As a right-brained person, I’m great at tapping into my creativity. I’m the type of person who can dream up strange and beautiful things, and then I can express those imaginings through my designs. This is strength of mine, but it comes at a cost. When I am asked to perform left-brained activities (basically anything having to do with math or being organized), I draw a blank. This can be problematic for my freelance business, so I’ve come up with some guidelines to help keep me on track.
What’s more, these guidelines can apply to you whether you’re a freelance or a full-time employee. Whether or not you’re your own boss, you still need to know how to organize your time, back up your work, and communicate with the person giving you orders.
Here are my tips for managing your caseload and keeping your clients (or your boss) happy:
- First in, first out (sort of) – Ideally, you’re juggling multiple jobs at one. Some jobs you will enjoy more than others. Some jobs you will absolutely dread. It happens. It’s totally normal. But, whether or not they are your favorites, all jobs should have the same priority. The reason for the “sort of” at the end of this bullet point is that each job will include several steps and communications from the client. Your strategy should not be to complete an entire job from start to finish, including all revisions, before moving on to the next client. Rather, each time you hear back from a client with new instructions, that client’s task should be added to the end of the queue.
(Note: The only exception to this, in my opinion, is when you are doing a job for a client who is particularly valuable and will provide you with a lot more jobs in the future.)
- Back it up – Have a reliable back-up system. Back up your work every day. If you work as a fulltime employee, your company may already have a back-up process in place. If you’re on your own, it’s up to you. Make sure you save your work in more than one place. Some people back up to external hard drives, while others back up to cloud storage services. I don’t really care what system you use, as long as you’re using it regularly. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by taking a little extra time to back your work up.
- Calendar – Personally, I get stressed out if I have too many jobs hanging over my head. Keeping a detailed calendar helps me focus on the task at hand. If you’ve ever been to a barber or a hair salon, you’ve seen an appointment book. Even though I don’t actually have appointments or meetings, I keep my own electronic appointment book. I estimate how much time each job will take, and I block off the hours I will need. When in doubt, I overestimate. Keeping my time organized in a calendar helps me keep my brain free of clutter, allowing me to be more creative.
This can also help if your client is asking for an estimation of when you will be finished with a particular project or task. If you are following a “first in, first out” policy and you’ve just received a new task, you can look at the next few days in your calendar, see that they are booked with other tasks, and you can estimate that it will be at least 4 days until you are able to complete the new task.
- Communication – Your organizational strategies can help you and your clients. When a client gives you a new project or task, take a look at your calendar, and give the client an estimated date of when you will be finished. Again, when in doubt, overestimate. You never know what might come up.
I have also found it helpful to communicate with the client as I am making progress on a task. While I don’t want to inundate the client with minor details, I try to send a daily report to my active clients, at least to say that I’m running on schedule and what still needs to be completed. This doesn’t have to take long. In fact, I have a few templates that I use, which makes it even faster.
I hope that these tips will help all of the right-brained designers out there. You can manage your time and your business. It just might take a little extra effort.