E023 Experiments with Productivity

In this episode, we talk about productivity and how it can be about managing expectations and emotions as much as it is about managing time.

Listen to the episode here:



NY Times article about procrastination

Book: Make Time

Book: Atomic Habits

Book: Design the Life you love


AngieHi, this is Design Lota, the podcast where we talk about life as Indian Designers. I’m Angie.

Sushi: I’m Sushi

Angie: In our last episode, we spoke to Nitasha Sarangi about Art Therapy and integrating art into our lives as designers.

Sushi: I have a cat coloring book that’s been lying around and I finally got to coloring a page last week. What about you Angie?

Angie: Actually, I haven’t been able to prioritize my creative getaway time lately. It’s been crazy. The struggle to stay on the productivity train is real.

Sushi: Tell me about it. I can’t say I’ve had a very productive week either with a lot of unexpected surprises from life.

Angie: That string of unexpected surprises aka LIFE. What does a productive day look like for you?

Sushi: I think the simple answer would be, a day where you get a lot done, but really, I think it’s a lot more complicated than that. We often plan to get x, y and z done on a given day, but on most days, maybe just x and y will get done. Sometimes, something that wasn’t even on the list will get done, and that will give us an immense sense of satisfaction.

Angie: I mostly have 3-4 things I try to focus on and get done and crossing off those things off my list makes me feel like I’ve had a productive day. (*maybe one more line*)

Sushi: I think for a designer, while it’s super important to have lists, a productive day goes beyond just completing things on the list. For instance, having a light bulb moment to a problem that was at the back of your mind for many months is extremely rewarding.

Sushi: Also there are rare days when I wake up feeling productive. I know what needs to be done, I have a lot of ideas. My sketchbook in front of me. But I just can’t bring myself to do a single thing. Do you experience that Angie?

Angie: Sometimes we just imagine so much about what we’re going to do that finally when it’s time to do it, you can’t get yourself to just start.

Sushi: Sometimes the most exciting and fun tasks can be the most intimidating to start. Even when we know from experience that these things are super rewarding. Like getting back to write a new season of a podcast after a break!

Angie: That sounds very familiar Sushi. Is this a podcast I know?

Sushi: I’ve also seen a tendency to have unrealistic expectations based on articles, books we read. I don’t think there’s one perfect solution to productivity. We need to put our learnings into perspective based on our personal contexts and what we have to deal with.

Angie: And how that affects our emotional state and motivation! Your cannot pit your number of ‘years of experience’ against someone else’s. Their context, their background, their personality or even the depth and the type of projects may be entirely different from your own.

Sushi: Like you and Nitasha were discussing in the art therapy episode, we have this culture of comparison, thanks to social media. We have no idea about what it took to showcase that one picture, or what really went into (securing) that dream project.

Angie: That is so true, Owning your context and experiences can give you a unique perspective and shape your design journey.

Sushi: These high expectations can also come from the culture of putting value on people based on what they do. quantity over quality, a race to the top…less room for boredom and thinking of new ideas.

Angie: I think we’ve all at some point beat ourselves up about things beyond our control.

Sushi: Yes, and personally, my emotional state plays a really big role. If I’m feeling anxious about not being good enough, I find it impossible to do anything that requires creative thinking. So it becomes a vicious cycle of sorts, and you keep putting off the things you need to do to really grow as a designer.

Angie: I remember this article you shared with me, by the New York Times, about how procrastination is an emotion management problem, not so much a time-management issue.

Sushi: I totally agree. Emotion, even in terms of us getting excited and hence distracted by…you know, distractions 🙂 And we have a lot of those, courtesy 2019.

Angie: I read this book called ‘Make Time’ recently and it talks about this concept of Infinity Pools – these infinite feeds of updates and information that are vying for our attention and that part of us that wants to be distracted doesn’t stand a chance.

Sushi: Interesting! And I think these infinity pools can be seemingly productive, like Linked-in or Pinterest tutorials.

Angie: Those are the worst! My biggest learning from Make Time has been about how I handle distractions. The important thing is to not let your will-power do all the work but make it harder for you to make unproductive choices.

Sushi: You mean, like blocking netflix on your work laptop?

Angie: Actually that’s not a bad idea – dedicated devices for your work and your entertainment – if you have the luxury to do that – can be a good way to train your brain on your intentions with that particular device – this can be extended to a place or a time – like working only when you’re at your desk, or say no work after 10 PM.

Sushi: But what about stuff like Pinterest, and blogs? Where you’re doing this for ‘research’?

Angie: Oh been there, done that, doing that! Well, I try to make a distinction between the work and the distraction – like using firefox for blogs and ‘inspiration’ and chrome for my actual work work. And that has helped to an extent.

Sushi: I need to try that. Right now my strategies are kind of basic – like, I make sure I don’t take up any social-media related tasks, because I know that it distracts me. When I have no choice, I set a timer within which I need to complete that task…it never works though 😛

Angie: Never say never! I think in this whole time managment thing, if you’ve identified what works for you and what doesn’t – you’re already progressing. Not everything in those lists of 8 things before 8 am that CEOs do – are going to work for everyone.

Sushi: One thing I’ve actually seen in people who make things happen, is that they are in a proactive mode, rather than a reactive mode – I have a friend who is quite active on social media, but instead of just ranting and commenting on all the happenings in the world, she turns them into satirical illustrations.

Angie: That’s really cool! I’ve definitely experienced that when you’ve made that decision to make something, get into that mode of creating – caught that train – you’re more likely to follow through.

Sushi: I feel like the creative process allows for gaps where those distractions can creep in – like the beginning of a project where you’re trying to understand the problem – or in the middle when you’re trying to get unstuck.

Angie: We’ve spoken about ambiguity before – I do think Ambiguity, and not knowing exactly where we’re headed with a particular project can also cause us to put that project on the back burner.

Sushi: The easy thing would be to open a new tab and do “some more research”, but I’ve found that what can be more effective is mind mapping or sketching while listening to focus music.

Angie: I think alternating between learning or ‘research’  and doing and making a habit out of doing what you learn can keep us in the flow…

Sushi: On the flip side, it can be hard to switch back to an admin-mode, while we are in creative focus mode. Once I’m in the zone of sketching out an idea for instance, I cannot stop myself, I feel like prolonging that task because it energises me. Do you every face that?

Angie: (responds) Yes, of course. Sometimes, you’re in the flow but you have to get into a meeting or something…

Sushi: Sometimes you’ll have to drop whatever you’re doing to send out an invoice, respond to your colleague in accounting, or update your stock, if you have physical products that you sell.

Angie: This is where I believe scheduling can be powerful, even if it seems like too small a task. I try to keep it a maximum of 3 things or ‘highlights of your day’, that absolutely have to get done in a day.

Sushi: I have a to-do list, which gets updated everyday but there are a few items which have been there for months, which I never go around to doing. How do we deal with that?

Angie: Yes for me, I think of my to-do list having a bouncer who decides what can and can’t make it to that list. And then it’s all about looking at my list now and again and seeing if those things are still a priority for me and why they haven’t been done yet and being okay with letting it go.

Sushi: You know how we sometimes had a free period in school, where we could catch up on homework, and teachers could catch up on corrections…I feel we need to set aside some time like that as well. But where is that elusive period in our adult lives?!

Angie: Sometimes, the most productive thing you can do is to say NO. Sometimes that means saying no to yourself, no to immediately responding to a prospective client on social media, no to sneaking in netflix during your lunch break.

Sushi: Yeah! There are also times when we feel completely exhausted, and at these times impossible to do anything at all. This is probably when we are most vulnerable to falling into the “netflix trap”

Angie: And once your following a series, vs a movie – then you’re all set to go into the infinity pool of binge watching! I’ve found it’s helpful to take some steps to manage my energy – which means sleeping well and eating right – for me that makes a big difference in how I feel about my work – and keep me from falling into those traps and pools.

Sushi: In the bustle of getting things done, it’s important that we don’t forget to set aside time to do the things we care about. And this can really affect how we address other tasks, that we may not really care about. I find that writing or sketching, or pottery first thing in the morning, sets the tone for my day.

Angie: Yes, I think it’s just how we are wired as human beings – we need to create, we need to spend time in nature, be still, have authentic conversations – all this helps us renew our energy to be more productive.

Sushi: And of course, keeping your phone away as much as possible can help you tap into hidden energy reserves!

Angie: Hey listeners – what are the productivity hacks that you swear by? we have listed some of the ways we handle distractions – check them out on the blog –

Sushi: But don’t drown in that infinity pool of research about productivity!

Angie: We will also have the complete transcript and references for this episode up on the blog, so be sure to check that out as well.

Sushi: Join us next time for an episode on designing spaces for play.

Angie: That’s going to be fun!

Sushi: Until then, bye!

Angie: Bye



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