Wednesday, September 27, 2017

I'm an Experience Director and This is How I Work Part Three

Culture / Design / Technology

In Part One of “How I Work”, I discussed how I struggle to explain what I do at work. In Part Two, I shared my personal and professional influences. For this third and final part, I’ll focus on the tools that help me get my work done.

I admit that writing about tools was a challenge for me; I espouse the idea of UX people sharing ideas clearly in lieu of discussions on which tools are “best”. So, keep in mind that these are the things that work best for me.


As I alluded to in Part One, my calendar gives me a flavor of each day. Thus, if something isn’t on my calendar and isn’t on my to-do list, odds are very good that it won’t happen. As a result of this, my calendar sometimes looks a little… daunting.

paul 1 - calendar

Aside from information I had to remove, you can see a few trends here. I’m not as disciplined as my colleague Brandon Rozelle on this, but, these things tend to ring true.

  • I am realistic with boundaries. This is hard to admit. But carving out recurring out-of-office meetings that reflect when I’m actually not in the office has been incredibly helpful, particularly for people I work with on the East Coast. Before 8:30 am, I can’t meet; I’m getting my kiddo ready for school. I just started blocking out my lunch time recently; I can use it as I see fit, but I find that even just going for a walk gives me the energy I need to pile through an afternoon.
  • I block off work times. When I have to do extensive planning, research, and heads-down work, it works best for me to block those swaths off in my calendar. One piece of feedback I heard on this approach was that it was hard to schedule time with me. Of course, that’s not what I’m going for – there is some flexibility here. But the day has to reflect what I need to pay attention to, lest it be forgotten.
  • I take a week-by-week approach, generally. My project work, personal goals, and other initiatives tend to be broken down by weeks. At the start of each week, I take a few minutes to look at what I need to do and schedule time for it, if necessary. If there are things like travel days, odds are good I’ll need to adjust my schedule, so I do. To me, not keeping a meeting – especially a 1x1 with my team – is very very bad. So this all keeps me honest.
  • I try to use emojis in meeting titles. Because sometimes you just need to, y’know?

To-Do Lists

I have struggled with to-do lists. I do adhere to them a little more at work than I do when I’m not at work. Things is my app of choice on the Mac and my iPhone and, if I think about why this is, there is one killer feature that I love: the Quick Add on a Mac. If I hit Control-Space from anywhere on my Mac, I get this dialogue box.

paul 2 - thingsquickadd

This saves my bacon more than you can imagine. When I think of something I need to do – which happens randomly during the day – or start to imagine a tiny project plan in my head, I can slam Control-Space and capture it. I use this for lots of reminders: for meetings, for activities, for making phone calls, for writing emails, for follow-ups, and even for remembering to take my leftover tacos home at the end of the day (very important).

Of note, I keep a very small tag structure in Things. I had experimented with tagging items by how long I think they’ll take, but that never stuck. For now, I’ve settled on a structure of Home and Work. That’s it. I can’t work on Home items at Work, and vice-versa, so this keeps things nicely segmented.

Miscellaneous Software

Rounding out software, I spend a fair amount of my days in Outlook (for calendaring and emails), Skype for Business (for meetings), Excel (for IA geekiness and project estimation), OneNote (for… notes), and Word (for writing, natch). The aforementioned Things keeps me on track. Tweetbot is my Twitter client of choice. Spotify keeps my music going. Safari is the browser I use and love. Box and Dropbox, along with InVision, Sketch, and Axure, are quite necessary for many of the deliverables I make.

Instapaper is an essential tool for me. I can save articles and interesting items from around the web in Instapaper and promptly feel awful for never reading them! I kid, I kid; when I want to spend time reading and researching, I can toss things over to Instapaper and know they’re waiting for me.

Lastly, I want to call out Keynote. Yes, it’s a presentation tool, but I have found it to be indispensable for lots of weird little things I need to do. I can use it to mock out what a navigation structure could look like. I can use it to edit photos without hauling out Photoshop. I can use it to explore animation interactions. I can set type with a decent level of precision. It’s really good.

Where I Work

The nature of my work means I’m not at a desk all day, nor do I need to be. Interviews don’t happen from behind a keyboard, and user research means I’m out where other folks are doing their jobs; I also work with clients nationally, so travel is in the picture. Thus when I’m at my desk, I want my environment to be as pleasant as possible.

paul 3 - workspaceoverhead

(And yes, this is about as cluttered as it gets; I’m not a fan of messes. That’s why I do information architecture!)

There are a few tips and tricks that help me out.

  • Optimize what you can, especially when traveling. I could easily fall into the trap that Chidi on The Good Place does and agonize over every decision. Instead I stick to a chosen airline, rental car company, and hotel chains when traveling. It’s one less thing to worry about, and sets up consistency when I’m away from home, which is invaluable.
  • Stay hydrated and moisturized. You laugh and I hear you, but Denver is dry. My Kleen Kanteen is always at my side, full of cool water. I routinely keep my hands moisturized, particularly in the winter. When I’m heads-down in work, it’s far too easy to ignore basic needs; so don’t do that.
  • Get a good notebook and a good pen. In spite of my lists and calendars and the like, I often need to write or sketch in order to get ideas out. Field Notes are my notebooks of choice, and I love the Uniball Signo RT 0.38mm pens.
  • Repeat to yourself, “It’s just a website; I should really just relax.” I truly enjoy my work. I genuinely love those moments of understanding and of clarity. But I have to keep perspective on everything: when I’m in a tough spot, I may need to force myself to slow down and relax and just step out of the moment. Years ago, a great boss told me, “Listen: we’re not making airplanes here and we’re not emergency room doctors. We’re making websites. That’s all.” That stuck with me.

It’s been a joy to share with you a bit about me, my work, my love for tacos and puns, and my passion to make things a little better for people. Don’t be a stranger; if you’ve got thoughts or comments or accolades, feel free to get in touch. Thanks for reading.

Paul McAleer is an Associate Experience Director at Rightpoint. Follow Paul on Twitter and LinkedIn.