Reusing ideas to supercharge your projects

Don't waste time creating the same idea over and over again. Here's how I work smart, not hard, by reusing ideas across many projects.

Dan Spratling

January 12, 2021

4 min read

Any idea only used once, may as well be not used at all.

Working in the tech industry is hard. This isn't news to anyone. Having good ideas are also hard, so why should we make our lives harder by forcing ourselves to think of new ideas all the time?

But copy and paste is bad, right?

Well, sometimes.

As a designer, developer, copywriter or in any other creative job role we'll always find that there are things which are very similar. Copying and pasting content has its uses, but when we decide to do it should depend on what we're doing.

When we should

  • When we are reusing an idea in the same project, it makes sense to ensure that that idea is easily repeatable
  • When we are reusing ideas across multiple projects, we can also repeat what we've done before to save time and allow us to create a better overall product

When we shouldn't

  • We shouldn't ever copy and paste while learning new techniques, as it will hinder our understanding.
  • We obviously shouldn't copy and paste others work unless we've been given explicit permission to do so. If in doubt, check
  • We shouldn't try and reuse ideas which don't fit with what we're trying to do. Forcing a square peg into a round hole won't work.

How we can use it to our advantage

So if we can repeat ideas within projects as well as across projects, how do we make the most of this?

Saving time in advance allows us to compound improvements. This means that the first time we make something it will be fairly basic, but the more we reuse it the more we add until it has a lot of features which apply to a lot of scenarios. Depending on what we're working on, we might even get to a point where we can say we're "finished", which means that copying and pasting that thing provides us with almost everything we could need.

And having this set up in advance makes us faster. We can deliver requests faster spending more time on new ideas rather than always having to reinvent the wheel. More free time means we can spend that learning new approaches, making improvements to other areas and advancing our careers or businesses.

Applying this to real workflows

I've been using this approach for years to help enhance my workflows. I've worked in agency for years and having my own component library which I could reuse across clients made making changes substantially faster.

Since starting freelancing, I've noticed the power of reusability even more and regularly use

Email templates

Whether we're sending out invoices, , or just setting a professional email footer, or a variety of other repetitive tasks we can use email templates to speed up our workflow by having preset text which only requires minimal changes. We all wish we could get less emails, so we can at least take the effort out of replying to many of them.

Component libraries

Buttons, heroes, banners, navs. Websites all share a lot of similar components and often (especially when working within a niche) these sites will use these components repeatedly. So there's no reason for us to rebuild them over and over. If lots of websites use a similar style we might even share the libraries between sites.

Website templates (themes)

Even whole websites can be reused and we can select prebuilt themes from many website builders like WordPress, Shopify or Webflow, and we can even create our own. This means websites can easily be spun up in as little as a few hours if we're working with approaches which are very similar, such as informational sites.

There are many more things which can be reused if we search hard enough.

The real benefits

Of course, just reusing elements isn't a benefit, but it sets us up to make far more improvements down the line, and take advantage of them.

  • We can spend more time focussing on our career
  • We can learn new techniques further improving our knowledge
  • We may be able to take more time off
  • We might earn more by reducing the time taken

These wont apply to everyone. Some apply more to freelancers. But regardless of who you are, what you do or where you work there will be some benefit for optimising your workflow.

Work smarter, not harder.