To be honest, there is no easy way to manage multiple projects that are overlapping. It doesn’t matter who you are; keeping up with four to six projects at a time is a challenge.
During a normal week, I may be working on up to six different jobs with my personal clients and they can range from logo design and corporate identities to blog layouts. At the same time, I am often booked at an agency and may working on catalog layouts, ad concepts or trend forecasting. On top of that, I try to stay current with emails and send out quotes for upwards of ten freelance inquiries. Besides these tasks, there’s always blog updates and of course, invoicing clients for work that’s been completed.
Days seem to fly by faster every year now that I’ve finished school. Enjoy the time that you have left. In a way, it’s carefree in comparison with the real world of tight deadlines and long days at agencies. As a student, you still have the chance to experiment and to try out new ideas with very little backlash. Use these moments to your advantage. There’s something to be learned from each project, even through the mistakes that you make. The mistakes are especially good in a way because chances are that you won’t make the same one twice.
With regards to your question above, there are a few tricks that I use to stay organized when managing multiple projects:
Keep a planner or schedule in front of you. This is super basic, but if you don’t have a visual reminder of what needs to be done, it’s easy to ignore or even forget about it (and waste your time surfing the web). I make daily to-do lists in my Moleskine planner and if something doesn’t get done, I carry it over to the next until it’s completed. I also keep a big list pinned above my desk with all of my current clients. As a freelancer, you are 100% accountable for getting client work completed on time. We all run into delays and it’s always a good idea to fire off a quick email to clients if you’re running behind to let them know.
Collect research & store it in a centralized location. When a project pops up, it’s best to be prepared to quickly gather inspiration.
For years, I’ve collected and uploaded every single image that I find inspiring into a private folder on Flickr that now boasts over 4,000 items. Whether I am at home, traveling or sitting at an agency, the second I get briefed, I can easily log in and start pulling together visuals. Because everything I find inspiring is stored online, I never have to lug around an external hard drive.
Always do a round of research. You can save yourself a lot of time and energy upfront if you engage in some initial research and pinpoint the direction your client would like to take. Even if they’ve described what they think they are looking for, visuals can help to solidify that direction.
I always build out a presentation deck of research images before moving into the design process to make sure that my client and I are on the same page. Breaking up pages by category is extremely helpful. For instance, if I’m working on a logo design, I might include pages with titles such as Serif, Sans Serif, Script (above), etc.
Use cover pages. Whenever an agency I’ve worked at sends out a fresh round of work, they usually use a cover page and I do so with my clients as well. Why is this important? When you’re doing multiple rounds of work, sometimes at a very rapid pace, it’s easy for both you and the client to forget what’s being referenced.
They may say they like ‘logo #1’ but if you’re on your third round of work, which are they referring to? If a specific date is being referenced, how do you know when the work was completed? If you include a cover sheet with the client’s name, the date, the round of work and a brief job description attached to the work you send out, it will make your life so much easier when you have to quickly dig back through your archives.
Working on multiple projects has an upside. Having multiple projects going at once is potentially good; it has the ability to greatly diversify your portfolio. At one point, I was doing a logo for a metal band, another for an agriculture company, a full identity for a photographer and working on a 100+ page catalog at an agency. I learned something valuable from each of these jobs, often concurrently. Project diversity not only keeps you from getting bored but also helps you push your boundaries as a designer and makes you more rounded.
Stagger projects whenever possible. Juggling four to six projects at once can be stressful. So, if the opportunity arises, be upfront with clients or even your school about taking on more work. Ask for a few extra days off before beginning. Negotiate a start date that allows you enough time to do research and begin a new project without compromising other clients’ work. Of course, this is what would happen in a perfect scenario. But, it never hurts to ask!
In Closing. Practice makes perfect. As your skill set and experience improve, so will your turnaround times. Once you have basic templates, invoices, email form letters, pricing and other necessities all in place, taking on more work becomes much, much easier. This all takes time and patience to set up and there is no rush. Becoming a designer isn’t an overnight progression and we are each on our own paths. Though basic planning helps, we each have to develop our own systems of organization that best work for us.
Designers, do you have any tips and tricks that help you stay organized?