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4 productivity tips to help you be more productive, and feel more productive.

A photo of me being studious, focused, productive, in the zone...
A photo of me being studious, focused, productive, in the zone...
Thursday 25 August 2022

Product-ivity design

I’ve been a ‘productivity designer’ for as long as I can remember. From my first job after university, a somewhat fast-paced design and branding agency, to full-on fast-paced online retail, all I’ve ever known is:

  • “Can you just design their entire website for this pitch deck?”
  • “Here’s a spreadsheet of 47 banner ads we need by Friday – get to it.”
  • And my favourite, “I’ll give you the brief tomorrow – we need the design yesterday...”.

Alright, that last one I’m exaggerating, but it sums up the feels. The first two were very real.

It’s been a baptism-by-fire way of working. And you don’t need me to tell you, it’s not sustainable in the long run. At best it’s deflating, at worst, it’s a simple recipe for burnout. I tended to fall somewhere right of the middle on that spectrum; never quite on full-on burnout, but definitely deflated by the sort of neverending drudgery of it all; execute, execute, execute...

The ‘career scars’ as a result is that if I’m not churning out ‘things’ (usually mockups) at the end of my day, I feel a great deal of panic, “What have I got to show for the day’s work? What will I say in the stand up tomorrow? What will colleagues think of me?”

Here’s the lesson learned the better way though – I’m not a machine! I’m a human being with good days and bad days, really productive days and days where I can’t focus at all. I can’t be 100% all the time.

My manager helped me see it this way;

  • “How can you be 80% productive instead of 100% productive? 80% is still getting things done.”
  • This also applies to the perfectionist in me, “How can your work be 80% good instead of 100% perfect? Perfection doesn’t exist.”
  • This also applies to job satisfaction, “How can you be satisfied 80% of the time instead of 100% of the time? Nothing is great all the time.”

You can see where this 80/20 rule of thumb can come in handy!

To complement the philosophy, here are 4 specific tips about productivity I’ve picked up along the way. They might help you be more productive, and feel more productive.

Productivity is research

Why are we doing this again? Who exactly is using this feature? Actually, how does this feature over here work?

Like any good design process, it all starts with knowledge and understanding. Understanding the problem and/or business goal you're trying to solve/achieve is vital, otherwise, what exactly are you doing the work for? And knowing and understanding the landscape doesn’t necessarily equate to outputs or something to show at the end of the day.

Equipping your brain with knowledge is as productive as churning out 47 banner ads by Friday.

Here's a tip

Carrying out the ‘understand and define’ stages of a UX project is always in your own interests, as much as the success of the project. It's not called ‘understand’ and ‘define’ to impress some leadership director or to prove that you've simply done it. It might sound obvious, but it's for you to understand and define the current situation, problem, or project.

Productivity is strategy

Productivity is also the strategy (and planning) phases of a project. Nothing greases the wheels better than knowing which grease goes on which wheels. Knowing what and why you’re doing something, as well how you’ll do something, are the grease to product success.

Strategising your work is as productive as designing an entire website for a pitch deck.

Here's a tip

Plan your own UX strategy or roadmap and align it with your team. This depends on a lot of factors like how work is indeed strategised and planned where you work, but if you feel sometimes like you’re not sure what you’re doing or how to do it, try it. At the least it can help give you clarity, at the most you can help shape the strategy where you work.

Productivity is meetings

Yup – they’re not going anywhere soon. Meetings are here to stay – unless you’re in an uber holacracy . Cross-team alignment, kick-offs, stand up’s, one-to-one’s, check-in’s... If these all sound like corporate bingo (you’re not wrong), but each one has a specific purpose, and crucially, if each meeting sticks to its purpose (and on time), you and your team will tick along just fine.

Collaboration is fundamentally a productive thing; it’s as productive as creating 6 product states in a day.

Here's a tip

In your next stand up, avoid deviating into technical constraints and detailed UX alignment. Remember it’s a stand up; what did you work on yesterday, and what are you working on today? Keep the meeting to its purpose.

Productivity is documentation

“You don’t take photos at the end of your holiday, so why are you documenting your work after the product has launched?” A colleague shared this photo-documentation analogy recently and it floored me. It’s 100% easier to document your work as you go, rather than cramming it all in at the end! And document what you need, perhaps not every granular detail, input, or change, but document as much as you/your team need for the purpose at hand.

Documenting your work is as productive as creating the work in the first place; future-you will be happy with the past-you when you leave a little note on why the enrolment flow is 4 steps instead of 3.

Here's a tip

Think of documentation in terms of micro and macro. Micro documentation is best suited for your design application – where the designs live. For example, next to default, success, and error states of screens, explain how the user would see each one; describe logic and rationale for your developers too. Macro documentation is the bigger picture, it explains why you’re building your product and for who. The audience can be department colleagues, cross-functional stakeholders, and even leadership team members.


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