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10 ways to be a productive designer when you feel overwhelmed

Being a partner in a young design and development firm means you wear many hats.

For example, I have a big part in running our business, meeting with clients, and driving the design for our company. I know many companies are structured similarly, and whether you are working with a team or by yourself, it’s easy to have many tasks pile up.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, projects will slide, and it can cause an avalanche of work that is overwhelming. I’ve had this happen to me time and time again, and fortunately there are a few things that I have learned to do in order to overcome the avalanche of work:

1) Get Organized

It helps me to write what I have to do down on a piece of scrap paper and scratch them off one by one as I accomplish them. This helps me feel like I am making progress.

2) Divide work Into Digestible Chunks

Divide your tasks into digestible chunks of about 4 hours of work at a time.

3) Take A Real Break

Make sure to do something totally different during your break. Exercise, play video games or go shopping. Give your mind a break.

4) Don’t Do The Hardest Things First, Or Last.

Don’t start out with the hardest thing you have to do, but don’t save it for the end, either. I like to put my toughest tasks in the middle of my list so that I feel like I’ve got momentum as I get to them.

5) Sketch It Out

It always helps me to sketch concepts quickly. This allows you to think through your design and gives you a plan of attack.

6) Set Boundaries and Communicate Those Boundaries

It’s unreasonable for clients to expect you to work 24/7. Give them realistic timelines. If you can not meet the timeline, as yourself, is it really worth it? Make sure your clients know that it’s not OK to contact you during your personal time.

7) Is That Meeting Necessary?

Sometimes people like to have meetings about meetings. Do you really need to have that meeting, or can it be handled in an email, via Slack or group chat, or short telephone call?

8) Say No

It’s liberating to say no. Sometimes you have to. If you take on too much, then all of your work, and personal life, will suffer. Only commit to what you have to.

9) Eliminate Distractions

Sometimes disconnecting from the internet is a good thing. Turn off your phone. Don’t check your emails. You’ll find that you will get more done without any distractions.

10) Set Goals

Once you have your list of things to realistically do, set goals to get them done and reward yourself when you get them accomplished. After all, you just climbed a mountain.

The key is just to not freak out. You can’t stop time. You can’t slow down time. You are one person and you can only do so much. As long as you have a plan, you will get through it and be ready for the next tidal wave.