I want to start out by saying that this article is 100% percent inspired by that of a post written by Steven Snell for Freelance Switch. Many of the ideas on this list were inspired from Stevens article. While his article is nothing short of outstanding, I wanted to not only add upon some of his ideas, but make it more designer/developer oriented. This list below is my take on his thoughts and ideas.
1. Organize Your Email
This is no doubt something we have all been meaning to do for a while. I find that one of the best ways to organize your email is to not only use multiple folders to separate your messages, but (if you email client allows for it) also build up a core set of rules to do this organization for you. Spend some time evaluating your email usage and determine what types of rules would help you save time.
2. Respond to Emails Once a Day
I know, it sounds like a tall order for some of your out there. I was once one of those people who checked their email 20+ times a day. I have since managed to discipline myself to checking and responding to the majority of my emails only once a day. You would be surprised how much time this can actually save you.
3. Work with your email closed
One way I managed to only check my email once a day was by working with it closed. I would open my email in the morning and then download all my messages for the day. I would give the inbox a quick once over for anything of super importance and reply to those emails. After that, I would close my email. Later in the evening when I was offline I would open my email and respond to emails off line. Youâ€™ll be surprised how clean your inbox stays and how less you get distracted during the day.
4. Empty Your Inbox
Once a week I make it a point to empty my inbox completely. Maybe this is more of a zen thing than a productivity thing, but I find it really helps clear the mind. In fact, it is quite liberating to have an empty inbox.
5. Setup Common Reply Templates
This is one of those suggestions that can be a great time saver for designer and developers. If you are like me, you get a lot of random emails from people wanting ballpark figures on projects or needing help with the same topic over and over. The next time you get one of these emails, save a file of it. That way you wonâ€™t have to bother re-typing the same email over and over. If you do this for the next 10 or so repetitive emails you get, youâ€™ll have a nice arsenal of auto replies.
6. Setup a Secret Email Account
Lets face it, sometimes you need to know when an important mail arrived. Lucky for us, smart phones can offer us this service. If you want to be alerted about important emails, but donâ€™t want your phone beeping every 5 minutes when you get a new email, use step number 1 to create a rule that sends your important emails to your â€œsecretâ€ email account. Then, have that â€œsecretâ€ account setup on your phone.
7. Use an Email Client
Software like Outlook and Thunderbird are invaluable at saving you time and keeping your email organized. If you have never used these types of programs before, they can be a bit overwhelming, but once you get past the learning curve, you will wonder how you ever lived without them.
Suggested articles on this topic include:
Beyond Outlook: E-Mail Clients That Work for Business
Top 7 Windows Email Clients for Beginners
Outlook Alternatives: Moving from Outlook to Thunderbird
Recommended email clients include:
8. Use a Contact Manager
It took me a while to get in the habit of using one of these, but as my clients and colleges grew larger, I found myself needing a way to keep track of not only who I met, but needing to keep notes about them as well. There are a number of tools for this, but most of the big name email clients listed above has some sort of this feature built into them.
Suggested articles on this topic include:
7 Lightweight Contact Management Tips
Microsoft Office Outlook with Business Contact Manager
Life Hacker Tags – Contact Management
9. Combine Your Email Accounts
Stop wasting your time by checking multiple email accounts. With so many tools out there, especially email clients and POP ready email accounts, its silly to do so. And to continue to do so is beyond a waste of time. If you donâ€™t invest in an email client, at least look into email account with POP access or redirecting all of your emails into one account.
10. Setup an Email Signature
I know what you are probably thinking; yes this is a good thing to do, but how does it help me save time or get organized? By including your alternate contact information, you avoid having people send you an extra email just to ask for your address or email. It might not be much, but it is just one more thing you can do to save yourself some time.
Suggested articles on this topic include:
5 Tips on Email Signatures
Six Ways to make a Good Email Signature
How to Insert a Graphic or Animation in Your Outlook Email Signature
11. Invest in a Wacom Tablet
The use of a pen and paper is more natural for the mind, no matter how long you have been using a mouse. Spend the money to get a tablet and then spend the time to learn how to use it. Once you get past the learning curve, you may find your productivity increasing more so than you would have thought.
- Wacom Intuos3 6 x 8-Inch Pen Tablet
- Bamboo (Small) Pen Tablet with Pen Only
- Wacom Graphire Bluetooth 6 x 8-Inch Tablet
12. Invest in Quality Hardware
There is nothing worse than having to put up with sub-par equipment. Now I am not suggesting that you go out and buy the most expensive mouse and keyboard on the market, but I am suggesting that you buy something nice. Having quality tools can make a world of difference, even if for no other reason than to control your own frustration level.
13. Learn Your Program Shortcuts
This is another one of those things that took me a while to get in the habit of. It is amazing how much faster you can work when you know the shortcuts for a variety of tasks. This is especially true for users of Photoshop, Illustrator, and other such programs. These arenâ€™t hard to learn and it only takes a few repetitions for you to remember them.
- Photoshop CS3 All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (For Dummies (Computer/Tech))
- Photoshop CS3 Bible
- zCover APKDASPS TypeOn Adobe Photoshop Short-cuts Keyboard Cover
- Photoshop CS3 Essential Skills (Photography Essential Skills)
- Photoshop CS4 Workflow: The Digital Photographer’s Guide
14. Continually Learn About Your Software
I donâ€™t care who you are, there are probably something you donâ€™t know about large programs like Photoshop and Illustrator. And if at one point you did know everything, you probably forgot some of it down the line. Take some of your free time every month brush up on your skills by working on a high quality tutorial or reading a book about your program of choice.
Suggested articles on this topic include:
Photoshop Tutorials To Improve Your Modeling and Design Skills
- Adobe Photoshop CS3 Classroom in a Book
- Adobe InDesign CS3 Classroom in a Book
- Adobe InDesign CS3: Video Training Book
- Adobe Flash CS3 Professional Hands-On Training
- Dreamweaver CS3: The Missing Manual
15. Buy a Backup
There are so many affordable backup options on the market today that you would have to be an idiot not to have one in place. From automated desktop backup applications, to online storage solutions, to portable hard drives; there is an option for every budget. Save yourself some time and headaches by being prepared for the worst case scenario.
- Western Digital My Passport Essential 500 GB USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive
- Iomega Prestige 500 GB USB 2.0 Desktop External Hard Drive 34270
- Iomega Desktop Hard Drive 500 GB Hi-Speed USB 2.0 External Hard Drive – 33654
16. Have a Long Term Plan
Setting long term goals for yourself is a good way to help you grow as a designer. Iâ€™m not talking about setting crappy New Years resolutions, but more so ambitious things you would like to achieve. Some examples may include; getting an article featured in a major trade magazine, build a new app, or writing a book.
17. Have a Short Term Plan
Your short term plan ties in closely with your long term plan in that these are the more immediate steps you can take to make your long term goals a reality. Consider these the major milestones in getting the end product you desire.
18. Check Your Progress Regularly
To make sure you stay on track with both your long term and short term goals, it is essential that you regularly check the progress of your work. Depending on your goal, you should check on your goals either weekly or monthly to see how you are doing and how you can inprove what you are doing.
19. Make Your Goals Public
What way to help ensure that your goals turn into a reality is to make them public. If you have a website or blog with a large audience, inform them of your goals. Odds are they will regularly ask you about your progress. If this isnâ€™t the case for you, just inform all your friends and family, they will do the same thing.
20. Set Challenging Goals
The only way to make sure you follow through on your goals is to make sure that they challenge you. Be careful not to set unrealistic goals though, as you may become disheartened when you begin having troubles make your goals a reality.
21. Have a Daily To Do List
This one is kind of a given, but the way you go about doing it can make a world of difference. I have found that making my to do list for the following day at the end of my working day goes a long way in helping me keep work and play separate. No matter when or how you do it, having a to do list to cross off completed tasks is essential.
22. Have a Weekly To Do List
At the start of the week it is also a good idea to sit down and consider what you have going on that week. This allows you to plan out the larger tasks and milestones for the week to ensure that they donâ€™t go over looked on your daily to do list.
23. Organize Your Goals and To Do List
When making your weekly or daily to do list, donâ€™t forget to consider your short term goals. The only way your short term goals, and thus your long term goals, are going to become a reality is if you manage to make time for them.
24. Evaluate Your Progress
It is easy to make your weekly to do list on Monday and then completely forget about by Tuesday. Try to make sure that some evaluation time makes it on your to do list once a week. Spending 10 or 15 minutes every Wednesday to see where you are on your projects for the week is a good habit to get into.
25. Reward Yourself Regularly
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. If you worked extra hard one week or just finished a major project, reward yourself. Odds are you havenâ€™t spoiled yourself recently. Treat yourself to a night on the town or a new computer gadget.
26. Online Bookmark Managers
Using tools like delicious and Stumble Upon for more than promoting your blog or wasting your time can actually be a good way to save time. If you find yourself browsing the internet a lot for client research or inspiration, making proper use of these tools and their tag system can help keep you organized.
27. Outsource When Appropriate
Knowing when to outsource is a valuable skill to have. Just because you know how to do everything, doesnâ€™t mean you have to. For example, if you are a designer who knows how to code, that doesnâ€™t mean you have to do both. Think about how much time you could save if you outsourced the coding to a skilled outsourcer? Then you could have more time for new clients an only be doing the part of the business you love.
28. Make Use of Project Management Software
It seems like there are more and more of these popping up everyday. With so many on the market, you are bound to find one that suits your needs and price range. It really is amazing how much these applications can keep you organized, keep you on track with projects, and eliminate constant emails from clients.
29. Organize Your Design Resources
Designers tend to have a lot of resources on their computer. By resources, I mean things like stock photos, photoshop brushes, textures, layouts, inspiration, and more. Having all those resources tossed into one big file can create a mess. Take 30 min or more to organize all of your design resources into separate folder with sub folders. Knowing where everything is when you need it will help you work much faster.
30. Organize Your Client Flies
When you start a new project, you probably, at the very least, create a new folder form them on your computer. But how much organization do you do after that? Creating an organized client folder and creating base file names is another thing you can do to help keep your projects more organized.
31. Hire an Assistant
It seems like we all have some aspect of our business that we donâ€™t like doing. For some it may be bookkeeping, for others it may be handling support. If you can afford to hire an assistant to take care of these things for you, do it. It will free up your mind and your time, thus allowing you to make more money to pay for the assistant!
32. Develop Habits
By developing regular daily habits, you will begin to increase your amount of free time during the day. Getting in the routine of say, spending one hour in the morning on email, then 30 min social media time, followed by 3 hours of client work; will eliminate that â€œwhat do I do nextâ€ question. As a result, your days will automatically become more organized.
33. Having a Whiteboard
Having some sort of whiteboard in your office is a great way to help you stay organized. It allows you to post thing like important goals for the week, ideas when they pop into your head, and other need to know information. By having this information available at a glance, you can ensure that you donâ€™t accidentally forget about it.
34. Keep a Notebook Handy
A whiteboard is a great idea for when you are in your office, but what about when you are traveling, working at a cafÃ©, or just out driving around? I suggest keeping a note book in your car and one in your computer bag. That way when your million dollar idea hits you, you have something to write it down on.
35. Learn How to Set Priorities
Being able to set priorities is an essential key to have for any designer. Knowing which projects take more time versus the ones that are important and how to delegate them are vital skills. Using tools like project management software can help aid you in setting priorities and allow you to see the big picture.
36. Set Time Aside to Play Online
You know you are bound to waste some of your time everyday just surfing the internet. Rather than waste time doing it when you should be doing something else and the feel guilty about it, set aside some time to do it. I always give myself an hour of surf time every morning after I do emails. Avoid waiting until later in the day to do this. If you start surfing because your burnt out on working, you may not actually get back to work.
37. Set Time Aside for When Things Go Wrong
If you create you to do list in time increments, be sure not to be to restrictive with your time frames. You never know when something may go wrong or take longer than expected. If you are on a tight schedule and some goes wrong, your entire schedule will be no good. Likewise, when planning your weekly schedule, its always a good idea to leave some time at the end of the week for playing catch up. If you end up not having to catch up on anything, then you get to leave work early!
38. Use an Online Calendar
Using an online calendar is a great way for you to stay organized. It is especially useful if you work with others online. Many online calendars will allows you t sync up your events across your email client and maybe even your project management application as well.
39. Reduce Your Social Networking Life
Im not saying drop out of the social networking scene all together, as it can be an important tool in your success. What I am suggesting is give your friends a serious editing. Weed out the ones that arenâ€™t really that important. By downsizing your friends, you downsize the amount of tweets, messages, and comments you get on a daily basis.
40. Set Your Work Hours
When working from home, this can be a hard thing to do. It is very easy to work the day away if you donâ€™t have set hours. While you may accomplish much, odds are you will get burnt out very fast. Not to mention it makes it hard for you to separate your work and life. Create your own hours and stick to them as best you can.
41. Check RSS Feeds Once a Day
Some people have a bad habit of checking their email more they should. Others have that same problem, but with checking RSS feeds. If you are one of those people, find waysto limit your RSS reading to once a day. You can limit the number of feeds you read, set up your feeds in your email client and only read them when you check email, or any other solution that helps you limit your time reading feeds.
42. Organize Your RSS Feeds
Whether you are one of those people who obsess over RSS or not, it canâ€™t hurt to have your feeds organized. Using RSS applications like Google feed reader or Netvibes is a good start, but they can be improved. Spend some time organizing your feeds by personal and business, or if appropriate, by category.
43. Use Apps to Track Time
With the advent of iPhones and other smart phones, there are plenty of applications out there to help you track your time at the office or on the road. There are equally as many online and desktop applications to help you do the same thing. Use these tools to help you stay on tract and to get a better idea of how much time you spend on certain aspects of your business.
44. Set Aside Time To Learn
Learning new things is the only way to get better at what you do. Because of this, it is important that you set aside time to learn new things. This can be as simple as doing a Photoshop tutorial reading a new business book, or talking with a business mentor. Whatever way you decide to learn, make sure you have time set aside to do it.
45. Evaluate How You Spend Your Time
Use some of the time tracking applications from item number 43 for a week or two and log how you spend your time. At the end of these two weeks, evaluate your findings. You may be surprised how much time you actually waste on emails or just surfing the net.
46. Use Multiple Monitors
It is strange how big of a difference have two monitors can improve the rate at which you work. You wouldnâ€™t think that switch back and forth between windows was any major time waster, but that break in concentration can get you out of the zone and lead to other time wasting activities.
47. Get The Boring Stuff Done First
There are no doubt tasks you hate doing. If you donâ€™t have the resources to hire an assistant to do them for you, or they arenâ€™t something you can outsource; then make time to get them out of the way as soon as possible. By getting boring things done at the start of the day, you wonâ€™t be nagged by having to do them later.
48. Make Time for Social Networking
I mentioned before that you should limit your social networking circle, but I didnâ€™t say get rid of it altogether. Social networking can be a vital tool in any business. As such, it is important that you make time for it. Some of us arenâ€™t as excited about Facebook and Linked In as other. If you are one such person, remember that it is important to network and set aside 20 or 30 minutes every few days to do so.
49. Get Enough Sleep
This can be easier said than done. If you find yourself constantly being tired during the day, you may want to put a little research into the matter. There are a number of things that can affect your ability to sleep wheel. Once you experience a weeks worth of good sleeping, you will be amazed at how much of a difference it makes in your daily energy level.
50. Avoid Too Much Caffeine
While some designer may swear that if it werenâ€™t for caffeine they would never make deadlines, the truth is it is a double edge sword. While the caffeine might give you the jolt you need right away, it will only make you crash later. Drink enough of the stuff in a day and you are likely to find yourself exhausted for days to come. Try to limit you caffeine intake and save binge days for those super tight deadlines.
51. Eat Healthy and Exercise
It is nothing short of amazing how just 30 minutes of exercise a day can help improve your energy level. I used to be tired constantly throughout the day. But after I started exercising for an hour every other day and eating just a little healthier, I had twice as much energy as before.
52. Take Breaks
To help avoid repetitive strain injury, it is important that you take regular breaks. If for no other reason that your eyes. Staring into a computer screen for 8 hours a day can be extremely damaging to your eyes. Use your time tracking apps to help ensure that you take breaks. Or if you donâ€™t have the will power, try some of the RSI programs that lock up your computer and force you to take breaks.
53. Take Regular Vacations
When you run your own business it can be hard to force yourself to take a vacation. This is funny, because you probably went into business for yourself so that you could work on your own terms. At some point in the year, spend a few days thinking about vacation time. Once you decide on your vacation time, stick to it and donâ€™t take on projects that interfere with this time.
54. Decorate Your Workspace
I always say it is important to have an office that inspires. Designers like to look at pretty things, so it only makes sense that their office should reflect that. Spend some money buying things to decorate your office. Things like prints, posters, toys, or anything else that inspires you is money well spent.
55. Setup a Comfortable Office
Aside from the aesthetics of your office, it is important that it is comfortable as well. Investing in things like a good chair or noise cancelling headphones will go a long way in increasing your productivity and energy.
56. Work on What You Love
Working on what you love and working to pay the bills are two totally different things. If you donâ€™t enjoy the type of work you do, youâ€™ll have no desire to work or to do a good job. Once you have established yourself, make it a point to only take on work that you enjoy doing. If you like doing band website, avoid doing corporate sites. If you hate messing with shopping carts, stay away from e-commerce customers. Itâ€™s a simple rule that can keep you happy and motivated.
57. Keep Your Office Clean
Keeping your desk clean and organized will help you stay organized, but not clean. If you build picking up your office into one of your daily habits, this should be an easy task to complete. Having a clean desk is almost a refreshing as having a clean inbox.
58. Focus on What You Do Best
This ties in closely with working on projects that love. If you are a rockstar wordpress designer or amazing at brand identity, focus on that. If you specialize in what you are good at, word will get out and your business will slowly flourish.
59. Separate Home and Office Space
Equally as important as setting your own office hours is having a separate home and workspace. Having a defined workspace makes it easier to keep your work and personal life separate. If you work from the couch or bed on a daily basis, it will make it harder for you to build that mental wall between work and your personal life.
60. See an Accountant Regularly
Iâ€™m not suggesting hire a full time bookkeeper or get a private accountant, but visiting an accountant once to get you the right track is a must do. After that, visit quarterly to make sure you are keeping your books in good order. This will also give you a chance to ask any questions that may have come up since the last time you met.
61. Make Use of Invoicing Software
There are almost as many online invoicing tools as there are project management tools. Spedn some time researching them to see which one works for you. There are a variety of free and paid ones. No matter which one you choose, it is bound to keep your books more organized and les of hassle when tax time roles around.
62. Use Smart Phone Apps to Track Expenses
Some of the major online invoicing tools tend to have a few extra apps built into them or are setup with third party apps. Tracking expenses used to be a pain, but with so many apps and phone apps out there, you should be able to find one you like using. These easy t use apps will go a long way at helping you keep track of your expenses and building up your deductions.
63. Use a Simple Accounting System
Accounting programs like Quickbooks are certainly feature rich, but these features can be overwhelming. This is especially true if you already hate keeping track of your money. Why not make things easier on yourself and use a basic accounting program? They might not have all the bells and whistles, but they can get the job done and make your life or your accountants life much easier.
64. Know When to Pass on Jobs
Being able to say no to jobs is almost as important as being able to set your priorities. At the start of your career, you might not have the luxury of doing this. But overtime you will be able to tell when clients will be problematic or be able to better estimate your time and abilities. You donâ€™t have to say yes to every client.