How I Work at Work

Posted on November 15, 2011

Workflows, habits, and processes fascinate me. Think about all of the tools you use on a daily basis. It is very likely there are thousands of tools you use every day without even thinking about it.

I'm the kind of person who loves structure and organization. As a web designer, I'm using numerous applications and tools every day. I want to share my daily workflow and hopefully it'll help you improve your own.

First thing's first

The first thing I do when I arrive at work is check my email. Some GTD purists will probably hate me for doing this at the start of the day, but I like to see if there are any "red flags" I need to immediately address.

Any emails that require action, I create a to-do in Things, set a due date, file it in the appropriate Project or Area, and archive the email.

Filing an email away with the Things Quick Entry dialog
Filing an email away with the Things Quick Entry dialog

Escaping email hell

Once my inbox is completely empty, I quit Mail. Completely.

I used to run Mail all day. It killed my productivity. When I saw the little red badge in my dock, I felt compelled to check it. Now, I quit Mail and reopen it at set time intervals. These time intervals are set by an app called BreakTime. This app reminds me to do the most important thing in the day: take a break. I set BreakTime to remind me every forty minutes to take a three minute break.

Taking a break with BreakTime
Taking a break with BreakTime

After the forty minutes of work and three minutes of break, I then reopen Mail and file the actionable items again.

Designing away

My design workflow isn't too unorthodox. I open Photoshop, more infrequently Illustrator (CS4), and get to the grindstone. The only things I modify with my Photoshop setup are the window views. I keep "Info", "Character", and "Layers" up and everything else tucked away.

When designing websites, I originally used the 960 Grid System, but lately I've been favoring the 1140px CSS Grid System for our responsive sites. The larger grid makes me more comfortable when using 16px (or 1em) font sizes for body copy.

For design inspiration, I frequent Dribbble, The Best Designs, and Google Images. Google Images is a great way to look up unconventional things like "1950s vintage sign" or "Led Zeppelin concert poster".

Coding, coding, coding

Coding has drastically changed for me over the years. In the past, I opened Coda, added HTML/CSS to a PHP document, and saved it locally.

Today we're using ExpressionEngine on almost every site we make. Now I use MAMP Pro for local development, Coda, Tower to push changes I make to a Beanstalk repository, and Chrome.

Using Coda and Tower together for development
Using Coda and Tower together for development

The changes made development more complicated, but also more powerful. Now I can publish logical chunks of a site with ease. I don't worry about deleting a file because version control will allow me to retrieve it if I need it again.

Note: We used to favor SVN over Git, but Git has become much easier for us to use.

My general Mac workflow

I utilize a few other general Mac tools on a regular basis. The three I use most are Hot Corners, Spaces, and Alfred.

Hot Corners

Hot Corner events are triggered when my cursor is in one of the four corners of my monitor. I use two Hot Corners:

  1. The bottom left corner reveals Mission Control
  2. The bottom right corner reveals my Desktop

I've used this setup for years. It's like second nature to me.


Spaces organizes my applications into three different "desktops".

  1. Desktop 1 is for everyday applications like Chrome, Mail, Things, and Pages
  2. Desktop 2 is for coding applications like Coda, Transmit, and Tower
  3. Desktop 3 is for design applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, and Pixelmator
My Spaces setup
My Spaces setup


I use Alfred as my application launcher. Alfred is great. To open a folder or application, search the web, define a word, make a quick calculation, and numerous other things, I just hit Command+Space and start typing. This application gets heavy use from me and I highly recommend it.

Making calculations within Alfred
Making calculations within Alfred

And we've reached the end…for now

That wraps up my daily workflow. I'm likely missing some things, but I hope this helps improve your routine. This is certainly not the way to get things done, but it has worked for me and I hope it makes your day a little easier.