Freelance Designers: 9 Ways to End a Productive Day

Last week Mason Hipp wrote a post at Freelance Folder, 5 Easy Ways to Start a Productive Day . If you haven?t already seen this post it is worth your time, but I also wanted to build on that post and look at the subject of productivity for freelance designers and how you can end your day successfully.

I feel that both the beginning and the end of the day are critical to maximizing productivity and running a profitable business. In this post I?ll mention several actions that you could take at the end of the day, although you?ll never be able to do all of them or you would have to start wrapping up your day at about 11:00 AM. Choose some things that will fit well with your workflow and will help to strengthen one of the weaker areas of your business.

1. Evaluate what you accomplished and where you fell short.

As a freelancer you are on your own to hold yourself accountable and to gauge your effort. Some days will be more productive than others, but it?s a good practice to take a couple of minutes at the end of the day to evaluate exactly what you accomplished. Hopefully you can look back and clearly see some real productivity in your day. If you had hoped to get more done, take a look at what distracted you or where you spend more time than expected. Difficulties will arise from time-to-time, but if you?re consistently falling short of your expectations because you spent your time unproductively, you?ll be able to recognize the issue and make the necessary adjustments.

2. Write a to-do list for the following day.

In Mason?s post he mentions the need to establish in the morning exactly what must be accomplished for the day. I?m sure this works differently for everyone, but from my experience I like to develop my to-do list at the end of one day to plan for the next one. I feel like at the end of the day I have on my mind all of the things that I?ll need to get done, whereas if I wait until the morning it may take me a few minutes to refresh my memory of where things stand and what needs to be done. And since you’ve just evaluated what you got done during the day, it’s a good time to extend that into the planning for tomorrow.

Also, by planning a day in advance I have a good idea of what my day will be like before I wake up and get started. If I?m going to have an extremely busy day I know I should try to get to bed a little earlier, plus I?m not disappointed when I get started in the morning and I?m surprised by everything I need to get done.

With the to-do list already done and in hand I can get started on productive work almost immediately with very little wasted time. Try a few different approaches for yourself. I feel that a to-do list is important, but whether you do it at the end of one day or at the start of the next is more of a personal preference.

If you?re currently working on projects with deadlines, set a plan for yourself to achieve small milestones that will help you to meet the deadline, and evaluate your progress at the end of each day.

3. Accounting and finances

Most freelancers don?t enjoy the financial aspect of running a business, but if you deal with it consistently in small chunks it won?t become as much of a burden. At the end of the day try recording any income or expenses from that day and prepare any new invoices that need to be done.

Waiting until the end of the month to deal with finances will only make it more difficult, more of a burden, and more dreaded.

4. Backup

Hopefully you already have some plan in place to back up your work in case of a hard drive or server crash. Some people already have these systems in place, but they are inconsistent at actually doing the backups. If this is the case with you, make it a habit every day to backup your work at the end of the day. Another option is to use services that will automate the process for you.

See Data Security: 29 Services and Techniques to Back Up Your Hard Drive.

5. Empty your inbox

Most freelancers and web workers face a never-ending challenge to control their email inboxes. Getting a little bit behind for a few days can quickly lead to an unmanageable amount of email. Darren Rowse wrote a post, From 10,000 to 0 Emails in 24 Hours, several months ago when he developed a new and improved process for managing his inbox.

By emptying it out at the end of the day you game set yourself up for a more productive day tomorrow knowing that you won’t have to wade through hundreds of emails. You may not be able to fully respond to every message in your inbox at the end of the day. If something is going to require some research or more time, write a simple response to let the other person know that you’ll be getting back to them shortly, and move the message to a folder specifically for items that need follow up.

6. Reach out to one person in your network

From my time as a designer and a writer, I’ve seen that a strong network is critical to success in this business. Getting to know others can be a challenge, but staying in touch when you’re busy is also difficult. If you’d like to work on strengthening your network, make an effort at the end of each day to get in touch with one person via email, IM or Twitter. You may be surprised by the impact of a more active network on your overall business.

7. Go to the gym

Sitting at a computer all day can be pretty unhealthy. All of us will be more productive and we’ll feel better when there is some exercise in our regular routine. Going to the gym or just going outside for a jog at the end of the day can be a good way to relieve the stress that builds up throughout the day, and it can be a good transition from work mode to family mode, or to whatever it is that you like to do with your time off. When I’m working at home I find it to be a challenge to separate my working hours from the rest of my life, so going to the gym can create a sort of barrier that gets you out of your work day and allows you to relax for the evening.

8. Go through your feed reader

The amount of information that we consume each day can often be more of a distraction than anything. If you find this to be the case, try visiting your feed reader only at the end of the day to check in on your favorite sites and blogs.

9. Read a print magazine

Online information isn’t the only thing available, although most of us tend to forget about books and magazines. Recently I’ve been finding magazines to be a great source of design inspiration as well as for the information contained. Whether you’re reading design-related magazines or just something else that you like to keep up on, this can be a good way to wind down your day.

What are your habits?

How do you typically end your days? What ways do you think you could improve your routine?

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26 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Justin, April 6, 2011

    Thanks for the great post! I’ve been thinking about this exact same thing over the last few days, so it’s weird that you posted on it. You definitely did a much nicer job writing about it than I could have though.

  • mahabub, December 7, 2009

    Amen to these! They absolutely relate to freelancers in all fields, not immediately designers. I previously do nearly everyone of them for my part as a self-employed programmer and they do employment wonders for your output (and good sense)

  • voice over recording, October 16, 2009

    On the last point of ‘habits’ I vote for sun salutations. Actually, if your doing it properly, sun salutations at the begining and the end of the day. I don’t always manage to do this but productivity does definately increase whenI do!

  • Ray, April 7, 2009

    I have a few sites I go to, but the quality is always the best here!

  • Johnny, February 28, 2009

    Amen to these! They definitely apply to freelancers in all fields, not just designers. I already do most of them myself as a freelance programmer and they do work wonders for your productivity (and sanity).

  • Amber Weinberg, February 27, 2009

    Great tips! It’s good to establish a routine and making a list for the next time really helps you get things done.

  • Tom, February 23, 2009

    Enjoyed these tips, especially as I’m on the cusp of becoming freelance right now. I was reminded of friends of mine who are married and run a design studio together in the one room flat where they live. When they found they needed to distinguish being at work from being at home they started a separation regime: in the morning they’d dress in work clothes then walk around the block; in the evening they’d turn off the computers and walk the other way around the block before changing into home clothes.

  • brad, September 6, 2008

    Great article. Routine can be really good for being more productive, and these are great tasks to get accomplished day. I especially love and do #2 and #5. When I know what project I’m going to do the next morning I think it subconsciously floats in my brain all night and I wake up ready to work with some great ideas.

  • micah, September 2, 2008

    I already do these things, but it’s nice to know it works for others as well!

  • Vacation Rentals, September 2, 2008

    this is a great tip for freelancers…

  • Mothership, August 30, 2008

    At least twice a week (and 3 times in summer) my day ends with going sailing – I highly recommend it!

    A little more related, my inbox is normally empty by the end of the day, and the items on my ‘to do’ list are either crossed out (accomplished during the day), or entered on a new list for the next day. During this latter part is where evaluation takes place.

  • imsraaia, August 30, 2008

    thanks .. very nice…

  • Vandelay Design, August 25, 2008

    That’s a nice addition. I could do a better job of clearing of my desk.

  • Erika, August 25, 2008

    I’d swear it, I LIVE in my feed reader. I can have 1000+ in 3 hours… and I’m anal-retentive about not clearing it out by the end of the day. If anything, that should be something that I should break myself of, lol.

    I do go to the gym every day, but I usually use it to start off a long night shift. Gets the energy up. I’d recommend clearing off the desk from the day’s work as an addition. That way, you’re able to start totally fresh the next day, not [metaphorically] still bogged down under yesterday’s mess.

  • VandelayDesign, August 25, 2008

    I think that is a big drawback to working at home, but there are some things we can do to help improve the situation.

    Yeah, staying in touch with your network is easily if you don’t have some important reason to stay in touch. This is a good way to keep in touch. I guess you could also add blog commenting to the list of solutions as well.

    That is probably the biggest one for me.

  • stretch marks, August 25, 2008

    I have a great network with a lot of awesome friends, but sometimes it just feels impossible to maintain. Starting a little habit of connecting with a few people each day is a great idea.

  • Gerasimos, August 25, 2008

    #2 is what i do in detail. I just know exactly what i am going to do the next day. That gives me the freedom to choose if i will continue in front of a computer screen doing my stuff or continue with other activities.

  • Mason Hipp, August 24, 2008

    Hey Steven — Awesome post! Powering through a strong finish is just as important as being quick out the gate :-)

    #6 is something I need to get better with. I have a great network with a lot of awesome friends, but sometimes it just feels impossible to maintain. Starting a little habit of connecting with a few people each day is a great idea.

  • NaldzGraphics, August 24, 2008

    this is a great tip for freelancers.and yes i should go to the gym.its almost a couple of months stock on my computer

  • Angie Bowen, August 24, 2008

    This is a really nice list. Since my computer is right by my bed, I have a hard time turning myself off at the end of the day. Maybe if I had a routine to mark the end my day it would help.