Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.


My time has become increasingly precious over the past year, so I am forced to become as efficient as possible with my work schedule. While there are little tips and tricks to share, the biggest one is also the easiest.

Since the New Year, my work schedule has been absolutely frantic. Between a full-time design job and family responsibilities, my actual time for freelance projects has become so valuable that I keep getting up earlier and staying up later just to get an extra half-hour or hour.

While this may not be the most healthy approach, the “oh my god I need ten more hours in the day” environment has led me to discover a few tricks that aid my productivity. These may not be applicable or even tasteful to you, but I believe they help me retain some sanity.

Leave a current project unfinished.

There’s nothing worse than starting a design session with a blank screen for a new project, so at the end of the work day, I make sure to leave at least one active project unfinished. Sometimes it’s just a rough comp in Photoshop and sometimes it’s a near-complete layout in InDesign, but when I next sit down to my computer to start working, I have some work that I can jump right into. It provides that mental “hook” to get the creative juices flowing (wow, there’s a cliché) and eliminates the time spent staring at a blank canvas.

Take at least one long break.

After I come home from work, I take a long, three or four hour break before I sit down in front of the computer again. I play with my new son. I talk to my wife. I cook dinner and do homework with my daughter. I avoid the screen and focus on doing things with my hands, not my eyes. My brain relaxes before re-entering the digital fray.

Understand the “internal work schedule.”

This one’s a bit harder to explain, but it goes something like this. Over the years, I have found that I am most creative in the morning. It’s when I produce my best ideas and when I just get shit done. I have also found that I work well at night—if I don’t have to think that hard. So if I have to start a new project or churn out some good creative quickly, I try to do that in the morning. Likewise, I schedule non-creative production work (like preparing mechanicals for a print project or coding HTML and CSS) for the evening hours, when my taxed brain cannot handle any more right-side activity. (My least productive time is mid to late afternoon. This is when I am easily distracted by talking co-workers and Kottke’s annoyingly interesting Remaindered links.

Personalized, simplified project management system.

At one point in 2003, I started using project management software to track clients, projects and invoices. This was quickly abandoned because I hated working within the rules of the software—I just could not bend it to my will, and it was too complex for my dismally simple management efforts.

My current system is this: my list of contacts resides in Opera (which I also use for my e-mail), and my list of projects, invoices and monetary stats all sit in one expansive Excel file. (Actual invoices are done with InDesign.) It’s not pretty, but it works for me. While I could probably use something like Basecamp, I just don’t have the time to invest in managing my projects. Hell, I don’t even have time to manage my Ta-Da account!

Turn off the internet.

By far the simplist and most effective of all productivity tips. When I want to get stuff done, I turn off e-mail, instant messaging, RSS feeds and even the phone. Flipping the switch to the outside world is a easily cuts off 90% of my distractions.

commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Monday January 31, 2005

Nice tips. Another thing I see a lot of people doing is cranking up their favorite music. The thing is, a lot of music can be very thought provoking and therefore distracting. Hard music like hip hop or dance can actually distract you. I’ve found I work best with soft music. Easy listening (ie celine dion, lara fabian, etc) helps me to be more productive. Sometimes even that stifles me, so sometimes I turn the music off all together.

I do agree though, AIM/Email and anything of that nature can be very distracting and hinders my work ability.


wrote the following on Monday January 31, 2005

I actually thought about adding that as one of my “tips” ... but I figured every designer did that. I can listen to anything while I am actually designing, but only instrumental stuff when I am writing. I usually listen to a lot of downtempo like Tosca and Bill Laswell where the beats are good and the vocals sparse.

eddie wilson

wrote the following on Monday January 31, 2005

As far as PM systems go I have my own that I developed (am always growing) sometime 2 years ago. Its very simple and provides me with some basic mathematics for what project I have in, invoice/work order tracking/printing, what people owe, what people have payed, etc. The small things that I am currently working on are things that do some work for me; track time, reminders, deadline alarms, etc. Basecamp is excellent if you do not need anything customized (although the tools that Basecamp offers are very general and can be tailored to almost any task).

One of the ad agencies that I work with regularly has just implemented Basecamp as their PMS and I find it to be great. The one thing that you have to remember when using Basecamp (or choosing another PMS) is that it saves your @$$ more often than you may think. Having an archive of project progress, client conversations (through the comments on the basic blog for each project) will keep a project on track, keep people from flip-flopping (client: “I didnt say that!” you: “uh yes you did: http://...” or (client: “we have only done 2 revisions” you: “im sorry but we have done 3: http://... , http://... . and http://...”), and provide you with quick answers to simple questions about the project. Its much better than a stack of paperwork in your file cabinet (for all of you new to contract-based design work).

A PMS doesnt have to be some huge program, or a web-base service that you pay for. As we can all tell GrraphicsPush is doing just fine and he is using an excel spreadsheet, and his browser. It saves you time, keeps things organized, and saves your butt when things get sketchy. If it work then use it. And if it work really well then tell us! We all need some more time savers. :-)

On another thought, one of the things that helps me is trying to keep at least 1-3 project in queue at the same time. If I only have one project in sometime i get “tunnel vision” and cant get away. Playing some video games or spending time with my girlfried doesnt fix the problem. I still come back with the same ideas, so having some different project provide my creative mind with the ability to “let go” of a particluar problem and work on another. Then I can come back clean. Has definetly made me more efficient when Im busy. And if I only have one project in? well then I spend some time on internal project; new features for my site, other personal sites, my business collateral, developing a new mailer, etc. Anything that will get your creative mind to “change up”.


wrote the following on Monday January 31, 2005

1-3 projects? Januray left me with nine new projects, and only two are complete. Right now I have the opposite of tunnel vision … more like discoball vision.


wrote the following on Monday January 31, 2005

Usually to make the creative juicey flowing to my head i browsing for same rough idea, after i find a nice looking things :) , i look at it as a reference..tha i begin my work.

Sometimes when i overcreative i just did some sketches of layouts and jump to Photoshop or GIMP after i pick the best layout.


wrote the following on Tuesday February 1, 2005

It’s so simple, yet so accurate. I want to link to this and send a trackback, how can I?

Jonathan Fenocchi

wrote the following on Tuesday February 1, 2005

Interesting techniques – some things I hadn’t thought of in there. I don’t think I could ever cut off the Internet, though. When I’m designing, I tend to pause and read some quality blog entries before getting back to work. Kind of a short break on occasion, rather than one long break at mid-day. When programming software, I can see the Internet becoming a distraction, but at the same time, I often use the Internet for reference in my projects. Usually Instant Messaging is the worst of my troubles, and I don’t have to shut off the whole Internet in order to turn off my IM programs. Something very cool, though, my laptop has a convenient little “turn on/off wireless” button. =D


wrote the following on Friday February 4, 2005

Great tips. I find music with sublime messages very effective. The music seems to have hidden verses that help you relax and work further. I could work throughout the night and the other day once using this technique.