Here’s some valuable advice to help make you a more productive graphic or web designer. Stop wasting time on time management.
I’ve been in the graphic design space for over 30 years. I’ve been running my own home-based design business since 2005. And I’ve been publishing the Resourceful Designer podcast since 2015. In all that time, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many designers. Be it graphic designers, web designers, UI and UX Designers. I’ve spoken with generalists and specialists, such as those focusing on specific niches. I’ve talked to design strategists, consultants, directors, and even design influencers.
Two answers come out on top whenever asked what their biggest struggle is. Finding new clients. And Time Management. It’s that latter one I want to talk to you about today.
According to dictionary.com, time management is the analysis of how working hours are spent and the prioritization of tasks to maximize personal efficiency in the workplace.
Sounds simple enough. You analyze how you spend your time and then prioritize what you need to do to maximize efficiency.
But if time management is that simple, why do so many people struggle with it? I mean, if time management were so easy, there wouldn’t be thousands of different “solutions” addressing it.
A search on Amazon returns over 70,000 books covering the subject. YouTube has over half a million videos on Time Management. And Google has over 80 million search results.
Time Management is such a popular topic because EVERYONE has problems with it.
Let me share a revelation with you today. Time is impossible to manage. Contrary to confusing movies such as Tenet. Time moves in one direction at a steady pace. So you’re not trying to manage time. You’re trying to manage how you go about your day while time continues at its own pace, totally ignorant of your plight.
If you’re looking at your fellow designers and thinking, “They seem so organized. I don’t know how they do it.” I’ll let you in on a little secret. They’re thinking the same thing about you.
Everybody wants tips, tricks and techniques to be able to get more things done. To do things faster, to be more productive, more efficient and to work better. But the truth is that stressing over these things makes you slower, less productive, and less efficient and impedes your work.
In my opinion, the only people who succeed with Time Management, and I don’t mean succeed AT time management, but WITH time management, are those with something to gain from it, which means the authors of all those books on Amazon. The creators of those YouTube videos. And the writers of all the articles found through Google.
It’s what they say. If you want to make money, find a solution to a widespread problem. That’s what these people are doing — offering a solution in order to make money. But are they addressing the problem? I doubt it. Because if they did, then time management wouldn’t be such a prevalent issue.
And you know what? I guarantee you that the people who created these time management assets still struggle with time management. It’s inevitable. Why is that? It’s because of this little thing called LIFE. I’m sure you’ve experienced it.
It’s like the military saying, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Similarly, no time management plan can survive contact with life.
You can have the best laid-out plan. You have everything organized and scheduled down to the millisecond. And it all goes out the window when “life” happens.
Life has a way of interfering with your best plans. So you just have to learn to live with it.
So far, I’ve been pretty bleak. I haven’t been very helpful if you started reading this because you’re struggling with time management and were hoping for a solution. So let me talk a little bit about your options.
First, there is no one solution to getting the most out of your time. Again, if there were, then time management wouldn’t be an issue for most people.
Every individual is different. And that includes you. You learn differently. You process information differently. You go about completing Your tasks differently than anyone else. That’s why there’s no Time Management system you can shoehorn to fit everyone. You have to figure out what works best for you, and the solution that ends up working for you may come from many different time management options.
And believe me, the many different options and opinions regarding this topic can leave your head spinning. Just look at this list of popular time management solutions.
And this is just a tiny sampling of some of the more popular time management solutions people share.
So, where do you start?
The best advice I can give you is to start small. Trying to jump in feet first and embrace any of these systems in their entirety rarely works. In most cases, the person who tries gets overwhelmed and gives up.
You must tackle time management in baby steps over an extended period — even years. I’ll even go as far as saying your time management strategy should be ever-evolving.
So first. Find one thing you can implement into your routine and test it out. For example, you may create daily to-do lists of the tasks you want to complete. If you find this works for you, embrace it and move on to the next thing to build out your personalized time management plan. If it doesn’t, then try something else.
It’s ok and even encouraged to mix and match strategies from different systems to find a plan that works for you.
Perhaps you can try Time Blocking next. Time blocking is when you block certain times of the day to perform specific tasks. Such as saving all your invoicing for Friday mornings.
After that, you may want to dabble with the Agile Results method, where you identify three tasks from your To-Do list as priorities for today. Or the Eisenhower Matric method that divides tasks based on their importance. It doesn’t matter what you try. Keep experimenting until you find something you feel good sticking with.
What you’re essentially doing is building a system that works for you. And this process will take time, as it should.
And don’t be afraid to adjust and tweak your system as you go. Don’t worry about what others are doing. Steal ideas from them if you want. But ultimately, you need to do what works for you.
For years, I managed my client projects in a leather-bound notebook. I found it very efficient. The more organized I was, the better I could manage my time. Then one day, I tried Plutio, a client management system, and I found I liked it. Now it’s what I use. My system evolved.
When I set up my appointment scheduler, I had it open five days a week from 9 am to 5 pm. Those were my business hours, so those were the hours I should be available to meet with clients. Or so I thought.
It didn’t take me long to realize that having meetings scheduled every day of the week impeded my productivity, making it very hard to manage my time regarding projects. So I blocked off Mondays and Fridays. Allowing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as my possible meeting days.
I set up my scheduling software with one-hour buffers between meetings. When someone selects a meeting time, the software blocks off the hour before and after that meeting so nobody can book an appointment that might overlap.
Then one day, I found myself with meetings scheduled for 9:30 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 2:30 pm, and 4 pm. It pretty much ruined my day for anything else. There wasn’t enough time between meetings for me to get into the flow of designing. Any time management I had went out the window.
So I tweaked my scheduling software again. I shortened the buffer to 30-minutes between meetings and the availability window to Tuesday afternoons, Wednesday mornings and from 9–11 am and 3–5 pm on Thursdays. This new option opened up my schedule for me to work on projects for more extended periods while still being able to meet with clients.
Do what works for you, and keep adjusting it. A time management system should never be written in stone. It needs to be something flexible that you are constantly moulding.
Let me ask one last thing. Why do you need to manage your time? Is it because you’re feeling overwhelmed? Is it because you have trouble prioritizing the things you do? Is it because you feel stressed running your business? Do you believe managing your time better will help you with any of these?
Maybe other things are affecting how you work besides time. Is that a possibility?
Working by yourself from home can be isolating. And what could at first appear to be a time management issue may have to do with your mental health.
If trying various methods doesn’t seem to be helping, you may want to consult someone to see if there’s an underlying issue affecting how your work.
The stigma regarding mental health is not what it was 10–20 years ago. It’s entirely ok to seek help should you need it. You’re worth it. Never forget that.
So as I said at the beginning. Everyone suffers from time management issues — even the so-called experts on the subject. Life sees to that. I’ve been in this business for over 30 years and time management still gets the better of me more often than naught. So don’t feel inadequate if you’re suffering from it as well. You’re in good company.