Setting up my physical workspace
I believe that my physical workspace, just as the digital tools that I have, can have a big increase or decrease my productivity. Whether it be a standing desk or headphones that remove the noise, I want to be in an environment that I can focus on my work. I don’t work well when there are lots of things to divert my attention, like working in a coffee shop. When I’m home I close the door to my workspace so that my family knows that I’m not to be interrupted; I’ll also leave the door open when I don’t mind the interruption.
If you stop by the thoughtbot office or my house you’ll notice that my desks are practically the same. Both spaces will be clean to give me space to think and work. The more that is on my desk the more I get distracted and lose focus on my work.
Below are the objects that let me get my work done and why I think they are important.
13in MacBook Pro
The MacBook is the standard for any designer position but I’ve loved the 13in form factor. When I’m not hooked into a monitor, it fits perfectly on my lap which makes it easy to pull out on a train, in the airport, or almost anywhere else. The smaller screen forces me to focus and think about the tasks that I do on it. It ends up being great for writing but shitty for doing any kind of design.
Adjustable Height Desk
I’ve noticed that I do much better work while being able to sit and stand throughout the day. This could all just be in my head but I believe that there have been studies that show that both sitting and standing though out the day makes for a better work day. I am looking forward to getting these in the Austin office this week.
Lightning Display & 12 South HiRise and Book Arch
Bigger real-estate plus clamshell mode FTW.
Bose QuietComfort headphones
Besides my computer these might be one of the biggest tools that help me work. In my house and at work there are always outside noise and these headphones block out most of it. They put me in my own little world and allow me to focus on work.
Logitech MX Master
Switched to the Logitech mouse when I started having wrist issues from Apple’s Magic Mouse. The support and angle are perfect and the duel scroll wheels make up for not having a touch input. I used to have a Trackpad as well but it isn’t precise enough for design work and bothered me how much desk space it took up. I’ve tried Wacom but never could get it setup where it made me as fast as I was with a mouse.
Apple Wireless Keyboard
Probably the biggest reason for using this keyboard is that it’s similar to the keyboard on the laptop. There isn’t an adjustment from one to the other that there is with other keyboards I’ve used. Plus I’ve had both for so long that they just feel natural. I love the small form factor and the minimal space it occupies on the desk; it gives me much more range for my mouse.
Dot grid notebook & assortment of pens, markers and pencils
I like having dots to help me draw strait lines but I’m not tied too tightly to any paper or writing instrument. I will say that when drawing I love the standard yellow HB Ticonderoga.
Apple iPhone 7
Mostly used for keeping up on email, podcasts and RSS. At the beginning of the day I’ll sort through email, check on my days tasks and see my calendar otherwise it usually stays in my pocket or in a stand. It serves as a secondary tool for notes and todos too.
For work, I mostly use my watch to keep me on schedule. It shows me what my next meeting is and when and how many todos I have left in the day. I get few notifications expect for meeting reminders.
The Importance of Exercise
I used to obsessively track my steps with my Fitbit. Remaining the weekly champ was all important and going for runs and walks with the dog were the best ways to get myself up there.
I slowly fell out of favor with carrying around my Fitbit. I had found a consistent rhythm, hitting the same count every day, and wasn’t seeing the same push from the device that I had before. I stopped using it and without seeing my scores, with that I slowly eroded the habit I built up. I learned my first lesson; It’s much easier to stay in old habits than create new ones. It’s much easier to stop working out than it is to start up again.
Over the last couple months, I’ve been making sure that I exercise. What’s been unbelievable to me is the change that I’ve seen so far has been more mental than physical. Exercising has had a huge improvement to my stress level, my energy level, my patience and my ability to think. It’s been a reminder to me about how much our mind and body are connected.
Many of the workouts that I’ve done so far, especially the ones when I first started, haven’t even been that difficult but the mere act of doing something has made a huge improvement. I need to remember that such a small change can make a big difference in my mental health as well as physical.
Drunk on Conversation
I’m a self identified introvert and I really love time alone to sit and think (or run and think). As a husband, father of three and manager of designers, I don’t get nearly as much alone time as I once did. Don’t get me wrong, I love having in-depth conversation with the people that I’ve surrounded myself with. Hearing about my daughter’s day at school, going on walks with my wife and having one on ones with the Design Directors at thoughtbot are all incredibly fulfilling conversations and I don’t want them to change.
The issue that I keep running into is that I feel exhausted mentally after a few of these. This feeling is especially relevant after I’ve led a design sprint, which almost feels like waking up the morning after binge drinking. I head home after every day of the sprint feeling exhausted and delirious. This feeling, typical for many introverts, is called an introvert hangover because the symptoms are sometimes so similar.
Last Friday was especially bad for me because I had been in a sprint all week and then pushed my normal one on ones and meetings to the end of the week. This culminated in seven meetings on Friday lined up one after right after another. By the end of the day my brain felt like it had been used as a punching bag. Towards the end of days like these I end up saying stupid shit at best and at worst I say things I regret. Not so different to being drunk.
On my drive home I realized that I need to treat meetings like I would drinking. I need to space them out and make sure that I have down time alone for focused work. I need to make sure that if I’ve had back to back meetings all afternoon that my wife knows that I’m going to be a bit of a mess and that once the kids are in bed that I’ll need some time alone to recollect myself.
Space to think
Over the last few months, I’ve been trying hard to give myself moments to stop and think. This means quiet time where I’m not using my phone where I can leave my mind to wander.
The advent of the smartphone and my increasingly prolific use of it has helped me lose any time where I might stop and think. My excuse has been productivity but of course a lot of that productivity is playing games or reading news. I’d write in my journal and believe that this reflection was giving me the correct time to think. The times away from my phone, I force myself to be bored, allow me to better reflect back on the day. It gives me open time to let my mind wander to the topics that are most important to me at that time. These aren’t recorded like my journal entries and I appreciate that time more because I have no way to bring up my thoughts.
The best example of this change is when I go for a run. In the past I’ve typically brought my phone or iPod along with me and listened to music or podcasts as I ran. I used the excuse that the music pushed me to run harder and the podcasts entertained me during the long runs. Now I leave my phone at home and track my run on my watch. Having nothing but the monotonous task of running sets the perfect background for me to do nothing but be bored and think. To spend the 30 minutes running with myself.
The 80/20 rule of my tools
I’ve been a heavy user of both Vim and OmniFocus for a while. Both are expert tools that need constant sharpening and maintenance but that’s why I started using them in the first place. I’d spend a lot of time with both so it made sense to have the most tailored setup I could possibly have.
For vim, I’d keep my dot files up to date. I’d watch other designers dot files so that I could see how they were working with code. I spent time learning the plugin environment and theme environment to get the very best look. Even then there were still small things that I didn’t understand or couldn’t get quite right. Everytime something update I would have to spend a bunch of time learning and updating.
Over the last couple years my responsibilities have changed and the projects I had at work started to change as well. I didn’t write HTML & Scss nearly as much as I have in the past and my tool for that slowly began to slip. Instead I’m spent an increasing amount of time supporting designers, doing sales, conducting interviews. Google Hangouts have been used just as much as my code editor.
Also, by chance, many of the projects I’ve had over the last year have been more focused on user experience and visual design. I’ve spent just as much time sketching, in Sketch and Invision than I have in the browser and editor.
After trying a couple alternatives, I’ve been sticking with Atom.I got to 80% of what I use with Vim with 20% of the effort. The best part for me is that it doesn’t involve the same maintenance either. I don’t need to spend the same amount of time sharpening and leaning about dot files and which combination of plugins will make me really quick.
Similar thing happened with OmniFocus. I noticed that I was forcing a lot with an unnecessarily complex system. That system was complex because the software allowed me to endlessly change and iterate how it worked for me. I love iteration but I’d spend more time iterating on how I used Omnifocus than actually doing things.
I’ve switched back to Things to keep lists because it has a more structured system that I fit into. I’m ok with the missing features that I loved in Omnifocus because I don’t need my list app to be perfect. The 20% effort that it took to get going and maintenance with Things is more worth it than the 80% effort I was giving Omnifocus to keep things perfect.
Both of these make me believe that having a tool that gets a majority of the job done with minimal effort is more important than having a tool that fits my needs perfectly but takes a lot of time to maintain. I’m also wondering what other tools are out there that are ting more time and attention that I really need them too.