Ever had a bad day? Ever left work feeling like you’ve not achieved anything? Of course you have, everyone has.


Yes, bad or unproductive days are inevitable and unavoidable, and normally you can get away with them every-so-often, but is it the same for freelance or contract workers?


In short, no, it’s one of the hardest things to overcome as a freelancer. Normally you are brought in on a short-term basis or project specific. Meaning you’re working on a day (or hour) rate, so not delivering your best work for that day or hour means you don’t get a chance to rectify it tomorrow. I’m not saying it’s like playing the World Cup Final everyday and you MUST be at 100% all the time. But as a freelancer you have much less time to impress, you don’t have a 3 month probation to get to grips with the company culture, project requirements and deliver your best work. You normally have until lunchtime…


So how do you fight the block and make sure on the days you’re not firing, you deliver to justify your rate and ensure you get a callback?


Here are my 5 tips that I’ve used over the course of my career to ensure I leave my clients happy and most importantly, more than satisfied.


  1. Use you (lunch) break wisely. Even in a high pressure environment, if you need a break, you need a break. Stopping for 10 minutes may increase your productivity in the other 7 hours, 50 minutes. So don’t be shy to take a break. But use your time wisely, remember you’re on the clock. When the juices are flowing, don’t interrupt it with any downtime. Getting in the zone or on a roll isn’t easy, so when you’re in it, ride it, and produce your best work. Equally if you’ve hit a wall and nothing is looking right, step away from your desk and restart your brain. Whether that is going for a walk, getting some lunch or just sitting in the break-out zones for a minute or two. Then come back and smash it.
  2. Show your workings. Clients are human, and most the time, they will understand that you may not get to what they had in their head on attempt number one. And that is okay. If you haven’t already, being a designer, you will need to develop very thick skin, and learn to take criticism in your stride. A trick I’ve used before is getting a paper and pen and mapping things out or begin to plan/wireframe on multiple pieces of paper spread over a desk. This can be a useful exercise not only to show your process but help you refine your thoughts and get them all down on paper. And even if you haven’t got the final concept or deliverable ready at the time, you do have lots to talk through and explain your thoughts.
  3. This tip ties into number 2; be confident. Confidence and arrogance are finely balanced, so be careful, but if done correctly you’ll earn the right to have an opinion which in turn means you can explain, justify and challenge when things aren’t quite clicking.
  4. Now this suggestion won’t suit everyone, but use your own time to make up some lost client time. If you treat rates as the client buying your time (which you should), and you have an hour where you’re not at your best, I will feel obliged to repay that time with some of mine. Now it doesn’t have to mean an hour lost in the office equals an hour spent at home working, but thinking time or additional research time is an easy and fair way to repay some of that time. Be smart with this too, I tend to use my commute not watching Netflix or reading a book, but to continue where I left off (or work on something else). Again it’s about balance though. It is super important to have some down time or refresh time. You have a finite amount of concentration or creativity in a block, so it’s important to switch off and power down every so often.
  5. And finally, if you’re in a rut, check out some inspiration, and label it as ‘competitor research’. If this is already part of your design process and you’ve hit a brick wall, take 10 minutes looking at BehanceDribble or just browse Google to inspire you and trigger that creativity. Be careful not to spend too long searching around though, as one, time is money, and two, you don’t want to be accused of plagiarism or just copying someone else. Treat it as jump starting a car, sometimes you need it.

I hope you can use these pointers to help you next time you don’t feel at your best. But remember, do it your way and always be respectful of your clients time (and money) and I’m sure that’ll prevail in the long run.

James Allen

James Allen

An award winning graphic designer with over 10 years experience, specialising in UI/UX and the customer experience.