When I began working with Actionable, I was faced with transitioning from a 9-to-5 office to Actionable’s results only work environment (ROWE). So far, I’m loving it. I appreciate the ability to collaborate with people from other departments, contribute my thoughts and opinions to projects outside my expertise, and see my hard work produce results. That said, working in a ROWE has been a challenge, and I’m still learning.
Before working with Actionable, I would have said that I was incredibly organized, task-oriented, and a great self-manager.
Now, I would say that:
- I am only as organized as the people around me are helpful.
- I am incredibly focused—when I use my time wisely and manipulate my surroundings.
- I know how to manage myself because I have come to know myself, and my habits, better.
The ability for a designer to be productive is almost always dependent on the completion of content. However, I have learned that a key asset to a designer is not content but context.
In order to produce work that is comprehensive, I need a strong understanding of the context in which the work is being used.
I need to reach out, schedule meetings, and ask questions before executing a design—and that takes time and initiative. As a result, I often find myself in the learning, asking, and answering stages of various projects at all times. Conversations escalate, projects wobble between high and low priority, and project management gets complicated.
So, how do I stay on track? There are three key things that I find help me be productive in a ROWE: timing, environment, and optimum stress level.
When I started working with Actionable, I stuck to fairly traditional “office” hours. I found myself feeling both giddy and guilty at the thought of sleeping in or cutting the day short, so instead, I continued along the path that I was used to. Now that I’ve settled into my role, I realize that as much as I want to wake up and tackle my to-do list immediately, I am not capable of focusing on creative work in the first few hours of the day. Instead, I enjoy spending my mornings working out, tidying up, running errands, and getting “to-do list” work—like emails and production tasks—out of the way. As a result, creative work spills into evening hours and weekends, or whenever I feel like working.
I allow myself to work evenings and weekends because I want to. And fortunately, working unconventional hours doesn’t take away from my personal life. I’ve learned that despite the assumption that work is to be done during the day, I am clearly wired differently. And for now at least, I’ve decided to go with it.
I have never been able to work effectively in a messy space. I attribute this to the fact that I am a very visual person. After starting at Actionable I moved to a new apartment, and it took me weeks to establish a proper work space. For a little while, I found it difficult to concentrate in my own home. When I needed a quick change of scenery, I took myself to a table and chair set near the lobby of my apartment building. It was sometimes loud, but plugging my headphones in and knowing that nothing about my surroundings was in my control really helped. Now, a few weeks later, I finally have an appropriate workspace…and a 9-week old puppy. Needless to say, I sometimes still escape to the lobby to avoid (adorable) distractions.
Optimum Stress Level
Everyone has a unique optimum stress level—the amount of stress that you require in order to feel motivated. I have a relatively high optimum stress level. I need a good sized to-do list to motivate me to get me up in the morning, and sometimes I actually find it beneficial to work on a project the day before it’s due. This is not because I am a procrastinator, but because I function better on creative projects when I feel a sense of urgency.
As much as I would love to say yes to every project and complete production tasks within hours, if not minutes, I know that overstepping my optimum stress level will prevent me from producing results. That is why, as important as it is for me to know myself and my ability to work well under pressure, it is also important for me to have conversations with my manager about where I’m at before taking on additional tasks. Fortunately, at Actionable, we like to check in with our teammates, have open conversations, and offer help to those who are feeling overwhelmed.
I admit that I have yet to find the ideal balance between my optimum stress level and my constantly shifting to-do list. While my time and my environment are two things that I can easily and immediately control, my stress level is something that varies day-to-day based on my responsibilities, my perception of time sensitivity, and where I’m at in the learning and development phase of a project. I don’t want to disappoint my co-workers by spending too much time gearing myself up to focus on a task, but I never want to rush or put pressure on a project in exchange for subpar results, especially if there are still questions to ask.
Working with a team of open and honest communicators is helpful. I trust my teammates to be clear about their wants, needs, and priorities as we work through a project together, and they trust me to do the same.
Even if you don’t have the luxury of working in a ROWE, by managing your schedule according to the best timing for creative work, ensuring that your workspace reflects your preferences for working, and being aware of your optimum stress level, you can increase productivity and engagement at work. Knowing yourself is critical for success, and these strategies can help you create a work environment that makes you as happy and productive as you can be.