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How to Develop Task Management Skills as a Freelancer

The life of a freelance web designer varies in many ways to that of a corporate entity. Software firms and design studios are able to work together on big budget projects to earn a lot more than the average freelancer would. This often means when going solo you’ll work with a larger number of clients and have to divide your time up into unfair portions.

For anybody in the industry it’s absolutely essential to understand task management. Timing, repetition, sleep, nutrition, and a lot of other factors play a role in your work attitude. And by synchronizing yourself with natural rhythms and an upbeat schedule you’ll feel more productive throughout the day.

Take on Reasonable Hours

When you have the time to spare, ambition can often get the best of your judgement. It often seems worthwhile to land another couple gigs for the extra money. Even if your schedule is booked solid, you can stay up all night! Right?

This system of workflow will slowly degrade your inspiration. It’s simply too much to handle at once. I recommend sticking with 1-3 fair-sized projects monthly until you feel comfortable juggling more. Depending on the type of work (web design, jQuery dev, logo graphics) you may even find it difficult to land continuous work.

Cocoa and cookies

Unfortunately the Internet is a crowded ecosystem and there are a lot of great freelancers out there. But the global demand for web and graphic design is huge. When work slows down, you will often find those extra side-projects to check back on, still just waiting for a designer. But initially it’s best to limit yourself and avoid spreading yourself paper thin.

In Daily Routine, Practice makes Perfect

If you have a feeling that your work schedule is uncomfortable or stressful you are most likely correct. Some designers never take a step back to really examine how they are spending each day. When efficiency is money, it’s important to keep a task list.

When drafting something, don’t feel chained into this schedule as a contract. Instead loosely base your week around 4-6 days of work, depending on project due dates. Each week try to plan for a small series of tasks to get done and jot down a couple for each day. It’s better to make this underwhelming than overwhelming since you can always spend extra time working!

Once you have an idea of how much coding and designing you can realistically accomplish in one hour, workflow seemingly becomes more fluid. You will naturally feel the urge to take breaks, grab some food, and over time this becomes a device to manage how far along each task has progressed. Remember it’s not about meticulously following through on schedule, but rather easing into work that you will feel accomplished having completed by quitting time.

San Francisco, CA sunrise

It may seem weird shifting from digital format into writing down your tasks. If you’d rather work on the computer please check this great collection of 10 time management tools all based online. It’s a much simpler and a lot less messy in comparison to the ancient paper and pencil.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Each new prospective client you meet is an opportunity for a strong business relationship in the future. And each client you speak with will also want to know how long it’s going to take you to complete their work. This may seem redundant, but you should spend a bit of time considering the answers here. Always try to shoot high and if things wrap up early it’s a happy surprise.

Also take note that if things are falling behind it’s best to bring it up with the client sooner than later. We are just people, after all. We can only do so much work in a day, as freelancing can get the best and worst of us. Honesty is always the best option; contact the client and try to explain the scenario, and maybe extend the dates for a more reasonable time. As you build a portfolio and complete more work, it will become clearer as to how long a project should take.

Micro out of the Macro

You may have heard about breaking down larger tasks into smaller tasks. This is routinely suggested for artists and digital professionals so as not to get bogged down by the weight of everything. After a while you may realize how big your work has gotten, how many projects you’ve created and launched online.

nostalgic '50s diner and bar stools

If you can keep your focus laser-tight on the current project then you’ll never go awry. It’s great to reminisce, but when you sit down to work, keep complete focus within those moments. If you have trouble with this we should look back to writing the tasks list. Only this time instead of sorting by date let’s try a bulleted list format.

Using sub-lists within each project to define steps along the way is the best way to simplify your work life. These steps shouldn’t be anything more than a couple work hours so you can check off a couple of them throughout the day. I have included an example task below which could even be considered as a sub-task underneath a whole web branding project.

  • Design New Corporate Logo (5-7 days)
    • Sketch or brainstorm 3-5 solid ideas
    • Mock up a few as vectors, layers, and ultimately select down to 2-3
    • Send out to client and await response
    • After final selection go back to add color, texture
    • Re-size and export in PSD, AI, and PNG. Immediately e-mail out contents in zip archive to client and copy in project head

Use Your Innovation

In the art of freelancing, we all need to play by the rules. I suppose in this fashion you could look at projects as more of a game than an art form. But you don’t have to struggle with design and code in the same ways the internet suffered 10 years ago.

In today’s global society we have access to practically endless knowledge at the touch of our finger tips. Google has quite literally revolutionized the way we all are living. And this is the same case for freelancers of all calibre. I recommend doing a bit of research on new projects you land. Hit Google and see if you can find any open source platforms, free graphics or icons to possibly match a design theme.

Photograph of dim light bulbs

Innovation is something designers are overwhelmed with. Nothing is too “outside the box” and you can always give a new idea one decent try. If you can keep this attitude to explore and try new things with your routine, you’ll gradually develop some time-saving habitual behavior. Always keep your mind open to new ideas because these can earn and save you a lot of money in the long run.


Web designers and developers are more in-demand than we have ever seen. Along with the bouts of angel investing and unique startup ideas, we are seeing a exponential growth of websites and data collection. With these tips mentioned above you should easily hold a level head throughout your design career.

Freelancing is possibly the most rewarding work experience. You can work in absolute comfort from home, doing work you enjoy, creating beautiful digital artwork all on your own hours!

Yet with this lifestyle comes a burden of responsibility to accomplish tasks and meet deadlines. If you have your own strategies for managing freelance projects we’d love to hear your thoughts in the discussion area below.