Designlab: That Overtime Life, Part I

Hi, I’m Robbin. I’m a full-time student at Designlab’s UX Academy in the Ive cohort. I’m also a full-time employee at Udemy. This is a short series of blog posts about how I still seem to be relatively sane and still somewhat functional.

A quick intro + FYI

First off, thank you for reading this. I’ve had a couple of folks ask me how I’ve been able to balance these two extremely heavy burdens.

Secondly, I want to make it very clear that this is absolutely not a formula for success in this precarious balancing act. This is my personal journey through the Designlab process, so please, please, please do not take this to mean anything else aside from me sharing my story. There may be a few things that can help your workflow or mindset here, and that’s great! But seriously, as the Mythbusters used to say: don’t try this at home. There’s probably some part about “unless you know what you’re doing/what you can handle” in there too.


Part I: Am I forreal right now??!?? or, Factors that considered my decision to work and study full time

There are a few. I shall present them in bullet-list form for the TL;DR folks:

  • Self-control: I have defeated the marshmallow test several times in my life and can do it again
  • Support: I have a supportive network of people around me that understand I’m in the middle of a really intense workload and won’t give me shit for not hanging out
  • Manageable work: My work is demanding, but it’s not new — I can do it with my eyes closed, so to speak
  • Mostly rigid timelines: When I make a timeline, I try to stick to it 95% of the time
  • Personal drive: I’m willing to put the pressure on myself with studying; with self-study, no one else is going to do it except for you

Now, if you have more than a couple of minutes to spare, here’s the deets. I think that’s what the kids say. Or maybe not.


Self-Control

Like I said: I’m a master of the marshmallow test. It’s delayed gratification. This means that I’m completely okay with saying no to fun things for now, because I know I’ll have more time to do it later.

From this presentation on Delayed Gratification. This is also a video on YouTube.

This meant that I said no to a lot of social activities after work. I simply had no time. I’d go to work for eight hours, then head home to eat, shower, and work on design until it was time for bed. I was largely inspired by Richard Yang’s blog post that was published on 30 January, just as I was in the middle of thinking, “What am I doing?!” Here’s one of my favorite quotes from that post:

After being immersed in design for a little while, I found out that I had been wrong all this time. Passion must be discovered. Passion is when you give up sleep, skip meals, and ignore your friends — just to fit a few more design hours into the day.

Reading his blog post helped make the marshmallow test easier. I was learning a lot. I’m continuing to learn a lot. And I have been enjoying the process, even when things were difficult.

That said, though, note that I said no to a lot of social activities…but not all. Having a balance of what I liked doing was important. I still spent every Monday night going to ice skating lessons. I didn’t go out on the weekends and worked on design from 7am, sometimes until past midnight, but I made sure to block out time to hang out with friends or family to grab lunch or dinner.

Listen to Cyndi Lauper. She knows what’s up.

Working hard is great, but it’s important to remember that even an hour or two of rest is going to help solidify what you’ve learned and internalize what you have already accomplished so far.

Support

Self-control isn’t easy on normal days. Having an understanding support network was crucial for me to help with that.

My friends and family knew I was working hard on this course. They checked in mainly to make sure I was eating, and were excellent voices of reason when they had realized I literally had not moved from my desk for eight hours. Most importantly, they didn’t guilt me into feeling like a bad friend or a bad daughter. They cheered me on, offered to help when they could (by helping with usability tests, sure, but also by making sure I was getting sleep), and reminded me of why I was doing this in the first place.

Sort of like this, but not as often as every 30 seconds. From Parks & Recreation, one of the best shows in the universe.

Every once in a while there’s the carrot at the end of the stick, too. For me it wasn’t the title change. It was my housemate being excited for me to finish partially because I was working on changing my career, and partially because she was waiting for me to finish so we could continue watching Asian dramas together. It was the promise of a Steven Universe marathon with my best friends. It was the sweet siren call of my reading nook, reminding me of all the books I’d be able to read again.

Hermione gets it.

Manageable Work

When I got back to work at Udemy, I went back to my old role on the support team. I stepped down from the community management role because it was not a good fit for me. This was crucial for me, because it was work I already knew how to do and could do well without having too think too much about it. I didn’t have to worry about learning new things or balance huge projects. Designlab had become the project for me.

Full-time work and being a full-time student on Designlab was really only achievable because of that. I know for a fact that if I’d returned to a management position, or a job that required a lot of my attention at all times, I wouldn’t be able to be a student, too. I’d just want to go home and sleep.

To be clear, though: manageable work doesn’t mean slacking off. I still gave 110% at work. Part of it is because that’s just how I am. The other part of it is that my manager supports my endeavors because work didn’t take a back seat. If you’re still working, keep doing the job you are paid to do, because good work is good work whether it’s noticed or not. I have the feeling that in design, it goes both ways — your team will know if you’re working hard or hardly working.

Be like Flint Lockwood from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Mostly Rigid Timelines

From the Designlab projects, I had a good idea of how much time I actually spent on a project vs. their projected times. This is incredibly crucial for sticking to a mostly rigid timeline.

I’m a to-do list person, and I’m a person that hates turning things in late. As such, I was very strict about my timelines…so strict that I actually built in leeway time. When I told myself I would get something done within x amount of time, I made sure to overshoot the expected time necessary by at least an hour or two (sometimes even by a day or two). This way, I almost always finished either very early or on time. It also helped me account for days when I might be sick or days I wanted to spend doing other things.

Okay…but we all know Leslie Knope would be so boss at pretty much…anything.

Personal Drive

Online learning is hard. It isn’t for everyone. Most times it isn’t even for me unless it’s something I actually want to do. I learned how to solve a Rubik’s cube from watching the same videos over and over and over again. In the same fashion, because I’ve been so keen on learning about design, it was easy for me to keep up with my studies.

The 11th Doctor understands this very well. But he’s also a Time Lord…so I mean…he’s always got time.

Personal drive, in my opinion, is a mixture of all of the things I just wrote about. It’s sacrifice and it’s having a strong support network and it’s still feeling energized enough to do design stuff after a full day of work. It’s setting goals for yourself and keeping yourself accountable for them. It’s making sure your calendar is blocked off for the tasks you need to do so that you actually do them. It’s not feeling discouraged if you got some feedback you weren’t expecting during a group critique or a mentor session. It’s understanding that design is a process that evolves with you as long as you make time for it.

It’s taking a deep breath at the end of the day and thinking, “Design doesn’t feel like a job to me.”

This is sort of what that realization looks like. Maybe not Troy Barnes from Community specifically…but yeah. Basically.

That’s it for Part I. Next up, I’ll be talking about how I actually executed. This includes learning efficiently and organizing my project tasks…so stay tuned!