Being an in-demand UX designer can be a double-edged sword; while you can make great money and stay engaged working on interesting projects, it’s easy to throw yourself into your work and lose track of your personal life. UX designer and author Shane Mielke is at the top of his game, but it hasn’t always been easy for him to find balance. Years ago, just as his professional life was really ramping up, his family started to grow. With his first daughter on the way, a wife embarking on a new career, and a move to a different city, life got busy.
Shane Mielke responded by pushing himself to “provide,” grinding 24/7 to generate as much business as possible. It wasn’t long before his work-life balance tanked. Years later, just when it looked like his work may cost him his family, he did a full pivot and rethought his approach to life and work. We asked Shane to share some practical tips he discovered for making sure your professional life doesn’t destroy your personal one.
When did you know you had to make a big change?
When I got the magical shoulder tap. My wife said ‘honey we need to talk.’ It had been six or seven years of non-stop hustling at that point.
It was hard, because I felt like it was almost like a slap in the face. You feel like you’re doing the right thing by taking on all this work to provide for your family, and now you’re being asked to pull back on it. But really this was a catalyst and growing point.
How did you make the transition in your life?
There’s always something that’s going to need to be done at work. The way you combat this is having something better to do outside of work. You have to have a wife or husband who’s like, it’s 5 o’clock, we have to go. Maybe it’s kids who need to get to tutoring or sports. Schedule a vacation months in advance that you’re financially committed to and can’t get out of. Or maybe you just need to schedule something for yourself (like setting an hour aside everyday to go work out).
Instead of planning your day around the work you have to do, you plan your day around the things you want to be doing outside of work. I now worry more about disappointing my wife or my kids than I do about disappointing a client.
What this means is I really need to hustle to get my work done so I’m not in trouble in my personal life.
So it’s about eliminating the little distractions?
That’s a huge part of it. Take a mason jar, and fill it half way with sand (the little distractions and unimportant tasks). Now take some rocks (the really important things in life) and try to fit them in. You won’t be able to.
You need to switch things up and put the rocks in first, then the sand goes on top. You have to focus on the big things first, then see how much room is left for the distractions.
What’s your advice for ‘setting hours’ when you do project-based work?
As an employee, you already know you’re getting paid, you have the insurance of an employer. As a freelancer, you don’t have that guarantee. You have to be aware that you are a business and your time is valuable. If you go over and above the scope of work, too often, you end up making less money, being more tired, and your personal life will suffer.
If you keep that in your mind, you will develop a detector in your head on whether a project might be a bad fit for you. Every project is an amazing microcosm of time spent working, deadlines, and budgets. There are times when you have to look at a project and say ‘it’s not going to be quite as creative as I wanted because time’s running out, and I’m not willing to put in the crazy extra hours.’
Then there are other projects when you say, this one’s special, and you can tell it will be worth the extra time and energy. Factor all of these variables in, and use them to help you determine when you’re going to tap out and when to say no.
How else can you be efficient as a UX designer, for the sake of your personal life?
Have a good understanding of your own style. Sure you need some diversity of skills to avoid always doing the same type of project, but once you understand the things you like to do, it eliminates some of the doubt in problem-solving and design and you can work faster.
There comes a certain point as a designer when you have to trust that people are coming to you for your solution and not waste time second guessing.
What’s at stake if you don’t consciously prioritize your personal life?
The thought process for many UX designers, especially younger ones, is ‘we’re doing something that’s pretty fun, it can be done at all hours of the day, so why not work around the clock?’ Those designers need to know what the possible consequences are. You could end up divorced, you could end up with your family hating you, you could end up with health problems because of your poor diet and caffeine consumption.
The more people know about these pitfalls early in their careers, the easier it is for them to make decisions about how long they work at a certain pace, what they agree to do, or the kinds of work they do in the first place.
In today’s day and age, you can and should really craft your own career and pathway. You can do high level work, and do the things you want to do within the hours of the day. In a way, it’s like having your cake and eating it too.