How to make the most of your day at work

At the start of my UX career I worked tirelessly. I wanted to make a difference in people’s’ lives. This hard work paid off. I received external validation in the form of promotions and positive feedback from colleagues and managers. These accolades definitely had a positive, albeit, short lived effect on my productiveness at work.

I started researching and actively testing ways in which to boost my productivity. I evaluated the way in which I was currently working. I realised that I often took on too much work and I didn’t structure my time effectively. This lead to anxiety and stunted levels of productiveness. I decided to change in my work routine. I have set up a list that really helps me and has brought my productiveness to an all time high. I hope this helps you too.

Grow your skill-set

Stop focussing on monetarily or physically acknowledgment at work. Focus on building and fine tuning your own personal skill set. Practice using the tools required for your career, give yourself a new task and a timeline within which to complete it. Research and explore the internet when you get stuck. A great way to solidify new information in your long term memory is to write a teaching article which explains the problem you faced and how you were able to solve it.

Force yourself to present your ideas and findings to colleagues and managers. Being able to communicate effectively is important in most careers. Practice your communication by presenting articles, new findings, tips and tricks. I absolutely loathe public speaking but this is an integral part of my career, whether it be presenting my ideas and thought processes to colleagues or presenting to clients and furthering the importance of the work I do. It’s a necessary evil. Prepare a clear, concise slide deck with descriptive pictures and throw in some funny cat pics to lighten the mood. I recently started recording myself while presenting. This helped me gain insight into my style of presenting and helped me become more adept at getting ideas across.

See your managers as your mentors

Let’s face it, your colleagues and managers are valuable resources. Shadow your peers and superiors in order to see how they solve problems, how they use tools of the trade and what feedback they can give you on your work. Your superiors usually do things because they are fast, effective and have a large pay off. Learn from them, ask questions and immerse yourself in previous work they have done. I often use aspects of their templates for my own work as it has been tried and tested. I know asking questions can be intimidating but I promise it is one of the most valuable things you will do for your career. Become a student, take criticism for what it is, evaluate if it has relevance and incorporate it into the way you work.

Set achievable goals for yourself

No one other than you can make you feel motivated for extended periods of time. I realised that external rewards are necessary, but internal rewards drive behaviour much more readily. I started setting achievable, rational goals for myself. I set goals for personal, work and interpersonal growth. The more goals I reached the better I felt about myself and the more productive I wanted to become. My goals range from making my bed in the morning to finishing a book that will help me build better prototypes. The trick is to timebox things. Give yourself deadlines, it’s easy to not complete tasks set up by yourself. It’s easy to forget you even had goals. Be very specific with deadlines and follow through with these.

Make a list

I begin every day with a list of things I need to do with deadlines attached. This generally kicks off my day positively by directing me towards being more productive and in turn feeling more accomplished. Our brain only has so much capacity to hold information. By creating a to do list you free up your mental capacity and attention for the task at hand, allowing you to work for longer.

Plan for success

I used to have a tendency to jump fully into a project and forget to plan the steps I needed to take in order to complete tasks. This caused me all kinds of unnecessary anxiety. I tend to be a perfectionist and it can be difficult to move on with another component of my work unless I feel it is perfect. Guess what though, work is never perfect. It doesn’t have to be, it does however need to be done to the best of your ability. Your creations are likely go through many iterations of fine tuning, which is great. This will not only reduce anxiety but also give the sense of progress. Make sure you have a rough outline of how you would like to approach a problem and iterate on this outline daily.

Learn, a lot

Read broadly. Read books, read online, talk to your colleagues about interesting topics. Find conferences in your area, find out if they are worthwhile and invest in going to these conferences. I’ve met many great contacts and friends at conferences. Youtube is your friend, I’ve found many amazing videos that are fun and educational.

“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you” – B.B. King

Be a team player

It is very important to help other team members or show interest in their projects. I always keep up to date with things that are happening in my team and volunteer my time and attention to improve both my skills and help team members who are snowed under. You are not only helping out team members but you are getting exposure to projects, thought processes and hopefully learning some skills along the way. Don’t be afraid of working, it will pay off in the long run.

Don’t take things too personally

People get annoyed. People get frustrated and sometimes take it out on the wrong person. It is super important to create an open dialogue with your colleagues. I alway try to see things from my own and the other person’s point of view. Just remember that you are both trying to achieve the same thing, deliver good experiences and do good work. It’s worthwhile spending time practising your soft skills. Don’t take things personally, we’ve all had a bad day before, sometimes teammates have things going on in their personal lives. Address persistent negative behaviour when it occurs often and handle the situation very carefully and empathetically.

What to do when you have free time at work

I’ve spoken to many successful people about how they decide to allocate their time. How they decide what to give more or less attention to and especially what they do when they have some free time. I personally have a list of subjects I would like to focus on and I often use pocket, a tool which allows your to save and tag articles with specific topics all in one place. Once I feel like I have some free time I start with a subject and grab some articles to read. I usually try to write an article or couple of sentence about what I have learnt from the article.

Most importantly make things fun!

Create a nice environment in which to work, treat yourself with healthy food, nice coffee/tea and make sure you are happy in your environment. I’ve often felt the need to work from home or work at a coffee shop. This change of scenery always increases my productivity.

Remember this is your life, develop your skills, have fun and change what makes you unhappy. Please remember that you won’t always feel super motivated or productive and that’s okay. All things happen in stages and sometimes you just need to watch a whole season of Stranger Things in one sitting. It happens, reward yourself, you aren’t a machine.