How to get organised, reduce stress and increase creativity
If you’re a department manager or small business owner, it can be difficult not to feel overwhelmed by all the tasks that are required to keep a business running efficiently. You often have to wear several hats, sometimes at the same time!
I’ve been running my graphic design business for nearly 16 years. I’m often at full capacity, juggling different client projects alongside the pressures of keeping a business running in covid-times, which can lead to feeling overwhelmed.
To help reduce this pressure, I have robust processes and standard operating procedures in place. It’s an ever-evolving situation, but once the structure is there it provides a framework to revert back to if things derail.
As a designer, getting this structure in place frees up mental headspace so that I can dedicate my time to being creative for my business and for my clients.
Time: our most valuable asset
Time is the one resource none of us has more of than anyone else, so we must allocate it wisely. We each have 24 hours in a day, and how we choose to spend them is critical to mental well-being, life satisfaction and financial security.
Before we do anything else, we need to be honest with ourselves about how we want and need to spend our time. There are very few people who thrive in the ‘get up at 4 am club’. If that’s for you, great. For me, I know I need 8-9 hours of sleep to function well.
Use a calendar
If there’s just one system we should get in place, it’s a calendar. It doesn’t matter if it’s online or paper-based as long as you use it. The benefit of using an online calendar is you can connect it to other apps to streamline processes further. Block out the time you’re not available for work. Include mealtimes, leisure, exercise, and anything else you’re committed to.
An important time asset I need to remind myself to allocate is free time, or buffers, with nothing specific assigned. It’s all too easy to block out all our time for tasks and then find we have little flexibility to be spontaneous or deal with life’s curveballs.
Once that’s in place, you can see what other time you have available to work. I look at each of my client projects and allocate time in my calendar over the following two weeks for those activities. Over the years, I’ve found most things take twice as long as I think, so I usually allocate double the time estimated. It’s bonus time if it doesn’t get used.
If your calendar is looking too full it may be viable to outsource or delegate tasks, cut back on non-essential tasks and look at streamlining repetitive processes (including those in your personal life such as food shopping).
If you’re not sure how long tasks take, using a time tracking app like Toggl can help. Patterns will emerge which will make it easier to estimate how long things take.
Alongside blocking regular daily tasks into your calendar, it can be more productive to ‘time block’ types of task too. Instead of jumping from one type of task to another, which takes longer for the brain to adjust to, block smaller tasks together. Allocate an afternoon for admin/accounts, another one for social media planning or business development. This way, your brain stays in the same task zone and you can focus more clearly and be more efficient.
Another method of keeping focussed on the task in-hand is to use the Pomodoro technique. It’s a time management method that can be used for any task. You decide how long you’d like to spend on a task, set a timer and concentrate on the task until the timer goes off. This can be particularly useful if you’re lacking focus, procrastinating, or getting distracted.
Streamlining repetitive processes
If you’re like me, you probably send lots of very similar emails. If certain types of emails are being sent on a regular basis, save these as a canned response in your email client. You can then re-use them and only need to edit a couple of words to personalise and customise them for your recipient.
I have canned responses for certain stages of my design project process:
- Responding to an initial email enquiry, including some useful resources and inviting them to have an initial call to talk through their requirements.
- After the initial call, thanking them for their time and confirming what was discussed and next steps
- Follow up email(s)
- The one with the proposal
- Following up on the proposal
- Thanking them for engaging me and including the working agreement for signature / initial invoice
- Outlining the project process, including the timeline of tasks allocated to each of us
- Throughout the project (if we’re not using Asana – see below) for each stage of the design and sign-off process
- At the end of the project thanking them for working with me, including my feedback questionnaire
- Asking if they would be kind enough to leave a review on LinkedIn/Google/where ever feels most relevant
- Follow up a few weeks later seeing how they’re getting on
Other processes that can be streamlined
- Creating social media graphic templates
- Creating case study templates you can use in your marketing
- Anything you need to do more than once can become a process. Copy/paste/repeat.
- Using Zapier (see below) to automate repetitive activities
On my hard drive, I have the following folder structure:
This folder structure maps on to the process I follow with client projects. At each step in the process, something is saved in the appropriate folder. I also use this structure to plan my proposals for clients.
As soon as I’ve established there’s a need for a proposal, the client gets allocated a project number. This then follows them through the entire onboarding process, including invoicing and emails, and helps both parties find things easily.
I also map some of this folder structure within Asana, my project management software. This means it’s easy to create templates for different types of project.
I review the tasks required and check my calendar for availability before assigning them to myself and my client.
Once the client has been invited to the Asana board, they can see exactly where we are in the process and what actions are outstanding in the right order. As soon as we’ve both approved the timeline of task deadlines, I block out the time in my calendar.
I use the free version of Asana, but in the paid version, you can use the inbuilt Asana calendar feature fully which is really handy, especially for larger teams.
During the project, my client and I can upload files and communicate with each other within the appropriate task in the Asana project. Once tasks have been completed, they are ticked off.
Software I use
Asana – project management (client and internal)
Calendly – call booking system for clients and prospects, this is connected to my Google calendar
GDrive and DropBox – file storage
Google calendar (I view personal and work alongside each other)
HelloSign – contracts
Hubspot – tracking deals and contacts
Trello – allocating project numbers (as well as sharing weekly menus and food shopping lists with my husband!)
Toggl (tracking time on projects / tasks)
Xero – accounting
Zapier – connects several of the above with ‘zaps’
Automating processes can be a crucial factor in being more efficient. Anything that is repeated and can be automated, should be. I use Zapier for my automation.
I use Zapier for allocating a project number in Trello which Zaps to GMail, GDrive, Asana, Hubspot and Toggl to create a folder of the same name.
I’m only using the free version of Zapier at the moment, but these 5 Zaps save me hours of copying/pasting the same information over and over again. It means as I move between each piece of software, I’m ready to go with the correctly named folder.
With the upgraded version of Zapier, there are infinite possibilities for automation and connecting many cloud-based software apps.
These processes are easily shared with collaborators and people I outsource work to, which in itself is a great time saver.
Reducing stress and increasing creativity
These processes help me organise my time, which allows me to allocate time for enriching activities and say no to things I don’t want to do.
Are there ways you streamline your processes that I haven’t included?
Get in touch and let me know.
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