Speed is always of the essence. My approach to UX focuses on rapid iteration. I like to start sketching right away and move into prototypes as quickly as possible.
Strategy & Research
I like to broaden the definition of a "competitor" to any site or app that the target audience spends time with, not just directly competitive products. This helps establish a picture of their expectations and behavior patterns that goes beyond what is already known about the current product, and often leads to innovation.
When most people think of UX, they think about site maps and wireframes. Indeed, the final output of a UX project is usually a combination of these kinds of deliverables, which are then handed off to developers and visual designers.
I believe that interactive prototypes are essential to modern UX practice. Flat layouts require too much explanation and guidance, and can greatly slow down the review process. I prefer to use Axure, which is a true prototyping tool (as opposed to some web apps that let you upload layouts created in another application and make them clickable).
I began my career as a graphic designer and I enjoy the opportunity to polish my own UX work into finished design, particularly when a client has a well-defined brand identity to work with. When that is not present, I have considerable experience with branding and art direction as well.