Early last month, Fast Company Design published Productivity Tips From the World’s Top Designers. It quickly made its way around our design team and got us thinking about the habits, workflows, and exercises we’ve adopted as we design software products and brand communications.

These are some of the things we’re doing on a daily basis to stay productive:

Healthy start

1. Set the tone. I wake up early to exercise, write, and meditate. Accomplishing these things before I hit the office sets a positive and productive tone for the rest of my day. It also allows me to focus all my energy on projects at work rather than thinking about what I need to get done afterwards.

Anthony Agrios – Product Designer

2. Alert all senses. Cycling from Brooklyn into lower Manhattan is a good way to mentally get ready for the day. Riding around New York forces me to make critical decisions early on, some of which that could affect my well being. Also, biking through Chinatown on a hot summer day wakes up all available senses.

Elliott Romano – Jr. Product Designer

3. Discover connections. I always found it easier to think when I’m in motion, whether on a train, on a bus, or outside running. I think partly it’s because when I’m travelling to the office I’m stuck for a set amount of time which allows me to settle in and let my thoughts wander. But I also think it’s the steady rhythm that helps my brain discover patterns and connections and allows my ideas to find focus.

Sofia Hoflin – Communications Design Director

4. Take the scenic route. Walking to work with music clears my head. I try not to think too much about anything, just observe and maybe daydream. I also avoid checking email until I’m in the office.

Anne Foley – Sr. Product Designer

5. Shift your schedule. As I transitioned from designer to design manager, my schedule shifted from late night explorations to early morning sessions. I’ve found mornings the most productive time to get organized and make decisions for the team, it’s when my mind is clear and focused.

Dom Goodrum – Design Director

Planning is everything

6. Set a daily goal. When I get into the office, I usually spend about 5-10 minutes planning out what I want to achieve on my calendar. This way I get reminders during the day about where I expected myself to be at that time. I also keep a short ‘end of day log’ in my notebook to remind myself where I left off.

Elliott Romano – Jr. Product Designer

7. Create to-do lists. I encourage everyone to develop a to-do list system that works for them. Mine is pretty basic. I have an Evernote doc where I place my to-do’s into three buckets; ‘Today’ (the most important stuff) ‘Tomorrow’ (things that aren’t urgent). And ‘Future’ (when I get to them). It’s a simple system that helps me prioritize.

Dom Goodrum – Design Director

8. Kickstart tomorrow. Before I close up shop for the day, I like to make a quick list of what I want to accomplish for tomorrow. This allows me to come into the office ready to work.

Chris Carbo – Jr. Product Designer

Alexandra Making a To-do list

Blocking out time

9. Balance projects. Time management is an important way to stay productive. I like to block out about an hour at a time to focus on specific tasks. It is especially useful when I have multiple projects because it allows me to jump around and make progress on all my projects simultaneously.

Erin Galarza – Product Design Director

10. Know your strengths. I tend to have the most focus later in the day, so taking meetings in the mornings or directly after lunch allows me to prepare myself to focus on work that needs to be done.

Alexandra Collins – Jr. Product Designer

11. Tasks, then emails. We’ve separated out project related and general company communication to ensure we stay on top of project needs. We use the task management tool Asana across our product projects. This has become an important communication tool and is now my go-to inbox each morning.

Dom Goodrum – Design Director

Getting in the zone

12. Create a place for thinking. At the beginning of a project, I find a place where I can disconnect from my computer and sprawl out. This helps me focus and allows me to be the most productive.

Erin Galarza – Product Design Director

13. Build a ritual. Once I get into work I grab an iced coffee, find one of my favorite Deep House mixes on Soundcloud, and start cranking on whatever’s most important. Repeatedly combining caffeine with a specific type of audio has trained my brain to focus on command. Once I set the coffee down on my desk I can literally feel the clarity coming.

Anthony Agrios – Product Designer

14. Shut out distractions. I like to turn off all notifications and hide my dock to limit distractions. This has been key for me. Seeing those notification pop-up’s is pretty distracting, as well as the little red number count above icons in my dock. Hiding my dock and turning off all pop-ups and sounds allows me to give my full attention to whatever I’m working on.

Alexandra Collins – Jr. Product Designer

15. Find the right tunes. I love putting my headphones on and getting in the zone. What ‘the zone’ is depends on what part of a project I’m working on. If it involves reading, writing, and coming up with concepts I want something non-distracting that keeps driving me forward. A couple of my favorite albums here are Fin by John Talabot and Hope by Aril Brikha. When it’s crunch time and the work is more production based I like albums with almost a marching rhythm. When I’m pushing for a deadline I can listen to the same album for hours and hours, days and days. A couple of examples of albums that I’ve completely ruined for myself are AM by the Arctic Monkeys and Seeds by TV On The Radio.

Sofia Hoflin – Communications Design Director

Elliot Romano in the zone

Recharge each day

16. Step away from the screen. I invest in time away from my screen. I’m sort of referencing Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks here: “Give yourself a present everyday”. When I’m mocking up a visual design or have been working on a research document all day, it’s good to take breaks by stretching, getting a coffee, or taking a walk around the block. I have an important rule: when you unplug, stay unplugged.

Elliott Romano – Jr. Product Designer

17. Get inspired. After a few hours of work I like to walk around SoHo and scope out the new graffiti or drop into pop-up shops and sample sales. Disconnecting for 30 minutes gets me ready to dive back in.

Anthony Agrios – Product Designer

18. Learn something new. I find time throughout the day to turn off and reset. I often go for a walk at lunch and listen to a podcast to learn something new, or perhaps just laugh. This helps me recharge.

Anne Foley – Sr. Product Designer

Customize your workspace

19. Make it your own. I recommend setting up your workspace up in a way that inspires you, whether it’s clean or chaotic. The things I surround myself with when working impact my design, for better or for worse. When setting up your own space you can use posters, books, or a beer fridge—doesn’t really matter. Just make it your own.

Michele Byrne – Communications Designer

20. Build a gallery. This is a lightweight and simple method I use to collect all my thoughts. I like to pin up research, user stories, and wireframes in the space I’m working. It helps me systematically lay out my thoughts while collaborating with others. Taking this holistic view can help identify the holes in your thinking early on.

Erin Galarza – Product Design Director

Diego Barragan's Gallery

Streamline your workflow

21. Set-up files. When I’m getting into designs I like to start with the perfect file setup. Setting this up can sometimes take longer, but in the end it’s saves a ton of time and headaches. I use my design tools to their fullest extent by setting up character styles, saved swatch templates, and locking my grid in place. Next time I need it, it’ll be all ready!

Michele Byrne – Communications Designer

22. Remove friction. The more seamlessly I can access my files, create mocks, and get feedback, the more effective I am as a designer. Taking the time to build out reusable templates and research new ways of working helps remove friction from jumping off. Software integrations like Invision Sync and Adobe Creative Cloud have been incredibly effective in minimizing the amount of time I spend looking for assets or saving out PNGs.

Anthony Agrios – Product Designer

23. Automate where possible. We’ve learned a lot from our Engineering team’s obsession for automating repetitive actions. This has streamlined how we communicate as a design team to the rest of the company. For example, we worked with Engineering to build a script that automatically notifies our Marketing team once a product design task is completed in Asana. This allows Marketers to review the feature and consider its role in our communication efforts.

Dom Goodrum – Design Director

Anthony Agrios' Workspace

Reflect on the day

24. Manage yourself. I’ve learned managing myself is an important part of staying productive. I carve out the time to reflect on a meeting. That typically includes action items, insights, and refining my notes. This allows me to enter the next task clear headed and focused.

Erin Galarza – Product Design Director

25. Use giant red sharpies. There’s nothing more satisfying than crossing out every item on a list and looking at a page of giant red lines. I generate that feeling of accomplishment every day by reviewing the list of daily objectives I’ve set for myself.

Chris Carbo – Jr. Product Designer

We’ve found understanding what makes us productive and motivated is an important conversation for us to have as a team. Our learnings have changed the way we work together, and approach design at Percolate. Also, documenting these tips have been a great way to help new people settle in.

Our final tip, is to visit percolate.com/design to learn more about our design culture and the opportunities for amazing (and super productive) designers to join our growing team.