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Natalie’s story: Breaking the stigma of the ‘9 to 5’ as a graphic designer

Dolly Parton was certainly onto something about the whole ‘working 9 to 5’ business, and how you’re often barely getting by because it’s all taking and no giving. Which is why many of us turn to the freelancer life, right? To get more flexibility in our day, and take real ownership of the work we do.  

There’s also a number of other reasons the traditional ‘9 to 5’ doesn’t work for graphic designers, which is what our very own Olivia had a chat about recently with freelance designer Natalie White. 

Naturally falling into becoming a graphic designer, Natalie enjoyed the subject at school and growing up was also surrounded by the design industry itself. 

“My dad owned a design business. I saw behind the scenes of photography, screen printing and all sorts of other services, and my mum was a visual merchandiser who would sign-write by hand on windows, as well as setup window displays. I actually grew up not wanting to do what my parents did, but when I learnt I could have a creative job, I thought that would be ideal!”

“I love the creative side of design, making things look good for businesses.” 

Breaking the stigma of a ‘typical working day’ 

As a stay-at-home mum, Natalie’s working day is anything but typical, which is why working on the side as a graphic designer works perfectly for her. She squeezes in what she can work-wise, while also wrangling two kids! And this is actually why Natalie is so passionate about breaking the stigma of working 9 to 5.  

“It’s about not having to turn up at 8:30 and work till 5:30, where you clock in and clock out, because as a creative, it can be really difficult to box your work into those set hours. And while the pandemic has certainly played a part in breaking that stigma, there were a lot of people trying to do that before it happened.”

Natalie says she will often have an idea for a project while on the daycare pickup run or a walk at the end of the day, or they can even happen in the middle of the night! Which of course doesn’t fit into that traditional working day. She explains that it’s simply not how our brains are wired for creativity, meaning it is hard to stop and start those ideas just because we’re at work, or not at work. 

How flexibility allows for creativity

For Natalie, it’s often just about the little things, like going for a walk to take in inspiration from the world around her. And this can happen at any time - because she’s not constrained by having to be in the office. It’s whenever it fits into her day. 

“And after having kids, I’ve realised how crucial it is for me to have flexibility. There’s no set schedule while they are so little, so I could just be playing duplo, or doing something else, and then an idea pops up which I’ll jot down for later.” 

When Natalie thinks back to the agency/office work life, she recalls having those days where the ideas wouldn’t flow. The pressure to create while constrained by set office hours was daunting, particularly when you’re not ‘feeling’ the project flow. 

“You have nothing in the tank, but you’re forced to work on it right then and there. So now I can shelve those days when I’m just not quite ready to start a project, and know that I’ll be able to be productive when an idea finally sparks inspiration.” 

Productivity while juggling motherhood

With young kids, Natalie is next level busy - she says it’s a bit like managing a small team who don’t want to listen to you. And she does admit it can be hard to start when she knows she only has short snippets of time to get her work done. 

“I might be just getting everything lined up for a logo or a design, then one of the kids wakes up from their nap and I just have to accept that I will have to walk away from it for a few hours. But I can still organise myself to achieve the things that I need to, because I’m in control of the projects I do.” 

Natalie can still remember days in the office where she would have eight hour days and struggle to be productive because she just wasn’t in the right zone. So for now, Natalie just embraces the time she does have. And often she finds that being creative with the kids at home actually helps ideas to blossom, like playing with lego or drawing. 

How to break the 9 to 5 stigma

Natalie’s advice is that if you are in a 9 to 5 and feeling stuck, don’t be afraid to have a chat with your boss about finding more flexibility in your working week, because you never know how lenient they could be. She suggests making the case for how you could be more productive - perhaps across four days, by asking for a work from home day, or you want to make time for extra learning to help break up that 9 to 5 routine.

Be open and find ways that work within your work environment to problem solve areas that could be improved. You never know, the whole team might benefit from a casual afternoon off to learn!

Looking for more help and advice to get started in the world of freelance graphic design? Check out our library of content here at Creative Launchpad. 

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