GTD: Time Management For Web Designers


Time management is more then just a term used by those in high offices with high paying (stressful) jobs, it is an essential tool for anyone in charge of their own income. This is especially true for Web Designers as well as for Web Developers and Graphic Design Artists. We are going to focus mainly on those in the Web Design field but this can be applied to any other related profession whether you do this freelance or work for a corporation content management is all the same.

As web designers, we are usually met with strict deadlines while juggling two, three, four (or more!) other projects. It can be tough to keep yourself balanced enough to accomplish everything within the time allocated. This is where time management steps in.

If you’ve ever been lectured on time management then you’ve probably heard about the “80:20 rule.” I can’t think of a better application then when applied to web design. The 80:20 rule is simply as follows: 80 percent of unfocused effort only results in 20 percent results, while 20 percent of effort can result 80 percent of results. Simple, yes, but what does that mean? Well take for example you have some free time between projects (when does that happen?). You could be doing something of other interest but apply that free time to researching current design trends, content and just browsing design site galleries for ideas. In effect you are applying effort to your business which can be counted as “focused effort.” This will also be apparent when you start that new project with fresh ideas instead of just following up with the same ideas you had in your last project. This results in growth while a simple task like that can produce more result. Try to find any way to use focused effort during your daily routine. You could be our driving, socializing, or shopping. While doing this, you could be taking mental notes of product layouts and/or color schemes which then could be applied to your designs later on when you get home (or to work). Do your best to become “obsessed” with your work and you can improve and cut the amount of time it usually takes you to finish all the content with in project.

Time management is simply self-management. You have to be able to manage your own time, both personal and ‘professional’. There are many ways of doing this. It can be as easy as creating your own schedule on your workspace, be it on your wall or as software on your computer. Either way, this is a basic essential tool to have as a web designer. With this, you could also track time spent on each project (which helps if being payed hourly) as well as for reference later on. You can track how you spend your time, find ways to improve, and put those in to effect. Being able to close the gaps between unfocused effort and focused effort can result in more contracts and projects which results in more money! Do you best to stick to the schedule and only apply modifications if really necessary.

Alright, we’ll theres some good ideas but what are some real ways I can apply these ideas? Good question johnny, the answer is in organization. Organization is by far the most powerful tool to any web designer. There are many ways to become a better organized web designer. Let’s review some of these…

Track Your Ideas / Create Task List

If your like me, ideas come to you at random times and without any warning whatsoever. Also, these ideas that hit you in the middle of the night are usually the best ideas you’ll ever have. Keep track of them! As a web designer, you will spend most of your day sitting in front of a monitor so it is not hard to open up notepad and jot a few things down… but there is a better solution.

Instead of trying to keep all your .txt documents organized (more work!) just download FusionDesk. I cannot go a day without this handy program. I recommend the free version as it contains almost everything you need minus the time tracker (read on for a replacement for this feature). This program is lightweight and wont take up many resources that you’ll need for things like Photoshop, Dream weaver. If you have an idea you can simply use ‘hotkeys’ (key shortcuts) to create a new task no matter what program has focus. As a side note, by default the hotkey for creating a new task is ctrl + shift + n which is the same for creating a new layer in package_go.png Photoshop , so to avoid the aggravation change this once it’s set up.

Once you’ve created a new task you can quickly add notes (see image below), keep a task list, set deadlines, add attachments, track progress etc. This is a must for any GTD enthusiast, which we will discuss later.


Organize Your Files!

Organization of your Content and files is probably the most important step you can take when it comes to shaving off some time when it comes time to bare down and get to work on a project. There are countless ways you could do this. You could create an extra partition on your hard drive for just your work files (if personal computer) which has many advantages. It not only distinguishes your
work from your personal life, it also can create an easy way to back-up everything in the case of a hard drive failure. For more information on partitioning see this article.

Set up a skeleton template. I work a lot with templates such as wordpress templates so one day i sat down, created a new folder in my “work” directory/drive and made each file i would usually use and applied all the redundant code. This included headers, doctype, simple css and necessary PHP code. Needless to say that this saved me a lot of time. This can be applied to almost any type of template you use (and if you don’t use them… START!).

Organize Your Workspace

It’s not just about an organized virtual workspace, it is just as (if not more) important to have your physical workspace just as tidy.

It is perfectly fine to take a day off to simply organize your workspace. It will pay off in the end! Many people will let their work area become so cluttered they constantly joke about having “their own system”… they’re lying to themselves. A clean and organized workspace will give you a much better advantage then you would assume. It is not just being able to find things quickly… it’s proven that a cleaner environment will create a better mood, a more productive day, and an overall better sense of well being. Try to get rid of anything you don’t really need. Minimalism is key here. Only keep what you really need, if you don’t want to throw it away then move it to another room and away from your personal workspace.

But don’t spend more than a day on this, it is more important to get your projects done!

Stop Procrastinating

I used to be infamous for procrastination until i realized that i could be making a lot more money if i just got my act together. Now I’ve leaned to “manage” my procrastination though things like inspiration. I will put something off as long as i can but if i stumble across a very well laid out rich interface i suddenly find myself opening up notepad(2) and photoshop and actually start working! It sounds simple but it actually works. If your saying to yourself “i don’t really feel like coding or designing but i know i should” then take a look at some css galleries and see how quickly you become motivated.


Time boxing is a simple idea. Give yourself a certain amount of time to finish each task and stick to it the best you can. This can also be used in your personal schedule.

Keep Track Of Your Time Online

There is a great free online web app called “toggl” which is an online timetracker. This allows you to always keep track of time you spend on certain tasks no matter where you are as long as you have an internet connection and a browser! This has been a much needed service for any web designer. You can visit there site here

Set Goals

Always set goals for yourself, whether it be short time goals or long time goals. Make sure you stick to them! Defining goals can give you something specific to aim for which will not only help you be a stronger web designer but a faster web designer! The term “time is money” is more true with Web Design then it is with almost anything else! So set your goals… create a separate folder or file (if you decide not to use fusiondesk) and map them out and keep track of your progress.

Start With Biggest Task

Always start everyday with your biggest task for that day. If you don’t you may find yourself with many small projects done without the energy or motivation to finish the one true thing that matters. If you finish your biggest task first, you will be motivated to finish everything up seeing as how everything else pales in comparison to what you’ve just accomplished!

Getting Things Done

I couldn’t complete this article without writing about the phenomena that is Getting Things Done (GTD) which is an amazing book that has taken the internet by storm for its “geek friendly” appeal. Author David Allen outlines a proven structure on just how to manage your time, projects, and ideas in a stress-free way. I won’t go into deep detail here because many of you have read it (if you haven’t Getting Things Donebuy it… now, its cheap). This book is a must-read for anyone in charge of their own income such as web designers.

There are so many ways to put this system into place as a web designer. I would of written some of my own ideas but there are countless articles about this already so i will just lead you away from my wonderful site…

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