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Set yourself up for a healthy, productive day at work as a designer

Just keep in mind that you cannot pour from an empty jug

UX/UI Design
5 minute read

There’s a war going on, climate change is manifesting itself in clearer ways than ever before, and we’ve barely emerged from the wake of a pandemic and still, there’s a lot of noise and pressure around being productive. We’re increasingly aware of the importance of nurturing our mental health, preventing burnout and taking care of ourselves in times of such unprecedented stress. The two are not mutually exclusive — you cannot be productive at work in a sustainable way until you strike a balance between focusing on work and taking care of yourself. So how do we do this, especially if our work is also a source of necessary stress?

It may not sound easy, but it’s definitely possible. Let’s see how we can achieve this.

Looking inwards

Your journey to being productive starts with taking a long and hard look within yourself. While it may seem daunting, it’s necessary because your journey to being productive and taking care of yourself starts with… yourself. Here's an example of an exercise you can practice.

Grab something to write/type with and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s your favourite part of your job? Which part do you find most draining?
  • What are the times of day when you feel most energised? What times do you feel drained?
  • Are your manager and team supportive of your ways of working? If not, can you have a conversation with them about how you can work better together?
  • What would you be doing if you had all the time and money in the world? And don’t stop at “travel” or stuff like that. Go deeper to discover what drives you.
  • Do you look for purpose and fulfilment within your work, or do you have ways of finding it outside of work?
  • Are you happy with what you’re doing for work or is it a means to an end? If the latter, can you try to figure out what you’d like to do instead?

The answers to these questions will help you get a clear direction for your style of working, and more importantly, they’ll answer why you should want to have a productive day at work.

A morning routine

A couple of months into the pandemic, I found myself deflated every time I started my day. I had the privilege of being a tech worker, so I used to wake up at noon, do a bit of work during the day, and then mindlessly browse or consume content till the early hours of the morning. It left me feeling exhausted all the time, and my focus and work suffered.

I knew I needed to turn things around, so I joined an online Bootcamp which helped me reset these habits and form a strong morning routine. My routine consisted of three things: exercise, meditation and journaling.

  1. Exercise: 30-60 mins of any kind of activity that makes you sweat.
  2. Meditation: 30 mins of focusing on body sensations, and then your breath.
  3. Journalling: 12 mins of writing down anything and everything that comes to mind, followed by 3 mins of writing one thing you’re grateful for.

After sticking to the routine for a few weeks, I realised I felt a lot better about my day, and that automatically put me in the mode to get things done rather than my previous default of procrastination.

Pro tip: Add a good breakfast and you’ll get the energy boost you need for a supreme start to the day.


Remember when you told yourself you’ll do something later that day or week or month? And then you didn’t? When there’s something we need to do that doesn’t excite us, we often put it aside without committing to the date or time. More often than not, it doesn’t get done. An easy way to hack this habit is to divide your day and week into chunks of time that are popularly called time blocks. This is proven to be a lot more effective in getting things done.

Think of time blocks as LEGO blocks for your time. You commit to doing a task at a certain time of the day or week. The best thing about time blocks is that they can be flexible. So if something unexpected comes up during a block you put for something else, you can move the block ahead. Make time blocks for non-work things as well. You can see your entire day in one view and it will be easier to move things around when unexpected situations arise.

Pro tip: stack your time blocks for deep work together, and keep them separate from time blocks for meetings as much as possible. This will avoid context-switching during your deep work time and make it more effective.


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Don’t wait for motivation

When I talk to people about things they want to do but aren’t doing, the most common reason I hear is a lack of motivation. There are usually a couple of things at play here.

  1. We believe our work should keep us engaged and motivated at all times. This is unfortunately a myth. There will always be a part of work that is boring and unsexy.
  2. Motivation doesn’t come without action. It’s the other way around. This is also why it’s easier to keep going once we’ve started.

Pro tip: Keep a low entry bar for your boring tasks. Aim to do just one or two of the boring things in a time block. If it’s a large bit of work, break it down into smaller chunks and aim to do one or two chunks. Then you can gradually increase the amount of work per time block. This brings us to the next tip, which is…

To-do lists

This is a clichéd tip, but it’s really effective! We usually have a lot of things to do, and not just at work. There’s a reason why so many to-do apps exist, and more keep coming up. We don’t always need an app, though. It can be something simple like a pen and pad. Or an app, if you prefer that. Or a Kanban board.

The key is to document what you need to do in a day, ideally at the start of your day or the night before. Pro tip: It’s equally important to cross out tasks as you work your way through the list. It provides a sense of accomplishment which keeps you motivated to cross out more.

Celebrating small wins

Every time you get something is done which felt challenging or uncertain when you started, give yourself a pat on the back and reward yourself in small ways. It could be something as simple as giving yourself more time with your favourite series, cooking something nice for yourself, or a glass of your favourite drink. But try to keep it as healthy, you don’t want to create or reinforce unhealthy patterns.

Letting go

This one’s the most important. We do not control many aspects of our work. This is increasingly true thanks to the interconnected ways in which we work. We may have to depend on others doing their bit before we can respond or do our bit.

The best we can do is... our best, and let things play out as they will. When we spend time stressing about things that aren’t in our control, it’s hard to disengage. And as important as it is to get things done, it’s equally important to disengage at the end of a long day so you can rest, recharge and return refreshed for a new day.

Wrapping up

As with everything else you read on the internet, your mileage may vary with these tips. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong, or that the tips don’t work; it could just be that your situation is different at this time, or that you need to give yourself more time before these changes start showing results. Take and apply what you can, and give it some time.

In the end, you’re the best judge of your situation. Just keep in mind that you cannot pour from an empty jug. When you take care of yourself, productivity comes more easily.

You’ve got this.