Task & Time Management for Designers

As designers and creative folk, we tend to nurture the Right Brain i.e. the part of us that is random, intuitive, spontaneous, subjective and sees the big picture. We are conditioned to believe that this is what makes an artist vibrant, vivid and creative. Allow me to burst that bubble! I will cite the example of Haruki Murakami who is known to be among the world’s greatest living novelists. Murakami uses the discipline of running to instills discipline, routine and regulate his life. This ascribes to the ‘350-words-a-day-no-matter-what‘ system of writing by Graham Greene rather than Jack Kerouac’s fabled ‘wrote-it-on-a-roll-of-toilet-paper-while-drunk‘ methodology.

Balance

Most of us as artists and designers are used to using the Right Brain. It is the focus on the left brain that this article calls for. Note that we are not advocating shifting to the logical, rational, analytical and objective Left Brain approach but rather a holistic and well balanced Taoistic balance of the Yin and Yang forces in a creative creature’s life.

In order to be more holistic or ‘whole-brained‘, we need to give equal weightage to the arts, creativity, imagination and synthesis as well as analytical and rational skills such as time management. This article will be devoted to organizing and managing that most elusive of assets; Time!

Time Management: Just For Today

The first and only rule that you will be learning here is this: Simplify! Yes, that’s exactly what I have done by cutting a whole lesson in management which most students pursuing an MBA study over 3 years. Remember, it is a principle that one must learn to apply in one’s life, work and related processes. For starters, take your todo list which probably runs across many post-it notes, fridge magnets and whiteboards at your desk. Hack away the unessential and list down only those tasks that you must get done today, no matter what. List these non-negotiables in a single todo list ‘just for today‘. You may keep an overall todo list as a master list of all the things/projects that you must get done. But focus always on the ‘just for today‘ list. Keep that list small and manageable. Get it done, no matter what! And sometimes, things will come up that stop you from your ‘no matter what‘ mission. Perhaps, emergencies with a higher priority than your list. Don’t beat yourself up. Shit happens. Keep smiling :)

The Power of One

Simplify further by minimizing your task list to just one single task. The one task that has been the biggest block in your creativity. The one task that looms on the horizon like a mammoth sitting between you and your goal. We all come face to face with tasks like these that have in all probability grown from our own procrastinative tendencies. But forget analysing that for now. For example, in my case my room is a mess and navigating heaps of junk everytime I walk across the room does tend to kill my chutzpah. I like to think that I like keeping my room messy and that artists don’t organize and keep things in place. We are random creatures who thrive in chaos. However, more than a month in the midst of a pile of junk and one’s perspective starts to change rather rapidly. But by then, the task seems impossible! So here’s how I tackle that mountain and cut that task down to size.

  • Top of the Charts – Put the task on top of your ‘today‘ list.
  • Non-negotiable – Make that choice, even if you have to cut back elsewhere. Skip that lunch date or work just a little later.
  • Publicize – If you don’t like to let others down, tell your friends & co-workers that you intend to do this task today. This is bound to motivate you to get it done ‘no mater what‘.
  • Finish it – The End. Go the whole hog and don’t fall into the trap of starting many things and not finishing any of them. Start and finish.
  • Celebrate! – You did it. Now take a moment to bask in the glory of conquering the gargantuan task, savor that feel good moment and the memory will serve to inspire.

The 10 Minute Quickie

Don’t have time? Never underestimate what you can get done in a mere 10 minutes. Need a clue? Here are 10 things you can do in 10 minutes:

  • 10 emails – (KISS) Keep It Simple and Short. Not all email messages deserve a response and show no mercy.
  • 3 phone calls – Return a call, reach out to a colleague/friend, schedule that appointment or any of the many calls you have been putting off for months.
  • Bills – The bane of freelance designers world over. Yet in just a few minutes, you can pay your bills online and also feel good about saving the earth by not dealing with paper bills.
  • Chat a colleague – Re-connect with a team-mate, colleague, fellow designer or just about anyone you might not normally have a chance to chat with on a personal level.
  • Read 10 pages – At the doctor’s office or waiting for a flat tyre to be fixed? Carry a book or fire up that app on your tablet/smartphone.
  • Write – You will be surprised how much you can write in 10 minutes. Write a memo. Start a blog post. Whatever you need to get done.
  • Prepare – Tomorrow’s todo list? Get material together, research a topic or create a moodboard.
  • Reflect – Spend the few moments, reflecting on your day. What you have accomplished? What has made you happy today?
  • Face time – No, i’m not talking of Apple’s new software. Get real, delete the digital and go speak to someone face-to-face instead of text/IM/video chating.
  • Do Nothing – Don’t just waste 10 minutes surfing the net or checking the news. Do absolutely nothing. I’m serious! Sit down and just be. Let the world pass you by.

Tools

Start with the basics. Use a whiteboard and color markers or a plain post-it stuck on your computer display. Remember simplicity is key. Complex task management programs might just kill your productivity. Since email is an ubiquitous mode of communication for most of us, it can serve as a springboard to create and manage tasks. Taskforce is once such app that I use everyday. Alternatively you may wish to give Goodtodo a spin as well. I’m sure we all have our own preferences, so I will not offer you more choice and complicate your decision making. Do comment on your preferences and which app/service you have chosen for yourself.

The End is just the Beginning

Get started today. Get your task list under control and annihilate the obstacles that hinder your creativity. While you may consider that organization and management are not skills that are relevant to artists and designer, approach these suggestions with an open mind and you will find that by taking time out to organize yourself, you are in fact improving your inherent and intuitive creativity. You will create that much more free space to be just who you are; free, creative and inspired!

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Ritesh Reddy

Dr. Ritesh Reddy, PhD aka Reddy2Go is a Creative Generalist, who uses the magic of the written word and the allure of the visual medium in conjunction with bleeding edge technology to creating communication collateral for the New Media. He believes in the power of the individual & inspires independence through the Freelance Firestarter. In the spirit of selflessly sharing knowledge with the community for the betterment of society, he does not charge any fee for the same.