Productivity for Designers – 10 Tips to Getting More Out Of Your Day


It seems that some designers are able to get so much done in just a few years, while others struggle to keep up with the pace of their work. Why is that? We all have the same 24 hours in each day, but the truth is that some people have learned how to manage that time more effectively than others. They have mastered productivity, so they can spend their out-of-work time on the things they enjoy.

The goal here is to get more done during work hours and make unnecessary overtime a thing of the past.

The ability to organise and plan your time to get the most out of each day is not just something you can apply to your work – it’s something you can apply to other areas of your life. You will instantly feel more organised and it will give you a sense of control over your work and your life.

“Time management is life management” – Brian Tracy

Productivity Tips for Designers

Designers are often some of the most in-demand people in any team. As a result, our inbox is overflowing with product requirements and iteration suggestions. Without proper planning and time management, it can be overwhelming.

So, no more staying late, no more working weekends. It’s time to get the most out of your office hours so that you can enjoy the rest of your time to do the things you like.

1. Plan Your Day

The first step to being a highly productive designer is to plan your time well. If you fail to do this, you will spend your day reacting to whatever is happening around you, and nothing of value will be achieved.

What do you hope to achieve by lunchtime? What do you need to have done by 4:00? Look at your calendar to see what meetings you have, but also what meetings are not essential. Can you cut anything out?

The very best time to plan your day is actually the evening before. It gives your subconscious time to work on the problems while you sleep. Know what you’re going to do the next day, so that by the time you get in, you can get straight to work.

Extra Tip: Those first few hours in the morning are the golden hours. Get started before other people arrive – the office will be quiet and there should be no notifications or emails to look after. You can get so much done in just the first few hours of your day if you have a list of items ready to do the second you sit down.

A lot of people who arrive in the morning spend their time catching up on email, social networks and blogs, and then wonder where the morning went. If you arrive in the morning with a plan, you get to make the most of the morning hours.

The next step to planning your time is to have a list of tasks to achieve that day.

2. Write Down Your Tasks

“I must remember to do that….”

The second you write down your tasks for the day, they stop taking up space in your short term memory which frees you up to focus on the task in hand.

This is the first step to achieving high productivity – knowing what specifically needs to be done that day. I know a lot of people use Jira or some other kind of project management tool, but in my experience the physical act of writing out what needs to be done works much better.

When you have the tasks written down, prioritise them. Which tasks can you delegate to someone else? Is there anything that that could wait until another time? Are there tasks that could be eliminated altogether.

3. Set A Deadline

This could be as easy as deciding to have a number of tasks done before lunch, or as detailed as “Create Prototype: 10:00 – 11:15”. If you don’t set a deadline, the task could take as long as you like to complete. Setting a deadline forces you to consciously and productively complete at task before a certain time.

Extra Tip: Meetings don’t always need to be an hour long. See if you can get it down to 30 minutes. I was surprised that when I started doing this, we got the same amount of items discussed in literally half the time.

4. Switch off Slack

Maybe a controversial one, but I can’t be the only person in the world who thinks the large number of instant messaging apps is damaging productivity. Regardless of which tools you use, deactivate them for a certain amount of time each day. Make it known to your team that you will only be available on Slack after lunch, or at whatever time suits you.

Routinely checking email is also another distraction, and I would advise only checking at certain intervals of the day.

5. Take Breaks

In order to stay productive, you will need to balance this with regular breaks and chances to let your brain rest for some time. Designers are particularly secceptible to burn-out and fatigue.

6. Block Off Chunks of Time

Interruptions are a huge productivity killer. One of the things you can do to stop people scheduling random meetings is to block out large sections of time so that you can focus fully on a specific task.

If you add large blocks of time to your calendar, people will assume you’re busy and won’t pepper meetings throughout your day. Having large chunks of times is important if you’re a designer as it will allow you to completely submerge yourself with tough problems. 

7. Stay With The Task

When you start a task, make the conscious effort to stay with it until it has been completed. The act of starting and stopping a task can double the time it takes to get it done. When you start a task, try to stay with it until it’s complete.

This gives you the added bonus of getting closure on tasks once their done, freeing up your cognitive load to focus on the next task.

8. Remove Distractions

This is a slightly more difficult one – ask yourself ‘what are the distractions’?

If you work near a noisy walkway, try to find a desk that is in the corner of the room. If you sit next to noisy coworkers, suggest that certain times could be ‘quiet time’.

Log out of your social media accounts. The only internet tabs you should have open are the ones that are helping you get your work done.

If you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself ‘why?’ – is there something that you’re particularly stuck on? Is there a piece of information you need from another person, or are you waiting for sign off? If this is the case, is there a small task you can get out of the way instead of browsing social media?

9. Stop Chatting

While I think it’s important to get along with coworkers and have a positive work environment, sometimes there can be too much chatting. However, as soon as you start saying “let’s chat later” they’ll start to leave you to get on with your work.

“Did you see that ludicrous display last night?”

“Oh yeah, but let’s catch up at lunch!”

The trick here is to gently communicate that you are now a productive person, and don’t want to spend your working time chatting.

10. Wear Headphones

Headphones are the office equivalent of the “Do Not Disturb” sign of a hotel door. Nothing works better for me than having my headphones on.

Often I’m either listening to relaxing video game music or Spotify, just something that will play continuous music so that you don’t have to keep coming back to adjust it. Just even by having the headphones on means I can focus more clearly on what’s on my screen.

That’s it, those are my 10 tips to improving productivity. Hopefully these tips will help you get more out of your day, but you should always be wary of keeping a good work/life balance.

… and Maintain a Balance

With improved productivity, comes great responsibility. You are free to spend your evenings and weekends recharging your creativity. Read books, watch Ted talks, meet friends for a coffee or go for a hike. Whatever you like to do, just make sure it’s not all work and no play, or you’ll end up burnt out.

Remember, using these tips should not only help your work, but your lifestyle too.

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