Time Out and Time Off: How to Transition Back to Work from a Leave of Absence

Time Out and Time Off: How to Transition Back to Work from a Leave of Absence

As I typed “leave of absence from work for…” into the Google search bar, a variety of scenarios popped up: mental health, stress, surgery, school, family reasons, medical reasons, pregnancy, and so on. During our careers, most of us will elect or be required to take time off work. The reasons vary. According to Pew Research Center, about one in four U.S. workers have taken leave to care for a seriously ill family member. In the UK, stress, anxiety, and depression now account for half of all workplace illness absences. Depending on the country you reside in, you might — or might not — take substantial parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child. What happens when we take time off and how can we best prepare to return to work? I spoke to four creatives about what they wished they’d known and what helped them transition back to work.  

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Take care of yourself first. 

Canadian designer and illustrator Darren Booth, was forced to drastically cut back on work after suffering from recurring migraines, which led to a mild depression. At first, he tried to work through the pain, but his migraines worsened. He says he felt down and would cry for no reason. Knowing he needed help, he worked with his family doctor for a year, trying different pain medications and antidepressants. Finally, he found relief when he saw a neurologist who discovered pinched nerves in his neck. With chiropractic care and anti-inflammatory medication, his migraines disappeared after several months of treatment. 

Now completely off medication and back to work, Darren’s health issues helped him re-evaluate his career. He made a decision to prioritize health: “Nowadays, I take care of my health first and the rest seems to fall into place. Home life is better. Work is better. Life in general is better. Although I’m still in the same career, my focus has shifted to growing my work in ways that make me happy and only taking on client projects that I’m excited about. Maybe I earn a bit less, but I can provide so much better now.”

google search results for "back to work"

Just try googling “leave of absence from work.”

It’s okay to not be okay. 

In 2016, after a sudden, severe allergic reaction to corn at the age of 30, writer and therapist Kate Aldridge went into anaphylactic shock and went to the ER. She reflects on her journey, “I was working 50+ hours a week and had to go on FMLA. I quit my job because of malnutrition due to not knowing what I could eat. That’s when I transitioned to a private therapy practice and slowly grew a caseload to accommodate my medical condition.” 

“Once I accepted the fact that I wasn’t okay, that was the first step in turning the corner.” 

Kate used the time off to sleep, recover, and plan the next stage of her career. That’s also when she began to develop her creative writing business. Writing gave her an opportunity to process her situation and ask questions. Now, it’s part of her business and her first manuscript is being published this November. As Kate builds a new chapter of her career, she says what she wished she’d known: “It’s okay to freak out. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to feel the things you’re feeling. Give yourself time to process.”  

Be open to change. 

For London-based designer and educator Silvia Grimaldi, both of her leaves from work were planned as she grew her family. She took twelve months off with her first child and nine with her second. Of her first, she recalls, “I was always a lecturer, but before my leave I was teaching in a university outside of London and commuting. That was no longer practical. I desperately needed to return to work to avoid bankruptcy. It dawned on me how expensive childcare was going to be, which spurred me to apply for a role as course leader at my current university. I didn’t think I was qualified, but I got it! I returned to a more senior role and earned substantially more.”

“Put value in things that are valuable for your career and the direction you want to go in. Everything else can take a backseat.”

When she transitioned back to work, she changed how she uses her time as well. Incentivized to get her work done to spend more time with family, she says she became better at saying no as well as being strategic about what she takes on: “Culture needs to embrace the idea that women also deserve a career and we’re not just there to do tasks that others find annoying — we’re there to actually grow our own careers.”

Find fulfillment beyond work. 

Another individual who planned time off was Jojo Giltsoff, a former theater producer who moved from Bristol, England, to Brooklyn after her husband agreed to relocate for work. For Jojo, meeting people in New York who didn’t know her meant she wasn’t defined by her past work. Now she employs her experience and skills of collaboration and organizing in her role as Product Manager at Oak Studios

Black and white image of woman looking into camera.

Image courtesy of JoJo Giltsoff.

Back to work, but no longer consumed by it, Jojo reflects, “I’d wanted to work in theater since I was a kid, but it wasn’t fulfilling me as I’d hoped — it took over my life and didn’t pay well. Re-entering work in tech gave me perspective that my self-worth wasn’t tied to a job. Having time off without my work identity allowed to integrate my non-work identity too.” 

Insights for a Successful Transition Back

1. Find support within your community.

Designer & illustrator Darren Booth didn’t feel comfortable sharing his health issues online, but knew several friends in similar situations. He spoke with them one-on-one, which helped normalize his experience: “Once I accepted the fact that I wasn’t okay, that was the first step in turning the corner.” 

2. Create a plan that works for you.

Writer and therapist Kate Aldridge knew she wouldn’t be able to return to her demanding, full-time job after recovering from allergy-related medical issues, “I wasn’t ready to be fully in private practice, but also knew I couldn’t have a regular 40-hour-per-week job.” So she forged a new path. She applied for her license to practice independently and balances that work with her growing creative writing consultancy. 

3. Identify your priorities.

Designer and educator Silvia Grimaldi found clarity on what mattered when returning to work after maternity leave: “Put value in things that are valuable for your career and the direction you want to go in. Everything else can take a backseat.”

4. Phase back in slowly (if possible).

Product manager Jojo Giltsoff did a trial run with Oak Studios and went into it ready to learn. After the two-week contract wrapped, it was clear it was a good fit for everyone and that gave her confidence to really invest in the role. She says, “It was a big, scary leap for me and it felt like I had less pressure to ease in.”

Whatever the reason we take time off, getting back to work requires flexibility, openness, and patience as we move forward into a new season of our careers that may look similar or altogether different. But for many of us, transition will require letting go of our expectations, as Jojo put it: “It was a process of grieving. I don’t know where I’m going to be in ten years and I think that’s great. If I’m still enjoying things and loving what I’m doing, that’s success.” With every transition, we have the opportunity to care for ourselves, reprioritize what matters, recognize opportunities, and even refine our definition of success. 

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/305JztQ

The Rise of the Typographic Flash Card in the Age of Binge-Worthy TV

The Rise of the Typographic Flash Card in the Age of Binge-Worthy TV

When HBO’s Girls first aired in the Spring of 2015, it started with a bang. Forget the drawn-out title sequences of True Detective or Mad Men, or the epic snaking interlude that opens Game of Thrones. Whenever Girls came on, one title card briefly flashed on screen to set the show’s tone. Bold sans, uppercase letters, and a different color combination each time, these cards would appear as if emphasizing a punchline. They were the cherry on top of an opening scene, standing in for an ironic eye roll or a supportive high five. And when it first appeared, this title flash seemed perfectly designed for an audience raring to binge.

2015 was the year when we were all losing sleep over season three of House of Cards, which, to the shock of TV critics in 2013, had created a ripple effect when it released its seasons in single, streamable chunks. It was the year of countless articles charting the rise of binge-watching in light of on-demand services. 30 or 60 minutes were no longer enough to satiate a viewer’s appetite: If you didn’t have to wait a week, how could you resist watching another episode after that tantalizing cliffhanger? And Girls, although it initially rolled out in staggered air dates, seemed to understand its future as a binge-prone favorite. Its flashy, quick-paced title card allowed viewers to roll seamlessly from episode to episode without the annoying interruption of a lengthy title sequence. And it did so two years before Netflix even introduced its now-essential “skip intro” button.

Blue text on black background

The title card of the HBO show ‘Girls’.

Today, the quick beat of a flash card is a formula that many shows are adopting, from the moody title cards of The Handmaid’s Tale to the punchy, pastel-colored opener of Shrill. There have been title cards in the past, of course, but these new openings have a specific function in the age of streaming.

In the heyday of network television, when you’d wait a week for the next episode of a show, theme music became vital for establishing a sense of brand: think The Simpsons, Friends, or the hooky bass of Seinfeld. But now, when many shows seek to avoid breaking from the rhythm of a viewer’s binge, their approach to the typeface (and overall branding) of a card is increasingly the thing that viewers remember. This is true of the alluring uppercase font of Killing Eve, as well as the Slavic stamp of Russian Doll. While some shows (especially those steeped in fantasy genre, like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or Jessica Jones) do still opt for world-building openings to lull viewers into a particular mood, the flash card is becoming the best way to communicate a show’s brand both concisely and memorably for many directors.

“I never wanted a title sequence,” says Joe Swanberg, the director, writer, and producer of Netflix’s comedy-drama anthology series Easy. “They always get boring during binge watching, or skipped, so it didn’t seem worth the effort.” Instead, Swanberg commissioned individual title cards from different Chicago-based artists; the concept reflects the show’s own structure, where each episode focuses on a different set of (overlapping) people living in the city.

Illustration for Easy

Joe Swanberg, creator of the Netflix hit ‘Easy,’ commissions local Chicago artists for title card illustrations.

Cartoonist Jeffrey Brown suitably designed the card for the episodes centered on a male comic artist; illustrator Clay Hickson’s trippy tiki-bar scenery sets the tone for another about a couple navigating their first threesome. “The approach meant that each episode had a fun little surprise, and often the card made more sense after viewing the entire episode, so they were fun to return to,” says Swanberg. Switching up card design for each episode is a memorable way to keep viewers on their toes. Mike Perry’s pulsating animations for Broad City are another example of this technique for openings. 

Indeed for many TV shows, the quick flash of a title card isn’t limiting the potential for surprise or audience intrigue. For those that binge-watched the first two seasons of the BBC’s spy-thriller Killing Eve, its titles became a game. Every six-second burst pans slightly forward, and its bold typeface and background switch their colors with each episode. Finally, a little droplet oozes like a prick of blood from one of the points created by the letterform’s negative space, either from the logo’s K, N, or V. Viewers began to play “guess where the drip will appear” during the opening of each episode.

 

“The main title features an aggressive, bold bit of type — deliberately so — and I liked how the color combinations softened that a little, or contrasted it,” says the card’s designer Matt Willey, an art director known for striking type treatments who’s currently at the New York Times Magazine. The designer drew the type from scratch, and aptly named it Killing Eve: the font is used not just for the title, but also other on-screen graphics as well as the show’s marketing. This design direction emerged when Willey first read the scripts from season one. “They were full of added information about how each scene should look or feel, with descriptions like ‘slight laugh,’ or ‘blushing,’ or ‘wryly,’ in parenthesis through certain parts of the dialogue,” he says. The contrast between a violent action from the protagonist and then her mischievous laugh informed the idea of visual tension—culminating in a title card that combines a brutally-sharp font with pastel colors. “I started sketching the sharp V because of the eye-stabbing scene that takes place in the first episode,” adds Willey.

When the skip button was first introduced by Netflix in 2017, there was panic in the title design industry. “It was initially seen as a real punch,” says Lola Landekic, editor of motion design publication Art of the Title, which is dedicated to title sequence design across film, television, and video games. “But it’s a tool that was introduced because people were complaining that they were too long, especially when watching four or five episodes in a row. So it was a necessary UX addition.” What she’s found in the years since its implementation, however, is that the demand for sequences has remained. The variety of approaches has simply increased, reflecting the variety of shows in what’s so often referred to as a new “golden age” of television. “Removing them would be like reading a book without a book cover,” says Landekic. “I don’t see them disappearing any time soon.”

Colorful illustration

Each episode of Broad City boasts a different Mike Perry illustration for a title card.

Title sequences have adapted to how viewers are now watching TV, either by shortening the opening to a brief flash card or by rearranging when sequences appear. 2016’s Glow found a happy medium, both developing a lengthy title sequence while still making sure its bingers happily cruised through the show uninterrupted. Its first episode featured an extended animation of fantastic, neon-outlined figures that popped against a black background like lipstick-colored glow-sticks. But you only see the title sequence at the start of episode one. Subsequent episodes feature a brief title flash of the show’s brightly-outlined logo. In Glow’s case, the initial sequence is like a book cover, and the logo flashes feature as chapter headings punctuating and guiding the narrative. 

The way in which flash cards drop has become increasingly integral to the pacing of a program, too. “I like how some shows often now place a title card within the milieu of the first scene, or you’ll get these very quick title hits,” says Landekic. Sex Education, Workin’ Moms, and Russian Doll (to name a few) do this: A title is worked into the scene very quickly, sometimes placed within its elements. “Part of this trend in quick flashes could be to do with budget, too,” notes Ladekic. “Either way, with this approach, you don’t know how the title is going to appear, which is a fun experience as a viewer. So you’ll get really intense, full screen typography at the end of a joke or scene that establishes the tone.”

And the typeface — forming a show’s logo — becomes increasingly important in a time where viewers are looking for shows on web interfaces filled with tiny thumbnails of scenes, all vying for your attention. If a viewer knows the logo of a show, they’ll be able to find it quickly amidst the mix of programs, making the quick hit of a flash card all the more vital to establishing brand. Think of how effective the logo of Stranger Things has been in this regard. “Scrolling through Netflix can feel a lot like scrolling through Pinterest,” says Landekic. “The content of each image is chosen based on your viewing habits, but then the logotype placed over the image is the constant.” In contrast to the annoyance of the auto-play, repelling viewers with unexpected sound snippets while they’re browsing a streaming site’s homepage, typography — established by the brief flash of an opening — offers an effective guiding star amongst all the noise.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/31qn2EN

Bookkeeping 101: How Organized Freelancers Manage Their Finances

Bookkeeping 101: How Organized Freelancers Manage Their Finances

Here’s the thing about being self-employed: a boatload of administrative tasks come with the territory that have absolutely nothing to do with your actual craft. And among those tasks, it’s safe to say that managing your finances is the most daunting — and annoying, and time-consuming. But keeping detailed books is also among the most important. 

Why? It’s two-fold: Obviously, it’s important to understand how much money is coming in versus how much you’re spending — a crucial part of doing business. But more importantly, tracking your expenses well can actually help you bring home more money at the end of the year and be of immense importance in the event of an audit. 

“Tracking your expenses is the number one rule of freelancing because you only pay taxes on your profit,” explains Russell Garofalo, founder of Brass Taxes, an accounting firm that specializes in tax help for freelancers and artists. “So to be clear, it doesn’t matter how much you were paid, it matters how much is left over after expenses. And when people keep good records of expenses, they have higher expenses, making their profits lower.”

Keeping detailed records is important in case you were ever to be audited, as well. “Getting audited is the government saying ‘show me how you got these numbers,’” explains Garofalo. “To do that, you need to show what, specifically, the expenses were for. So a statement showing you paid $140 at a store isn’t enough detail, but if you can show it was for a digital camera for work as a graphic designer, you now have a valid business expense.”  

Understood. But…how? We asked a handful of real people — not experts, not econ majors, not accountants — who have developed successful systems to stay on top of their finances to explain their ways. 

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Who: Grazina Snipas, Creative Director
How: Google Suite and Regular Upkeep

“I’m a little old-school and keep track of work and invoices manually. I’ve tried apps and online tools but I found that there was too much linking out to other accounts and systems so it was easier for me to just keep track myself. I use Google Suite so I have quick and easy access to documents, and I stay organized by using spreadsheets and folders. I think the most important thing is staying on top of tracking every couple of days if not daily — it’s a good habit to get into and it only takes a couple of minutes each day. When tax time comes I just send my spreadsheets to my accountant and he does the hard part!” 

Who: Stephy Miehle, Creative Director/Co-owner, North X South
How: Wave Accounting and Gmail Labeling

“I’ve switched from system to system (FreshBooks, Hiveage, AND.CO) but ultimately settled on Wave for bookkeeping, invoices, and nicely-organized expenses. I already have labels in my business Gmail account that I use to tag receipts in case of an audit, but managing multiple inboxes means that receipts can sometimes end up in the wrong place. Wave’s online version gives me peace of mind and also accounts for the odd paper receipt with an app. I’m much better about tracking my expenses these days now that I have a better workflow; I reconcile expenses as they arrive. When it’s time to do my taxes, a fully-categorized report is just a click away — much faster and more organized than my old method of checking spreadsheets and email labels.”

Who: Toby Reiter, Freelance Digital Content Producer + Voice-Over Talent
How: Excel and a Specialized Accountant

“I don’t do anything fancy — no special apps on my phone, no special small business accounting software. However, I am VERY meticulous about record-keeping and maintain a running Excel spreadsheet that I not only keep for me, but also for my accountant. In one tab, I track all the movement in my business bank account, which includes notes about payments/transfers and a running account balance, like a checkbook register. In another tab, I track all my main business expenses (supplies, bills, recurring monthly charges), which is also helpful for my accountants so they know what to safely write off at tax time. Most importantly, though…I have an accountant I trust who specializes in working with freelancers/consultants, who keeps up on all the various rules and regulations that shift with ever-changing tax laws.”

Who: Scott Alden, co-founder at Alden Wolf
How: Freshbooks

“We’ve experimented a bit at our small creative firm but haven’t found anything we like better than good ol’ FreshBooks. It links right to our bank account for easy expense tracking and we’re able to generate invoices and see revenue/spend all in the same place.” 

Who: Matthew Potter, Graphic Designer
How: And.Co, Quickbooks, and Adobe Sign

“I predominantly use AND.CO for all of my invoicing and time-tracking for client projects. The app was free back when I first started freelancing full-time, but when they made the move to a paid subscription, limiting the number of clients you could have with the free version, I liked the app so much I stuck with it and paid up. It’s so easy to use. The interface is clean and uncomplicated, and it’s both mobile- and desktop-friendly. Another thing I love about AND.CO is that it lets my clients pay their bills via the invoices (either as an ACH or Credit Card payment — it integrates with Stripe, so I can look back over a client’s history to confirm I’ve received a payment.

I tend to use TurboTax each year to do my taxes, so I also use Quickbooks Self-Employed to do my mileage tracking. I used to use DocuSign for contracts, but they upped their prices, and I just didn’t feel like I was getting enough value for what they’re offering, so I switched to Adobe Sign which is perfect because it comes with my Creative Cloud account.”

Who: Andrea Napierkowski, UX Designer and Project Manager, owner of CurlyHost.com
How: Wave Accounting

“I’ve been using Wave for my bookkeeping for the last four years. I love that it’s free, for one, and also that it separates my business and personal accounts. Not everything is kept as neatly as I’d like, so it’s great that I can change a purchase made on my business credit card for groceries over to my personal account. I can send out invoices, get paid through a variety of avenues, and keep track of everyone I’ve ever had as a client to quickly make a new invoice on the go. I know that there are a lot of options out there but Wave continues to innovate and change their platform to meet my needs as a freelancer. The app’s end-of-year reporting has been a godsend — I can just send the report to my accountant and everything is already organized and sorted into the needed categories.”

Our Takeaways: 

  • Decide what your priorities are: Invoicing? Taking credit card payments? Managing personal and business expenses? Hourly billing? Look for apps that optimize the features you need most.
  • Experiment. Most of the people we spoke with tried a few different methods before landing on what worked for them. It’s ok to abandon a process that’s not working for you. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ditch the tech. If a spreadsheet does it for you, great! No need to unnecessarily complicate things with an app or piece of software if you prefer low-tech. 
  • Stay on top of it. Build bookkeeping into your schedule to keep it from becoming a source of dread. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all bookkeeping solution — the goal is to find something that works for you. Because once you do, it’s game changing. “You’ll feel so on top of it,” says Miehle. “Bookkeeping is no longer that scary, stressful, time-sink.” 

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/2NVk8E3

Maximize Your Next Big Career Move with this Tool

Maximize Your Next Big Career Move with this Tool

As a professional, you have a perception of yourself that you want to project when speaking with potential employers, bosses, and colleagues. But what if the persona you think you are projecting isn’t what others see? What if you have blind spots? (Spoiler: you do.) What if the skills, talents, and interests that make you you aren’t coming across to others? And what if all of these things are holding you back, causing you to feel stuck, or becoming an obstacle to your success? Don’t fall into the trap of the old expression: “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” When it comes to your career, what you don’t know could negatively impact your progress—and what others don’t yet know about you could limit future opportunities. That’s where the Johari Window can help. 

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A tool for discovery and greater self-awareness 

Created by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham more than 60 years ago, the Johari Window was developed as a tool for self-discovery in group and professional settings during their research on group dynamics at the University of California, Los Angeles. Naming the technique after themselves, (“Johari” comes from combining Joseph and Harrington), the pair went on to publish their research in the Proceedings of the Western Training Laboratory in Group Development by UCLA Extension Office in 1955. The Johari Window became widely used to promote self-awareness and personal development and to better understand group dynamics, team development, and interpersonal/intergroup relationships. 

A grid of colorful squares labeled 'open', 'blind spot', 'unknown', and 'hidden'

A representation of Johari Window quadrants. (Graphic by Mark Brooks.)

The Johari Window consists of four quadrants, sometimes called windows or selves, which include: 

Open: What is known to you and others.

Blind: What is known to others, but not you (your blind spots).

Hidden: What is known to you, but not to others. It’s sometimes referred to as your façade because that’s how you present yourself and can include what you hide—intentionally or unintentionally—from others. 

Unknown: What neither you nor others know, sometimes due to lack of cognitive awareness.  

Each quadrant embodies your thoughts, feelings, motivations, and personal information as well as experience, skills, interests, and talents. Among groups and teams, working through each quadrant to uncover discrepancies in perception can be a useful framework to establish trust and rapport. However, the Johari Window is not only a powerful tool when used with teams. It also serves as a dynamic framework for self-discovery.  

Put the Johari Window to work for you

A big career move includes many steps. The first? Awareness. Perhaps you’re preparing to make a transition like asking for a promotion, applying to your dream company, starting a new business, or switching fields. Still a relevant tool for today more than 60 years after its development, the Johari Window can offer insight into how you think you are presenting, how others see you, and, most importantly, the gaps between the two. 

Have you ever hesitated to accept a compliment because you were unaware of what the other person acknowledged in you, only to realize later that they saw a strength or talent you might dismiss? Have you ever resisted feedback from others, but subsequently agreed the feedback was insightful and useful? Have you ever been passed over for an opportunity you knew you were qualified for because the other party wasn’t aware of your skills? Gaps between our self-perception and how we are perceived are common, but the Johari Window can help you close those gaps.

When preparing for your next big career move, or even trying to maximize success within your current role, put the Johari Window to work to maximize your potential for success by closing the gaps of perception and presenting your full professional self. Here’s how you can apply it:

 

1. Identify your blind spots (Blind Quadrant). What do others know about you that you don’t know? There might be blind spots in the way of opportunities or there might be opportunities that already exist that you’re not aware of. Identifying your blind spots is more than knowing what your weaknesses (or areas of growth, as I like to call them) are; it’s also about learning what strengths, skills, and talents others see in you that you may be dismissing so you can be more open to opportunities. 

Take action: start by asking. Identify three people you trust who have known you for at least six months in a professional capacity. Reach out to them to request their insights about areas of growth and skills/strengths you may have overlooked. Potential questions to ask: What do you see as my unique contributions? What do you appreciate about me as a professional? What makes me stand out? Which areas do you see me struggle in? Are there areas I could grow in? 

 

2. Share your talents, skills, and interests (Hidden Quadrant). How often do we assume others know something about us when they don’t? Are you really communicating what you can bring to your work? Think about talents, skills, experience, education, and interests that enrich your work. How do you communicate these, or do you?  

Take action: start by telling. Write an exhaustive list of your training, experience, talents, skills, and interests. Reflect on your professional messaging, or how you portray yourself in conversations. Now make an inventory of professional collateral like your website, portfolio, résumé, etc. Jot down notes where there are discrepancies between what you think you communicate and what you actually do. 

 

3. Notice gaps between how you present and how you’re perceived. Once you receive feedback from the three people you reached out to in step 1, above, you’re ready to tackle this step to identify gaps you want to close, as well as what information about your professional contribution is most vital to communicate. This can help you realize how you can take a more integrated approach to how you talk about yourself and conduct yourself professionally that is more representative of you.

Take action: start by assessing. Read through the feedback. What does it bring up for you? Are there any changes you want to make to represent yourself more clearly? Or are there areas of growth you want to focus on improving? Make a list and keep it handy. You’ll make a plan for action in the next step. 

 

4. Implement practical steps to integrate your full professional self. Now it’s time to take action. With greater self-awareness, you can better understand how you want to grow and how to best present your full professional self to others.

Take action: start by aligning. Look over your list from step 3. Brainstorm action steps to address each item on the list and write down when you’ll take the action. For example, if one of your trusted sources of feedback pointed out a skill you possess that isn’t reflected on your website bio or résumé, the action is to integrate that skill into both. Go through your list until you’ve created action steps and a timeline for each change you want to make. Now you’re ready to act! 

 

As you take action to align your full professional self in anticipation of the next step, remember that your next big career move can feel just that: big and daunting. However, tools like the Johari Window can help give you a framework for a more intentional transition. With a greater awareness of how you perceive your skills, talents, and motivations—and how others perceive them—you can close the gap, make a plan for growth, and confidently move forward in your ever-evolving career.  

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/32rVxuC

Freelancers: Stop Feeling Guilty For Not Working!

Freelancers: Stop Feeling Guilty For Not Working!

When was your last vacation? When was your last weekday off? And did you actually allow yourself to enjoy that time away from your desk?

If you’re self-employed, chances are you’ve struggled with letting yourself take time off. It’s understandable! Time is money, after all, and when your income depends on having clients, it’s hard not to feel like there’s always something to do: if you’re not working on an assignment, you should be hustling for more work. Even when you’re operating at full bandwidth (maybe even above full bandwidth; more on that below), the pressure to “keep up” with industry news, opportunities, and your peers is real—and so is guilt of taking time off.

That guilt really has two sources. First, there’s the sense of doom that always seems to sneak into the back of any freelancer’s mind: “This could all be over at any minute!” Second, there’s the idea that just because you can be working, you should be working—a notion that’s especially prevalent in our always-on society. 

But the same guilt that’s preventing you from backing away from the computer is  also likely preventing you from doing your best work.

“You’re like a cell phone that needs to get charged up,” explains Julie Morgenstern, productivity expert and New York Times best-selling author. “That’s what time off is for. It’s in the interest of your business to rest. It’ll make you a much better, more creative, smarter freelancer.”

With that said, let’s unpack some ways to re-think where this nagging, problematic feeling comes from—and how to avoid it.

 ***

Re-Frame The Idea Of ‘Time Off’

Morgenstern’s suggestion of reframing time off is incredibly powerful. So many independent workers see time off as a personal comfort of sorts—as a “gift” you give yourself at the detriment of your business and your bank account. But that’s just not true. “Don’t think of taking time off as choosing between yourself and your work,” Morgenstern reinforces. “Rather, it’s your responsibility to your business—to your clients—to take time off. You need to recharge to be successful in your work.”

Consider this: Research has proven that productivity falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and that time spent working past 55 hours per week is essentially useless, to the point that there’s no difference in output between a 70-hour work week and a 55-hour one. And it’s not just about productivity. Regularly pulling ten-plus hour days has been shown to increase your risk of cardiovascular issues, cause relationship problems, and can mess with your hormones (more work = more stress = higher cortisol rate, which can cause a whole host of issues with your sleep schedule, immune system, and more).

There’s a Reason Companies Provide PTO

“Taking vacations away from work means you come back rejuvenated, relaxed, and ready to take on anything coming your way,” explains Courtney Glashow, LCSW and psychotherapist at Anchor Therapy in Hoboken, NJ. “That’s why most companies give their workers paid time off and sick time off—they want you to take a break from work and come back as your best self.”

“Knowing you’ve planned for time off can help ease the mental anguish of unplugging for chunks of time.”

As a self-employed worker, the idea of giving yourself PTO can be a tough pill to swallow. But Glashow has a helpful strategy: figure out your target annual income, and decide on how much vacation time you’d like per year. Divide your annual target income by the balance of weeks in the year after your ideal vacation time. “I try to really take off six weeks over a calendar year,” she explains. “So when I calculate the money I want to make in a year, I’m counting the year as having 46 weeks.” Knowing you’ve planned for time off can help ease the mental anguish of unplugging for chunks of time. 

Treat Your Work Like a Job, Even If You Love What You Do

Freelancers, especially creatives, often derive much of their personal identity from their work. So there’s not only a sense of guilt that comes from not working around the clock, but sometimes a crisis of self as well.

“This is a common mindset for freelancers, but not a healthy one,” explains Glashow. “Usually, as an entrepreneur, you’re a naturally hard worker and most likely love what you do, so it could feel like working outside of ‘work hours’ is not like work at all. But everyone needs work-life balance.”

“When you’re a freelancer, there’s no one telling you when you’re working too much. You need to realize it for yourself and set your own boundaries.”

On a similar note, it’s important to recognize the difference between self-doubt and feeling guilty for not working “enough.”  “Anyone can get down on themselves and feel like they’re not being the best worker. But for freelancers, this feeling can manifest as a sense of guilt if it comes across as feeling like you’re not doing enough. “This self-doubt could feel more like guilt in which you push yourself to want to do more,” explains Glashow. “When you’re a freelancer, there’s no one telling you when you’re working too much. You need to realize it for yourself and set your own boundaries.”

To combat this, look at your work patterns and how you’re getting stuff done. Are you just in a rough patch or are you truly not managing your time well?

Make Your Work Day Work For You

Relatedly, many of these guilty feelings stem from feeling unproductive because you haven’t properly managed your time. If that sounds familiar, try rethinking your idea of time management. “I define time management as managing your energy and brain power for peak performance in everything you do,” explains Morgenstern. “The best time managers are super tuned into their energy cycles: how long they can concentrate before they glaze over, what times of day they’re best at certain tasks, that sort of thing.”

“Your value is not in the number of hours you’re willing to work, it’s in the quality of the work you create.”

For example, you might know that if you sit down to write, anything over two hours is a waste of time because you’ll lose focus, and that writing first thing in the morning is when the words flow most easily. Or maybe you know that you need to start your day with a barrage of menial but necessary tasks while you listen to the news and run some errands before sitting down to create in the afternoon. If your natural sense of productivity doesn’t align with a traditional 9-5 work day, so be it. “That’s why you became a freelancer in the first place!” reminds Morgenstern. No need to feel bad that you’re not working the standard eight to nine hours a day. “Remember: your value is not in the number of hours you’re willing to work, it’s in the quality of the work you create. That’s what’s going to keep you in business.” 

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/31YxnYt

How to Turn a Creative Spark Into Something Real

How to Turn a Creative Spark Into Something Real

Inspiration can be slippery it’s hard to predict when it will arrive and from where. So when creativity does strike, you want to be ready for it. Part of the artistic process is figuring out a way to turn these mercurial moments into something solid and real. 

Here, successful designers, artists, and writers share their strategies for catching inspiration and building on it, so that an initial spark evolves from an idea into a project or, just as often, a series of creative endeavors. 

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1. Pay attention.

It sounds obvious, but it’s one of the most important tenets of continuous output. Inspiration is all around if you know how to look. Start by cultivating a state of mind “where you remain open to ideas from unexpected places,” says Adobe’s Kyle T. Webster, an illustrator who has drawn for The New Yorker, TIME, and The New York Times. The key is to keep one’s eyes open, process stimuli as they come at you, and then shape it into something original.

Webster has trained himself to continuously pay attention even on vacation. During a recent trip to the beach with his family, he stepped on a jagged seashell and cut his foot. It hurt, but also led to a new idea for a children’s book about pain and “all the ways kids hurt themselves when they are very young,” an age where the world is large, overwhelming, and full of “ouch” moments.

2. Write it down.

When inspiration does strike, write it down write it down write it down. The act of recording bridges the gap between the stream-of-conscious chaos that can generate creative ideas and the structure required to turn them into something real. 

“Keep a sketchbook,” says Kelli Anderson, a designer. “Your good ideas aren’t going to come on a schedule,” so make sure you’re prepared to capture them at all times. That way the next time you need a spark, either for your own project or for client work, you’ll have a trove of ideas to sift through. 

It’s the act of recording that’s important here a sketchbook might work for you, it might be more convenient to take notes on your computer or phone, or dictate them on an audio device. Whatever the medium, just make sure it’s accessible and on you, always. 

3. Put a stake in the ground.

Once you have an idea you want to develop, it can help to make the pursuit public, particularly if the project lacks clear-cut deadlines. Emily Spivack is an artist, author, and journalist. Nearly a decade ago, she decided to write a book. Knowing the logistics were going to be complicated, time-consuming, and, at times, discouraging, she started a website announcing her intent to become an author. “That was me putting a stake in the ground,” Spivack says, along with a platform that encouraged forward momentum. While the website was more for herself than anyone else, making her progress public prompted her to take the project more seriously and hold herself accountable. 

4. Create boundaries.

Many creative projects come with built-in deadlines and parameters, particularly if they are for a client. Sometimes onerous, under the right circumstances these constraints can be a boon for creativity: boundaries give you something to work within and against. 

I enjoy a deadline,” says Stevie Remsberg, which is lucky because, as the art production director at New York Magazine, she gets a lot of them. Remsberg also thrives on thinking her way out of boxes: “I think my favorite type of creative work is being confined in what I am allowed to do.” Restrictions, such as having to work in black-and-white or using obscure photographs, can produce unexpected and compelling results. “I love a challenge,” she says.

For personal projects, Remsberg often creates her own boundaries. Recently, she began teaching herself motion graphics in Adobe After Effects. Knowing a blank screen is a recipe for inertia, she gave herself a clear-cut goal animate a spirograph drawing with built-in deadlines.

5. Ask for feedback.

Creativity is often portrayed as a solitary endeavor, in which an artist’s singular vision is the key to a work’s success. But creativity also thrives on collaboration. A sounding board can help you refine your vision, making the end product stronger. 

“Explaining what I’m doing to another human being” is part of Anderson’s process. Typically she tries to boil down the concept into a seven-sentence explanation so she can share it and then gauge people’s reactions. 

Remsberg also relies on feedback to inform how she approaches an assignment. In the beginning, she likes to jump in and move quickly. Early on, she’ll share the initial concept with a coworker. At this point in her career, Remsberg is “able to deal with the criticism.” In the end, negative reactions save her time, allowing her to recalibrate early and often rather than blazing off down a road that leads to a dead end. 

6. Map it out.

Waiting for a creative idea to hit can be like watching a pot boil. But while the initial creative spark might be difficult to add to your calendar, once the project is established, a schedule is your friend.

When Anderson embarks on something new, whether it’s for a client or a self-directed project, she sets a final deadline, and then breaks down the project into stages. “I draw it out visually,” she says, sketching out each phase in proportion to how long it should take. Next, she maps the visual sketch onto an actual calendar, translating periods of time into numerical blocks. Even the best laid plans can go awry, however. “The schedule is just a suggestion,” Anderson says, one she regularly refines. “If you are indulgent and you spend too much time on one part you can oftentimes make it up later at another stage.” 

7. Go down rabbit holes.

Creativity is fueled by curiosity and passion. So follow your interests and before starting something of your own, make sure the idea still genuinely excites you. 

Every month or so, Webster pores over the notes he’s made over the past few weeks to see whether he’s stumbled on anything worth pursuing. Most ideas, while intriguing in the moment, have grown stale. “My hit percentage is low,” he says. But a few still light a spark. These are the ones he invests time into a sense of excitement is a requisite for pursuing something beyond the idea stage. 

Spivack’s work has always been centered around obsessive interests. “Something will strike me, I’ll want to learn more about it, and I’ll go down a rabbit hole,” she says. As she digs deeper, one project often organically leads to the next. Sentimental Value, a collection of stories about vintage and second-hand clothing, began in 2007 when Spivack stumbled on a Playboy Bunny outfit while shopping for shoes on eBay. In addition to vintage high heels, a puff-ball tail, ears, and stockings, the costume came with a black-and-white ID of the woman to whom it once belonged. In contrast to the playful, suggestive outfit, she struck Spivack as understated and serious. 

“There was something in that moment that clicked for me,” Spivack says. What started as a hunt for shoes bloomed into the realization that every listed garment had a history. “What,” she wondered, “are the stories behind all the stuff that is being sold off?” The project began as an online library of people’s stories about the clothes they were selling, and evolved into a collection of the physical items themselves.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/2Mpbbmx

Design Debate: In the Age of Social Media Self-Promotion, Do Creatives Still Need Personal Websites?

Design Debate: In the Age of Social Media Self-Promotion, Do Creatives Still Need Personal Websites?

All creatives need a personal website: for many years, this has been considered a guiding maxim. What better way to flash your skills and previous projects than a custom design with your very own domain name? And what simpler way to connect with prospective clients than a clearly marked “Contact Me” page with a mailto hyperlink?

But with art directors and managers now trawling through social media streams for inspiration—and often finding collaborators along the way—a personal website may no longer be the best way for getting your name out there. A personal website takes substantial time to create and update, whereas social networks can quickly communicate what you’re about (and without the added burden of service fees). So, one might ask: is a self-designed online portfolio still required or relevant? We speak with designers working in different areas of the industry to explore how the function of a personal website has shifted in the age of social networking.

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“It’s not just work that attracts new clients but your personality. Social media communicates both what you do and how you do it”

—Amanda-Li Kollberg and Siri Lee Lindskrog, co-founders of Studio jetzt-immer 

Social media has become a natural extension of in-person networks, and for us, it’s been very effective for getting clients. 

People we met at some birthday party ten years ago, or people we went to high school with, follow what we’re doing because we post our work on our personal Facebook pages. And then some of these people we thought we’d never talk to again end up in positions to hire designers and they reach out to us. When you post your work online, you remind people of your existence and what you do. If they happen to be looking for a designer, they might remember having connected with our work, prompting them to reach out.

“On Instagram, we don’t just upload our final work but also behind-the-scenes glimpses of our process.”

Social media has the added potential of highlighting not just what you do but how you do it. On Instagram, we don’t just upload our final work but also behind-the-scenes glimpses of our process. Our stories show us traveling to teach workshops and printing posters, for example; they have a huge role in communicating who we are as people and how we work. We think that’s really important because a design team doesn’t necessarily get chosen by a client only when they have the best work. Often it’s because they’re nice people to work with. A client is going to think about what kind of people they want to spend time with if they have to be around them for eight hours a day. Instagram shows the human side of a studio.

Instagram stories of Studio Jetzt-immer

Behind-the-scenes look at Berlin-based work of Studio jetzt-immer.

We’ve definitely had clients who have followed us closely on social and understood our personality before hiring us. A school in Denmark recently got in contact with us regarding a project and said, “you have the perfect personality for this.” It was putting on an event with typography and animation but also a performance and dance. We were like, “Dance? How did they know that Siri is a dancer?” It’s because they follow our Instagram, of course.

When we graduated years ago, there was so much emphasis on creating your studio website. But now, when we ask people how they found us, it’s always via another channel. Websites have become a second step: First, you have the personal connection, then the website legitimizes you. But in a time that’s so personality-driven, we can imagine that the generation below us—who are growing up only on those mediums—won’t need a website any more.

“You have freedom and control with your website. It stands out far more than a 3 x 3 grid of expandable pictures”

—Ben Wegscheider, creative director and founder of Bureau Cool 

On social platforms, everything is very unified and uniform: grids make all content appear similar, which doesn’t necessarily showcase your work in the best and most effective way. 

A website, on the other hand, is your portfolio, and the portfolio’s design can be just as much a part of the portfolio as the rest of the content. It can set the tone for your work and it shows your direction—and if you’re a web designer, it can show off your abilities, too. A lot of my clients will reference my site when they approach me; they’ll mention that it’s how they picked up on my name. They remember it as it sticks out a bit more than others. I designed it to communicate the atmosphere of my studio, and I think of it as a sculpture—as a world that encapsulates Bureau Cool’s tone and energy.

You ultimately don’t have control over your own content and work [on social media], and could potentially even lose ownership.

You limit yourself if you don’t have a website, because every social or portfolio platform has its limitations. On Instagram, for instance, nobody writes long descriptions of work. People don’t read on Instagram, they just look at things. With a personal website, you have your own space so you can work out how to put all of your content together and display it in the most suitable way. You’re not confined to small image sizes. And if you’re only visible on social media, what happens if they change their algorithm or the design of the content’s presentation? You ultimately don’t have control over your own content and work, and could potentially even lose ownership. 

Work by design studio Bureau Cool

Web design work by digital creative studio Bureau Cool.

If designers only consider how their work is going to be presented in a grid because of the layout of social media platforms, then that’s also having a homogenizing effect on design itself. I’ve noticed that a lot of design is starting to look so similar on these platforms—there’s a lack of design that breaks from the rules, or experiments with new treatments, because people are designing for the grid and the “like” button. The blank canvas of a website pushes you to do more; it gives you the space to play in a very flexible way.

“Illustrations tend to live well on social media. But for more complex design projects, personal websites might be better.”

Tala Safié, art director at The New York Times 

I’m both an art director and a freelance graphic designer. And so for me, social media—especially Instagram—has a very different function depending on which hat I’m wearing. 

As an art director, Instagram has become integral for finding new people to work with. Illustrators sometimes find and follow me there: they know I’m an art director because other illustrators that I work with tag me when they upload a new piece. If I like their work, I’ll often follow them back. Or I’ll use the save tool so that I can find them again later. 

Instagram makes sense for illustrators. I have a giant Google Doc where I put all the names of people that I come across online along with their website and handle. I’ll go to their website to understand a bit more about how they divide their personal, editorial, and client work. That can be important as I usually want to see how they work with an article and whether they’re good at responding to text. But I find that it’s on Instagram that illustrators post most of their recent work, and increasingly, I’ve noticed that they don’t regularly update their websites. So if I want to get a good idea of how an illustrator currently works, then Instagram is the place to go. 

Instagram gives exposure to illustrators far more than websites. I wouldn’t hesitate to hire someone if they didn’t have a website and it wouldn’t bother me at all. In fact, a couple people on my Google Doc don’t have websites and only use social media. But I don’t think the same idea holds true for a graphic designer. I definitely don’t use Instagram like an illustrator uses it.

“If I want to get a good idea of how an illustrator currently works, then Instagram is the place to go.”

A website is important for graphic designers because it allows them to divide and present their work however they see fit, without being bound to Instagram’s timeline, grid, or image specs. I use Instagram more as an informal blog or diary rather than a portfolio. I’d rather display my work on my website where I have room and freedom to organize my projects and provide more context around them.

My work as a graphic designer doesn’t follow a particular aesthetic; it’s often context-specific and responds to the specificity of a brief. Unlike illustrators, posting images of all of my work doesn’t necessarily increase my chances of getting hired: the diverse nature of the projects I work on doesn’t reflect one distinguished polished aesthetic that is appealing to someone who is quickly scrolling through my Instagram feed. It might appear as inconsistent and a little confusing. 

Ultimately, what platform you choose to showcase yourself on really depends on the nature of your work, how you want to talk about it, and how you want to show the different skill sets that you have.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U https://adobe.ly/2ZOxHIu