Brad Frost is a web designer, design system consultant, speaker, and author based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has worked at digital agencies in New York City before starting his own business, which combines client design system production, consulting, workshops, and public speaking. He typically works in his studio with his brother and built a separate office in their backyard in 2019. Brad enjoys a positive start to each day with his daughter and English bulldog, and focuses on a positive family atmosphere. He also enjoys a scurry routine to start the day.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, your history, and how you got to where you are now?
I am a web designer, design system consultant, speaker, and author living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’ve accomplished several projects centered mostly on design systems and front-end web programming, including writing the book Atomic Design.
The short version of my professional history is that I worked at digital agencies in New York City before moving back to Pittsburgh and starting my own business, which is still a mash-up of client design system production, consulting, workshops, and public speaking. You can read a more thorough account of my professional history on my website.
Where do you typically work throughout an average week?
In my own studio, my brother and I work together. I built a separate office in my backyard in 2019, but my family had to move out of our house in 2020 when an unstable neighbor started threatening us. Because of that, I had to leave my gorgeous new workplace, but I’m glad to be in a new house with room for a home office and no unstable neighbors.
How do you make sure that each day starts out as positively as possible?
First thing in the morning, my nearly four-year-old daughter jumps into our bedroom, closely followed by our English bulldog Ziggy (who has just started dozing in her room). My favorite time of the day is unquestionably when the whole family cuddles up for a few minutes in the morning.
Following a brief period of ecstasy, it’s time for coffee, breakfast, getting my daughter ready for school, picking her up, driving to school, and coming home to log in for the day. It seems like a scurry; I don’t feel like I’m trying to start the day off well.
Can you explain a typical workday?
I’m powerless to accomplish it! My daily tasks vary greatly: on some days, I have several client meetings; on other days, I run a full-day workshop; and on yet other days, I deliver lectures or write. On rare occasions, I can even finish coding assignments! There was a lot of business travel prior to COVID, which probably contributed to the lack of regularity.
Despite the fact that my workday is chaotic, I have improved my schedule by limiting work hours to 8:30AM to 5:30PM in order to better separate work from pleasure.
How can you stay healthy while working?
I don’t feel like I take care of my health at work, despite their being standing workstations, water fountains, daily to-do lists, etc. In order to keep all the dishes rotating, I often feel like a hummingbird buzzing around. There is a mad rush of commitments and attempts to fit everything in.
For good reason, everything about this is disturbing and unacceptable. Fortunately, my long-term partners and I have been working very hard to keep things in order and behave more pro-actively than reactively. However, I’ve also been actively trying to change how I work and live, and I’m excited to downshift (i.e., significantly reduce the amount of work I do) starting in 2019. I’m thus doing my best to juggle a hectic schedule in the short term while also developing a long-term strategy to lighten my load and embrace a healthier lifestyle. After putting a lot of work into being ready for this move, I’m looking forward to the months and years that lie ahead.
What do you do to help yourself when you’re stuck, lack inspiration, or need some motivation?
I honestly don’t remember ever feeling uninspired, unmotivated, or stuck. I do what I do because I enjoy it, which is undoubtedly a wonderful thing, but it also generates situations where many people ask for my help with what I love to do. That equates to trying to swallow more than I can chew before figuring out how to properly digest it all.
We all experience days when nothing seems to be going right, and for me, playing and listening to music is immensely soothing. I frequently play the drums for a while to release a lot of tension, whether it be stress connected to job or existential stress.
What activities do you usually engage in after work?
We typically chat with our neighbors after dinner while the kids play outside, and then the nighttime process takes a lot of time. I look forward to someday returning to seeing friends, eating out, going to concerts, and doing other typical life activities because COVID has clearly limited my alternatives for interesting activities.
What steps do you take to keep a good work-life balance?
As you can certainly understand, I have struggled to strike a decent work-life balance. If it weren’t for our kid, my wife and I would most likely spend almost all of our waking time working and being productive. We resided in New York City, as I indicated, and during that period, our connection with work deteriorated severely. Over the past ten years, we have worked to undo our programming and create a more harmonious work-life balance.
I’m seeing that my sense of balance needs some work. The “work to live” approach is prevalent in many non-American countries, which I think makes it easier to strike a good work-life balance. Balance is challenging to achieve since so many Americans, including myself, have a “live to work” mindset. It takes being made aware of the ruthlessly fast-paced seas we swim in, often by startling means like tiredness or panic episodes, for you to understand them.
I’ve learned that I’m not very good at keeping homeostasis, and that I need more than a few tweaks; I need more substantial changes. Financial independence has always piqued my interest, so I’ve been working to put myself in a situation where I won’t have to spend as much of my time working for money. I’m hoping that making a more drastic and intentional adjustment may help me restore some of my “life” component.
What else do you do during the year to preserve your health?
We’ve been thrown for a loop by COVID and dealing with my family’s personal struggles, and we’re just starting to feel normal again. It has been quite therapeutic to just keep quiet and settle in to our new home during the past year. We’ve just recently started to look forth and long for friendship and travel. We anticipate completing that soon.
Can you offer any personal advice on how to improve your productivity and well-being?
Being productive is challenging when one’s attention is split a thousand different directions.
What affected your general well-being the most?
It’s hard to choose just one thing that has had the most influence on my health. The understanding of my wellness and the elements that both favorably and unfavorably affect it is maybe most significant. With the help of my substantial education, conscious effort, and this awareness, I’m moving toward a more balanced way of living.
It’s not as easy as “stand up and stretch your legs every hour” or “spend a week relaxing on a beach” to achieve a healthy balance. Long-term success necessitates fundamental changes in behavior and mindset. The future seems bright, even if I’m still in the thick of things.
What wellness and productivity tips would you provide a professional in your field?
Have you ever hoped that the day might last longer? What do you think? There are only 24 hours in a day, so you can never get everything done, even if you use every productivity trick in the book. Physically impossible, therefore give up trying. limit yourself. Take on less obligations. Just refuse. Keep your entire existence safe. Stop dragging yourself to the finish line on Friday with so little energy that you can only pass out on the couch. Keep your private life private. Have a pastime. Maintain connections. Find happiness. The phrase “I’m busy” should not be used as a badge of pride. Look for methods to lighten your burden. Make room for the people and activities that make you happy and a better person. Don’t spend your entire short life on this world working.
What are some of your favorite interests, pastimes, and extracurricular activities?
spending time with my family and watching my kid develop. Music, and performing music in particular, is so fundamental to who I am. I’ve developed an interest in mushrooms, animals, and ecology over the last several years, and I’m aware there is still much to learn about these topics. I like to read and have both deep and light chats with friends and family. I consciously steer clear of work-related side projects in favor of a healthier way of life.
Do you have any favorite podcasts or books to share?
Of course I do. I list and review each book I read on my website. But with relation to the subjects of this interview, I would strongly advise:
The author of How To Do Nothing is Jenny Odell.
The piece Do Nothing is by Celeste Headlee.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
The disciplined pursuit of less is essentialism.
Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robbins
I also suggest listening to the Re:considering podcast, which explores how COVID has changed people’s priorities and perspectives on work.
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