I shared a few words with Design Week about working two jobs and the affect it has on my creative work. A lot came up while I was thinking about this so I plan to write more, but give it a read.
Work/Life balance is a thing many of us struggle with. I know when I was 100% self-employed it was the thing I struggled with most, there was always something I felt I should be doing. Whilst many people claim that doing what you love means you have a perfect work/life balance that seems far to idealistic to me. Work is work, whether we love what we do or not and we need a good balance between it and the rest of our lives.
It seems Haptic Architects have that same awareness, and so I was interested to read about the Benefits of the Scandinavian Work/Life Balance that they have implemented in their design studios. It seems a healthy approach to work and demonstrates a real awareness and care towards their employees.
Occasionally I’ll come across an article on the internet that I find myself reading more than once. Usually it’s because the piece resonates deeply with me, but sometimes it’s because it’s something I want to be able to write myself. In this instance it’s just that, a piece I would like to be able to write in a years time, but with my own perspective.
In a piece about Employment vs. Self-Employment Garret Dimon wrote this paragraph.
Being self-employed is great. And it’s not so great. Like anything, there are tradeoffs. For you, the tradeoffs may be worth it. Or, they might not. Or, they may not be the right tradeoffs at this point in your life. Just don’t put self-employment on a pedestal. There are plenty of other options that are darn near self-employment without the burdens.
I’ve been on both ends of Employment and Self-Employment. For the last 5 years I’ve been running my own design business, and during the last year and a half of that I’ve been running it alongside another job in a coffee house. I’ve loved every minute of it, but it’s also been the most stressful time of my life. So stressful that it made me ill. The last couple of months I’ve been thinking about and making steps to begin looking for a full time design job working for someone. Through it all I have to keep reminding myself that self-employment is not the be all and end all, there is a lot of important work being done by many different people and companies that it will be a privilege to be a part of.
There’s been a lot of talk on the internet circles I follow about focus and deep work. They’re thought provoking and often resonate with me, but there’s one thing I’ve been struggling to reconcile in it all. The focus of all these discussions is usually aimed at putting your individual desires first, which doesn’t really jive with my Christian beliefs.
Chris Bowler, in his excellently considered article Deep Prayer > Deep Work, seems to demonstrate I’m not alone. In doing so he seems to capture exactly how this kind of thinking should be influencing my approach to my faith.
But over and over, I come back to the fact that while Newport’s concept of increasing our ability to focus is crucial to a successful career, it’s even more crucial to a successful Christian life. One that is lived attuned to the Spirit. One that is carefully watching to see where God is working, then ready and willing to join him in it.
At the start of last week I set myself the challenge to blog everyday between then and the end of the year. Yesterday I didn’t manage to post to this site, in some people’s eyes I’ve failed the challenge already. Maybe I have, but it’s not going to stop me carrying on.
These types of challenges are great to do, they add an extra bit of impetus to get going on something you want to do. A little bit of healthy competition goes a long way. But yesterday life happened, two friends got married and the day was rightly taken up celebrating that. There simply wasn’t time in the day to sit down and write a post for this site, it was an exception to the norm and that’s ok. I realised this early on and gave myself permission to have a day off.
A few years ago had I set myself this challenge I would’ve let it defeat me. The chain would’ve been broken and I would’ve let the day off turn into two, three or four days, before giving it one last effort and then stopping it. Over the last year and a half I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s ok to give myself permission to say, it’s just not going to happen today. As long as it doesn’t turn into a regular occurrence that’s perfectly OK, I just pick up where I left off the next day.
It’s been an important lesson for me to learn, perfect is unattainable and being somewhat of a perfectionist it’s a difficult thing to accept. Now in the context of this challenge, had I realised earlier in the week when I started it, I’d have written an extra post in the week so I had one in the bag and didn’t break the chain. In the context of real everyday life, it’s a far more important lesson to learn. I’ve had to learn how to give myself permission to say this is ok, this is good enough and I’m ok with putting it out there.
Here’s what’s always bothered me about task management systems: it’s not what Presidents use.
I’ve never thought of this before. It’s never even crossed my mind about the methods of working for people in high powered positions, or national office. Yet it shouldn’t be a surprise when you think about.
After reading this excellent article from CJ Chilvers it struck me that in the last few months this is something I’ve started to do subconsciously.When I think back to how I’ve progressed some projects recently it’s all been down to clearly blocking out time on my calendar and then working during those times.
Of course I’ve not entirely scrapped my to do list, and I think it would be wrong to scrap it completely. It’s a useful tool for keeping track of the client projects I’m working on. The important thing, I think, is to not let your to do list dictate your time and instead to let your calendar dictate your to do list.
The calendar doesn’t lie. It’s brutal about how much time you actually have in a day to complete your projects. It’s honest. We need to stop wishing, determine what’s important enough to spend our very limited time on and get it scheduled.
Do what you love has been a bit of a mantra of late on the internet, at least on the blogs I seem to have been reading over the last couple of years. It’s something that I love the sentiment of, but at the same time something that has never quite sat properly with me. So when I saw the phrase You’re Not Meant To Do What You Love. You’re Meant To Do What You’re Good At in a tweet link to the matching article I instantly saved it to my Instapaper.
I agree entirely with this point:
We’re doing people an incredible disservice by telling them they should seek, and pursue, what they love. People usually can’t differentiate what they really love and what they love the idea of.
But more importantly, you are not meant to do what you love. You are meant to do what you’re skilled at.
The trouble comes when the people who are espousing the mantra of do what you love are the fortunate few who’s skill also happen to be what they love. It gives them a distorted view that everyone should be doing this and it creates a worldview that doing work is a bad thing unless it’s something you love.
The husband of an old colleague of mine had a period of unemployment not long after they got married. It really impacted him as a person and I remember talking to my colleague about how her husband felt worthless because of it. He wanted to work because not working made him feel worthless. When he did get a job, it was not in something he loved, but it gave him meaning again. He was contributing to society, not reliant on it. He was giving something of himself to do it and what he was doing had value because of it.
As a Christian I believe we are designed to work, God even designed and modelled the week around it six days of work and one day of rest (Sabbath). The theologian Tim Keller in his book Every Good Endeavour states
Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer, and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul. Without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness. People who are cut off from work because of physical or other reasons quickly discover how much they need work to thrive emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
This is exactly what my colleague’s husband experienced. Without work he struggled in exactly the way Tim suggests we will. When we fall into the trap of telling people to only do what they love, we do a disservice to work. For some people their work involves doing what they love, whilst for others it involves doing what they are skilled at. For some, maybe even the majority, it involves doing a job because it gives them value and helps them serve people around them.
The article finishes with this quote which I think sums up the value of work, of any kind, superbly.
The real joy of daily work is in what we have to give. We are not fulfilled by what we can seek to please us, but what we can build and offer. It is not fame, or money, or recognition that makes for a thoroughly meaningful life, it is how we put our gifts to use. It is how we give.
This morning I gave something a try for the first time. I left my MacBook Pro at home and took my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard out to do a bit of work. Since the release of iOS 9 last September I’ve heard many people talking about it has enabled them to use their iPad to do a lot of work. Being a designer I just pushed them aside, no software is able to produce artwork to the that the Creative Cloud apps can on my Mac, and so I just marked it as not yet for me. I have noticed recently that I’ve been naturally reaching for my iPad to do certain bits of work, largely emails and admin. I decided it was time to give it a try. Interestingly I’ve really enjoyed it and I think with a little thinking through, I could switch some of my web site maintenance tasks to the iPad.
“So I propose we forget the phrase “just do what you love” because it’s exhausting and misleading. We need less instant gratification and more patience in our practice”
I couldn’t help but identify with these final few words from Kyle Steed. Society today is so desperate to do just the things we love and to get there in the shortest possible way that it forgets the value in having to do things we don’t want to do, but that we need to do. It sets so many people up for massive falls as they make big leaps to begin doing things that they’re not yet ready to do. There’s too much I want it now and not enough willingness to work and explore and grow into whatever that it is.
A healthy dose of margin in your life gives you the space you need to think, dream, strategize, wrestle through complexity, focus deeply, and, ultimately, do your best creative work.
This piece by Shawn Blanc has been sat in my Instapaper for quite a while, but when I read the sentence above I immediately agreed. When you’re in constant hustle mode, when everything down to what jobs you work on and when you can find time to send out those all important invoices is imperative to your ability to exist in life, decisions and dreams disappear. When there’s no margin in anything in your life, your ability to work well goes and your ability to even think creatively vanishes let alone do the work your business depends on.
I’ve learnt the hard way, margin in life is imperative to being able to create well.