Everybody is crazy about outsourcing and working remote. Luckily for many freelance graphic designers, you have the luxury of your work already being remote, and you work from home, Starbucks, or wherever. Others work in 9 to 5 design studio environments, or corporate in-house design environments. And many of you reading this aren’t designers, and perhaps you work a regular career 9-5 job sitting at a computer. Either way, if you can become more effective at what you do, then you become more valuable, and thus have the opportunity to make more money, becoming harder to fire. So whether you work from home, a big office building, or a small studio space, here are 8 of the best tips I’ve picked up along the way that have enabled me to achieve super-human productivity.
#1. Separate your work area from your living area.
If you work where you sleep, your work day never ends. Separating your work area from your living area creates a necessary mental barrier for peace of mind. If you go to bed at night and your laptop is sitting 2 feet away you’ll be tempted to pick it up and finish the last bit of that project or send out one more email. Create some form of home office or work space and work until a certain time of day: 6 o clock, 7 o clock, then leave that space, close the door, revert to your personal or family life, then return to the work re-energized, creative, and ready to complete tasks.
This still applies to those of you who work 9-5’s, when you have to go into an office building. You already have the separation. You already have a place to escape from, and a place to escape to. The reason why I include you is because maybe you have secret plans to quit and start something from home, or maybe your career goal is to keep your job while negotiating a remote work agreement, or maybe you just want to work on side projects from home in your spare time. Keep this in mind for the future.
#2. Set Goals
Just like ANY area in life, set goals for working from home. This is huge, setting goals helps you create an end point, a bar to reach. One key is to make them small, daily goals. Make them realistic things that you feel you’ll be able to achieve. Make a list of the most important things you need done and by when. Be specific, include as much detail as you can.
Wearing headphones is similar to #1, (separating your living area from your work area). It’s an extra barrier to cut you off from distractions and interruptions. Everyone’s concentration habits are different, I can’t concentrate on analytical thought like reading and writing important emails from clients and customers while I’m listening to music. But on the other hand, music actually helps me get rolling and working when its strictly visual design work. Either way, I can either have music on or off, but leave the headphones on. Get some that are comfortable enough to leave on for hours on end without hurting your head, and get some that will cancel out any surrounding racket. I recommend these:
The Bose QuietComfort® 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones. They’re expensive, but way worth it. Just like in real estate, you get what you pay for. Go in to your separated working space, put on your headphones and get down to it.
jumping back to #2, each night, make a daily list for the next day -Always Plan at night or late evening for the next day, this way you’ll get the stuff out of your head and be able to be free for the evening and have peace of mind, also, you’ll be able to wake up the next morning with a set game plan for the day, ready to go, ready to rock. Remember, If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. Back to priorities now though, put the most important stuff at the top of the list, and cross off each item as you get them finished. Crossing the stuff off does something psychologically, I’m not sure what it is, but it seems like the act of actually scribbling out or crossing off the task on the list really gives you a strong sense of satisfaction or completion.
#5. If distractions become too great, or if you can’t come up with anything creative, get out and go for a walk!
I got this one from an apple instructional video actually. I love those by the way, they are always so peaceful and simple, they seem like they’re from some future-utopian world in which all wars have ended and mankind has been able to peacefully focus on progression and innovation. The actors in them are always dressed in black and seem like they have their personal lives totally in order and harmony, “Hi, I’m Greg, and I work at one of our Apple retail stores”. Anyways, I was installing leopard on my machine a while back and Greg goes, “This should take a little while to install, so while you wait, go outside for a short walk.” It sounded beautiful, I so I went outside and went for a 5 minute walk and cleared my head. When I came back I was able to think more clearly and complete tasks for my clients more effectively and quickly.
#6. Keep your workspace clutter-Free.
Get everything off your desk right now. Then put the stuff back on your desk that you absolutely NEED. Clutter on your desk gunks-up your brain, please believe. If you have excess papers and notes and pens and stuff all over your desk it creates a subconscious feeling of more things to do and get done, thus clogging and slowing your real tasks on your to-do list for the day. This also applies to your desktop-background on your computer screen, get all the floating junk out of the way so you can get the important stuff done.
#7. Lights and Plants
Keep your work area well-lit. If you have a window, open it up and get that natural sunlight in, it’s clinically proven to be good for your brain. If you don’t have a window, surround your space with more lamps, bulbs, even candles, (be safe). Let the light in! It will help your mood and give you positive affirmations of hope and energy. Plants – I’m not talking like one little lousy desk plant… that won’t do anything. FILL your space with plants, you can big plants cheap from Ikea, Lowes, or Home Depot. Dare you turn your workspace into a greenhouse? Yes! being around plants is also clinically proven to be good for your brain. They eat up your carbon dioxide, they absorb other harmful toxins from your air and process them, and they fill your place with delicious and pure oxygen. The plants and light go together hand in hand. Ideally, your workspace should feel like this:
But to recreate this feeling inside, since you work inside, you’ll need to fill it with life and light in a practical way like this:
#8. Keep a bar of dark chocolate on hand at all times.
Coffee is so 1981, and Energy Drinks are so 2003. Your brain needs fuel to be more effective and get things done, but don’t jam up your system with stimulants that wear off quickly anyways and leave your heart and nervous system permanently jacked up. Sure, dark chocolate is sort of an acquired taste, but it’s a sophisticated taste, and you’re sophisticated. I think as people get older their taste buds and palate develop, and people become more open to the bitter-sweet combo. Dark chocolate is also loaded with anti-oxidants, which fight the cancer causing free radicals in your body. Don’t go overboard, but I think one bar per day is ok. Get one that breaks off into preset pieces, then you can leave the bar at the edge of your desk and break one off every so often. Hershey’s special dark and Dove dark are divided into mini-breakoffs already. (I’m eating Dove dark as I write this)
I’m still exploring the world of fine dark chocolates, (and maybe some of you can recommend your favorites via comments), but from what I’ve found so far, my favorite is Lindt 99% Cacao dark. It’s pretty gnarley, rich in actual cocoa, and expensive, but like the bose headphones, very worth it. Check it out:
Follow these principles and you’ll be able to work better than ever. Here’s the 3 part documentary on what many consider to be one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s best creations, The Johnson Wax building, in Racine, Wisconsin. Maybe you can take some inspiration from his work in recreating and redesigning your own workspace, or your home office. I get a very peaceful energy when I watch these. I love Frank Lloyd wright.