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7 Time Management Strategies That Work

February 9, 2010

(The following is an excerpt from my eBook, 15 Steps to Freelance Illustration that is now available here.)

One of your most valuable resources is time.

Unfortunately, time is also one of the first things to run out on you, which can affect your quality of work, your ability to meet deadlines, and your peace of mind.  Time management can be one of the most difficult parts of freelance business to master, so it’s important to set up a time management strategy as early as possible.  That way, you’ll have a better chance of staying on top of the demands of running a business, as well as a schedule to return to when things inevitably get out of control.

Here are some tips on setting up a time management strategy that works for you:

1. Know your personal clock.

Figure out what times of the day you are best able to perform specific tasks.  For example, you may be more creative in the early morning hours and better at taking care of mundane business tasks later in the day.  If you pay attention to the way you work, you can plan accordingly and make the most of the time you have.

2. Make lists.

Document your goals for the day, the week, the month, and so on.  While this may not sound like the most exciting activity, it can help to clear your mind and keep you on task.  In addition, the feeling of accomplishment each time you cross off an item on your list can be a great reward.  Consider keeping your daily list short (3 or 4 tasks) so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.  Often, this is more than enough to keep you busy for one day.

3. Assign daily duties.

Consider allocating specific tasks to each day of the week, so that you don’t feel the need to address everything at once.  Here’s an example of how you might organize your time:

Monday – Marketing

Tuesday – Business Duties

Wednesday – Website and Blog

Thursday – Networking

Friday – Research

4. Promise low, deliver high.

Often, Illustrators are tempted to promise the world in order to secure a client, but it’s important to give yourself more than enough time to complete a project.  You never know what distractions might arise.  Another benefit of this approach is that if you complete a project ahead of schedule, it always impresses your client more than if you were to merely meet the deadline.

5. Set up an efficient workspace.

Try to keep your office free from distraction and clutter, so that you can get more accomplished in less time.  In addition, using the right tools for the job and to fine tuning your workflow can also help you to increase your efficiency.

6. Break down your projects.

One trick to help you work your way through a project without feeling overwhelmed is to break things down into smaller pieces.  In other words, focus on just the first stage of a project, rather than trying to wrap your brain around the entire concept.  Just like making lists, this can also help to motivate you by showing you a pattern of forward momentum.

7. Try the Pomodoro Technique

Another effective approach to breaking down your time into manageable bits is called the Pomodoro Technique, which was developed by Francesco Cirillo.  Here’s the basic idea:

  1. Choose a task to be completed.
  2. Set a timer to 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task until the timer stops, then take a 5 minute break.
  4. Start again from Step 1.

This technique is great for helping you to stay on task and rewarding you for your accomplishments.  Find out more here.

Whatever methods you choose, pay close attention to what is working and what is not.  If you consistently find yourself feeling overwhelmed and short on time, take a step back and reevaluate your schedule.  Often, making a simple adjustment here and there can have a substantial effect on your ability to keep up with the demands of a freelance business.

Enjoy this post? Then you’ll really enjoy the rest of the book, 15 Steps to Freelance Illustration. Find out more here.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2010 8:12 AM

    I use step 7 a lot. Since I work digitally, it’s hared to not flip over to check my mail, or social networks every few minutes. Setting the time and sticking to not checking till it goes off, allows me to get a lot of work done.

  2. February 9, 2010 9:04 AM

    Ah yes, number 4, otherwise known as the Scottie principal.

  3. Cie permalink
    February 9, 2010 10:57 AM

    Just stumbled across EFII a couple of days back, and I’ve been struggling to not waste my time simply reading articles! I’m only just applying to uni at the moment, (graphic design, most probably) so I’ve got a long way to go, but this blog is not only terrifying me, but is also such an interesting read! I’ll be sure to keep the many words of advice I’ve found here in the back of my mind from the start!

    Thank you,

  4. February 9, 2010 11:27 AM

    #1 and #2 are extremely helpful to me.

    I know there are times of the day when I’m very creative compared to others. (Very early in the morning and around 3-5pm, for me.) Late morning seems to be good for communication & accounting.

    On making lists, I usually put down 4-6 items/day. These items are realistic expectations of what can be completed, so it’s very rare that I don’t cross one off the list. Also, these items have to be specific: I can’t put down, “work on dancing elephant illustration”, as there is no way to tell if I’ve completed that. But I can put down, “block in color for dancing elephant”, and I can check that off when I’m done. (This helps #6 as well.)

    #5 is a big deal to me, as well. I have to keep my workspace free of clutter, or my productivity plummets.

  5. February 9, 2010 1:30 PM

    Great post!Very useful!

  6. February 9, 2010 2:36 PM

    Another suggestion for #2 making lists:
    Use a mind map or bubble diagram or other visual technique to show your list.
    I often put a category in the middle, like a project, and then write specifics around the outside. As I complete things I put an X through that bubble, which shows me what I’m getting done and how it relates to whatever else I am doing.
    Since artists tend to a) Think visually and connect things and b) Work on tasks that are sometimes serving more than one purpose at once, like getting a comp to a client/getting feedback/using this contact to identify possible new clients, this method can help organize your thoughts more than a linear style would.

  7. February 9, 2010 3:12 PM

    The best part of this post is that I used it to procrastinate. HaHa…
    I’m going back to work. Thanks again Thomas.
    -Jeremy :)

  8. peoples permalink
    February 9, 2010 7:36 PM

    Well, if somebody doesn’t know (wink-wink), you may download
    The Pomodoro Technique Book from official site here:

    And thank you for these management strategies.
    They will definitely help in career growth and personal development.

  9. February 9, 2010 8:56 PM

    I find the hardest part is assigning tasks to specific days and following through while I work on a major assignment or a job suddenly needed tomorrow at two o’clock. I can’t be that strict with myself! The client work always wins!

  10. February 9, 2010 9:10 PM

    Pretty great strategies man.I would like to say time management tips, implement a time management plan, respect our promises, write down important things, plan your week, carry a notebook, write down to do list, identify bad habits Find out wasting time etc. these tips will help you to save your lots time and extra work….

  11. February 10, 2010 6:28 AM

    These are great! I’ll have to try #7. I tend to forget to take breaks, and before long I feel like I’m burning out.

  12. June 18, 2010 1:38 AM

    These are nice tips, but to complete the list, you should head over to the “time-management-lecture” from Randy Pausch:
    this 76 minutes will tell you even more effective and especially systematically approaches to better time-management, like making use of the Pareto principle, how 2 Monitors can help and putting of all the jingelings that distracts you from working….
    I highly recommend this to everyone!

  13. January 26, 2012 8:33 AM


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