20 Productivity Tips for Surface Pattern Designers

I recently discussed the business term “low hanging fruit” in an Instagram post and how easily I felt it could apply to us as surface designers. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it essentially means focusing on goals that require the least amount of effort. Sounds pretty good, right?

Note: A few links in this post are affiliate links, but I only recommend things I personally use.

From that post, the conversation evolved into a full-blown discussion about easy ways to feel accomplished – something we’re all probably looking for on the daily right now. I mean how often in the past 2 months have you felt like you wasted an entire day? I know I’ve had my fair share!

So today, I’m sharing 20 small things you can do (most take 20 minutes or less) to make yourself feel productive and happier in your creative biz everyday:

  1. Write a favorites list. Jot down your favorite motifs, icons, animals, or words to design. The next time you’re stuck with what to create, pick one from the list.

  2. Recolor old work. By updating the color palette of older portfolio pieces, you can make them feel new again.

  3. Test out unused tools. Learn 1 new-to-you tool in Procreate, PS, or AI. It can often help increase your design speed! Or try out those brushes you bought, but never used.

  4. Find project references. Browse Pinterest with a specific theme in mind. Pin your favorite images to use as inspiration later.

  5. Clean out your inbox. Zero unread messages make for a happy inbox.

  6. Sketch for 10 minutes. Don’t know what to sketch? Choose a random list item from our daily sketch word generator.

  7. Complete an in-progress design. Find a half-finished design (we all have them) or an old design from your archives and finish it. Check out this post for a few tips on how to repurpose your older work.

  8. Tidy your office. Organized spaces can lead to more focus and creativity.

  9. Automate your emails. Write a script/swipe file for the email inquiries you send to new clients & save it. Use it every time you contact new clients (see item #13 on the list).

  10. Look for new clients. Research companies on Instagram, LinkedIn, or trade show websites. You’ll find LOTS more finding buyers tips in my short Skillshare class or get my full research & contact strategy inside our Pitch Your Portfolio course.

  11. Delete or archive old files. Your computer runs better when its hard drive’s not full, so get rid of old stuff (or move it to an EHD). If you remove enough, it could even improve the speed performance of your computer – win, win!

  12. Do trend research. Browse Instagram or Pinterest looking for art trends. Save anything that inspires you.

  13. Send out your art. There’s probably at least 1 contact (new or current) you could email right now. Making this a regular habit will also help increase your confidence in approaching clients.

  14. Reconnect with an art friend. Set up a Skype or Zoom call to talk shop “in person.” Even better if you decide to help each other stay accountable on your goals.

  15. Build an art supply or book wish list. Next time you want to reward yourself for your efforts (something I highly encourage), you’ll already know which items you want. I’ve got a list of my favorite art supplies and books on our Resource page.

  16. Add a coordinate to a solo hero pattern. It can be simple, but can add a lot of value when licensing/selling the print.

  17. Take a few pictures. Go outside or around your house and photograph things you see and like. Use them for inspiration or drawing study reference later on.

  18. Update your portfolio database. Keeping all your info in one document or spreadsheet (I highly recommend using Airtable for everything) can save you a TON of time!

  19. Plan a few IG posts at one time. I love scheduling mine once a week using the Later app.

  20. Free write your art biz goals. Don’t think or judge, just write out your dreams for at least 15 minutes. Keep the notes around to remind yourself of what you want.

What do you think?? Which ones on the list are you most excited to try?

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