Takeaways 2014

As the end of another year approaches, I always find it refreshing to clear out the closet and review the lessons I’ve learned. It is also a great moment to thank the all of the people I’ve worked with. For my first full year of real deal freelancing, I have have had many successes and failures, and below are some of the key takeaways that I hope carry over to 2015.

1. If you build it, they will come

I’ve learned to treat my self-promotion like watering a plant over the past year. I try to maintain a delicate balance so that it does not consume my time, however, nurturing it consistently so that can be used when needed. There are always new social networks that are emerging on the web, but limiting my participation to 3–4 allows me to keep it nice and tidy. However, being consistent is key to growing a following.

2. Be selective about the projects

If you haven’t noticed over the year, good web design is in high demand. When I first started freelancing I would take projects just to get some momentum. But now that I have a steady stream of work, and I can now make it a priority to choose projects that align with my design values. I’ve decided to work on projects that one, solve a real world problems, and two, I can show as part of my portfolio.

3. You can’t know it all

Being a designer and a coder puts me in a unique position. Everytime I try to focus on one side of the fence, I start to long for the other. Each side, however, design and development, are more than enough for one person to take on. So I’ve decided to focus on the essentials of both and creating a strong core skillset.

4. Set your work values and stick to them

Working as a freelancer sometimes makes you vunerable to getting pushed around by larger clients. Just remember that you are your own boss, and that you need to set your work values before taking a job, and stick to them relentlessly. Many times it is all what you do on the first day on the job that sets the expectations, so make sure you make it clear from day one. Set reasonable hours to work, take time for lunch (not in front of the computer), and get enough sleep.

5. Learn to take it slow

In the US, we’ve developed the unhealthy culture of overworking ourselves. On average in a year, a person in the US works 120 more than workers in Britain, 300 more than people in France and 400 than Germans. Here we have the sense of always needing to outperform the person sitting next to you, which turns into a relentless race to the bottom in terms of work/life balance. All too often I see people eating lunch in front of their computers because they are afraid it will make them look poor if they take a longer break, or working unpaid till midnight because of poor scheduling, even though studies have show that this doesn’t make us more productive, but LESS! If you work smarter, you can slow things down and achieve the same results.

If you work smarter, you can slow things down and achieve the same results

6. Break through self-resistance

On my personal projects I’ve noticed through the year that I lose a little bit of steam right before the project is reaching it’s end. When you have that feeling, it usually means you are in the final stretch, and you just need one more boost. Following through has paid off dearly.

8. Freelancing is a business, so learn how to run one

Learning about running a business doesn’t have to be boring. Alot of designers that go solo are turned away by this aspect of freelancing. It might be true that you spend less time doing what you love, but you do gain a holistic picture of what you do. If you love learning as much as I do, even these morsels of business knowledge end up being incredibliy satisfying, and undeniably useful.

9. Work with your hands

With most of my tasks ending up on the computer in some way or form, I’ve learned to make working with my hands a priority. Whether it’s writing in my journal, drawing, or calligraphy, I want to make sure that I stay connected to that part of my self. I’ve long learned to trust that drawing is what helps us refine our visual sensibility, and apparently, it also makes us happier!

10. Set a long term course

Hopping from project to project can give you a false sense of getting somewhere. But I’ve realized over the year that if you don’t have a long term vision, you will most likely end up wandering in circles. I consistently ask myself the questions “Where am I now?” and “Where do I want to be down the road?”. Creating a visual map of these goals keeps from getting off course. Not only will it help define who you are, it will also lends to a better sense of satisfaction.

Those are a few of my takeaways for the year of 2014, and I look forward to what 2015 has to teach me. I thank everyone who I was able to work with and hope that we get the chance to work together again. Happy New Year!

What have you learned over the course of the year, or what do you hope to change in 2015?