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A designer’s checklist to a productive schedule


As more designers work at home, it's important to establish a productive schedule for your business. Time management is key to balancing your client work with your other tasks. Want to learn more? Read about the different types of work at home routines you can try!

How many times have you looked back on a situation and thought “ if only I knew…”? I think that a lot with the time that I used to have 5 years ago or so. I look around and think that the people who “made it” were way younger and smarter than I was. (Ahem, comparison is not the way to go!) Little did I know, I was needing a better and more productive schedule.

When I started working on my design business, I was at a place where I actually did have a lot of time. Instead, I spent days being unproductive, or just not feeling like it. So I would sit on the couch and watch TV–which became a habit. I seriously wonder how I didn’t realize my opportunities in those moments!

And now, 5 years later, with even less time than before, I end up being more productive.  It’s probably because extra time is such a precious and rare thing. And to have it, I know not to take it for granted!  It took me having kids to realize it, but it’s funny how much more dedicated I am when I can sit down and do some work.

One thing that I really admired about certain entrepreneurs is that they didn’t work 80-hour weeks. They usually cut off their days after 5 hours or so and didn’t work on weekends. Now, that’s the kind of life I want to live!  

So let’s get into how we can make our work weeks more efficient to give us more time to spend on other aspects of our life.  Like hobbies, travel, and relationships. And all while growing a design business.

Learn more about your energy and work habits for a productive schedule

I hope you’ll love me for saying this, but there is no one right way to work smarter.  The best way to know how to work more efficiently is to really know yourself and to be brutally honest about it.

One thing I noticed recently, is when I’ve been doing a task for a while, whether for one day or 4 months, I start to procrastinate and fill that time doing mindless tasks.  Sometimes my mind would wander and then I start researching things that were irrelevant to what I was doing. It occurred to me at that point that I might have some sort of attention problem. I really needed to readjust how I worked so that I could succeed.

We’ll go through a few different styles of how to work, and it will all depend on your personality, energy levels, and lifestyle. 

Pomodoro Technique – regular schedules, shorter attention spans, administrative tasks, or health-conscious

The Pomodoro Technique is basically doing things in 15 to 20-minute intervals, taking a break, and doing that for four rounds. And after four rounds, you take an even longer break.

If you are working regular office hours Mondays through Fridays, between 9 -5, this might help break up any monotony. Working for 8 hours straight is not always easy but more importantly, it’s not always fun! You’ve heard people joke about those who work overtime and get less accomplished… let’s not be like that!

The basic concept

Sometimes sitting for a long time really drains your energy and in turn, you produce work that isn’t up to your standards. Think about if you lay somewhere for a long time, you will start to feel tired. So in order to break this, you need to be moving your body and focusing in 20-minute intervals.

You can get up and walk around, stretch, talk to someone… whatever you want! The key is to make sure that you have some sort of timer that way you know exactly when to come back and don’t get too carried away. 

I said this is also for the health-conscious too because this helps with daily movement. If you’re concerned about being stationary (which really isn’t the best for any of us), this is the healthiest way to work a desk job.

If you have the same things to do every day, try to plan it in phases, and then use this technique to get through all of your tasks while still feeling energized.

90 minute sprints off-hours – those with another day job, parents, or lots of distractions

Another reason why the typical office is bad for some people is the number of interruptions you get during the day. If you’re working on something, and people are constantly coming up to you and distracting you, it’s going to take you a lot longer to do that one thing.

 You have a full day of obligations, this is when it’s best to set time aside either before or after peak hours.  I mentioned that it depends on your energy levels, so ask yourself whether you are a morning person or a night owl. 

How to do this

During that time, set aside a very strict 90 minutes to do your tasks. Ideally, you will have a planner and you will decide what to prioritize during that sprint. If you really need to work on logo concepts or create content, don’t do anything else but that.

Give everyone a memo if people are around that during the 90 minutes, like if you’re in an office full of people. 

Usually, it’s best to do it off-hours.  If you have kids, this is before they wake up or after their bedtimes. Or if you have another day job, then it’s before or after work. 

If you can be disciplined and keep your phone away along with all other distractions, you’ll be surprised with how much you can get done in 90 minutes. And it’s not necessarily 90 minutes total, you could do two rounds if you need to. But the point is, it’s hyper-focused and efficient.

Batching – for those with limited time, many tasks, or disorganized

Batching your time is a wonderful method for those who need more help getting things organized. It really helps simplify systems and makes your day very predictable. 

If you only have a few days a week to work, only mornings, or only nights, you might want to consider batching.  Maybe you are available all week but have so much to do that you actually don’t know how to get it all done.  This is also for you if you’re overwhelmed and it causes you to not start on projects you know need to be done in order to grow your business.

Here are some examples of how to batch your day according to how much time you have to achieve a productive schedule.

Limited time

  • Tuesdays: Client work, meetings, administrative tasks
  • Thursdays: Marketing, content creation, networking

Many tasks

  • Mondays: Client work
  • Tuesdays: Client work
  • Wednesdays: Client work, meetings
  • Thursdays: Administrative tasks, emails, accounting
  • Fridays: Marketing, social media, portfolio organization

Daily batching

  • Mornings: Client work + communication
  • Noon: Social media, networking, emails, calls
  • Afternoon: Content creation + planning, designs

Productivity Checklist

  1. List out your limitations with time, distractions, productivity, etc.
  2. Write down how many hours a week you want to work
  3. Figure out how your brain works best — the same routine everyday, or different things each day of the week
  4. Match that to a productivity style: Pomodoro technique, batching, work category routine
    1. If you’re not sure, I highly recommend the Clifton Strengths assessment! It’s great for both employees and business owners. (I ranked high as a Futurist).

Make a productive schedule right for you

The perfect weekly/productive schedule may take some time to figure out.  One of these may not be the right fit and you might need to experiment with your days.  However, don’t just try it for one day and give up. Make sure you really commit to doing it before you decide that it doesn’t work well for you.

The point of this is to enhance your quality of life and give you the time you need at the end of the day or on weekends to decompress and relax. Some of us might be workaholics and not realize we need breaks. But believe me, it’s beneficial for everyone regardless of what you’ve been used to doing!

Running a design business should be fun and satisfying. If it is draining all of your energy and giving you unnecessary anxiety (outside of the normal stress that comes from working),  then it’s definitely time to re-evaluate how you work.

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