How to schedule your design jobs and master your workflow

Jul 6, 2018

Ever seen other designers sprout stuff like …

“I have a six-month waitlist.”
“My next availability is in three weeks.”
“Your project is scheduled for next week.”

… And wondered what the hell kind of sorcery is this?!

‘Cos while they’re over there with their perfect planner and their streamlined schedule, you’re winging it, booking in jobs left, right and centre and just plain ol’ hoping for the best.

You don’t know what your schedule looks like in a day, let alone in six months. And you sure as hell don’t know how long a project will take you to complete.

Which means your workdays either consist of twiddling your thumbs or pulling out your hair as you manage the inevitable drought/flood.

… But not any longer!

Begone bad booking karma and hello hero schedule. ’Cos today I’m going to be walking you through five practical steps you can follow to elevate your scheduling prowess and master your workflow.

How to schedule your design jobs

STEP ONE: Understand how you work

Take a few days, or even a week, and devote it to paying close attention to how you spend your time during the day. Note down how many hours you spend on actual design work (as opposed to admin, emails and funny YouTube vids.)

This pure client design is our starting point. (Yay!)

STEP TWO: Estimate how long it will take you to complete a project

From start to finish, how long does a project take you to finish. For example, for a logo design you might estimate:

8 hours to design initial concepts
4 hours for revisions
3 hours for final files & collateral 

Next, consider how much time you will spend managing the project.

That includes responding to emails, plus any chats you may have with the client & any other loose ends.

Which would mean your revised time estimate would look like:

1 hour initial consultation
8 hours to design initial concepts
4 hours for revisions
1 hour email correspondence
3 hours for final files & collateral
1 hour for admin, invoices etc.

STEP THREE: Expect the unexpected (and the expected)

Then, you know, stuff happens (like the internet going on strike for half a day or your mother-in-law dropping in for a surprise visit), and it’s best to add in some padding just to be safe. I would add 10% to your estimated hours to cover murphy’s law.

One more thing we must take into consideration is the time we aren’t spending on the project. For instance, once we complete a milestone of the project, we may find ourselves needing to collect feedback from our client. 

This feedback time (and other gaps in time during the project where you aren’t actively working on it) should be noted in a special way to your calendar. Since it isn’t time you are spending on the project, you can’t add it to your estimated hours. This time should be accounted for separately and marked on your calendar in a different way.

It might end up looking something like this:

1 hour initial consultation
8 hours to design initial concepts
4 hours for revisions
1 hour email correspondence
3 hours for final files & collateral
1 hour for admin, invoices etc.

STEP FOUR: Start building your schedule

Now it’s time to turn those estimates into a schedule you can use and follow! It doesn’t matter whether you use a digital calendar or a good old-fashioned pen and paper, the process is the same.

The first thing you do is block off the time you spend doing anything BUT design – for example emails & admin – and highlight the hours you spend on client design work.

With the open blocks of time you have after scheduling your general business tasks, schedule in your client work based off the estimate you came up with.  

Using some math and our logo design project, we can split our 18-hour project over five days.

Remember our discussion on feedback time and other chunks of time that should be recognised but not necessarily blocked out on our schedules? We will have to take these into account as well.

Keeping the feedback times in mind, we can schedule roughly the first part of the project over the next several days. 

Then after those two days, we can come back a week later (as described in our feedback) and schedule the next batch of work. We can continue this process until the entire project has been planned out.

STEP FIVE: Scheduling multiple projects 

Handling multiple projects will work the same way, we will just modify the process slightly given you are now working on two (or more) projects.

I treat all my projects as first come, first serve with a slight reservation for other things. If I only have one project going on, I schedule work on that project to consume most of my design time.  Or, said another way, I would use four out of the six hours I have planned for project work on that project. Doing it this way allows me to take on another project in the other two hours I have available.

To keep the math easy, you can always take your available hours and divide by the number of projects you have. For instance, if you have three projects, you can then schedule work for each project to take up two hours a day.

This won’t always work out perfectly though, for instance, you may have a project that is currently in a feedback state. If that is the case, then during that feedback period your existing projects can then fill in and take up three hours a piece for those six hours (as an example).

Between using a first come, first serve scheduling tactic along with divvying up your day based on the number of projects, you will find that you can work on multiple projects at a time and still be able to accommodate incoming projects. 

Note: If shit gets cray, add some more padding into your day. It is better to be realistic about these things rather than disappointing yourself and your clients.

Also, keep in mind that this takes practice!

With any system you put in place, you will find that over time you will have tweak and change it to suit your working style. The same will happen for your scheduling as well. With experience and practice comes knowledge, and you can use this knowledge to modify your scheduling.

Just keep in mind to always allow for extra time and chaos!
Now go forth and conquer your schedule, lady.

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