Two of the most effective changes I have made to my work routine is to:
- Start scheduling my jobs instead of taking on multiple projects at once
- Build in time buffers to my project timescales.
This week I'll be discussing how to start working time buffers into your schedule so you can create better work, which will attract great clients, leaving you with a better work / life balance.
So, what are the best ways to use that extra time?
Managing your workload
Being able to organise your work schedule was a game changer for me. If you aren’t already doing it, you need to start as soon as you can! Not only will it help you dedicate yourself to solving client problems through your work, but you will also have more time to craft and refine your ideas in a way that will raise your profile above others which will get you more business.
I used to spread myself too thin, often working on too many projects at once and never doing them justice. I was left burned out and frustrated. My eagerness to say yes combined with a scarcity mindset, meant that I often took on extra work before considering if I should be doing it at all.
Now I am much more disciplined. I have a much more structured work routine and a lot of this is down to me not only scheduling my work, but also building in time buffers. This structure has allowed me to do my best work as I am no longer rushing to finish projects and have the energy to see them through.
Here are approximate breakdowns of how much time I spend on each component of a project.
Old work to time example:
- 5% Research
- 65% Brainstorming
- 20% Creation
- 10% Refining/Execution stage.
- 0% Buffer
Current work to time example:
- 15% Research
- 25% Brainstorming
- 25% Creation
- 20% Refining/Execution stage.
- 15% Buffer
Although sticking to a system where I included an additional 15% of time for a buffer was uncomfortable for me at first, I soon learned to appreciate how valuable it is. It was my get out of jail card for any emergencies.
This is why you need to start building in buffers to your work schedule.
deal with illness / bad luck
I hate to start on a downer, but unforeseen circumstances or just plain old ‘bad luck’ can happen to anyone, at any time. These can range from falling ill with flu, your kids knocking your laptop onto the floor and breaking it (something my daughter did to me) or your hard drive dying.
It’s when these events happen, your buffer comes into play. By setting a deadline that incorporates a buffer (giving a 3 week job a 4 week time frame for example) your progress and chances of hitting your deadline aren’t effected. You can take time to overcome these issues without disrupting your work too much.
The client doesn’t want to know why your hard drive failed or what your daughter was doing with your mac. That isn’t their problem and it telling them makes you look unprofessional, especially when you start giving all these excuses as to why their work will be late.
Nobody minds if you are ill and can’t work, but if you can be ill and still get the work done on time, you reputation will go tenfold up in the clients eyes. Someone who is able to keep their word and deliver the work on time despite running into problems, becomes very valuable.
Running out of ideas / idea wasn’t good enough
Not being content with what you have created is good. It shows that you are maintaining standards and not settling for work that ‘will do the job’ in order to meet the deadline.
In previous articles I have talked about going back to create new ideas if you end up eliminating all of your current ones. By having a buffer, you still have time to do potentially start again without disrupting deadlines.
However this isn’t to be used for self indulgent brainstorming, it’s a fail safe device to buy you more time whilst still maintaining your professionalism in the eyes of your clients.
meeting potential clients
In order to grow your business you will need to get new clients. By not incorporating in time buffers into your workflow, you aren’t allocating any time to doing this. Instead you are taking time away from your current projects to squeeze in client meetings.
As I never know when a new client may approach me, I always need to have a buffer to focus on them.
I personally love learning about a potential client and their business and so will often have multiple conversations before I prepare my proposal. Both the conversations and proposal take time and will need care and attention of they are to be done properly.
Being able to give time and attention to prospective clients, without disrupting my work flow has allowed my business to flourish. I am keeping current clients happy with great work and still have time to give my personal attention to new ones.
focus on yourself / personal promotion
If you aren’t approached by any new clients and have managed to avoid illness or disaster, you can now spend the time from the time buffer on yourself.
This may come on the form of taking some time off for rest and recuperation, but is probably better spent on self promotion.
Finding time to update your portfolio is hard when you are concentrating on client work, so why not use this extra time to go over your business and presence online and make sure everything is up to date.
Often designers forget to update their presence on other websites apart from their own such as Behance and Dribbble. As clients will also visit those along with your social media feeds and personal site, it's important that they are able to find your best work easily.
You may also want to update your website with recent case studies or client testimonials.
Again, if a potential client visits your site, likes your work and makes a mental note to check back when they are ready to hire you, but when they return nothing has changed, they will wonder why. This negative thought is an unnecessary barrier, so make sure there is always something new to see.
Your extra time from the buffer can also be used to grow your business. Maybe you can reach out to current clients to make sure they are happy with everything and if they are, maybe they can offer a referral for you?
You can contact blogs and other designers and arrange to collaborate together. Guest posting is a great way to increase your exposure and unique and fun side projects are so valuable in keeping your fresh and in love with your craft.
To sum up:
By using time buffers properly, you can get more structure and balance in your work. They will help reduce stress by leaving time for unforeseen events and will help keep your business flourishing as they allow you time for self promotion and rest & recuperation.
Try working them into your next project, you'll never go back to working like you did before, I promise you.