Is it just our industry or is there something that happens, very early on, that tells young designers (or anyone for that matter) that the only way to validate their worth/skill/talent/dedication is to work all hours of the day? To work late into the night? Is it a product of formalised higher education?
I’ll admit, when I first started out, I did the same thing. Dozens of ‘all-nighters’ at uni meant I was working hard, right? Getting better? Of course this would translate into the real-world! I worked relentlessly through the night, nothing could wait and everything I read or took part in had to relate to that thing I already did for 8 hours (or more) a day. To some extent, I still do this because I actually enjoy what I do, but with time and maturation I’ve come to realise that above either doing this or not doing that, balance is key.
I’m often surprised to come across fellow designers who have been at this game for the same amount of time (if not longer) who still wear the Busy Badge with pride. Those who will tell you about their all-nighters, their 3am client phone calls and their no-sleep-in-3-days stories.
What are you spending your time on during the day? Why are you answering calls from clients at 3am in the morning? Are you really taking on that much stuff all at once? Are you being paid for all this? ARE YOU OKAY?!
There was a point not too long ago where I was working part time as an employee, contracting for an agency, working at home on freelance client work and trying to keep up to date with everything. I’m not sure I even slept during that time. One day I found myself burning up in a toilet stall trying desperately not to make too much noise while I simultaneously dry reached and sobbed. Maybe it was an anxiety attack. I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure my burning up was a sign that I was well and truly burnt out. I ended up taking almost 3 months off from any sort of serious employment to get myself together. This experience didn’t fix everything but it did make me reevaluate my habits. Since then I’ve been much more conscious of the way I work and much more mindful of my overall wellbeing.
I think about this because this week I’ve been noticing more and more resources pop up for the ‘nomadic designer'; the new-age 4-hour-work-week thing. These people aren’t staying up all night losing their sanity to the proverbial darkness. Instead they’re travelling while producing some pretty ace work. They’re still working hard, but in my opinion, they’re also working smarter and I reckon that’s what we should all be aiming for. Always working late doesn’t necessarily mean you’re working well. In fact, for the most part, it probably implies that something is fundamentally wrong. This is a lesson I learnt a little while ago and one I’ve been reminded of this week.
As for me: Sure, I’ll still stay up late working on some rando side project. Sure, I’ll still have weird weekends where I just eat/drink nothing but toast/Diet Coke and do Treehouse courses all day. Sure, I’ll try to read and listen to every design article and podcast in existence. Sure, I’ll still take one waaaaay more than I can handle. But also: Going to bed at a reasonable hour doesn’t make you lazy. Eating well is good for you. Say no. Say no. Say no. Time management is IMPORTANT. You don’t have to write first thing in the morning; you could, you know, exercise instead. Having a social life is OKAY. Doing things other than work things doesn’t mean you’re wasting time. It can wait. You don’t need to know everything. BEING BUSY IS NOT A GOOD THING. Work smarter.
Stop answering phone calls at 3 in the morning.