If you’re like most creative professionals, you’re no stranger to late nights at the office or weekends in front of the laptop. Some of that overtime is due to the nature of the profession. However, if you feel that you’re constantly on the job and are overwhelmed by your to-do list, it may be time to re-evaluate your time management habits at work.
To avoid burnout, we’ve compiled five time management strategies to help you create more space in your day, be more efficient and, ultimately, achieve better work/life balance.
Proven Time Management Strategies for Creatives
1. Tame your inbox. Be the master of your email rather than letting it control you. First, use filters and folders to sort and prioritize incoming messages. This is one of the easiest time management tips, but it’s one that people often overlook.
Second, consider changing your settings so you’re not immediately notified every time you receive a new message. This will help reduce the amount of time you spend switching from your current project to your email and back again.
The next step may sound extreme: Try restricting yourself to checking and responding to messages just a few times per day – perhaps first thing in the morning, at midday and again an hour before you wrap up. This approach isn’t feasible for everyone. But, if you’re able to momentarily disconnect from your inbox, you’ll have bigger blocks of uninterrupted time to focus.
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel. One of the most effective time management tips is to look at which activities you perform regularly and repeatedly, and then create shortcuts for reducing the amount of work these common tasks require. Think of it like a template in InDesign. By setting the ruler guides, styles, standard graphics, etc., for each page of your layout at the beginning, you don’t have to recreate these elements every time.
Can you set up an InDesign-like template for other projects? What tasks do you perform often? Would a checklist, schedule or procedure help save time with these responsibilities? What can you do to avoid being bogged down when recreating the same documents or repeating the same processes?
3. Establish firm boundaries. Time management tips often go awry when you get stuck in an endless meeting, or an intended quick conversation goes overtime. In cases like this, effective time management involves setting boundaries. If a meeting is nearing its end time, but there’s still a significant chunk of the agenda to cover, suggest a follow-up session instead of running over. If your chatty coworker starts monologuing, politely extricate yourself from the conversation by saying you have to get back to work. The key here is to not only set boundaries but to also stick with them.
4. Time yourself. Some creatives use time management strategies such as working in small blocks of time – say, 15 to 30 minutes – and then rewarding themselves with a short break. (One popular method is the Pomodoro Technique.) By telling yourself that you will not succumb to interruptions during these blocks of time, and knowing you will be able to give in to distraction soon, you may find it easier to concentrate on the task at hand. The scheduled minibreaks also ensure you are able to regularly refresh your body and mind. Experiment to see what time blocks work best for you.
5. Break it down. An important tool in time management is to reduce a giant project into smaller, more manageable bites. You may want to group tasks that are similar, such as template revisions, image swaps or changes to the same file. Then, you can prioritize groups by urgency and importance. You may even find that you can delegate one or more groups of tasks if others on the team have a lighter load.
As creative campaigns become more complex, and you find yourself with a growing list of must-dos, you have to take charge of your schedule lest you drown in work. Putting time management tips into practice may not be as exciting as brainstorming for a cool ad campaign, but these strategies can free you up to be as creative and productive as possible.
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