How I managed to remain productive

It’s not you, it’s your habit. And your team. And your client. And also you.

From Trent Erwin on Unsplash

We’ve all been there before. The client demanded the work to be done yesterday and here you are. 2AM, alone, with a blank screen staring back at you. You're always in a constant state of crunching. Your mental and physical fatigue set in and cause you, knowingly or not, into a stress building habit. You spent your little of a so-called downtime relaxing & sleeping irregularly. You find it harder and harder to produce quality work. And the next thing you know, you’re on your way to another Final stretch for the client once again.

If you’re reading this, then you’re halfway into the solution

I used to work for many years in the stressful design environment where people often push you to kill yourself to achieve commercial-but-we-told-you-it’s-your-career success. Whether it be an ambitious startup where each task you spent time working on seems to never satisfy your passion, or rushing through a stressful project in an agency in which you work tirelessly overnight before the delivery deadlines in the next morning. 

Oftentimes the ‘easy way out’ for management is to have you bang your head into a wall until something, either the wall or your inner sanity, breaks, to get the result they wanted.  But is that really necessary?

I’ve been working at OOZOU for over a year now. I was lucky enough to be a part of a crucial transition period between having 4 UI/UX designers that gradually grew into a team of 10+ product designers. Here’s what we have learned so far:

From Alejandro Excamilla on Unsplash

Meeting notes are also your responsibility

Whenever you join a meeting. Write your own notes. Your project manager, your client, and your team members are only capable of giving you the high-level requirements of what you need to be delivering. They’re doing their job and you also have to know how to do yours. Don’t just doze off in a meeting and rely on others to brief you through it.

Having multiple copies of meeting notes gives you more perspective on what you (or others) could have missed during a discussion. In our team it is mandatory for everyone to keep notes of their own and compare them to each other at wrap-up meetings (which occurred internally right after each client meeting). Everyone will be on the same page because it is very likely that someone else would cover what you may have missed during the initial discussion.

Don’t be afraid to say ‘There’s not enough time’

Under-estimation is one of the most common problems among everyone throughout the industry. We all get the anxiety of being seen as ‘lazy’ who always over-complicate things to the point where 2 days tasks seem like a 2 sprint project.

This is the first obstacle you will need to overcome. Be honest.

It is never a crime to say that there isn’t enough time to finish it. Saying that you are unlikely to finish it on time is much better than lying about it to avoid answering questions and destroying the entire workflow your team has been planning later on. If you’re not sure you can do it in time, speak out and let the team be aware and perhaps work together for a clear solution. Everyone working professionally would prefer you to respect your commitment and rely on you to finish work when you said it will be.

Self-Management is your responsibility

Most companies would have their main management tools where they plan out workload during the project. However, these tools are far from perfect and will give out too little or too much details at times. Occasionally, you may have to resort to having your own personal set of tasks where you divide and break down the list of things you need done.

Anything is usable as long as it’s handy for you at the moment. I currently use dynalist as my main go-to because of its ability to quickly indent a list with just one tab. I can then break it down into smaller subtasks afterwards. You can also try drawing your to-do as a mind map if you’re not so strong on typing stuff out.

It is crucial that these tasks be a checklist as it will force you to arrange them into smaller milestones that you could handle. The satisfying feeling of dashing off each item will, surprisingly, keep you motivated.

Stop lingering, do something. Anything.

Every time you hesitate to do something and just half-heartedly do anything else. The feeling of the time going by wastefully will eat you up inside. It could also further discourage you from accomplishing anything because you are then hating yourself for not doing the things you’re supposed to be doing.

You might want to watch a youtube video while feeling obligated to work. Surprisingly, you would feel much better if you set the timer for your ‘recreational’ time. Get on with it with 0 worries. And then get back to work when the time's up, or vice versa. Working in short bursts is proven to be more productive most of the time.

If you’re not sure how to start, Pomodoro is one of the effective techniques that you could easily adjust and try on your own.

Just, make sure you don’t ever overdo things

I have been very lucky to be working at OOZOU where people have this mentality where they don’t actually care if you are not working all the time. In fact, it is being strongly encouraged that you must not work more than the hours that you are required to. We have a very strict policy that is being told to our client that we’re not doing any form of overtime unless it is the absolute emergency.

From Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

This means that in a set amount of time you’re given. You will need to figure out the way to deliver the results. Which work wonders on your work-life balance. You accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. Learning how to speed up your process, while being free of that ‘not working harder like everyone else’ look by your colleagues.

Being treated like a professional results in an environment where you feel at ease and have more control over how you spend your time. When you feel like you’re being in charge of yourself, productivity will easily follow.

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Gavin Chiemsombat
I'm a full-time Product Designer (and a Front-end enthusiast) at OOZOU in Bangkok, Thailand

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