The fine line between being lazy and challenging yourself

I know I haven't been here in a while.

Development learning has taken a backseat since I have been given actual design assignments at work

-- and I know I am very good at design.

However, I can't help but feel but a twinge of shame knowing that perhaps I might not be challenging myself enough by not coding.

In contrast, however, I know I'm good at design, but I am not by all means an expert. I still want to improve my design skills.

My question is:

How can you tell if you're simply taking the easy way out? Should I feel any shame for wanting to stick with what I'm good at?

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DISCUSSION (13)

It depends. For me it's a frustration tolerance thing, and if I can tell I am growing at something.

Also, I ... don't believe in lazy. If someone is unwilling to do something, there is ALWAYS a reason: are they burnt out? Do they not have the resources they need to do it? If it isn't a priority for them, why is there a mismatch there -- is it because they have too many other things to do, or because there is a poor management system, or because they don't understand the situation? Do they feel like their work doesn't really matter so why bother? Are they just too damn tired?

Example:

Earlier on this project, the client asked us to do something involving a scroll setup and a specific layout. I am not great at that stuff, but the designer I work with was super busy that day.

So, I tried. I got really, really frustrated, and made almost no progress, and could feel myself getting a flavor of frustrated that gets me real close to possible literal table flipping.

So I gave up. I posted in the client+us Slack channel saying that I was going ahead and deploying and that the functionality required is all there, and the design part is incomplete for that section, because I wasn't able to do it well and it would be a waste of my time and energy -- NOT because that work is meaningless or trivial or unimportant, but BECAUSE it is important and I wouldn't do a good job and it would take me a very long time to do it, whereas I could focus on something I'm better at for a while.

Sure enough, my coworker said she had a little breathing room later that day and she'd give it a shot, and I went out to grab a coffee. Came back 30 minutes later and sure enough, she'd gotten it done, it looked beautiful and worked beautifully and was exactly what the client wanted.

It's OK to do stuff you're good at. Why do you feel guilty? Is it because you think you don't do enough by doing design? Is it because you do often get asked to do dev stuff and you're worried you won't have the skills necessary to do so when the time comes? etc etc.

I partly agree with not believing in laziness. Laziness is a symptom of a deeper problem such as narcissism, a complete lack of understanding, etc. But I can't go as far as to say it's not a real thing.

You shouldn't feel any shame about this regardless of whether it's a good idea or not.

Real question is whether it's a good idea, which I think devolves to whether you want (or need!) to be learning new things.

Here's how to tell if you're learning:

  • If everything you're doing is easy and fun—you're probably not learning.
  • If you try to do something where you have no clue what to do—you won't be able to learn, because it's too difficult.
  • Learning happens in the middle, where you're doing something at the edge of your abilities. So it's uncomfortable and a little scary and hard work, but you do eventually make progress.

It's possible you're not learning as much. And if you're OK with that, that's fine! Take the plunge and learn more.

I think the better question is, do you enjoy what you are doing?

I don't think it's laziness. Challenging yourself should feel uncomfortable but mainly rewarding in the end. If you challenge yourself to do something you do not enjoy, I can't think of any thing that motivates you to do that thing.

Every person is different, but I would have a really hard time learning something new without the need to solve a problem I'm having. I'm of an opinion that writing code is boring so it is hard to force yourself and keep up with learning. Maybe that is why you think you're trying to stick to design- which is - what you know best and what interests you?
I'm a programmer but sometimes I try to play with Indesign and Photoshop to make a logo or edit something I need for work. But I do it only when I need something... otherwise I have no interest learning Indesign. And since I almost always need something from Photoshop, I know it well enough to get by :)
I would suggest finding yourself a problem you would like to solve with code. A website? Small iOS app... idk. It will make learning easier and more enjoyable.
Also... if you're proficient with Adobe Suite and know all the shortcuts for those apps, I'm sure you will find programming to be easy ;)

I know it feels lazy to focus on what you're good at. For me, the thing I'm good at is "generalist". I'm sort of good at design, sort of good with people, sort of good at marketing, sort of good at software development.

It means I sometimes find myself probably stagnating in code at the expense of my thing. I'm happiest now that I'm leaning into "my thing". Running this site is definitely the job of a skilled generalist. My old work that was more strictly development was not truly my thing, even if it opened doors for me and expanded my mind.

Code remains the skill I want to keep sharpening and staying up-to-date with and generally keeping as my superpower. I don't want to wake up one day and feel like I've regressed as a developer. It's such a specific abstract activity that it's hard to stay sharp if you're not doing it.

In terms of your career and your purpose, lean into what you're good at, but don't totally over-optimize away from the technical side because it is an amazing skill to stay sharp in. If you lean into more design, I guarantee you'll do better work if you stay sharp and empathetic towards developer work. This will only help with your work and give you cred amongst engineers.

This is a bit rambly, but basically don't feel shame, but it will help if you continue to keep your programming skills sharp and improving.

Ohh this is a difficult question and I can relate. Sometimes you want to change your routine and work in many things you like. I see it as a need of balance. You can do everything you want, focus in what's important to you. It's not the same doing things "because you have to" than "because you want to".

Well, I know when I’m taking the easy way out. However, with the pressures of deadlines at work, sometimes I don’t have a choice. I find my projects at work give me very little time to dive deeper into my creativity. I’ve begun challenging myself with personal projects. I work through new possibilities at home and when I’m comfortable, I start moving these new techniques, processes, and frameworks to my work tool bag.

Well how long has this been going on? Is there a pattern here you’re feeling anxious about? I mean, you have design work you have to do, so that’s what you have to do. If you're feeling guilty about not pulling double duty to keep coding, and you know you're slacking, well then there you go.

On the other hand, it's a marathon not a sprint. So lighten up. There'll be times when you're pushing it hard. Really hard. And times when you're not doing a damn thing. Except maybe getting drunk on a beach and making poor decisions with someone you just met (don't do that). The point is we strive for balance that we'll never achieve. So aim for the middle and accept the pendulum is going to swing wide now and then.

I think that its important to understand the 24 hours per day in a Month, thats the time we have (actually, less). Take a time to study something real deeply, this means set main priorities. Then, when you reach one main priority, set another. This means a focus choice: code or design as principal focus, but this dont mean one thing or another, or an eternal rule, i think : )

Take at least 20mn a day to learn development. 20mn may seem short, but if you have other priorities that's a minimum you want to keep, and if you have time you can extend the 20mn until you have other things to do.

I know the feeling, that's exactly what's happening to me at the moment :-)

You don't should think about it. Should do whatever you want. I think so

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Cat Carbonell
Product Designer, attempting front-end development figuring out how to bridge the communication gap between designers and engineers
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