As a freelance designer, one of the greatest advantages you have is to be able to set your own hours. The downside to this, of course, is that you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder to make sure you stay busy and productive during working time. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to get sidetracked by distractions and procrastinate much of the day away without getting anything really done.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to boost your productivity while working independently.
Have a morning routine
It’s easy to get a slow start on work in the morning if you don’t create some sort of routine for yourself that gets you in a productive frame of mind. Taking care of your body is also important, because the body and mind are connected. My personal routine is as follows:
- Get up no later than 7am
- Drink a glass of water
- Do about 20 minutes of stretching, and simple strength exercises such as push-ups, squats, and leg lifts
- Take a fresh wheatgrass shot (you need a special juicer for this).
- Breakfast of muesli, yogurt, and fresh fruit
- Prepare a pot of genmaicha grean tea to sip while starting work.
Everything in my morning routine has a purpose. Seven is the latest I want to get up, but if I wake up naturally earlier than that I just go with the flow. A glass of room-temperature water first thing in the morning is important for helping your body to flush out anything it doesn’t need and also to keep you hydrated. When you sleep you lose quite a bit of water through evaporation as you breathe. Exercise gets your blood flowing, keeps your muscles toned, and helps prevent you from getting sore as you work. A shower freshens you up, and a shot of wheatgrass contains tons of nutritional benefits that give your body a (gentle) turbo-charge first thing in the morning. A balanced breakfast that includes carbs gives you plenty of energy for both your body and brain to use, and green tea is healthier for you than coffee, but still gives your mind a little sharp boost.
Work distraction free
The worst thing you can do when you settle in to begin working is to have a bunch of distractions going on all around you. I recommend doing the following:
- Don’t check your email before noon
- Don’t have Facebook, Twitter or other social media open in any browser tabs
- Don’t work in a room that contains a TV
- Only listen to instrumental music while working. Music with lyrics is easily distracting.
- Don’t keep any pets and don’t work from home if you have young kids
When it’s time to work, focus
Focus single-pointedly on your work for a couple segments of the day. In my case, I usually like to work hard from about 8am-noon. Then I’ll take my time eating lunch, and I’ll often relax for a couple hours in the afternoon. Then I’ll work hard again in the late afternoon for a couple hours from about 3-5pm. with this schedule, I’m only working about 6 hours per day, but I tend to get as much done, if not more, than most people who spend a full 8-9 hours at an office. I also feel way more rested at the same time. People who try to work the whole day straight with no real break in the middle tend to burn out and lack productivity in the afternoon, at least that’s been my experience.
I also think it’s very important to take days off. As a freelancer, I could work any days (or not work any days) that I want to. You may think that if you work every single day you’ll get more done, but this isn’t really true. It seems to me that taking off on the weekend helps you to recharge your battery so that when you go back to work you can attack the job at hand with more determination and focus.
I’m super excited to announce that the newly updated Zombie Pub Crawl. website has launched! I worked hard on this design and I’m really glad that it’s live (or undead as one might say) because it’s not too often that I get to work on a decent halloween-type site.
Haven’t heard of the Zombie Pub Crawl? Read on..
The Zombie Pub Crawl originated in Minneapolis, MN back in 2004. A hundred and fifty people dressed up as zombies and paraded on a very animated pub crawl through the streets of Minneapolis, drinking at a slew of bars along the north east side of town. ZPC II yielded an even better turnout: 300 zombies. That was the first year I attended, and I was hooked! Can you imagine 300 zombies walking down your street mid-afternoon on a crispy autumn day? Yikes!
What if there’s more? Last year’s ZPC III: Bride of the Zombie Pub Crawl brought together over 600 zombies! It surely was a sight, and although the event was moved from the NE side of Minneapolis to the West Bank, we still had a blast and there was plenty of room for us all.
It was hilarious to interact with people at the bars and on the sidewalks who weren’t dressed up as gory zombies. Oddly enough a lot of those people seemed interested in finding out how they could participate this year. With an estimated 600+ zombies this year, it could be the biggest year yet. How can you partake in the festivities? Here are a FAQ from the website:
Wear anything you want to, just not something you mind getting blood* on!!! Let’s face it — zombies are not clean people. There’s a good chance you might get covered in blood or, if you’re lucky, brains.
About 1.5 miles. We will be walking like zombies, so it will take longer to get from one bar to the next. Also, you may need to stop to feast on human brains.
That’s a really, really good idea
I was having a problem with the Mail app on my Macbook Pro. The problem was that Mail wasn’t working at all, and I had to force quit every time I opened it. When the app would launch, the viewer window wouldn’t launch with it. I knew all of my information was correct with my SMTP setup, as it was showing I had a strong connection to my account, so I knew it had to be something with the install.
After checking thoroughly on the internet, I called up Apple support and found out that there is a bug with the newest version of Leopard (10.5.6) for anyone upgrading from Tiger. What happens is that the Mail program installs incorrectly for some reason, so here’s what you have to do if you’re having the same problem:
Close all running applications, then go into your ~User/Library/Mail/ directory and move everything with a white paper icon temporarily to your desktop, leaving all files with folder icons in the directory. Restart your computer and then open Mail and you should be at the “Import Your Messages” screen. Go through this section and when you’re done Mail should open up and be working.
Update: Once you can confirm that Mail is working and you are able to send and receive messages, you can delete the white paper icons from your computer.
I’m not a support guy, but this trick worked like a charm for me. It was so simple that I’m surprised that Apple doesn’t say anything about it on their support site, especially since they know about it. Also, I’d like to just put a disclaimer out to everyone to use at your own risk, this is a trick that worked for me and I can’t be held responsible for anything that might happen if you try it yourself (though I’m sure there isn’t really a risk at all…).
It’s stressful to have computers that aren’t running correctly when you have so much work to do, so I’m really thankful that after 2 weeks of torture things seem to be on the up and up. Hopefully I won’t have to worry about another hard drive crash any time soon, but if it happens I know that I’ve got a Time Machine on my side.
So ends the saga “Mac Issues”, at least I hope.
I went to Best Buy and picked up a Pioneer 20x Internal Double-Layer DVD±RW/CD-RW Drive after reading recommendations for a similar model as being compatible with a G4. I was running out of steam at this point, but I made time to install the drive and plugged everything back in.
The install went smooth, initially. After my computer was back up and running, I went to test the drive to see if it was working, afraid it might not be and that I may be facing a bigger issue. Upon hitting the Eject button, I heard a sound but the tray wouldn’t come out. I pushed Eject again. Nothing. It was then that I realized that the sound I was hearing was actually the drive tray trying to come out, but it was being blocked by the rounded edges of the drive slot on the case of my G4. Okay, so how was I going to fix that issue? If the tray of the optical drive was too large to come through, I would either have to modify it or drive all the way back to the store and pick a different drive. All the way back. 3 whole miles. What did I do? I modded it, of course.
I found a page that spoke about removing the lip of the tray on the drive so that the tray would fit through the drive door on the G4, so I thought I would try that. At that point in the day I was getting so frustrated that I no longer cared about the warranty of the drive, or the fact that if I ruined it I would be out sixty bucks. I was desperate for a solution, and I was going to figure it out no matter the cost.
For about half an hour I cautiously examined the drive, trying to find ways to remove the tray’s lip without breaking the drive or causing any damage to it. After that half hour I decided to have some fun, so I stuck my flathead screwdriver in and under the lip of the tray and tore it out. I was impressed when I finished the install and booted up to find that the optical drive worked perfectly, and I continued installing software that I had lost in my hard drive crash.
I know that there are a few people out there who are still trying to figure out how to do this the dainty way, and I’m just posting about this so those people know not to be afraid. Bust that lip off and move on with your life.
I recently purchased Max OS X Leopard for both of my Macs, I have a G4 PowerMac and a Macbook Pro. A couple of weeks back, one of the hard drives in my G4 PowerMac crashed, but luckily I was able to recover the data using DiskWarrior, which was amazing.
Needless to say, I was scared of losing some of my valuable files and information.
After running for eight days straight, DiskWarrior allowed me to pull all of my info from the crashed hard drive and then I buried the thing in the backyard. R.I.P.
My first thought after all of this happened was that I should have been using Leopard’s Time Machine feature to constantly back up my files, so I went down to the Apple store and grabbed a Family Pack to put on my machines. I also grabbed a 1TB FreeAgent XTreme from Best Buy, which has a Firewire 400 port and is pretty rad.
I got home and set everything up, installed Leopard on both machines, and all was good in the world. Or so I thought.
Although most everything went well with the update, I soon realized there were a couple of things that were very wrong, one on each computer. I noticed the error on my G4 first, as I was trying to reinstall all of my applications to get back up and running. The problem is that my disc drive wasn’t mounting any discs that I was putting in, so after much searching online and many tests and upgrades of firmware I realized that the poor thing was probably shot from running DiskWarrior for 8 days as well as installing the new OS X.
I needed to get up and running as soon as I could and I didn’t have the car at home that day (wife had it). So, what other options did I have? I did some searching on the net and found something that saved my sanity that day: Macworld’s article on how to borrow an optical drive from another Mac using a Firewire cable. Using this method, I was able to install my entire system again using my MacBook Pro’s optical drive as the source of the install. This was especially helpful in helping me get my Adobe Creative Suite back up and running, because by golly I had work to do!
Networking. We’ve all heard about how great of an asset it can be to any graphic designer or web developer, but just how good is networking for your career and how can you develop a strong network of your own? I’ll try to answer these questions by sharing my experiences with networking as a graphic designer.
When I first started working on freelance projects about four years ago, I knew that in order to be profitable and have a strong client base I would need to network to get it. The question at the time was where to start. How can one build a network of clients when you don’t know where to find them? Are you going to cold call offices in search of potential ties? Unlikely. At the time I was just about to graduate college and I had no idea where to go to meet potential clients, so this was a dilemma. That is, until one day when I realized that by simply telling everyone I knew that I was looking work those doors would open on their own.
Sounds easy, right? Actually, it was easier than I ever thought it could be. Don’t get me wrong, my rolodex didn’t fill up overnight, but by planting that seed in all of my friends, family, and especially people I was meeting for the first time I was able to secure work on projects that I would have never thought to pursue otherwise. Get this: my first full-on design project right before graduation was to build a site for California-based Specialty Foods, and the best part was the payment. How much would you charge for your first full-Flash site? My payment for that first project was $200 and a case of frozen burritos delivered to my door. Not bad for a college student who loves Mexican food, but it wasn’t going to pay the rent.
With a professional site to display in my portfolio and a full belly I was set to pursue the next project. Turns out I secured a full-time job soon after that, but that didn’t stop me from networking. I made sure that everyone I met knew I worked on the side as a freelancer, and no one left my sight without a business card in their hand.
Eventually, my client list grew from one company to ten, then twenty. I could bet that at least 30% of those clients were referred by other clients that I had worked for in the past, and sometimes even those new clients would refer someone else to me. This is the biggest reason as to why networking is so important: producing great work for a satisfied client can lead to the opportunity to work on projects for many, many more clients.
It doesn’t stop there. Networking can play a very important role not only for freelance graphic designers or web developers, but for anyone in any career. How else can you climb that ladder to reach your career goals? By taking advantage of every opportunity to talk to someone about the work you do you just might be opening a new door for your career. Don’t expect people to know what you do, they’re not mind readers. You have to communicate to them, and you’ll get your return.
Below I’ve put together what I call my Checklist for Networking—the top 5 rules that I follow for my career.
- Communicate – open that door by opening your mouth. Tell people what you do and it can lead to a conversation you wouldn’t have expected otherwise. Give out those business cards, they’re not meant to be bookmarks in your Stephan King novels.
- Be honest – keep the relationship genuine. Trust plays a huge factor in networking. If you’re only there for the money, it’s not going to click for you. By loving what you do and by relaying that to people you are setting up a genuine relationship with that person.
- Set yourself apart – show why your skills should be valued. You need to be able to communicate what you have to offer, and be able to follow up by showing that you’re not just talk.
- Follow through – if you get a referral or are contacted make sure you get the ball rolling. Don’t wait a week or even a few days to respond to someone when they contact you about work. No matter your workload, take the time to converse with people and you’ll be rewarded.
- Keep in touch – by keeping constant communication open with someone, they’ll remember you. You don’t need to call a client every day, but by keeping in communications with your clients you’ll remind them that you’re there. You’ll be surprised how often they can turn to you for advice on things in their business or even refer you to someone they know.
I’m pretty excited for the guys over at LemonStand because they’ve opened their product up for it’s Beta launch. LemonStand is a new e-commerce solution that employs the use of AJAX and PHP in a great package with a powerful CMS. I’ve been alpha testing since early November and I’m very impressed with the possibilities that LemonStand will provide for a new generation of e-commerce sites. Here’s a list of some of the features of LemonStand:
- 100% Customizable
- Powerful CMS included
- Easy to Use
- Self Hosted, PHP/MySQL
- Safe & Secure
- Extensible, Modular Architecture
I first heard about LemonStand back in the spring of 2009. I was actively searching for a new shopping cart system to replace the Zen Cart system that I currently employ on my shirt site. I came across LemonStand and was immediately impressed with their attention to detail on the design of their site. I bookmarked them and got sidetracked for a bit…
…Later in the fall, I resumed my search for a new shopping cart system. LemonStand came to mind, and I started following them on Twitter and Facebook. I was waiting for the Beta, but as the weeks went on I started to get impatient so I sent them an email asking when the Beta would be available to the public. Because the guys over at LemonStand are so nice, they told me that they would put me on a list of possible alpha testers due to my interest in the product.
Needless to say, I was pretty darn excited. Within a few weeks they had opened the product up to the alpha group for testing. I jumped on the opportunity and contributed as much as I could over the last few months, sharing my ideas on the workings of the product. The result of this experience is fantastic, not only did I get the chance to get a step ahead on using LemonStand, but I felt that my contributions were helpful in shaping some of the functionality of LemonStand.
Today marks the first day in what I believe will be many great days to come for the LemonStand brand. They have a strong product, a great design, and they’re overall fantastic to work with.