Saturday, March 01, 2014

How to Move from Being a Busy Designer to a Productive Designer

One of the biggest mistakes designers make is confusing frantic activity with productivity. When we think of project management, it's not about breaking projects down on a spreadsheet. It’s about prioritizing based on what’s important and what’s urgent. Steven Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, shows how to chart the urgent vs. the important in prioritizing on a matrix like this:

Urgent and important items tend to be bound within a short period of time. These include dealing with crisis and emergencies. But they may not directly relate to long-term goals. But unimportant and non-urgent items tend to be time-wasters altogether. This isn't always bad, because we need time to be distracted. But it's not good as a habit.

How does the designer determine what's important?

A good approach is to organize your work around clients, project-types, and profitability. Here are a few examples:
  • Some clients who are time suck and don’t contribute to the bottom line. It's best to drastically reduce or eliminate this type of work. Get this down to about 0-5 percent of your time.
  • Some clients are enjoyable to work with and provide stimulating projects. But they don’t contribute very much to your bottom line. Examples include non-profit work or low-budget jobs. However, it's interesting work. We all need this type of work because it keeps us healthy and stimulated as designers. But only schedule this around more important jobs. Put about 15 percent of your time towards this.
  • Fussy clients require a lot of attention, but some of them also provide a lot of decent, good-paying, work. Their projects pay the bills. Put a about 25 percent of your time into keeping these clients happy.
  • Great clients are enjoyable to work with and provide a substantial income. To ensure you get their repeat business, put about 30 percent of your time into providing incentives and making them happy customers. And tack on about 10 percent of your time marketing to others just like them.
  • In the last 15-20 percent of the time you have left, use it maintaining your business. This includes planned marketing activities, organizing, and business planning. Although these tasks are not as critical as the projects and clients you work with, it is necessary in order to keep working and growing your business.
Once you understand what to spend your time on, you can divide your day or week according to these percentages of time. And you will be empowered to make better business decisions based on your goals, rather than emergencies. And you will become more productive, rather than just busy.

Photo courtesy Jillian Corinne of

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