Downtime for me usually occurs around the time I have just finished a project or right before a new project is about to begin. Over the years I have learned that this time is actually very valuable and can be used to improve myself as a web designer. The following are a few suggestions of things that I do to keep myself productive during this time.
Reading Web Related Books
I find books to be an invaluable resource to furthering my education as a web designer. There are new or updated versions of books appearing almost on a daily basis. Reading can be a bit time consuming when you are also juggling a couple of design projects so using any off time to learn from the leading authors of our industry is time well spent.
Here are a few resources for great reading material:
- Peachpit Books
- Friends of Ed Books
- Sitepoint Books
- O’Reilly Books
- .net Magazine
I would also recommend creating a budget for books if possible. I read and purchase quite a lot of web design and technical books but have found they can get very expensive and very quickly. The upside is that books can be swapped or resold but a simple budget can help to ensure that you have a specific amount to spend on books each month and that it doesn’t get out of control.
Improve Your Skills or Learn Something New
The web is still a fairly new medium and with the huge amount of technologies available there is always something new to learn or ways to improve your current skill set. I find that downtime is the perfect opportunity to take some time to practice/improve the things that I do on a daily basis. Whether it be learning a new technique in Photoshop or Fireworks, creating a personal framework of HTML and CSS files, or just finding ways to improve communication with clients you can use this time to improve your skills to use in your next project.
While improving your current skill set can be valuable to your clients, I also find learning something brand new can be just as beneficial. New skills will also help to increase not only your knowledge but can also be a great way to increase your income. By being able to provide an additional service you may be able to raise your rates! And who doesn’t want or need a bit of extra income in today’s economy, right?
Interact with Fellow Designers
A lot of folks in our industry work from home or solo in their own firms. While this is a blessing it can also be a curse and become a lonely situation. I recently took some of my downtime and met with a local designer for lunch. I had not previously met or had any interaction with him beside the occasional message on twitter. It was not only a great time but also showed me that I am not the only designer that works very long days and without much outside interaction. It also gave me someone to talk about design with, shoot ideas off of, and maybe even someone to collaborate with in the future.
This was a great way to improve the office morale if you will but is something I hope to do more of in the future. If you work alone, getting out of the office and meeting with like-minded designers can be a great idea.
Of course, you can also interact online but I find I can also do this during my normal workdays. This also doesn’t require me to leave my computer which isn’t as beneficial in my honest opinion.
Get Away from the Computer
I have come across this tidbit of advice on many occasions. Getting away from your desk or computer is a must for a freelance or solo designer. It can be very easy to work the entire day without even realizing it. Downtime provides the perfect opportunity to take a bit of time off, get out from in front of your monitor, but also remain productive using the previous things I have mentioned above.
Also getting out and having a bit of fun can be a great way to find inspiration for your next project. Just taking your mind off of work and enjoying yourself a bit is a great way to refresh your mind and come up with some great ideas. Your family will love you for it too!! Hint Hint!
Work on Your Blog or Personal Website
As web designers, we can be our worst critics. I have yet to find a designer that doesn’t want to rework or improve at least a portion of their personal website. Downtime can be the perfect time for experimenting with a new idea or even creating some compelling new content for your personal site or blog.
Sometimes our best ideas come when we as designers aren’t influenced by deadlines, client criticism, or even co-workers or colleagues. This can also give you some time to improve areas of your site that may not be obvious in a visual sense. Improving site performance, planning for new or updated content, or even just experimenting with new ideas can all be a great way to spend any off time you may have.
So those are just a few of my suggestions of ways to keep productive in between projects or clients while also improving your web design skills and productivity. It’s very important to not work yourself into burnout but with the web changing at a lightning-fast speed, it can be hard to keep up. Although, if you do have a bit of downtime it doesn’t have to be a stressful or unproductive situation.
Thanks for reading and if you found this article helpful, feel free to drop me a comment and let me know what you think. Also if you have any additional tips or suggestions I would love to hear them!
I like the idea of setting budgets for books – but I also like to try and set budgets for beer too! That makes for some terrific (but admittedly not very productive) downtime!
That’s a nice article with some good ideas, thanks.
I like the idea of downtime. Unfortunately at the moment for me this is hard to come by. When your working a full time gig and freelancing downtime is more difficult. Fortunately however my freelance work has taken the hit out of the two and i am still finding a great blend between freelancing/social and actual full time work.
The way i work it is try and get myself to the gym regulary (4 times a week at the moment) and use my weekends mostly for social time. I may get up one morning on Saturday and Sunday and do a few hours work but my main downtime is the weekends and my time at the gym.
From a freelance perspective i am yet to have a ‘real time’ downtime as my work is still full time however some of the things you have mentioned ring true on many levels.
Part of my aspirations is to delve into wordpress. I use the platform however my designing experience on it is limited. From an SEO and PPC point of view it would be great to produce my personal portfolio in the way i want to and the only ways to do that is either design it yourself or pay someone to do it.
Ill take into account everything you have said within my future development. Great reading.
Don’t just read design books – try SEO, PPC, copywriting, etc. Expand your skills.
Great Read – thanks! I agree with getting away from the computer. As being new to web design, Between blogs, Lynda.com and learning and enhancing my Photoshop skills (As I work from home and am already on the computer) I found myself in front of the computer 12-14 hrs a day. With so much to learn and just enjoying what I do – it is hard to get away. However when I am away (take 2 days away from the computer) it is refreshing and your mind does tend to open up more. This is indeed a Must.
Web Designer Downtime…
A few tips and suggestions for keeping productive and improving your skill set when projects or clients are slow….