8 Days to Become a Stress-Free Freelance Designer

We all wanted to get into freelancing for our own control, to sleep in if need be, and to overall have better control of our lives, while still doing what we love. How is it though, that so many of us end up working long days, feeling tied down, and seem to have all-day anxiety attacks?

Day 1: Stop Checking Your Email Every 5 Minutes

Day one is a small, yet essential step. It is a nasty habit that about 99% of us possesses, and we all do it to seem productive and get on top of our game. However, all it does is raise our stress level and waste time.

Stop checking your email every five minutes. We seem to get really excited when we get email, just as if we were kids again and we got a letter in the mail. To save tons of time, we must train ourselves to only check our mail once a day — first thing in the morning.


This involves virtually no work on your part…literally. It is still a step in itself, though, because it’s a bad habit that’s really going to take quite a bit of effort to break. If you’ve already checked your email today, don’t look at it again until tomorrow morning. Keep this practice up day after day now.

The benefits of doing this is obviously that it saves time, and it’s a much more organized and efficient way of communicating. By doing it only once every 24 hours (if that), we can get it all done at once instead of sprawled throughout the day, then organize it during that one time a day.

Also, when checking our email we tend to view it as an excuse to procrastinate. Once we see a new newsletter, we must check it out. If we see an email from a client, we must respond as quickly as possible. Or if we see a name we don’t recognize, we just have to check it out right now – it might be a big opportunity!

Chances are, it’s nothing amazing. If it is, it can wait till the morning. When sending out messages, do you expect a response in five minutes? No, and those emailing you aren’t either.

Day 2: Reevaluate Your Finances

Money can be very stressful, and even those who are making the rent now, are constantly thinking about how to make enough for the future. This is why reevaluating our finances, both personal and finances of the freelancing business are an essential first step to living a stress-free lifestyle.

First of all, find out how much you truly need. Are you making too much money? Sometimes we think the more we have the more stable we’ll be, and the more fun we’ll have. However, we just end up working overtime every week and not experiencing any of the extra income we work so hard for. So reevaluate: do you need to take on so many clients a month? Is it worth the extra few hundred dollars, or is balancing in a bit more free time more worth it?

Then, find a new budget, cut out any unnecessary expenses, and pay off some bills. Having a better outlook on your finances will stop you from worrying, or perhaps take better action if you’re in trouble. Overall, it takes care of a major responsibility we all have, and gets it out of the way — One less thing to worry about. While refinancing, contemplate your workload, and cut back if need be.

If you’re finding you may need to work more, try to find better paying clients, and focus on paying off debts. Once debt free (or at least on an upward movement to becoming debt free) you can refocus on growing your freelancing business.

Given the time, one may start building a passive income as well. This will help secure for a better financial future, and exponentially give you more free time as the years go on. For more insight as to how to make passive income as a freelance designer, check out Passive Income for Freelancers: Build Today for a Strong Tomorrow.

Day 3: Sleep In, and Then Do One Thing that Day

This doesn’t mean be lazy. What it does mean is to stop telling yourself to get up without enough sleep, and then work so hard you can’t concentrate. As a freelancer, it’s OK to sleep in every once in awhile, and we should use this to our benefit. You may still find you wake up early enough to get plenty done.

One technique to becoming more efficient is to only focus on one thing that day. As freelancers, it’s common knowledge that we have at least five relatively major things to get done by the end of the week, at least to keep up with. Two client projects, your own projects, cleaning the house, finishing that article…

Sleep In

It’s all a mix of our professional and personal lifestyle, but if you have, let’s say, five to seven things to do this week, you have to realize that there’s seven days in the entire week. Focus on one thing, keep concentrated, and get it done.

Once done with that task, don’t move onto the next. Be done for the night. It may seem like you’re not working as hard as you normally do, but really it’s a technique that is far more effective that doing a million smaller tasks in one day because you’re less distracted, and you’ll have more free time in the end.

Day 4: Review Your Responsibilities

Speaking of things to do, a lot of our stress may come from not knowing exactly what we have to do. How many times have you been working on something, only to have a realization that you forgot about something else – due tomorrow? Now, you’re rushing to get this other thing done, and end up working a hugely long day because you spent the first half getting one task completed, but now must rush through the other.

This not only causes a bad output, but also one of those long 15-hour days. To fix it, organize your responsibilities.

Responsibility graph

First, get out a piece of paper right now and right down all the responsibilities for the week, and their specified deadlines or when you’d like to get them done. Now before assigning dates to get things done, let’s first question their importance.

Are your responsibilities accurately portraying where you’d like to go in your career? Are they advancing you, or just providing an extra workload? We all know we must keep promises and get things done after we commit, but take note of any regular weekly activities that you may want to drop shortly in the future.

If these items you plan to drop are a strong source of income, plan ahead to replace it, but this time with goals relating to the future of your career instead.

Then, create a daily task list to get the current list done, and a hypothetical list to get a future schedule done – a schedule with any dropped unnecessary tasks.

Day 5: Start Brainstorming

Getting organized is the best way to know what needs to be done, and the best way to efficiently get larger projects done the right way. Before starting a new project, don’t just jump into it. Step back and brainstorm all that you’d like to include, goals for the project, and any additional notes you feel you’ll forget later.

We tend to forget things during the design process, so looking back at our notes from when we had a clear head can really help out. One might think taking the extra time to brainstorm is something “you don’t have time for.” However, the large amount of time it saves during the actual design process is well worth it.


Even if in mid-project, step back for a few moments and reevaluate the current location of the project. Is it still headed in the right direction? What are you still missing? What could be improved? This is a great way to drastically change the outcome of the project for the better, and even better your own techniques as a designer. Also, when doing this, you’re also creating somewhat of a to-do list, so you can just tick items off to progress faster.

Day 6: Get Organized: Tools, Software, Desk Space, and More

On day six, organize your physical space and design tools. Needless to say, a messy desk slows down work flow. What most people don’t know, though, is that a messy area can actually cause stress at a psychological level too. It’s in our instincts, to keep clean and create a livable space for ourselves. (Thank you psychology class.)

When we let things get out of control, our stress level naturally rises. We think to ourselves, “One more thing to do—clean up this mess.” If you just clean up the mess once, and keep it clean (try gradually working into new habits to keep a clean desk, like getting rid of any beverage container right after your done with it) then you’ll soon discover much more stress-free days.

Clean desktop

Also organize your computer, from the files on your hard drive, to the software you use most. Move around palettes in Photoshop that work best for you, and delete any old files that are cluttering up your desktop – making it harder for you to find things.

Day 7: Create a Formal Design Process

As freelancers, our biggest responsibilities are the clients and projects we currently possess. Managing our portfolio, checking email, and reviewing statistics are just the backdrops of our career.

This is why the process for client work we all individually have has to be at its most efficient. Take the time to write out a formal design process. Include client communication, the actual designing time, and final consultation sessions. With more practice, we can see what works best and runs the most smoothly, so be sure to take note of these things and include them in your process.

Not only will creating a more efficient design process save time in its own sense, but it will also help save time by giving you a step-by-step guide to what to do during a project. This should eliminate all extra “what now” time in your schedule. (Which turns into free time at the end of the day!)

We’ll be coming out with a series very soon on how to manage collaborative design sessions effectively in the near future, too, so look out for that.

Day 8: Take the Day Off

On the 8th day, you may rest. As freelancers, we often forget what weekends once were. Remember—it’s the two days you had off when you worked at your day job. Not taking at least one day off to rest can gradually raise stress as a lifestyle – quite opposite of a day-to-day stress roller coaster.

Continue to think of ways to increase your productivity and efficiency. You may find it’s actually possible to get more work done, and take more time off at night and on weekends.

Written By Kayla

Kayla Knight is a 20 year old college student, part-time web developer, freelancer, and blogger. Webitect is where she spends too much of her freetime, sharing interesting finds and valuable resources. Be sure to check out her portfolio.


  1. Sean Hurley

    July 24th, 2009 at 01:23 pm

    What a great list! The email one is my biggest problem. I’m a little cracked out on the berry to often :|

  2. John Strewart

    July 24th, 2009 at 01:37 pm

    Thanks, 20 year old freelancer!!
    My advise: Keep on sleeping and ignoring e-mails

  3. Kayla

    July 24th, 2009 at 01:50 pm

    That’s quite an extension of what I actually said…I think you’ve missed the point. Nevermind that I’m only 20, I’ve had over 5 years freelancing experience, and 10 years total in the field. Not any different than someone starting in their mid 20′s in the field and being 30…

  4. DebugLife.com

    July 24th, 2009 at 02:32 pm

    I like this post. It’s more along the lines of the stuff that I write about on my blog.

    So I would like add one to your list, if I may…well, more of an extension of #3:

    What do you do when you have several Priority-1 issues? You have 4 things that need to be done and they are all due yesterday. You can’t really pick and choose which one needs to get done first, because they are all important. I often have the problem with my IT work.

    I find that in those cases, you just need to grab the first item that pops to mind and get on it. Then the next and the next…(like you said). Forget strategy, just brute force through your work load.

    As for sleeping-in (which I am a fan of), I find that I can’t do that if I am stressed. I tend to be the opposite. The night before, I just go to bed a little early and wake up earlier in the morning (refreshed) and get to it. Some people are more productive in the morning, while others are more productive later in the day. So I guess you figure out whats best and roll with it.

    ok…it’s been six minutes, I better go check my email now. ;)


  5. Kayla

    July 24th, 2009 at 02:37 pm

    Great tips. I understand that there can be many #1 things to do in one day. In that case, the strategy I discussed may not be best for you. Like you said, it’s about figuring out what’s right for you. Perhaps in situations like this you could start planning ahead, while getting caught up so that many of the Priority-1 things can get done days ahead of time.

    Overall I think a lot of people can benefit from reorganizing their efficiency, even if it means not following these specific guidelines. :)

  6. Mimi

    July 25th, 2009 at 04:24 am

    LOL That person didn’t even have the guts to leave a real URL. I bet their site sucks. :P

    Anyway these were nice little tips, I am not a freelancer (don’t have the skills!) but if I were I would take this advice. It can also be applied to some other areas of life which is why I liked it so much.

  7. Akbarsait

    July 26th, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Nice Read and really a Good article.

  8. Cody Robertson

    July 26th, 2009 at 09:52 pm

    Kayla, you must use your tips, you never seem to get my emails. :P I try not to check my email to much. But sometimes I have to. I do a lot of talk to clients on Gmail or Skype because its what the prefer.

  9. tutorialslounge

    July 28th, 2009 at 03:26 am

    your post really helping for relax work environment how we create around and get more smile at work or during work. thanks

  10. Roberto

    August 21st, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing.