5 Ways to Improve Your Workflow

We all want to be as efficient as possible so we can crank out large quantities of quality comics. But have you ever been hit with a brilliant idea or a surge of energy, only to have that enthusiasm drop after you’ve booted up your computer, checked your 20 emails, responded to your Facebook messages and requests, Tweeted your status, and checked your favourite webcomics? We feel your pain and your lack of productivity, but procrastination and inefficiency is something you can cure, and the Webcomic Alliance is going to show you 5 ways to improve your workflow so you’ll stay highly motivated and productive.

But first, a brief introduction on WHY we’re inefficient.

It starts with reducing your overstimulation

Everyone suffers from bouts of overstimulation at some point in time. The action of procrastination comes from a desire to do something more exciting and stimulating instead of completing the task at hand – contrary to what most people think, it isn’t boredom and laziness that make people want to procrastinate, its actually the opposite. People BECOME lazy and bored because they’re struggling to find ways to become stimulated by a different activity. This need for stimulation is further exacerbated by things like social media, television, movies and games – things that eat away at your personal time and offer little in return. We spend time chasing the bright shiny object, only to get lost in a rabbit hole of instant messages, status updates and emails. Before you know it, 2 hours has passed and the desire to create has turned into a mind-numbing state of apathy. It’s hard to get anything done when all you want to do is sit on the couch and watch re-runs on television, or look at your cousin’s European trip photos on their Facebook account.

What’s the cure? The mad doctors here at the Webcomic Alliance have a prescription for a large heaping spoonful of efficiency guidelines that will help streamline your process and keep your motivation (and production levels) high!

Try the following:
1) Shut off your cell phone and put it somewhere extremely inconvenient.
I like to put my phone in the console of my car, which is one of the furthest places from my workstation as possible. This will help to reduce the distraction and temptation of texting when you should be working.

2) Disable your internet/unplug your router/disconnect your modem
Seriously – if you make it a chore to plug your Internet back in, you won’t be tempted to click open your browser and quickly check your distracting social media options while you’re waiting for your files to open/save. We are all tethered to the internet in some fashion – being adrift without it can be a painful experience (some may experience feelings of anxiety). But once we learn how to let go and be ourselves for a few brief moments, we can take the next step and put that nervous energy towards something productive.

3) Set a block of time for your task, and focus ONLY on that task.
The Pomodoro technique calls for setting an egg timer of approximately 15 minutes to work on a task – when the time is up, you can take a brief pause and reward yourself with a brief distraction for 5 minutes. When the timer sounds for break time to be over, start up the timer and get back to work.

Over time, you will condition yourself to break out of the habit of working just to get to the 5 minute break, and get into a routine of reaching the 15 minute alarm only to set it for another 15 minutes of work to remain productive and stay on a roll.

4) Create a realistic schedule you can adhere to
Once you’ve removed the distractions, the first thing people do is jump into work without having a clear goal. Take the time to plan some goals – short term, middle and long range ones. This will allow you to focus on the most important things first, and then to gauge whether or not you can fit in multiple tasks in the time you have available.

For example – a long range goal might be to get a book ready for publishing, but in order to do that you’ll need to assemble strips, make corrections, lay out the book, proofread, etc. These are all smaller tasks that require time, and can be broken down into smaller goals. These goals may not have to be done all at once, and can be broken up and tackled as you have time to do them in a work session (unless you’re in a rush to get books printed for a con, then they become a priority!)

By setting a schedule for these events, and constantly rejigging the schedule, you’ll see where you’re most efficient during the production process. Some people can snap off comics in 2 hours. Others need 4-8 and others need weeks or months. As long as the main task of completing a comic is broken into smaller goals that can be accomplished in one or a few sessions, it will make task completion far more easier than trying to start 20 things and not completing a single one.

5) Review and streamline your workflow
Pay close attention to how you complete a task and the steps involved, then take a good objective look on how you can speed up the process or eliminate redundant parts of the task. For example – when you create a comic, your workflow could look like this:
– brainstorm idea / story or joke
– write script
– revise script
– determine number of panels
– sketch out panels
– thumbnail comic
– write dialogue / narrative into panels for sizing
– draw rough comic
– refine pencils
– scan artwork
– clean up and ink digitally
– typeset dialogue / narrative
– colour fills
– colour effects
– save master file
– create screen ready file
– upload file
– create blog entry (optional)

That is a LOT of steps to go from idea to finished comic. Perhaps you could cut out some steps in order to speed up the process. If you were to cut out the thumb nailing and use a panel template, you’ll cut out two steps. If you typeset your dialogue first, print out the blank panels with the dialogue and draw you rough sketches in there, you could eliminate the need for hand rendering text. You can create actions for inking, colour flats, etc. Anything to make the workflow move quicker and efficiently without the quality suffering. This process streamline will free up more time to explore new styles, add more oomph to your comic in the drawing/inking/colour phase, or just do research to improve your artwork.

We know it is easier said than done, and there’s no way you could possibly implement all 5 of these guidelines and stick to them without encountering some outside distraction or temptation, so try and ease your way into it. Start off with one or two methods, and take note of any improvements in productivity. Then begin to integrate the next few steps. Eventually you’ll be a master at scheduling and producing your comic, that you’ll be able to balance this with everything else going on in your life.

Andrés ‘ Drezz ‘ Rodriguez is the author of the ultra-violent modern noir Online Graphic Novel El Cuervo. He provides WA readers with periodic articles (like this one!) to help improve their comic skillz so they can pay their bills. Feel free to follow him on Twitter at @DrezzRodriguez

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  1. As a freelance artist, I can tell you that getting yourself motivated in a solitary work environment can be the ultimate test of self-restraint (especially with the internet at your fingertips!). It can be tough at times to work your hardest without having others around, since there’s no one to “judge” you for being a sloth.

    Great advice overall, and yes, getting rid of distractions is a great way to…to…sorry, I saw a squirrel outside.

  2. This makes so much sense! I often find myself wanting to do a bazillion things but end up accomplishing absolutely nothing… which results into accomplishing more of nothing because I’m too busy brooding about how I’m not getting anything done. ‘Tis a vicious cycle xD

    This year that will end! Thanks so much! 😀

  3. This is a timeless article for comic creators. I appreciate the list of things that we need to do in order to create comics. I save a lot of time by thumbnailing my scripts like storyboards so I can leave out that part.
    I came to reread this as I am about to embark on finishing my graphic novel (as soon as I clear away a couple of obstacles. One of those obstacles is that the old computer I kept solely for email social media and research is no longer available to me and I will have to move it’s hard drives into my workhorse computer to access its files. But in the meantime That means all the distracting stuff will be immediately available on my art/work computer. :`P At least until I get the data moved off it and replace it with my laptop.
    I’d be lost these days without the internet immediately available for research and reference. I do keep my email turned off when I’m working, and G+ is silent so it doesn’t pull me away. So my set up has always been to have a second computer/device for that stuff, and it is behind me in my studio area with the sound turned off. It has been broken for three days now and I still find myself turning my chair around and moving it’s mouse to bring it out of sleep so I can look something up. Then I remember I have to use my art computer for now.
    I don’t know if having a computer/device that is strictly for art/work is useful for most people, but it works for me.
    Thanks guys, for recycling these posts on G+!
    ~ Jande

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