Crunch Time: Balancing Deadlines & Personal Projects

Freelance always seems to be the top tier of design jobs on paper. You set your own prices and can pick and choose which projects to work on and you can do it all from your studio or home or some other space where you can be as comfortable as you please.

It sounds so good doesn't it? Sometimes it really is that good and you get to design cool things for cool people and get paid well and do everything on your laptop on the couch in your yoga pants. But, and I think I speak for many of you, the actual process of bringing yourself to work when you have no one there to make you accountable for your time management can be pretty difficult.

Yes, a client may give you a deadline but I'm sure in most cases we all tend to wait until that deadline is looming right over our shoulder before we get any real work done. Not only does that habit make us cram for time and stress us out but it can make your work quality suffer.

Now, I am not some organizational saint that has her schedule in perfect order, but I've since gathered many tools to help keep me on track and from ending up stressing myself out.

  1. Aim for Little Victories. Giving myself an incentive is my go-to option when I need to work. I promise myself some small reward if I get a certain amount of work done. I've watched the first half of a Criminal Minds episode and promise myself to watch the rest after I've done a solid two hours of work. Sometimes, I'm not even aware of my time and realize I've put in an extra hour of work since I got so into it. It's a great way to get yourself moving when you know there's a reward coming your way (and it's especially helpful if you tell anyone you may live with about since they definitely will hold you accountable if you try and grab your reward early).

  2. Defeat the Monster First. Working on the headache project first is always better than the little things. The little bits of a project may not take long but they're easy to get distracted on and waste more time than initially intended. Taking care of your least favorite part of a project allows you to focus more on finishing it than lollygagging over the tiny ones. Then, once you’re done, the little guys can be easily taken care of, making the rest of your day headache free and maybe even a little more fun!

  3. Take Needed Breaks. Burning yourself out from overworking is a surefire way to make it even more difficult to get started again. Think about when you have the most energy or when you know you're going to crash. For me, I try and do the bulk of my work before noon as I know I start getting drained once it hits 1 pm. Do the more laborious tasks during your high energy moments and all the easy-peasy projects when you're starting to wind down.

Make It Personal

Another way I handle my freelance gigs are by peppering my days with personal creating. Now, this is going to get it's own section as I highly recommend anyone who is a designer of any kind to take on some personal projects.

For those who are just entering the field, personal projects can help fill up the gaps between school work and the very few outside work you've done. Firms and potential clients need to see both technical skills and some passion in all the work that you do and sometimes your school work is literally that; work they made you do in school.

This is especially important if you have an idea what niche you'd like to go into to. If you're super into package design, make some time to redesign your favorite product packaging or make up your own. If web design is more your style, create some awesome landing pages for the things you care about. Be your own art director. Make good design.

And for those of you that are seasoned's honestly just really fun and a great way to brush off some skills you may not have used in a while. The best way to keep yourself relevant is to keep up with all the tools in your design arsenal. If you've been a PowerPoint presentation specialist for years, it may be time to open Photoshop and get painting! You lose nothing by trying new things or reconnecting with a skill set and a field you once loved.

Moving forward, getting a project that is connected to something you care about and are enthusiastic about doesn't often happen in the real world or it's not a bulk of what you do. It's important to keep yourself optimistic and proud of the content you create and taking time out of your day to work on something completely self-indulgent is great start.