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What to Do When You Want to Do Everything

Written August 24, 2017 by Shannon Hargis

Have you ever met someone who knew, from an early age, exactly what they wanted to do for the rest of their life? They are never tempted by the siren calls of other illustrious careers or interesting hobbies. They are happy and steadfast in their masteries of choice.

I’ve never been this person. I want to do everything. A “Jill of All Trades,” a true “Renaissance Woman.” I want to embrace everything that excites me, and I imagine I’m not the only one out there who feels like this. With an endless array of hobbies and skills within easy reach thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with everything you could learn and do. And as a designer in an increasingly competitive creative job market, it’s important to keep your skill portfolio diversified.

The world is our oyster! But how do we work towards actually mastering some of these skills? I have an answer, and it involves food, as the best answers always do.

I learned about this method a few years back and it has made a tremendous difference in how I learn and develop my skills. You might know it by another name, but I like to call it the “Happy Plate” method.

Here’s how it works:

  • Determine the amount of hours per week you want to set aside for learning or growing new skills and hobbies.
    • (For me right now, this is about 25 hours a week)
  • Pick a skill/hobby/interest that you want to work towards mastery. This is going to be the main dish of your happy plate.
    • (I’m currently working on my front-end web development skills.)
  • Choose 1-2 additional skills/hobbies/interests. These are going to be the side dishes of your happy plate.
    • (I’m sketching and devouring comics right now as research for learning to illustrate comics in the future.)
  • Set a time period. This could be anywhere from 3 months to years. I wouldn’t recommend doing less than 3 months if you truly want to make significant progress.
    • (I almost always do 6 months as my time period.)

You are going to spend 75% of your time on your main dish and 25% of your time split up between your side dishes. So right now I am spending 75% of my 25 hours a week on web development (about 19 hours a week) and the other 25% spent on my comic work (about 6 hours a week). And you will do this for the time period that you designate.

To be the most effective, its important to stick to the schedule. I set timers when I’m working and keep my hours logged in my journal so I know I’m on track and not spending too much time on my side dishes and not enough time on my main dish.

Once your time period is up, you move on to new skills! It might be that one of your side dishes becomes your main dish, or you might choose all new things to learn.

Before this method, it was hard to stay focused long enough on any one particular skill or hobby. I found myself becoming a “master of none” and felt overwhelmed by trying to explore all of the things I was interested in. This method works best for me because I never feel limited by it. If I see something new I want to learn, I know that I can make that main or side dish in just a few months’ time, and it doesn’t derail my current progress.

It’s important to remember that the “Happy Plate” method is flexible and structured at the same time. It keeps you on task and focused, but allows you to spend your time on things you want. If you are feeling too boxed in, mix things up. Maybe you want to focus on your main dish for a year, but you want to change side dishes every 3 months. Great! Do that.

If you are spending all of your time just eating bites of side dishes, you might end up still feeling hungry at the end of it. Nothing beats the feeling of being full, and learning how to effectively work towards mastery of your interests is invaluable.