Reclaim Your Day: How To Save Time With Visuals and Markup

red alarm clock against grey wall

According to the Rolling Stones, time is on my side. Well, as much as I love the Stones, I can say without fear of contradiction that time is, in fact, NOT on my side. Not even a little bit.

Like you, I’m busy. Really busy. We’re talking 100-emails-a-day-between-five-meetings-and-lunch-at-my-desk-with-a-sandwich-in-one-hand-typing-with-the-other kind of busy. See the image below for a dramatic reenactment of me working last Thursday.

And yet, even with all that going on, nothing halts my productivity like finding myself stuck in the dreaded never-ending feedback loop.

You know what I’m talking about: That seemingly eternal stream of emails, meetings, phone calls and desk drop-bys we go through trying to get a particular project or document approved. Guess what all those methods typically have in common? Words.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Words alone aren’t the best way to communicate. In fact, there’s all kinds of research that shows us that in many cases, it’s downright inefficient. There’s no way around it: Sometimes words get in the way of what we’re actually trying to say.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are some hard numbers:

  • Almost 50 percent of our brains are involved in visual processing.
  • People following directions with illustrations do 323 percent better than those following text directions alone.
  • We can get a sense of a visual scene in less than .01 second.
  • People only remember 10 percent of what they hear after three days, but if a relevant image is paired with that same information, retention goes up to 65 PERCENT!

Ok, numbers are cool, but what does all that really mean?

It means our brains are hardwired to process images quickly. And THAT means that in many cases, images will work better than words when trying to get your message across.

Imagine this: You’re managing the team for a major website redesign. Your project lead emails you with the new homepage design asking for your feedback.

Overall, you love the look, but you have just a few tweaks you’d like to see. You COULD write your thoughts in an email and send it along to the team, which might look something like this:

Hey everyone!

The new homepage looks AMAZING! I love the new elements and the new graphics look great as well. I have just a few changes I’d like to see.*

  • Under the header image, let’s move the Camtasia logo, description and buttons to the left and move the Snagit assets to Camtasia’s current spot.
  • In the header image, the “Learn More” button looks a little small. Let’s make it about 30% bigger.
  • For the Snagit and Camtasia “Learn More” buttons, let’s make them orange like the Camtasia one in the header image.
  • Bold the sentence “Find out which product is right for you in under a minute. Try the Product Selector”!
  • In the grey field below the products, let’s take the grey all the way to black and do the text in white. Buttons should also be orange like above.

Or, you could grab a screenshot and send them something like this:

Hey everyone!

The new homepage looks AMAZING! I love the new elements and the new graphics look great as well. I have just a few changes I’d like to see.

Homepage with markup

The advantage is two-fold. First, it took me less time to grab a quick screenshot and mark it up than it did to write out the numbered list of changes. Plus, I didn’t have to figure out how to say what I meant (or worry about my spelling as much). But more importantly, because my team can see exactly what I’m asking for, they’re less likely to miss something or change the wrong thing, so we’re way less likely to get caught up in a feedback loop of misunderstandings.

And don’t get me started on how much faster this was than trying to have a meeting. Just the thought of trying to coordinate everyone’s schedules and sit in a room for 20 minutes just to get these quick points across makes me feel like this:

Octopus running away

“Ok, smart guy,” you might say, “But what about printing it and doing the markup that way?”

To which I say: You’re proving my point for me.

Either way, you’re still using visuals and markups to make things clearer. By doing it with a screen capture, you avoid the steps of printing, making your markups by hand (and scratching out any mistakes you might make while doing it), and then making copies if more than one person needs to see the changes.

Plus, we’re saving trees. And, what if color is important? I don’t know about where you work, but most organizations like to avoid color copies or prints if they can because they cost way more than black and white.

Oh, and if someone loses your on-paper changes (or spills soup all over them), you have do them all over again.

So where else might markups work better than words alone?

How about:

  1. Making notes on a digital image, such as where to crop …
  2. Illustrating the steps one needs to take to complete a task …
  3. Highlighting information you want people to notice on charts and graphs …
  4. Making comments on video stills for your video editor, such as where to blur out confidential information …
  5. Offering comments on the UI for a new piece of software …
  6. The list is virtually endless …

Time is not on our sides, but by working smarter and using visuals and markups, you can get a little more of it back. AND, you get the added bonus of being more clear in your communications, which helps you avoid the never-ending feedback loop and get to “Yes.” more quickly!

Excited baby

You can find more info on the importance of visual communication in these blog posts: “4 Reasons Why Visual Communication Has a Big Impact” and “4 Types of Screenshots You Need to Start Using Immediately.”

*Full disclosure: I love the TechSmith website and wouldn’t change a thing. I used it for illustration purposes only.

Posted in Tips & How To's
Ryan Knott

Ryan Knott is the Public Relations Specialist for TechSmith.
Follow him on Twitter @ryanknott and connect with him on Instagram where you'll mostly find photos of pit bulls and food.
Fun facts:

  • Ryan is a nerd
  • Favorites: Alien (and Aliens), his dogs and iced tea
  • Secret talent: Coaching roller derby
  • Reading list: Anything by Neil Gaiman