Ok. The first in the series of tips and advice for the creative entrepreneur. As a creative professional myself, I believe that procrastination comes naturally to creative people. So here are 10 tips that I have used in the past that helped me avoid procrastination.
Tip #1: Write things down
If you are overwhelmed with creative tasks and find that you need to also take care of non-creative tasks such as doing accounts, answering email, taking the dog out for a walk etc, then it is essential that you have clarity in your mind in terms of how many tasks you have and what needs to be done.
To start off, I always found it effective to write things down and then prioritize them. Yes, sounds very obvious but you would be surprised at how you can get a grip on what needs to be done just by listing out your tasks.
I use EverNote (the free version) to write my tasks down.
Tip #2: Make deadlines
After you have written down your tasks and prioritized them, you need to set yourself specific deadlines to complete both the creative and the non-creative tasks.
Having deadlines gives you the sense of urgency you need to get the important tasks done. For instance I always find it very boring to prepare project reports. At SpellBrand we prepare projects reports for all projects that are successfully completed. These reports include time spent on the project, screen shots of the final designs, color codes, font names, a creative brief and the customer details.
These reports are then stored in a database and help us down the line when we are researching or when we are trying to make sure that a particular design was not done before by any other designer in the company.
I use outlook calendar heavily for managing my tasks and my deadlines.
Tip #3: Hardest First
I usually attack the hardest and the worst task first. That way, I will have what it takes to completes tasks that I either hate or do not care for. You can then work on the easier tasks. This will make you feel completely in control since the hardest tasks have already been completed.
For me the hardest task is when I am assigned a project and in the project brief the client has written, “Please call me to discuss”. As most creative people would agree with me, calling a client to discuss the initial project scope is the toughest part.
It is very easy to put away this task. But procrastinating on this task means that the entire project gets delayed. So when I come to work in the morning, and when I am feeling my best I grab the phone and force myself to make these calls.
Tip #4: Treat yourself
Another technique I found to be quite effective is to reward yourself when you have completed each task. The hardest task always got the biggest reward. The way I reward myself is by doing things that I enjoy after I had completed a task that I did not enjoy.
For example after the project scope phone calls to my clients, I would either play a game on our of our XBoxes in the office or call and talk to my wife. This would then relax me and get me into mood for the more important tasks ahead such as team meetings, brainstorming sessions and the actual design work.
Tip #5: Change your environment
I find it quite effective to change my position or environment when I am stuck with a task. For example if I am stuck with an unusually difficult project and am finding it hard to come up with ideas, I find it effective to take my thought process elsewhere.
For instance, last week I was working on logo design project for a client who is in the ornate metal work business. The client did not give me any information in terms of what they wanted to see or which direction I should take. Attempts at trying to pry this information from the client resulted in a dead end.
The examples of logos liked by the client were all related to the food & drink and restaurant industries. This did not make sense to me. I did some research and realized that the competition had some really bad corporate identities. So I could not even get a clue as to how others in the same industry were branding themselves.
After spending an hour at my desk, I got up, walked out of the office and into the adjacent supermarket. I spent the good part of an hour hanging around the supermarket, thinking about this project. The change in scenario gave me some inspiration and I came back armed with a few promising ideas.
Tip #6: Don’t be shy
If you are stuck on a task and cannot find inspiration within yourself then do not hesitate to ask. Of course if you are working from your bedroom and are a one man company then it becomes a little difficult. But that can be handled by visiting related creative forums and asking for ideas. You will be surprised at what you can get back.
Asking your colleagues and researching online can really help you come out of a hole, if you are stuck on a creative task. This will help you avoid putting off the task.
Tip #7: Work around your weaknesses
When tackling a tough creative task that you would like to put off, it helps to work around your weaknesses. For instance, one of my weaknesses when it comes to creativity is integrating the slogan selection. I absolutely hate it. Most clients have tag lines that are way too big and it is a nightmare trying to integrate them into a beautiful concept.
To overcome this weakness I try and work my way around. I talk the clients into trimming the tag line (if it makes sense and has the same meaning the client originally intended). By trimming the tag line or rethinking the words used, often you find that the new tag line is much more impact. Clients are happy and I am happy too.
Tip #8: Strict Timing
Another useful technique I found that helps me avoid procrastination is to set up a particular time for a particular kind of task. For instance, every day at exactly 3PM EST (if I am working in the office) I do task assignments to my team members. I have 6 logo designers in my team and I have to assign milestones, tasks, answer their queries etc. Because I have my own projects to work on, I tend to put off this assigning task which might lead to delayed milestones.
So with out fail at 3PM sharp I drop what ever I am doing and open up our project management software and tend to all pending assignments etc.
Tip #9: Don’t be a perfectionist
Well, perhaps you can be on some occasions. But if you are working on some thing that you do not fancy then the best solution to avoid delaying that task is to get it done as quickly as you can. You can then fine tune it at a later time. But you need to complete the task first.
To some this may sound like bad advice. But if you are running a creative business then you need to think in terms of productivity. There is no sense in trying to get some thing to be perfect (which might forever) while risking deadlines or on rare occasions dropping the task entirely.
For instance, some times clients send in some color samples and request that we match them exactly in the design. This could be easier said than done. With so many different variables such as different monitors, different printers etc, it really is some times very difficult to match a color exactly. If the client gives you PANTONE Color Code, then it is fine. But if they simply email you an image for reference then you are in trouble.
Now instead of spending hours trying to get the color to match exactly, try to get the closest match and show it to you client. This will enable you to get that task done and give your client an opportunity to evalue the color and tell you if wants a closer match.
Tip #10: Just do it!
And finally if all else fails, just roll up your sleeves and just do it! Some times you might just have to fight back the bitter taste in your mouth for that particular task, hold back your tears and start doing the task.
Running a successful online creative/design business means that you will have to work on both interesting and the no-so interesting projects. You have to take on the tasks and do them with a positive attitude.