Balance in life and creativity
Why I switched to a 4-day week within my first year of working.
I finished my studies in summer 2014. After three-and-a-half years I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Design. In the end, all I wanted was to start working on tangible projects. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I didn’t enjoyed studying. No, I really loved it! The experimentation, the independence, the freedom. And of course I liked the lifestyle that comes with it. I enjoyed working in the evening when I was excited about a new idea or technique. And of course, I loved getting lost in concentration.
But as I said, I didn’t wanted to work on fictitious projects any longer, that no one would ever get a use off. I wanted to test my skills under real conditions and grow with my tasks. After many job applications and interviews I had to choose where I want to work. My choice fell on the Berlin based digital design agency think moto, mostly because I was interested in their strategic focus. I felt perfectly well from the very beginning. Everything seemed familiar, like I would do this since ever — but in a positive sense.
In the beginning I liked the consistent daily rhythm, which I completely lost during the last semester holidays. The monthly salary also gave me enough financial security, so I didn’t had to worry about anything material. All in all, I had a very pleasant start into professional work, which had less to do with a »classical« designers start of a career.
Although I might have been just happy about that, something bothered me. I had the feeling of losing my freedom in daily work days. I felt constricted in a five-day week, eight-hours a day mode. I recognized, that I have less time to implement my own ideas next to my day job. The structure that I liked in the beginning seemed to take my breath. I realized that I wasn’t a student anymore, who’s doing an internship somewhere for six month and returns to college. I arrived in the world of working adults. That specific phase in life starting somewhere between eighteen and thirty, ending with the retirement.
When it came to vacation planning, I realized that a usual six months shrink to a few weeks per year. But it wasn’t the vacation that bothered me so much, it was more about the every day life struggles that came with it. Every day has 24 hours, of which we usually spend at least 8–9 hours at work. You arrive at home there are 4–5 hours left. Maybe that wouldn’t be dramatic, if there wasn’t all the stuff you have to do like cleaning your apartment, buy some food and so on.
What I missed the most, was the familiar flexibility. I liked the idea of following my flow of inspiration, which means to work more on one day and less on another. But if you work within a team, that has to deal with tight deadlines that’s of course a little bit difficult. Because of that, we all sit on our desks from monday till friday, wether we feel like it or not.
I have to admit that I just needed some time to deal with this new situation. After a while I got along better with it. I understood that employees are not necessary stuck in a corset, where they can no longer move. There is always a certain flexibility and agencies understand, that there is a rethink about work and time.
During my phase of application and interviews I asked about the possibilities of a 4-day week. To be honest, not every agency was open for that. A lot of recruiters look on a Junior Designer as someone who needs to prove his skills and has to learn a lot. They want you to understand their processes and gain experiences on real projects. But I think it’s maybe even more important to create a good balance of professional work and free experimentation. Especially for young designers this can be much more inspiring and healthy than to just work their asses of on tight projects. They need time for reflection, thinking and further education.
I am really lucky to work on diverse projects that include a lot of creative fields like classical branding, interface design, illustration and even animation, which is really fun! But it’s still something totally different, if I delve into a topic in my free time, because I’m the one who decides.
I’m absolutely convinced, that you can only produce outstanding work in the long term if you take regularly time out’s and do things for fun again. Because of that, I made a step from a fulltime job to a 4-day based workweek. It was the best decision I made in my professional career so far and it just works fine. If the team is aware of it and projects are planned accordingly, then there shouldn’t appear problems during the process. The team also has the certainty that I can support when it’s impossible to prevent.
Now I can pursue my own ideas beside my day job and reflect things that are happening around me. Ideally this has also an impact on my professional work, as well.
Although I know a lot of people in my age (mid twenties) that have a similar mindset, there are of course people who think different. And these people are surprisingly from my own family. To be honest, I looked into a lot of questioning faces. Most of the older people think that you have to earn something like a 4-day week with hard work. Only when your body and strength decreases, it’s allowed to take it a little bit easier.
But therein lies the problem! Most people nearly lose themselves in their work, neglecting social contacts and family. They don’t realize that they pay less attention on themselves, as well. My own father did so and now he’s just happy that he finally made it to retirement this year.
But maybe that’s not that bad, if you have a job where you’re doing the same thing every day. If you’re working in the creative industry it’s important to stay curious. You’ll need regularly time out’s to gain some distance between you and your work. It’s the only way to deliver long-term good work. Stefan Sagmeister is just one of many examples how it can be implemented. But there are many possibilities and it’s up to you which way works best for yourself.
I think it is a big motivation to be aware of the fact that we only have this one life and we should think about how we want to spend that time. Now I always think, no matter how rough the week might have been, my free friday compensates everything. And nobody can take that from me!
What are your thoughts on this topic? I’m aware that working in Berlin might be a little bit more relaxing than in other cities & countries. So I’d be really interested to hear some opinions from other places about changes in work culture!
Marcel Bachran is an interface designer, illustrator and writer. He’s currently working at think moto in Berlin. Feel free to check professional work on www.marcelbachran.de and private creations and thoughts on www.heymarcello.tumblr.com