How to organise your design work to deliver on time

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If you work freelance or run a design business, you’ll know it’s critical to deliver a design job on time to maintain a good reputation. When you get busy and are juggling multiple design jobs it’s important to organise and manage each job carefully. This not only ensures you deliver the job on time but also makes the whole process a lot less stressful.

Find out fixed deadlines from the client

Before committing yourself to any deadlines work through the job backwards to allocate time. For instance, work out how long the job will take to be printed, and the time needed for photography or other external services. Try and get a commitment from the client when they will provide all the other material you need, such as the text for the project. You can then work out the time you will require, building in some time for amendments and client approvals. It’s even more important that you keep a tight schedule when there is a fixed deadline like an exhibition that your design work has to be finished for.

Build in a buffer of extra time where possible

If you can, build in a buffer of extra time, just in case something doesn’t go to plan. It’s rare, but files do occasionally go corrupt or client amends take longer than anticipated. It’s better to allow a little longer to do a job and then impress a client when you’re early, rather than the other way round.

Book the job in using a job numbering system

Use a booking in system for each job that comes in. It may sound obvious, but I have known freelance designer’s who don’t do this. My system is to have a physical job book. In my case, this is an A4 hardback notebook which I manually split into columns using a ruler. The first column is the date, then my own job number, then the client name, then the job description where I will also jot down the value of the job. At the end, I will have a column for an invoice date. This means I can easily check to see if I have billed a job or not yet. If you’d rather have something which looks a little more formal you could design and print your own job books digitally. Of course, if you prefer to do this digitally, you could use a spreadsheet, or you may be able to find an app to do something similar.

Scheduling and to do lists

Once you’ve booked the job in and know the deadlines, you need to schedule the project in to fit around any other work you have. There are lots of different ways to do this, from pen and paper to apps. When I first started freelancing I simply used to type and print a list which showed all my jobs at the top. Then under each day of the week, I would type which job I would work on. If a new job came in, I would scribble it on the paper. The following day, I would amend my typed list, adding the new job and deleting the ones I’d competed. It sounds a little antiquated now, but it worked well and in some ways, I like the immediacy of it.

Since then I have used a couple of different apps. The first was “Things” (Mac and Ios), which I recommend, but it’s a little pricey if you want to use it on both desktop and mobile. I have now switched to Todoist (Mac, PC, Ios, Android, Browser), which is similar to use, and has both free and premium versions depending on your requirements. It also has the benefit that if you are collaborating on projects you can allocate someone else tasks within the app as long as they also have Todoist.

Todoist also lets you break down projects into smaller tasks, and schedule repeating tasks which is useful if you have recurring projects. With premium version, you can also set reminders which go to your phone or email, very useful for keeping on top of projects.

Do any upfront work you can

If time is tight on a job, do as much preparation work prior to receiving all the elements. For example, you could get the style of the document approved using Lorem ipsum before the approved text is ready? You could also put together an inspiration board and source possible stock photography or illustration styles prior to receiving all the resources from your client.

Give your client deadlines

If you are working to very tight deadlines, you might want to put in writing to your client when you need to receive everything from them in order to be able to deliver on time. This doesn’t have to be anything too formal, just a simple email stating a cut off time. While it’s possible to put extra out of hours time in when it’s really needed, it’s not ideal.

Get extra help if you need it

If you are concerned about the amount of work that you have to complete in a short amount of time consider finding help. For example, if there are a lot of Photoshop cutouts to do, perhaps you could outsource them, while you are working on the concepts. Another option would be to share the work with a designer friend you trust.

Maintain communications with the client

It goes without saying, but it’s really important to maintain communication with your client. If you are expecting files to arrive and they don’t, chase them up quickly. Emails can go astray or end up in a junk mail folder, so it’s better to check than just assume they’re late. If they are just running late it’s also worthwhile reminding them of any critical timing for print etc. Your client may be working on lots of projects at one time and so the deadline for your project may not be at the top of their mind as it is for you.

Use reliable suppliers (for example printers) and build in extra time

If you have a tight deadline, use a printer and other suppliers that you know are reliable and will deliver on time. if you don’t usually do that type of work ask around for recommendations and check reviews online. Some online printers will also offer rush printing for an additional cost. If you can, build in a little extra time for any external services, where you don’t have complete control. Even if this means that you have a little less time for your own work.

I hope these tips help you ensure that your projects always get finished on time.

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