Leave the desk behind

The word desk comes from the Modern Latin desca, ‘table to write on’, from the mid-14th century. Medieval illustrations show the first pieces of furniture designed and constructed for reading and writing. Desks provide a practical and physiological purpose, but this is not (and should not be) where the creativity is encouraged.

Steve Price

Indeed I believe it is where the inception of creativity typically dies.

The #fuckdesks idea is really about the ‘workplace’ in general. In the creative industry you’ll see variations of the ‘the studio’, a place where once drawing boards, cutting boards, scalpels, maybe even typesets, pica rulers lay strewn in between old coffee cups, drawings (actual drawings!), with more drawings and sketches and posters on the wall. Most of this has been replaced from the birth and rise of Apple and IKEA with slick iMacs, white desks and walls adhorned with the latest screenprint, or often nothing to avoid ruining the ‘look’.

You’ll see sofas in the corner, drum kits, pool tables, bars, cinema rooms, meeting rooms with themes, toilets with themes. All as you might expect from an industry led by creatives. Don’t get me wrong, I like it – it’s bringing a bit of fun in to typically forced environment.

These are good distractions, but they really just props to create the illusion that you’re not at work when you really are. I recently visited a friend whose agency has banned Facebook usage but has a sofa area with magazines and a foosball table. ‘How often do you play on that?’ I enquired. ‘Oh, only really in the evenings when we’re working late… You know.’ The old ‘bums in seats’ mentality; if you’re not there people will question why you’re not there. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter than you’re not working. If you’re on the sofa you better be working, but on the sofa and only for a bit. Even in the age of the internet where you can now be available at 38,000ft, still we experience this Victorian, industrial revolution era mindset.

Technology allows us to connect, plug-in, dial-in, check-in, share, compare and all while we’re on the go (or at our desks). But it’s not just in working hours. Many of us now have to go to work earlier to get the work done you can’t do during the day for being pulled in to a meeting about a meeting. We are more often tail-ending the day with more hours at work or (worse) at home to make up for the production time lost during the day.

We’re working longer and getting paid the same, actually less in comparison to previous decades.

A few years ago I openly mocked a friend, to her face as she told me she’d just finished a ‘breathing course’. Yep! Breathing. More recently I’ve come to realise and appreciate just why my friend might have needed that course. It’s not that she didn’t know how to breathe, but like most of us we’ve forgotten to make time to breathe properly. When was the last time you did it? I mean inhale and exhale ten big lungfulls of air? Breathing is really the bi-product to the real issue with is to ‘make time’. Time to think, to consider, to contemplate, to breathe.

A desk

Source: Larry Tomlinson

A desk

Everyone is so busy, all of the time and it’s like a cancerous disease. The more people tell you how ‘crazy busy’ they are the more compelled you feel to make yourself busier to the point whereby the only time you have when you’re not doing anything is when you go to sleep or use the toilet and even there we’re texting, Tweeting, Instagramming: in a recent survey in the US 75% of those asked admitted to using their smartphones while on the toilet whilst 91% between the ages 20-35 use their phones on the toilet.

Most people thrive on the pace and energy of this industry, the deadlines, the endless conference calls, the politics, the often intense pressure, the late and long hours, the work-hard (sometimes) play-hard ethics. But all too often it burns people out. My mid-life challenge is accepting that I don’t want to do that. I love all of the above, but there are simply more important things in life.

The human body wasn’t made for sitting at a desk infront of a computer for 8+ hours a day. Slouching down, only breaking to go for a cigarette, coffee or lunch break – even then we bring our food back and eat at our desk over the keyboard. Sometimes we don’t even break for lunch because there is not enough time and dinner is a take-away from the place whose menu you’ve sampled and know better than you care to remember.

There is the damaging effect this has on our lives, our family, our friendships and relationships; the pressure it places on time not spent working increases because there is less time to do the important things in life; exercise, eat, drink, sleep, as well as recreation activities which are vital for our mind, body and soul.

Being creative (in any capacity) is an immense privilege often thought of as beset upon a few to enthral the many, but creativity exists everywhere and in everyone. I take what I say knowing that for many the option to go freelance or set up a company or tell their boss they want to reduce their hours isn’t an easy or viable option. Equally for those at the helm of their own agency it isn’t an option to start doing less. There’s the P/L account, peoples livelihoods and your own to consider. We’re arguably living beyond our means but my concern is that more and more of us are spending more and more time working longer and longer, often for little or no thanks. Remember: no-one ever died wishing they’d spent more time at work.

I have experienced all of this first hand with my own studio and working with other agencies. My conclusion is that I no longer wish to work like this. If this is the only way to be successful then I will find a better way to do it with great people, doing great work in a healthier, more supportive, flexible environment.

In business they say ‘People invest in people’. This is true, but it also requires you to invest in yourself, and those around you.

At Plan-B Studio we live by the motto ‘Love and Support’ for our work, our clients, our families, each other and ourselves. So spend less time at your desk, at work if you can. Work from home, the beach, a hut in Finland. Just be honest with each other – the only time working remotely is an issue is if you don’t deliver without warning. Why our industry hasn’t already spear-headed this style of working is beyond me.

As individuals we can only excel the more time we give to thinking, nurturing and developing not just our ideas but our lives. Think. Breathe, then think again.

Steve Price is founder and creative director of Plan-B Studio.

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  • Corey Paige November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Couldn’t agree more with this outlook. We’ve been trying to do more of this thinking at our two-person studio. Working from home just for a change of scenery, no meals at the desk, a running game of chess sitting around, etc. There seems to be a lot more laughing and better ideas going around lately.

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