10 Stupidly Easy Tips to Manipulate Time as a Designer

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Alexander Georges
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Lydia Chamberlain
April 23, 2019

There’s always work that needs to be done.

This work can be for clients, for your employer, for your freelance business…

But here’s an honest question–why do kids have all the energy??

When I was younger, I could have run into walls every other minute and still felt energized.

However, as adults, we need all the help we can get in order to strategically use the little time and energy we have in the day to get things done.


So if you share these struggles, this post is for you.

Here are 9 powerful techniques to manipulate time and help you get stuff done.

#1 Use the Pomodoro Technique

This is one of my favorite time-controlling techniques that I use almost every day.

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system invented by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Write down a task that you need to do
  2. Spend 25 minutes working on it and ONLY it (ie turn off social media notifications)
  3. Spend 5 minutes doing whatever you want
  4. Keep repeating steps 1-3
  5. On the fourth time of doing step 3, take a 15 minute break instead of a five minute break. Do that on every fourth interval

This is a simple enough technique that anyone can do it.

And if you don’t want to manually put on a timer every single time you use this technique, there are plenty of apps out there that will do it for you. Just search “Pomodoro technique” on your phone and you’re bound to find one.

#2 Break Down Your Tasks

When you have an enormous project to take on, it’s easy to get so overwhelmed that you hold off doing it till the very last second.

A great way to break that barrier is to break the tasks down into smaller chunks.

For example, if you have to do research on the users of your product, write down the possible techniques you can use. You could write down “competitive analysis, usability testing, card sorting, user journeys, etc.”

Those techniques are all chunks within themselves that can further be broken down.

As another example, you can break down the competitive analysis as:

  1. Researching who your competitors are
  2. Asking users which of your competitors they like and why
  3. Finding out your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses
  4. Creating a competitive analysis graph

Just keep going until you feel like you have a good grip on what needs to be done. You’ll be able to plan how long your project will take better this way.

#3 Create a Priority Matrix

Sometimes you just have so many things to do that you don’t know which to tackle first or second.

The answer to that is a priority matrix.

A priority matrix is a simple visual tool that will help you figure out when to do what.

Label the x-axis as “Effort” and the y-axis as “Impact” (like in the image above).

The lower-left corner of the graph will be the last tasks to do, and the upper-right tasks will be the first to take on.

As for the top-left and lower-right section, it’s up to you which of these you want to do second and third (after the top-right section).

#4 Coffee or Tea

This one is a little bit obvious, but CAFFEINE IS YOUR BEST FRIEND.

Sometimes, you must simply buy your productivity with coffee or tea.

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that tricks your brain into thinking that it has more energy than it actually has.

This is a tip I had to include because, realistically, it feels hopelessly impossible to get work done without the feeling of energy.

I personally recommend drinking tea because there is less of a crash associated with it (and not to mention you won’t get coffee breath), but you do you.

#5 Say (Hell) No

For some people, this tip comes easy. For others, it absolutely does not.

Which way is it for you?

No matter how easy or hard it is for you to say no to other people’s request for different things, you MUST say no once in a while to take of your own business or needs.

If you follow tip #2 above, break down your tasks, and then put your projects/tasks into a priority matrix like in #3, then you should know pretty well whether you need to say no or not.

What it really comes down to is awareness of how much time you need to take for your own stuff, and how much you can give to others.

If you want to learn the art of saying no, you can watch this TEDx talk by Kenny Nguyen here.

#6 Delegate to Others

Sometimes, people need to ask something from you. But other times, you need to ask something of others.

When it comes to projects that you’re doing with team members, you may find it hard to hand over tasks to others because of your perfectionistic nature.

Maybe they don’t choose the colors you would have for that graphic, or maybe they talk to users the way you would have during a usability test.

However, learning to delegate tasks is an essential part of becoming a leader.

Whether that’s expanding your business or becoming a manager or director, you have to learn how to trust others.

One thing that can help for those of you who don’t like the sound of delegating is learning what everyone’s strengths are on your team.

For example, if Sally is great with color but bad with composition, put Bob, who is amazing at composition but bad with color, in charge of composition, and let Sally have the last say when it comes to color.

This means you need to learn how to read people and their abilities, but just like anything, your intuition will get better with practice.

#7 The 80/20 Rule

80% of value comes from 20% of the work.

This 20% can usually be found with the priority matrix in #3, but I felt that this still to be its own category because it’s an important concept to understand.

Also called the Pareto Principle, this applies to many areas in life, from how 20% of people create 80% of the value for a company to how you will probably get only 80% of the things you want in a fairly healthy relationship (but let’s not digress).

The main point? Learn where you the 20% of work is that will capture the 80% of value and you’ll be able to more efficiently get the value you want.

#8 Write Down Tomorrow’s Tasks Tonight

This is something I do every night.

I keep a pen and post-it next to my desk at home and at work. Whenever I think of something that I need to do, I pop it down on a post-it.

I keep one or two post-its for tasks that will either take many days or will need to be done in the future.

However, I use a fresh post-it every night to write down exactly the tasks I need to do for the next day.

If I didn’t get something done today, then I write it down for tomorrow.

The best part, though, is PHYSICALLY crossing out the tasks when I’m done with them, and then throwing the post-it away at the end of the day.

It’s therapeutic, it’s fun, and it keeps me from worrying that I’m forgetting to do something today.

#9 Don’t Be Perfect

For all you fellow perfectionists out there, this one will be tough.

When they say that perfection is the enemy of good, they say it for a reason.

This aphorism is commonly attributed to Voltaire and, surpise surprise, brings us back to the 80/20 rule.

When you’re too busy perfecting, you’re probably doing the 80% of work that only adds 20% of value.

Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean you don’t want to do a job right.

All this is trying to say is that you need to catch yourself when you’ve been moving an image to the left by 2 px, right by 3 px, left by 3px, up by 1 px, down by 1 px…and then it’s 1 hour later.

Don’t be perfect because design isn’t perfect–it’s human.

#10 Make it a Habit

If you decide to adopt any of the advice above, you need to do so with the intention of making it a habit.

On average, it takes more than 2 months for a new behavior to become a habit.

Once something becomes a habit, it gets much easier to do. As a matter of fact, it almost becomes automatic.

So absolutely stick with the tips above if you’re going to start it.

It will help you manage your time, your future, your stress, your health…just so many important things in your life.

Believe me–it’ll be worth it.

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