Six Practical Ways to Help you Maximize your Design Time – By Louise Mulgrew

I often hear the phrase ‘work-life balance’ brought up within the world of self-employed creatives. It seems to be something we all struggle with. For me though, I think of it more as a three-way split between life, business admin and creativity. I’m actually ok at scheduling in self-care (yoga, going for walks, reading, cuddling kittens, watching Game of Thrones etc) because when I don’t do it I can’t function but when it comes to ‘work’, it can all blur into one. If I don’t make clear distinctions between the creative side of the business and the administrative side, I end up feeling guilty and overwhelmed, not knowing which to prioritize and generally not getting either done. I’m still trying to figure out how to get the balance right and it tends to be the making that doesn’t get enough air-time.

I’m really lucky to have a lot of support on the admin-front, but I know lots of superstar one-woman-bands who cope with absolutely everything alone. The sweet spot is feeling like designing is a little break from paperwork and then paperwork is a little break from designing. Creating art, for me, takes up a lot of brain-energy and it isn’t always even good at the end of it, which just feels like a waste of time and is a bit disheartening. So, unless I have a very looming deadline, answering emails feels like the easier option. And of course, if you have a million bits and pieces to do that need doing by tomorrow, that feels more pressing than some vague point in 3 months’ time when you’re meant to be launching a new range.

So, here are six tips to help maximize the making-time: some that I’m good at doing already and a couple I need to get better at!

1. Work out what puts your brain in a relaxed space and make sure you do it.

This is when you’re at your most creative and thoughts and ideas will start buzzing around. For me, walking really clears my head, also in the time when I’m trying to get to sleep or during a strong yoga class. You shouldn’t ever feel that by taking this time that you aren’t working hard enough. Making something is a totally different process to filling in a spreadsheet and if going for a long seaside walk in the middle of the afternoon is what gets the creative juices flowing, then consider yourself lucky and embrace it.


2. Find your own Normal

And don’t compare your Normal to others. Every business is unique. Being self-employed allows you the freedom to organize your time in a way that not only is most productive but that also makes you happy. It’s a blessing and a curse and something a friend once referred to as being in ‘constant dissertation-mode’ as you only have yourself to answer to. But it is so important if you’re turning your passion into an income-stream so that you continue to love it and this means going to that life drawing class in the middle of the day or spending the day at the National History Museum or drawing in the park if that’s what inspires you. And then maybe you can set aside an hour a day at the end for replying to emails so that you know you’ve made time for them and you don’t need to feel guilty for taking time before that to be inspired. Whatever works for you, do that.


3. Organise your time.

Don’t just write a never-ending To Do List. Be specific about what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. This really helps to keep your days varied, it stops your worrying about when you’re going to get all the other stuff done because you’ve already factored it in and it holds you accountable. If you’re really sad, like me, you can also reflect back on how you’re spending your time and if you’re being efficient with it. I literally organize my day on a timeline by hour, in pencil, from 5 am – 8pm (factoring in all the good stuff too, walking, reading, yoga, lunch, second lunch, etc) I then write on top with how I actually spend my time as I go, work-stuff in black and life-stuff in a different colour. I know it sounds joyless and anal but it really works. I spend less time randomly scrolling through social media and answering emails which frees up more time for being creative. Equally, by factoring in all the downtime you need/want, you can actually enjoy that time, guilt-free. 


4. Set yourself 30-minute tasks.

My friend who is a clinical psychologist taught me this technique. It’s great for tasks you really don’t want to do but also those you know you’ll actually really enjoy but somehow you’re procrastinating over them. Set a timer for 30 minutes and then if you’re absolutely hating life, you can stop when the times up; but often, it’s just the starting that is the hardest part.


5. Say No to creative projects that do not enhance your brand or that does not inspire you.

Maybe not the best idea if you are at the very very start, both for financial reasons and building your portfolio. But once you’re a little further along, although it feels counter-productive, being picky about the projects you take on will make the time you spend designing more fun. For me, nothing squashes creativity like having a list of commissions that I don’t want to do. So spend your already-limited design time making what you enjoy, what will expand your own ranges and what is in-keeping with your brand.


6. Make something every day.

If you don’t design daily, you’ll lose momentum. I mentioned before that I schedule in reading each day because I love it but if I don’t read a little bit each day, a week will go by and I’ve not read a page, have completely forgotten what was happening and become irrationally resistant to carrying on with it. Drawing is the same. The longer I go, the bigger the drawing-fear becomes until I genuinely become quite anxious. Even just committing 10 minutes a day to drawing keeps me in the swing of it. The ideas come more easily, and I’m way more energized and excited by my brand than if the designing is a stilted, pressured, last-minute affair. It doesn’t even have to be brand-oriented work. You could take up a challenge like 100 days of drawing or Inktober to get the ball rolling and then work on your own products when the mood takes you!

Happy making!!!



Posted In: