How to use ‘Sprints’ to Maximize Productivity in your Business

Cards being sorted into organized piles

If you’re starting a business, it’s really challenging to stay focused. You have 24 things on your todo list and it seems overwhelming. One tactic I use to stay focused and effective is ‘Sprinting’. The idea is simple …

  1. Choose the most important thing on your todo list
  2. Break it down into 10 minute tasks. These are called ‘Sprints’
  3. Add each of these Sprints to your todo list for the day
  4. Tackle the first Sprint
  5. Check it off your todo list
  6. Take a break
  7. Tackle the next Sprint
  8. Check it off your todo list
  9. Repeat

The powerful thing about Sprinting is that it helps you break projects down into actionable steps. Checking things off your todo list gives you a great sense of accomplishment throughout the day. Looking at all the completed todos on your list at the end of the day allows you to relax in the evening, knowing you accomplished a lot that day.

This video from the Treehouse Exercise Your Creative Series, explains Sprinting in more detail …

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FaWQD5aAcY]

If you can’t see the video, you can view it here on YouTube.

Here is the transcription of the video as well:

In this episode of Exercise your Creative we’re going to perform a process called sprinting. Sprinting is when you take a task or project and break it up into steps. We call these steps sprints. Let’s get started.

In most cases when we are given a task, we are overwhelmed with the outcome of the project. When we break the project up into segments and perform these segments in a timely fashion the overall project doesn’t seem so overwhelming. To start, we are going to need a pencil, a stack of blank paper, and a timer. To track time I’m going to use a traditional cooking timer.

For this exercise we are going to create iconography which displays skills we have mastered. We are going to break this project up into three sprints. The first sprint will be ten minutes. We will simply make a list of things we have mastered. The second sprint we will sketch icons per our mastered list. This will take ten minutes. Lastly we will fine tune our icons and vectorize them.

With our first sprint we want to work with two parameters, the first being our materials, pencil, paper, and timer. The second being time – ten minutes. Besides that, let your imagination do the work. Simply ask yourself, “What have I mastered?” If you automatically say, “I’m not good at anything,” I don’t believe you. Did you get up this morning or did you sleep in? Maybe you’re the master at sleeping in. Did you have breakfast this morning? Are you the master at brewing coffee? Or are you the master at ordering coffee?

From there let’s work up to your web skills. Are you the master at Photoshop, Illustrator, JQuery or WordPress? Maybe you’re the master at web design, or perhaps Ruby. Let’s get a solid list together and fully use these ten minutes.

Time is up. Let’s take a break before our next sprint and gather our thoughts. During this time you simply want to clear your head. This might take five minutes or five hours. Take a walk, run an errand, jump some rope, or even trim a bonsai tree.

When running sprints we want to separate what I like to call limbo time, or time when really nothing gets done, whereas action time is where we execute our tasks effectively. In this creative world running sprints are very similar to track and field sprints. You don’t run sprints back to back. You take time in between to recoup and prep for the next sprint. This allows for better performance.

In our next sprint, we’re going to sketch icons that visually represent our mastering skills. We have three parameters in this sprint, the first being materials, same as before – pencil, stack of paper, and a timer. The second being time – again, ten minutes. Lastly we want to use a continuous contour line style. This is when you use one line for the whole composition.

As seen in this example, I’m drawing a wristwatch with one line. Notice how I’m not picking up the pencil at all. The whole drawing is done with one line, one beginning point, and one end point. The reason for this technique is to complete the sketch quickly and still acquire the object’s shape. Once I feel my head is clear, I’m then ready for the next sprint.

Before I begin I’m going to choose ten mastering skills that truly define me as a designer and my personality. With our parameters set, let’s begin our sprint. Remember, ten minutes and ten iconic representations of the selected mastering skills. Some sketches might take longer than others. Also, you might have multiple ideas or sketches per skill. This is all perfectly fine.

Ding, time is up, pencils down. Next, let’s take some snapshots of our work and bring our content into Illustrator. To begin we simply want to open up Illustrator and bring in the image we took with our phone. We are simply going to use the shape tools and pen tools for the majority of our icons. Since I used the contour technique, I’m able to see the shape of the objects very easily.

When constructing my icons I want to keep them very simple and very minimal. I’m only going to use one color for all the icons. Basically I’m creating a shape silhouette and then adding some detail to make the icon very recognizable to what it is. Now let’s complete the rest of the icons in the same manner.

Lastly, I’m going to add a colored background to the icons. Then I’m going to make all the icons white. I do this by turning all the paths into outlines and expanding all the objects. Then I’m going to fill all the objects with white and merge them together. Next we’re going to open up Photoshop and output all of our icons. Please note, you can do this in Illustrator. I just prefer Photoshop for web image output as it does a great job compressing images.

To begin, simply create a Photoshop file that is 500 x 500 pixels at 72dpi. Then copy and paste each icon as a smart object into Photoshop from Illustrator. Next organize all your layers. Once you are complete save out all of your images for web for each icon as a PNG, and then put them in a folder called “images”.

Congratulations, you’ve just mastered the art of the sprint. Next time, we will create a simple web application incorporating our mastering icons. Until then have fun and exercise your creative.

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Ryan Carson

Ryan is the CEO and Founder of Treehouse an online technology school that teaches you how to code, how to start a business, how to make websites, iPhone/iPad apps and Android apps. Previously Ryan founded Carsonified (acquired 2011) and DropSend (acquired 2008). Ryan was born in 1977 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He graduated from Colorado State University in 2000 with a degree in Computer Science. He then moved to the United Kingdom to pursue a bit of adventure and fun and ended up meeting Gillian, getting married and having two wonderful boys. He and his family now live in Portland Oregon. Feel free to follow him at @ryancarson or check out his blog at ryancarson.com

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