I started reading the book Flow by Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life. Csikszentmihalyi demonstrates the ways this positive state can be controlled, not just left to chance.
How does this relate to Photoshop? Right, well I got to thinking about my workflow and experience as a designer, which led to: “What are the micro steps or processes I create or put in place that make my job or task at hand easier, allowing me to be fully immersed in being creative in that moment?”
Here are some of the steps, whether micro or larger, I have put in place that help me with my flow.
Smart Objects are layers that contain image data from vector or raster images. You can transform Smart Objects (scale, rotate, skew, distort, etc.) without losing the original image data or quality. Thus making non-destructive changes.
This is great if you want to change a size or rotation of an object over the course of a design.
When importing or Copy/Pasting an object from Illustrator, just select Smart Object from the Import Paste box. A Smart Object will be noted in the Layer Palette with a special icon.
- Smart Objects don’t always share the same behaviors as a regular layer. Some Blending Modes and Filters don’t work right. Get around this by making a Copy of that layer then Rasterizing it – right-click in the Layer Palette > Rasterize - just keep the Smart Object hidden in the Layers Palette in case you need to fall back on it.
- Smart Objects can increase file sizes.
Use Precise Cursor
Using the Precise Cursor versus the normal Tool shape icon gives you better control of your selection or action. It allows for a more exact method of working. Here is my setup in Preferences; select Photoshop > Preferences > Cursors
Right-Click to Select Layers
This is an action I use constantly. It may save me a second or a minute depending on the amount of layers I have in a document, but that time adds up when you are trying to remain in the flow.
In the Document when trying to select a layer – instead of going into the Layers Palette and scrolling down through the layers - simply right-click on the document where the layer should be. This will bring up a list of several layers under that selection, scroll to the layer you want and select it.
Using Adjustment Layers allows for a manipulation or adjustment effect to be applied to a layer without changing the original layer.
This is useful because you may not like how a certain adjustment looks later in the editing process, and then you would have to go back and recreate the entire process or chain of effects/adjustments until you fix it.
Applying an Adjustment Layer Layer > New Adjustment Layer makes that change to a specific layer or to the entire document. If you don’t like how your adjustment looks later on, you simply Hide it in the layers palette with one-click.
This is another option for creating non-destructive changes.
Create Template PSD’s
By creating a PSD file that has all of the common settings in place you eliminate a lot of time in setting up the file.
For example, let’s say you use a standard layout for a WordPress theme and it is a specific number of pixels in width/height with 2 columns. Instead of creating this each time, having a PSD file ready to go named GridLayout_960-2cols.psd with each common setting in place will be much more efficient.
By using keyboard letters to switch through tools or document viewing options, I save myself lots of time and streamline my process… back to the flow.
When used correctly, you can have one hand driving the mouse and the other over the keyboard ready to hit a key when you need to switch tools or apply an adjustment, etc. This is a simple action that saves time.
Kenneth Setzer created a great image that can be downloaded and used as a visual aid for these shortcuts.
For example her are just a few that I use consistently (Mac):
- F (Cycle Screen Modes) — Switch between normal screen, full screen with task bar without title bar, and full screen with black background. Works great when used in conjunction with Tab to hide toolbars — maximum working space, no distractions.
- Command + ‘+’/’-’ (Zoom In/Out) — Quickly zoom in or out without changing your current tool.
- SPACEBAR (Temporary Hand Tool) — Hold down the spacebar to temporarily bring up the hand tool so you can move around while doing those zoomed-in edits.
- Command+ H (Hide Selection Lines) — When working with selections, use this command to hide the “marching ants” while keeping the selection.
- Command + D (Deselect) — After working with your selection, use this combo to discard.
As you can see, the micro steps in a process can be the critical actions that help keep you in that state of flow we are all looking for in creative work.
Setting up simple actions may help push you to that next level in your work or just make life easier, either way they are worth a shot. This process translates to all areas of life, striving to make yourself more efficient.
How will you work to become more efficient and improve your flow? Share in the comments below!