It's no good dazzling clients with design skills or an amazing design portfolio (opens in new tab) if you can't meet a deadline. Whether you're a designer, illustrator or general creative – and whether you work in a studio, in-house or freelance – here are nine top tips for managing your time more efficiently.
01. Have a system
Being able to prioritise is key to staying sane as a freelancer. Assign certain periods to tasks in a calendar and have a daily to-do list that you can tick off. Websites like Lifehacker (opens in new tab) are full of great tips. There are also plenty of time management and workflow apps (opens in new tab) (most aimed specifically at freelancers) that can help you take control of your schedule.
02. Be honest about timings
One of the best ways to manage your time (and keep clients happy) is to be up-front about what you're working on, when you'll have time to begin working on a brief, and how much time you'll be able to dedicate to the project. Be clear, realistic and honest with your clients right from the beginning of a project. A white lie may keep everyone happy in the short term, but it'll only lead to greater frustrations later on.
03. Stick to your strengths
When it comes to tight budgets and timescales, call on the skills and solutions that you know you can do well. Keep it simple and avoid laborious or untested processes. One of the most time-consuming things you can do is try to find pioneering new styles and solutions – save that for the well-paid projects.
04. Stop clients sucking up your time
Clients can be demanding; that's a given. But if you find yourself spending more time responding to a constant barrage of requests than you are working on the project, then you need to let the client know – politely – that their emails or phone calls are becoming unproductive. Consider implementing a schedule for responding to clients and make this clear from the outset.
05. Make a plan
Everyone works differently, but if you want to maximise your efficiency try drawing up both short-term (day) and longer-term (week and month) plans. Setting yourself goals and deadlines will help you stay focused – but don't be too rigid: things will invariably pan out differently, so you'll need to adopt a flexible attitude.
06. Mix it up
Vary the work you do so you're able to jump between projects when you're fed up. If you work on the same thing all day, every day, it gets tiresome and productivity can drop. The more styles and techniques you have under your belt, the better. It keeps you excited about what you're doing.
07. Wear your other hats
Set aside a dedicated chunk of time each month to keeping on top of the other sides of freelance life: business, finance, networking (opens in new tab) and self-promo (opens in new tab) – even creative side projects (opens in new tab). These might not bring in money directly, but they are all essential aspects of being a successful freelancer and must be factored in.
08. Automate your accounts
As a freelancer, it's fairly likely that you'll spend a lot of time chasing clients for payment. It might help to set up an automated invoicing and payment system that will email regular reminders to clients and include automated payment links. Again, there are plenty of finance tools and apps (opens in new tab) available now to help you out with this.
09. Don't live in a bubble
Separating work life from home life can be challenging as a freelancer. Always schedule in time for a social life – even when your workload is heavy. Factor in regular breaks, know when you're going to start and stop for the day and stick to your schedule.
Illustration: Toby Triumph (opens in new tab)
This article originally featured in Computer Arts (opens in new tab), the global design magazine – helping you solve daily design challenges with insights, advice and inspiration. Subscribe to Computer Arts now. (opens in new tab)
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