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Work smart not long

8 min, 51 sec read
12:26 PM | 6 November 2013

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Guest contributor: Gemma Germains

I found out I was pregnant a week before I started my second year in University. The news was more a reality check than a shock. I didn’t know why I was in university. I’d flitted between courses and epically failed the first year. It was hard to feel that I’d ruined my future when I didn’t have a particularly interesting future planned in the first place.

My pregnancy became an excellent distraction from the existential questions that umbrella’d my university career. Concerns about how to keep a wholly dependent human alive tend to trump any worries that a module in DJ Cultures looked like a bit of a cop out. I didn’t need to miss lectures, hiding from a regrettable one night stand. My very existence served as a walking cautionary tale for casual hook­upers.

"I breast fed during lectures. Classmates took turns to jiggle my son during group work and presentations."

I gave birth three days after my final exam of the first year and I started back on the second year twelve weeks later. I breast fed during lectures. Classmates took turns to jiggle my son during group work and presentations. I typed essays with one hand when deadlines helpfully coincided with chest infections.

I’ll be honest, I feel warrior­-like reading this back and I’m sure at the time it must have been tough. Ironically, I have no recollection of it being so. It was my reality and, having almost nothing to compare it to, it was normal. At the point at which I was learning to work like an adult, I learned to work differently.

Today, a huge amount of my work is dictated by deadlines. I have a day to prepare a quote, a month to prepare a presentation. Time plays an enormous part in what I do. I quote up work based on the number of hours required to complete it. I am paid for the number of hours I work. In fact, we all are, it’s how work works.

My son, the one who attended lectures on Freud and DJ Cultures before he could sit up, started high school this September. In the past eleven years I have built my career around him and his needs. I have spent only one of the past eleven years working any more than 100 hours a month and that year was an unmitigated disaster. In the past eleven years, I’ve built a portfolio and a CV I’m proud of, financially supported my family and been a consistent presence in my boys’ life.

Regardless of this, however, I also feel a certain stigma, only working part time. With a son in high school (and a second in the juniors) the feeling that I’m not working hard enough, or earning enough is beginning to creep up on me. Should I get a ‘proper job?’

Obviously, I could just increase my hours at Well Made, generate more income and take more money. The problem is, Joe, one of Well Made’s founders, and I are partners in the business and the biblical sense, if you get my drift. We met at a design studio that was imploding in the aftermath of the managing directors’ divorce and we vowed never to let that happen to Well Made. I work part time at Well Made because no couple, no matter how well adjusted can survive constant, relentless contact. To work full time, in a proper job I must look outside of the Well Made bubble.

"I have spent only one of the past eleven years working any more than 100 hours a month and that year was an unmitigated disaster."

But what is the Well Made bubble? It’s the womb of autonomy. As with any creative business, it’s not without stress. Autonomy is everyone else getting paid before you do. It’s working evenings and weekends. Autonomy is knowing that every buck stops with you. And only you. We suck it up and crack on because the positives are just that, positive. Autonomy comes hand in hand with the freedom to work in a way that supports creativity.

We’re the Ideas Industries. Advertising, content creation and design rely on quality ideas. Of course there are lots of copycats out there, churning out someone else’s idea in the hope of a viral hit for Kraft Foods. But there are also the innovators, coming up with the goods, churning out new concepts, new methodologies and inevitably, new ideas. These people, at the top of the ideas food chain understand the importance of a good idea. They understand the need to create an environment that fertilises creative thought.

Think about your last creative brief. Think about how sitting at a desk, in front of a computer screen, willing an idea to form does the exact opposite. Think about the white noise that buzzes in your brain as soon as you try to force a good idea. It’s a scientific fact, good ideas happen when you’re doing other stuff.

Dopamine has long been viewed as the happy hormone. Sex, exercise and chocolate all cause a surge in dopamine. It causes sensations of pleasure and relaxation. Dopamine has also been linked to motivation, learning and reward. So not only does Dopamine give you chufties when you hit the goal, it makes you want to get up at 6am, in the cold, to train.

Ironically, a study into the neurochemical make­up of creative people showed that not only did they have high levels of Dopamine, they couldn’t screen out distractions. They were thinking about lots of things all at the same time.

Think about those last three paragraphs. Creative thought comes from not sitting at a desk trying to concentrate. It is the product of energetic sex, probably involving melted chocolate. It thrives on distraction, and variety and the freedom to let your mind wander. This looks nothing like the nine to five, forty hour a week full time work model. Behaviour like this, to somebody who calculates wages on the number of hours a worker sits at a desk and does the job they are employed to do, probably looks like gross misconduct.

"As students, you also need to recognise the importance of your free time. Don’t give it away anymore than you must to support yourself."

Here in lies my problem. I’m a creative person. In the two hours since I finished that last paragraph I’ve had a coffee, eaten some chocolate, chatted to a friend about gas suppliers and browsed Twitter. Doing so allowed me to get the end of this article right. I arranged my thoughts while picking a spot.

As an industry, we value time over ideas, rewarding staff who can sit and look productive for the longest regardless of the quality of their output. Of course, there are creative people who have learned to flourish in this corporate simulation. But look around, more creative people work outside these confines. The freelancers and the entrepreneurs are the ones who excite us. The small studios and the collectives are proving that new ways of thinking produce stunning results.

I did a tiny, inexact experiment on ItsNiceThat’s homepage. Of the sixteen features relating to other people’s work, one was a student, twelve were produced by freelancers, one by a collective and one by a design studio of indeterminate size. It’s bloody hard getting on ItsNiceThat’s homepage. We’ve only managed it twice and the second time we didn’t even get a credit. You’ve got to be frighteningly good. Aside from the design studio, there wasn’t a single entry spawned from a full time employee doing a solid forty hours in someone else’s office.

"Creative thought... is a product of energetic sex, probably involving melted chocolate."

As young creatives, whether you’re breastfeeding an infant or not , there is a concern that you must emerge from university fully formed and ready to work. In the past I myself have been guilty of moaning that interns (when we did that sort of thing) were unable to answer the phone properly, or present work in a format I was familiar with. You’re called lazy for the few hours a week you attend lectures. The chasm between assignments makes you incapable of working to tight or multiple deadlines. You waste your excessive free time on silly parties, socialising with friends from across the campus.

What differentiates the student from the employee is that students are rewarded for the quality of their work, not the amount of time it took to produce. There is little distinction between nurturing their creativity and producing their ideas. Without realising it, theirs is the ideal model for creative thought. And upon graduation, employers will do everything in their power to undo all that is right about it.

Last week I was offered a full time job. Reasonably well paid for a niceish company. Accepting it would mean that I no longer have to work every Sunday afternoon, or scribble notes on the back of envelopes during the tea time bed time cluster fuck. I’d get paid on the same day every month meaning I’d no longer be penalised for not paying my bills by direct debit. However, accepting it would ensure I was no longer able to have breakfast with my family. It would put an end to swimming after school on Thursdays. I would have less time to play Lego and Minecraft and basketball. It’s too easy say that these are childish pastimes, things every good mother should do. I benefit as much as they do.

I have more free time than I did five years ago and I need to do something valuable with it. As students, you also need to recognise the importance of your free time. Don’t give it away anymore than you must to support yourself. Keep as much of it back as possible and use it to make a name for yourself.

I’m using my free time to develop a new project. It could make me a lot of money. More likely it will enable me to sell my skills to fashion brands as an equal, ensuring I can negotiate hours and responsibility that maintain my balanced lifestyle.

It will be a long time before I can afford two holidays a year, but it will be an even longer time before I need two holidays a year.

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