22+ Bad Habits That May Wreak Havoc with Your Design Business (and How to Break Them)

Many of the struggles that web designers and other freelancers face are of their own making. I’m convinced that many designers and freelancers know the right things to do (at least intellectually we do), but our bad habits get in the way of us doing them.

It’s easy to get caught up in a bad habit. When you do, you end up making the same mistake over and over–sometimes without even realizing it.

Changing word Unhealthy into Healthy by crossing off  letters UN.

Bad habits can cost you money. They can take up your time. They can cause you to lose a client. They can even make you sick.

Before you can break a bad habit, you have to know what it is. In this post, I provide a checklist of over 22 bad habits. I also share proven tips to help you break your bad habits.

What Are Your Bad Habits?

The first step to breaking a bad habit is to realize that you have it. I’ve compiled a list of 23 common bad habits that freelancers often have:


  1. Not listening/paying attention. Do you pay attention to what your clients and colleagues tell you? If you’re in the habit of not listening, you could wind up putting your business in jeopardy when you don’t meet client expectations.
  2. Putting things off. Procrastination is a common, but harmful habit. Putting things off can lead to sloppy work or missed deadlines. If you wait until the last minute to start project work, this may be your bad habit.
  3. Not checking your work. Nobody’s perfect. Even the best designers need to review their work carefully. Turning work in before you’ve checked over it may mean that the client finds embarrassing mistakes.
  4. Not responding promptly. How long do you make a client or prospect wait before you respond to their emails? If you wait too long, they are liable to find their answers with another designer.
  5. Going through the motions. Do you phone it in, or are you engaged in your work? If you’re just going through the motions of web design, it will show up in the quality of your work–which is likely to be uninspired and dull.
  6. Skipping the contract. I wish I had a dollar for every time a freelancer told me that they don’t need to use a contract. Not surprisingly, those same freelancers who don’t use contracts are often the ones who complain about bad clients and trouble getting paid.
  7. Charging a rate that is too low. When was the last time you updated your rates? Do you always undercut yourself to close a deal? This is a bad habit. You need to think of other ways to persuade your prospects to choose you.
  8. Having a messy office. If you can’t find what you need or don’t have the space to take notes, your messy office is slowing you down and impacting your productivity. Putting things away is a good habit to develop.
  9. Not managing your money well. Do you follow a budget? Do you have an emergency fund? Do you spend less than you make? If so, you’re doing a good job of managing your money. If not, something’s got to change.
  10. Failing to ask enough questions. Asking questions is often the best way to ensure that you really understand a client’s needs. Develop the habit of asking enough questions to really know what your design client wants.
  11. Not marketing. A good habit that every freelancer needs to develop is regular marketing. Yet, too many freelancers routinely quit marketing their freelance business when they are busy.

close-ups of mouse and woman hand - addiction

  1. Working too many hours. Nearly everybody works overtime once in a while, but if you find yourself doing it all the time you are probably risking burnout and putting yourself under unnecessary stress.
  2. Eating junk and fast food. Bad eating habits are often related to working too many hours, but freelancers are notorious for relying on junk food while they work. Make it a habit to eat right. You won’t be sorry.
  3. Staying sedentary. By necessity, most web designers spend hours sitting at their desks. But that doesn’t mean that you have to stay sedentary during your time off as well. Make it a point to get regular exercise.
  4. Letting your skills fall behind. You work for yourself and you’re busy with clients. It’s easy to overlook skill development. Make it a habit to learn something new every day.
  5. Having a negative attitude. Your bad attitude shows. You may not think it does, but it does. And your bad thoughts often turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Break the negativity habit. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.
  6. Perfectionism. We often think of perfectionism as a good thing, but if it keeps you from letting go of a project then it’s hurting your work. Nobody is perfect. Know when your work is good enough to call it done.
  7. Not planning for taxes. You need to get into the habit of setting money aside for taxes and other expenses. If you live in the U.S. and you haven’t already done so, start paying estimated taxes quarterly.
  8. Keeping no records, or the wrong records. New freelance developers and designers often struggle with record keeping. If you don’t develop good record keeping habits, it could hurt your business financially and you may have trouble come tax time.
  9. Always saying “yes. Are you an agreeable person? By that, I mean do you agree with almost everybody all the time out of habit? If you do, then you probably aren’t doing a very good job of negotiating projects.
  10. Relying too heavily on a single client. If you have a large, long-term client, you might be tempted to get comfortable. You might start to count on that one client for all or most of your income. Don’t do it.
  11. Not updating your portfolio. Make it a habit to review your portfolio each time you complete a project. If you do this, your portfolio will never be out of date.
  12. Letting trends dictate your design. It’s important to keep up with design trends. You need to learn the latest. But if design trends always dictate your design instead of client need, you may be in trouble.

Review the list and note which bad habits you struggle with. Since you might have trouble recognizing your own bad habits, it’s a good idea to ask a friend or colleague what they think your bad habits are.

Once you’ve identified your bad habits, you can work to overcome them.

How to Break a Bad Habit

Broken top view of a chain.

Fortunately, you don’t need to be stuck with your bad habits forever. You can break them. It will just take some work on your part.

Once you’ve identified your bad habits, you are ready to start breaking them. Here are some tips to help:

  • Focus on one habit at a time. Habits are easier to break one at a time. When you are satisfied you have broken the first bad habit, that’s the time to move on to the next.
  • Try to keep from doing the bad habit for at least 30 days. Don’t underestimate the power of habit. Just because you’ve stopped yourself from doing something several times doesn’t mean the habit is broken.
  • Be accountable to someone. Accountability partnerships work. If you know that you must tell someone you failed to overcome your bad habit, you are likely to be more diligent about overcoming it.
  • Replace the bad activity with a good. This works well for some bad habits. For example, if you have the bad habit of going straight to the television after work, try placing a stationary bike in front of it.
  • Reward yourself when you succeed. Rewards can be powerful motivators. Set a goal for breaking a habit and establish a meaningful reward for when the habit is broken.

Tools to Help

As with almost anything, there are software tools and apps to help you manage your habits. Here are three of them:

  • Habit Maker, Habit Breaker (Success through Habit Change). A free iPhone app that lets you track your habits.
  • habitforge. Sign up here and get daily emails to remind you about good habits you are trying to build.
  • 21habit. This tool adds a financial incentive. You pay $21 up front and each day that you meet your goal, you receive money back. If you meet your goal every day, you get all $21 back.

Have you broken any bad habits lately? How did you do it?

Looking for hosting? WPEngine offers secure managed WordPress hosting. You’ll get expert WordPress support, automatic backups, and caching for fast page loads.

7 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Hemanth Malli, September 24, 2013

    Great points !! That’s a good advice. Thanks for sharing it !! I will bookmark this !!

  • Laura Spencer, September 24, 2013

    Hemanth Malli, Glad you liked it. Thanks for your feedback.

  • ThemeSquirrel, September 24, 2013

    Wonderful advice, I definitely need to break some bad habits. Thanks for sharing!

  • Laura Spencer, September 24, 2013

    Thanks ThemeSquirrel. Glad you liked the post.

  • Patrick Carroll, September 25, 2013

    Great list! I’m guilty of a few of these.

  • Josh Morley, September 27, 2013

    Thanks for the list. Ill look forward to getting into them a bit deeper.

  • Theo, September 29, 2013

    Great read, i found my self in some of the points raised here, so had some work to do, thanks!