Work smarter, not harder: 5 ways to cut out busy work with freelance clients

As a freelance graphic designer, you spend the bulk of your workday designing, right? If you’re like most of us, the answer to that is probably “no.”

In fact, if you really look closely at how you spend your time hour by hour, you’ll probably find that you spend the bulk of your workday doing busywork: answering emails, checking on project statuses, scheduling meetings, sending invoices, following up on invoices—some days, it feels like you’re barely doing any design work at all!

Handling these day-to-day tasks is part of running a small design business, but if you find they’re keeping you from actually doing design (or eating into your free time, or taking time away from your family, or otherwise making it impossible to maintain a healthy work/life balance), you have room to work smarter.

Below, check out five strategies you can implement to work smarter, not harder.

Multitasking Concept by Leslie Soto Valenzuela

1. Create a flowchart that explains your process

If we had to guess which kinds of busy work eat up most of your time, we’d guess it’s mostly:

  • Emails
  • Calls
  • Messages

All from clients wanting to know the status of their projects and what they can expect next. Although you probably outlined your process in your initial freelance design contract let’s be real here—lots of people don’t read the fine print.

But people do respond to images, especially engaging images like infographics. One super-easy way to answer most of the questions you find yourself getting day after day is to send every client an infographic explaining the design process when they sign your contract. In the infographic, you can break the process down into easy-to-understand, illustrated sections, giving them a road map of their project’s progress.

And you don’t have to create this infographic from scratch. Design platforms like Genially
 have a variety of customizable infographic templates you can use to clearly illustrate your work process and keep every client in the loop.

Designer Way Illustration by tubik.arts

2. Hire an assistant and outsource tasks

Let’s face it: a lot of your day-to-day tasks don’t require your personal touch. Tasks like scheduling calls, managing emails, pursuing leads, etc. are all tasks anybody with organizational and interpersonal skills can do. One of the smartest investments you can make in your business is hiring an assistant to take on your busy work.

Spending money on a qualified virtual assistant can ultimately boost your profits.

By outsourcing busy work, you free up time to build your business and connect with more (and higher-paying!) clients. First, identify which tasks can be outsourced. Then, head on over to online job listing platforms to connect with a virtual assistant who can take the busy work off your hands. If you’re hesitant about hiring somebody because of the cost, trust us—spending money on a qualified virtual assistant can ultimately boost your profits.

3. Take advantage of project management platforms

This is key if you’re collaborating with other creatives. There are a lot of project management platforms on the web, including:

Each comes at a different price point and offers a unique set of features. For example, software like Bonsai is perfect for freelancers who need to manage multiple tasks and projects, all from one easy-to-use platform.

Take some time to check out different apps and play around with their functions to see which is the best fit for your work style (and wallet!) Each offers tools for streamlining your workflow, like built-in calendars and easy project tracking so you can see every project’s status at any given time.

As you know, communication is the backbone of collaboration. Slack is a popular communication tool for teams, but it’s not the only one. Other platforms you can use for quick, easy messaging with your teammates and even your clients include Google Hangouts and Discord
. You might find these are the perfect supplement to your project management platform, or you might even find they’re all you need.

Community by Justina Leisyte

4. Automate your first response to each client

You don’t have to personally respond to every inquiry you get. In fact, it’s smart to not respond to first-time client inquiries—not personally, at least.

When people email a designer or any other creative, they expect a response within a reasonable amount of time. Instead of stepping away from designing to email every potential client back, use a tool like Zendesk
 to respond automatically. This way, every emailer gets a timely acknowledgment and a message about what to expect next, and you get a comfortable buffer of time to read each email and respond accordingly.

5. Focus on one task at a time… always

Multitasking is an easy way to get a bunch of things done at the same time…right?

Actually, no.

Decades of research has shown us that not only is multitasking impossible
, it actually slows you down. When you respond to an email while you’re working on a client’s project, it takes you an average of 15 minutes to reorient yourself back into designing mode. That’s not all—it kills your efficiency by up to 40 percent and destroys your creativity.

In other words, multitasking is pretty much the opposite of working smart.

Instead of trying to save time by doing multiple tasks at once, consciously choose to focus on one task at a time.

We know it’s easier said than done, so here are a few strategies that can help you resist the urge to multitask:

  • Mute notifications: Do this on your phone, your computer, every device where you get notifications. We know how irresistible that notification sound can be—it actually causes your brain to send emergency signals
 through your body and shuts down higher level cognitive functions. So turn off your notifications and instead, set up alarms at various points throughout the day reminding you to check your email and other messages.
  • Take calls away from your desk: When you’re on a call—especially one with multiple participants—it can be easy to give the conversation half of your attention and use that time to bang out a few emails, catch up on other admin work or just scroll through social media. Eliminate that urge by taking calls away from your desk—or if this isn’t possible, with every tab but the call closed.
  • Say “no” when you need to: Often, we find ourselves multitasking because we’ve taken on too many tasks and we’re now crunched for time. Sometimes, you need to just say “no” to a new request and stay focused on what’s already on your plate. When the request is something you can’t say “no” to, like a status call or an important question, tell the requester you can chat with them later, then schedule a time that allows you to give them your entire focus.

Back to work by Timo Kuilder

Commit to consistent improvement

It’s not easy—and for a lot of us, not even possible—to implement all of these strategies at once. Instead of trying to be some kind of infallible graphic design machine, make it a point to continually improve your efficiency and customer service skills over time.

One way to do this is to have clients fill out post-project questionnaires after you deliver their designs. In these questionnaires, your clients can let you know what they felt you did well, where they feel you can improve, and which aspects of the designer/client relationship are most important to them.

Once you know what your clients value most in their relationships with you and how you can serve them most effectively, commit to implementing one new strategy for working smarter with each project. That might mean setting up the auto-responder to your contact form right now so your next prospective client receives a timely, friendly greeting or taking some time to create that explainer flowchart so it’s ready to go the next time you sign a contract.

Then, by the time you’re working with your next client, that strategy will be part of your routine and you’ll be ready to implement another one, like hiring an assistant.

As you try out different strategies, you’ll find some that work for you and some that don’t. That’s all part of building an efficient small business. Remember, the more busy work you can cut out, the more time you’ll have to create amazing designs that exceed your clients’ expectations every single time.

Looking for new freelance work? Browse tons of high-quality freelance graphic design jobs on Dribbble.


About the Author: Lindsay Kramer is a freelance content writer with experience writing for 99designs, Grammarly, and other SAAS company blogs. Lindsay has been a content writer for about eight years. Beyond writing and blogging, her hobbies include surfing, reading tarot cards, and PC gaming. Find her at

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