Cameron Chapman July 1st, 2010

Get More Done: 10 Tips for a More Productive Web Design Process

I'm sure most web designers would love to get more done in a given day. Those that don't probably wish they could get the work they do have done faster, giving them more free time. The good news is that you can do both: shorten your work day and get more done. There are hundreds of articles out there that talk about how to be more productive. Most offer the same kinds of advice: cut distractions, stop procrastinating, and stick to a regular schedule. But those things alone won't make your more productive (and they're all harder than they sound). The tips below, however, will make you more productive.

1. Cut Your Hours

A lot of times, when people feel like they need to get more done, they extend the number of hours they work. And while this seems logical, it often works against you. If you really want to increase your productivity and the amount of work you get done in a day, decrease the number of hours you work. If you commonly work an eight hour day, cut it to four or five hours. If you normally work ten or twelve hours, try working for only six or eight instead. Give yourself a set start and end time and stick to it. If you know you have a deadline looming, you'll be more efficient. You'll stop surfing news sites or checking the stock market (or Facebook and Twitter). You might opt to work right through lunch rather than going out to eat. But that's okay, since you'll have an extra three to five hours at the end of the day in which to relax. Cutting your hours takes some discipline at first. The first couple of days, you might not get everything done. Resist the urge to keep working. If you do get everything done, you might get the urge to just keep working, since you've got time left in the day. Resist that urge, too. Once you're at the point where you're consistently working shorter, more productive days, then you can occasionally stay a bit longer to finish things up. Until that point, stick to your reduced-hour schedule.

2. Turn Off Your Computer

Computers are the primary tool of designers and developers. Without our computers, we couldn't finish (or sometimes even start) our work. So it seems counter-intuitive to turn off your computer to get more done. When you're in the early stages of a project, you often spend a lot of time gathering materials and finding inspiration. But there are so many possible sources of inspiration online that it can work against you. Instead, turn off your computer and pick up a pen and paper. Brainstorm about possibilities. Create mind-maps. Beyond that, go outside and look for some inspiration. Or pick up a book or magazine (better yet: go to your local library or bookstore and peruse the stacks there). Find things to inspire and motivate you offline. In many cases, you can come up with a more directed vision for the project if you get rid of distractions.

3. Let Your Designs Sit for Awhile

This is advice often given to writers. When you finish a first draft of something, put it aside before you go on to editing and revising. The same applies to design. Once you have your design figured out, set it aside for a bit before you start coding. This serves a two-fold purpose. First of all, when you've just finished a design, of course you think it's wonderful. You might think it's the best design you've ever done. You might even think it's the best design anyone's ever done. You might be right, but chances are, it could be better. By putting it aside for a few days or a week, you can come back to it with more objective eyes. You may see places where you want to tweak the design. While this does lengthen your design process a bit, it also can result in much better finished products. The other reason you want to step back is that it can often give you insight into any issues you might have had with the design. Maybe you weren't crazy about how one client problem or another was solved. If you step back, you can often come up with better solutions than those that originally presented themselves.

4. Work When You're Most Productive

There are certain times during the day when some people are more productive than others. For many people, first thing in the morning is their most productive time of day. For others, it might be after lunch, or in the evening, or even at three in the morning. Try working at different times of the day and see when you're most productive. Just because standard business hours are 9 to 5 doesn't mean that's when you have to work. Even if you're not a freelancer, you may be able to adjust your workday to better accommodate your naturally productive times (just talk to your boss about it, making sure to cite that you get way more done at a certain time of day).

5. Always Be Ready for Inspiration

One of the biggest hindrances to productivity is not having the right ideas at the right time. We know there's a solution to whatever problem is ailing us, but we just can't seem to find it. Then it hits us when we're out at the post office, or sitting down to dinner at a restaurant, or otherwise unable to actually do anything with that sudden breakthrough. This is why it's vital that you always have something available to record these bits of inspiration and out-of-the-blue ideas. Most designers probably have a smart phone, so make sure you download an app or two that will let you either make voice recordings or sketch ideas or take notes. Alternatively, carry a small notebook and pen with you wherever you go. Something like the squared Moleskine pocket-size notebooks are perfect (the pages are graph paper, so they're perfect for everything from writing to mind-mapping to wireframing).

6. Standardize Your Process

Having a standardized process for your website projects can make a huge difference in your productivity. Figure out the steps you normally take when designing a site (everything from fact-finding to wireframing to coding and everything in between) and write them down. Then, whenever you have a new project, pull out your list of normal steps and make a schedule based on them. If you have to, just keep track of everything you do for one or two projects. There are almost always things that come up unexpectedly, but for the most part, many web design projects resemble each other quite closely, at least as far as the process goes. Another hint here is to batch process items. While designs aren't necessarily conducive to batch processing, other aspects of your business might be. Dealing with email is one of the most obvious. Instead of dealing with email as it comes in, check your email only a couple times a day and deal with it all at once. Same goes for preparing proposals, invoices, or other paperwork-related tasks. Often, these things can be done during your non-peak productive hours, as they often don't require as much creativity and thought as actual design tasks.

7. Use Music as a Tool

Music can be a great motivator if you use it properly. Fitting the music you're listening to to your project is a great way to stay on focus and really capture the mood of the project. You can also listen to music that increases your energy levels and gets you pumped up. Fast-paced music can often make you work faster without even realizing it. Your body's natural rhythm will adjust itself to your surroundings. Surround yourself with upbeat, high-energy sounds, and you'll be more upbeat and high-energy, and therefore more productive. Remember that the opposite is also true. If you're listening to something that's slow or melancholy, you're likely to see your productivity levels drop. Save music like that for after work.

8. Choose Better Projects

Many designers don't have to take every job that comes their way. This allows you to pick and choose which projects you want to work on. Rather than focusing solely on the most profitable projects, make sure you're choosing some that you really want to work on. If you're enjoying the site you're working on, you're more likely to get it done faster. You won't dread starting work in the morning, and you won't drag your feet as the project progresses. Some people feel like if you hate a project, you'll be more motivated to get it over with, but that's rarely the case in practice. Enthusiasm breeds a lot more productivity than dread does. If you love what you're doing, you'll put that much more energy into it. If you hate what you're working on, you'll find all sorts of ways to procrastinate. And procrastination is the enemy of productivity. So if you find yourself putting off projects, try to figure out if there's a way you can hand them off to someone else, so you can get back to the projects you're enjoying. Even if that means outsourcing part of a project.

9. Get Help if You Need It

Sometimes you're going to get stuck on projects. This might be because you just don't have the necessary skills, or because you've lost motivation and developed a mental block. In either case, you need to know when it's time to call in outside help. Outside help doesn't necessarily mean you need to outsource to some faceless company. You probably have friends who are designers or developers who might want to pick up the extra work. Give some of them a call and see if they'd be willing to be a sub-contractor for that particular project. Even if it's a friend, make sure you get everything in writing, including how and when they'll be paid. Consider doing this on a regular basis, too. Maybe you hate scripting, or converting your designs to HTML, or whatever. Find someone who enjoys that work (and is good at it) and make arrangements to outsource that work to them on a regular basis. It'll result in better designs, and you'll be less likely to procrastinate or get burned out.

10. Make an Effort to Keep Your Stress Levels Low

Stress is one of the biggest hindrances to productivity and creativity out there. When you're stressed, whether it's because of work or life, you'll have a harder time finishing projects in a productive and efficient manner. Plus, high stress levels are very unhealthy and can lead to getting sick more often. And if you're out of work sick, you're certainly not being productive. There are some simple things you can do that will lower your stress levels, even if you don't remove the things that are stressing you out. Eating healthy and exercising are the two biggest ones. Skip the double-quarter-pounder with cheese and bring a bag lunch instead. Take a walk on your lunch break or when you get up in the morning, even if it's just for fifteen minutes. Doing these things will help reduce your stress levels regardless of the things causing you stress. Another great stress-reliever is a good hobby. Find something you enjoy doing and that relaxes you, and make time for it in your schedule. This could be anything from playing chess to reading a good book to paragliding. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it's something you enjoy and something that makes you feel better.


Getting more done doesn't have to lead to longer hours. All you need to do is maximize your productivity and efficiency in the time you want to spend working. The tips above can help you do just that. If you have other tips you'd like to share, please do so in the comments!

Further Resources

Cameron Chapman

Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with many years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of Internet Famous: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Online Celebrity.


  1. It’s interesting that you mention to try and shorten your days rather than work longer hours to get things done. I know when there is a big deadline looming, even taking a 5 min break seems like too long and you are soon rushing back to try get everything done. *stress*

    However, having said that and coupled with your point on spending a bit of time each day on good stress busters, I think I’m going to try out the shorter hour work day! :)

    Keep up the great articles!

  2. Great post. I find that playing music while I work is very helpful.

    I also really like #8, it’s nice to be able to pick the projects that make the most sense. I find people do better work if they are on a project that they like.

  3. Useful tips. I always try remember these tips to stay productive, because is very easy lost yourself in this wonderful world of internet.

  4. Very interesting and thought provoking article.

    Epic choice of picture for the last tip. That would certainly keep my stress levels down…and motivate me

  5. Working to music helps me anyway. I find listening to different bands works even better as it keeps the process fresh.

  6. I disagree slightly with the music thing. Slow music doesn’t necessarily make me move slower. Certain types of music will put me in certain types of moods. Those moods can help influence a design, so there are definitely times when I’ll use slow music to help enhance the design I’m working on.

  7. Great post! I think freelance designers need to focus less on profit-based business and more on meaningful solutions for clients. Its really not that hard for someone to declare themselves a ‘designer’ these days. Inexperienced, aesthetically-challenged, ‘green’ designers get into the field for the wrong reason…they see easy money. It’s the ‘I know Photoshop’ designer.
    Focusing less on profit means life-altering sacrifices that most profit-based freelancers aren’t willing to make. It’s a divide that will set you apart, if you care about your craft then it will show. Consider trying to reduce your overhead so you can make more sound decisions, and not take work out of desperation. In the end, you’ll be happier, your work will be better, and most importantly, your clients won’t be able to live without you.

  8. great points!

    i definitely agree with cutting your hours for more productivity and am literally in the process of making that change for myself right now. in the past, i surprisingly found that i was SO much more productive when i had a lot going on and had more limited time to do all the things i wanted to do. when i had limited time for something, i learned to get that task done in that limited time! ‘self-deadlines’ i guess. i think this could probably be a good practice for life in general, not only freelancing.

    i have also begun to let my designs sit a while after creation. this has been incredibly helpful actually because not only has this helped me catch any minor mistakes/rough edges i may have originally looked over, but it also helps me to come back to the design with a fresher perspective to review/analyze it again.

    music, music, music. definitely my ultimate muse in life as it helps set my mind and get a good workflow going. i have a few itunes playlists of various styles set up specifically for different work modes/types of projects, and it really helps me to be more productive!

    great article – thank you!

  9. Good article, I definitely like the 10th tip associated with that picture. Sometimes, girls are an awesome de-stress method! :D

  10. The point about getting out and finding help with problems is a very important one- as its easy to lock yourself away with a mac and google and think you can conquer the world. Grant

  11. Great advice, the first tip on cramming your daily work hours works like a charm for me. When I know I only have 3-4 hours to do all my tasks, I get down to business.

  12. Great post Cameron (and some wonderful images too). Managing client communication expectations is something I find difficult. They often expect a quick response to their email/phone call/text! Any ideas for managing the impact of the urgent/unimportant whilst getting the urgent/important and the non-urgent/important things done?

  13. Oh, I love all these “10-tips-to-do-something-better/faster/smarter”! Tips are always simple and there’s nothing new in’em, but they REALLY help organising all that mess in my head, life and laptop.

  14. Very helpful, I agree with the point about hours. I think the over-lying issue is your self-disipline which I struggle with all the time!

    Too bad I am not yet at a level where I can sift out the ‘bad’ projects… taking all comers at this point :)

  15. I find I am most productive when I kill myself because I’m in an industry I can no longer stand but have no other skills.

  16. This is actually one of the better reports involving people who We’ve stay with me this issue as of late. Good deliver the results.

  17. This is indeed a useful post and people, who are engaged with web designing must go through this article. I am sure that they will like it.

  18. I love working through the night, especially 3am when I have my most creative period and some great ideas for my business.

  19. Hello Cameron and everyone,

    I am a regular developer in a company. I really wold love to try out freelancing but am afraid to do so because I don’t have any idea where to look for projects that are real and high paying as my current office job. The reason I want to is because our company has so many politics in it.
    Hope you could show me where to start.


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