Knowing When To Take a Break

My friend, Garick, once told me "Remember, the candle that burns twice as bright burns twice as fast..." He got that from Blade Runner. 🙂

I am the quintessential over achiever. It’s not something that I’m really proud of. It’s just a part of me. When I was still under the auspice of my lovely parents, they would always remind me to sleep…take a break…enjoy my youth. However, I realized that when I left the nest things got immensely worse.

I launched my own company in the midst of a recession right before getting laid off from my full time gig. I was pulling long nights and weekends for a startup. In between hustling new clients and taking meetings I decided that this was the time I’d go back to school. Then factor in the residual work that it takes to keep all of these ventures humming along with some modicum of success — homework, late night accounting and billing, shooting off emails at 2am, coordinating teleconferences over multiple time zones — and you have yourself one tired puppy.

One way I’ve decided to overcome this is to not sit at my desk for too many consecutive hours at a time. Now, mind you, this is coming from someone who spends at least 12 days in front of a computer, 7 days a week. (Insane, isn’t it?) This little trick I’ve devised requires only some tealight candles and a glass.

When you sit down at your desk to work, light the tealight candle. Place it in the glass so you don’t burn your office (home or otherwise) down. Immerse yourself and completely focus on your work without distraction. When the tealight goes out, take a break….and then repeat. If you still decide to power through after the light goes out, just think back to the quote I opened up this post with: “Remember, the candle that burns twice as bright burns twice as fast.”

Achieving Balance

Ahhh, the eternal struggle. How does someone balance all of their obligations and cram 30 hours in a 24 hour day?

I stumble and fall but I find that most of my lessons are learned when I get back up. No one likes a frazzled and stressed person! The time has come that I put more personal responsibility into my schedule instead of filling it up with more and more project work. If I can’t be relied upon to take care of myself, how will my clients be able to trust that I can take care of my managed aspects of their business?

With this realization, I have decided to be proactive, rather than blindly placing the blame on external factors. The only way to achieve happiness is to manage what you can control…and, chances are, you can control your environment. For example, I can’t blame anyone else for my over-committed schedule but myself! The key to balancing obligations is to never actually attempt to cram 30 hours into a 24 hour day. It means breaking up chunks of work into manageable pieces so that the right amount of time can be devoted to each project. It means saying “no” to projects that you are disinterested in. It means that you have to plan fairly far in advance and to stick to your goals in the face of procrastination, laziness, and sloth in general.

Jon Bernstein, the author of The Power of The Notebook, says that when you write down your goals you are more inclined to put a plan of action together to achieve them. Here are my goals for the remainder of the 2010 year:

  1. Maintain a regular exercise regimen and train for a 5K
  2. Delegate tasks to my employees at Unicorn Press and trust that they have the judgment to get them done properly
  3. Be more disciplined and focused with my masters’ program classes
  4. Make it a habit to answer every email in a timely manner.
  5. Regularly go “off-the-grid” to recharge my batteries (no pun intended)

Let’s see how well I commit to these goals!

Personality is about 80% of the game.

I was recently in a discussion with a confidant about the philosophies behind the graphic design profession. What does it take to be a great designer: skill, talent or personality? In a perfect work, preferably a combination of all three!

However, when there are weighing factors, I would say that one trumps the others. Having a great personality is key to being successful in any profession. In particular, graphic designers need to be able to relate with and relay visual communications to an audience. They must also be able to liaise with other creatives, deal with copywriting, marketing, PR, and advertising folk. How can they do that with a stale or negative personality?

The thing about skill and talent is that they are complementary. You can at least build off of what you have. On the other hand, it’s really hard to retool your personality! Consider this philosophy for your next team assignment or job interview. It might take you places!