My time has become increasingly precious over the past year, so I am forced to become as efficient as possible with my work schedule. While there are little tips and tricks to share, the biggest one is also the easiest.
Since the New Year, my work schedule has been absolutely frantic. Between a full-time design job and family responsibilities, my actual time for freelance projects has become so valuable that I keep getting up earlier and staying up later just to get an extra half-hour or hour.
While this may not be the most healthy approach, the “oh my god I need ten more hours in the day” environment has led me to discover a few tricks that aid my productivity. These may not be applicable or even tasteful to you, but I believe they help me retain some sanity.
Leave a current project unfinished.
There’s nothing worse than starting a design session with a blank screen for a new project, so at the end of the work day, I make sure to leave at least one active project unfinished. Sometimes it’s just a rough comp in Photoshop and sometimes it’s a near-complete layout in InDesign, but when I next sit down to my computer to start working, I have some work that I can jump right into. It provides that mental “hook” to get the creative juices flowing (wow, there’s a cliché) and eliminates the time spent staring at a blank canvas.
Take at least one long break.
After I come home from work, I take a long, three or four hour break before I sit down in front of the computer again. I play with my new son. I talk to my wife. I cook dinner and do homework with my daughter. I avoid the screen and focus on doing things with my hands, not my eyes. My brain relaxes before re-entering the digital fray.
Understand the “internal work schedule.”
This one’s a bit harder to explain, but it goes something like this. Over the years, I have found that I am most creative in the morning. It’s when I produce my best ideas and when I just get shit done. I have also found that I work well at night—if I don’t have to think that hard. So if I have to start a new project or churn out some good creative quickly, I try to do that in the morning. Likewise, I schedule non-creative production work (like preparing mechanicals for a print project or coding HTML and CSS) for the evening hours, when my taxed brain cannot handle any more right-side activity. (My least productive time is mid to late afternoon. This is when I am easily distracted by talking co-workers and Kottke’s annoyingly interesting Remaindered links.
Personalized, simplified project management system.
At one point in 2003, I started using project management software to track clients, projects and invoices. This was quickly abandoned because I hated working within the rules of the software—I just could not bend it to my will, and it was too complex for my dismally simple management efforts.
My current system is this: my list of contacts resides in Opera (which I also use for my e-mail), and my list of projects, invoices and monetary stats all sit in one expansive Excel file. (Actual invoices are done with InDesign.) It’s not pretty, but it works for me. While I could probably use something like Basecamp, I just don’t have the time to invest in managing my projects. Hell, I don’t even have time to manage my Ta-Da account!
Turn off the internet.
By far the simplist and most effective of all productivity tips. When I want to get stuff done, I turn off e-mail, instant messaging, RSS feeds and even the phone. Flipping the switch to the outside world is a easily cuts off 90% of my distractions.