Link copied to clipboard

5 Sneaky Productivity Killers ☠️

As freelance designers, we have to do more than just our craft. We are business owners and have to do tasks that we love and hate, all at once. From marketing to accounting, from talking to clients to paying bills. And the list goes on.

And it's not only that it's hard to do it all, but it's also very frustrating! It's like days need more hours and we need more energy, but when does it stop?

The first three years of running my business full-time were amazing financially. I hit goals that I thought would take longer, I worked with my dream clients, and got to work on amazing projects. But, man, I was tired.

One of my goals for this year was not only to reduce my workload but to be more mindful of HOW I use my time. In this process, I've learned that it's so easy to get lost in "busy work" and it's very scary to not prioritize client work. All of this is simple to say but hard to change.

What's even harder to change is patterns that we've unconsciously built over time that are, in a sense, hurting our productivity. So here's a list of tiny details of our day-to-day that, if done right, can have a huge impact in the bigger picture.

📄 Long client feedback emails:

It's not so much the time it takes you to read it but the time it takes you to decipher what your client meant and what part of the design is affected by each piece of feedback. And of course, the time triples when you respond to your customer and they don't understand what you mean. So without even thinking, you've wasted 2 hours of your time on back and forth emails, and now your client wants to jump on a call.

What can you do instead?

I don't know about you, but just by seeing the client's email feedback in my inbox, I feel anxious and stressed. So, I decided to change the rules of the game. Now, I ask my clients to give me all feedback in Figma, even if it's something that hasn't been designed in Figma. In that case, I just take screenshots of the designs and put them in Figma. They can simply click on the comments bubble on each part of the design that needs revisions, and voilà! If something requires further explanation and it's harder to explain in writing, they can send me a Loom video, but they have to put it as a comment in Figma as well. So, everything is in one place and my client can open it from their computer without installing anything. This reduces unnecessary meetings and long email threads. They love it and I love it.

😰 Working when your body doesn't feel like it

Ok, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you only have to work when the planets align, but we often waste time and energy working on a schedule or at a time that truly doesn't work for us. For example, waking up at 5am sounds great (kudos to everybody in the 5am club!), but I've only been able to maintain that schedule for a few days or when I needed to hit a specific goal. If I go longer than that, I feel awful, distracted, and procrastinate a lot. So why would I do something that 1) makes me feel bad, 2) isn't making a real impact, and 3) isn't truly productive. It's okay to be a morning person. I actually am one. But if starting work at 10am or later is more sustainable and effective, go for it!

What can you do instead?

Don't waste time forcing yourself to do or be someone you are not. Start mapping out a schedule that works for you and you only. For example, I would suggest starting by mapping out the non-negotiables of your weekly calendar (these are the things you absolutely can't change or move). Then block off all 2-3 hour blocks available in your calendar to get the work done. After every working session, rate it from 1 to 5 in terms of focus, productivity, and how you felt. Do this experiment for a couple of weeks and define the time slots that work best for you and treat them as your non-negotiable work hours. I would also suggest having time slots for meetings and breaks. For meetings, I try to pick the hours when I feel less productive but have enough energy to jump on a call, and for breaks, I take 15-30 minutes after every work session or meeting. And of course, I have a longer lunch break.

💻 Working with too many software at the same time

This doesn't take up your time just because of the physical time that it takes you to open another software but because this form of multitasking ruins your concentration. You are forcing your brain to switch contexts constantly.

What can you do instead?

It's hard to find a software that does it all, especially as designers, but whenever you can and if it works for your process, try to simplify your software stack. For example, I use Figma 80-90% of the time, and in some specific cases I use Photoshop and Illustrator. I no longer use an Adobe software for every type of design project like a lot of designers do (sorry Adobe!). I use my simplified stack and that's been working wonderfully.

🤝 "Quick" calls

Often clients want to jump on a "quick call" when 99% of the time those calls can be messages. You've probably told yourself "but it's just 5 minutes…". The truth is that a quick call can take 5-10 minutes, but getting back to what you were doing can take another 15 to 30 minutes. Sometimes that's even longer if they say something that keeps you thinking or you decide you want to take a snack. Whatever it is, a 5-minute call can easily turn into 45 minutes of your time.

What can you do instead?

You should take this case by case, but if you are busy doing something or in high-focus mode, don't respond to their message until you are done. When you get back to your client, you can take the call or you are welcome to say something like "I'm very busy right now, but I'm available for calls on [insert your next available date/time to meet]." You want to be available for your clients, but don't let them run your schedule or energy.

📑 Too many tasks in one day

Have you ever seen your 10+ to-do list items and felt like doing nothing? I bet that in those situations 9 out of 10 times, you ended up doing anything but what was on that list. That happens to a lot of us, especially for people like us with creative minds that wander. I recently heard that aiming to get an A+ score every day in terms of productivity and efficiency is not realistic, but getting a B+ is and it's still pretty good. I'm not saying you have to be mediocre, but sometimes we are so hard on ourselves that we waste more time and energy on negative self-talk than on the actual things that create impact and progress.

What can you do instead?

We are going to use my Gold, Silver, and Copper medal system (completely made up but I swear it works). Look at your to-do list and pick that ONE thing that you 100% have to complete today. Then the second priority and then your third priority. A few things to note: If you have a bunch of tiny tasks, just group them and treat them as one task like "run errands" or "do small admin tasks", and if you have big tasks, break them down into smaller tasks. You want to have a list of to-do items that you can accomplish in blocks of up to 3 hours. If you complete the first priority, you get a copper medal. If you complete two, you get a silver medal, and if you complete 3 you get a gold medal. It's better to get a copper medal every day than nothing (and still have a long to-do list). Don't you think? Try it out and let me know what you think!

I hope you get to implement a few of these things and bring time back to your calendar, because hey, you deserve it!

And if you want to transform your website design client workflow in 30 days by leveraging Figma and fast-track client projects 50% so they finish on time, every time without the lengthy learning curve or having to be a Figma pro, sign up for the waitlist of my coming Figma course. Be the first to know when enrollment opens up and to get access to the best pricing as well as exclusive waitlist-only bonuses.



Blog post thumbnail image.

5 resources to help you overcome imposter syndrome as a designer

Hey designers! Do you ever feel like you're not good enough, you don't have anything interesting to say, or that people won't care about what you have to offer? It's called imposter syndrome, and it's something that plagues many of us in the design industry. That's why I've gathered 5 resources that might help you care less and do more.
Blog post thumbnail image.

The art of getting sh*t done

We are often presented with new situations or scenarios, whether you have to work on a new project that you don't quite enjoy or a new task that you don't know how to tackle. It's in these cases that our creative brain often chooses to procrastinate and go somewhere else. We often feel bad about ourselves, but I believe that these are opportunities for us to try something different. So here are some fun experiments I'd like you to run.
Blog post thumbnail image.

Retainer client work can be profitable, fun and liberating, if you do these things

I've built my business around retainer clients primarily. There was a lot of trial and error, I have to admit, but I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve been able to establish the right processes and systems to have a sustainable work-life balance and business. That’s why I’ve put together a list of tips I would give my younger self if I had to do this all over again. Check it out!