Freelance Designers: 9 Ways to End a Productive Day

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.

I’ve read articles in the past that explains 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.

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.

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 newsfeeds

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 feeds 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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