Tend to your optimum workself
Doing work we care about flexes important muscles. But work is a means to an end. Making progress requires that you stop. Doing good design work means knowing how to take break. Facilitating good design work is about creating opportunities that cultivate this logic.
On one hand, work is clarifying. Part of the purpose of establishing simple morning routines — one reason you go for a walk or write in your journal — is that having a to-do list reduces decision fatigue. You don’t have to worry about what to do next when you know what to do next.
Doing work we care about flexes important muscles. It keeps us sharp, and in design and development it helps keeps us current, which in itself is its own commodity. Constant practice at a craft evolves that craftsperson into an expert, which positions them into roles of leadership and mentorship, which evolve other important, equally commodified character traits. Expertise through practice is the route through which we grow.
But work is a means to an end. You go to the gym to improve performance, but you can lift only so much before your body starts metabolizing the muscle you’re building for energy. Making progress requires that you stop.
We’re hiring a contractor we like who is eager and hungry for that experience, which is one of the many reasons we like him, but only through this experience of interviewing him have I given thought to the role one’s management of one’s self has in the workplace. Our contract would be a side project for him in addition to an already taxing full-time job, and in my mind an alarm went off when he said he was available for an additional 20 hours per week. I’m no stranger to 50 to 60 hour work weeks in addition to family responsibilities, and — to me — this sounded like a quick commitment to burnout. Later, I happened to notice this person tweet about eye-strain while trying to figure out a programming problem: he was looking for strategies from twitter about how best to power-through. Whoa there.
When you work, your work is best when you are operating at as close to 100% as you can. Right? I’m not saying anything controversial here. If you’re working at 70%, it makes sense that you may be not making the best decisions.
As a stoic, I am suspicious of busyness. I have written already about how busyness can manifest as a symptom of procrastination, but we can also look at busyness as a signal that the “busy” person isn’t inwardly in order. What is having too many things to do but lacking a sufficiently prioritized to-do list?
As a stoic manager, it’s in my interest to have you work at that higher level, which means that it’s in my interest to create as much of an environment as I can [afford] to give you the freedom to recuperate as needed. You ice your pitcher’s arm when it needs the ice.
As a stoic designer, however, it is my responsibility to take advantage of opportunities to tend to that optimum workself — to be mindful of the constraints and limits on my overall wellbeing, understanding that burnout makes me less valuable.
Doing good design work means knowing how to take break, to reduce commitments, to check your email less, sign off, which optimizes your capacity for your craft with respect your real commitments to yourself, your friends, your family. Facilitating good design work is about creating opportunities that cultivate this logic.
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Stoic Designer is also now a podcast. You should be able to find it on your podcatcher of choice in the next day or two.
Remember that design is not art, but a practice.