During the week I’m now slammed; meetings to meet, Slack threads to be unthreaded, and with endless emails inbetween that are nothing more than a distraction. Suddenly I find that my time has splintered into all these tiny incremental blocks of half-baked progress. In fact, it’s real hard for me to see progress in my work at all now simply because a full week of dedicated design work is smashed, splintered, scattered across months of distracted conversations and meetings.
This is not the way to do great work.
It’s annoying because this is a lesson I have to relearn every so often. I first discovered the secret to doing great work back in college; the deadline for all my projects was six weeks out and that gave me just seven days per project to slam it out and, once it was done, that was it, next. But with that week-long deadline hanging over my head I was more productive than I’ve ever been in my life. Each day I could see enormous progress because I’d cut out all the distractions of multiple projects looming in the background and I wasn’t context-switching every thirty minutes.
Instead, each morning, I’d wake up and spend 4 hours straight on one tiny detail. At lunch I’d go for a long, cold, brisk walk and when I returned to my desk I’d reevaluate the state of things: was this tiny detail worthy of that effort? Yes, more effort was required or no, move onto the next thing. Sure, the final result wasn’t even comparable to my classmates’ work—they had made beautiful visualizations and posters and books—but, compared to everything I’d made in the past, this kind of work was beyond belief.
At the end of those six weeks I had learned the secret to doing great things; take control of your calendar.
Time control, baby!
I learned that to do great work you need space. You need time. Away from people and notifications and messages, away from anything that can steal your attention. To do truly great work I needed those days of extended focus, weeks of dedicated chunks of time. I think that’s true of design, engineering, painting, blogging, you name it.
Unfortunately, that same kind of relationship with your work isn’t possible when you leave college and get a job. A company will try and steal your time in ten million tiny ways. That’s not to say those conversations and Slack threads are malicious, but if you don’t guard your time — design your days, so to speak — then they’ll curse you with only enough time to do half-baked work.
So here’s another reminder for myself here; you need to be precious with your time because you can’t make anything great in thirty minute increments. And no-one will do this work for you.