I'm a creative director at Laughing Samurai. I bark orders. Sometimes people listen. Sometimes they don't. When they play nice, I pay with pizza. And sometimes with Nachos. Hell, sometimes even Beer. Wanna work with me? Let's do this.

Optimize your workflow

OK, so I’m back. It has been a minute since my previous blog post, but hey, we’ve got bills to pay. Although I love writing these, clients take precedence.

Enough of that. Today we are talking about optimizing our workflow. Now I am not going to go too deep into how you get your projects done and what kind or project management software you are using to manage your projects.

I want to get a bit more “low-level” with it if you catch my drift. Because it all starts with the basics. Your computer and how you interact with it.

The computer can be an awesome tool, but I don’t think it’s just that. I see it almost like driving a car. When you drive a car, for those of you that do, you don’t think about how you are making the car stay straight, you just straighten the car. You sub-consciously keep the car in a straight line, without necessarily thinking about how. Your brain, at that point, takes over. Almost like the car is an extension of yourself. That’s how your computer should be. Of course, it can take years of being in front of one to get to the point where it feels that way, but you can accelerate the process by taking a few short steps to optimizing your workflow to the point where you are working more effectively and, in turn, shaving time from your workday to enjoy other things, like, I don’t know, your LIFE.

The following are a few best practices that you can apply to your workspace, and be on your way to workflow nirvana (I’m still working on it myself):

It all starts at your desk

It may seem like a pretty basic thing, but a messy tabletop can make for a very stressful work environment. If you cannot move your mouse because you have too many things on your desk, get a little rolling drawer cabinet or something. Clear your desk of unnecessary clutter and mess. Only leave the basics you need to work. Besides my computer and monitor, my desk usually has: some beverage receptacles, a notepad, my watch and cellphone, a desk phone, glasses (that I never wear), my work files, a pen and pencil receptacle and pictures of my baby (for my sanity). Thats all. Everythin else gowa on a rolling file cabinet i have next to my desk.

Get a keyboard and mouse

A lot of us like to work on laptops for better mobility, and its great for getting stuff done on the run. But when it comes to drill down work, stuff that requires you to be at your workstation for an extended period of time, a keyboard and mouse are crucial for shaving time out of your workflow. Especially when doing a lot of mouse dragging and clicking.

Ditch the mouse pad

Yeah, I know, it seems a bit drastic. Especially if this mouse pads has a picture of your “baby”. Then there is the occasional person that swears by those “ergonomic” gel-padded mouse pads, that help their “carpal tunnel” syndrome. Since the advent of the infrared mouse, I have not used a mousepad. Except for that one job that used the glass tables. That was annoying. So was the job – I digress. The point is that your mouse should be free of all restrictions and obstacles. Let it be free. It can be also immensely helpful if, like me, you have a large monitor to work on, and a mousepad can become restricting.

Work with two hands

O.K., I’m gonna go out on a limb (no pun intended) and assume that you, the reader, has full use of both your arms. Of course this tip only applies to those of you that do, and in no way mean any disrespect to all the disabled graphic designers out there.

Keep both hands on your computer at all times. Always. The way I do it is my left hand is on the “Bermuda Triangle” (shift-option-command) of the keyboard, usually holding the corner, ready to press those three keys in any combination. My right hand is always on the mouse, of course unless I’m typing. Which takes me to the next tip…

Remember your shortcuts

The name says it all. It is a shortcut. If you were to click to do everything on your computer, it would take you forever just to, let say, answer an email. Something I like to do, once taught or discovered something new in an application, is to find its shortcut. And if it doesn’t have a shortcut, most applications, like Photoshop, will let you edit shortcuts. This is something I do, especially when doing repetitive tasks in Photoshop, in the cases where I cannot use actions, which I will talk about further down.

Learn how to type

I never took typing in school, and I deeply regret it. I know that if I would have learned how to type, I would probably be much faster at working today.

Optimize your application’s Workspace

Now this is specifically for the Adobe suite of products. Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign all have customizable Workspaces. Use them. Thats why they are there. Similar to how I told you in the first tip, you should also clean up your digital desk. Get rid of cutter. Decide what are the tools you use the most often and keep those out, everything else get rid of. You can also choose to tab windows you use with less frequency. The way I do it is by level of use: Things I use all the time are always visible; things I use use with less frequency i tab behind things I use with more frequency; Things I don’t use at all I close.

Once you’ve set up your workspace where you feel it’s good to go, save it. Make sure to name it something that makes sense, since you can set up multiple workspaces depending on work or setup. I have one workspace for when I am attached to the big screen, another for when I am mobile. You can also change them you so that you have one set of tools when you are retouching, and a different when you are designing a website.

Mind your actions

If you see yourself doing something more than twice, make it an action. To some of you more advanced users, this may seem like a no brainer. I have encountered a few people that complain because they have to do something over and over again. Make an action! It is very simple to create, edit and duplicate actions, and there should be no reason why you shouldn’t incorporate into your workflow. Not only will it save you time, it will also save your soul.

Organize your files

Make sure you have your files in folders that make sense and that you keep them organized. One way to lose time is by forgetting where you saved something, or worse, losing it.

Get an extra monitor

I know most people cant afford to just go out and purchase a second monitor, but it should be the next investment after the purchase of a computer. A second monitor can save you some of the time you spend moving windows around to get to things behind things. A second monitor can also be good for cleaning up your main work window by putting all your tools in a secondary monitor.

As with all my blog posts, these are my tips. It’s up to you to find what the optimal workflow is for you, and improve upon it. NOW GET BACK TO WORK!

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