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Freelancing, Creativity and @ThatKevinSmith

Posted by Jordan on 8th December 2012

The longest time I have spent in any role is 18 months and it usually comes to an end for one of two reasons; the first is that the work is not enough to keep me mentally engaged and secondly, I don’t like the ‘top down’ management style employed by lots of companies. I understand taking direction from the top but cannot comprehend how people can think that anyone other than those within a role would understand the best way to do fulfil that role with maximum efficiency.

In my last job before going freelance, I would get up and sit in traffic for 45 mins wearing uncomfortable formal work clothes and it would put me in a negative mindset before I even walked through the door. Then I would sit and slowly make my way through some non-challenging work half-asleep (drowsy from boredom).

It was a frequent problem that occurs all too often for designers – the role was advertised as a designer role, but most of the work was what could fit into the role of an art worker  For those of you who are wondering what is the difference, a designer will design layouts and elements from scratch and an artworker will work of a design concept and basically put things in place. Essentially, they had used designers to create their sites initially and all they needed was images/content updated and very few layout/stylistic changes so you had a bunch of uber-creative folk who would sit and for most of the time, just be copy and pasting new images and text.

When I first started at this role, my new manager had been having a few family issues/health problems and was intermittently in and out of the office. Whilst this wasn’t her fault, it was handled badly and instead of the ‘higher ups’ in management deciding to put in place an interim manager to take care of the day to day running of the design team, they let the team try to limp along without any clear direction.

For the first week of working there my manager was out and I was left to the mercy of the rest of the team. Within hours I realised the designer training me on the ins and outs of their bespoke software was pretty miserable and clearly going to leave (he handed in his notice about 3 days later). I quickly picked up their processes and got started on some work. When I completed it I asked another designer what I should work on next and was told that I shouldn’t give the work to the client yet as they will expect me to work that quick all the time, instead I was advised to sit and browse online and “space out my work”.

This wasn’t something I was really accustomed to (my previous job often worked out as 14-16 hours a day and it was pretty tough going) and so I have transcended into a Goldilocks-style conundrum going from a role where I literally did not have enough hours in the day to complete my work to a role where I realistically was expected to stretch three hours of work into an eight hour day.

I wasn’t alone in my thinking that the work wasn’t challenging and the setup, workflow and environment was nonsensical. I made friends with a couple of designers, one of whom I would give a lift to/from work and we would bitch and moan about how much we hated the place. Needless to say that we became the outcasts, a little trio of negativity and all three of us moved on pretty quickly. Quite a lot of people claimed they loved the place but in the 18 months I was there, the design and development department had an employee turnover of 90%!

I held out as long as possible as I kept thinking “it’s gonna look bad on my CV/resume to keep leaving jobs after 6-12 months”. I made it to 18 months and took the dive into self-employment and it was such a change in lifestyle.

Now, I get up, either go to the gym or jump straight in the shower, get dress in ‘lazy’ comfort clothes, grab some breakfast and get started clearing emails… and it’s pretty darn good!

Working in solitude also affords me the opportunity to explore what is the most efficient way for me to work. I’ve found, if I am designing, I work better listening to music/podcasts and if I am coding, I work better listening to podcasts or switching on iPlayer or putting a movie on the iPad.

Recently, I have been making my way through a whole host of Kevin Smith podcasts and shows whilst I work. For those of you who don’t know who Kevin Smith is, he is a director/writer/actor and alongside Jason Mews and Scott Mosier, delivers some of the most entertaining podcasts i’ve every heard. I have always been a fan of Kevin Smith movies, but I never realised how great a public speaker he is or how funny yet thought provoking his live Q&A shows are. Those of you who do know who Kevin Smith are probably wondering “thought provoking… Does he mean they guy who makes dick and fart jokes?!”. Yes, yes I do.

Creativity and Freelancing

In one of his Q&A shows he talks about the death of his father and how he was a good, honest and hard-working man. His father died in hospital and Kevin was told by his brother who was there at the time of his fathers’ death, that he didn’t go peacefully and died shouting/screaming that he was hot and got very agitated. He goes on to say how this changed his perspective on life and that
if a good honest man can go out like that, then you really need to appreciate what you have and live your life the way you want whilst you can.

He found that hadn’t been doing things that made him truly happy and was not staying true to his own ideology and personal principles and decided to start getting back to working the way he wanted to. He advises people that they need to follow their passion & dreams and it is easy to get surrounded with people who constantly ask ‘why’, for example, ‘why would you want to do that?’ then continues to say that we should aim to surround ourselves with people who ask ‘why not?’ and encourage you take pursue your dreams and take chances.

This really got me thinking. It’s been a little over two years since I starting freelancing full-time and whilst it is definitely a lot better than what I have experienced in employment, I am not working in the way I always thought I would. I envisaged that going freelance would mean I would be able to work entirely at my own discretion both time-wise and the projects I took on, get a truckload of time to work on my own projects, keep my blog updated and all would be great.

The reality is pretty different. Whilst I do turn down some projects I do also complete some work that isn’t to my preference. A large proportion of my work is for corporate clients so creativity is often limited, rules are imposed, there are systems to abide by and processes to follow, even if it means the work takes twice as long.

On the other end of the scale, I get a lot of work from smaller clients who are starting up and very understandably would like to keep costs low, but occasionally I will get someone who wants a world-class website whilst paying as little as possible and unfortunately, quality and cost have a negative correlation.

I usually find that I restrict the way I express myself and on the odd occasion that I get a blogpost completed, I refrain from what some may deem as offensive language as well as any political/religious commentary on twitter and I’m constantly holding back. I often get to the point where I am about to send a tweet and remember ‘ohhh shit… some of my clients are on twitter and mentioned they’ve read my posts’ and I wimp out and discard it.

My personal projects and blogging are usually on ‘perma-hold’ and I find myself thinking ‘I’ll work on a personal project when I finish this clients’ project’. However, for the last 10 months, I have not had many occasions where I don’t have work queued up and I end up pushing back all personal work I have planned and every opportunity I get free time in the evening, I just get some more client work finished. It has become something that is all consuming and despite setting up a dedicated office to gain separation from work, when I reflect upon it, there is never a time when I truly relax and stop thinking about work.

I have been working on the Tasty Icons site now for 4 years and do bits and pieces every 6 months or so and then it disappears again. The site is 80-90% complete, I just need to organise some content and push it live but again, it’s been on ‘perma-hold’ to complete as much client work as possible.

Design work has become more of a ‘get it done so I can check it off the list’ ordeal rather than me enjoying what I do and it feels a bit like a dying relationship. Creativity can easily dry up if you don’t challenge yourself, interact with others, learn, teach and share your thoughts and experiences with others.

So, after this sudden realisation, I think it is safe I need to make some changes:

The work/personal balance is something I am also going to look at and will start to set aside time to work on my personal projects. This won’t affect any of my existing clients but as and when projects end I will constantly be readjusting my schedule to give me the freedom to finish of some sites I have been holding back.

My illustration work has also played ‘second fiddle’ and it’s something that I do get to exercise with some clients’ work but a lot of the time I don’t work on any outside of clients’ projects and so I am aiming to keep my Dribbble and Instagram updated.

Finally, the content of my blog posts and Twitter posts will be without filter, whilst my sense of humour or interests may not be to everyones’ taste, I don’t think that’s it right that I should be censoring my posts ‘in case’ it causes offence.

For those of you who are looking for some amazingly and disgustingly funny, brutally honest and occasionally inspiring podcasts, check out www.smodcast.com

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