Design, Inside Envato

Productivity Hacks for Designers

Learn how to be creative and use your time well with these productivity tips from designers.

Portrait for David Scott By David Scott
Posted 02 Jan 2020
Creative Resolutions 2020

Whether you're a freelance designer, part of an agency team or embedded in a brand, we all know how hard it is to be creative when distraction comes calling. Unfortunately, creative blocks always seem to be more prevalent when there's a deadline looming and suddenly you find yourself procrastinating all day and working late into the night.

To help make 2020 your most productive year yet, we've spoken to designers who live and breathe creativity in their every day. They've kindly shared their creative tips, tricks and productivity hacks to ensure that they can always deliver the work that they need to get the job done on time. Read on for a crash course on how to be more creative this year.

01. Use Your Time Well

Seems simple, right? Everyone's heard of the Pomodoro egg timer technique before, so why don't they just do it?!

Carving out specific blocks of time to complete tasks is only the first step to effective time management, the next step is to work on the right kinds of work. Most designers will know the challenge of trying to juggle too many tasks while focussing on one project. You might be too busy to do a good job with the former situation or get stalled in a creative standstill with the latter. Red Olive’s Creative Director Chris Grayson believes that designers should recognise when they hit this wall, and learn how to transition quickly to something else to avoid an ineffective use of their time.

“Both recognizing creative stalling, and the solution for overcoming it will be different for each creative. Personally, spending a notable amount of time on a project - 30 minutes or more - without progress, or failing to find a solution after trying several ideas serve as my red flag. When either of these issues arises, I know I need to give my creativity a break. For overcoming this creative wall, transitioning to another project can be helpful. Merely thinking about another project can help reinvigorate your creativity.”

Taking a few minutes to go for a walk or doing something else that gets you up and away from your workspace can serve as a reset button.

Chris Grayson, Creative Director at Red Olive

02. Don’t Get Distracted

Are you the kind of person who has a window of 50 tabs open in your browser? Do you get distracted by the ping of notifications? It’s time to cut that out and focus, according to Brian Smith, the Director of UI/UX Design at FullStackLabs. “Limit the number of tabs you have open in your browser and limit the number of Slack channels you’re a member of. Keep your inbox close to zero and treat it as a to-do list. When you need to get something done quickly, close everything but the tools needed for the project.”

Treat this as a focus mode. Your team will be just fine without being able to get a response from you for a few hours.

Brian Smith, Director of UI/UX Design at FullStackLab

03. Always Have a Plan

Benjamin Franklin once remarked that by ‘...failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’. It’s a maxim that applies in a number of different professional contexts, not least of which in the creative industries. Trying to get your creative projects done quickly, and more efficiently, doesn’t always have to mean you skip the all-important step of planning.

It’s an attitude echoed by Coard Miller, the Art Director for digital agency Union, who says the biggest impediments to having an efficient design process is a lack of planning. "We know that the less time we spend planning, the more time we spend spinning our wheels in design or coming up short on goals and hours," says Coard.

One of our biggest changes is to spend more time on strategy; coming up with more wireframes and content outlines to be able to iterate more quickly.

Coard Miller, Art Director at Union

04. Understand The Expectations Up Front

Delivering on time and on brief is difficult at the best of times, notes Steven Scott, one of Envato’s in-house UI Designers. And with many stakeholders and business objectives to balance with making the right design decisions, it’s imperative to think things through.

As a young designer I jumped straight into design, making seemingly beautiful creative and well hung together campaigns, but a lot of those decisions were instinctive and didn’t take into consideration the business and goals of the project as much as I should have.

Steven Scott, UI Designer at Envato

“Now, working in a fast pace environment in a senior role, understanding the brief, understanding expectations and using our research and analytics allows for more concrete decisions that save time in the long run by reducing the number of versions, updates and overhauls of creative required.”

5. Adopt Tools Wisely

“Whenever I notice I'm doing a particular task in my workflow over and over again, I search for a way to automate it,” notes Mira Violet, a lead UX designer for Amethyst Design. While creating custom keyboard shortcuts is a useful first step, Violet also recommends Apptorium’s workspaces tool as one way to save all the browser tabs, files and apps you need for a particular project, “so that when you start your day, everything you need for your project opens with one click.”

Another simple way to make your design job easier is by using guides and templates to help demystify the design process.

To make my job faster, I created a series of UI style guides in Sketch for my company’s design standards. I also created user-research templates in Word that I fill in when I’m talking to a user. Having basic questions already outlined within the template makes things easier.

Mira Violet, UX designer at Amethyst Design

Aaron Rutley, Product Manager for the Envato Elements Sketch Plugin, has seen first-hand the struggles UI and UX designers face. He says many designers had told him that the tedious tasks are the ones that give them the most headaches.

"The early feedback from designers was that one of the tasks they found the most tedious was finding appropriate UI templates and kits online, importing them into Sketch and then customising them for their project," says Aaron. "That was what motivated us to come up with a plugin to help designers get closer to ‘done’ by spending more time focusing on the design and less time dealing with asset downloads in a web browser."

We hope you find these productivity hacks from designers helpful. There’s no better time to plan for a productive 2020. Armed with good habits–and a subscription to Envato Elements–you’ll be set up for success...or at least, slightly less procrastination this year!