Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Sit around and procrastinate and watch as success sweeps over you? Well it is and it’s not quite what I’m saying with this post. What I’m talking about is a way to figure out what you feel passionate about, and how to incorporate more of that into your business.
Note: This post includes an audio version. If you don’t see the audio above, Click here to listen.
The title of this post was inspired by something Jessica Hische said in an interview she gave a few months ago. It’s been awhile since I listened so I hope I have the following quote right.
The work you do when you’re procrastinating is the work you should do for the rest of your life
Whether or not I have the exact words right, the general idea behind the quote has stuck with me, given it’s close to how I got started as a web designer. I thought I’d share a bit of my story about how I started designing websites and how I let my choices in my free time lead my business.
How I became a Web Designer
I won’t bore you with my entire life’s story and career path, which has forked so many times it isn’t funny. Suffice it to say I’ve held quite a few jobs, from a civil engineer sizing, steel beams and columns to working a cash register and not always in the order of a typical career arc.
12 or 13 years ago I was working for a company that converted print books into ebooks long before anyone really cared about ebooks. It was a dot com that was growing frantically when I was first hired and shrinking even more frantically after the bubble burst about a year later.
Seeing the writing on the wall and realizing the job hadn’t given me any transferrable skills I decided to take some continuing education classes to pick up some useful skills before I was inevitably looking for work again.
I started working toward a certificate in C++ programming thinking skills as a programmer would lead me down a successful career path. It was a rational plan, but something inside of me had other ideas.
In creating ebooks, the company I worked for used html-like code to place digital content online. It wasn’t quite html, but it was a similar kind of markup language and I found that I was able to work easily in it. Even more, it felt natural for me to wade through the markup.
So while taking C++ classes a few nights a week, I also began learning html in my spare time at home. I picked up books on html and the then barely used css. I grabbed student copies of programs like DreamWeaver and Fireworks and on my own explored building websites.
Another Job to Keep Me Going
One of the people taking the same C++ classes as me worked as a software tester. He knew I was looking for work and I guess I impressed him enough answering questions in class that when his company was hiring he thought of me and asked me to email him a resume.
Thanks to Jim I landed a job as a software tester, which I thought was going to be the start of my career as a programmer. The job was as a low level tester, but my plan was to learn what I could and hopefully down the road be writing the software instead of testing it.
When I’d get home at night though, instead of reading and learning more about programming or just relaxing after a long day, I found myself wanting to learn more about designing and building websites.
I suppose it’s not so far removed from programming to be shocking, but it wasn’t long before I realized that I was spending much of my time building websites. Most never saw the internet, but I could see them and they weren’t too bad. Soon I added more classes to earn a second certificate in web design.
Every book I’d buy would be about designing websites. I started spending free time at work on the W3Schools website reading tutorials. Before long whenever I was procrastinating or had some time to fill I was filling it with something related to designing websites.
About a year into the software testing job the company I was working for was sold to IBM. Unfortunately for our office, we worked testing software that duplicated software IBM already had and they closed our office and I was once again without work.
By this time I had completed the C++ certificate and had some experience working with software. However, instead of seeking employment, I started taking steps toward self-employment designing and developing websites. At first it was in partnership with a friend and not long after it was on my own.
How My Free Time Shapes My Business Today
I’ve never forgotten how I didn’t follow a specific plan to becoming a web designer. My path was much more organic. I just found myself designing websites more and wanting to get better at it.
It might not be the best way to plan a career, but I’ve continued the same way since. It’s the things I gravitate toward when I’m not getting paid and when I’m doing something for its own enjoyment that I want my career to follow. I don’t mean that in the sense of dropping everything to follow a whim, but I look for ways to tweak my business to align it more with what I choose to do in my free time.
For example while I blog for a variety of reasons, I started mainly to help market this site and my business. Over time I realized how much I enjoy writing for all the other reasons and have tweaked my business to bring in more revenue from writing. That’s generally meant getting paid to write for other sites. Recently it’s included working on a book about design principles that’s nearly finished.
I’ve dropped services over the years I didn’t enjoy doing and more importantly didn’t care to get better at doing. You’ve seen more podcasts and now a screencast here, because I listen and watch more and more in my free time.
It’s not always easy and sometimes it takes me a long time to figure out how to incorporate something from my free time into my working life, but at every step it feels right. It feels like another step down a path I’m meant to travel.
The majority of time we spend in our adult lives revolves around the work we do. Long ago I decided that being able to enjoy my work and time were more important to me than other reasons you might pick and choose a career.
We all need to earn a living and we can’t just chase any whim as a career, but I think we can always be shaping our careers and driving them in new directions.
For me the guide that leads my career shaping comes from my idle time. What I choose to do when in a free moment or when I’m avoiding something I don’t want to do are those things I realize I enjoy most. Where possible I find ways to incorporate them into my business.
That’s how procrastination can lead to success. What you naturally gravitate toward doing gives you insight about what you really want to do. If you can find a way to incorporate some of these things into whatever work you do, you’ll likely find yourself enjoying your work and time more and to me that’s a pretty good definition for success.
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.