Becoming your own boss might sound like a dream, but it means there's only one person making sure you stay on top of your workload: you. We bring you 10 tips for staying productive.
1: Keep your office sacred
Your workspace should be kept for work and nothing else. Obviously, if your only computer and phone are in your office, you might spend some recreational time there, but having a place where you go to work rather than play/eat/sleep will lock you into a professional mindset. On top of this, keep your work area clutter-free, distraction-free and as airy and light as possible.
2: Set a schedule
Try this exercise: write down the key tasks you have to do on a daily basis when working on a project. Now estimate how much time (percentage-wise) you should be spending on each task. Equate this into your eight- or nine-hour working day and you have a wire frame schedule which, if you stick to it, will ensure you're giving enough of your time to the things that are important, while the less important elements still get done and not just bumped to tomorrow's to-do list.
3: Track your time
Recording what your time is spent on is as valuable as planning what to spend time on. You don't need to detail every working minute, but do keep a log of how long you spend on particular elements of a job - this will help you with billing and can actually highlight areas of your workflow you need to tweak to improve your overall productivity.
4: Outsourcing is your friend
There's nothing wrong with outsourcing work if you have too much on. Micromanagement only makes for bad work, so once you've briefed a freelancer, leave them alone until they send you a proof - after all, isn't that how you'd prefer to work? What's more, burying your head and trying to do it all alone will only dilute the finished product, and your reputation, which is what every freelancer lives and dies by.
5: Evaluate your work
Feedback, whatever form it takes, is critical for creative projects. Once a job's gone to a client, ask them for an honest appraisal of your work and working attitude - and listen to what they say. Outsiders will be able to pinpoint the good and bad points of working with you, meaning you either have an excellent task list of things to improve upon or a great quote to add to your portfolio or site.
6: Shut off emails
Incoming emails can be the most disruptive element of your working day. So, set yourself a few email periods - perhaps first thing in the morning for 30mins, another check after lunch then a final bout before you finish for the day. You might even want to set up an out-of-office response to say that you're busy and to call if the message is urgent. You'll be surprised how few calls you get.
It goes without saying that prioritising your work schedule is of the utmost importance. However, just because one piece of work has a tighter deadline than the others doesn't necessarily mean it should be tackled first. Look at your task list objectively - what will take the most time? What elements can be started early then picked up again later? Think about these things before you start a job and you'll be laughing come deadline.
8: Organise your correspondence
As we've already covered, email is a distraction. But searching through emails, calendar events and other correspondence can be a nightmare. Make sure you label and file your emails as judiciously as you do your project assets. It'll save you heaps of time when trying to remember your contact's name or the deadline for a job. As a shortcut, mark up your jobs on a wall planner with the salient details you need to hand.
9: Make time for the dull stuff
No one likes filling out tax returns, invoicing or chasing up late payments, but these are the chores that ensure you get paid. Rather than disrupting a new job to chase up payment for your last one, set aside one morning a week for admin chores, and stick to it - you'll be amazed how much more productive this simple step makes you.
10: Take a break
Everyone needs a refreshing break, freelancers included. So make sure you give yourself enough time off throughout the year to keep yourself fresh. Perhaps schedule holidays as if you were working in an office; give yourself 20 days a year and plan when to use them. Being jaded, burnt out and grumpy doesn't make for good work, so look after yourself properly. And remember that creative design may be a lifestyle, but it's not a life - make time for your friends and family above all else.