or find some more inspiration in our list of Ted talks to inspire your graphic design career.

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