Designers and the Need to Get Disconnected

by Steven Snell

June 5, 2009 in Business/Freelance

Working as a web designer requires substantial amounts of time on the internet, or at least in front of a computer. This, of course, means that we face all kinds of potential distractions throughout our daily lives. Being accessible to clients and colleagues through email and Twitter is a necessity that most of us gotten used to and accepted as the nature of the job. However, occasionally getting away from this environment can do wonders for your work and for your business, especially for freelancers.

Recently, I was working remotely for a few days and I had an afternoon where I knew I would have no internet access for a few hours. I really wasn’t looking forward to this time because of my normal habits that require being connected, but it turned out to be a very beneficial time that caused my to re-evaluate how I allocate my time.

Being away from the internet can make significant changes in your working environment and allow you to focus on things that normally would be very difficult or impossible. Personally, during this time I found myself outside in a downtown park with just a notebook, much more relaxed than usual for a work day and able to experience a different type of focus.

In this article I’d like to look at why designers (and other professionals who spend the vast majority of their day online) should occasionally get away from the computer, or at least an internet connection.

Get Away from Distractions

Most designers deal with huge amounts of email every day, not to mention, IM, Skype, and Twitter. While this is a necessary part of the job and being responsive is appreciated by clients, there are times when getting away for a few hours will produce strong results that can more than make up for a brief period of being unreachable by these means of communication.

If you’re like me, over time you’ve just gotten used to working with a constant stream of communication going on. It may not seem like a big distraction or hindrance, but getting away from it can show you how much easier it is get things done, and done well, when you can focus 100%.

Slow Down the Pace

Working online and communicating with lots of people throughout the day is fun for most of us, and maybe that’s partly why we’ve chosen this type of work, but getting offline can slow down the pace of your work which can bring a lot of benefits. By eliminating the hectic pace for a more calm working environment, you can more easily concentrate on your work, feel more relaxed and less stressed, and work on things that normally get pushed to the side.

With some types of tasks you can be much more effective working in this type of environment. If your accustomed to working in a rather chaotic atmosphere, you may find that changing this up can have powerful results on your work.

Business Planning

If you’re a freelancer or if you’re running a small design studio, business planning and strategy is essential to success. Unfortunately, the daily work of being a designer and taking care of clients will usually prevent you from getting adequate time to focus on some important issues. Getting away can help you to be able to focus on big picture items that usually take a back seat to daily tasks.

Some things you may want to consider when you’re away from distractions are:

Marketing:

  • How are you currently marketing your services?
  • What is working and what is not? Are there other ways that you could more effectively market yourself?

Target Clients:

  • What types of clients and projects do you enjoy working on the most/least?
  • Is there a way that you could more effectively market yourself so that you would be able to do a higher percentage of your work with the clients/projects that you enjoy the most?

Finances:

  • How are your finances trending over time?
  • What types of work/projects are the most financially beneficial to you at this point?
  • Are there other ways that you could more effectively spend your time that would produce more income?

Staffing and Outsourcing:

  • Are there opportunities for you to free up more time by hiring someone or outsourcing part of your work?
  • How could the additional help allow you to more effectively meet the needs of your clients or potential clients?
  • Are the team members that you currently¬†have producing?

These are just some examples of “big picture” things that you could focus on more effectively when you’re able to get a break from the day-to-day type of work.

Brainstorming/Project Planning

Any type of design requires creativity. If you’re working on a design for a new project you may be struggling with the starting points of planning the project. Getting away from distractions can help to clear¬†your head and remove some of the pressure that you feel from the typical work environment. Thinking clearly and more creatively will often come as a result of putting a little bit of distance between yourself and the everyday distractions.

If you do any blogging or writing, brainstorming is a very important part of the process, at least that’s how most of us function. Personally, I like to brainstorm blog post ideas when I’m not sitting at the computer, when I can just sit down with a notebook and think freely.

What Are Your Habits?

Do you make it a priority to get away from the computer occasionally in your own work? How does this issue impact you? Please feel free to share any advice or experience that you have with us through the comments.

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About Steven Snell

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design.Connect with Stephen on google+

  • MorayWeb

    Jun 6th

    Really good article and very true! What I did find quite amuzing was the irony of me reading this when I suppose I should really be working… :)

    But that proves your point!

  • bebopdesigner

    Jun 6th

    Thanks for posting!

  • Anne

    Jun 6th

    You have hit the nail on the head! I make a point of “disconnecting” by only checking my e-mail 3x a day (morning, after lunch, before I close up shop). I check Twitter about twice or three times and my other social network accs at least once a day. Still a lot of “distraction” but at least I can get my work done! I’ve RT this article on Twitter – excellent advice.

  • Frog

    Jun 6th

    I completely agree sir. I used to live by the sea and found the scenery a welcomed excused to get out and fill my lungs with “that there fresh aire, oo-ar!” Now I live in land in a more urban environment and find the indoors much more welcoming than the local street corner. I do however get that release and reboot from taking regular trips away to the seaside for a day while leaving all electrical equipment back in the car. This break is what helps me out and what keeps me and my work fresh.

  • AmbitionLab

    Jun 8th

    Good article. Good excuse to get some exercise, too.

  • Victoria Web

    Jun 9th

    I agree with the benefits of disconnecting, but it isn’t always realistic, especially when you are working for a company rather than freelance. In order to focus and generate design ideas, i sketch out designs this plus any down time, in which i may consider the way i want to approach a new design projects, allows me the focus and distance i need.

  • Steven Snell

    Jun 9th

    Victoria,
    The post was primarily intended for freelancers, so yes, I agree that it is much less practical if you work for a company in an office.

  • jive

    Jun 10th

    Cut down on the feed you are subscribed to and get back to building. That’s what I’ve done, only thing I really need is Pandora or Last.fm and the occasional Google search ;)

  • Joe Rozsa

    Aug 13th

    I just recently disconnected for 2 weeks. My family and I are lucky enough to have and go to a place on a lake in Canada that has NO internet, NO phone, NO TV and NO cell reception. There is a phone at a nearby marina. That number is only given to family members in case of emergency, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER to clients. It’s amazing! It not only clears my head, but gives me the opportunity to do some REAL thinking. I look forward to that “unplugging” every year… but the strange thing about it, I’m excited to get back to the every grind afterwards because I’m totally recharged.

    Like others have said, your article hit the nail right no the head. But I do have one thing to add… an observation really. You must have wrote this article when you were plugged back in and you were obviously distracted because you’ve got a couple of typos. Ha!

  • David

    Mar 21st

    I try and get away every weekend. Rather it’s time with the family or just the wife and friends. It’s easy to let Saturday turn into a work day sometimes though, but Sundays are left to rest. Great article.

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