Q: Do I really have to do all of this paperwork? Can’t I just, you know, design?


A: Working in a client services agency can be frantic, especially in smaller firms. Your friends working in product businesses are working on projects that run for months (or even years) and you feel like you’re working on something new every few hours. Maybe it doesn’t just feel like that, maybe it is like that.

Then you get to the end of the week and before you get to crack open that mid-priced domestic beer they put in the fridge (I’ve been to your agency), someone strolls up to you with a frown on their face and ice in their veins and asks you why you haven’t filled in your timesheets. Or ticked off your tasks. Or replied to that client. Or written up your notes from the meeting like you said you would.

And I know what your answer is. “I didn’t have time. I was too busy working.”

Your answer is bullshit.

The horrible truth is that you are not good at your job. Yet. That’s ok, because you have plenty of time to get better. And I believe in you.

For a lot of designers ‘work’ is when you’re sketching thumbnails, pushing pixels, poring through code, or daydreaming about organic free-range fixies. That is work, but it is only part of the job. We have a strange saying at Floate, “The work around the work is the work.” By that we mean that timesheets, meetings, phone calls, conversations in Basecamp or any of a million other things are part of the fabric of what we do. This work around the work comes with the territory and get ready for this one crazy thing they didn’t tell you in design school — if you are bad at this stuff then you are bad at your job. Period.

Hardly anybody likes filling in their timesheets (with the possible exception of my friend and colleague Josh) but they’re necessary for the purposes of billing, and also to build up a bank of historical information about how long it takes to do things. If designing a widget took you 40 hours, but your timesheets say it only took 24 hours, then don’t be surprised when your studio manager expects you to create a widget in just 24 hours next time. Sorry, bub, your poor admin skills just cost you 16 irreplaceable hours, the quality of your work is going to suffer and there is nobody to blame but the shame-faced person in the mirror.

Meetings, phone calls, Slack discussions, and timesheets aren’t getting in the way of your work. They are your work.

And it is work that other people in your agency rely on. See, most of this isn’t about you, or making your job easier. It’s about creating and sharing information that other people in your team need to be able to do their jobs. Other people are important — they comprise everyone in the world who isn’t you.

Quite frankly, you need them.

Oddly enough, they probably don’t need you (yet). You’re talented, for sure, and you do good work. Your teeth are straight and your breath is minty-fresh. But the brutal truth of it is that at a certain level, nobody cares. The firm hired you, and that means good design is expected of you. It’s not something that gets you a pat on the back or better beer in the fridge next week (seriously, talk to someone about that). What gets you the good projects, the great clients, and regularly updated computer hardware is being a person who works well within the fabric of the firm, who understands that this is a job and not every part of it is the fun bit we thought we went to design school to learn. (Note to design schools: If you want to help graduates to be industry-ready, you ought to be teaching these skills as well.)

It doesn’t matter how good your design chops are if nobody wants to work with you because you’re a pain in the neck. So get better at this stuff. Set alarms a couple of times a day to remind you to fill in your timesheets. Put away other distractions (putting notifications on your Mac to ‘Do Not Disturb is a good start here). Bundle ‘chunks’ of admin time together (half an hour before lunch, half an hour before going home is a good start) instead of drip-feeding it during the day. The web is full of sites telling you how to be more organised, but the main thing is to have a system that works for you, and to be disciplined about it.

When you get good at the work around the work, you will be amazed how much better people think your design is. And then maybe they’ll fix the beer situation.

Ross Floate is the creative director of Floate Design Partners, and he is probably too old for this beard.


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