The Top 7 Productivity Roadblocks That Crush Designers’ Creativity


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When your livelihood depends on your ability to churn out creative designs everyday, it’s imperative that you stay productive, which means keeping the creative engine running and the imagination full of inspiration.

(Read more here: 14 Online Resources for Breaking Through a Creative Block.)

But sometimes no matter how creative the actual output is, a designer’s work can get bogged down by roadblocks and external circumstances. These are harder to combat, as they often involve multiple parties or moving parts that you cannot (always) control. We asked our own team of designers as well as design experts on social media what they consider to be the top productivity roadblocks, and present them here alongside some solutions and advice for getting past these challenges.

You can also download this as a handy ebook that can be easily shared with your entire team. Read on!

The Top 7 Productivity Roadblocks

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Productivity Roadblock 1: Overwhelmed by demands & requests

A study by iStockPhoto found that 60% of creatives had “great ideas†in the past year, but simply had no time to work on them. It’s a fact of life: everyone in creative services, designers included, is overwhelmed by the sheer number of demands made upon their time. Jobs pile upon one another, each with a deadline that screams “ASAP!†If business is good, the flood is constant and it’s a good problem to have. But drowning in to-do items means jobs have to be processed as quickly as possible. Which very often means your designs aren’t as polished or outstanding as you’d want them to be. Being overwhelmed and overloaded is a very real problem in today’s fast-paced workplace where it’s all about velocity. But there are ways to deal with this.

The very first method is changing your mindset regarding being overwhelmed to accept that you cannot control your circumstances, merely your reaction to them. In short, don’t complain about the amount of work — after all, you don’t want your clients to stop giving you jobs. (Or there goes your paycheck!) Instead, find and perfect your process to completing work no matter how voluminous. This means optimizing your tools so you can get things done quickly, and getting past perfectionism to distinguish when your work is good — and when it’s good enough.

Some practical solutions: (more details in the ebook)
1. Learn your keyboard shortcuts
2. Define and optimize your workflow
3. Prioritize your work
4. Have a system for your to-do items

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Productivity Roadblock 2: Lack of time to incubate

Part and parcel of being overwhelmed by demands is a lack of time. This makes it especially difficult to produce, because the creative process requires a certain amount of incubation — where an idea is left to marinate until you make the necessary mental connections that can lead to a breakthrough. Lack of time means you’ll have to approach your work more from a production mindset (produce stuff quickly then move on to the next job) than a creative artist mindset (spend a few weeks trying to brainstorm the perfect way to present information).

As the adage says, when everything is urgent, nothing is urgent. It’s a fact of life for designers everywhere struggling to crank out amazing work within tight timeframes. The solution lies not in trying to make the heavy workload disappear, but rather in trying to regain a sense of creative flow that will allow you to take on your design jobs with greater positivity. Here are our suggestions for dealing with the lack of time for incubation:

Some practical solutions: (more details in the ebook)

1. Go out of your way to find inspiration
2. Capture and store ideas wherever you are

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Productivity Roadblock 3: Changing Requirements (AKA Scope Creep)

The best way to explain scope creep is when a client asks for a logo but expects a full brand identity. It’s the familiar scenario where the client from hell constantly demands new additions and revisions, and the simple project you thought you had at the start has mutated into a nine-headed Hydra.

Scope creep is caused by 4 major factors: a lack of initial details that would give the designer the correct direction, weak communication with the client resulting in delays and rework, differing opinions from clients and colleagues, and everyone’s favorite: 11th hour feedback.

Like any roadblock however, scope creep can be managed with the proper preparation by using these two tools:

Some practical solutions: (more details in the ebook)
1. The contract
2. The creative brief

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Productivity Roadblock 4: Micromanagement

Another huge roadblock to productivity is micromanagement. This could be a manager hovering over you and watching while you work, or could take the form of a client constantly checking up with you at every step of the creative process. While micromanagement might seem like merely tracking the progress of a project, it is quite detrimental to the creative process since it disrupts a designer’s flow. It deters Innovation, it decreases the speed at which your entire organization executes work, and overall it decreases the amount of positivity in the workplace.

There are positive ways to handle micromanagement, however, so that you can get back to doing your job instead of having to entertain the person hovering over your shoulder.

Some practical solutions: (more details in the downloadable ebook)
1. Remember that micromanagers are not the enemy
2. Confront the micromanaging behavior
3. Placate the concern of the micromanager

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Productivity Roadblock 5: Decisions/Approvals by Committee

Since we’re using colloquialisms left and right here, let me add one more: beware of too many cooks in the kitchen. Having multiple stakeholders chiming in at every stage of the design process places unnecessary stress on the designer and hinders your work. Because not everyone provides feedback in a timely manner, and if every stakeholder must have a say before a design is passed, you’re in for a long ride full of conflicting opinions and no clear path forward. Too many cooks spoil the broth after all — or make it impossible to even start cooking.

Some Practical Solutions: (more details in the downloadable ebook)
1. Have a formal system for approvals
2. Don’t let it get to you
3. Assign a liaison

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Productivity Roadblock 6: Too Much Admin Work

If you’re doing administrative work, you’re NOT doing the creative work that you excel in. For in-house designers, this is a losing situation, because administrative tasks such as following up with creative directors on their feedback, or asking for more info on a project, aren’t the best use of your time and skills. If you’re a freelance designer, then it’s a necessity because admin tasks will include billing, relationship building, or even promoting your business online.

According to the Creative Industry Report, only 51% of creative leaders have dedicated account or project managers, which means almost half of all creatives become de facto account managers, taking on a role and skill set they haven’t been taught, and forcing them to spend precious time answering emails and attending meetings.

And yet these things have to get done to move a project forward or to find new clients. How do you deal with admin work?

Some practical solutions: (more details in the downloadable ebook)
1. Look for automation tools
2. Brainstorm with your team
3. Focus on the end goal
4. Use time management methods

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Productivity Roadblock 7: Switching Tools Constantly

While designers work predominantly in Adobe products and the Creative Cloud, account managers and project managers might be using a dizzying combination of email, spreadsheets, and instant messaging to manage resources and stay on top of the workload. But this means when a creative director leaves feedback on a logo, you have to switch from Adobe to a communication tool multiple times throughout the day just to monitor incoming comments. All that switching means time lost from executing on the work.

Some practical solutions: (more details in the downloadable ebook)
1. Limit the number of tools used to manage the workflow
2. Use a work management tool that integrates with Adobe

Clear Out These Roadblocks ASAP

In the end, we all know these roadblocks will hinder a designer’s work, whether the output suffers in a lack of quality or in achieving deadlines. It’s essential to keep an eye out for them so that they can be cleared out of the way as soon as they appear.

DOWNLOAD: A more detailed discussion of these 7 productivity roadblocks for designers is available as a free ebook download here.

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Wrike is an online work management solution, that that helps creative teams easily manage requests, scope creep, and creative briefing so they can manage less and create more. You can start a free trial here.

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