Imagine: How would you feel if you discovered that someone was purposefully sabotaging your business? What if someone was causing you to work slower and secretly slipping time-wasting tasks into your workday? What would you do if this same person started telling your clients bad things about you and that you shouldn’t be trusted? To top it off, this villain constantly tells you that your work isn’t good enough.
No, this isn’t your competitor. It is you. Only instead of being intentional, it all happens without you even realizing it.
In my last post, I talked about how web designers can use meta-habits to intentionally set better habits for their work. In this article, I will go into detail about bad habits that may be sabotaging your web design career and which you should endeavor to break. In my next article, I will go over some good habits you should pursue.
Some habits are innocuous; for example, eating the types of food on your plate in the same order every time. Eating meat before vegetables, or vice versa, is neither good nor bad. However, the amount and kinds of food you eat over a period of time can make a huge impact on your health.
So, what is a bad habit? A bad habit is anything we do repeatedly, without conscious thought, that is destructive to our well-being or to someone else’s. Typically, these unconscious actions have little to no negative affect as a single event, but the cumulative affect can be profound.
Do you know what a barnacle is? A barnacle is an arthropod that lives in the ocean, like a small stationary crab without arms or legs. They love nothing more than attaching themselves to the hull of boats to get a free ride (you know, being without legs and all). One barnacle is no big deal, and in fact, neither are two or three dozen; but if very many decide to hitch a ride on your vessel, they can become a major drag. Literally.
The drag can considerably slow down a vessel as well as increase fuel consumption. The poor fuel economy and the lost time can become very costly. In fact, “biofouling” as it’s called, is estimated to cost the shipping industry up to $60 BILLION per year.
I’m sure you see where I am going with this. Bad habits are like pizza… no wait, bad habits are like barnacles. Over time they become a drag, causing you to work harder to make up for deficiencies or preventing you from reaching your goals all together.
While it is true that good habits don’t just happen, bad habits usually do. No one typically decides that they want to start a new self-destructive habit, yet we all have them. You don’t start each day thinking, “What can I do to sabotage all of my hard work?” Still, somehow we end up with bad habits that do exactly that. Whether we realize it or not, there is a strong likelihood that, like a great ship, we have each collected some barnacles in our web design career.
4 Web Designer Bad Habits
There are 4 bad habits that are easy for any web designer to slide into that you should make a conscious decision to avoid or break out of.
Juggling multiple projects will be a requirement for any web designer. At times we all have to multitask, and you may even be pretty good at it. Still, studies have shown that multitasking increases the occurrence of mistakes in our work and decreases productivity overall. Even if the tasks you are flipping back and forth between are each necessary things like email and Photoshop, you will do neither as well as if you focused on one for an hour and then switched to the other for 30 minutes.
Multitasking prevents you from entering into “the zone,” that mental place where you reach peak creativity and productivity. Having singular focus, or single-tasking, if you will, is required for the zone. When you are in the zone, you forget about time. Work flows from your fingertips with ease. Not only is the zone incredibly productive, it is also deeply satisfying. You will find the most joy in your work when you are in the zone, but you can only enter when there are no distractions.
Action: There are tools you can use to help you focus. RescueTime quietly tracks everything you work on, and it has a “Get Focused” mode that blocks all distracting activities for a period of time, or until you shut it off. This can help you break the habit of switching over to something without thinking about it. A less high tech method would be simply to unplug your network connection or shut off your modem if you don’t need to be online. Or you could try shutting off the programs or websites that distract you, rather than having them open in the background, ready and waiting for you instantly at the click of a button.
2. Putting Off Difficult Tasks
We naturally work on the easy parts of a website or the stuff we are good at first. This isn’t bad in itself, but you can’t let it keep you from moving on to the more difficult parts of the site.
Think about it. What aspects of web design do you enjoy the most? Now, think about the last project you worked on. I bet you started on the enjoyable stuff and prolonged it as long as you could manage before finally moving on to the parts that you hate. You may have still ended up spending more time on the parts you didn’t enjoy, but only because you aren’t as good at them.
2a. Perfectionism: The Enemy of Good
Sometimes we put off difficult tasks in the name of perfectionism, but really we are just sticking with what we know and what we think we can control. You tweak a Photoshop mockup endlessly because you say you want it to be perfect, but maybe it is just because you are avoiding writing the HTML & CSS, or vice versa.
Action: Be honest with yourself. Think about what you enjoy and what you hate and just be aware of it. My wife has a trick where she rewards herself by doing the things that she doesn’t like to do for a set period of time with the expectation that she can do the fun stuff right afterwards.
It also helps to set estimates for how long you think something should take and set a timer. When that time is up, evaluate where you are. Ask yourself if it really needs more work, or if it is good enough, and you are just being a perfectionist.
3. Never Ending Research
There is always something new and shiny in web design. Your job is to balance how much new and shiny to research and test. Remember that every hour you spend scouring the web for information and tinkering on a new idea is an hour you don’t get paid for!
Maybe you inherited a lot of money or you are happy living in a cardboard box, so you don’t really need much money. In that case, disregard this and do all the research and web design experimentation you like. For the rest of us, who don’t have a rich great-uncle lying on his deathbed with no direct descendant, and who like a warm home and food in our bellies, I recommend limiting your time spent researching and experimenting to a maximum of 20% for any one project and a maximum of 20% of your total work time, as well. That means 80% of your time should be spent on billable hours for a project.
The one caveat would be when you are first starting out and still learning. But if you are trying to feed and clothe yourself with this web design thing, stick with the 80/20 rule.
Action: Track your time and make sure you don’t spend more than 2 hours on research for every 10 hours of a project. Refer to the above action item about RescueTime to help with this. The secret is to plan the research needed for each project ahead of time. Don’t just let it happen, and especially don’t forget to save time for it or expect to not need it.
4. Ignoring Clients
Also, make sure you keep in contact with clients regularly. The general guideline for an active project is to email at least once a day and meet either face to face or over the phone at least once a week.
Action: Schedule reminders in your calendar and block out the time to communicate with each client. Don’t rely on memory for anything this important. I like to use the end of each day to send a project update email, and then check in the morning for any responses and reply to them as needed.
Our unconscious behavior is like water — always seeking the lowest ground and carving out the path of least resistance. To be a successful web designer, you must push yourself above your basic, unconscious tendencies. You must think and act intentionally to overcome bad habits, because they certainly won’t go away on their own.
In my next article, I will talk about good habits that every successful web designer should have.