Once upon a time, I once started a job as a graphic designer.
A brief introduction to design work. All my jobs have been in design. You just put some colors, text, and shapes down in a way that looks nice. Your day gets filled with Color Purple Moments.*
There’s often other business and administrative tasks. File paperwork, mark time, organize digital files. Most of which I enjoy to varying degrees as a break. This department was perhaps a dozen or more office workers at various levels.
Until one day – only a few months into the position – my manager calls me in. Maybe I’m in trouble. Instead, I’m promoted. It’s retroactive. The next check adjusts my pay as if I was paid that way for the last month.
(Sounds great on paper, except that I made very little. So small that I just now had to double check to make sure I was above the Federal Poverty Guidelines.)
Here’s the thing. I reacted with confusion.
The manager explains that I had been doing the new job already. First, I handled all of my own work. Then did work for the vacant position that I filled.
From my point of view, I thought everyone in the department did that. Split the overload, right.
Plus, I was bored!
I’m data driven. Obviously so are they as they had time records and accuracy (never my strong suit).
Cool news right! There was and still is a part of me that’s like “Why work so hard???”
The truth is, most of the time the concept of “hard work” doesn’t often cross my mind. Thinking about difficulty feels unhelpful, impractical, and stressful. [Cue “Stop for A Minute” by Keane]
I really try to veer toward answering questions like “Is it possible to do it?” “What would it take to do it?” Focus on the steps, tools, and behaviors involved.
I’m sure I read this in many productivity books when as a young adult. I tried it. I noticed I felt less stressed.
(The 2012 paper “When thinking about goals undermines goal pursuit” by Fischbach and Choi tested this concept. This story takes place before then.)
The early pre-smartphone internet leaned more geeky. So the productivity boom was afoot.
Flash forward a few years, another job as a graphic designer.
Once again, I’m called in to discuss with my manager. Let’s make more duties official. This time it was not really design oriented work without any immediate incentives – salary, flexibility, and perhaps if there was a new title it would be more out of my intended field. So I was less enthusiastic.
From my point of view – once again – I thought everyone helped do this work! They asked us to split the overload.
I learned a valuable lesson and acted on it. If you can get away with just doing more, you can get away with doing less. That’s exactly what I did.
All of this new administrator work – I didn’t want to it and so I didn’t. And it all just went away.
Someone else in another office somewhere did it I guess. Or they decided no one needed to maybe. I don’t remember because I stopped being involved.
That part of me that asks “Why work so hard?” That’s super annoying when you have goals you care about. Useful when you have anti-goals that you want to stop caring about.
Nowadays, still bored.
- “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.” Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.
Uncanny Creativity: Art & Design Productivity
Also published on Medium.