I’ve always had a tendency to work maniacally on a project, pouring every ounce of energy into it until the outcome is struck.
This has been truest when it comes to Retinart. If you look through the archives it becomes quite clear that I work productively for a month or two, then lie dormant for several – there’s no real outcome to aim for, so I burn out.
A few weeks ago, as I was retreating to the warmth of my bed, I felt the exhaustion of the day swarming in my shoulders. “Hmmm” I muttered, “I have to stop with the Hard Work and just start working.” It was an odd thing to have flutter through my mind, but it was the closing of the day so I brushed the thought off.
The following days found the notion continually snake through my thoughts. Deciding to explore it further, I realised this was something I’ve always done, happily dedicating great effort to Hard Work.
I thought of it as something like this:
Hard work is a large task worked through until exhaustion, normally starting as a simple project made more complicated than necessary in an effort to justify time spent and prove something. It generally involves a mad rush to the finish line with little exploration or evolution. Like hacking away for hours with a blunt axe, wood is cut but you’re exhausted and the stump is anything but clean.
Working Hard can be deceptive – it looks as if less progress is made as fewer decisions might be acted upon or the output is perceived as being simple. It’s because big steps are broken down into little ones, contemplated and worked through carefully, ensuring each is worth pursuing, casting many aside. The end result is developed as the work is being done, rather than deciding on a very specific end result and then back-filling the blanks. But most of all, no attempt is made to get everything done in an unsustainable manner – only that worth doing is done, as it needs to be done. I’m sure you see where this one is going – it’s like sharpening the blade for an hour before splitting the air and wood in one smooth swing.
Hard Work is Easy
People often get the two confused or consider them interchangeable, resulting in Hard Work being used as a substitute to working hard. Hard Work is easier than working hard. Hard work is the tedium we instill in a project in the hope that something fantastic will appear if we just keep going and going and going and going and going and going, making it more complex to hide a simple nature. It’s easier because it’s a lot of simple or silly ideas executed in the hope that one of them, or a combination of them, will turn into something great. It’s what we think of as the safe road, employing brawn over brain.
It’s a tenet worth being able to notice in oneself. The immature designer will fill their page with as much as they can, hoping to make up for the lack of weight within their idea with an abundance of it in their execution. The experienced designer will know this isn’t how one finds a solution.
It’s one of those traits we refine more and more as we work, doing so naturally as we learn how to better communicate. But what if we were to continually look at how our processes and how we think about our work? What if we continually try to understand in which camp our decisions and choices truly lie – in the camp of Hard Work where the cabins are made of excess and wasted time, grandiose endeavors filled with trinkets and tacky furniture that holds no purpose, or in the neighbouring Camp Working Hard, where only sleeping bags sit on the floor of the earth below a roof of stars?
Three Months of Talking Without
Why content dried up a couple of months ago.
When Retinart was relaunched on the first of July, I had written three months worth of content as a safety net. It was a lot of Hard Work, but having a number to aim for suited me well – I like Hard Work.
Once I launched I decided to spend some time marketing. After all, I had my safety net. Articles would be published and I would talk about them.
But my safety net got smaller and eventually the site began to bleed out, losing colour and strength. Wheezing on, forcing out soft breaths as new content was published fortnightly instead of twice-weekly, then monthly, then… then nothing. For months Retinart lay with death standing over head, just visible in diminished sight. I thought the Hard Work would be of benefit, but in the end it just burnt me out, leaving me with an inability to string a couple of simple words together.
The usual fun that accompanies writing had spun out. Instead of working through the joy, I turned it into a chore and saw my hard work deflate under its own weight.
After a few weeks of soft gasps, I found the strength to write again, a little each day, making it part of a routine.
In a variety of subjects did I drown myself, hoping to once again grip my hand on a joyful word swimming past. After reading and thinking and reading some more I found myself in the middle of a school of the little wonders. Before long I felt compelled to once again catch them before they went off into the mist, so I began to write out of a sheer lustful joy, raising the nets to see what I had caught. I had stopped making the work so hard and everything started to flow. Writing was fun and I was being productive. I was ready to breath life back into the site a word at a time with no number or specific goal in mind.
Writing for the Smashing Magazine Book
Why I didn’t start writing for Retinart, in spite of this energy.
One of the reasons I was happy to take on the challenge of contributing to the second Smashing Magazine book was because of how well I had been doing with writing before hand. I was much quicker, had refined my process and was excited to partner with Matt Ward of EchoEnduring to write the chapter.
I thought of what was at hand and made a catastrophic decision: this was a lot of Hard Work. I put it off for weeks.
I did this to myself – Vitaly and Matt were amazing to work with and never put any pressure on me.As the stench of the deadline grew, I wrote the first three quarters in what I can only remember as a haze. All I did was write. Every morning I would stumble from bed at 5:30 to write for three hours before work, at which morning and lunch breaks allowed me time to write and edit. Once I left the office and arrived home at around 5:30, I would continue to write until 11.
This happened everyday for a month.
I kept this up for the first three quarters of the job, which I sent off hoping to ignore the last quarter as I had run over my word count as it was.
Then we got the email back from Vitaly and he liked what we had done – he asked if I could still do the last quarter on typography. Vitaly is far too nice a guy to say no to, so what could I possible say? “Sure.”
Deciding this wouldn’t destroy me (or my marriage), I changed my approach.
Forgetting the deadline, I took it easy and just simply got to work. I gently engulfed all the words and ideas and philosophies I could, making notes and asking questions as I went. I allowed myself to enjoy the process, working hard as I scribbled notes, worked through ideas and explored what I had before me, but now allowing any of it to turn into Hard Work.
In the end it was (I believe; but you’d probably have to ask Vitaly or Matt) the best writing I’ve done to date. I investigated interesting ideas, wrote with happiness and enjoyed every part of the process.
Best of all, by working hard instead of succumbing to Hard Work, it only took three days.
Retinart Was Hacked.
Retinart was hit by the PharmaHack but no matter how many online guides I ran through, I was never able to vanquish it. After about a week of trying, Google still thought I sold small pills that make small things big things.
The hunt began to make me anxious. The little eyes had to be somewhere in the jungle of my server but no matter how desperately I searched them out in the darkness, the two burning embers weren’t to be found.
A few people suggested I talk to @snipey. Working through my site like a machine, Alison was able to figure out what was going on and why it was proving so problematic to fix. Turns out that it’s not a good idea to have old WordPress installations on your server, even if they’re in different folders, using a different database.
It’s through one of these old ones that the sneaky bastard snuck in. What’s worse is even after cleaning out all the infected and questionable files on the server, there was still an issue with Google — it was referencing cached version of the site that were served up by a plugin now removed.
In my previous mindset and potentially even in this case, my thought would be to hunt through the files once again and hope to find the zombie that was causing all my issues. More Hard Work.
“Let’s nuke the server and start over” was Alison’s suggestion.
Within an hour of starting, my entire server was cleaned out and replaced by a bullet proof WordPress Installation that only brought with it two or three minor design bugs that I was able to introduce to the heel of my boot in less than thirty minutes.
It took 90 minutes to solve my problem when someone decided to work hard on it. If I had approached it as Hard Work, I’d probably still be dealing with it, weeks later.
And the new design changes?
With the site cleaned I had the opportunity to look at my plugins and decide if having them on the site was worth the potential vulnerabilities.
I had been wanting to tweak the design for some time and saw this as an opportunity to do so. I was sick of Hard Work so decided to simply work instead.
This is an idea I think is well worth exploring – what kind of visual elements that we add to a design introduce a sliver of Hard Work for the audience in how the design works? I culled anything I didn’t think was needed, anything that caused a visual or philosophical crumb of Hard Work to creep into the design was removed. I had grown so sick of having an aggressive design that was built around the usual notions of what a blog should look like.
But more on that process soon.
One Big Jump
Very few things require the kind of mammoth Hard Work we tend to aspire to. Rather than trying to make the best website in the whole entire world, why not just make a website and work at it, everyday, with quality and dedication in mind? If you aim for making it the greatest in the world, then you’ll work towards a goal that disallows growth and evolution, based on an assumption made before you started.
For me the curse of Hard Work comes from who I am – I love to work hard. I love putting in a great deal of effort. But I’ve grown so tired of that effort being wasted, running in circles rather than forward.
I’m sure it stems from an insecurity – instead of being comfortable developing a grand idea, which is too hard to come by, I instead find comfort in distilling grand effort. So why not just try and hide the average idea I do have in as much fancy clothing as possible, hoping no one will realise how poor of spirit it truly is?
The work we do is only as hard as we allow it to be. We have built up a notion of being the hero, the soldier with no fear. Hard work? What of it! Ha ha ha! We aspire to be the heroes of comics and culture, rather than the heroes of life, thinking a building of effort and outcome can’t simply be climbed a step at a time but leaped in one grandiose—oof, whoosh—powerful jump !
The problem is we star gaze at the real life heroes and think we see them doing this – effortlessly bounding up buildings. What we often ignore is the amount of time spent working hard – laboriously contributing to that which gave them the ability to know how to navigate the steps with great skill at great speed.
We just see them on the roof and think “oh, they must have jumped.”