Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

I talk to a lot of creatives about the challenge of keeping ‘up-to-date’. 

Innovation in our industry — arguably more than any other industry — whooshes past designers steadfastly working on client-driven work. Designers committed to producing innovative solutions that keep their client’s products and services up-to-date.

But while we keep clients relevant, who keeps us relevant?

And how do we find the time? I think I’ve found an answer.

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Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

It’s not defeatist to say many designers find it difficult to take a few days away from their business to learn new stuff. It should be said that those that do reap the benefits for months, maybe years – the results are so beneficial they budget/plan/schedule to do it again. But it is difficult. It takes planning and it takes commitment.

Time away from your business is a short-term risk for a long term gain.

Similarly, many designers find it difficult to take an afternoon away from client-driven work. It’s more possible than a few days, but still hard.

I think it’s because work expands to fill the void. If there’s more time available it’s usually spent doing more work on an existing project. We take the opportunity to relax, take our feet off the pedals and coast toward the finish line rather than take the more usual frenzied route.

That said, I believe it’s realistic that most designers can find an extra hour or so in their week.

I know it’s realistic because it happens all the time. It happens when a client calls to say there’s an urgent job that needs attention, it happens when we have to go to the doctor, or the dentist. We do find time. We can find a couple of hours each week.

So that’s how you can keep up to date. Not by scheduling a day, nor an afternoon.

Incidental professional development.

Incidental professional development happens by snatching moments of time that probably add up to a couple of hours a week. It’s amazing what you can achieve.

I like to think it’s much like incidental exercise. 

Taking the stairs instead of the escalator. I can do that.
Walking an extra few blocks rather than jumping on the city-circle tram? Easy.
Incidental PD is just like incidental exercise.

It takes a little prep, but after that it’s easy.

The first step is to focus on what you want to learn/improve. One way is to do our personal skills audit (more about that in this article). Identify a couple of specific areas where you want to improve.

The second step is to research readings/training/experts in that area and tag/save/bookmark the information.

That means that next time you have 10 minutes to spare, instead of unproductively flicking through instagram or LinkedIn, you can read/watch one of the saved articles. That takes five minutes. In the next five minutes jot down the key three takeaways –  in your diary, on your phone, anywhere that is accessible to refer to when you have 30 seconds spare.

It really only takes 10 minutes to learn something new.

It could be the 10 minutes after returning from lunch. It could be 10 minutes at lunch. Or it could be the 10 minutes waiting for something to render, or print, or on hold.

One of the participants in my Design Studio Management Program has nearly finished the program in 10 minutes blocks. None of the 48 fact sheets are more than a 10 minute read. None of the videos are longer than a 10 minute watch. And many of the activities can be broken down into 10 minute tasks. Sure, she has spent a few hour blocks over the last three months, but mainly, it’s been incidental professional development.

Incidental professional development that just led to her new position and a $10K pay increase. Gotta love that. 🙂

So, the first step is to identify what you would like to learn more about. Contact me if you’d like a copy of our personal appraisal form to help.

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Carol Mackay


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The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

Carol Mackay is a graphic designer with 30+ years experience managing Mackay Branson design, a successful Melbourne design studio co-founded with Greg Branson.

In 2018 Carol pivoted from client-driven work to (re)join Greg at the Design Business Council. There she uses her experience to help designers build robust businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design. Carol’s prime skill has been her ability to translate difficult to understand or complex messages through design. She believes design brings clarity to complex issues. From clarity comes understanding, and understanding leads to knowledge.

In 2018 she co-founded the Clear Communication Awards, and the Business of Design Week. Both will be run in 2019

Carol has the mindset of a designer and the focus of a business-owner. Her special skill is comprehension – the ability to listen, understand the situation and use design to translate complex messages into plain language.

An archive of her design work at mbdesign.com.au.
Her current work can be viewed at designbusinesscouncil.com and designbusinessschool.com.au.

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