Imposter Syndrome is often brought up as issue people face as designers - constantly comparing ourselves and our work to others and thinking we aren’t or will never be that good. For me, although I feel a sense of imposter syndrome in relation to my skills, the feeling of inadequacy hits me more when I think about productivity.
I’m not a productive person. Or at least, I don’t consider myself very productive. I see others in our industry that seem to do so much and wonder how they do it. They write, speak at conferences, release multiple side projects, all while producing work or managing teams at a ‘day job’.
I see this and think I should be doing more. I struggle with the balance between creation and consumption. I never feel like I’m creating enough.
In the last few months I am finally getting a grip on what it means for me to be productive and what holds me back. It all boils down to two things - procrastination and focus.
Procrastination kills me, but its not all bad.
Just as a lot of designers suffer from imposter syndrome, many designers face the challenges of procrastination. Something about our love of the craft and strive for perfection make procrastination part of the job. Denise Jacobs, who writes a lot about the relationship between creativity and fear, says something like “Procrastination is Perfectionism’s evil twin”.
But procrastination is not all bad. Ideas need time to develop and the best solutions seem to only come when your not thinking about the problem so procrastination can be an asset. Jessica Hische’s Procrastiworking concept resonates strongly with me - I feel no guilt in getting distracted by learning a new technique or exploring a new idea. Also, I know that spending some time on the couch or catching up on twitter is important for me to re-charge. The big issue for me is when procrastination crosses the fine line into laziness - and sometimes, you have to just get in and start the work.
Focus is Hard
I pride myself on being a pretty good all-rounder. I’ve spent my career in small scrappy teams where you don’t have the luxury of specialising or a ‘thats not MY job’ attitude. What that means is that my workload at any given time consists of lots of different tasks that range in size and intensity - anything from a broadly scoped design challenge for a new feature that will be going on for months to small UI bugs. For me, this causes a kind of choice paralysis - I have so much to do I don’t know where to start.
Luckily, the fix for this is relatively simple - not easy, but simple. I keep a list of small, clear tasks that I refer back to every time uncertainty creeps in. The hard part of this is keeping it up-to-date and making sure the tasks are small, achievable and there is no ambiguity as to how to start them. I’ve tried lots of different methods and tools over the years some with more success than others. Things worked for me on and off for a few years - on an in-house team I would get a lot of work requests via email so the system-wide shortcut made it easy to capture tasks quickly. I recently started using TeuxDeux and it seems like it will be around for a while. It is super simple and lays tasks out into a calender-like layout. Any incomplete tasks are moved automatically to the next day which forces me to review tasks daily.
I still regularly go through phases of feeling overwhelmed but I know that if I go back to the list it can help me get back on track.
I have the best job in the world
Days can be hard. Sometimes a challenging design problem can seem like it will never be solved. Its easy to be stressed and feel down when comparing myself and my work to others, but at the end of the day I realise that I’m lucky to be doing a job I’m so passionate about.