When you make things you come up against hard limits to how much you can make in a given time. One way to overcome this problem is to add more bodies. There is a rate of diminishing returns to this as more bodies equals more perspectives on the right way to do something leading to a need for management or some other way of coming to agreements. What you really want to improve is your own speed.
Slow deliberate work has it’s place and it isn’t your aim to get rid of it.
You want to simply increase your base rate of production so that you can produce more on a typical project and have that extra horsepower available for crunch time.
1. Know your tools
You need to develop an intimate relationship to your tools. Sit down and really get to know how the tool is designed. What is it good for? How do other people use it? What shortcuts, hacks or customizations do other craftspeople make? How do you know when you’re at the right level of mastery?
You don’t think about the tool anymore.
It should feel like driving or typing (if you’re a touch typist). You operate your body and the tool as one. Your mind is free to focus not on the mechanics, but on the creative aspect of the work.
If you’re designing this means learning the keyboard shortcuts. It means adding plugins and scripts and reading the manual. It means sitting down with the best person in your studio to watch how they use the tool.
If you’re working wood this means reading the manual that came with your router. It means experimenting to get a feel for the tool. It means watching YouTube videos of pros making stuff.
2. Know your materials
Tools are used to work a material. It is as important to know your materials as the tools you use to shape it. Material familiarity means spending time engaging with your material. It means exploring how your tools interact with the material. It means being interesting in how others shape and work it. How do you know you’ve reached the right level of mastery?
You notice ever more subtle qualities in the material.
The more deeply you know a material the more qualities are revealed to you. Materials are an ever deepening mystery. Expertise grants you access to subtler and subtler aspects of the material.
If you’re designing you should be spending time in the medium you are designing for. Consume it, but be a critical consumer. Notice what works, what doesn’t. Develop taste and a perspective on what makes a good touch experience. Compare and contrast a native experience with a web one. Maintain a library of patterns and ways of solving the problem that other designers have invented.
If you’re in a workshop get to know the different qualities of wood. Learn how to age it, and how to read the grain, how to shape and how to cut it. Learn from master carpenters how they look at a piece of wood. Do tests and experiments to develop your own understanding of how wood joins or what stress it can take.
Knowing your materials allows you to make quick material choices without pausing. It allows you to work with confidence and sureness.
3. Leverage existing materials
If you want to be fast you can’t always start from scratch. You need starting places that allow you to build upon, rather than needing to build up. Real speed comes when you can pull something off the shelf and mod it rather than the much more intense process of full creation. How do you know when you’re doing this?
You invent only the most critical aspects, the rest you leverage existing work
You recognize what requires the full intellectual forge of creativity and you know where to source everything that doesn’t. You focus your energy on the unknown, unclear aspects of the work. You pull pre-made patterns or templates and use them for those aspects that don’t need to be unique or special.
If you’re designing this means exploring deep and wide for the aspect of the product that will define the experience, but following existing patterns and best practices for the rest of the flow. It means picking your creative battles and smoothing everything else out. It means creating a pattern library, making templates and standards and maintaining general consistency.
If you’re working with your hands it means hand carving the details and using power tools for the big cuts. It means buying lumber that’s already seasoned and cut. It means following known conventions for joints while getting creative with your surfacing, or maybe the other way around. The point is, you don’t need to labor over every detail as if it’s the first time anyone has ever done this.
Speed has its place in creative work. Embrace it.
Being quick buys you time to be slow and deliberate for some parts of the process. You don’t want to be speedy and careless, but developing a faster personal velocity will never slow you down.