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Whence Do We Work?

Whence Do We Work?

Mike Lenhart

As designers, many times we have the luxury of being able to work virtually anywhere. We can sit outside in the park and sketch, we can take our laptop to the hot-spot cafe and tweak our images, or we can even work in the office with our iPod on for inspiration. When’s the best time and place in which to do our work? How do we know if we’re being as productive as we can be when sitting in the middle of a bar, I mean, cafe? I have some thoughts on this based on my own experience.

Think it through

First of all, I guess the primary thing to think of is if you’re even able to get outside the confines of the cubicle to create. If you’re working at an in-house design firm, most likely your chances for some outside quality time are limited. You have people looking over your shoulder, you have to share files with the other drones, and you have a timeclock to punch. (I’m not really sure of all the restrictions of working in-house, but this is what I envision.) If you’re a freelancer or work in a more flexible environment, you have more options of when and where you work.

In this case, you need to do some thinking on where you’ll have the most productivity based on the task you need to do. If you’re working on initial concepts or brainstorming for ideas, I think the outside spaces or public cafes can be really helpful. On the other hand, if you have the need for intricate work on layouts or code that needs detailed checking, then a loud space may not be the most conducive for your task. The potential for distraction may not only cause your work to take much longer, the margin for error may be even higher. That’s a real cause for a massive migraine, in my experience.

Timing is Everything

When are you most productive? Are you an early bird or a late-night owl? Do you find yourself getting most of your difficult tasks done way before noon or do you finally hit your stride after midnight? I can tell you that I am more of the former. I have always gotten most of my work done before noon or shortly thereafter. I have always been that way – oftentimes at the disdain and ridicule of my partners or associates. Many people don’t like morning folk, especially when they’re still trying to pry their eyes open at 11am. On the other hand, I don’t really appreciate getting frantic, last-minute changes at 5 or 6 pm with the expectation of me being right on it. In this case, compromise is the key. So, whenever your time is for your personal best, my feeling is don’t change it. Work when you work best, if you have the option. Word to the wise, if you are a morning person and have the luxury of slacking off in the afternoon hours, don’t get too cocky with your late-night counterparts or the potential for sabotage will likely increase.

Everything in Moderation

The final word on all this is to work in moderation. If there’s no need to pull twelve or eighteen hour days, don’t do it. Of course, there may be times when you’re forced to pull an all-nighter (or all-dayer) because your counterparts haven’t been as organized as you and don’t know how to effectively time manage. (Sorry, that’s one of my main beefs.) Most times, however, if you can work in moderation and get rid of the idea that you have to get everything done all in one sitting, I think you’ll be more productive and do your best work. Additionally, the potential for burn out will lessen a lot. Take my word for it.

Many of you who are students right now get in the mode for when to work and how to work. It’s a good practice to get into while keeping your mind on how you’ll do it in the real world. In my experience, if you get into good working habits while in school, it’ll be a piece of cake for you when you start your first design job. Heck, if you’re a morning person, you can even bring cake (or donuts) for the office to start your day and you’ll be a hit.


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