6 Ways to Improve Quality in Your Projects and Reduce Stress

Project StressIf you’re like me, each new web design project looks like a fresh adventure to spin your creative wheels on. There are new challenges and ideas that get the mind buzzing. Sadly, this momentary bliss falls apart as I start thinking about everything it’s going to take to finish the project. My mind stops buzzing and goes into shut down mode. All of a sudden, I don’t even want to look at the project anymore.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but projects do introduce a bit of stress and worry. This can lead us to procrastination, unhappiness and reduced quality in our output.

Fortunately, all of those things are avoidable and I’m going to explain how.

Get off on the right footing with clients

The first thing you must do with any project is onboard the client. This is the transition period for new clients, which can be accomplished via email, phone or in person depending on the client.

Before onboarding a client, I always try to get a sense of how they prefer to communicate. Are they an email-only type of client? Or do they prefer face-to-face contact? Choosing the right communication method during the onboarding process is critical.

Once you get an idea of how you’re going to communicate with your new client, acquaint them with your project process. Call them up, email them or set up a meeting to go over how you work, what the expectations are and what you need to get started. Clear away any lingering questions and concerns, and make sure you both have a solid understanding of each other.

I can’t emphasize enough how vital it is to properly initiate clients into a project. Most stress during projects comes from a disconnect between your expectations and the client’s. Define these expectations immediately before you do any work to alleviate stress before it happens.

Use clear milestones

At the very basic, you should include a core set of milestones with all of your projects. They can even be as basic as “Week One: Onboard Client” and “Week Three: Present Mock-up”. The key is to make sure your milestones are attainable in the allotted time, clear in scope and narrow in definition.

Milestones that are attainable give you enough time to actually complete them. I can’t think of anything more stressful than being confronted with a slew of milestones that have impossible deadlines. For example, is it really attainable to have a final mock-up completed in the first week of the project?

A milestone that is clear in scope is a milestone that makes sense. Essentially, by completing a milestone you should be completing an identifiable part of the project. Creating an initial mock-up or setting up the content management system are both clear in scope. By completing them, you know what the outcome is. Anything that isn’t clear in scope is unknown and the unknown has always been a factor of stress for humans.

Finally, stress-free milestones are narrow in definition. If you have a milestone five weeks out that says something along the lines of, “Finish Web Site,” you have problems. First of all, how many parts make up that milestone? This milestone may be clear in scope because you understand everything that goes into it, and it may be attainable because you’ve given yourself five weeks, but it’s too big. When things get too big, we tend to have a hard time wrapping our minds around it. When that happens we get stressed. The way to avoid this is by breaking your milestones up into chewable chunks. If you get overwhelmed just thinking about a milestone, it’s too big. Break it down.

Set more realistic timelines

The key root to stress and poor quality is lack of time. Creativity and good workmanship takes time. If you don’t give yourself that time, you’re going to become stressed. Just think about the last impossible deadline you encountered. How did that make you feel?

The solution to this problem is simple. Set longer timelines. I used to set myself a four-week timeline to get a web site project done. I almost never met the deadlines, stressed out and was always apologizing to clients. So again, the solution was simple. I extended my deadlines to 10 weeks. That’s right – I more than doubled my timeline.

Did prospects question this extended timeline? No. In proposals that go out, I make sure that the milestones that make up this timeline are defined. This leaves prospects with a clear roadmap from start to finish and the results have been amazing. I can now meet deadlines with less stress and clients no longer feel rushed to provide me with input, content and other deliverables.

Know your limitations

When you’re managing multiple parts of a complex project, your time becomes a very valuable commodity. It becomes so valuable that you need to know where your limitations are so you don’t end up becoming inefficient.

Many people have a hard time letting go of control, especially designers. Everything must be pixel perfect. The unfortunate thing is that in this quest for perfection, quality diminishes as time diminishes. Therefore, it becomes necessary to define what areas of work you want to focus on and farm out the rest.

If you need help on with some coding work or even just basic administrative duties, there are a plethora of subcontractors that can help. Furthermore, there are virtual assistants everywhere who can help you with answering the phone, transcribing notes or scheduling appointments.

Investing your time in other people can help you reduce the amount of attention you pay to menial or difficult activities which is a huge stress reducer. And when you can focus on the things you really care about (e.g. designing), the quality shines through.

Build confidence

Lack of confidence is the most dangerous, stress-inducing element of managing web projects. Most everyone experiences it, too. Without a doubt, the battering of client demands and nitpicks, and sometimes even outright rejections, is going to take its toll. Unfortunately, this toll chips away at confidence levels.

Without a strong sense of self-confidence during a project, you become unsure of what you’re doing. When you’re uncertain of your actions, you can’t defend them. A lowered confidence level can lead you into an uncaring state of mind in which your design work suffers.

Building confidence is not easy. I’ll freely admit that it’s something I have trouble doing. The most effective remedies, however, include positive reflection and learning. Positive reflection is looking back on your previous wins. What projects and sites did you hit a home run on? Think about the specifics of those projects and where you went right. You can then reinforce this positive thought line with a strong foundation for learning. Learning new skills and ideas can help you feel secure that you’re staying on top of the latest trends and technologies.

Strong and smart confidence will lead to better decisions, lower stress and a higher level of quality.

Get inspired

Designing and developing web sites can be boring sometimes. Many times, we’re working through the same motions. Even something as creative as a mockup design can lead you into that feeling of “been there, done that.”

Boringness, like lack of confidence, can be a project killer. If you’re bored with your work, there’s no real incentive to get things done. You might still be doing a good job and have a high level of confidence in that work, but you find yourself procrastinating.

Fortunately, this is usually a quick and painless fix. The first step is to get away from your computer. If you find yourself getting bored of your work, stop what you’re doing. The next step is to engage in an activity that fuels your inspiration. This could be something as simple as going for a run or it could be something more complex such as a short vacation to the Bahamas.

Regardless, even if you’re not exactly bored with your work, you should always be exercising your mind with passions outside your normal work routine. Do different things, experience different sensations and then reflect back.

When you do get back on the horse, you’ll hopefully find yourself with a fresh sense of creativity, ready to take on the next challenge.


I hope these tips help anyone who’s feeling burned out from the web design and project process. And if you do ever find yourself feeling stressed out about a project, how do you handle it? Leave a comment and let me know.

7 Responses to “6 Ways to Improve Quality in Your Projects and Reduce Stress” (Leave a Comment)


  1. Sam Barnes says:

    Really nice post Chris. I can relate to pretty much every part of it from my own experience, especially the initial vanishing of euphoria that’s replaced by dread of the pain that’s coming your way… but you just crack on.

    It’s great that you realised a big problem was unrealistic deadlines you set yourself… so many people don’t learn this lesson ever and really suffer for it!

    Keep up the posts, pretty much enjoy them all.

  2. designfollow says:

    great tips

    thank you.

  3. Kai Köpke says:

    a really great post. thanks

  4. Jay Kaushal says:

    Hi Chris, I am a freelance webdesigner and working fromhome and really had to say that I follow almost all the rules you mentioned to beat the stress and stay managed. In this world full of distractions it is really hard thing to focus on the work in hand. I used to grab 10 small and big jobs at a time and then start but it was proving very hard to manage though money coming was real good. Now I started to divide projects into categories like immediate, medium and long category so I can concentrate on the job according to the urgency. Started learning jquery and Flash CS4 so not to loose my confidence and keep updated. I had fixed half and hour to check social media sites as it is a big drainer mentally and physically if you spend lot of time on it.

    And most important made a habit not to sit before computer more than half an hour in a stretch. This special break had given me so much ideas when I am staring the mountains from my rooftop and keep me relaxed.

    Great article please keep it up :)

  5. Cool Jay, sounds like you’re doing well. And the tip about taking breaks away from the computer is critical.

  6. Good reminder how to keep sanity. Especially about the confidence when client nitpicking drains you psychologically and eats away from your flat-rate quote.

    Where do you find balance between giving in to not-trained in-design-client’s negative feedback, your own approval addiction and striving for high individual quality of web work?

What Do You Think?