Tag Archives: work

Why I’ll only ever work up to 4 days a week on any one project

Thanks ju5ti from Flickr.

I read ‘Why Time Management is Ruining Our Lives’ through The Week (a magazine covering an unbiased round up of the week’s news). It reassures me that it’s ok that I’m doing things my way, even when other people don’t approve.

I don’t sign up to any project for more than 4 days a week.
I’ve only ever been an ’employee’ for brief stints. Since graduating, I’ve been contracting.

I had a bar job in a theatre which I initially held down at the same time as contracting, in case I had a dry spell in contract work. I had to work part time as a contractor in order to keep the bar job. Eventually I got enough work to be able to quit that theatre bar job. This is quite a typical story for creative graduates – though it can often take a lot longer than a year or two to be able to financially rely on creative work.

But by the time I could quit the bar job, I was happy to continue working part time on contracts, and I didn’t want to pour all of myself into full time work.

What happens on the days I’m not working on a contract?
Starting out this way meant I had to spend lots of time building my brand and network at the beginning of my career. It worked out well to work on a project for three or four days, and spend a day or two investing in the future.

As time went on, and I got work more easily, I ended up using that day or two to make cool stuff happen. That cool stuff has turned into the Service Design Fringe Festival. Having time not working on projects creates a void that will eventually be filled.

Sometimes, if I’m exhausted from working on a very energy-consuming project, I’ll take day 5 as an extra day off. My days ‘off’ can be a bit like the kind of work I was doing at university: practicing drawing, going to a gallery, reading, and writing.

What I got up to one Thursday.

Which day is ‘off’? And why?
Lots of people take their day ‘off’ on Fridays to create long weekends. That doesn’t work so well for me.

I take my day ‘off’ on Thursdays. By breaking my work week into two chunks, I come back on Friday refreshed, rather than looking at my watch, waiting for the week to end. Additionally, I find that nothing much is booked on Thursdays typically in organisations, so it’s not too disruptive.

Having this day ‘off’ means I can bring much more energy to the project than if I didn’t have it. It makes me perform better during all the time that I am working.

I keep my Thursdays constant – whatever the project I’m on, I know that I can book an extracurricular coffee with anyone well in advance on any Thursday without it being inconvenient for the project I’m on.

London & tech culture can be crazy-making.
We’re always on. Amazing technology keeps us working 24/7. London contains many of the workaholics of the world, feeding into a culture where we’re expected to be perfect extra-human work performing whizz machines. I find that having the attitude to work part time keeps my work time boundaried, so I can stay sane; this is particularly important in order to maintain a balance in London.

This pattern of working is good for the soul.
Or whatever you’d rather call it – creative energy, or sense of self. I am not my job.

I have tried working full time on occasion and I found I got so attached to the work, that my identity merged with it too closely. I became too dependant on the job. It didn’t feel like there was any life outside of the job. It’s easy to get stuck in ways of thinking, and take on the fears from the organisation around you by osmosis, if you aren’t regularly faced with alternative ways of thinking and being.

Maybe this person was stuck in a way of thinking, that made them refuse to try something new?

By having space apart from one job, I can retreat into myself in order to be able to hear my own voice (which can be difficult when it’s drowned out by an organisation you’re part of), and expose myself to a variety of sources of inspiration, which I think of as ‘filling the well’.

I’m often cast as the source of inspiration and positive energy in a project – the one that will enthuse and excite people about service design and the project. Leading in this way can be draining if the positive energy is not returned by the people around me. Putting heart and soul into work means that I need more time off to replenish my energy.

When I come back to work, I come back with fresh alternative perspectives, fresh eyes, and extra contacts. This makes the work better.

Notes I wrote down about a contract, in a flash of clarity on a Thursday.

I know it’s a privilege.
I don’t think everyone should do this or that everyone can do this. I’m fortunate that I can earn enough money in 4 days rather than 5 days a week to get by. I’m fortunate that I have the confidence and ideas and determination to come up with useful things that fill the void I create on purpose.

I’m writing this post because I’ve seen people react badly to me doing this.
“You have Thursdays OFF?” – implying that I can’t be serious about the work to be done if I’m not full time.
“I can’t do that.” – said sadly, with guilt, perhaps because having a day off would seem too obscenely pleasurable and self indulgent.
“I know you don’t work on Thursdays, but can you come in/answer the phone?” – because it’s not common, colleagues have a fundamental expectation that my Thursdays are up for grabs if I can be persuaded. Sometimes I give in because I care about the projects I do, but I find that not having a complete mental break disadvantages me later.
“You’re not around enough. You’re not visible.” – valuing presenteeism is old fashioned. I’d rather be measured by the impact I create. Also, we need to do something about this attitude if we are to make the workplace fairer for caregivers.

I feel more ok to be me when I see that other people are doing things I’m doing. I hope by sharing this, I can help validate others who have chosen a similar work pattern. I don’t hear enough people being open about choosing to working part time and talking about the benefits of it.

Semi-retired people and caregivers have to work part time – but I have the choice to work part time. And this is a valid choice, even if it’s not mainstream (yet!)

And if you need any more inspiration, here’s Stefan Sagmeister’s talk about how he takes off one year out of every seven.

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Connecting with my creativity: what I learnt about myself when I stopped earning

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At the end of the year, a work contract came to an end, and I decided to focus on connecting with myself creatively for three months, rather than desperately seeking other work.

Work will come
Work has started to come to me more easily as a contractor and freelancer. I put this down to the huge amount of groundwork I did over the summer and autumn last year, and the fact that service design is becoming more popular as a sensible way of developing services. It helps that I have unusual work experiences – not all that many people have been involved in implementing design strategies for cultural change in government.

Just before Christmas I got a couple of contract offers which would start in the spring (one of which I have now taken up). I decided to not look for any work until then, and focus on developing myself creatively. I turned down all work offers except for a couple of small enjoyable freelance projects. Continue reading

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Change

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Today is the last day in my Elder Street Studio. I have had a great year here. It has been a great space to work in – lovely people, great location, and affordable. I was proud to have meetings here.

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I feel grateful, lucky and privileged to have nabbed such a great space even before I formally graduated from my BA. Being here has helped me ‘fake it til I make it’.

I have not been able to find anywhere as affordable that still has wi-fi, secure storage, a microwave and permanent desk space in a location that suits. However – I have a new job lined up, so having a studio space isn’t so necessary at the moment.

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Goodbye, darling studio.

Onwards and upwards…

The new job is with FutureGov. I will be working on the Shift Surrey project. This involves supporting council staff to use design thinking and innovation in their approach to delivering public services. My role is to be ‘the guardian of taking the design and innovation process which is happening inside the space out to the wider organisation… To manage and support a community of internal innovators in Surrey, growing a broadening involvement in Shift. Create a fun and engaging atmosphere, bringing the outside in to the organisation and helping people feel part of a movement for change.

This fits in snugly with my needs from a job and my personality. I want to make positive change through creative means. I like to meet new people and connect them to each other. I prefer to work in a team. I want to communicate useful ideas to wider audiences. Looking at big social issues and finding ways of dealing with them feels worthy and meaningful.

Last night I went to a Daniel Goleman talk (the author of Emotional Intelligence). He said (amongst many other interesting things) that for work to be ‘good’, three important elements are required: you must be good at the skills involved, you must enjoy the work, and the ethics must fit with yours, bringing meaning to the work.

I enjoy varied work that challenges me to learn and adapt. I have been a bit of a work snob in that I have only actively applied for roles that fit with my ethics of addressing our current social issues through proactive change and innovation. I’m glad I stuck it out – the reward is work that is truly ‘good’ for me. In the meantime, I have been working at a theatre bar on and off for the past three years – I enjoy this because I have a great team, a fair manager, and I take on the responsibility to create a celebratory atmosphere every night with my customers. Often I end up learning something from them about their work or where they’re from. I’m glad I didn’t sell my soul to commercial graphics.

I’ve also been kept busy with freelance projects. In the past year I’ve:
Been part of helping the UK Values Alliance come into being
Run a workshop on the future of Healthcare in the Royal Festival Hall
Delivered a lecture and three-part seminar series to Nottingham Trent University design students on Design and Well-Being
Started the Twitter project #sharefailure
Run a workshop on opinions on plastic for a forthcoming publication in Tooting
Curated a Middle Class themed immersive spectacle
Designed bottle labels for a community brewery
Designed a community newsletter
Run numerous Superhero Badge Making workshops

And of course I spent six months with Circle; researching, developing and launching the new Kensington & Chelsea branch.

Overall the year has exceeded my expectations. I didn’t achieve my objective of making my graduation project on well-being into a sustainable enterprise; instead, I found that I need to spend time working in organisations to learn how to make an enterprise sustainable. I am happy with this outcome and I am enjoying the work that this realisation has lead to.

This is my favourite toilet interior. Goodbye studio toilet.
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