Do less. Be more productive.

Arm and hammer illustration

Spontaneous conversations are some of the best, don’t you agree? And some of the best mixed playlists are the ones you put together in 5 minutes.

Usually, there are two camps of people: those that overthink and those that underthink. I fall in the former, but I could learn a lot from the latter. I bet you could too. I’m more inclined to spend 30–60 minutes mixing a playlist, or plan that conversation that I want with a client down to the way I say “goodbye.” This level of freaky precision is pointless, and consumes valuable time.

Over-thinking might be a part of healthy, thoughtful contemplation. It may turn out a better product in the detail of my design work, and we introverts like to think it always will. All the time. We want to believe that one of our superpowers as the quiet type is our ability to see things clearly from all angles, then iterate and reiterate on our designs till they are something high in quality, and superior to what others make.

We think that something is better if we put in the hours, because, Max Quickfix, the other graphic designer in our department, on average spends 30 minutes on a project. His work has got to suck because of its shallow-mindedness.

But I’m being egotistical if I take this mindset. It usually ruins my objectivity. I get more narcissistic the longer I look at the Photoshop canvas and the text editor. I start repurposing the design in ways that I think are needful, but in actuality, gum up the product in complexity.

Overthinking leads to overworking, and that means you’re killing time. If you could solve the problem—that is, your work assignment at present—with 5 steps instead of 30 steps with nearly the same outcome, why would you take the superfluous 25 steps?

Here’s my thinking: the more time you spend on a design, the less return on your work you gain with each passing hour. The best of your work happens in the early stages, and the trivial work happens in the third hour I rework the world’s greatest blog post.

So, going back to the ideal form of conversations, they are the ones that aren’t staged; that happen with spontaneity, that appeal to the head and heart. If I need more than 15 minutes to have a thoughtful and meaningful discussion with someone, then I’m failing an art of communication.

And the same is true with a good website. If you want to make the richest impression on your visitors, you have to be able to make that impression in an incredibly short period of time. We all hear about the statistics. People spend an incredibly short period of time viewing sites before they move on. It won’t matter that you spent 6 hours rewriting the world’s greatest blog post, or drawing a life-like Morgan Freeman.

People need you to communicate in less time to convey the essential part of what you have to offer at a glance. When you add too many details to your work, as to give it obscure hidden meaning, then you are doing work with practically no return on your time.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do work that takes lots of process and time. What I am saying is, to the introspective types out there like me, that overindulging an already good product won’t add value over a quick solution that works just as well as your inefficient one.

It’s liberating to write from the heart and write and rewrite a post to perfection. But imagine how you would write differently if you knew you only could write one draft, check for spelling, then had to publish. I’ve run this experiment on myself, and the approach is freeing. I think the experience is similar with podcasting, where the hosts enjoy a free-form discussion then spend next to no time editing the final production.

A good production—one that has great appeal—doesn’t need to be re-recorded, edited for content, and abridged to fit in the self-imposed 30 minute time length.

For the experienced designer, many a great product (web product or otherwise) happens in the first attempt. And the more experience you already have under your belt, the less reasons you have to doubt your abilities on the next project. Execute the project, then make something else.   You shouldn’t let something as simple as a blog post eat up more than an hour or two of your time. And that cover design? Maybe four hours tops, if you need to make revisions to satisfy the client.

So, for the people out there that appreciate overdoing, I suggest you cultivate a new habit: purposefully limit yourself to get things done with less edits, drafts, and spit-polishes. Your new approach should shock you into new levels of confidence and productivity.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.