How 5 freelance designers master the art of productivity

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Whether you’re a full-time or freelance designer, just about anyone can benefit from better time management skills. The key is understanding that works for one individual might not necessarily work for you. As creatives, we’re all wired differently and it’s our job to figure out how to keep ourselves motivated and accountable.

The good news is, there are tons of experienced freelancers in our community who have already gone through the trial and error process of finding what works—and we can learn a lot from them. Here are five tested productivity hacks that have been helping a handful of designers. Try them out for yourself and tweak them as needed to uncover your optimal state of flow.

  1. Process

  2. working late

  3. 4 Hour Workday

Row 1:
Frederique Matti,
Brandon Land for Dropbox Design.

1. Ditch the productivity apps

Yup, you read that correctly. For this freelance product illustrator, an analog to-do list is way more efficient than keeping up with a myriad of productivity apps. In fact, the productivity apps end up making her less productive. Here’s why:

“I’m super old school and love writing things down on actual paper with my own human hand. I use just one organizing tool which is my small, kind of nasty looking notebook. I’m not a sucker for apps besides Instagram and Dribbble! Somehow, having a dozen organizing apps and calendars puts extra pressure on me and is one more thing I need to take care of, which contradicts the main reason I would need it. I try to use my memory for everything else. It’s like a mental exercise because you have to render the important and get rid of the unnecessary.”

2. Set a deadline before the deadline

To avoid the unnecessary stress of looming deadlines and procrastinating until the very last minute, freelance designer Olga Davydova sets deadlines for herself before her actual project deadlines. Brilliant!

“I love to deliver projects in advance—I try to deliver them all in advance actually. It’s really like a gift for my future self. Another rule of mine is to create sketches so they are as detailed and thoughtful as possible—also a gift for my future self!”

3. The 80/20 Principle

UI/UX Designer Nguyen Le takes a very systematic approach to his productivity. Instead of going through a daily to-do list, this freelancer creates larger, long-term goals, and works backward to prioritize tasks based on those goals.

“The way I get things done is by employing two mindsets. The first mindset is of the business owner— one who strategizes and plans out what goals and objectives they are trying to hit for the quarter and for the year. Once I know that, I can focus on each quarter and break it down by month, week, and day.

“Every week I break down key activities that I want to complete and each day is mapped out with one primary task and then secondary tasks. A primary task is based on Pareto’s principle or commonly known as the 80/20 principle. It’s based on the idea that 80% of results come from 20% of activities. So I try to focus on the 20% that creates most of the results. A question I ask myself is: “What is one thing I can do today that will help me the most to reach my monthly and quarterly goals?”

4. Hide your phone

Leena Kisonen has mastered a skill many of us struggle with—eliminating the distraction of our phones completely during work hours. And it’s as simple as keeping your phone in another room.

“I have this rule that my phone has to be in the other room in silent mode when I’m working. That way, I avoid the urge to check my phone and get distracted. It’s a small thing, but makes a huge difference! In addition to this, I also use the Pomodoro technique if I’m struggling to get something done. I think limiting and dividing your time into parts is an effective way to get things done.”

5. Work in intervals of time

Similar to the Pomodoro technique Leena mentioned above, freelance illustrator Kath Nash has found that working in intervals of time works best for accomplishing her goals. Here’s how she eliminates the daily distractions of freelance life:

“My biggest bad habit I have to fight against is giving in to distractions, usually my phone but sometimes cleaning the apartment, cooking, or hanging out with friends. If those get excessive, I set myself a 30-minute timer during which I’m not allowed to use my phone or get up from my desk. Some days I have to repeat that several times to get any work done.”

We hope these tips help you on your journey to uncovering your most effective productivity techniques! Remember, no one method will work for everyone, so just keep experimenting and tweaking and you’ll be well on your way to uncovering your optimal working conditions.

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