For the love of stationery. (Did I mention my clipboard?)

A freelance designer can spend a great deal of time not actually designing at all. Still, there’s always the stationery

It has a lovely heft to it, my clipboard. Very satisfying to hold. A slim yet solid sliver of aluminium with corners rounded just so, blatantly fashioned to sit on a designer’s desk next to the usual hardware. It feels substantial, lasting, heirloomy. Yes, that’s right. I love my clipboard.

And it’s not just because I get easily distracted by shiny things; it’s because I’ve grown dependent upon it for keeping my life in order. Without it, I’d be an utter shambles.

I’ve tried every other productivity tool around. Some of them are beautiful and, in the right hands, probably incredibly useful. Not for me though. You can keep your syncing-across-all-devices apps with their swipey-swipiness and excessive minimalism (yes, that is a thing). I don’t want my to-do list ranked or colour-coded or connected to social media. What I have is a list of things on a bit of paper on a clipboard on my desk. And a pencil. This is all I need.

And, oh boy, what a list. When I was inducted into the world of design, I was led to believe that it’d be nothing but idea-sketching and creation-spewing and ink-sniffing. I would have a constant stream of fascinating projects on the go, and my days would be divided between subverting the QuarkXPress rulebook and ideating on surfboards (I admit it, I had a David Carson professional crush thing going on for a while – and so did you). I was the future! Every mark I made, every pixel I pushed, would go some way to changing the very definition of design itself!

Item one: shredding. Oh I see. It’s one of those weeks, is it? Sometimes, my bit of paper (140gsm Cyclus Offset, since you ask) is top-to-bottom exciting projects, both paid and side. This week though, rather than the usual jovial scribbles of pencil (Fürst 5.6mm clutch, silver), it might as well have nothing on it apart from two words stamped in the sternest red ink available: NOT DESIGNING.

Receipts. Filing. Invoice-chasing. There’s one item on here that simply says “redo DNS thing”. For the next few days, my life is going to be a long way from that naïve creative ideal.

Folders need foldering, books need dusting, coffee machine needs coffee machine scunge cleaned out of it. These little things all need to be done, otherwise they grow and fester and mutate into Really Big Jobs. Last time the shredding was put off for this long, I had to take a day off and have a bonfire to get rid of it all. It did not smell good.

If my list was written honestly, it’d be even more of a motivation-drain. Things like “swear continuously at HMRC website for three hours” and “desperately attempt to maintain phone signal in Post Office queue in order to tweet about tedium of Post Office queue” don’t exactly get the heart racing. I’m going to need lots of coffee and lots of treats to get me through this. I might add “restock PEZ dispenser” to the top of the list.

This is all baggage I gained from going solo. Once upon a time, back in those begrudged days of being an employee, I used to have specialist minions who’d deal with these tasks. Accounts, IT, whoever it was who cleaned the coffee machine before anyone arrived in the morning (best not to think too much about that one). They knew what they were doing, and them doing what they were doing prevented me from doing it instead of doing what I was doing. I enjoyed doing what I was doing.

Now it’s all down to me, all of it. Still, there is some fun to be had in the soul-grinding drudgery – some non-designing jobs have grown on me. Anything to do with procuring and sorting stationery satisfies a nagging obsessiveness in my skull. And now that I’ve finally wrestled LinkedIn to the ground and mastered it, finding/harassing/chatting to prospective clients and collaborators is really rather refreshing (I knew I had “socialising” on my first CV for a good reason).

Besides, working my way down this week’s list will all be worth it. Not because this administrative dirge keeps the business running, the pennies flowing nicely and me in the deluded cosiness of self-employment. Oh heavens no. It’s worth it because I have an excuse to lord around the place with my clipboard.
I love my clipboard.

Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a designer based in York. See danielgray.com, @gray

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