Designers are creative people aiming for new design ideas while creating unique works. It’s essential to balance creativity and productivity for a thriving career – especially for freelance designers. The reason being if you sacrifice one for the other, you can’t either create impressive work or complete by the deadline.
“Productivity” being one of my favorite topics, let me help you stay productive as a designer while freelancing or working in the corporate world. Though it’s a personal thing, I believe you’ll be able to take some of these tips and tricks home with you. And those tips and tricks will help you boost your work potential.
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1. Pre-plan your day
You must have heard of the quote “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” by Benjamin Franklin. You can create a prioritized to-do list every night for the next day or every morning for the day. It helps you to keep focused, avoid distractions when working, and plan all other tasks – personal or professional – better.
2. Keep a notebook
It’s handy to keep a notebook or scrapbook for jotting down random ideas and tasks – it’s fast and efficient too! Also, it helps to make rough designs, which speeds up the design process – especially if you find yourself waiting for some inspirational design ideas. You can also make notes to clear your head.
3. Create to-do lists
You must have experienced your brain, giving you a random idea or reminding you of a random task – out of the blue! It’s best to write such tasks down to create to-do lists. Also, you should create to-do lists for projects and tasks at home and work. It helps your brain to stay focused on the task at hand.
4. Break down tasks
You may be working on multiple projects – big or small. Maybe a mix of personal and professional projects? In either case, it’s best to break down those projects into smaller tasks until you can’t break them down further. Then, you can work on the big ones as planned and the small ones whenever you have a moment.
5. Track your time
It’s not uncommon to start browsing social media for five minutes and end up wasting an hour of your crucial time. If possible, you should track your time, and even if not, you should always manage your time. If you know where your time flies by, you can avoid doing unproductive tasks and focus on real projects.
6. Focus on one task
The myth of multitasking is it helps accomplish multiple tasks. The human brain can do one task at a time, and it only switches from task to task – so fast that you don’t feel it. So, it’s best to focus on one task at a time to achieve the best results. Please try monotasking, and you’ll realize you can do tasks faster.
7. Plan deliverables
If you ask me, perfection is an unattainable goal. When you work with no clear idea of the end goal or result, you work for perfection, which never comes. So, you work endlessly and tirelessly. Instead, you should plan deliverables for every task and work for deliverables. If you don’t like it, you can always update it.
8. Opt for a checklist
Using checklists is one of my favorite productivity hacks. You can create and reuse checklists for your projects. It helps to standardize workflows and avoid last-minute issues. For example, you can create a checklist for the basic inputs you need for every project or a deliverable checklist to confirm success.
9. Design in iterations
When you work tirelessly, your mind loses energy and focus, which in turn harms your creativity. It’s better to work in iterations; you can either work in drafts (complete the whole task, then repeat to improve it) or in proportions (do some part, then one more part, and repeat the process until it’s completed).
10. Get early feedback
It’s one of my favorite tips – you should ask for and give feedback early in a design project. When you’ve completed the first iteration of the design process, you should get feedback from the client and your team. It helps you to catch and fix errors early in the project, helping create a better and faster deliverable.
11. Set DND in devices
When you need to be super-focused for important tasks, it’s best to keep your devices (including your computer) in DND or Silent mode. You can always check for important notifications during your break or after the task is finished. You’ll find yourself creating designs more creatively and effectively using this tip.
12. Take regular breaks
If you work tirelessly on a design project, you may become tireless and lose creativity – at least partly. It’s good to take regular breaks after some work time. You can follow the Pomodoro Technique: 25-minute work followed by a break of 5 minutes. If you find it too short (like me), just double both these numbers.
13. Follow body rhythm
Everyone has a circadian rhythm – it’s a natural process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle of every human being. We all have a unique circadian rhythm, which gives us some hours every day when we’re more creative or energetic. You must get to know your best hours in a day and work on important tasks then.
14. Incentivize yourself
It’s a well-known fact that rewards help people achieve more goals – even if it’s yourself giving the rewards (interesting, right?). You need not aim for pricey rewards, but you can give anything you enjoy. For example, eat your favorite food, go for a quick walk, host a game night, or watch your favorite show.
15. Delegate minor tasks
You should focus on the main task and delegate minor tasks to your team or outsource them. The reason being it will help you put more energy into the essential tasks, which in turn will help drive your productivity.
For example, correcting color, removing background, retouching photos, and similar tasks.
16. Check design galleries
Sometimes, you may be looking for some inspiration for your design project. In such moments, you can check out design galleries or samples of others to get some inspiration. If you don’t know any design gallery, you can check out Dribble, or you can simply search for “design inspiration” on Google or Bing.
17. Use graphic templates
Graphic templates are good for inspiration and great to build on top of. You can always save repetitive work by utilizing one of the graphic templates from the market. Also, you can create your own template and reuse it repeatedly to save efforts and speed up your work, thus improving your productivity.
18. Learn & use shortcuts
Using keyboard shortcuts is the easiest way to speed up your work. First, you should learn and practice keyboard shortcuts for macOS or Windows. Then, you should memorize shortcuts for commonly-used programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. You can check shortcuts for others here.
19. Tidy desk & desktop
Tidy desk, tidy mind. Do you agree? It’s hard for you to focus if your desk is clouded with notes, sketches, and/or plates. Similarly, if your desktop is full of notes and unworthy tabs.
First, you must get organized: clean your desk and desktop and close unwanted tabs and apps, then try to focus on your task.
20. Use batch processing
You must learn batch processing as it helps automate a lot of mundane tasks like resizing images, changing image formats, applying compression, and more. Adobe Photoshop and many other design applications support batch processing. Please search online for “batch processing in <YOUR TOOL>” for details.
21. Create user personas
A user persona is a great methodology for understanding your target audience or users, which helps you to create great designs. It gives you clarity when solving a design problem. And it’s easy to create them too; you can create personas with little research and help from tools like Make My Persona.
Bonus: Do usability testing
Usability testing is a novel approach that helps resolve design problems early in the design process. You should target to do the usability testing during the prototyping process. It will help you gain relevant feedback from potential users on your designs, avoiding issues later, and thus speeding up the process.