9 tips for improving your time management

Manage your time

It's no good dazzling clients with design skills or an amazing design portfolio 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 are full of great tips. There are also plenty of time management and workflow apps (most aimed specifically at freelancers) that can help you take control of your schedule.

02. Be honest about timings

Be realistic about how long things will take

Be realistic about how long things will take

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

Plan your goals and deadlines (Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash)

Plan your goals and deadlines (Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash)

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

You really do have time for side projects

You really do have time for side projects

Set aside a dedicated chunk of time each month to keeping on top of the other sides of freelance life: business, finance, networking and self-promo – even creative side projects. 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 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

This article originally featured in Computer Arts, the global design magazine – helping you solve daily design challenges with insights, advice and inspiration. Subscribe to Computer Arts now.

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