See how freelance graphic designer Grace Fussell stays motivated and creative as she takes us on a tour of her average workday from home.

Hey there! I’m Grace, a graphic designer based in Manchester in the UK. I head up creative agency Blue Whippet Studio and e-learning site InDesignSkills. I’m a regular contributor on the Shutterstock blog, as well.

Until recently my living and working arrangements were pretty separate, with my daily work being based in a buzzy co-working space. Of course, with all of us isolating and social distancing at home, the work had to head homewards too. Now I’m working from the flat I share with my boyfriend and whippet in Castlefield, close to the city center, and the way I run my business has had to rapidly adapt as a result.

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Setting a Cozy Workspace

Having been used to the luxury of a separate office space for a while, I found it initially pretty tricky to keep creative and motivated at home. It’s taken a bit of experimentation to find a routine that allows me to keep inspired and productive, but I think I’ve almost…almost…got it nailed now. 

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Professional Comfort
Lipstick up top. Sweatpants below. A winning formula for Zoom calls.

Here, join me in a typical day in my life*—like many of us now, the life of an isolating, work-from-home freelancer. I also want to share with you some of the tips and techniques that help me to feel creative and motivated while running my business from home. 

*Disclaimer: This is a particularly productive day and not representative of all days in lockdown (some days involve a lot of Netflix). I’m hoping this snapshot into one of my better days will give you an insight into how creative folk can take small steps towards keeping their businesses moving and productive in this time of flux.


7am 

Every day starts with my whippet, Colin, waking me up. He likes to push me out of bed and take my spot…so he can continue to sleep in greater comfort. Most mornings he looks like The Princess and the Pea

The first—of many—coffees.

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Starting the Day
Colin is enjoying lockdown more than most. 

8.30am 

Taking the time to get outside and walk or run (with Colin in tow) really helps to set myself up for the day. No wonder, given that exercise, whether inside or outdoors, has been proven to improve cognitive thinking and creativity.

We check in on the swan who has chosen to nest by the side of the canal behind our apartment building. She is tending to seven eggs.

After a brief nature and exercise fix, the endorphins are flowing and I’m ready to get to work.

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Use Exercise to Boost Creativity
The upside of isolation: urban areas have become quieter spots for wildlife to settle and thrive.  

9.30am 

David and I have set up our desks in the spare room of the flat. Colin takes his place in his basket by the window.

Accompanied by copious amounts of coffee, I fire up the computer and make a start. I read and respond to emails and check my calendar for upcoming video meetings. I also check in on Trello where I answer comments from my editors and fellow freelancers.

To help me structure the day and feel more motivated, I use Google Tasks to make a to-do list for the day ahead.

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Settling in to Work
David converted the dining table into a work desk. We’re lucky that we can close the door to this room at the end of the day, keeping it reserved for work only, which helps us to switch off and relax.

I need to balance design projects and writing jobs for clients with maintaining the InDesignSkills website, so it’s really important for my productivity levels that I can focus completely on a single task at any one time. If I can give something my full attention the results will be much better than if I multi-task.

To help me keep focussed on a creative task, I switch off push notifications for email and social media, allowing myself to check email at just a few intervals during the day. I also use the app Freedom to block potentially distracting websites while I’m working. Facebook can wait until after six. 

10.30am

I check in with the InDesignSkills marketing team via Zoom or Google Hangouts. We discuss our goals for the week and month ahead and make a plan of action. This week, we’re working on a series of typography-themed video tutorials and focusing on building up our presence on Pinterest.

11am 

More coffee!

At the moment, I’m working on a magazine design for a client in the States. It’s just about ready to send to print, but needs a few final tweaks. 

I find that listening to music on my headphones helps me to really focus on a task at hand. It might sound boring but often familiar songs, some to the point of being overplayed to death, help me when I’m designing. At the moment I’m listening to Andrew Bird and Everything But the Girl on repeat. 

I open up the artwork in Adobe InDesign and work my way through a list of edits. I want to aim to get the artwork finished and exported as a PDF before lunch, ready for sending over to the client on Wetransfer.

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Setting up a Schedule
Making final edits to the magazine artwork in InDesign.

12pm

A break for lunch, and also a chance to catch one of the daily Adobe Live streams, which feature guest artists, designers, and photographers. It’s a great way to feel part of a larger network of creatives, and you can pick up some handy design tips too. Today, Alex Lazaris, head of brand design studio Lazaris, is screencasting some of his 3D design work.

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Take Breaks and Connect to Other Professionals

I also like to check in on Twitter, updating the Blue Whippet Studio and InDesignSkills accounts, and read new posts on the Shutterstock blog.

Apparently, laughter can help you to solve problems more creatively. Bob Mortimer’s Train Guy on Instagram is helping to keep spirits up in our household. 

1.30pm

Coffee! Again.

Before the Covid-19 crisis, I was months away from graduating from a degree in Product Design. Luckily, I’ve been able to transition to working on my final project remotely, with the support of video tutorials and online libraries. I’m working on a chair design at the moment, so my desk is covered in sketches of zany-looking furniture and inspirational books and magazines. 

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Keep Sketches and Inspirational Material Nearby
My work desk doubles up as a study space too. I like to be surrounded by lots of inspirational images, books and objects to keep my creative juices flowing. OK, so it’s a little cluttered, but it’s how I like it. 

I’m trying to work out how I’m going to make models of my designs without any of the sophisticated equipment, such as 3D printers and woodwork studios, usually available to me at the university. Cardboard and will have to do. 

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Make Use of the Tools Available

3pm

I like to split my working day into creative and admin tasks. If I get into a rut with a design, I can switch to something different and come back to it later on with some new ideas. This is just a technique that I’ve found works well for me. You might feel completely differently and prefer longer periods of creative work.

Today, I spend an hour updating my business books using QuickBooks, and put together some invoices for completed work. I often use Upwork for setting up contracts for jobs, so I pay a visit to the site and update the jobs I have finished. Upwork is also a good place to look for freelance jobs, with clients posting projects on the Find Work page.

4pm

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Use Breaks to Keep Your Mind Fresh
Rest breaks are important for keeping your creativity levels high and your productivity up throughout the day. 

Towards the end of the day my motivation starts to lag a little. I take a quick break on the balcony and listen to fifteen minutes of a podcast. My favorite is 99% Invisible, which talks about the often unsung impact that design has in our daily lives.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of idle time. A scientific study actually found that letting your mind wander can lead to better creative problem solving.

So there’s no harm in having a little daydreaming session during your working day!

4.15pm

After a short break I’m feeling more creative.

I often work on tutorials and articles for my own site and other design blogs, such as Shutterstock. Writing about design is one of my favorite things to do. I really love delving into a topic and presenting it to readers in the form of photos or infographics. Today, I’m working on an article about upcoming trends in the graphic design industry, so I do some research online and check out some industry magazines.

Dezeen, Design Week, and the Shot List are all great resources for trend-spotting and, in these times of isolation, for keeping updated with industry news and feeling connected with other creative professionals. 

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Keep an Eye on Trends
Keeping an eye on design trends within your industry can help you to keep your work focus fresh and forward-looking. The Shot List is a monthly guide to the most requested content on the Shutterstock library.

6pm

It’s the end of the working day, and time to start winding down. David starts to finish up his work for the day too, so we close the door to the shared “office” and celebrate with a little evening aperitif.

Our favorite evening activity is to cook. Cooking is not only a tried-and-tested technique for relaxing and decompressing after the working day, but it’s also another great way to flex your creative skills.

With it being more difficult to find some ingredients in the stores, we have to think more creatively to create a tasty meal. Tonight we’re cooking potatoes three ways and I’m baking banana bread!

8pm

After dinner, we catch up with family and friends on Houseparty before reading, watching a TV show (Killing Eve is our current obsession) and heading to bed.

The Life of a Freelance Designer Working from Home — Keep Up with Friends and Family
Colin calls his friend Fred on Houseparty.

Another day done in the “innovation isolation station.”

Before I fall asleep I write up a few jobs to do for the next day on Google Tasks, so I can start tomorrow feeling productive and raring to go! 

Lights out

Thanks for joining me for a regular working day, albeit in isolation. From setting out your tasks for the day to taking regular rest breaks, I’ve discovered a few simple tips for keeping motivated and creative that work for me.

Reading industry blogs, checking in with clients and collaborators on Trello, Zoom and Upwork, and surrounding myself with inspirational objects and drawings also ensure I give myself the best chance for having a productive day and having a home environment that fosters creativity and joy. 


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