Keeping ridiculously productive

(Originally written for Loviv, December 2012)

I’m a person that enjoys keeping busy. Not just keeping busy, but keeping efficiently busy. Throughout my years working as a freelancer, it’s been a struggle not only keeping multiple clients happy, but keeping the designer inside of ME happy! I thought I’d lay out some helpful tips I’ve collected along the way.


1. Break up your tasks to keep boredom and frustration down

Let’s say you’re a logo designer working with 3 clients. Maybe they’re all in the same industry, allowing you to explore multiple creative directions at once. Maybe they’re all within the same industry, providing you the very interesting challenge of providing three separate takes on a similar idea. Either way, you need to be mindful that the creative mind does have limits! When I have a heavy client load but still time to lead a life, I factor all things in my daily to do list. Keeping client based things like “sending typography for client” and “rework logo based on feedback” is equally as important as “do laundry” and “go for a walk”- even though doing laundry or walking won’t earn you a sick design award, I know, it’s still important. Building up your day to include all things important– work, life, personal, and even food and exercise, will help keep your day from feeling too loaded. It’s a step towards the great goal: Balance!


2. So you’re already frustrated, now what?

We all get here from time to time, the trick is to realize when you’re frustrated, try and retrace your steps to how you got here to begin with, and figure out what you could have done differently. Did you try and force yourself to work when you weren’t feeling it? Try and read an email even though you were already too overwhelmed with your full plate? Many times the best way to deal with frustration is to completely remove yourself from the object of said frustration. A brisk walk around the block will help some blood to pump into the all mighty brain, maybe some long deep breathing, but it’s usually physically related, and completely removed from the computer. Once you’ve un-frustrated, it’s important that you begin to pinpoint your frustration ‘triggers’. If it’s a new email that springs your meltdown, have designated ’email times’. If it’s forcing yourself through a ‘dry patch’ (my personal dilemma, if we’re all being honest here), sometimes the only thing you can do is admit that what’s going on is awful, have a good laugh, and walk away.

Believe it or not, the frustration, failure, and the ability to work through it are all necessary parts of the creative process, so being flexible and forgiving will work more wonders for you than being dogmatic and iron-fisted.


3. Know your process! Being aware of your habits, natural rhythms and working styles will help steer you away from frustrating situations.

This one may be piggy backing on the 2nd point, but that’s just to show you how important it is! A few years back when I was juggling 17 clients at once, and I desperately realized that I needed some structure .The decision came from a couple of things; first and foremost I had 17 clients and I couldn’t figure out how to design for them all with equal quality. Second, I was spending hours on end working on one aspect for one client. Definitely inefficient and not very satisfying. It left me no time for myself– not only to create, but to enjoy my existence away from work. I started documenting my working process, to see how long things took. I wanted to measure from when work became “OOH!” to “UGH!”.  After a week of this, I realized I work in 30 minute spurts. I’ll have a meeting for roughly 30 minutes, brainstorm for 30 minutes, I can only handle looking through my 14000 fonts (no exaggeration) for about an hour, and an idea perfectly realized will be about 90 minutes. If I have the PERFECT execution for the PERFECT idea, we’re looking at 3 hours, but after that I am completely spent and I know I’ve over done it.  While it may seem sterile to be this precise with your natural working cycle, it provides me an error-proof quoting system, and allows me to structure my time in a way that gives me the freedom to move seamlessly through one client to the next, or one task to the next. Throughout my daily work I could be dealing with anything from style guides to naming conventions to writing blog posts on how freelancer’s could be more productive. I’m a happy juggler, but in order to do it, you need a firm structure that gives you that leeway.

How do you keep productive, efficient, and still (moderately) sane? I’d love to hear any tips and tricks you have to share!

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