Procrastination and #LateShiftUX

It’s almost 1am EST and I’ve just finished the late shift. That’s the term for those nights that, despite the best of intentions or planning, I’m logged in well past quitting time, cranking out wireframes or prototypes to hit a deadline.

Some folks say that procrastination is a form of anxiety, and that’s true for certain tasks. Not being able to drag myself out of bed in the morning to go to work is 100% my anxiety disorder (and so, for that matter, is not being able to drag myself to bed at night). Anxiety keeps me from leaving on time for social events, it keeps me from going to the doctor occasionally, it keeps me from opening the mail.

Anxiety does not keep me from cutting my wireframe deadlines razor thin. I love wireframing. Hell, I sort shit for fun.

Other folks say that procrastination is your brain telling you that you don’t have enough information to complete the task, and that’s much more the case for my wireframes (and my fiction). If I’m missing something, like a business requirement or an understanding of a piece of functionality, or even a basic concept, my brain will balk like a thoroughbred being loaded into the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. Nope nopety nope nope nope.

My team’s been working on tonight’s project for, oh, at least a month, and most of that has been gathering research and requirements. The tool we’re building will have a customer view and an administrator view.

I’ve been literally sitting on the knowledge that I was going to need 50+ pages of wireframes to present the internal view of this behemoth for weeks, while I tried to figure out the user flows and the testable scenarios. I haven’t been sitting idle — I have process flows, content maps, spreadsheets out the wazoo, three fits and starts of related wireframes, a UX Designer and a UX Researcher also on the project, a bazillion Slack conversations with my PMs and my development team, and even a whole new set of Sketch libraries for this thing.

But not the wireframes. They sank into the swamp, repeatedly.

Last week, two things happened.

First, the development team got the vendor software running to the point that I could see what the back-end was expecting, and get a glimpse at the mental models the people who’d come before me were peddling. Finally I had a foundation upon which I could build with confidence.

Second, I looked at the calendar and went, “Oh shit, the usability test is next Wednesday night.”

And I was immediately reminded of the 10 page paper I wrote comparing a Shakespeare play and a play my friend wrote for a 400-level English class in 4 hours the day before it was due, for which I received both an A and a reading hangover that lasted two days.

And I realized that this was going to be one of those projects.

Sure enough, despite bashing my brain against the side of a bus-sized problem for two more days, I didn’t make any progress until Monday morning, when, for some unknown reason suddenly I knew the layout and structure of the site, how things were going to go together, and what patterns I was going to use. And from then until today around 12:30am, I spent almost every waking moment that I wasn’t in meetings stitching together the story that finally decided to rise from the swampy morass of my research and analysis and be something.

Huuuuuge tracts of plans.

Or if you prefer the racing metaphor, I ran away with it like Justify at the Belmont.

Admittedly, it’ll all change six ways from Sunday before it’s fully implemented. That’s the way of a first draft. You build it so you can edit it; you can’t manage what you don’t have.

But it’s done, and I’m done, and it’s still two hours earlier than I knocked off last night. And it’s not due until 3pm this afternoon so I’m finished more than 12 hours from my deadline (for a change).

And as much as #LateShiftUX is not sustainable, there’s something incredibly satisfying about raising a castle in the swamp and having it stand up, then handing it over the team with a hearty, “And that’s what you’re going to get, lad, the strongest wireframes in these isles.”

Yeah, I think it’s time for me to sleep now.

Author: Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is a Senior Staff Product Designer and General Troublemaker working on design systems from outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She's an editor and writer at The Interconnected. She is also published at A List Apart and The Pastry Box, and publishes short fiction when she's not persuading the terriers to stop wrecking things. (The terriers are winning.)