How to be a more productive designer: 7 project management tips
Picture it: you turn on your computer for the day and see your inbox flooded with requests. Your desk is littered with sticky notes, to-do lists, and random scribbled-down thoughts. Some of your clients have sent feedback, others have revision requests, you have new designs to start, and you can’t remember at all what’s happening with that huge ongoing design project you’re working on. Then, you realize there’s a big deadline today you completely forgot about. You’ve been ‘working’ for just a few minutes, and you’re already frazzled and stressed.
Now let’s set another scene — one that’s a bit less overwhelming.
You settle in at your desk with your favorite beverage (perhaps a chai latte?). When you open your computer to start your work day, you already have a plan. You check for updates on progress made by your colleagues, then hop over to the inbox you have for client request forms and get a birds-eye view of what’s waiting for you. You’re excited and ready to start doing what you love — and you know exactly which deadlines are upcoming and what’s left to accomplish.
A workday as organized as the second one is actually possible. And there’s one major thing that’ll get you from chaos to smooth sailing in your design workflow: project management. Here are seven ways to stay organized and on top of your projects.
Thanks to our friends at Height for sponsoring this blog post!
Tip #1: Record the process for repeat tasks in your design flow
As you build habits and get into a flow with your design work, it’s a good idea to record or write out the processes you’re developing. This works well for things like competitor research, creating initial sketches, completing revisions, or even client-facing tasks like customer service or invoicing. Documenting those processes will save you time and make your workflow easier to replicate or share with others — it’s like a guide to what you do and how you do it.
This is essential whether you’re freelancing, in-house, or at an agency. As things grow and change in your business, having those set processes and workflows creates a standard and keeps everyone aligned.
You can create templates for projects, workflows, and tasks you do often — when a new client or ask comes along, you’ll be able to duplicate that template, add in key information, and get started with an organized plan that you know works for you.
Tip #2: Keep track of important decisions & context in one place
Another key element of staying organized as a designer is recording decisions and the context around those decisions. Make sure you’re noting:
- When the decision was made
- Why the decision was made
- Who was involved in making the decision
This is so important to keep everyone aligned throughout the design process and ensure no important decisions slip through the cracks (or aren’t easy to find later). Record decisions and context in one place, then share with everyone who was there or needs to know — that way, nothing gets lost or misremembered.
Tip #3: Create request forms to eliminate back-and-forth
Whether a client has a revision request or another team has a series of design asks, without a set process in place, you’ll spend lots of time going back-and-forth about key details. What exactly do they need? What’s the priority level and deadline? Are there specific elements the design should have?
To eliminate the back-and-forth (and house all the information about a request in one place), create a request form! You can share this internally with other teams if you’re in-house, or send directly to clients if you’re at an agency or freelancing.
With some tools, you can create task forms — customize the questions and requirements on the form, and then when someone fills it out, it automatically creates a new task with all of the information included. From there, it’s easy to delegate work and keep tabs on the task’s status without constantly searching for messages or details. In Height, you can even set up task forms that automatically create subtasks: when the requester fills out your task form, Height automatically creates the relevant subtasks, like “Send invoice.” It’s a great way to quickly set up the tasks you know you’ll need for a particular ask.
Pro tip: If you aren’t using a project management tool yet, try Google Forms or Typeform as a quick fix for creating work intake forms.
📌 BONUS TIP: USE TASK FORMS TO SUPPLEMENT LIVE CONVERSATIONS
Maybe the idea of standardizing all client requests or asks with a form feels impersonal (we get it!). You can still experience the benefits of a task form by adding it to your customer management workflow.
If you’re chatting live with a client or having a meeting, consider using a task form yourself to stay on track, make sure you remember all the key details you need, and get essential information up-front so you can budget and plan for the work accordingly. You can then submit the task form, and in some tools, like Height, as soon as the form is submitted, a task is created that you’ll be able to seamlessly assign out or take action on.
Tip #4: Break larger projects up into measurable milestones
Receiving a new project, client, or design request is exciting — you’re ready to dive in and start doing the creative work you love. But it’s also really overwhelming thinking about the final deliverables with no plan for how you’ll get there.
To avoid overwhelm, you’ve got to break your big projects up into measurable, achievable milestones. Create subtasks and assign deadlines for each milestone to ensure the ‘bigger’ deadlines are easy to achieve.
In some project management tools, subtasks are totally reliant on the overarching project. But in a tool like Height, subtasks are treated as first-class citizens, meaning they can have their own individual due dates, assignees, descriptions, and more. You can check off subtasks or parent tasks without automatically checking off the other — so if one piece of the project is missing, all of the other tasks can stay totally up-to-date.
Breaking up your projects holds everyone accountable for specific pieces of the puzzle.
Breaking up your projects helps you stay on track. And if you’re working with a team, everyone can see an overview of the project as well as more granular details — it holds everyone accountable for specific pieces of the puzzle.
When you create measurable milestones and subtasks for big projects, there’s another key benefit: you’ll give other stakeholders visibility into the process, thereby managing expectations around the speed and progress of the project.
Tip #5: Take advantage of templates specifically for designers
Here’s the truth: if you aren’t using a project management tool of some kind, you’re not as organized as you could (or should) be. These tools let you build out workflows, assign tasks, and keep every project on-track — some tools will even let you house conversations right within tasks so nothing gets missed.
Lots of project management tools offer pre-built templates for designers and design projects. But even if a template doesn’t feel specific to design, you could test it and repurpose it — templates make organization easier because you don’t have to face that “blank page syndrome” and come up with everything on your own.
Templates are also a great resource for learning best practices, especially if it’s one of the first times you’re doing something (like creating a user research plan, starting to plan a content calendar, etc). You’ll have an idea of what those tasks or projects typically look like, and then as you get into a groove doing them, you can customize those templates however you see fit.
Tip #6: Share your project management boards with clients and colleagues
When you’re on a team, staying connected with other key players is a must. Keeping your teammates updated about design progress and decisions can feel like another job in itself.
An easy way to streamline those updates is to share your project, board, or list with your teammates to give them at-a-glance details about where you’re at in the process.
You can also consider sharing your project management boards or lists with your clients. Especially if you’re struggling with clients constantly messaging you for updates, sharing access with them helps cut down on the noise and lets you communicate progress without extra work. Giving them visibility into the process can help manage their expectations and keep them from feeling stressed about timelines.
Tip #7: Organize the way you collect design feedback
When you’re using email, or a tool like Slack to have conversations about design, it can get messy (fast). You fall right back into the “sticky notes all over your desk” state of mind. It’s hard to find things and keep track of key conversations, decisions, or pieces of feedback.
That’s why organizing your feedback collection and collaboration processes is essential. You could create a specific task form, as we talked about above, for collecting feedback.
You should track each piece of feedback you receive as a task so that nothing gets missed. Even if you aren’t going to take action on a particular feedback item, this shows your colleagues and clients that you’re aware of it and keeps everyone aligned.
If you design in Figma, Height has a seamless integration that lets you centralize conversations and decisions within both platforms simultaneously. You can post screenshots of designs and share updates on linked tasks without leaving the frame, and automatically cross-post comments from Figma as messages on tasks.
You’ll also be able to create new tasks and share design previews within them, without ping-ponging back and forth between tabs. It’s a much more seamless way to collaborate.
The benefits of designer productivity
Project management may not be as exciting as delivering a beautiful final product to your client, but it’s incredibly important. Designers who implement project management strategies will experience better collaboration, more seamless workflows, and less stress. Being organized builds trust with new clients, turning them into repeat customers.
The more a client trusts your process and believes you’re on top of everything, the more they’ll let you be creative and work without constant interruptions for status updates. Project management tools help you stay organized, but they also help you communicate timelines and progress without spending valuable time hosting status update meetings.
At Height, we’re focused on building a whole new type of project management tool: one that works for every team and makes seamless collaboration the norm. For designers, this means chat-based tasks, convenient task forms for requests and feedback, and of course, our popular Figma integration. These tools will help streamline your workflow so you can focus on what you love: creating designs that wow. ■
About Height Height is the project management tool built for fast-growing companies, fully flexible to meet the needs of all teams in one place. Make design collaboration seamless by fully integrating task management with Figma and housing conversations right within tasks (emojis + file previews included). Stay on top of design projects with visualizations that work for you, including spreadsheets, Gantt charts, calendars, or Kanban boards. Try Height now (free!) for better design workflows.