I'll be honest, being productive on a daily basis is tough. Productivity in the modern age, with the amount of daily "noise" we're surrounded with, is a challenge. I often feel pulled and pushed in one direction or another—obligated to be socially engaged; bound to a relentless and, sometimes tyrannical inbox; inundated by endless customer service requests. The list goes on.
Don't get me wrong, I love what I do. Being a designer feels like falling in love with that one, right person. Most of the time it's like hanging out with your best friend—doing shit that feels utterly fulfilling. It's just that sometimes...the romance is not quite as evident. On those days there's a little less love and a bit more endurance that's required to carry on.
I'm in a unique position. I co-own my studio. We have good clients, we work on good projects, and we've made it past the tenuous first two years. I've achieved what many designers ultimately strive for. Yet, for all that good, I struggle. Daily.
Nearly 12 years ago I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I've known most of my adult life (and thinking back about when I was younger, it was there too) that something was not quite right. Too much noise, not enough signal.
When asked about why I started my own studio I always tell people that I was a horrible employee. I do good work. That was never the issue. The problem is that my mind pulls me consistently in a thousand different directions. It needles me endlessly which manifests itself in short attention spans and the need to get up and walk—sometimes every few minutes. Hence the part about being a "bad employee".
Let's face it, say you run a studio and here's this designer who has to get up multiple times a day to refocus and reorganize. You know what that looks like (I do too), and honestly, no amount of explanations and discussions about the root issue (even though it may be medical) will really change that perception. Because of that, I've struggled quite a bit with more than a few bosses, agency owners, and creative directors.
Enough Whining, Where's the Bit About Productivity?
During a decade-plus of slogging it out in the trenches of ad agencies and design studios, I began to develop methods to the madness. I realized that I could capitalize on short, brief periods of productivity throughout my day. I could work, then take a break, rinse, and repeat. It didn't change the way I was perceived by others whose focus was too narrow to understand what it meant to think the way I do or to work in the way I do, but then, I wasn't doing it for them.
In time, I realized I needed to do things on my own—my own way. So I jumped ship and didn't look back. During the past few years as I've slowly made the transition from "gun for hire" to studio owner, I've continued to struggle with these issues (hey, they're lifelong), but the difference is now I don't needlessly beat myself up about them. I don't care how I'm perceived. I have to do this thing the way I know it will work.
What I've come to understand is that my approach to productivity is different. It has to be because I will never know the joys of a "straight 8" hour day. The eternal battle of noise vs. signal. Rather, I find my rhythm in a method of fits and starts. Sometimes those last for a mere 15 minutes, sometimes for a couple of hours. The important thing is that I don't beat myself up about it. I just work when I feel like it. That means I might get a lot done between 9 am and 5 pm or I might be working little bits late into the night and early morning. I never quite know.
What I do know is that we live during a changed time—one in which technology and the nature of this profession mean that I have the freedom to work from where I want, when I'm able. It's not ideal, but it's manageable. I guess at the end of the day I might be considered productivity-fluid, and that's just alright.