Developing a graphic design process to follow each time you take on a new project can help tremendously in achieving results you and your client are happy with. As a graphic designer, you know your job entails helping your client sell their service or product. Your ultimate goal is to help viewers understand a message and, in turn, reap benefits for your client.  Whether you’re a graphic designer, web designer, programmer or otherwise, having a system set up will help you get the work done faster in addition to keeping things organized and the designer/client relationship a positive one.


Table of Contents:

  1. 7-Steps in Graphic Design Process to Follow
  2. Introduction to Mood Boarding and How to Use it Properly
  3. Difference Between Artists and Designers When it Comes to Creation
  4. Free Graphic Design Software Reviews And An Amazing Showcase
  5. How To Do Your Best Work by Working Smarter, Not Harder!

7-Steps in Graphic Design Process to Follow:

  1. Project Initiation
  2. Research
  3. Strategy
  4. Development
  5. Presentation/Refinement
  6. Production/Launch
  7. Completion

Every of these steps is crucial to finish your project successfully. Below you can find a detailed description of every single step.


Project Initiation

One of the most important steps in the design process is accumulating the information you’ll need. This is usually achieved by either a face-to-face meeting with the client, a questionnaire, or even a Skype meeting if you really wish to establish a personal relationship with your client. In gathering this information, you now know your client’s objectives and can focus on the details for inclusion in your brief.

The Brief: Although it may seem like more work than necessary, a design brief has a couple of key benefits, no matter how big or small the project seems to you:

  1. It ensures the client knows what he or she wants from the project
  2. It acts as your point of reference during the project

The more information the client provides initially, the better the result for the both of you (especially the client). Topics for inclusion in the design brief may vary but a few good starting points may be:

  • Corporate Profile – A summary of the business
  • Market Position – An evaluation of the company’s service/product in relation to the competition.
  • Communication Task – What’s the message trying to be conveyed and through what means (e.g. taglines, body copy, photography, etc.)
  • Target Market – Demographics — the age, gender, income, employment, geography, lifestyle of those the client wants to reach.
  • Objectives – What quantifiable result does the client want to achieve?
  • Schedule/Deadline – A realistic schedule of how the project should proceed.

At this stage it’s also a good idea to accept a deposit for the first half of the project.

Research

After you’ve met with the client and have a firm understanding of the task at hand, it’s now time to put your nose to the grindstone. After reviewing the materials given to you you can start research. This phase usually entails taking into account competitors, market trends, product/service differentiators, the history of the business, and the future of it as well.

While this stage isn’t usually going to be your favorite but it’s well worth it in the end. There’s nothing worse than creating a beautiful logo only to discover it’s too similar to a competitor’s. You’ll reap the rewards of the time you put into research, trust me.

Strategy

This step may vary depending on the scale of your project, but generally it’s best to develop a strategy before putting pencil to paper. Through this you analyze the research gathered and decide on design and functionality criteria. This can be as simple as a theme carried across all marketing materials. You can present this strategy to the client to get approval or disapproval before heading on in the hopes of getting more creative direction.

Development

Once you have a clear strategy, the idea is to then create preliminary design concepts based on the strategy you developed. Developing concepts can be done through various means when inspiration strikes, but here are some of the most effective.

  • Mind Mapping: A diagram that’s used to represent words, ideas, and tasks linked to your central idea. Encourages a brainstorming approach to planning and organizing tasks.
  • Storyboarding: Meant to pre-visualize a motion picture, animation, etc by organizing illustration in a sequence.
  • Free Writing: A great way to get your ideas down on paper and later expand on them.
  • Layout Creation: Sketch layouts from collected inspiration, play around with color schemes and typography until a direction strikes you, and then explore it more.

Develop several different concepts through the above methods. The idea here is to create as many different options before choosing the most viable one. Through the help of the client, these ideas can them be narrowed down to a couple of ideas for further development and refinement.

Presentation/Refinement

Often best presented as a PDF file with the design in context. It’s now the job of the client to review the designs and provide feedback based on their objectives and the needs of their target audience.

At this stage the designer is tasked with making changes to the aesthetic elements based on client’s request or putting the final touches on an agreed upon design.

Production/Launch

With an approved design, the designer is now able to implement the finished piece across all deliverables, which may include both print and web. Depending on the project and/or media, the materials may often be handed off to a third-party, which includes:

  1. Prepress/Printer
  2. Media Outlet
  3. Launched on the Web

If it’s a web project, instructions and documentation may be required for administrative purposes, as well as Search Engine submission.

Completion

There’s nothing more rewarding than turning over a completed project to a satisfied client, so congratulate yourself.

You can now invoice your client the remaining bill for the project. Oftentimes this is best achieved through online invoicing software, which will help save time associated with putting together an invoice. One application that I personally recommend is Freshbooks.

With a solid process in place for completing a design project, you not only establish a closer relationship with your client, but you take a lot of the guesswork away when it comes down to creating something memorable for them. Consider it one less hurdle you have to overcome. Do you have a design process in place that you utilize with each new project? Feel free to share any tips with us that I may have missed.

The next section is going to present a Mood Boarding. Ready? Alright.


Introduction to Mood Boarding and How to Use it Properly

Mood boarding is a technique often used in web and graphic design, but its use is even broader than this. Painting, photography, game design, interior design, movies, marketing, fashion, music, advertising and even architecture are domains where mood boarding is used to develop concepts and to intercommunicate with other members of the design team. A mood board is a type of poster design containing text, images and samples of objects used in a composition of the choice of the mood board creator. It enables a person to illustrate the direction and general style which the final product is pursuing.


Mood boards are not limited to visual objects and can also be used to visually explain a specific style of writing or a setting for a storyline. Mood boards serve as visual tools and inform the others about the general “feel” that a designer tries to achieve. Mood boards are usually created digitally, as it is much easier, but physical objects tend to have a higher impact on people. In some countries graphic design students study mood boarding as a semester-long course.

Image by Christian Vasile.

Why and where?

Mood boards are useful when trying to establish the aesthetic flow of a site. In most cases it doesn’t give a tremendous amount of inspiration, but you can get from it something you can use further. It is also very good time saver in the creative process. Many issues can be solved right away (or at least easier) if you go for a mood board – which, by the way, also solves some problems you would normally encounter later on during the development phase.

The first time you can use a mood board in a design project would be submitting it to the client. If he likes the feel of it, you can move on and create a layout. If he doesn’t like it, you create another one. The advantage is that you don’t always spend time on creating a new layout which takes hours to finish – the risk of losing time with something that will never be used is minimal.

Mood boards also set a general direction for your layouts and project in general. It cuts the time spent on a project which has a bad planning phase behind. By submitting one of those to a client you might help him understand some of the research you do before starting to design. We say that an image is better than a thousand words. Imagine how much a mood board with ten images can do. You will understand this better if you’ve had a situation when a client that couldn’t understand anything about a concept, but got the idea immediately when shown a picture or an example. A mood board works in a similar way. It creates a picture in the clients’ minds and makes sure the drafts you come up with will not shock them, as they are already used to the flow and expect something like that.

Image by Board Shanty.

Elements

The first thing you need to do is to choose the best elements that can help you. Start thinking about the general direction you want your project to take and also about the client and what would he be interested in. Mood boarding can also be done in a different way than most do it: this is where you can already start designing your layout, only just on paper. You will only draw it in grayscale and will only draw the homepage and two other subsequent pages – with not very much details besides the containers and menu. I think that this overlaps with the creative process and don’t usually like starting designing before the mood board is accepted.

Designers who use mood boards to set up an environment or a general feeling do not start designing already. They include few examples of websites they like, color schemes (Adobe Kuler is probably the best help you can get), textures or photography. All these come in a style which will be further developed into a website. Words that can describe a mood board could be: dark, slick, glossy, modern, soft, round, elegant, realistic, rough, bright, sketchy, colorful and so on. As you can see, these are words that can also describe a web site or a poster. The transition from a mood board to the final product should be easy to notice.

How?

Mood boarding is not a difficult process and doesn’t need to much explanation. The most asked question is if it should be done on paper or on the computer. As mentioned earlier, I am a fan of doing it on the computer. Photoshop works just fine for me. However, there are some other online solutions you could use, so I will review some of them for you today.

Sampleboard

Sampleboard is one of my favorites. It allows you to upload images and organize them into projects. You can also store them online and use the integrated web editor to pull together trends and color schemes. You have the option of sharing your mood boards with others on social media and even turn them into documents or presentations thanks to the exporting options.

Evernote

Evernote is a virtual mood boarding tool useful for clipping and pasting collected inspiration. You can do it online, use their desktop program or the mobile application – so Evernote is simply everywhere. You can even integrate handwritten notes or images captured from web pages or your camera device.

Polvore

You can’t create mood boards here, but you can get a lot of inspiration from Polvore. It is a community with 6.5 million monthly visitors and you can find many styles and trends from around the world and get inspired from them.

Image by BMerry.

Bottom line

If you find yourself often in the middle of the creative process and don’t know where to head, think of using a mood board next time. Many us of use mood boards and, in the least, they will help you set up  the mood of the project. I am not saying mood boards will solve all your problems – they will obviously not, but they will help you along the way. They are not very difficult to create and are a solid base for your projects, so at least give it a try. You will fall in love with them and will never start another project without one.

Until next time… what do you think about mood boarding? Have you ever used one or do you plan on doing it? If you have used a mood board before, how useful was it as a whole?

Further reading

Why Mood Boards Matter? on Web Designer Depot

A Great Example of Mood Boards In Action on BoagWorld

Inspiring Mood Boards on Flickr

Did you ever think how can approach vary from artist to a designer? No. Then you should read the next section.


Difference Between Artists and Designers When it Comes to Creation

Creating as an Artists or a Designer? Do you follow paths or make your own ones. Is either of the choices here better than the other? We will try to take a look into the designing process from different standpoints and ask various people about their opinions on the subject. Our goal will be to find the pros and cons of these approaches and find their respective target audiences and finally, to find you in it all.


Definition

Let’s begin with defining what the words “artist” and “designer” for the length of this article.
From http://dictionary.reference.com definitions are as follows:

Artist – a person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria.

Designer – a person who devises or executes designs,  especially one who creates forms, structures, and patterns, as for works of art or machines.

Those don’t put any clear difference in the meaning. So we will have to create one ourselves for now:

Designer – we will view designers as trained people with vast knowledge in rules of the design process, how to use different elements to ones benefit, meaning of colors etc.

Artist – artists will be those guys out there, who probably are self-taught, they have a basic understanding of the rules out there and saw their use in multiple occasions, but in their work they tend to go their own ways.

With that we can move on.

Finding your way

People who are very good at something usually enjoy whatever it is they are doing. That gives them the drive to constantly improve their skills, learn new tricks and improve the old ones. That’s why it’s important that you make an aware decision when choosing your path.

Try to remember what made you interested in becoming a Computer Graphic. The reasons can vary quite a lot. Maybe you were just looking at all those pretty pictures and designs and decided – hey, I want to have a go (that’s my story), maybe one of your friends got you hooked up with the idea, or you just thought it’s going to be an easy way to make money, why not?

We’re only looking for the reason to find out where to go from here really. For instance – if you got into design just to make a quick buck you probably want to stick with our “designers”, nothing absolutely wrong with that. On the other hand if you’re driven by the passion to create pretty and original things, then working for corporate, big companies will probably be the definition of torture for you.

We don’t really want to see you suffer (no, really). So think hard on where you came from and where you want to go to.
Don’t jump to conclusions that  designers do their job only for cash or other non-sense like that. Just trying to make a point here.

My own strength

So now that you know where your path lies, we’ve got to think on how to get there.

Know your own strength

Every person is different on many levels. No real discovery made there. But that means, that everyone will have a different approach on design. In a field where you are expected to create things by yourself, your personality makes a huge difference. It’s hard to compete with others in everything, so how about challenging them in what your best at instead?

Make your best assets the core of your design and build around them. You may exceed at creating colours and mixing them, or you a have keen eye for details, creating unique navigation methods. Whatever it is, try to use it to your advantage.

There will be times though where you just can’t, then what? Just do the best job you can. The fact that your skills in other fields may be inferior doesn’t mean they are useless. To some extend you’re a one man army out there, especially as a freelancer. Any knowledge is to your advantage.

So find out what are you most comfortable with and build around it. Here comes the difference though – our designers will probably want to get a lot of knowledge from every direction where our artists would mainly focus on their strong sides and figure out how other fields can improve them. Again, neither way is wrong, it’s just taking a path that suits better your personality.

Focus on your own area of expertise

While the above may sound at first familiar to the above section, the concept I will try to grasp here is a bit different.

With programs getting more simplified by the year there is a growing number of human-factories, folks that can create Graphics, Code, Music, Video, etc., all done by one person. Adobe with every presentation of it’s new Creative Suite makes us want to believe, that now you will be able to easily operate any of the programs with no problem nor knowledge. Truth to the matter is though, regardless of the improvements made, we’re still far from being able to do a perfect job in all fields.

If you’re looking to do work for small companies and not very demanding clients, then you probably can get away with multitasking across different programs, but at  some point you will want to evolve further at which point you’re going to find out, that you simply just won’t have the time to do so.

So at some point you’re going to have to narrow down your area of expertise, whether you want it or not. When you begin working with others, would you prefer that they’re very good at their thing or mediocre in many? That’s how others will view you as well.

Knowing standards will be to your benefit

For designers that’s a given. Artists may scream here about ripping the bounds, going into new worlds and so on.
The truth is though – you need to know how things are done. In school they will teach you that until you are so bored of it you’re ready to burn the place down. If you are self-taught though, you need not only to learn this stuff yourself, you have to find out it exists in the first place.

You may create the most original an ingenious projects known to humanity, but if there is no way to make them work, it’s just junk.

Where to start? The old-fashioned books are a great way to get you out the door, or a Video Course (not to mistake with a Video Tutorial). You are basically looking for something, that will give you all the essential knowledge, technique, issues etc. of the field. Otherwise you’re in danger of running into those problems by yourself and that may hurt. Nobody wants  to have the project done and ready to take payment, when suddenly you realize you’ve done it all wrong. It does happen more times than you think, so be sure it does not happen to you.

I’ve found my Path

So you are finally good to go. But are you sure? Let’s try to think about what you’re getting and what you’ve missed out on.

Impact of your choice

Your works style will differ dependant on your path choice. I’ve had companies tell me in the past, that they love my portfolio, but my style is different to theirs. You rarely will have the option of second impression, even if you could change your style to match theirs. Why would they revisit you though? If they can find someone else, who’s style is originally more compatible to them. Often advertisement agencies focus on a particular type of clients, hence develop a style, which will suite their clients.

Your path will have an impact on who you work for. Once you land a client which wants a flashy website, you are going to have a portfolio with a flashy website in it. With that you can advertise to another client, then you have two designs, which are the opposite of toned-down and clean and so the wheel starts turning.

To further dwell on the subject, I’ve went ahead and asked a few company owners the following question:

In designs for your company do you put more emphasis on the fact that they should be in compliance with various standards or do you prefer to see more originality, even if the usability may suffer because of it.

The answers are  as follows:

Well, depends on a purpose of use I guess. General recipe for the design would be to make it compliant with various standards, original and usable. Company web site’s should be as easy to use and as clean as humanly possible. Another story are games’ layouts, like the one for Werdelion – major point for game’s layout is its connection to the game; of course usability also matters a lot and the design shouldn’t “suck the big one” in neither of those points as long as it’s both clean and relatively original in relation to common standards of usability.
Konrad Jurkowski, Werdelion.net

I try to make a compromise between keeping the standards, usability and to make it look original.. but if this can`t be done I’d go with standards and usability since this makes more sense from marketing side, after we get the website popular then we can try to do something different… and at the end people can choose the way they like it more
Patryk Kita, Dating Site

First I was thinking about originality, not usability. I thought “I’m going to make something original and simple”, so I did. Although when it comes to usability it’s kind of bad, because people don’t know what is what. They see the website and have no idea what to click.
So I did not think about usability, therefore my portfolio is down in the dumbs.
Piot Bozetka, piotr.bozetka.net

For us it is more important that the clients will not have any problems with using it.
Roberto Tariello, tour2iceland.com

Definitely I expect originality, that may be in compliance with various standards ;)
Małgorzata Suknarowska, agro-relax.pl

School vs. Self-Taught

I’m not trying to make a statement here that you should not go to school. But is there some backside to beginning your education there, compared to trying to learn things by yourself? Let’s make a statement – “School kills creativity” and think about it. While you may enter the school with eagerness to learn and visions of a great, artistic future ahead of you. The story will probably be different by the time you finish.
It really depends on the school and their approach to teaching, we shall not discuss that vast topic here though. Let’s just say that there is a good possibility, that by the time you get your degree, your mind will be programmed to think more in design terms then the artistic ones. On the other hand, when you learn by yourself, you are probably doing so for a certain purpose, to gain necessary knowledge and skills. Only to be expected then, that after having learned those you will want to play around with them and by so, give an outlet to your artistic side.
Of course all depends on a person and the results will vary, but the above does in fact happen more often than not. I did ask around with some people I know and the majority of them have the opinion, that apart of getting a paper, design school was a waste of time. Then again, it’s your own responsibility and in your best interest to check the school you’re applying to and make sure you will be getting your times worth.

Learn from others, bring it to the next level

You won’t come up with all the ideas by ourselves. If you are one of our “artists” then you probably really want to thought. Other people have good ideas, that’s an undeniable truth and it’s your choice if you want to fight it or make it work for you. There is nothing wrong with looking at how others tackled the same problems you’re facing. See what they came up with and think if it’s good for you and can you make it better, bring it up a notch. That helps as well unify the ideas out there. Remember that your clients may not necessarily want to learn a new navigation or others things, just to visit your website. There is a place for everything, don’t try to put everything, everywhere though.

Everything I said may be my own opinion, but I tried to present it in such a way, where opinion does not really come into place. Whether I’ve succeed or not is really up to you. Either way I hope you’ve found this article helpful in some way. The choices you make today will make a difference tomorrow, so choose wisely.

Now at last but not least, let’s take a look some free graphic design software and some great designs created with their usage.


Free Graphic Design Software Reviews And An Amazing Showcase

Needless to say, the dominance of proprietary graphics software can make this particular domain incredibly prohibitive for those who are just starting and need much more than just a trial period to learn their way around. This is where free software takes the spotlight. While it aims to provide functions similar to those of its more expensive counterparts, it shouldn’t be regarded as a complete replacement. Though users constantly bicker about which is better, the answer couldn’t be more obvious: it all depends on what you use it for.


One thing that should be kept in mind is that these tools are generally developed by communities, so naturally it shouldn’t be expected of them to evolve in the same way as Adobe (for example). That doesn’t mean that it’s better or worse; it just means different. Of course, since the projects all started from different platforms and under different licenses, they can have a very alien look and interfaces can and most definitely will vary between programs. Since it’s not uncommon for those who work with graphics to use several tools, having workplaces set up in a similar manner is one of the reasons why a proprietary suite is more attractive.

GIMP

GIMP screenshot
Right off the bat, it should be mentioned that GIMP, short for GNU Image Manipulation Program, is small, fast and portable, but packs a wide array of tools. It is a raster graphics editor with functions similar to those of Photoshop, so it shares some of its versatility; it has also been endlessly compared to it. True, overall it does have fewer features than its counterpart, but that may or may not be a problem, depending on what you plan to use GIMP for. Perhaps for those who switch to this tool, the most frustrating thing is the fact that it is still very familiar, but everything behaves slightly differently.

Note that the developers never intended it to take over the market, but to offer a free alternative for those who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t make a huge investment. That is to say, the industry still relies on the coherence brought by PSD files, allowing designers to collaborate. Just imagine if everyone used a different program or file type.

In a nutshell, it’s great for those who don’t need very advanced features or who just don’t need all the features offered by proprietary software (3D tool for photographers?).

PROS: lightweight, fast, has all of the basic tools and more
CONS: lacks advanced features, no native CMYK or LAB support (not intended for print), limited compatibility with PSD files

Inkscape

Inkscape screenshot
Moving on to vector graphics, we find Inkscape. The first, and possibly the most intriguing aspect is the fact that it doesn’t use a special file type. Instead, it saves directly as SVG, with the option to export as EPS (among others), meaning that you don’t need to worry about compatibility issues. Moreover, SVG is a standard developed by the W3C, making it a prime choice for web.

Although very neatly organized, the interface can seem very messy and chaotic, but after poking around for a little while, everything should be fine. The overall learning curve isn’t very different from Illustrator, as most of it stems from vector graphics, not the program that handles them.

It does have a few quirks, like having to perform an extra step to achieve something when it could be done automatically. Perhaps the most irksome is the inability to change the name of gradients, leaving you with a random number instead. On the topic of gradients, unfortunately Inkscape does not have gradient meshes, which Illustrator users might find crucial.

Still, it is a powerful tool that can create amazing results, provided you have the patience to work around some of its weak points.

PROS: uses SVG natively, clones, lightweight
CONS: interface could use a little more polishing, no gradient meshes, many filters aren’t so effective

MyPaint

MyPaint screenshot
Lastly, for the more artistically inclined, comes MyPaint which, as the name would suggest, is designed with digital painting in mind. It serves as a very light version of Corel Painter, great emphasis on “very lightweight”; the program takes up only 13 megabytes, 15 if you want all the translation files.

MyPaint does away with complex tools, busy interfaces and complicated features. This little gem has a limitless canvas, an incredibly minimalistic interface and greatly reduced number of tools. It doesn’t even have a selection or cropping tool, but it can manage layers and merge them. Corel Painter uses different engines to render the different types of brushes, so that the effect is as close to real life as possible, but MyPaint only uses one. The engine is also used to detect things like pressure and speed when using a graphic tablet.

As mentioned, there is great emphasis on brushes and the ability to customize them for whatever you may need. Overall, it is a very simplistic tool and user-friendly. True, it’s not nearly as powerful as its “competitor”, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any use.

PROS: small, simplistic, user-friendly
CONS: perhaps too simplistic, not as powerful as other similar software

In closing, I hope to have sparked your interest in free software, graphics or otherwise. It really is a fascinating movement that is growing continuously as more and more people join the projects and contribute.

To answer your burning questions:

Are the programs good? Yes.

Can they replace proprietary software? Not yet, or at least not entirely.

Inspirational: 20 pieces of artwork made with free software

I now leave you with a selection of 20 portraits done with the above-mentioned tools, to see what they are actually capable of. Enjoy!

1. Nixie Pixel by TheShock (GIMP)

Nixie Pixel by TheShock

2. PP3 Portrait 2 by Scheherazade2c (GIMP)

PP3 - Portrait 2 by Scheherazade2c

3. Enya by LopezLorenzana (GIMP)

Enya by LopezLorenzana

4. PP2 Portrait 1 by Scheherazade2c (GIMP)

PP2 - Portrait 1 by Scheherazade2c

5. Castle by Toramarusama (GIMP)

Castle by Toramarusama

6. Masha by andreasbianco (GIMP)

Masha by andreasbianco

7. Self-portrait by KittyElektro (GIMP)

Self-portrait by KittyElektro

8. Will Turner by Angela-T (GIMP)

Will Turner by Angela-T

9. Princess Mermaid by darkimagimp (GIMP)

Princess Mermaid by darkimagimp

10. Keira Knightley by thubakabra (GIMP)

Keira Knightley by thubakabra

11. Ziyi Zhang by tkc-art (MyPaint)

Ziyi Zhang by tkc-art

12. Serverus Snape by artsymptom (MyPaint+GIMP)

Serverus Snape by artsymptom

13. Leliana Fire by firefly-wp (MyPaint+GIMP)

Leliana Fire by firefly-wp

14. Seven of Nine by scheherazade2c (MyPaint+GIMP)

Seven of Nine by scheherazade2c

15. Inkscape Girl by imppao (Inkscape)

Inkscape Girl by imppao

16. Quorra TRON by Cid-Moreira12 (Inkscape)

Quorra TRON by Cid-Moreira12

17. Busto de mulher by maddrum (Inkscape)

Busto de mulher by maddrum

18. Inkscape Portrait by firefly-wp (Inkscape)

Inkscape Portrait by firefly-wp

19. Megan Fox by maddrum (Inkscape)

Megan Fox by maddrum

20. Buffy: She’s like Madonna by happyline (Inkscape)

Buffy: She's like Madonna by happyline

Next section will be dedicated to show you how to work smarter!


How To Do Your Best Work by Working Smarter, Not Harder!

Would you like to know how you could be so productive that in two hours you could get done what takes for most people a whole day?

I have always been interested to discover “long-term shortcuts”, shortcuts which will keep me productive and healthy for years to come! Sure, there are short-term shortcuts like drinking huge amounts of caffeine, using drugs, pills, energy drinks, cigarettes, but these things will seriously mess up your health and well-being in long term.


Do you know story about hare and tortoise – “Slow and steady wins the race”? That’s right I don’t want to be hare, I am all about boring and un-sexy rituals which will make all the difference in long-term! If you are looking for magic bullet or get quick rich scheme you should go somewhere else.

Long-Term Shortcuts outlined here will get you ahead of everybody else, they will help you to get tasks done better, faster and with less effort! That’s what you call best work!

race

We all have the same amount of hours in the day, but not all of us use our time the same way! Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be able to do impossible – run huge companies, have an amazing family and stay fit & healthy at the same time? And why some people never seem to be able to get ahead in their lives, do significant changes?

Let’s find out how we can get more out of our twenty-four hours in the day! This is where science meets rituals, habits and human psychology!

You should read this article if:

  • You want to get ahead of your competition and become a true linchpin!
  • You want to feel happy, productive and fulfilled every day!
  • You want to spend less time working and more time doing your hobbies, spending time with your family.
  • You simply want to understand why super achievers are so successful!
  • You want to know why most of your friends fail to fulfil their dreams!

Article basically is split in two parts. In the first part you’ll learn some simple actionable tips you can immediately test and incorporate in your own daily routine. These are the tips I have tried myself and found to be key to my happiness, productivity and success! I don’t want to pretend I am expert, most of these tips originally were borrowed from successful leaders and personal growth experts.

In the second part you’ll get further resources if you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole!

Few thoughts before we start..

You need to understand that while some tips work for one person, it doesn’t work for other. You need to promise me to be open minded, actually try these techniques and after week decide if you want to keep them or not in your daily routine (it takes 21 days to make a habit though). Don’t make any assumptions! Our body and mind will fight us, because it is used to old habits – but if you will resist, results will be life-changing, I promise you that!

Morning Rituals

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill

change

I would say morning is the most important part of day. If you start the day with blast it will be easy to keep going. If you start morning with TV, game or emails – you will set yourself for yet another ordinary day and that’s not what we are looking for, right?

Here are several great rituals you can start doing in the mornings – try one or few at the time!

The Holy Hour: Invest in Yourself

morning-ritual

This is one of the big gifts I started giving to myself after Robin Sharma recommendation. Holy hour means you are waking up at 05.00 AM every morning and giving time to yourself. In this hour you split time in three 20 min chunks:

  • 20 mins to exercise. Do anything you enjoy to wake up your body – take a walk, run, do 7-min workout, anything will be great.
  • 20 mins to study and learn something new, to get your creative mind going – read a book, watch motivational video, find motivational quote.
  • 20 mins to plan and invest in your spiritual part – say mantras, affirmations, meditate, write journal, express gratitude, plan the day.

I like to experiment with this technique and mix it up. One day I will say affirmations, other day I will meditate. One day I will workout at home, other day I will run for 40 minutes and listen audiobook while I am running. If you prefer to stick to one routine and it’s working, do it. If you get bored of it, mix it up with new routines.

9 Questions To Ask Yourself To Wake Up With Smile and Meaning

question-yourself

I got this tip from Roger James Hamilton, while taking one month entrepreneurship training in Bali. I started doing this ritual six months ago and I am still doing it. It’s simple, easy to do while being around people or traveling, just put questions on your mobile phone so it’s always with you. Do it every morning, shortly after waking up to get increased sense of mission, happiness and excitement!

As you are waking up, preparing breakfast, dressing up – ask yourself (in your head) these questions:

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What am I excited about today?
  • Who do I love?
  • Why am I so happy?
  • What am I most committed to?
  • How committed am I?
  • What is my intention?
  • What is my wish?
  • Why am I here? My purpose on this planet?
Last question was a huge challenge for me for many months, but after 5 months, I finally got my answer and found meaning! What is your purpose on this planet?
Kosh daily morning random quotes 254

Meditate Like a Pro (even if you are absolute beginner): All in One

meditate

Have you ever wanted to meditate, but never got started? I was the same way – whenever I tried meditation, I fell asleep. Now this meditation sums up 6-phases in just 21 minutes (download audio, listen to youtube video, or download Omvana app on your phone):

  1. connection with universe;
  2. expressing gratitude;
  3. remove yourself from negative charges;
  4. creative visualisation intentions for the day;
  5. receiving blessing from universe.

I got this meditation track while I was in Awesomeness Fest in Bali which is one of the biggest personal development conferences in the world. And I know for fact this meditation is widely used by my entrepreneurial friends and many millionaire entrepreneurs around the world! So why don’t you try it?

Complete Your Most Important Task

finish-tasks

Have you ever written down what would make your day GREAT? After reading this Noah Kagan article, I started asking myself this question every day – What is the one thing I need to do today to feel great? Usually it’s something simple, but a little uncomfortable to do. Make sure that task can be completed in less than 2 hours.

I cannot stress enough how much this simple tip helped to increase my happiness! After I have completed this most important days task I feel great and I know anything else I do, will be extra!

“I may not be there yet, but I get closer every day” – Unknown

step-by-step

So what is one task you need to do today to make your day GREAT? What is one task you need to complete to get you one step closer to your big goal?

Write Yearly Goals Every morning

set-your-goals

This advice comes from Brian Tracy, one of the worlds leading personal development coaches. If you can keep going with this exercise, it will mean your goals are really important to you and magic will start to happen. However if you cannot even invest 3-5 minutes to write your goals every day – how can you hope to be able to invest days, years for you to reach your goals?

Technique looks like this – get a notebook and keep it with you at all times. Every morning write down your 10 most important goals in the present tense without referring to your previous list and do this day after day.

Here is my example goal: “I have built an extraordinary office I and my team don’t want to leave by September, 2014”. It’s positive, present and personal!

If you want to understand why this technique works and get more details about exact steps to follow, read more here.

Use Affirmations To Get Rid Of Your Limiting Thoughts

affirmation

If your goals are mostly financial like mine, I recommend using this declaration worksheet by T. Harv Eker. I use this worksheet every morning, I read it out loud while looking myself in the eye in the mirror. Good affirmations are the ones that stretch your mindset and by repetition you make your mind believe anything is possible!

[note]Example: When I say loud: “I have built an extraordinary office”, voice in my head says: “Who do you think you are? Why do you think you will succeed when so many have failed?”. When my mind says: “You cannot”, I repeat “Yes, I can”. Key is not to listen to your mind, and keep repeating empowering affirmations. Have you heard saying – “You are what you eat?”, well, what about this – “You are what You think about”? [/note]

voices-inside-head

I have used similar mirror and affirmation exercises to increase my confidence, to increase my social skills – to do things I never thought possible. My friends and girlfriend thinks I am weird, but I don’t care – this technique works! Find out why here, and get more ideas for positive affirmations!

Read Quotes, Watch Motivational Videos and Listen To Energising Music

listen-to-energizing-music

I discovered this technique on accident. If you find yourself feeling discouraged to do anything – read some empowering quotes, listen to energising music or watch a motivational video! Effect is like energy drink to your mind!

  • Technique: Find one motivational quote and post it somewhere (hard drive, Pinterest) every day.
  • Warning: Make sure you only give this exercise around 10-15 minutes. When browsing around web or Youtube, it’s easily to get distracted and waste time. Stay focused on motivation.

Here are some motivational videos I constantly watch (if you know more – please let me know):

Here is some music to get you started in the morning:
  • Wake up without caffeine – try the magic of binaural beats, helps if you have nice headphones (20mins)
  • Pop Danthology & mashups – mashed up and remixed motivation playlist to get you going. (40mins)
  • Workout Motivation Music – at least for me workout music proves to be very motivational. (1h16mins)
After morning phase, I suggest you to try some more music based on binaural beats to keep you focused, energised and creative! Works like charm! If you want to understand why binaural beats work and how to use them for most benefits, read this helpful article.

Use Pomodoro Technique: Secret Sauce To Superb Productivity

Time most important thing

This is a very popular productivity and time management technique based on the idea that regular breaks improve your mental agility.

What you do is break your day, todos in 25 min increments, taking 5 minute break after each pomodoro (25mins) has passed. This forces you to focus and finish task faster, 5 minute break helps for you to relax and mentally review your work. Here is simple video explaining Pomodoro technique, and you can read this article to learn details.

Moosti is nice web app to get started with, but I suggest to download an app either on your phone or tablet and keep it besides you. Having separate screen with timer running out really helps to focus and get more done.

“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” – Salvador Dali

flying-bird

Plan and Review Your Day In Previous Day

plan-ahead

“If I had nine hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first six sharpening my ax.” – Abraham Lincoln

After productive day in order to set foundation for even better tomorrow, write down your next day goals before going to home, before you stop working. Something magical happens when you plan what you want to do in previous evening – your mind subconsciously starts working on best solutions on how to complete tasks you need to do!

Ask myself:

  • How did I do today?
  • How can I do better tomorrow?

Further Recommended Reading :

Few more trusted resources I recommend if you want to go deeper in the rabbit hole and explore even further!

The Return Path to Joy, Happiness and Bliss by Yanik Silver

In nutshell, here are main takeaways from this article:

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

do-miracles

  • Be grateful – Being grateful is one of the biggest secrets to being truly happy. Don’t think about what you want to get, think about what you already have! By looking on world from abundance perspective you’ll be happier and will appreciate more the little things! Write handwritten notes to your clients! Writing process will make yourself happier and make your client feel special and grateful in the same time!
  • Move – Our bodies are designed to move! If you don’t want to spend much time on exercise and get on with your day, check out this The Scientific 7-Minute Workout using only your body weight. No excuses.
  • Master yourself – Say “NO” more often to things that doesn’t contribute to your well-being and give yourself more credit for doing things that add to your integrity and self-worth
  • Start journaling – It has been scientifically proven that expressive writing is making you happier. Write about anything – write down your takeaways of the day, write down your ideas, draw. (I looked back to understand what made me happy in past and it turned out writing at 1stWebDesigner was one of the keys to my happiness! I also found my purpose and bigger meaning – to keep constantly learning and growing and sharing these lessons with you!)
  • Ask questions – Questions dictate your answers. Instead of saying “I cannot afford this, I will never be able to live like that”, ask yourself – “how can I get this? How can I live like that?”. Make your mind work, don’t take no for answer. Questions open up possibilities. To back up this theory, here is the book digging deeper – Thought Revolution.
  • Give and Receive – Do random acts of kindness to get more pleasure and happiness in your own life. Ask for help – by receiving we allow others to be mentors and give, people appreciate helping when you ask. Think how you can be a mentor and mentee.
  • Create something every day using this little hack – the great copywriter Eugene Schwartz (highest paid copywriter in the world) used to write in 33-minute focused spurts. Eugene wrote for 33 minutes and then took break for 10-15 minutes, he did this cycle six times every day. For freelancers this would mean to code or design for 33 minutes and then take rest. I am big fan of Pomodoro technique which is 25/5 minute cycles. Use this web app to challenge your productivity and focus!
  • Check worksheet to find out Divine Nine activities you should strive to accomplish every day to feel fulfilled!
  • Find out what are some fields you are talented in! Talent plays an important role and to become a true master you need to choose path of least resistance. Good tip on finding what you are talented in is to go to bookstore and find topic you would be willing to read 500 books about.
  • Study the history – any area you want to master you need to study history, the biographies of the prior leaders, prior designers, the successes and failures of those who went before you. Learning from others is the fastest way to move forward.
  • Persistence creates luck – there is a saying “The Harder I work The Luckier I Get”. Don’t let anything stop you!
And some more sites and articles:
  • 5 Unusual Ways to Start Working Smarter, Not Harder, Backed by Science – You gotta trust science, excellent tips to get most out of your day! You might as well subscribe to BufferApp blog, they have lots of excellent life-hack articles.
  • Beginner’s Guide to GTD – Getting Things Done is the most effective productivity technique to use in my opinion, worth learning!
  • Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More by Jason Womack – excellent productivity book I totally recommend.
  • Preventing Burnout: A Cautionary Tale – excellent story about how you could go to being too productive and too driven actually hurting yourself. And of course subscribe to 4HourWorkWeek blog by Tim Ferriss for more hacks!
  • FinerMinds – awesome source of ideas for personal growth, spirituality and happiness
  • Bulletproof Exec – Excellent message and scientific experiments of life hacking – Supercharge Your Body. Upgrade Your Brain. Be Bulletproof.
  • Greatist – Health. Fitness. Happiness. – I love this website because advice is backed up with deep studies and science.
What do you read or listen to in order to improve yourself?

Reader Feedback: Bonus Tips From Fellow Freelancers

I asked you on Facebook page and Rockstar Freelancers group, what are your most effective tools, and rituals you use to get more done and stay happy:

  • Larry Yu (good friend, excellent freelancer and copywriter): “Simpleology and Workflowy – Simpleology for planning out my day/what tasks to work and focus on. Workflowy as a notepad just to jot down quick ideas. For permanent notes I use Evernote, but Workflowy is much faster and I like how it can create unlimited lists and sublists and internal lists which is good for brainstorming. “
  • Emma Catarino Figuerado: “Listening to good music while I work. It helps my productivity.”
  • Sara Haley: “I know this might sound weird, but working in my pajamas makes me the most productive. If I start my morning with a cup of coffee and get straight to work, I get much more done than if I start out with a shower and getting ready. If I’m clean, dressed, and presentable, I’m more likely to feel the need to go out in public. If I’m not presentable, I’m encouraged to stay put and work. Strange, I know. I warned you. LOL”
  • Tim Hamann: “Ditto, music always helps. Typically Spotify and I use Wunderlist to manage tasks.”
  • Samantha Justine: “I use binaural beats for meditation. Meditation helps a lot. Emptying your mind with too many thoughts will help you focus on what needs to be done for the day.”
  • Amine Raji: “I like to use pomodoro technique to manage my time & tasks.”
  • Louise Kerr: “I make sure I start each day by spending a minute or so playing with the dogs before I get up.”

Use Standing Desk

Karan Sharma: “I use Pomodoro technique and standing desk. I use standing desk to feel active all the time! Not lazying around. Helps to finish tasks quicker.”

I haven’t used myself standing desks before, so as responsible citizen I did my research. Many people mention standing desk benefits because of health reasons, but when checking out Wikipedia about this topic it turns out it isn’t that easy. Studies done so far do not directly answer whether or not using a standing desk provides more health benefits than risks.

There are some benefits to standing like:

  • Burning Calories – A 2013 study showed that using a standing desk caused the heart to beat an average of 10 beats faster per minute than when sitting.
  • Mortality – A 2009 study of over 17,000 Canadians concluded that physicians should discourage extended periods of sitting. To live longer you should sit less than 3 hours a day.
  • Prolonged sitting has been proven to be bad for you.
Standing desk example

Personally I would suggest to have both standing and sitting options, in fact I am going to build this in my own office. Decide on your own, and check this study on standing desks as good starting point.

[note]Back to you: What are your most effective tools, rituals you use to get more done during day, stay happy and motivated ?!?[/note]

Editorial Team

Written by Editorial Team

12 Comments

  1. Nice…. this is what the most newbie web programmer and web designer still dont know. Thanks so much… keep forward

    Reply

  2. Very nice keep up the good work! Thanks.

    Reply

  3. Andrea Spikes June 22, 2011 at 22:24

    Very useful and educational article. You can finish projects more efficient and faster without so much stress if you follow the points made in this article

    Reply

  4. I think this a great article, and most of these steps are extremely applicable in every project! The only thing I slightly disagree with is the brief; while I think it is necessary in most projects, there are a few cases I’ve been in, such as designing sites for bloggers, where the particular niche they’re in doesn’t have much of a market or competition.

    That being said, in almost every other project I’ve worked on, all these steps are ones that every designer should go take throughout the entire process. Great article, and very informative!

    Reply

  5. Here are the steps that I had been following for web designing project until now:

    1. Team Assembly
    2. Project Initiation
    3. Project Planning
    4. Project Execution
    5. Project Leadership
    6. Project Monitoring and Controlling
    7. Project Presentation
    8. Project Conclusion

    However, I will try your steps also.

    Reply

  6. What a very helpful article. Taking a look at my own freelance website i can see i have a lot of work to do, but im sure im going to enjoy because of your article. Thanks

    Reply

  7. Nice article, so useful..thank for sharing :-)

    Reply

  8. Nice step by step outline of the process. It helps to look at another’s perspective to ensure that you are staying on top of the design field. Making sure that you are not wasting time during a design is a must. Especially if you are a freelancer, time is money.

    Reply

  9. That’s pretty cool. nice outline of the process!

    Reply

  10. Markus Thiel June 21, 2011 at 09:54

    Just a small typo:
    “You can know invoice your client the remaining”
    Should be
    “You can now invoice your client the remaining”

    :)

    Great article otherwise!

    Reply

    1. Rean John Uehara June 21, 2011 at 13:22

      Ooops, thanks! Fixed :)

      Reply

  11. Hey there I am so grateful I found your weblog, I really found you by accident, while I was browsing on Google for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say many thanks for a marvelous post and a all round exciting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don?t have time to go through it all at the minute but I have saved it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the great work.

    Reply

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