By Tobias van Schneider Published December 6, 2019
With this series, I am attempting to answer questions from readers asking for design advice. I can’t promise I know the right answer, but I’ll always do my best to be honest and share the most practical information I know.
This question interestingly relates to the first one. It seems as designers, we are prone to losing motivation for a number of reasons. I know I can relate:
UI & UX designer here. I have been a by-standing reader for a year now. Finally, I got the courage to write about "a problem" that has been bugging me.
The problem I am facing is how to spread my excitement and hype between multiple projects at the same time.
Once I start reading a specification, or meet a client and start to put the first lines of design on screen, I always feel this excitement and ideas / visions of what the project could become. I'm hyped to work on the project. Before finishing this project, I meet the next client. I start to lay down the first designs for the new project while still working on the first one, and my excitement kind of shifts and my mind is overwhelmed with the new project. It's like I almost don't want to work on first project anymore.
It's a cycle where the more projects I work on at the same time, the less projects I care about in the long run. Only the most recent one excites me. It always leaves me with this empty feeling inside that I could have done something better.
Have a nice weekend, T
I am always working on at least 3-4 projects at the same time. Right now, among other projects, I am running Semplice and building an entirely new product at the same time. I’ll admit, the new product has consumed me at times. Ideally, I would be able to devote equal time to both projects and teams consistently. Ideally, I would be equally excited about both projects at all times. But the ideal scenario is rarely the reality.
I saw a comic somewhere depicting the typical agency project with a graph that measures excitement level. At the beginning of the project, excitement is off the charts. In the next phase, it drops a little. It spikes here and there, then plunges abysmally low before launch and spikes again right after. This is typical enough that someone decided it was worth making a comic about. It happens enough that people see this comic, laugh and share it. We’re not the only people who feel like this.
"Don’t feel guilty about the ebbs and flows. Take advantage of them."
My excitement level or interest in a project fluctuates depending on my day and my mood. If I can afford to, I follow that excitement. If I’m in a good flow with a particular project and I’m feeling inspired, I don’t question it. I run with it and don’t stop until I have to. I create my best work in this state of mind and I imagine most others do too. I might still break to answer a few emails or put in an hour or two of necessary work if I need to. I might even bounce back and forth between the two projects from hour to hour if that’s what I’m drawn to do. My point is: Don’t feel guilty about the ebbs and flows. Take advantage of them.
In fact, this is one of my best strategies to stay productive. I choose to work on many projects at the same time, adding a bit of pressure and allowing me to “procrastinate” by jumping between equally important work. If I’m feeling stuck or just unmotivated about one project, I will move on to the next one. Instead of procrastinating by checking emails or watching TV, I procrastinate by working toward other project deadlines. The constant shift in focus keeps things fresh for me, helping me avoid that burnout feeling on one particular project. And it only works if you have lots of projects to do at the same time.
If that strategy doesn’t work for you, perhaps you need to be more strategic about the projects you work on and when. Of course, we have to consider the bills and we can’t always control the timing of new projects, but with experience and some long-term planning, you can eventually make it work better for you. If you can afford it, start by seeking one larger project that will cover what two or three projects would normally make you. See if you can arrange projects and schedules so that you have a full two or three weeks to focus on a singular project, or maybe even a month. I realize we can’t always afford to be selective, but by setting expectations with our clients from the beginning, we can gain a little more control over our project schedules and arrange them in a way that makes sense for our workflow.
"Naturally, deadlines don’t change with our moods. There are times we just need to buck up and do the work. And often, once we begin, we find energy and momentum."
If you’re struggling with a particular project consistently, you may just need to get a fresh perspective. Do research and find inspiration related to the project. Schedule lunch with the client so you can hear how much they care about this project and their goals. Tell a friend what originally excited you about the project. Start at a different point than you normally would and work backward – ignore the assumption that you need to work linearly and start anywhere. It might just jumpstart your brain and get you back into the rhythm again.
Naturally, deadlines don’t change with our moods. We can’t always silo our work or we’d fall behind all the time. We can’t wait for inspiration or we may never begin. We can’t always plan our projects perfectly. There are times we just need to buck up and do the work. And often, once we begin, we find energy and momentum.
A psychologist doesn’t only take the cases that excite them – the people with multiple personalities or type of trauma that inspires medical papers – but they help their patients to the best of their ability anyway, every day. Accept that you won’t feel inspired about your work every day. Do it anyway. Do your best anyway. Sometimes we just need to get to work, and excitement will follow.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the founder of DESK, nice to meet you!