5 Productivity Tips for Web Designers
Web designers live in a unique project-based world. Instead of just daily tasks, work also revolves around larger projects and long-term deadlines. And whether you use scrum, agile, waterfall, or another methodology, staying on top of your productivity is essential.
As a web designer — and small business owner — for the past 12+ years, I’ve had my fair share of productivity mishaps. Miscalculating my ability to complete a project on time, misjudging my capacity, or underquoting for a job that took me twice as long as expected (but that’s a blog for another time!). Through it all, I’ve gained some important skills. Increasing your ability to make money as a web designer starts with productivity, and productivity starts with these healthy work-life habits.
Top Productivity Advice for Web Designers
The number one rule when it comes to productivity is: find what works best for you. You can gain insight from me or any number of people who have worked hard in this industry. But whether or not that insight works for you is dependent on a number of factors: Your habits, lifestyle, personality, and goals.
If you’re a night owl, don’t push yourself to wake up early to exercise. If you’re an early bird, let’s figure out a way to make sure that project doesn’t keep you up all night. In every productivity tool you ever hear or read about, there is a caveat. And that caveat is you. As I unpack the productivity tips that have worked for me as a web designer, dream a little about how you can take the principles of that tool and apply them to your career.
Make Your Personal Health a Priority
Whatever “healthy” feels like for you, push it to the top of your priority list.
There’s a reason we have phrases like “Burnout”; “Burning the candle at both ends”; “All work and no play”; and so on. In our work-driven culture, we prioritize tasks, which leads to stress and burnout. As a web designer, you also often push big projects through in a short amount of time. This constant push to get things done compounds over time. The more stressed or overwhelmed you are, the less productive you are.
In an interview with Trello, Dr. Russell Thackeray, a licensed clinical psychologist who consults on the topic of productivity clarified that “People that look after themselves do have better cognitive ability. They do have better focus and they do have better concentration. They tend to actually produce more.”
For me, prioritizing my health (or in other words, self-care) looks a little different depending on the day. However, I have a list of options I pull on when I need to prioritize my health.
- My daily morning Peloton routine
- Signing off early when my creative brain space is overwhelmed
- Cutting off notifications over the weekend in order to focus on family
- Taking a lunch break (yeah, that’s still a thing!)
- Planning fun time outside with the kids when the weather is too nice to be indoors
These are just a few of the things I do to prioritize my health over the constant drive to “get ‘er done.” Not only do each of these options help me rest and rejuvenate, but they also give me the creative focus I need to be more productive when I am at my desk. When you prioritize your health, you gain so much more capacity to achieve your goals.
Create a Schedule that Works for You
Scheduling is one of those things that you either love or hate. But let’s be honest: If your schedule doesn’t embrace your most creative, focused hours — you will hate it. When you develop a schedule that actually supports your work-life habits, you will fall in love with scheduling.
It takes time to find the right schedule, as well as the right time tracking method. When you have a written schedule you love, but you don’t follow through with it by keeping track of your time, the entire system falls flat.
Scheduling isn’t just about putting blocks of time in the calendar. It is also about setting boundaries, learning to focus, and prioritizing your goals.
- Boundaries: If you need to devote Mondays to business admin tasks in order to stay on top of running your business, set it and stick to it. Don’t budge even when a client asks for an early Monday morning meeting. Your boundaries are the only thing holding that schedule in place.
- Learn to focus: What hours of the day are you most productive within your current routine? Those hours should be devoted to the creative process. If, for example, you are the most productive from 9–12, then let that be your key web design time. Focus on client projects, branding, website layouts, all the pieces of your web design business that you love to do.
- Prioritize your goals: Do you want to grow your business? Spend time building your marketing plan? Make that part of your schedule. It is easier to set boundaries on your time when you know your goals and you make them a priority.
My schedule includes a set time each day for me (hello, Peloton) as well as morning website checkups for my ongoing clients. Meetings are my next priority and are scheduled to take place only after my morning routine is complete. I also do project management work, so that comes next as I check in on all ongoing client work. And then as larger projects drop into my inbox, I schedule those into my day/week accordingly.
Of course, my days don’t always follow this schedule to a “T,” but I have noticed one thing: when I set boundaries around my main priorities, the rest falls into place. The moment I budge and let excess work or meetings squeeze my goals out of my schedule, my productivity suffers dramatically.
There will always be exceptions, especially as you take on new clients and work hard to expand your web design business. Establishing your schedule from the outset, however, helps you stay on task and on target as a web designer.
Automate Your Processes
Staying ultra-productive as new and exciting projects roll in means not getting distracted by menial tasks or items that can be automated. As a web designer, the first step with every client is to produce a proposal and a Scope of Work (SOW). While every project looks different, the process of creating your SOW is the same.
Keep your productivity flowing by creating a proposal template that gets modified for every new project. Do the same for onboarding a new client. The website you are designing for them is surely unique to their business, but the information you need to collect is still the same.
Start by asking some questions. What do I need to know before I can start any project? What details only apply to certain projects? How do I want to store this information so that it is easy to access?
From there, you can begin to automate your process. Build out your proposal and SOW templates. Create an onboarding form that includes all of the details necessary to every project, with space to add in custom questions that only apply to that client. And finally, build a solid storage system that keeps everything in one place and organized the same way for every project.
I use Google Drive and share a folder with each client that includes a spot for them to upload graphics, share branding assets, upload branding photos, and access their SOW at any time.
I also have templates for my emails so that I can quickly and easily communicate timelines, share updates to ongoing web designs, and follow up once a project is complete.
Whatever aspects of your business can be automated, make it happen! Your brain and your productivity will both thank you as you free up time and capacity to get more important things done.
Identify and Reduce Distractions
We all get distracted. It’s a normal part of life. Part of staying productive, however, is taking control of your distractions.
Studies show that the average adult spends more than three hours a day on their smartphone. That doesn’t include screen time from sitting in front of the computer all day, or evening TV habits. More than three hours a day are lost just on our smartphones alone! That is a huge distraction.
Our distractions all look different. Maybe yours is social media. Or the constant stream of messages coming through your slack channel. Waiting for a response from a client? You’re likely checking your inbox every five minutes. Distraction.
Whatever it is that kills your focus, the first step is identifying it. When you know what it is, you have the upper hand. Instead of letting that distraction eat your time, you get to decide where it fits in your schedule. That’s right. Sometimes distractions are necessary…when you can tell them where to live.
Schedule time in your day to look at TikTok. Instead of glancing at your notifications throughout the day, pick a time to go through them all at once. Tell your team when you’ll be checking slack messages, and then stick to it!
The best way to reduce distractions and increase productivity as a web designer is to create boundaries and a schedule around your most common distractions. As one very productive author puts it, schedule your procrastination. We all do it, so why not just acknowledge it, take control of it, and make it work for us instead of against us?
Learn How to Say No
All of you small business owners and freelance web designers know what it’s like to get started in the business. You feel the need to say yes to everything and anything that comes your way. “Of course I can design that website under budget.” “I’ll gladly do that for you in 3 days with no rush fee.”
These are the words and habits of someone fresh on the scene of freelance web design. There comes a time (and it comes quickly) however when you must learn to say no. Productivity is hampered by low-paying projects that eat up more time than they are worth. They not only draw on your creative energy, but they drain your physical and mental energy as well. The moment you notice that happening, it’s time to say no.
My most productive seasons of business are when I am able to say yes to the projects that really matter to me and to the clients that trust my ability to help them. These projects just flow — creatively and with regard to the timeline. Not every project is perfect or ideal, but as you grow your business, you’ll begin to recognize which projects will kill your productivity and which ones are worth the effort.
Give yourself allowances to say no to projects that just don’t jive with your goals or strengths. This leaves room for you to be productive and successful in building and designing websites that add to your portfolio and your growth as a web designer.
Become a More Productive Web Designer
Bonus tip: Learn how to apply these basic principles — and your own productivity tricks — to your web design business. Make each step your own by applying it to your personal habits and goals.
Just remember, if productivity is a stumbling block for you currently, then it may be time to try something new. Branch out from your comfort zone and try developing a schedule, plan, system, or routine that pushes you away from distractions and bad habits and into a more productive work-life balance.
In the end, make sure your health and self-care are at the top of the list. Productivity as a web designer may look different for each of us, but staying healthy, rested, and creative is essential for us all.