Productivity Management Tips for Freelance Designers

Working in freelance web design is like nothing else in the world. You are able to set your own hours, spend all day working to create beautiful designs and can even practice some of your skills. From the outside this seems like the artist’s dream job, though there are a few downfalls.

The largest is, quite blatantly, lack of drive and interest in work. Over time you can become burnt out from so much design work and lose focus on projects. I’ve gone over a few productivity tips below which will help novice and professional alike.

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From Bitter Beginnings

The biggest mistake assumed by freelancers is how easy it will be to change their schedule around. The truth is actually a bit more grim. When it’s just as easy to relax and watch some TV as it is to get into working mode we may find ourselves procrastinating quite a bit.


Changing your entire routine for work will consume more time and energy. Nobody has completed a transition overnight and most aren’t even fully integrated after a week new structures. The one quality you need as a freelancer is determination. No matter how poorly you manage time it can always be fixed with just a slight change to your routine.

List out Daily Objectives

This seems like a simple task, and it absolutely is. Problem here is that most people will think it’s too simple and just write it off without even bothering to consider the options.

How can you tackle a day’s work without having some sort of to-do list? It’s possible to work off memory or through e-mail archives. However over time this method will get very convoluted and confusing, resulting in loss of time and added stress.


Nobody is expecting you to complete your entire weeks’ workload in a day. The benefit of writing out a daily list of tasks is the physical calendar you create. It’s an artificially estimated guess as to how much you can complete in a day. If you can’t finish the entire list that’s no problem since tasks can be re-ordered at any point. You are the creator of this tasks list – never let it get out of control and start owning your productive time!

Break into Individual Tasks

Another important step comes with adding a 2nd degree to a tasks list. Once you have tasks written out you still haven’t actually completed anything. This list should be a reference point for what you’re currently working on and where you’ll be going throughout the day. Almost like a “Step 0” in the overall list of things to do.

If you inflate the list with so many tasks it seems impossible then (usually) your brain will simply shut down on you. The remedy is not to start dropping tasks, as many will do. Actually expand out individual tasks into smaller steps. As an example we could break down “write design article” into these steps:

  • research topic
  • develop small outline for article structure
  • write 1st draft
  • revise for final draft
  • add HTML markup, images, formatting, links, etc.

Sitting down at your computer to write a design article may seem a bit overwhelming. However by breaking this task into each individual step as seen above you can spend your time much more focused and produce higher-quality writing.

Understand How your Daily Energies Flow

This is one area of life many people are blindly ignorant of. This isn’t an outcome because nobody cares to follow their natural energy highs, far from it. Most people have become so detached with nature they aren’t aware they can even read their energies.

It’s not a difficult task to do and only requires 1-2 “test days” to figure out. I naturally wake up around 8:00AM and work throughout the morning and early afternoon. I find myself producing my best work while the sun is just rising and going into the day. I don’t have any particular reasoning behind this other than I feel more creative, energetic, focused, and passionate during early morning work sessions.


I know many web developers who are the complete opposite and will stay up all night programming. Different lifestyles will work better for different freelancers so it’s important to pinpoint yours. Any other cycle is actually fighting your natural creative process and working hours may seem slightly more frustrating.

Identify Major Distractors

We all have things we’d rather be doing than work. These are our leisurely activities which make life playful. As a freelancer the line between home life and work life gets blurred very quickly. Therefore it’s important to know where to draw the line and how to discipline yourself.


Relaxation is always good, but in moderation. One of the best ways to incentivize yourself to work is by promising a small break in the near future. As an example, “If you can work for 2 hours straight then you relieve yourself for 30 minutes of relaxation”. This is a common ritual many have adopted as a way to working life. The numbers are always different (most I know enjoy a 30/30 split) but the resulting achievements seems greatly improved.

This process can be made simpler by identifying what your distractions are. Some say it’s television or Internet browsing. Others will say it’s chatting with friends, video games, or continuously checking e-mail. Whatever yours is should be clearly defined and accepted as such – a distraction. Once you can move past this stage it’s a lot easier to discipline your time as “work” and “play”.

Get Enough Rest & Relaxation

Stress does nobody any good and can actually decrease overall productivity. Try not to worry about looming deadlines when the work day is over. By taking time to rest your brain by focusing on other things your mind will be able to tackle more information the following day.

A healthy sleep cycle will also correct many imbalances such as sleeping in too late or always finding yourself restless. Your brain uses REM sleep to clear out activities from the previous day and help to retain important information for future use.


6-8 hours of sleep is recommended but the cycle of how your sleeping will prove much more important. This many sound cliché but eating properly is another major step towards increased productivity.

Eating right will keep your body healthy from any diseases and keep your mind alert. Fruits, grains, oats, and light meals throughout the day will keep you energized and in high spirits. Exercise is also a natural way to energize yourself, but not everybody is going to jump onto an exercise routine while trying to develop a new freelancing schedule.


These tips are not just productivity related tasks to approach. They define a way of life most freelancers choose to live because it doesn’t require long commutes through traffic or boring office hours. As stated earlier it may take a few days to get into the groove of things but just hang in there.

The process will get easier with time and seems to increase overall life happiness in many past studies. Never get down on yourself with lack of progress as we all approach our goals at our own pace.

The one major thing to do is always stay busy. Whether you’re networking, designing, landing projects or even studying new material, no day will turn out wasted.