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Instant Productivity

Published by Chris Coyier

All jobs are a series of tasks needing to be completed. Let's look at a construction worker. Today she needs to bust up a bunch of cement. Here is one path of action:

Put hardhat on
Start jackhammer
Bust up a bunch of cement

Here is another way she could have gone about it:

Scout out area
Determine weather conditions
Make labor assessment
Evaluate different jackhammer models
Stretching and breathing exercises
Get third party opinion
Coffee break
Put hardhat on
Start jackhammer
Bust up a bunch of cement

Which way is more efficient? The go-getters amongst you might say the former — just get after it! The more management types among you might argue the latter — having a full evaluation of the task means the job will be done with more efficiency once it's started.

The answer, in my opinion, as most things in life, is somewhere in between. But a lot more former than latter, especially when it comes to web work.

Let's bring it back to the web. Now the job at hand is designing a specialized landing page for a product. Here is one way she could do it:

Open up Photoshop
Start playing around with ideas
Land on something decent, or go back to the top

Here is another way:

Conduct interviews with potential customers
Analyze past analytic data of website
Browse web design galleries
Go on urban walking tour for color inspiration
Evaluate latest web technologies for animation
Poll twitter followers for opinions
Attempt to use Fireworks instead of Photoshop
Coffee break
Catch up on email and RSS feeds
Open up Photoshop
Start playing around with ideas
Land on something decent, or go back to the top

Clearly there is value in the latter group. That group is filled with activities that will help us grow as designers and dig into our current task at a deeper and perhaps more insightful level. It is also filled with glorified thumb twiddling.

Choice of Tools

I use WordPress. It just so happened that back as a fledgling wanna-be web designer I came across it, installed it, and starting using it to make sites. Years later, I'm still using it to make sites because I know it really well and I don't feel limited in its abilities. I don't feel particularly compelled to even try Joomla, because with WordPress I can be instantly productive, rather than enter a new learning curve. Call me crazy.

I'm also aware that that is dangerous territory. The web moves fast and it's easy to get left behind. I'm sure we all know some old curmudgeons that are convinced some crazily outdated technology is superior. We might laugh and point. We might be right. Or they might be right. Maybe they are the ones being instantly productive.

Bob Staake uses Photoshop 3.0 and nobody is calling him unproductive.

So what?

My point is that if you have a job to do, just get after it. Roll up your sleeves, get the tools ready that you already know you can be productive with, and start dishing out some instant productivity.

Then maybe after you get some work done you can read you feeds and do some scholarly thumb twiddling =)


  1. I worked at a company where I was forced to use Joomla. I was a WordPress user, so I was grumbling. I learned it alright.

    And….. it’s a piece of shit.

    I don’t think WordPress is outdated. It’s starting to gain a lot of ground.

    Coming from both a manager’s background and just a regular worker- It’s important you go for an in between workflow. Think about what you’re doing, but with less breaks, and less errors and fasle starts.

    • Permalink to comment#

      WordPress really is gaining momentum especially with the release of 3.0. I don’t know a lot about Joomla, but the little bit of it that I’ve seen is junk.

      My company sent me off to DrupalCon this year and my #1 take back from it was “Use WordPress”.

      Drupal is a pretty powerful CMS and it has a ton of really cool features but theres a huge learning curve and it would definitely be overkill for most sites. If you’re good, you can probably achieve most of what you want to do just using WordPress, and it’ll be 1000% more elegant than the Drupal equivalent.

      I’m a fan of both platforms but I really enjoy working with WordPress versus just getting a job done.

  2. This is *exactly* how I feel. It’s almost as if I wrote the article myself.

    Even as a child, when it came time to build the plastic model cars that everyone was building in those days, I always cast aside the directions and started *building*. In the beginning there were mistakes, but after a period of time I had learned and mastered more about constructing those cars than my friends who always followed the directions.

    I, too, took on WordPress years ago and have never looked back. I design every site in WordPress and have yet to find a limitation I could not overcome.

    I agree as well that it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and I share your concern. But for now I am as productive as I think I can be.

  3. karthikeyan

    hi guys.. excellent post.. i am also feel the same….

  4. I have been like this the last few days, hammering out idea, after idea. Time to sit down and finish these projects!

  5. I think you need to do a bit of both. Starting a new project for a client, it would be stupid to start using a new tool you’ve never used before. But why not have a go with Drupal or Joomla on a personal project, just to see how you get on? You’ll absolutely be less productive when you start, but it might be worth it in the long run.

    • I’d recommend trying other tools for fun. If you have time you can always at least learn something from other tools. My dabble in Drupal made me realize a few things about my use of wordpress and web designs that I needed to change on.

  6. Well, I am a WordPress man, too( thanks to Chris and his wonderful tutorials and screen casts!) , but by chance I was involved in a Joomla project, and I have to admit that it was quite difficult for me to get to learn at first, but now I am quite comfortable with it, especially the day-to-day activities involved.

    I have compiled a list of areas where Joomla beats WordPress that you can view here,

    Still, I will remain a WordPress man.

    What do you think?

  7. The most important thing is planning for the future, not the present. So if you go with the shorter list, then you’ll be better off on the short-term. But with planning ahead (the longer list), you’ll be better off on the long-term.

    And by the way, I find Chyrp better than WordPress, but it isn’t in active development anymore.

  8. Brian

    “Attempt to use Fireworks instead of Photoshop”


    • I got a good laugh out of this too :)

      For me it used to be “Attempt to use Photoshop instead of Fireworks”

    • Investing the time to seriously to learn something new is extremely important. For nothing else you want to be sure that you in fact prefer one thing over the other.
      Learning Fireworks was challenging but also very rewarding. Now, all my designs start in Fireworks and sometimes go to Photoshop before finally being sliced in Fireworks.
      I love photoshop but I will never do wireframes or slice with it again!!

    • Noah

      Seriously. For web designing, Fireworks is the way to go. It’s a slimmed down version of photoshop that’s quicker and easier to use. However, Photoshop obviously beats out fireworks in the more professional looking visuals and affects. So I use fireworks as my go-to and have photoshop for any stunning visuals I need to create.

  9. I think you don’t have to loose your childlike curiosity. There’re a lot of possibilities out there. But you have to take care about your roots also. Without this “Instant Productivity” you won’t earn money.

  10. When I started, I didn’t like the inflexibility and “bloat” of most CMSs. I still don’t. I’ve found a few that serve me better than others (I still hate joomla), but a lot of things I still write specifically for whatever project I’m working on.

    For smaller or more “typical” projects, getting right to work is undoubtedly the best way. But for larger projects (e.g., corporate sites with specific usability needs), the planning stage is indispensable.

    The first such project I did, I just “jumped in” and did it. I ended up doing most of it four times – I didn’t do anything wrong, exactly, but as I went along I found things that would be better if they were done in another way – and since I didn’t plan anything out, it was “back to the drawing board” for almost the entire site.

    So you need at least an initial planning stage to determine what you need to plan, and what you can just “jump” into.

  11. Victor

    I’ve used both and I favor Word Press more. Why? Because it’s a great tool, it’s easy for clients to learn and they can handle simple updates on there own. Joomla can be confusing to the average client. I don’t see Word-press as a blog tool, but a perfect CMS that easy to use.

  12. I love wordpress and I wouldn’t even try to learn something else.
    As you said, why I would waste my time trying to learn something new since I already know how to use wordpress and it works great!

    • Permalink to comment#

      Well, because the more you know the better off you are. Right now, at my job, I’m actively using 5 different CMS systems(including WordPress) and I’m required to be an “expert” in all of them. I can’t honestly say I like most of them, and it’s A LOT to learn and stay up-to-date with but it makes me that much more valuable to my company. It’s pretty nice knowing they can’t get rid of me because they would be totally screwed until they found someone(or multiple people) to replace me. Plus it makes it all that much easier to find another job assuming I ever needed to do so.

      Knowing more means more money, more job security, more opportunity so in general you’re just better off.

      You shouldn’t ever feel like you’re done learning.

  13. Alex Reds

    Good insight, Chris!

    “Learning by Doing!”

    Understanding comes with time and experience!
    What also includes learning on your own mistakes
    You can always learn, however the time against you


  14. WordPress is still being updated everyday and new features (ones that relate directly to the latest web trends) are being added constantly, so I can’t possibly fathom how it can be “left behind.” And anybody that tries to coax you into new technology sure as hell better not be touting a switch to Joomla!

    If anything, Drupal is the next best technology to be investing in.

    Anyway, great, great article. In fact, I need to stop posting right now and get to work! :)

  15. Willson

    I agree with you mostly Chris, but sometimes I find myself being done too quickly. Not doing a bad job, just having nothing to do afterwards. I do love having extra time to read css-tricks though ;D

  16. Kalee Eversole

    Great post! I need to utilize the “just get after it” approach far more than I already do. I feel like as a novice in the web design world, it’s beyond overwhelming to choose one route and stick with it because there are so many options, and so many opinions about why someone thinks one is better than the other. I finally just learned how to implement my designs in WordPress this past week thanks to your Designing for WordPress series, and I am beyond thankful!! I’m loving what I can do now with my once static HTML sites, and will finally launch my portfolio and blog site soon because of it :) There aren’t nearly as many web designers speaking plainly to people like myself (who are just becoming comfortable and confident with XHTML, CSS, and how Javascript works) as you have Chris. So epic thanks for your always spot-on posts, knowledge and the way in which you present all of it to the world!

  17. I loved reading this article and found myself picking a little bit of both.

    I once heard the mantra: “Ready, fire, aim” and I’ve adopted it in my design process as I like to plan some, then use some instant productivity, and then critique it.

  18. Very refreshing article, especially in a world where we’re being constantly told that we need to increase our skillset.

    I couldn’t agree more though, I mean WordPress for me fits almost all projects that I’ve had to do in the past so I’ve not a need to try anything else.

    I dabbled with ExpressionEngline which to be fair is really, really good but I’ve not got the patience to learn it properly :P

  19. Falling in love with WP is fine, but I think you need to keep a wandering eye. You don’t have to master other tools or employ them on real projects, but you need to dig in to the new trends enough to know if you are missing a real paradigm shift or at least some significant shift.

    • Permalink to comment#

      Exactly, otherwise you’ll become one of those old curmudgeons that are convinced some crazily outdated technology is superior :)

  20. “Attempt to use Fireworks instead of Photoshop” – happens very often here :)

  21. Check out my blog post, “25 top concrete busting jackhammer operators”.

  22. Hmm, female using a jackhammer…this is quite possibly relevant to my interests =D

    But back to the (real) point. I have to say that in my work I like to challenge myself, perhaps not by switching from WordPress (and I agree with the majority, Joomla is the LAST thing I would switch to). But by forcing myself to at least try new, bigger, better, harder-than-before things in my work. If I didn’t take this approach to new projects I wouldn’t have learned WordPress in the first place =)

    I see every project as a chance to learn something new, otherwise you run the risk of just becoming a “website manufacturer”, doing the same thing everyday, for every client, like a firm I once worked for. If you’re not learning new things, you’re not moving forward, even if the only thing you learn is ‘never doing that again’, you’ve still won.

  23. Dennis

    I think all in all sticking to one tool and learning it really well helps develop a higher degree of the task you are attempting to complete. The web does move pretty fast, but it seems like we are never working on the cusp of the cutting edge. I mean, some people out there are still using IE6 (released 2001 according to Wikipedia). I think if you know “web design” in its most general form, you know the principles and concepts that can be accessed through any of the tools available. Whenever I start something I new, I try and remember that 1 minute of hard planning will result in an hour of time saved. So, do I think we need to jump in and use the tools we already? heck yeah, but only after 1 minute.

  24. I really needed this post, and the ironic thing is that I wouldn’t have stumbled upon this motivating message if I hadn’t been in whatever step that was where you waste an hour of productivity on twitter.

  25. it’s because of you I started using WordPress, so it better not be outdated (just kidding)
    WordPress is becoming more and more popular, so no worries!

    • Just to be clear for folks WordPress is DEFINITELY not outdated. I was just saying that sticking with one particular technology for a long period of time despite what’s happening with it or what’s happening around it is dangerous (in that you might get left behind).

  26. Ankit

    Thanks for sharing Chris, insightful.

    Like some people mentioned already, I think you need a bit of both.

    I start off projects “unplanned”, but when I get stuck (ie something just isn’t right/doesnt fit, but I don’t know what…) for too long, I take the planned & organized route to see if I’m missing something important. Works well for me :)

  27. dave

    It’s good to “just get it done”.

    FYI, it is not cement that be “busted up”, but concrete. Cement is just one of the ingredients.

  28. For me the productivity sticking point is always a little step in the middle:

    —Open up Photoshop
    —Start playing around with ideas
    Get scared it’s not going to work and just be big fat waste of time I’ll have to redo anyway! ARGH!!
    —Land on something decent, or go back to the top

  29. WordPress is great but it’s nice to push yourself a little bit outside your comfort zone. W.e area, i’ve seen you do it lots of times Chris with other technologies, you may not notice it. Following your early tutorials you did fairly rudamentary jQuery, now you are writing plugins with lots of intermediate to advanced stuff for most of the time. Even with the raws javaScripts and all.

    Yes we have our limits, but knowing the fundamentals or knowing where to look for the fundamentials is showing experience, smarts and get go. All in all a good prodcutive work ethic.

    WordPress is diversifying with 3.0 on the horizon and Buddypress on the up. It’s bound to be a success to the majority. I’d like to try a social network site with Joomla, or Drupal…. although codeIgniter is very tempting for the next project. It’s so time consuming though to do it from scratch and have all the same coolness of WP. :)

    Thanks for the post.

  30. Yair
    Permalink to comment#

    You guys are saying such nice things about wordpress, almost taping on each other’s shoulder for using it… :o)
    I am new in using wordpress. can you come up with a good source of information on wordpress develpment and how menipulate it

    • Andy Jones
      Permalink to comment#

      watch some CSS tricks video casts!! That’s where I learnt the basics – and also, buy a copy of ‘digging into WordPress’ – which you can get from css tricks also – Chris is the Yoda to my Luke. (Damn, I should be on commission!!) ;)

    • I can also vouch for Chris’ free and paid help with WP. More free than paid which shows he is passionate about the code and systems he produces and uses. Lots of nice gifts he has scattered around the web in some form or another. From skeleton themes to get you going to all out instant fixes for themes.

  31. Andy Jones
    Permalink to comment#

    I always use Fireworks – I’m amazed that more designers don’t. It’s so much easier, due to it being a more vector environment. I tried to user Photoshop, to see if there were any benefits – but I hated it! It took so long to create a simple layout. Don’t get me wrong – I use photoshop all day long – but I use it more as as tool for certain effect or backgrounds, as Fireworks is a bit limited on that front – but for laying out a page, I find Fireworks 100 times faster, and more easy to edit.If you haven’t tried it – try it!

  32. I never see anyone mentioning ModX cms, It’s much easier to use than wordpress and so good for SEO.

    • Andy Jones
      Permalink to comment#

      I’ve never heard of ModX! Can you extend it the way you can with WordPress (ie, lots of plugins etc – is there a similar community?)

      Will try anything once!

    • Permalink to comment#

      I am not even a little bit a fan of modX.. It’s got a pretty decent admin backend, but extending it is a bit of a pain.

      We have a large project at work that is a mashup of modX and Zend Framework, and a wordpress blog stuck on as well..

      Why this monstrosity? because when the project was first started modX was selected as the cms, rather than something more robust.

      Aside from my unpleasant experiences with modX (I’m sure it’s fine for some people though) .. I’m a bit leary of a cms that’s been around for several years but has never even had a 1.0 release.

  33. Matthew
    Permalink to comment#

    Good post. Reminds me of Jason Fried’s approach to (from what I can tell) just about everything…developing, business models, etc. etc.

  34. Permalink to comment#

    Working from home now has me thinking of ways to hone my productivity. This post reminded me of the one I saw on Lifehacker the other day. Glad to see the same kind of thinking carried over. Small steps are a great idea for a procrastinator like me. :)

  35. dot tilde dot
    Permalink to comment#

    one goal that i have defined for me a couple of months ago is that i want to be more playful with my doubts.

    thank you for the nice article, chris!


  36. Max
    Permalink to comment#

    I tried about a dozen or so CMS platforms. I evaluated the install, setup, forum support and most importantly, how flexible is the CMS for creating a custom design template…

    In the end it came down to two solutions: WordPress and MODx. I like WordPress as a blog tool. But for full sites that need a custom built from straight XHTML and CSS system MODx is for me the most flexible system. There is a lot less interior scaffolding with MODx. Any static system can quickly become your template. I find that most WordPress projects begin with hacking previous templates: a lot of “backwards engineering”…

    Chris, I watched your screencast on building a custom design template and getting it to fit into WordPress and my eyes just rolled in amazement at how difficult and klunky that process is. MODx is way easier to design for.

    I read a quote that “it is easier to make MODx blog than it is to make WordPress act like a regular website…”

    Any CMS is going to take some time and study. But I am a solid MODx guy right now…

  37. nigel
    Permalink to comment#

    Ignoring the “My CMS has bigger balls than yours” side of this discussion, that initial point of yours, Chris, is so true. Lumber any project with unnecessary extra complexity and mediocrity is almost guaranteed.

    Take Mark Boulton. This pleasant chap has all sorts of stuff to say about research, preliminary analysis and process and rakes in applause from every corner of the fashionable net – but just check out his portfolio! It’s not that it’s awful – it’s just relentlessly dull, uninspiring and unremarkable. Everything he does is controlled and logical, but no-one in his studio ever seems to step back & say, “yeah but look at it…”

    Procedure can be dropped and a design just be done – and sites are often fresher for it. Experimentation and playing get better results than control freakery.

    No-one dares say it in this climate – which my hat is doffed at your courage, Chris.

    (Btw, wordpress is excellent, but drupal is where it’s at!)

  38. suprsidr
    Permalink to comment#

    Quite simply the “former” is a residential laborer.
    The “latter” is a union laborer but would also involve three others and a ton more $$


  39. This is sound advice indeed. I often have issues with instant productivity. I’m a huge fan of the “glorified thumb twiddling.”

    The solution? As you said, roll up the sleeves and just start and go with what you know. I always want each project to be better, so I will research new methods and ideas when the methods I already know would suit me just fine.

    Thanks Chris.

  40. Kevin Evans
    Permalink to comment#

    I use and love Expression Engine. It’s the designer’s CMS. Actually, MODX is very similar to EE, with its framework and all.

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