Everyone knows that a perk of being a freelancer is 'being your own boss'. What many forget is that not everyone is a good manager. Every day more people leverage technology enabling them to become a freelancer or small business owner. As a freelancer, I've learned what it's like to be my own boss, and with the perks come plenty of challenges. For designers and creatives alike, here are some ways to increase your productivity, the quality of your work and become a better manager.
1. Separate 'left brain' and 'right brain' activities
As you've probably heard before, each hemisphere of the brain is responsible for different kinds of thoughts. For example, the left hemisphere handles logical, sequential, analytical, rational and objective thoughts. By contrast, the right hemisphere is responsible for random, intuitive, holistic, synthesizing and subjective thoughts. Both sides of our brain work together to make up our cognitive processes, but in different amounts.
Left Brain Hemisphere
- Activities where the left hemisphere of your brain is used include solving math or chemistry problems, proofing a document or engineering a product. Managing time utilization, tasks, prioritizing, billing rates, emails and organization are tasks that rely primarily on the left hemisphere of the brain to tackle.
Right Brain Hemisphere
- Activities where the right hemisphere of your brain is used include abstract painting, singing, design, or sculpting with an emphasis on aesthetics. Designing a web page, sketching concepts, color and material rendering or refining a form are right hemisphere-heavy tasks.
How it works
I won't drill down to the science of what theoretically is the best way to increase productivity, but I've found that I operate quicker and more smoothly if I'm able to separate right-hemisphere tasks from left-hemisphere tasks. As a business owner and or freelancer, your job is two-fold. You must be a manager as well as a technician. To be a good manager, you need to communicate quickly and effectively, perform simple arithmetic to determine hourly rates, to budget your time and money, schedule tasks and you need to be a master at prioritizing and discipline. As a technician you need to know your craft, always improve upon what you deliver and exceed expectations.
Think of the technician and the manager as two different jobs. Take turns being each, but don't be both at the same time.
Try being a manager (which most people find to be the more difficult task) when you have energy or at the same time each day. I personally play the role of manager first thing in the morning and before bed each day. I Take care of emails, billing, taxes, strategy, budgeting, time management and anything related to that at the first and last parts of my day. That way when I begin creative work, I can remain in the 'creative zone' uninterrupted by the need to be a manager. Spending undivided attention on each of these two areas makes it easier to improve execution on each task, or it has for me. In addition to separating left-hemisphere from right-hemisphere tasks, here are some other ways to improve self-management.
2. Chunk similar tasks by location (physical and virtual)
By creating lists categorized by physical location as well as virtual location, you'll get things done faster. A virtual location is my term for a program or device. For instance, Microsoft Word, Adobe PhotoShop, Luxion Keyshot, Microsoft Outlook, Google Chrome are all computer applications and you can access all of them without physically moving. If you have a to-do list for each program, cross everything off that list while using that specific program before closing it and moving on.
Examples of my lists:
- Microsoft Word
- Adobe Photoshop
- Dassault SolidWorks
- Luxion KeyShot
- Adobe InDesign
- Google Chrome
- Google Mail
- Google Drive
3. Listen to instrumental music
When you're being creative (right-hemisphere) you shouldn't be listening to music with lyrics because interpreting speech is a left-hemisphere activity. Don't ask your brain to do both things. Try listening to your favorite movie soundtracks. Spotify has pretty much everything under the sun.
4. Take short breaks
Every 90 minutes, I get up for 15 minutes and spend that time reading on my feet. Grab a book or your kindle and walk to a window or outside if it's warm and just stand and read. Or perhaps even better, just relax. Rest your brain. Then return to work.
5. Develop a guilty conscience
Pretend your boss is standing over your shoulder. Would you be looking at social media, floating from one You Tube video to the next, laughing at images on Imgur or looking at product reviews of your next big purchase? No? Well, then don't do it during your office hours if you're self-employed! Develop a guilty conscience that will prevent you from wasting time. You do NOT deserve to get paid for wasting time online. So don't do it when you should be working.
6. Define office hours
Set a time you begin working and a time to quit at the end of the day. Hold yourself to this within 15 minutes, but try to be strict. At the end of the day, be a boss and tell yourself “it's time to go”. Also use Parkinson's Law to your advantage. Parkinson's Law states that a task will take as long to complete as time is allotted. In other words, if you have 5 weeks to do a project, it'll take five weeks, if the same project was given to somebody else with only one week to get it done, they'll get it done in one week. Set yourself deadlines ahead of your actual client deadlines and hold yourself to that. This will give you some breathing room or time to make revisions if necessary.
There are hundreds of tasks that a designer can employ to increase productivity but just to recap, these are my personal top six steps to make being your own boss a much easier task.
- Separate 'left brain' and 'right brain' activities
- Chunk similar tasks by location (physical and virtual)
- Listen to instrumental music
- Take short breaks
- Develop a guilty conscience
- Define office hours
With a little practice and discipline you can improve your own management skills and really BYOB, or become your own boss.