Check yourself before you wreck yourself
Stopping is easy. Knowing when to stop isn’t.
Sometimes our working life can get on top of us and we can very quickly tie ourselves up in knots over the smallest things. It’s often easier to ignore a problem, push on through and hope it goes away or try and smash it into shape. When it’s all going bat guano crazy there’s often just one thing you need to do and it’s easier than you think.
My Dad used to run his own design business. He stood at a drawing board for 40 years designing glazing and curtain walling systems for the construction industry. His weapon of choice was a Staedtler propelling pencil. He never used a computer.
I remember going to his office. I loved it. I guess I wanted to be like him; go to an office everyday, talk on the phone and draw stuff. Then, as if by magic – and what then seemed to be without any stress or bother – a cheque would appear in the post.
Draw stuff. Get paid for it. Lovely.
During the summer holidays I’d go in with him early and set myself up in the next room. I remember watching him, through the hallway, settle with a cup of tea and begin to pick through the pile of post. There would be letters, bills, A1 drawings folded up neatly into quarters bound with elastic bands and sometimes even a cheque.
This would take a while, perhaps an hour or two by the time he’d marked up the drawings, scribbled a response to a letter, licked some stamps, walked to the post box and made a few calls. Then, a full day of fairly uninterrupted work. The daily ritual of any draughtsman of his generation.
Now, you may well compare the pile of post to a stack of emails in your inbox, stuffed solid with PDFs and spreadsheets. You may say that was a different time, that technology has changed the business landscape beyond all recognition. You may say nothing has changed and that it’s often 11am until your working day really gets going.
All I know is the work still got done, clients were happy the cheques kept hitting the doormat.
What’s for certain is that we’re getting the morning post delivered dozens of time during the day in the form of email and other notifications. What’s worse is that we feel compelled to respond to them almost immediately. What’s even worse than that is that if we don’t respond immediately we’ll feel anxious until we find the time to get around to it.
It’s not just email, there are many distractions these days; colleagues, clients, Twitter, Slack, Basecamp, text and the good old-fashioned landline. Everyone wants it before they know what it is and everyone has the potential to get in your smartphone and up in your grill about not receiving it.
I feel my chest getting tight just thinking about it.
When your notifications are pinging, the phones are ringing off the hook, the deadline is knocking, you’re out of coffee, you’re out of toilet roll, you have too many apps open and the client just emailed to say “we’re nearly there but…” it is OK to just stop.
Before you say “that’s easy for you to say” I will say that it’s even easier to do. What’s easier than doing nothing?
It’s an important part of what we do as creatives and technologists. As much as you try your hardest sometimes things don’t quite work out the way you planned. Whether that’s pressure from external forces, distractions or more project than days in the week – what makes you better is that you take it on the chin, dust yourself down and go again.
Learning, iterating, learning, iterating until you get it right. There’s often no one answer and, remember, we’re ALL doing this for the first time.
Furthermore, it’s important that when you stop everyone else does too. If you can, ask others to stop. You may not like the answer. You may be met with a curse word or two. But, then again, you may be surprised. Get your heads together. Pour over the problems whilst pouring everyone a brew. Have an arm wrestle. Have a cuddle (please consult HR first).
Whatever helps to break the tension and forces you, and others, to take another view.
If you don’t respond to that email straight away I promise that the world will keep turning. Travelling at break-neck speed doesn’t always get things done quicker. In fact, it’s harder to seek the right solution with a broken neck.
“Don’t put your foot on the gas pedal until you’re sure that you’ll never have to take it off again.”
It’s wonderful advice if winning isn’t enough but if you want to get to the end of the race – and enjoy the ride – without ending up as a huge fireball, then you may want to ease off the throttle once in a while.
You never know, something wonderful might happen.
To Innovate, You Need the Courage to Step Backward