Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, co-founder of lifestyle magazine Lagom, founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, and an electronic musician.

Write off that first hour

Posted on 27 November 2008 Comments

Article illustration for Write off that first hour

This is a topic I’ve been discussing with some friends quite frequently, so I thought it was worth turning into a post. Ready for a bit of controversy?

Don’t expect to get any work done in the first hour of your day.

Resign yourself to the fact that it’s just not going to happen. Better yet: don’t even attempt to get any work done. In all seriousness, you will feel much happier – and end up being more productive – if you spend the first hour of the day catching up on your RSS feeds, replying to blog comments, reading magazines, engaging with the community, getting your inbox count down, finding inspiration, and doing a bit of general surfing.

Oh, the guilt

For years – and actually, until quite recently – I had this terrible feeling of guilt, whereby I thought I was letting my client or employer down by wasting time on the web and doing ‘fun’ stuff when I was supposed to be getting paid for ‘work’. But of course I wasn’t wasting time at all. Keeping up to date with the latest trends, researching new techniques, being active in the web community… these are all things that are vitally important parts of our skillsets as designers and developers. I’d even go as far as to say that not doing those things actually makes you less qualified, less employable, and less productive.

So don’t feel bad about the fact that you’re getting paid to not do any work in the first hour, because that first hour of the day should actually play an important role in why you’re getting paid in the first place.

Productivity

Besides the ‘gaining knowledge’ argument, I also believe that setting aside an hour to do this results in you being more productive later in the day, rather than continually interrupting yourself at various intervals. Of course, I’m not saying little interruptions should be prevented (and actually I’m terrible at staying focused without breaks), but if you set aside the first hour of your day, you’ll be better prepared to knuckle down for (most of) the rest of it. And once it becomes a routine, you’ll stop getting that stress-inducing, tight-chested anxious feeling that comes with so-called ‘distraction’ time. Personally, I feel much happier knowing that I have 9am – 10am set aside for these things! This morning, I…

  • … caught up with a bunch of RSS feeds and found some inspiring portfolio designs
  • … saw what my friends were up to on Twitter and in the process found Tim’s beautiful new site
  • … helped to continue alpha-testing LittleSnapper
  • … re-arranged my calendar
  • … got my inbox back down to zero
  • … wrote this blog post

The last one is a little bit of a lie, since writing this post has taken me up to around 11am. It’s cool, though – I’ll just work a bit later tonight to make sure I still get the same amount of my client work done.

The practicalities

Of course, I understand that putting this into practice can be difficult. It is – without a doubt – easier to achieve if you’re freelance or run your own business, although even then you’ll need to be confident that your clients will understand your way of working.

As an employee, you might find it hard to persuade your boss to give you ‘an hour off’ (as they’ll probably see it) every day, but consider this: you’re going to do this stuff anyway; why not just be frank about it and make it part of your work routine? Talk to your boss about it, talk to your clients about it, and they should see that your passion for the industry and the community makes you a much smarter, happier, and more enthusiastic worker.

As a sidenote, this is why I think that time-tracking apps are – in general – a bad idea, because they undermine the value of time spent away from actual work. For instance, an app that tells me I spent most of the day in Safari when I should’ve been in Photoshop completely misses the fact that the successful design I came up with was only successful because of the extensive research I did on the web.

That’s my opinion, anyway. What do you think?

(Photo: the Prague Astronomical Clock)

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