Take the time off work to seek new information and experiences and explore other ways in which to create something better.

Setting aside Me-Time for Learning-Time

My typical workday schedule looks something like this:

  • 6:14 am Wake up, morning stretches, wash up, get ready for work, travel to work, and breakfast
  • 8:30 am Work
  • 5:30 pm Overtime work
  • 6:15 pm Travel home
  • 7:00 pm Evening run, wash up, dinner at home or with friends
  • 9:00 pm Learning, reading, or writing time!
  • 10:30 pm Wash up
  • 11:30 pm Sleep

I lead a very routine, boring lifestyle but I made it a point to enrich it by spending my me-time after work to learn, read, or write. With an hour and a half dedicated to learning, I’ll have put in 45 hours (1.5 x average of 30 days) each month to master a new skill.

Curiosity for Innovation

In the article, The Business Case for Curiosity from HBR, writer Francesca Gino started off by saying,

‘Most of the breakthrough discoveries and remarkable inventions throughout history, from flints for starting a fire to self-driving cars, have something in common: They result from curiosity.’

At the start of a design sprint, we use the “How might we…?” questions to explore the firm’s goals and plans. To create innovative products or to bring about creative solutions, as , we need to fill gaps in our knowledge and identify questions to investigate.

Getting Home Early

‘Work will never be finished; if it is completed, you might get to take a short break, but will eventually move on to the next project.’

A while back, I read an article on working overtime. Recalling what it wrote, ‘You are only paid for the time that your salary pays you for. If you continue to work beyond this time, you will always only be able to do what you are doing.’

What the article was trying to convey is that we need to set aside time after work to learn something new so that we can apply these skills to what we are working on. With those skills, we can move on to more difficult tasks or another job that require them.

Agency Work vs In-house Design

I used to work as a graphic designer at an advertising agency and has since transitioned to be a UX designer. It is ‘common knowledge’ that agency life is notorious for overtime work due to the perpetual client changes. In contrast, in-house design work may seem to be ‘slower-pace’ and ‘less-challenging’ for designers to grow.

Since moving from an agency to an in-house innovation team, I’m managing my work-life better. Although working at an in-house design team may be slower-moving as noted above, it gives a greater depth and a sense of ownership of the product you are designing. Agency work provides a greater breadth of work and may motivate others who want greater variation in their work.

On-Job Training

Learning can take place on-the-job, for example, by learning from the projects you work on or learning from both senior and junior colleagues.

The greatest growth I experienced as a junior graphic designer was during my time at an advertising agency. My creative directors were hands-on and gave critical feedback on my work. We often had skills-sharing sessions with the senior designers to learn about a particular tool or to discuss creative strategies.

Peer-learning may be less possible in a corporate setting as people are expected to ‘know how to do things’ rather than to be ‘here to learn’. As we climb the organizational ladder, we may think that we have ‘less to learn’. Leaders often believe they’re ‘expected’ to speak and offer answers and not ask questions.

While working in an in-house innovation team, I get to (was made to) learn more about the business, rather than the craft I use on the job. Working on the same product gives me the opportunity to gain better insights from my users and their work. This will allow me to think of creative and rational solutions that work for the product.

Classroom Learning

“It’s better to train and have them leave than not to train and have them stay.”

— Gail Jackson, vice president of human resources, United Technologies (UTC)

Learning can take place in a classroom (physical or digital) setting. Organisations such as mine have put in place learning programmes to upskill their workers. For example, we have access to an e-learning system with video lectures on accounting, finance, etc to learn at our own pace. Various companies, such as Google and Facebook, may provide resources to support employees’ outside interests (such as cooking).

While it may be difficult to go for classes after work, self-learning online on sites such as Coursera, or Udacity may be an alternative option. This gives greater flexibility in how we can manage our time for personal growth.

Since I am managing my working time better at my current company, I get to allocate my free time to learning, reading, or writing. Now, I seek to spend an hour each day to write an article on a weekly basis. On weekends, I am setting aside a 2-hour session on fundamentals of business administration from Smartly to learn to look at product design from a business perspective.

Before, I’ve attended a 10-weeks immersive course to transition into UX. Over the course of my work life, I’ve picked up skills such as coding and digital marketing that were related to my work as a designer.

T-Shaped Skills

‘The most compelling designers are often T-shaped. Their deep mastery of a select design skill gets them noticed.’

— The T-shaped Sweet Spot For Designers, Nick Schaden

The term T-shaped skills describe a person with a deep knowledge/skill set/expertise (vertical bar on the T) in a particular field, and complementary skills across disciplines and related fields (horizontal bar on the T). This allows the person/skilled-generalist with the means to collaborate and empathise with experts in other areas or to work on projects that need cross-disciplinary skills.

To quote from an article I wrote, ‘Writing is a Designer’s ‘Unicorn Skill’, ‘The ability to combine words with imagery may set you apart.’ Not only do designers need to learn to code, they should learn to write to create a lovable and holistic product. While empathising with users, it is equally important to understand the business requirements. Hence it makes sense that designers understand how the business runs and what are the goals.

These days, I am expanding my regular reading to cover areas in design leadership, design ops, technology, future economies, and many other topics. I hope these will help me with my future prospects and to grow as a design leader.

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