Creatives are often under a great amount of pressure; there are deadlines to meet, projects to juggle, and clients to impress. Part of this pressure just comes with the territory, but when it escalates, it can become a problem fast. When creatives are stretched too thin, they can’t give their all to any project — they have to sacrifice quality for quantity.
As a creative, you’ve likely been overworked and under-resourced more times than you can count — but what is there to do about it? There’s only so much time in a day, and purchasing additional resources may not be economically feasible. However, that isn’t to say you just have to deal with a soul-crushing workload; there are plenty of ways to make your projects more bearable. One option, and a good one at that, is to plan your creative capacity, the amount of work you can realistically take on given the finite amount of time and resources available to you. By understanding your limitations, you can learn to work effectively within them.
Determining Your Creative Capacity
To determine your creative capacity, you’ll first need to know what type of beast you’re dealing with. To do this, start by thoroughly examining the creative brief of both your existing projects and your potential future projects, and take note of everything being asked of you. Once you’ve gathered this information, take a look at similar projects from the past. How time-consuming was the brainstorming process? How long did you spend on each deliverable? How many rounds of revisions did it take to get to the final piece?
With this data, you can approximate how long the projects you’re currently working on will take, how long the potential new project will take, and whether you have the creative capacity to accept the project given your current workload. (Hint: when calculating the time and resources your projects will take, don’t forget administrative tasks such as traveling to meetings and emailing clients. The time we spend on these little things can add up fast!)
Managing Your Workload
While you may have the option to turn down new work, once you’ve accepted a project, you’ll typically be expected to finish it. The problem is that after determining your creative capacity, you may realize you have more work on your plate than you can get through within the time allotted.
Luckily, once you have a fairly clear idea of what your workload is, you can better manage it. Below, we’ll go over a few small changes you can make so you can get more done without increasing your resources.
Break It Down Into Bite-Sized Chunks
Starting a new project can be daunting; there are often multiple deliverables to create, multiple stakeholders to please, and multiple barriers to navigate (deadlines, budgets, etc.). When that’s the case, diving into the project can feel overwhelming. So, it can help to break down each task into smaller, more manageable “microtasks.”
One way to do this is to map out every deliverable you’ll need to make, order them by deadline and priority, then break each one into bite-sized pieces. Then, give yourself deadlines for each small chunk of work. For instance, say it’s March 17th, your job is to design a billboard, and the client wants to begin the review process on March 27. Instead of viewing the billboard as one big 10-day assignment, you could start by giving yourself 3 days to focus on just the copy, and once that’s complete, take 1 day to choose colors, then 4 days to create the imagery, and finally, 2 days to figure the layout. This will not only make the work feel more manageable but help keep the project on track and on time.
Creatives aren’t known for their organizational skills, we tend to leave those types of things to the “left-brained” people. However, creatives are more than capable of staying organized, and when it comes to managing your creative capacity, it’s a must. We can lose hours upon hours searching for the right documents when they’re scattered across our computers. In contrast, when you develop a folder system and a consistent format for naming files, you know exactly where to find them, and past versions are easy to access, you’ll be able to work much more efficiently.
One surefire way to lessen the burden of your workload is to simply get rid of some of the work. Instead of recreating the layout every time you write a blog for your client, create a template; instead of searching around for the company’s colors and fonts, utilize a style guide; and instead of manually sending out reminders and notifications to your clients, automate those communications.
When choosing which elements to create a shortcut for, it’s important to understand how much work the deadline allows for. For instance, while a full-blown photoshoot would be nice, if you only have a few hours dedicated to the project’s imagery, stock photos may have to suffice.
Optimize Your Day
We’re not all at our peak productivity at the same time of day. Some people get the most done first thing in the morning, some right after lunch, and some in the late afternoon. Find out when you tend to get in a good flow, and make the most of that time. Your hours of peak productivity are great for the more challenging, “big brain” tasks, while the times you are less efficient can be used for meetings, administrative duties, and easier work.
Saying No (Without Burning Bridges)
Ideally, we could take on every new project we’re offered, but we can only fit so much into the workday. Even if we plan our capacity and use our time as efficiently as possible, occasionally, we still have to say no. The key is to turn down the offer for new work without damaging relationships with the client.
First, Evaluate The Request
Before jumping to an answer, take a moment to really consider what’s being asked of you. Does the project seem exciting, or dare I say, fun? Could it help build a relationship that could benefit you in he future? Will it help you move closer to your goals? If so, figure out if you have the creative capacity to take it on. (If you’re at capacity, you might have to reassess your priorities or ask a teammate for help in order to take on the new work.)
While it’s never fun to tell a client no, leading them on doesn’t benefit anyone. A soft “no,” one that’s hesitant or open to interpretation, suggests that you may change your mind if the client keeps asking. Instead, give a straightforward answer and an honest explanation for why you can’t take on the work.
Example: “I’m sorry [client], I have too many projects on my plate right now, and I wouldn’t be able to give yours the time and attention it requires.”
Give The Client Something
“No” isn’t an easy word to hear, especially when it means you can’t have your first choice of creatives on your team. However, there are ways to soften the blow without giving false hope. If you don’t have the creative capacity to take on the whole project, see if you have the capacity to help in smaller ways. Maybe you could design the logo and not the entire rebrand, or maybe you could simply be a resource for the client to run ideas by. If you know someone else who you think would be perfect for the job, feel free to refer the client to them instead. Regardless of how you offer to help, doing so shows that you care about and want to be a part of their project’s success, helping to build a positive relationship with the client.
Example: “I don’t have enough time to take on this project with all of my current work, but I would be happy to help review your final designs and offer my expertise.”
Manage Your Capacity Better With Ashore
Knowing your capacity, learning how to better manage your workload, and saying no when necessary can make life as a creative far more enjoyable, but there will still be times when you have more work than you can realistically take on. Unfortunately, you can’t just get rid of the extra work, but what if the projects themselves took less time?
Ashore has all of the tools you need to speed up your process. So everyone is clear on what feedback means, Ashore offers contextual commenting, putting reviewers in a position to point to something directly and talk about it. To keep creatives organized, Ashore offers dynamic tagging, a comprehensive audit timeline, version stacking, and workflow staging. And to keep the momentum going, Ashore offers automated reminders, notifications, and workflows.
By automating the proofing process, creatives can cut down the time it takes to review and approve work significantly. In fact, Ashore users can get their proofs approved up to 50% faster, saving each employee up to five hours of work time each week. So, are you ready to speed up your proofing process and reclaim your time? Sign up for free today!