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How Getting Passionate About The Small Jobs Changed My Life

How Getting Passionate About The Small Jobs Changed My Life

There are always a certain number of ‘bread and butter’ jobs in graphic design. The sort that may not be the most exciting, but they keep the lights on.

When you get your first job as a *professional*, you are excited to be given anything at all to work on. Everything’s new, and thrilling, and you haven’t done the same bread and butter job a thousand times yet. It’s enough to just be designing something.

Over time this becomes boring.

Because that’s the way with all things. But also because the learning stops and the curious mind always seeks new challenges. And the worst thing about studio work is you get pigeonholed – the more you do of one thing, the more of it your are asked to do. Which becomes repetitive.

And then there’s ambition – the ambition to work on big budget, high-spec jobs. That plays a part too.

A couple of years ago, I had a revelation that hit me with great force. I realised that the jobs were only as exciting as I made them.

Then I realised that although there will always be some jobs that won’t end up the way I would like them because of reasons outside my control, a lot of what I was doing was ending up sub-par because I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was seeing them as small jobs. As low budget jobs. As jobs constrained by strict corporate style guides or without much scope for innovation. I had pigeonholed the work.

I waited for those jobs with bigger budgets, higher profiles or better briefs to really cut loose. And those don’t come along very often – why was I waiting until they do to have fun?

But I also realised something else apart from the effect on my own personal enjoyment of my work.

I realised it with horror.

This lack of excitement about the straightforward jobs meant I wasn’t actually doing my job properly. Is not the job of a graphic designer to communicate, innovate and beautify ALL projects? Not just the exciting ones? It was time to change.

As soon as I shifted this paradigm, my working life changed dramatically. I saw new opportunities to improve regular jobs I had been working on for years. I found ways to better interpret those strict style guides. I searched for the ideas that would make the simplest jobs sing. And I pushed myself a bit harder to create a few more concepts, instead of sending out the ones I wasn’t entirely happy with.

I made one simple change to my thinking, and it made a world of difference to my work and my enjoyment of it.

Now I don’t wait for my dream jobs to get excited – instead I make every job my dream job. Just like it was when I started.

That feeling of magic I used to feel is back, and I can’t wait to get started on each new job. I do better work and take more pride in it. And I innovate and learn every day with ease and a ravenous hunger for more. Just like being a student again… but with the benefit of experience.

This is as good as it gets.


#mybestlife #letsgetcreative #ilovedesign

Procrastination Elimination Hacks

Procrastination Elimination Hacks

How to set and achieve goals like a total boss!

There’s no denying it – self-motivation is one of the hardest parts of running your own business. With no one to crack the whip, it can be really easy to fall into a procrastination black hole… and once you’re in that hole it can be damn hard to climb back out.
For the last 7 years I have been working as a freelance graphic designer. Before that I had a job that required me to work remotely most of the time. And before that I had a full time day job and taught at TAFE at night – which meant a whole bunch of after hours work writing lesson plans and marking. So while self-motivation might not have been something I was born with, it is definitely something I have needed throughout my career.
So what do you do when you need to get stuff done but instead you’re just stuffing around? This is my method for fighting the faff.

1. Make a list.

Everyone knows that, right? That’s because it is absolutely the only place to start if you’re dealing with a procrastination problem. Know what needs to be done and you have an idea of the scale of the job at hand. Now, if you are a serial putter-offer, this can be the point where it all gets a bit much and you hit Netflix instead. But push on – it gets better from here, I promise.
2. Break it down.
Sometimes knowing the scale of the job feels like a part of the problem, I get that. But the remote is safely stashed on the coffee table and you made it to step 2 – so the hardest part is behind you! Now take your to-do list and break it down into separate tasks – and be specific. Look at each item on your list and work out what things need to happen before that item can be ticked off.

3. Prioritise tasks.

Yeah, I know, I just added even more things to your to-do list. But they don’t all have to be done in the next 5 minutes, so you will definitely have time to check Facebook later and go to your kid’s assembly, it’s all good. Take a look at the tasks on your list and prioritise them. Start by working out which tasks are deadline based – do these first. Then identify the high value tasks – anything that will make you money. If you can bill for it or sell it, make it a priority. If it will save you money, make it a priority. If it needs doing but isn’t time sensitive or billable, it can go further down the list.

4. Deadline each task.

This is the key right here. A list of goals is absolutely nothing without deadlines. They are the difference between the ‘gunnah’ and the doer. And make your deadlines realistic – don’t set yourself up to fail! Breaking your list down into actionable tasks helps heaps with this, allowing you to make estimates on how long it will take you to achieve each part of the goal. Prioritising your tasks helps you here too, because you can identify any tasks that rely on the completion of other tasks before they can happen. Now you are goal setting like a total boss!

5. Start.

Just start. Work out where to start – and push yourself to take the first step. Once you’re on your way, it all gets that little bit easier, and one you start ticking things off that list, it gets better still!

6. Say it out loud.

Loud and proud! Talking about your tasks is a great way of affirming your goals, and it’s also a surprisingly good way to keep yourself on track. As long as you actually work on your tasks – no one wants to be that ‘all talk no action’ guy!

7. Team up!

If you need to. When getting started is proving just all too hard, use your network. Not necessarily by outsourcing your tasks, but more as a support base. Just talking to a trusted friend or colleague about your goals can be a fantastic motivator, but you might also find you score loads of helpful advice while you’re at it!

8. Don’t wait for things to be perfect.

Analysis paralysis can kill off even the most carefully crafted to-do list, and be just as damaging as jumping in too soon. Things will evolve and change as you build your business, with lessons learned and roads travelled all playing their part in plotting your course. Leave room for this evolution. Just begin and the rest will come.

9. Review regularly.

Check in with your to-do list regularly. Let it know you care. Often we make a bold start and then shift our goals to the back burner… permanently. Priorities change, deadlines get shifted and new tasks arise all the time – and so the list must adapt. Adding a review of your to-do list to your calendar at regular intervals – for example every quarter – is a great way to keep the goals from getting dusty.

10. Reward yourself.

Why not? Achieved a goal? Completed a task? Knocked the whole list off? Congratulate yourself, you did it! Kick back, find that remote, and revel in the power of procrastination elimination!
7 Ways to Find Creative Inspiration

7 Ways to Find Creative Inspiration

The situation all creative professionals dread…

This week I have been suffering from a touch of the dreaded creative block. Not – thankfully – the crippling ‘complete and utter’ type that stops you in your creative tracks. But a struggle with one particular creative problem, a design for a flyer. It’s the kind of situation all creative professionals dread, and yet it is inevitable when art is made to order in a commercial setting.
To try and push past this problem, I began working through my methods for finding creative inspiration – and that inspired me to share them with you! Over the years these 7 strategies have helped me out of more than one creative jam, and they definitely helped get my flyer project back on track.

1. Scope out some art

Pretty obvious. But beyond looking at other examples from your own field try looking at examples of other creative disciplines – fine art, fashion, visual merchandising, photography and graphic design can all provide amazing cross-discipline inspiration.

2. Get back to nature

Not only is nature inspiring for its beauty, but being immersed in a natural environment and taking the time to study what you see there – really see what you are looking at – is an excellent mindfulness technique that can help cut through the pressure of the deadline.

3. Sleep on it

If you can, take a step back from the creative problem you are trying to solve and let it hover at the back of your consciousness while you go about your day. Giving ideas the chance to arrive organically is always a nice way to start the creative process, when time allows. This one is my go-to for all projects!

4. Do something else

Doing something physical like going for a walk, exercising, pulling weeds or cleaning is a great way to clear the creative cobwebs. Just not for too long… because then it becomes procrastination!

5. Blind contour drawings

This is the kind of exercise you do when you take a drawing or painting class, and I have previously blogged about it working wonders as a
stress buster. But drawing something from life using one continuous line, and without looking at your page is also a fantastic way to free your brain and get the creative juices flowing. This is one I did this week while wrestling with creative block, and it’s really interesting to see how the line weight and style changes as I start to relax into it. It was a really useful exercise, and at the end of it I was able to scribble a concept for my flyer on the back.

6. Change up your concepting strategy

Do you prefer to thumbnail on paper? Maybe it’s time to fire up the computer. Mired down in a digital wasteland? Why not break out the pencils? Sometime you just gotta change it up a bit to get things moving, and it could be as simple as switching from a pencil to a felt tip. You never know!

7. Work on another creative project

Working on another project within the same discipline can sometimes move things along. I find nailing another project can be a great boost! But if you find yourself totally blocked, you can try flexing your creative muscles in a totally different field – painting, sculpting, crafting, writing, cooking, singing or playing an instrument – whatever your bag is. But again… not for too long! Set a timer so you don’t fall into the procrastination zone.
When inspiration proves elusive it can leave you chasing your own tail. The lack of ideas can cause so much stress that you end up even further away from the right state of mind for creative thinking. These are my sure-fire ways of battling the block – but what’s your favourite strategy for finding lost inspiration? Let me know in the comments section.
In the meantime – happy creating!
Dear Design… a love letter.

Dear Design… a love letter.

When I was a kid, and I had to do a school project, I would put way more thought into the look of the thing I was handing up than I did the actual content of the assignment. If it was an A4 report or essay of some kind, I would try to make an elaborate title page. If it was a poster I rejoiced, because it meant drawing, cutting, gluing, fancy hand lettering – whatever was required to create the layout I had in my head.
Like most young girls I adored stickers, but the other item I would drop pocket money on in the newsagent was Letraset dry transfer lettering. That stuff was the best! I also developed a technique for creating cool project designs that involved making a layout using elements I had drawn, found or photocopied, gluing them to a sheet of paper, and photocopying the whole design. Then I could embellish this design with colour by hand if I wanted. Sometimes I would photocopy the photocopies of an image many times over, because I liked the slightly distressed look it created.
It was only years later when I became a graphic design student that I realised what I had been doing in primary school bore a remarkable resemblance to paste-up – the method of assembling a layout by hand in order to create film, and in turn printing plates. By the time I was a student this manual, labour intensive task had been replaced by computer-to-plate technology. But I was fascinated to learn that long before I had ever heard of graphic design, I was out there doing it.
It’s a love affair that continues and that often feels like any other relationship. We endure highs and lows, challenges and moments when we’re reminded why we fell in love in the first place. Me and graphic design. We’ve endured a time (now long past) when I wondered whether or not we should part ways. Then we fell in love all over again and now everything is made new. No detail is too small, no job is too mundane to deserve special attention.
always keep it fresh; and always approach even the most humdrum of routine tasks with great passion.
After coming so close to breaking up with design I realised what most people in long term relationships realise – that the secret is always keep it fresh; and always approach even the most humdrum of routine tasks with great passion.
So we go on together, me and my first love, excited to see what creative adventures each new day might bring.
And I am definitely going to buy some rub-down lettering. Old school.
17 Speedy Stress-Busters for Working Parents

17 Speedy Stress-Busters for Working Parents

It’s well documented that parenting young kids can be stressful – and that working parents are especially time poor. Throw into the mix running your own business and working from home and it’s the perfect stress storm.

Given enough downtime there are a whole load of tried-and-true ways to chill. But who’s got downtime? Not us working from home parent-y types. Plus it’s when the pressure is on in the middle of your working or domestic day that you really need a quick fix – before things become really explosive!

When things get hectic but I can’t drop the ball for a second, I’m looking for something I can integrate into my work day or do without taking my eye off the kids, something that can be jammed in between other commitments or done while multi-tasking.

Check out my list of 17 things that help keep me as far away from the red zone as possible during my working / parenting week.

1. Make something out of Lego

Ah Lego… the ultimate way to simultaneously zone out AND win at parenting. I find sitting down with my kids and no real plan and building something is the best possible way to switch off racing thoughts, and it is also a great way to get little people to chill when tempers are starting to fray. Plus the quality time together tends to lift moods and become a reward in itself (as well as ticking a box on that to-do list – am I right?)

And if your kids are of a certain age, you will not control this exercise at all – which is part of its beauty. Just when you get two thirds of the way through your beautiful Lego tower, it will be broken up because your kid wants the pieces for something else. Your awesome model of your home town will end up with a few additions straight out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. But that’s cool. Switch your brain off and lean into it.

2. Hang some washing

Combining a household chore that needs doing with a moment of space is always a bonus. While I can’t say I enjoy hanging washing, I find the combination of repetitive work and fresh air really useful when my kids have driven me to distraction. It is also a fantastic way to break out and reset the system when a work- induced mental overload or creative block kicks in. Being physically out of the house and allowing yourself to feel the weather conditions helps provide a great mental breather, but if it’s raining even hanging things on a clothes horse can be helpful.

3. Make (and drink) a cup of tea

Everyone knows how soothing a cup of tea is when your nerves are shot. Including me. But I wanted to include this here because gosh darn it, I do not do myself the favour of making myself a cuppa often enough. And if by some chance I do make myself one, most of the time I get caught up in other things and forget about it until it is stone cold. And therefore not very soothing. So I say this to myself and all here – stop and make yourself a cuppa. Make a ritual of it, because that is as stress-busting as the drinking of it. Wait and listen to the kettle boil. Assemble the cup the spoon, the sugar, milk whatever. Get yourself a special cup for it – one you find really beautiful or especially amusing. And then drink it. You may not get a moment to yourself to drink it in, but stop and read your kids a book, or sort out your in-tray while you drink. Then go back in to the fray refreshed.

4. Candlelight shower

This one’s for the end of the day when kids and work are off your hands, but very much in the spirit of the quick-fix stress-buster. It’s the busy person’s answer to a relaxing candlelit bubble bath – the candlelit shower. It is surprising how relaxing it can be just having your regular shower by the light of a few candles. Give it a go!

5. Identify your stressors and avoid them

Of course. But when life gets crazy do we really take the time to analyse which situations in particular are grinding our gears? I know I didn’t up until about a year ago. This one might take longer than 5 minutes initially, but can save a lot of stress down the track. Give some thought – maybe over that cuppa – to what things make you crazy, and then work out which of those situations don’t need to happen. By giving thought not only to what stresses us, but why these situations are cropping up, it becomes a bit easier to work on strategies for avoiding some of our stress. Getting a close confidante or partner in on this one is a great idea too – there’s nothing like a bit of fresh perspective on these sorts of conundrum.

6. Bust out the playdough

Another great way to disguise relaxation as playing with your children. Playdough – or cloud dough, kinetic sand, slime, whatever your kid is into – are all tactile and allow you to just chill and focus on your sensory experiences rather than your pressing deadline or the tantrum your kid just threw. And just like Lego, it’s a good way to encourage kids to relax and handle their own feelings when things get fraught. Often after a tanty my 5 year old will say he doesn’t want to play or do anything with me, but if I sit and calmly begin, he soon joins in. Crisis averted.

7. Organise your work space

I really believe that the state of my work space is a reflection of the state of my mind. When it’s in disarray I just can’t work efficiently. A quick clear out of the rubbish and re-organise can do wonders for mental block, and also is a really good way to take a break during long stints at the keyboard – without totally losing focus.

8. ABC Classic FM

As the line goes; “music hath charms to soothe a savage breast”. I find the effect of music on me is so strong that when I ignore it, misuse it or forget totally to indulge in it I go a little crazy ape bonkers! There are loads of ways to administer music to yourself nowadays, but I find that when you need to chill out quick – or more to the point, when the kids need to chill out quick – ABC Classic FM is always on hand with some soothing tunes. Even the announcers are super smooth and chill, so no worries if you catch a mic break. It’s especially handy when things tee off in the car – just punch a button and let relaxation reign. Not into classical music? Why not create a Spottify playlist of mellow tunes tailored to your own taste and keep it at the ready?

9. Be honest with your clients

If you are running your own business and raising kids you know that every week is a marathon. There is barely enough time to do everything that needs doing, and you are probably already a master of the art of time management. But it is easy to fall into the trap of over-promising in order to impress current or potential customers. It’s a trap because it can so easily backfire – a sick kid, no places at childcare, these can quickly throw a spanner in the works. Build strong working relationships with good quality clients by being honest with them about the fact that you work around your parenting commitments. Explain to them that while this means that you work odd hours, that sometimes you can’t get to the phone straight away and that you can’t lock that meeting in until you check with the child care centre, it doesn’t mean any lapse in the quality or timeliness of your work. You’ll be surprised how much angst this will save you!

10. Invest in some essential oils

In my opinion, nothing calms the whole farm down like a bit of lavender oil in a burner. Or in the kids bath before bedtime. Or in your own bath if you ever have time for one. It’s a simple, inexpensive way to relax in the midst of chaos, and definitely worth experimenting with different oils to find the ones that work best for you.

11. Water the garden

Another household task that is surprisingly relaxing is standing around watering the plants. I find that because this is usually a task performed in the early evening that it is a great opportunity to clear the head before switching modes from daytime parent-mode to night time work-mode. I know, I know – this one’s off the table if it’s raining. But setting aside a little bit of time to look out the window at your rainy day garden can be a great way to unwind too.

12. Spend some time with your pets

It’s amazing how time with our pets can instantly bring things out of the red zone. No matter whether the stress is child- or work-induced, a quick 5 minute session of stroking the cat, playing with the dog or making silly noises at the budgie is a great way to relax and regroup.

13. Turn your bedroom into a sanctuary

One of the biggest problems with working from home is the fact that you can’t get away from work. One of the biggest problems with having kids is that they take over your entire house. When you’re involved in both of these situations it can feel like there is nowhere just for you. For taking it easy. I strongly suggest setting up a space in your house as a haven from the chaos – and for me the bedroom was the obvious choice. This doesn’t have to be some kind of pricey designer reno either – it can be as simple as arranging some of your favourite objects around you or investing in a couple of things that make the spot feel totally cozy like some extra pillows or fancy bedlinen.

14. Breathe in a square

This is a fantastic relaxation technique for the time-strapped. It only takes a moment and can be done anywhere, anytime, no matter what you are in the middle of. Breathe in for 4 beats, hold for 4 beats, breathe out for 4 beats, and hold for another 4 beats. Find a 4-sided object like your monitor and trace each side of it with your eyes while you complete each of the 4 parts of the breath, or close your eyes and trace the 4 sides of an imaginary object. You will feel calmer and more in control in no time! Check out a more detailed description of square breathing here.

15. Be creative

Even if you don’t normally consider yourself a creative person, finding your inner creativity and using it to make something is so good for beating stress. If you’re parenting, grab your kids and create something together. If you are lucky enough to have a morning to yourself bake a cake, do a painting or hit up YouTube and learn something crafty. If you only have a few minutes why not try a blind contour drawing? Grab a pen and paper, and pick a subject to draw – any old thing. Draw the subject in one continuous line, without taking your pen from the page, and without taking your eyes off of it – no looking at the page at all! It’s a standard exercise for art students, designed to teach observation, but it is also an excellent mindfulness technique. And fun, when you finally look at the page and see the weird but strangely beautiful results.

16. Be suddenly silly!

OK, so this one probably doesn’t go down very well in an office full of peeps, but it is a brilliant way to diffuse tension if you are with kids… or even on your own! Why not? Break into a silly song, do a dance, make a few faces, whatever. It’s pretty hard not to smile when there is sudden silliness going on!

17. Be kind to yourself

The best advice I have ever had. From an amazing and wise lady I admire very much. As we all try to do it all, and do it to perfection, it gets very easy to judge ourselves harshly for not achieving the unachievable. So sometimes you’ve just gotta give yourself a break! It’s the ultimate stress-buster!

#MakeYourMark #workingparents