I’ve been an independent designer for two and a half years. Before this chapter of my career, I worked at one agency, one startup, and a handful of small web shops. I’ve worked from my bed, hotel beds, other people’s beds, air beds, and airbnbs. I’ve worked from airports, airplanes, cafés, offices, startups, coworking spaces, live-work apartments, corporations, and cocktail bars. I’ve worked from sunny parks, my parents’ front porch, my kitchen table, my friends’ kitchen tables, and curled up on couches. I’ve worked from cabs, tech shuttles, and the van parked inside IDEO.
I’ve worked all day and I’ve worked all night.
Some days I barely do more than send a few emails. Some days I hit my rhythm, find the clarity of focus, and crank out a solid amount of work.
The most productive time I've had in recent memory was last September during a month-long residency. I was living in a tiny fishing village in Thingeyri, Westfjords, Iceland. Finding myself in a quiet town of 250 people with only one housemate to chat with, two dogs to walk, and a single project to focus on were the magic ingredients for me to get quiet and get to work. I’m still surprised by the depth and focus this environment allowed me to access.
I spent most of my time in Iceland thinking, daydreaming, taking walks, chasing dogs, picking up pebbles on the beach, and lying in the grass on the hill behind my home. I logged out of social media and didn't read the news. I wrote for hours each day, and produced an entire book in only three weeks.
In San Francisco, I think about work, dream about work, talk about work, and work on working on more work. And yet, I constantly feel as though I’m getting very little done.
Most workplaces value the appearance of productivity over actual output. It sounds counterintuitive, but relaxation and plenty of free space to think really are the magic ingredients for creativity. The trick is to have the discipline to get those ideas on paper and get to work once you have them. This is the fluid type of productivity I want to see prioritized in modern workplaces.
Since returning from my residency, trying to retain that sense of peace, balance, and calm in my daily life is challenging. Every day in the city is much faster and more demanding than days spent in a tiny summer home on the bank of a fjord. Layered on top of your environment is the number of expectations others have for you and your abilities. The more senior you become in your role, the more fiercely you must guard your time to stay focused on priorities. You have to say no a lot, and protect your schedule – not just for productivity, but for your own wellbeing.
The most beautiful and precious and productive people I know are folks who prioritize leisure, hobbies, and downtime over projecting a superior sense of hustle on social media.
If you want to be productive, get quiet and get to work.