Stay Organized and Stay Ahead of Your Competition

The web is a super highway of information! With the phenomenal growth of the network, and the advancement of technologies, the growing number of netizens are left with a bombardment of choices online, be it spending time on their favorite social networking site, browsing through the ocean of links, or be it just idling around, between tweets born every milliseconds.

As design professionals, the most vital resource that we all have to manage well is just one single thing – TIME! Yes, time forms the basic unit of all our efforts and the productivity and the efficiency of a design professional is directly proportional to the time he spends on useful and productive things. Nowadays, with plenty of distractions available online, it has become really hard to get some quality time to be productive. With your FB page and a Twitter client opened in a browser tab, and mail coming every now and then to your inbox, it’s a challenge to get work done. Now is the time to keep all those distractions at bay and find out what part of the day you’re the most productive and capitalize on those times to get work done.

The best and successful are the ones who have learned the skill of mastering their available time and managing it to bring out some ultra productive hours at the end of the day, everyday. Here are some tips and ideas to keep those precious hours from being wasted.

  1. Keep a tab on Social networking (procrastination)
  2. Acquiring knowledge is good – but there is a limit
  3. Own an awesomely organized bookmark list
  4. Reuse / Build your repository
  5. Be a tech-savvy designer
  6. Organize your mailbox and folder structure
  7. Start Whiteboarding
  8. Start using Dropbox
  9. Don’t run out of inspiration

Keep a tab on Social networking (procrastination)

We are in the age of Facebook and Twitter, and we have just witnessed a Hollywood movie being built around the concept of social networking. With this tumor like growth that keeps on consuming our precious and leisure time alike, it is now time to give serious thought on keeping a tab on the quality time spent poking friends or re-tweeting those contest tweets to your friends.

Here are some tools, which can help you to keep tab on your social networking procrastination and worries:

  1. Writemonkey
  2. Writeroom (for Mac lovers)
  3. Dark room
  4. Think (for mac lovers)
  5. Rescue Time
  6. Freedom ( for Mac lovers)
  7. Focus Booster
  8. Isolater

Acquiring knowledge is good – but there is a limit

Reading and being updated about new trends and topics are vital for a designer’s survival. But with hundreds of articles born every minute, and plagiarism being wide-spread, it’s not a good idea to spend too much time reading articles, especially when you are on the lookout for something that is really vital to complete your latest project. A good title can suck us into an article and we may lose focus and get immersed into it at a time when you wanted to give your 100% into some other important work.

This has been worrying me for sometime, and I have found some solutions for this.

Use Feed readers: Organize the best blogs / sites that you think generate the best content consistently, into a feed reader, and organize them into logically sensible sections (I organize feeds under the captions: Usability, Front-end engineering, Visual design, Trends and News, Wireframing and UX, Personal, Official etc…). Here are some feed readers I feel would be useful and handy. If you are using a mobile device and are constantly on the move, look for readers which can sync the web-based bookmarks to their mobile app list.

  1. Netvibes
  2. Feedly
  3. Google Reader
  4. Bloglines
  5. Newsgator
  6. RSSOwl

Also make sure you organize the feeds well, or else it will be pain to dig out those latest posts which you wanted to read yesterday, but didn’t get time to

Schedule time reserved for reading: Often in your ultra busy days, you may miss out on the latest news and trends, with no time to spend on reading and updating yourself. Or, you may end up losing your focus digging deep into links on an article and feel like you are heading nowhere. Scheduling a reserved time for reading and updating is a probable solution for this problem. Stick to the time and make sure you don’t diverge to those articles amidst work, unless it’s really necessary.

Schedule for later reading: Often you may stumble upon interesting links and articles, and may feel bad for not being able to read it due to a time crunch, or out of the fear that you may be diverting from the current activity. Such scenarios should be tackled by scheduling those items for later reading. One technique I use, is to bookmark those links in my delicious account under a tag “toread”, and later on when I get time, I can easily retrieve them and delete the tag upon completion smile. Apart from that, there are some reminder services, that send you emails reminding you about those ‘unread’ articles, at intervals you determine., is one such service.

Own an awesomely organized bookmark list

With the burgeoning rate in which new pieces of information are made available to the netizens, it’s literally impossible to retrieve the best match for the information that you are searching for, without a bookmarking service. And even more, it’ll be far more complex to dig up that link you bookmarked months ago, if you are not organizing those bookmarks well! Organizing a bookmark is as equally important as maintaining a bookmark list.

Following are some leading bookmark services

  1. Delicious
  2. Yahoo Bookmarks
  3. Inslices
  4. Stumbleupon
  5. Digg
  6. Reddit
  7. Faves is a service which has some predefined set of lists for various topics. You may try it too, as a comprehensive resource.

Tips to organize your bookmarks I am a fan of delicious and have a pretty well-organized repository of links, and have been using this awesome service for more than 5 years ( Over the years, my tags and bundles have undergone numerous rounds of organizing exercises, and my strategy of organizing the bookmarks are taking a complete shape with time. Here are some tips I would like to share, to help you organize your bookmarks, based on my delicious experience.

  1. Create high-level meaningful tags to differentiate the sections in a very high level. E.g. front end engineering, visual design, usability
  2. Always make your tags short and sweet. E.g. best, jQuery, js, inspiration. Short tags help us to retrieve a link faster by searching for the combination of tags its being tagged with
  3. Follow a consistent pattern in character casing. I.e., stick to all lowercase, or else uppercase, not a combination of both
  4. Remember to give a meaningful note to a link, while bookmarking. A good note will help you to easily recall the importance of the link in the future
  5. Install add-ons (for delicious, install Firefox add-ons), for faster access, and retrieval
  6. Finally, watch the experts in the fields! Watch those exceptionally cool designers in delicious and add them to your network, and try to learn from the way they organize their links, as tags are the most important attribute of a bookmark, which decides the easiness of its retrieval.

Reuse / Build your repository

The productivity of a designer depends on how fast he can get a grip on all the basic elements needed to kick-start the new project.

Over time, you would have come across some common elements / resources that you use every time in the beginning of a new project. E.g. CSS reset, Markup for a carousel, CSS code for a sliding door button, your favorite Photoshop brushes to create that trademark effect of yours, and much more. It’ll be an invaluable asset, if you can start building on those reusable snippets of code / resources that help you to give that nitro booster, to cruise through a new design project.

Some practical examples are:

  1. Creating a HTML/CSS snippet repository in your favorite IDE for those UI components like carousel, accordion, list of items, multi column layouts, sliding door buttons, clearfix, CSS reset
  2. A repository of elements that you may have created over time, in Photoshop, like buttons, styles, gradients, patterns etc
  3. Refer to some pattern collection sites, to keep in touch with the latest UI pattern trends and applications. Some sites that host a formidable collection of UI patterns are

Be a tech-savvy designer

Be a tech savvy designer! With the marathon list of add-ons and tools available, saving our precious time is just a right decision away. Decide on the best tool available, by understanding your limitation, and try to capitalize on the area where you need to save more time on.

  1. Start using an email client like Sparrow (for Mac), and save yourself the time taken in opening up the web interface of your email service provider
  2. Use some task management tools like Wunderlist (for Mac), Things (for Mac), Google Calendar, Remember the milk, etc for effectively track and take tasks to completion
  3. You may be weak in choosing the perfect color palette for the VD of the new layout that you are designing, but an expert in creating awesome illustrations – go for a color theme generator, get some cool color palettes in no time, from adobe’s ‘Kuler’.
  4. You may be a smart JS coder, but may take your time in cleaning up the CSS code in terms of formatting – use for organizing your CSS code.
  5. Save your time in coding those lengthy HTML markups by adopting the state of the art coding techniques like ‘zen coding’.
  6. Check the contrast of the latest design done by you using ‘color contrast analyzer’.
  7. Use various UX tools and extensions to add to the quality of your latest work.
  8. Use Firefox extensions to supercharge Firebug.
  9. Convert the pixel font sizes to em sizes (
  10. Check broken links in your newly coded website.
  11. Check out the various browser testing tools for a flawlessly rendering interface in all browsers.
  12. Use some efficient tools to Monitor your website.

And much more from my delicious account under the tag – “tools”. Isn’t it a short and sweet tag?

Organize your mailbox and folder structure

Every work day, for most of us, starts with checking new emails. It’s very important to have control over your inbox, as having too many unread mails and a disorganized inbox can take too much of your time when you are in much need of digging out some mails.

Here are some tips to make your mailbox clean and organized

  1. Label important mails efficiently
  2. Maintain multiple accounts, for family, for clients and for other promotional stuff, and make it easier to track emails later
  3. Use an email client like Sparrow (for mac) for better organization and access
  4. Maintain an effective list of ‘Labels’ (‘Folders’ in case of Yahoo! Mail)

The same is the case with the folder structure too. Maintaining a highly organized folder structure and file naming convention can help you in the long run. Especially for designers who often work with a huge number of files, from clients, download, reference, and outputs, it is really important to organize them under logical folder structure, which makes things easier for retrieval.

I differentiate all the files at a very high-level first by putting them in to separate folders (e.g. Projects, Private, Resources, Others, Workplace etc). The ‘projects’ folder is the most important for me with all the work related files in it. So I spent some extra time in organizing it better. I generally have the following folders within each project folders

  • Client input (all the inputs from the client)
  • Src (all source files)
  • Inspiration (all reference materials and inspirational links)
  • HTML (in case of a web development project)

Folder naming is another challenge to overcome. Sticking to one consistent naming style is very important in organizing your files. It makes it possible to guess the path of a file, and doesn’t require you to spend too much of time in digging out something that you worked years before!

Start Whiteboarding

A whiteboard can be a close ally of a designer. It gives you a broader canvas to experiment on, and you get a sense of freedom to express your ideas. I rely on white boarding for brainstorming and the initial wireframing process. The fact that it’s erasable gives our mind the liberty to express raw ideas. Believe me, it can bring out some really crazy improvement in your design process.

So start using one now!

Start using Dropbox

Working with a team means multiple versions of artifacts and collaboration. This makes it really important to have a central repository, where team members can access and update instances of artifacts into. Dropbox is the latest and best to date collaborative and file sharing tool. The way it works makes it the most used tool available for file sharing, and the highlight is its ability to sync between multiple devices, be in your Mac or your iPhone or any other mobile device like an iPad.

Dont run out of Inspiration

As designers, this is the first and foremost thing that keeps us ticking. Never run out of it! Getting inspired doesn’t really mean keeping glued to those CSS galleries and designs. Inspiration is a far wider topic and in fact, it comes from a wide variety of things than CSS galleries.

  • Nature – the first and foremost powerhouse of unlimited inspiration
  • Conversation – it’s mind-blowing to know how ideas are generated from conversations no matter how short they are
  • Music – Listen to some music, which takes you to another world of inspiration. Visualizing something while listening to music can turn out to be a really rewarding and fulfilling experience!
  • Flora and Fauna – The amazing variety and richness, each life form brings, is unbelievable. Spend some time admiring and watching them in their natural habitat. U will feel revived and fresh for more

There are loads of other things too that you need to take care of, in order to be organized and ultra-productive. Lets have a healthy discussion going on and explore the options available.