Clients & Productivity

Productivity Hacks for Creatives

by David Tendrich

I grew up in a crazy household.

We were messy. Clothes and toys were strewn about. In fact, you couldn’t see the floor of my bedroom because it was so covered in legos and action figures and dirty dishes and jeans.

We were late to everything. The clock would strike 3:50 and then someone would say, “Don’t we need to be somewhere at 4?”

We were terrible with homework and quizzes and tests. Half the time I got my homework done on the drive to school because I forgot to do it the night before. That’s also how I studied for tests and quizzes (when I in fact studied for them at all).

But when you’re growing a company and, just as importantly, trying to create a life full of peace and contentment…

How I was raised doesn’t exactly fit the bill.

I’ve had to work on myself to become more organized, calmer, less chaotic.

I still feel most comfortable in chaos… But that’s changing. And so am I.

Here are some concrete action steps that have helped me get there.

productivity hacks for creatives

1. Learning and Reading

Are you a perfectionist? Do you not want to spend time on something unless you can really do it right?

I’m like that too. That’s why this advice is so important:

Don’t avoid learning or starting a new book or audiobook or course because you’re afraid you won’t have time to really sit down with it and absorb 100% of its message.

I used to do this, and would put countless books, seminars, courses on my list… but never get around to them. I was afraid I didn’t have the time to extract every nanoparticle of their messages – so I avoided them altogether.

Then I realized this simple, brilliant string of logic, and it changed everything:

  • Before listening to an audiobook, I know 0% of its contents
  • Let’s say I listen to it, but I zone out through even half of it – that means I now know 50% of its message
  • That’s 50% more than I knew before

Already that’s pretty motivating, right? But let’s not stop there:

  • Let’s say of the 50% I absorbed, I only act on 10% (that means I act on 5% of the whole book)
  • But that 10% really helps me in a very concrete way

At the end of the day, even if I only absorbed half the book, and acted on 5% of it…

I still learned, grew, and improved my business and life.

I’m better off than I was before.

So don’t avoid learning because you’re afraid that if you don’t learn it all, it’s not worth it.

It is.

In fact, the next section on organizing emails and tasks is a beautiful example of this.

I was feeling chaotic and stressed because I wasn’t organized enough, so I started an audiobook on the subject (“Getting Things Done” by David Allen).

I’ve been listening while walking the dog and working out, and even though I’ve zoned out through about 50% of it, I’ve gained amazing insights and life-changing tips from that 50% I actually listened to.

I told Lou (another Reliable co-founder) about what I learned and changed her life too.

I’d say that’s pretty worth it.

Also:

Give your sub-conscious more credit.

Even if you’re not consciously tuning into something – your ears are picking up the sound waves, and your brain is storing them away.

It becomes a part of you, even if you don’t realize it.

So don’t worry about absorbing every second of a course or book. Enjoy what you naturally enjoy, and don’t beat yourself up if you zone out through the rest.

More of it is becoming a part of you than you realize.

2. Organizing Emails & Tasks

Stop using email as a to-do list.

I don’t say that because email is a bad to do list. It’s actually super practical, and I did it for years.

I say that because everything in your life that you feel you “should” or “need” to do is an “open loop” in your mind.

But your mind obsessively wants to close all open loops.

If you have to do something – your mind festers on it endlessly until it’s done. Whether it’s getting milk at the store or sending a proposal to a client, it’s running and running in circles in the back of your head.

With enough open loops, you’ll be a constant ball of anxiety and stress because in the back of your head your mind is racing with thought of:

“We need to do this.. and that… and don’t forget about that… That reminds me of that other thing…”

Back to email:

While keeping emails on hand that you need to address is practical… it also amplifies this “open loop effect.”

Why?

Because every time you open your inbox, you see those emails, and you remember you need to do something, and then a part of you thinks, “I need to do it but it’s not yet done, but when will I do it? Now? Later? It’s very important, I can’t forget. I can’t do it now though, because first you have to do that other thing. Did I do that? No? When will I?”

See where I’m going with this?

You’re shoving open loops in your face by keeping them in one of the most-viewed places you can: Your inbox.

Instead, try this:

For emails that are tasks:

  1. If an email is a task (such as “change nav bar from white to yellow”), immediately place that task on a to do list with a date of when you can realistically get to it (or need to get to it).
  2. Archive the email. Put it out of sight, out of mind. Let your to do list remind you of when it need to be done, but forget about it until then.

For emails that need replies:

  1. Get the email out of your inbox and into a folder called “Needs Reply”.
  2. Create a task on your task list called: “Clear ‘Needs Reply’ Folder” and set a date and time
  3. Forget about the email until then

The goal is to immediately organize emails into actionable items right away, and to get them out of your inbox so they don’t eat away at you with the “open loop effect.”

Quick Tips on Organizing Projects & Meeting Deadlines

  • List out every action item of every project type you offer
  • Then, give each one a deadline. For example, “Send client branding questionnaire on day 1” and “Create wireframes and mood board – due 3 days after receiving completed questionnaire”
  • This will give you a ton of peace of mind because you’ll know exactly what to do and when in your projects
  • Create a simplified agenda for your client too. That’ll give them crazy peace of mind too (and eliminate constant requests for updates)

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Your turn: What are some productivity hacks that have changed your business and life?
Leave me a comment and let me know. I might only take in half of what you write – but that’s still worth it, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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What is Reliable PSD? In a nutshell, Reliable PSD is a coding partner for agencies. It converts designs into WordPress and HTML and is the brainchild of creative agency Unexpected Ways. In days gone by, PSD to HTML slicing or Sketch to HTML conversion requirements had to be outsourced to different service providers and freelancers. The result? Tons of headaches and frustrations, combined with neverending lists of improvements that just didnโ€™t seem to get done. Having had enough of this, we decided to create our own PSD and Sketch to HTML conversion service. The quality here is incredibly high, service is personal, friendly, and caring – and the overall experience is simple, clear and easy. If you need help with HTML or WordPress projects, we’d love to help. Reach out and letโ€™s get talking today.

Discussion

  1. Gail says:

    February 20, 2017

    Thanks for this article!
    This productivity tip may seem old school but it helps me. I keep a manila folder for each client and keep some key notes in it while I’m working on a job. For instance if we have a phone call and I take notes or if there’s an important email with instructions I print it out and put it in his folder and that way it’s not something I have to go dig up again when I’m ready to work on it. I also keep our contract in the folder for easy reference when I’m ready to Bill.
    My issue is productivity around doing web design. I don’t have a formal process in place yet and it’s making each build a daunting process unless I am just rebuilding and improving something that already exists. What’s your favorite tools for wire framing and the mood boards? Maybe you could do a blog about a step-by-step productivity process for building sites from scratch! Thank you

    1. David Tendrich says:

      February 20, 2017

      Great tip! We basically do the same thing, but with digital folders.

      Sometimes you’ve gotta deal with hard copies though and get off the glowing screen. I feel you 100% on that front.

      That is a great idea for a blog post.

      This blog post I wrote a while ago on the blog Millo might be a great start for you:

      http://millo.co/new-workflow-gets-faster-client-approvals

      But a more thorough breakdown is a GREAT blog post. We will work on it ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Alice says:

    February 20, 2017

    I love the ‘needs reply’ tactic for emails. I tried this in the past but didn’t quite manage to do the absolutely critical step of setting a regular reminder – needless to say, it didn’t end well!

    1. David Tendrich says:

      February 20, 2017

      Ah ha! Funny how a simple little tweak makes all the difference ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Marina says:

    February 20, 2017

    Hey David, thank you for such insightful article! Lately I have been feeling overwhelmed with all the details that go into growing my company.

    Your writing gave me hope that organizing details is possible ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have 2 questions that your article brought up for me, which I hope you can answer.

    1. When there are tons of things to be done, which feels like your elephant picture, where do you start with organizing it? What is the first step in moving from overwhelmed to organized?

    2. I have implemented some things in past in my business such as recording every shipment that comes in and goes out and so on, but could never sustain this practice for longer than couple weeks.

    I simply lose motivation and start forgetting.

    Thanks!

    1. David Tendrich says:

      February 20, 2017

      Hey Marina!

      That’s so great to hear ๐Ÿ™‚

      Per your questions:

      1. We’ve been following the process in a book I started reading, “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.

      Basically, you start by getting everything out of your head that you need to do. Then, you decide what to trash, what to delegate to someone else, what to do later, and what is super quick that you can do right now.

      After that, you organize what’s left over from that process into categories that help you.

      For example:

      I now put all my ideas in an “ideas” list to get them out of my head, and I see that list every day to remind myself it’s there.

      I put all emails I need to reply to in a “Needs reply” folder, then set a task on my to do list to clear that folder 1-2x per day.

      You should check the book out! It’s really amazing.

      2. I don’t believe you asked a question. What is your question exactly here? ๐Ÿ™‚

      Maybe my answer to #1 helped though ๐Ÿ™‚

      David

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