How I Simplified My Life and Became a More Efficient Designer

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Designing Designers


Written by Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)
Jan 21, 2008


5 Comments


What a Mess!

About 5 or 6 months ago, I decided that I needed to simplify my life.

Due to a lot of diverse interests and that little bit of an overachiever in me, I have a bad habit of taking on and doing more than I can actually handle. Furthermore, the fact that I tend to lose interests in things very quickly or jump around on different projects does not help me one bit at all. Coupled with the stresses of my job, I was just flat out overloaded!

Mentally I was stretched and constantly tired. This was because I often had anywhere from 15 to 20 projects to attend too at any one time. My fitness went down hill as it became a vicious cycle of my mental tiredness preventing me from getting out of the house for exercise.

As a result I got nothing much done and learnt a painful lesson that I, like many other humans, do not multi-task very well.

I decided at that time, that I needed to simplify my life by closing up as many different projects as possible and, quite literally, focus on a preferred handful. The net result was that, instead of less, I was getting more things done at a reasonably good rate. Why it worked was loose ends and open issues have a tendency to take fuel away from your mental engine, and this means a reduction in the all important focus and concentration in getting things done.


The Creativity Cycle

Creativity Cycle

I have currently juggle about 5 to 6 different projects (both design and non-design related) running, essentially cutting back to about a third of what I used to do. I find I can handle and work with this number of projects and my productivity has sky rocketed. This balance in the current number of projects keeps what I like to call the “Creativity Cycle” turning. This means that I am busy enough to keep my creativity flowing, but it also allows me time to breath or reflect on the creative work, which keeps the “Creativity Cycle” going even more.

Brian Clark, from Copyblogger, wrote about a similar concept in his article called “The Content Crossroads: Supernatural Success at the Intersection of Ideas“. In that article, Brian uses the example of how the Medicis, rich merchant families in Italy in the 17th century, created a creative explosion by allowing the ideas of different people and projects to feed off each other.

By attracting talented souls from so many different fields and cultures, the Medicis caused these varied artists and scientists to come in contact with one another, trade ideas, and discover the intersections that allowed for giant leaps in creativity and innovation.

The trick here is to ensure you are sufficiently loaded for this “Creative Cycle” to happen, but not to be loaded until you are burnt out.


Keep it Simple

I often find to start this “Creativity Cycle” moving, I need to be in a good frame of mind. To do this, each of my 5 projects needs to be distilled down to its bare essence so that I instinctively know what to do at any one time. My rule of thumb to keeping things simple is to describe what you need to do in 1 clear sentence.


Work is Never Ending

We need to understand that the concept of “work” and doing it, basically means that it will never end. There will always be something new that crops up that needs your attention. It is how you manage it that matters.

Really this 5 or 6 projects are the only ones I can efficiently handle at anyone time. Just like you would managing a design project, if your capacity is full, you would either not take on any more work or it will be put it on a waiting list. Why should this not be the same for your personal life? So do ensure that one project is completed or closed before you take one another.


How did I get this magical number 5?

At this time you are probably wondering, how did I get this magical number of juggling 5 projects at any time? It first started out as trial and error, but later I discovered that Giorgio Armani, before me, has also drawn very similar conclusions. Yes that Giorgio Armani.

It was a surprise to find out that Giorgio Armani had built his multi-million dollar fashion empire on this same principal. He believes that he can only work on 5 projects at any time. No more no less. It is also no coincidence that there are 5 working days a week, and that he spends each day just focusing on 1 of his projects, and doing nothing else. As a result of staying focused and keeping his work load simplified, he claims he was able to achieve success without ever having work late or on weekends. Now, you can take that to the bank!


Join the simple life!

I like to close this post with a tip of my hat to Zen Habits and Think Simple Now. My decision to simplify my life was due to in not small part the influence these two blogs had on me. Thanks Leo and Tina, you have been a great inspiration and a big help in making me a much more efficient designer.






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Comments

drew kora
Jan 22, 08 – 4:27 am

I’m feeling the pinch of too much going on at once, too. And I have to fight really really really hard not to procrastinate on some projects, as well. Simplifying and tying up loose ends has been on my mind a lot, too. This post came at a good time. Thanks DT.

I’m going to check out Zen habits and Think Simple, too.

Tina Su – Think Simple Now
Jan 22, 08 – 9:49 am

Hi Brian, Thank you so much for the honor. That means a lot, and thank you for the link. :)

Warmly,
Tina

DT
Jan 24, 08 – 5:39 am

Hey Drew,
That’s the thing, procrastinating also does come from being overwhelmed as well. Just too much to do and you don’t know where to start. That’s why reducing the tasks to simple sentences helps a lot. This is particularly important as in design the end goal is often not clear.

Hi Tina,
Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. Keep doing what you do!

Aaron
Jan 30, 08 – 12:19 am

Hey, I’m right there with you.
Being interested in things ranging from design to electrical engineering to auto mechanics doesn’t make finding time to complete projects very easy. Adding in procrastination and lethargy from spending 8 hours at an unchallenging print production job is a recipe for disaster.

I’ve had to discipline myself into finishing the 3-5 projects I have open before starting any new ones and abandoning other, more fleeting interests. There’s even a stack of unplayed games for 3 consoles I can’t make time for.

You (and Giorgio) are right, 5 seems to be the key. I haven’t graduated to spending 1 whole day on each due to my 9 to 5 but I hope to get there.

Sometimes, when your interests are too wide, you have to let some of your babies go. It hurts, feels like you’re cheating yourself but you aren’t. Letting those loves go allows others that are more dear to you to grow.

My father used to tell me “your greatest enemy is yourself”, meaning if you can overcome the pieces of your personality that hold you back, overcoming any other obstacle life throws at you becomes easier.

Anonymous
Feb 06, 08 – 7:58 am

a new idea for me. i think its worth to try…


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