Time management is about more than deadlines – it’s about working in a way that makes the most of your talent and your energy.
Many time management techniques just simply don’t work for designers: they’re fine for the corporate environment where you might have clearly defined role and goals, but creative challenges need a different set of tools. You need to make the most of your creative resources and, try as you might, you can’t make inspiration strike on demand. You need to set up the conditions for inspired work. To help you do just that, here’s the Swiss Army Knife of time management for creatives.
1) Let your biorhythms, not the clock, set the rules
Some times of day are better for creative work than others. Your own, personal biorhythms will make you a night owl or an early bird, so make sure you know which you are and organise your day around your creative cycle. Protect the creative times of the day like a mama bear with her cubs: this is where you make your money and where you do your best work. Anyone who interrupts that time is stealing from you! Turn on voicemail, turn off email, put on your bitch face and unleash your creativity. Save the meetings and phonecalls for the times when your creative brain isn’t firing on all cylinders.
2) Automate the small stuff
Use the non-creative time in your day to stay on top of the admin. Don’t let things pile up: setting aside an hour or two for invoicing every fortnight will pay dividends. Use online tools like Wave or Quickbooks to make the process as automatic as possible. Find task-list organisers like Remember the Milk and learn how to use the power-user features of your calendar. Canned replies and email filters will also take away some of the admin burden: I have canned invoice reminders that I can schedule to remind my clients when it’s time to spring with my fee.
3) Pick the right deadlines
Working hard is not the same as getting results. Keep your goals for the short, medium, and long term. visible and up to date. if you’re investing time in something that isn’t one of your most important goals, stop doing it and switch to something else.
Don’t make the mistake of confusing “urgent” and “important”. For most of our evolution, urgent and important have been the same thing: if you were about to get eaten by a tiger then that was both urgent and important! Our lives have changed but our brains have not. Like it or not, our minds still seize on interruptions, things that demand our attention but that aren’t important, like phone calls, emails, meetings. If you don’t watch out, these things will sap your time and your creative energy. Interruptions steal from you – banish them as much as you can!
4) Insure your most important asset
As a designer, your creativity is your most vital asset.: you’ve spent years honing your talent in one particular direction. Your creative energies should be spent only on those things that you do best. Consider delegating anything that doesn’t fit with your unique skill set. Hire other freelancers and consider building yourself a network of trusted support staff that you can turn to on a casual, on-demand basis. The more time you can spend on your core skill, instead of on the stuff that drags you down, the happier and more productive you’ll be.
You also need to avoid burnout at all costs – when we’re burned out, the quality of our work nosedives as we become more risk averse and, let’s face it, too tired to perform. Invest in an hour a day to reduce stress, regain perspective, take care of physical and mental health. This is essential maintenance for your most valuable asset: your creativity.
Implement some of these tips in your working life to see what a difference they can make. Time management for designers is not about about rigid schedules. Creative time management can drive your quality and productivity to new heights.