For most of us web design started as a passion or a part-time job. For many of us it started before we turned 18, but most of us ended up working full-time in an agency or as freelance web designers and developers and will probably continue doing so for years and years to come.
But being a designer can take a great deal of time, with multiple clients to please, working in an environment that moves fast and changes even faster, where we have to learn new skills over and over again, market ourselves and even find clients on a monthly basis if we don’t work in an agency.
As with any other career, web design has its own challenges and they arise all the time for us, even if we are experienced or well-known. It can be a difficult client to work with, an impossible deadline or a bad example of outsourcing, it doesn’t really matter. Unfortunately these things can’t be avoided, but to ensure you enjoy a better career anyway I created a list with some tips for all of you.
Success only comes if you work smarter and more efficiently, not necessarily more than you do now. It will not be possible to pull all nighters or work 36 hours straight in 20 years anymore, your body will just not be able to handle it. You will end up burning out and will start hating your job and career choice. Therefore you have to reconsider the way you work; design and development are careers for organized and smart people. Not that we do something incredibly special, but let’s face it, there are more designers that don’t manage it than the ones who do and enjoy success – it is definitely not easy.
1. Be organized
This should be the first new rule of your career. You can only work more efficiently and smarter by being organized. Everything from your working hours and sleep to breaks and time for a personal life. Being organized or becoming organized is difficult and requires time and effort. We try to focus more on deadlines and projects (which are short-term) than on improving the way we work (which is long-term and more efficient).
If you just can’t handle both of them, take a break from design for a month and organize your life. Catch up with your bills, see everybody in the family, get out with all your friends and handle anything that has been causing you stress. Then start being organized.
Image by tome213
Create and use a schedule, this will allow you to avoid a chaotic life. It is not important what kind of system you use, the most important thing is to actually have one – and to rigidly respect it no matter what.
Actually, this part of the article is focusing more on freelancers than on agency employees and this is simply because the first have to manage their own schedule, while the second already have a schedule imposed by their companies.
You decide what your schedule going to look like. You know what you want to start with and at what time, although I do not think that starting after 9 is beneficial. On a normal, 8 hour work day you will finish at 5pm, which might be a bit too late if you need time for other activities such as running, family meetings, working out or seeing a football game. E-mails with new tasks might appear throughout the day, the best way of dealing with them is ignoring and revising them at the end of the day, when the work you planned to do is already done. Otherwise you will end up reading e-mails and not delivering the projects on time.
Another tip is to take 30 minutes at the beginning of each day to read e-mails, plan ahead and get rid of everything that might concern you. Then just start working. At the end of the day take another 30 minutes to read and write e-mails, send milestone reports and other work related emails. Sure, you lose an hour a day, but being organized is important and this hour you use for things other than work will pay off long-term. You will notice that you will not be concerned with new e-mails after you get used to only reading your email twice a day. Incoming e-mails are only a distraction. Talking about distractions…
2. Get rid of Social Media
Yes, of all of them. From Twitter and Facebook to e-mail and phone. By being surrounded by all of these you only risk getting distracted and doing anything besides your work.
You might not realize it, but your probably use Facebook and Twitter even more than you think. Install one of the activity tracking applications you can find on the internet and you will be amazed at how much you use Facebook and Twitter.
By only checking them from time to time, I spent almost two hours per day on Twitter, Facebook and e-mail combined. Quite a lot thinking I can bill a client $50 for two hours of development here in Denmark. Using this logic I lose around $250 per week by being distracted, which means $1000 per month. Quite a lot, I would say, there are freelancers out there not even earning $1000 per month.
Even if you think Facebook and Twitter are the biggest distractions, they are not. E-mail is the biggest and I can’t stress enough about how important it is to only check it in the morning and in the afternoon, before and after your working schedule. If you don’t believe me, use one of the tools recommended above and see for yourself.
You might be afraid of missing important e-mail messages, but we all know most of our e-mails end up in spam anyway and very few of the others require immediate attention. You will not miss your dream job or even a big client if you answer at 4.30 instead of 12.30. You can also create filters and only get notices when a specific person sends you an e-mail, so you can act on it immediately if needed.
Cleaning and managing your inbox is important too, because it will turn your one-hour habit of checking e-mails into a 30-minute one – and there’s half an hour more of earning money per day. Make sure your inbox is not cluttered, get rid of anything you don’t need and move all the spam to the spam folder – don’t forget to always block the sender and maybe even the sender’s domain. If spam is sent from there, you might not want to have anything to do with them anyway.
3. Use methods to concentrate
Our bodies are not like computers. This means we can’t just inject food and energy drinks into it and expect it to work at its best all the time. Our bodies work according to how much energy we have. Therefore we can aid our schedule by using some well-known methods.
Our energy, however, depends on our natural rhythm. This means some of us work better in the morning, while others are more energetic at night. And even under these circumstances, our concentration increases or decreases throughout the day. These methods I am talking about are ways of properly managing your energy so that you work as effectively as possible.
The Pomodoro Technique is one of the best out there. It means you force yourself to work in short bursts. You set a timer to 25 minutes and during the 25 minutes the only thing you do is work without being distracted at all. Just work. After the 25-minute cycle take a five minute break and continue with another sprint afterwards. After four cycles take a longer break.
If The Pomodoro Technique does not fit your working style, then try something else. Use the morning and the first hours of work for the more demanding jobs – this is when you have the most energy – and then keep the easier tasks for later in the day. You don’t really feel like coding, but would like to read something, save the reading for later since it isn’t as demanding as coding is.
There is nothing wrong with taking naps after lunch either, just don’t take long ones. Half an hour should be enough for your body to rest and to give you enough energy for finishing the work day. We know that once you are done working, the energy just comes back out of the blue.
And if this doesn’t help and you still feel tired, then it’s time for…
4. Working out and exercising
Yes, this is always a way to get rid of the tiredness. I am not saying you have to work out until your muscles get sore. Go out and take a short run, do some push-ups (I love this one, that one or the other one) or just move around the house for few minutes. Just moving your muscles for a short amount of time will give you back some energy and will make you active again.
Image by Johhnyberg
In general, having a healthy life style will do much more for your freelance career than you think. Only being healthy and managing to sleep well during the night will give you more energy than others have. Therefore you will be able to work for longer periods of time, avoid naps and be able to concentrate better. I’m not saying you should, but going and talking to a doctor about your situation might be good advice. See if you need some vitamins and if you do, don’t hesitate to take them. You might not feel a difference, but I am sure your body will.
5. Outsource if you can
Outsourcing is one of the ways a freelance designer can take on a huge amount of work. Because you can’t do them all, having someone to help you might come in handy. If there are things that you hate doing or are just not good at, think of getting another freelancer to help you. It can be paying bills, invoicing, administrative tasks or even chasing clients. Get somebody who can find clients for you, this way you will never have to spend time on it. Find somebody to market you and the only thing you will have to worry about are your deadlines.
Paying somebody else to handle some of your business is not wrong and is a very common practice these days. You can even charge the client a bit more and use that extra cash to pay someone to help you. There are so many virtual assistants out there that price will not be a problem at all – there are many of them who will do a fantastic administration job for a few dollars an hour.
If you want to get more serious and hire other designers or developers to work with you, this means you are ready to create a small business and as long as it works for you, why not try it?
6. Reuse work
Because time is important, it’s smart to “recycle” the products created before and use them again in new projects. You can save some time and stress and get a bit more free time and also get ahead of schedule.
Image by 7rains
Lots of clients come and ask if I can develop a web page with a Content Management System. Well yes I can, WordPress is out there and it also takes only a few minutes to install. Why develop their own, when I can instead use the same amount of time to customize a theme for them? Reusing work you’ve previously done is a smart way of saving time and working more efficiently, and don’t forget, free stuff from the internet can help too.
It fascinates me how people choose web design for a career when they are young and so passionate about it, but when they get close to their 30’s start hating their job and are not motivated anymore. Success is one way of staying motivated and if you can follow the rules above, you will most likely achieve it. Pulling all-nighters is something you will have to do often and if your body can’t handle it, then you need to make sure you’re the most organized person you know so that you can complete your work and not need to pull all nighters.
Being organized is one of the most important skills of a web designer in my opinion because I am sure not many of us can afford being otherwise for the following 20 years. Try to have a schedule and stick with it, it is important for short-term, but crucial for long-term. This is the only way you will be able to achieve success, stay motivated and have a better design career and a happier life.
Now it’s your turn. What advice do you have for your fellow freelance web designers / developers?