10 Ways to Simplify Your Workday

Regardless of whether you are a freelancer, an employee for a design agency, or an in-house designer, you probably could benefit by reducing the chaos and adding some simplicity to your daily life. In this article we’ll look at how you can make some simple changes to your daily processes to reduce stress and create a more enjoyable and productive environment. The article is written with designers and freelancers in mind, but most of the principles are applicable regardless of what you do for a living.

Here are ten things that you can do today to simplify your workday.

1. Start Early

Getting an earlier start to your day can be helpful for several reasons. If you work in an office, chances are the environment will be more quiet and calm before all of your co-workers arrive. Just having an extra 30 – 60 minutes without distractions can make a big difference and can help you to get through your work faster.

If you work from home you may be able to avoid some of the typical distractions by getting up and starting your work before others in your house are around. You may find that starting your workday earlier will have some benefits in terms of your stress level and how you perceive your day. When you start work later you may face the stress of feeling like you should have more done by a specific time in the day, but starting early can help to feel like you’re ahead of the game.

Later in the day when others are scrambling to get their work done before the end of the day, you can already be wrapping up your work.

2. Keep Your To-Do List Short

A to-do list is a critical aspect of time management for most of us. However, one of the downfalls of having a to-do list is that it can get quite full and overwhelming. When this happens, the to-do list can actually become more of a hindrance than a help because you may find yourself focusing on how you will never be able to accomplish everything instead of concentrating on the tasks at hand.

To simplify things keep your to-do list as short as possible. For example, focus on just completing two or three specific things in a given day instead of working off of a to-do list with 15 or 20 items. You’ll find that with fewer things on your list you’re able to do a better job with each, and you should still be able to accomplish them efficiently as well.

Having just two or three things on your to-do list isn’t always practical, and in that case you can divide your list into major and minor tasks, and keep the major tasks as limited as possible. This will help to keep your focus on a small number of important tasks, and you’ll probably find that you do a better job with them.

3. Prioritize Your Tasks

As you create your to-do list, always take a moment to prioritize them so that you know what is most critical to accomplish in a day. Take care of your most important items before moving on to those that are less significant, and you’ll never find yourself rushing late in the day to finish the most important work of your day. Getting the most pressing items out of the way earlier in the day will ease the stress late and generally will simplify your day.

4. Set Aside Blocks of Time

Most of us struggle to focus on one thing at a time, and we live and work in a society where multi-tasking is a constant. However, you’ll find that you’re most productive when you’re able to concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time without interruptions. Pay attention to what you are working on throughout the day and you’ll likely find that you’re switching back and forth between tasks constantly.

Try setting up your day so that you have blocks like 1 – 4 hours of time to focus on getting your most important work done. Don’t get distracted or off-topic during these blocks, focus just on your main priority. This will lead to a more efficient use of your time. You’ll simplify things by avoid unneeded complications, and you’ll finish with your most important work earlier in the day.

5. Take Short Breaks Frequently

Even when you are focusing on just one task during your block of time, it’s helpful to take short breaks (5 or 10 minutes) every couple of hours. Taking these breaks can help you to get re-focused and to avoid working with very low efficiency due to an inability to concentrate.

6. Don’t Work with Too Many Clients at One Time

Some freelancers tend to work with several different clients at any given time. Cutting back on the number of clients will help to keep you more focused on those that you are working with at the time, and you should be able to work more efficiently and effectively. Ideally you’ll be able to move through projects more quickly, which may allow you to still work with the same number of clients in a month or a year, you’ll just be working less time with each and with fewer at one time.

Of course, there are many times where you’ll have to wait on clients for feedback or to get information to you, so there will be times when this is challenging. But if you are finding that your days tend to be chaotic and not as productive as you’d like, take a look at the number of clients you’re working with and try cutting back to see how it goes.

7. Use a Good Project Management Tool

One of the keys to simplify your work is to be well organized. There are many project management apps and software options to help keep you organized, and some are even designed with designers and freelancers in mind. Basecamp is a popular option among designers and developers.

Regardless of what app or approach you use, having an established method for project management will help to make the best use of your time and you’ll find that you waste less time and have simplified days due to improved organization and communication.

8. Keep a Clean and Uncluttered Workspace

Working in a cluttered environment can add unnecessary stress. Take a few moments to clear of your desk or to straighten up your work area and you’ll probably notice a difference in how you feel and your mindset about your work. This is a simple thing that can take just a couple of minutes, but it can have a big impact by reducing stress and tension.

9. Avoid Unnecessary Distractions

Every time the subject of productivity and simplicity comes up, distractions are always mentioned. For freelancers and designers being online a majority of the day brings a number of potential distractions into the picture. Things like email, Twitter, and Facebook are necessary for most of us, but they can also take up a lot of time and break up the workday constantly if they’re not managed properly.

If possible, have specific times for reading and responding to email and for social networking. If you limit it to certain times during the day you won’t be distracted as you’re working on other tasks and you’ll be able to get things done with more efficiency.

10. Have a Set Ending Time

One of the things I learned when I started working from home full-time is that I work with more urgency and get more accomplished when I know I will be ending work at a specific time. Having that end in sight helps to motivate you to stay on task and get things done, plus it prevents you for working too long.

If you’re not used to working with a set ending time, give it a try and I think you’ll find that it contributes to making your days a little bit more simple and to reduce stress. Your ending time doesn’t have to be the same every day, but just knowing when you need to have things wrapped up will help as you move through your to-do list.

What’s Your Opinion?

How do you go about simplifying your days? Feel free to share your comments and tips with the rest of us.

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29 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Sälja faktura, August 11, 2011

    Great list. I need to try the cut-off st the end of the day. Thanks for the share.

  • Toronto Web Developer, June 9, 2011

    I love starting early and making sure you have a clear deadline to when you plan on leaving the office. This helps insure that you give it your all through out the day to make sure you get everything done on time.

  • Liz Franco, May 5, 2011

    Great article!. I try to think on this list every single day. Is very easy to break quite a few list items.
    I agree on the full list. Without this list would be impossible to work from home!

  • Daryl, April 16, 2011

    Great article!! I agree about getting to work earlier, as it would alleviate stress. Definitely, when I had my own home business, it was helpful to start 30-60 minutes earlier. Now that I’m working a day job, I find it sufficient to arrive 15-20 minutes early, rather than arriving exactly on time, and having to scramble to start working. That way I can gradually start my work day, rather than racing right into it.

  • edward ridding, February 23, 2011

    Good article, I agree completely with the comment about email alerts! Turn them off! My number one distraction!

  • James - Intrahost, February 22, 2011

    Very resourceful list.

    I like to make a to-do list at the end of the working day. So I know what I am doing the following day.

    It makes life easier.

  • Designer, February 19, 2011

    Controlling your time is essential.

    Reduce distractions (especially email) and completing one task at a time are my key methods which help other things fall into place.

    Good advice, thanks.

  • Tucson Web Design, February 17, 2011

    Work without facebook or twitter nooooooooo

  • Taimur Asghar, February 15, 2011

    And these are most difficult things to do. :D
    Thanks for article though :)!

  • Olivia, February 15, 2011

    Thanks for the great list! I tend to feel overwhelmed at work myself. I agree with others that crossing things off lists is satisfying!

  • Web Design Mauritius, February 15, 2011

    Thanks for sharing, this was really helpful.

  • Linda Holden, February 13, 2011

    Great tips and strategies! Simplifying your workday is key to being productive and successful…whether you travel to your workplace or work from a home office.
    I have found that taking a block of time to organize and prioritize the day is the most important step you can take. Making a to-do list is critical to productivity, as well as taking those much needed short breaks to re-focus your thoughts.

    And…marking completed tasks OFF the list is very rewarding!

    Linda Kay Holden

  • web design hull, February 13, 2011

    Great list… I think I already follow most of everything mentioned… If I know I’ve got extra work to do I try to start earlier and finish at my regular time. As someone mentioned above, you can’t beat crossing jobs of the list, so a visible job list on the wall always helps me.

  • Google Sniper 2 Fan, February 13, 2011

    Thank you for posting this great list! I’ve been looking for a tool like Basecamp for quite some time. Do you know of other similar tools? Any in the public domain?

  • Bir, February 13, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this post..!!!

  • Tnx man, I have heard of most of them, but 2-nd and 10-th are really great finding for me )

  • Jessica Nunemaker, February 11, 2011

    Good tips!

    I wake up around 5:30 AM to get started on my day. I’ve noticed that my mind is more focused first thing in the morning so that’s when I spend my time writing.

    I don’t even look at email until I get my articles completed. It’s too big a distraction.

  • Raphael Coccia, February 11, 2011

    Great Read! I really think that taking a set amount a time to work on a important task is a great idea. To many times I rush through important things because i get interruptions and i feel pressured to get the task completed

    Thanks for the tips

  • Tristar Web Design, February 11, 2011

    A brilliant list. I agree with trying your best to keep your work area uncluttered. I’ll definitely be taking a few of these tips and put them into action starting Monday.

  • Hi,

    Hi great list and the #1 is what will do wonders. If we start early and with a fresh mind every work we do will end with a good result. And setting time is also important we do not want to spend too much time for one project alone. Thanks for sharing these tips.

  • Pixelslip, February 11, 2011

    Awesome list! I find that breaking your day in to time slots helps significantly. Do not forget to be flexible if you have multiple projects you are working on If one project is slowing you down come back to it and work on something else.

  • Joe, February 11, 2011

    What a great list! Once I get to work tomorrow I will be printing these out and taping them to my monitor. I usually make to-do lists around a full page long so that one is probably the most beneficial to me. Thanks again!

  • Brandon, February 11, 2011

    Great list. I need to try the cut-off st the end of the day. Thanks for the share.

  • Jann Mirchandani, February 10, 2011

    Plus, you get the satisfaction of crossing stuff of the list! Don’t underestimate the power of the cross-off!

  • GraphicDesignBoss, February 10, 2011

    I simple white board with a list of jobs that need doing on that day is a great way to focus the mind of staff. They simply cross the job off and move onto the next job when it’s done.

    Very simple, very flexible and low cost. Very, very good for productivity.

  • Sam Jones, February 10, 2011

    Great list, I’d also recommend turning off any notifications from apps like Tweetdeck if you tend to leave it running in the background.

  • NewWebDesign.com, February 10, 2011

    I have found that setting a bit of time aside for a filling meal is a lifesaver in terms of productivity.

    In terms of a to-do list, I tend to break it up not just in terms of priority, but by which person will complete the task. Doing this simplifies everyone’s workday and reduces the chance of everyone focusing on one task leaving the rest unattended.

  • Jann Mirchandani, February 10, 2011

    Great post! It seems like I cycle through periods where I am more productive and follow these good habits, then slack off and find myself less productive.

    So while I do try to follow most of these tips let me add:

    Turn OFF the email alert on your computer and phone. That way you’re not tempted to check every time something lands in your inbox. Whatever it is, it can wait until YOU are ready to take a break.

    Also, as for the focus time, I’ve been using the “pomodoro technique” and have found it very helpful. Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on one thing for that time. Then take a 5 minutes break. Then 25 more minutes of focused work.