6 no-brainer time management tips for designers

6 no-brainer time management tips for designers

Fred Bauters's Layout avatar

For the majority of us, time is rarely on our side when it comes to work. It’s certainly true for web designers juggling countless projects, balancing deadlines, and trying to check off a laundry list of specs, scopes, templates, and deliverables.

I feel your pain. So I checked in with a few top-notch web designers to learn how they manage their time, save energy, and retain their sanity.

1. Make yourself unavailable


There’s the classic idea of learning to say “no” more often than not, but that’s not always enough. Before you know it, with even the best of intentions, you’re slipping on deadlines because your days slowly get chewed up by meetings, calls, and emails. Carving out blocks of time every day to be completely unavailable to anyone and everyone will go a long way in maintaining momentum on projects. Take it a step further by allocating blocks to specific projects with several smaller milestones each week.

2. Be good, not great

It’s not what it sounds like, I promise. The key to consistently great results rests in maintaining a focus on delivering the crucial pieces in a package for the final presentation. Don’t get caught up in perfecting a design that doesn’t check off a project’s asks or doesn’t tell a compelling story. The car can be polished any time, but it can’t be driven without all the parts.

“Rough design presented in a meaningful story will always be more impactful than 80 percent of a great design in disarray.” — Matthew Santone, designer at argodesign

3. Death by a thousand projects

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Pursue the projects that provide the biggest bang for the buck. One large project is infinitely better than 10 small projects. At this very moment, you’re likely losing most of your time on administrative tasks you despise, stuff that isn’t at all why you became a web designer: due diligence, emails, meetings, calls, feedback, invoices… it seems to multiply with every project you sign onto. Wherever you can, eliminate the noise and focus your attention on quality, valuable work.

4. Set an email schedule

Everyone can have a personal preference for an email schedule, but have one. Letting email run wild is one of the quickest routes to total chaos. When possible, follow the Inbox Zero principle so that you’re never overwhelmed, staring at a daunting pile of asks.

For the best results, set regular intervals to check throughout the day and stick to them — even better, start the day by knocking out anything that’s a quick request you know you can handle. Each time you check in on email, you’re stopped cold in your tracks and have to reengage with whatever you’re working on to get back into your flow. Stay in top gear by putting the brakes on an always-open email tab or dare to kill off phone notifications.

5. Take the shortcut


Free up your creative time by cutting down on production time. There’s room to shave time from hundreds, if not thousands, of redundancies each week. Put the work in up front to learn the shortcuts (from sources like this Photoshop guide) for all of the software and apps you use regularly. It may be a simple keyboard shortcut, a template, or even an opportunity to implement automation using services like Zapier or IFTTT.

However you slice it, take a hard look at all of your processes and routines, then focus on memorizing or creating shortcuts. You’ll be putting minutes in the bank in no time.

6. Let it be

Writer’s block has its design twin, which can be just as suffocating. The urge might arise to keep fighting until something clicks, but that typically doesn’t end well. Just as many designers reward themselves with short breaks if they knock a task off their to-do list, give yourself a break if the answers aren’t coming. Don’t press. Instead, go for a walk or try on a different creative hat. You’ll come back refreshed.

“If I’m really struggling with a certain design problem, nine times out of 10 I can solve it by just walking away and coming back to it. This will save you a lot of time and the frustration of feeling stuck.” — Adam Meyer, freelance designer

Want some tools to help you develop these disciplines? Here are some apps that will help you snag more time:

  • On the Job helps you track your time and expenses and manages and create invoices quickly.
  • Things is a home for all of the To Dos that clog up notebooks, sticky notes, and emails. It’s on iOS and Mac only, as of now.
  • Sublime Text is a text editor with a crazy-smart file search feature and loads of customization.

Have more tips to save us all more time? There’s never too much of a good thing, so please add ‘em in the comments.

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Jess

    February 19, 2015

    Thanks! Time management is a constant battle, especially when solo in the freelance world. I'd love to have more time to get out from behind my desk! I just started a trial of a new tool that was recommended to me and so far it's AWESOME! Time tracking, expenses, invoicing, WORKFLOW automation and tons of other stuff I haven't learned yet, but it's really simple. 17hats.com.
    Also I love IFTTT and RescueTime has helped me learn what I'm doing with my time (tracks what you are doing between software, webpages, etc. automatically and you can add time in on your own.) Thought I'd share some of my favs!

  2. Louise Findlay

    September 22, 2019

    My favourite to-do app is Todoist and use Brackets as a text editor. What a change using a to-do app has made to me. I highly recommend one. I prefer the nice Git panel addon and it has some nice extensions.

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