A typical day in the life of a design manager

The irony of starting a post with a title like this is that mostly my days are very atypical. The first couple of days of the week I tend to focus on having 1:1’s and design critiques with my team, while on Wednesday and Thursday I focus on blocking larger chunks of time for more heads down thinking and product/business calls. On Friday I like to keep my calendar free of calls, and focus on checking industry news, checking out competitors, doing some sort of exercise in customer empathy, learning, or engaging with the community.

But for the sake of this exercise I’ll pick a Tuesday:

7AM – 8AM: Wake up and get ready

I wish I as an early riser, but I’m not. I like to start my day slow, so I’ll make coffee and do some non-fiction reading first thing in the morning. I find it very difficult to read after a work day, so in an effort to read more, I try to read for 30 minutes. Sometimes I fall under the trap of checking my phone, but I mostly avoid social media.

I also try to practice meditation during this time. I can go through weeks of continuous practice, but can also go for long periods of time without doing it. Generally when I feel stress or anxious I restart the meditation practice.

I work from home since joining Automattic in 2014, and it has been one of the most impactful changes in my life. At home I’m lucky to have a dedicated work space. I think it’s important to have clear boundaries between work and living space, specially if there’s a spouse/partner or kids sharing the space, which is my case since my partner also works from home at times.

8AM – 12PM: 1:1’s

My team spreads across the globe, from Australia to the West Coast of the US, so biweekly on Tuesdays I have 1:1’s with my APAC/Europe colleagues.

Depending on the person, a 1:1 can take from 30 to 50 minutes. I don’t follow any specific structure for these calls, I like to keep things open so that people can bring in topics to discuss. We frequently also use this space to go over work in progress.

In the breaks between calls I’ll go over previous 1:1 notes, and get updated on design work or discussions I’d like to address during the call.

12PM – 2PM: Workout and lunch

I have this time blocked on my calendar every week day, but I don’t always go to the gym. If I don’t, or if I decide to workout from home and not the gym, I’ll work until 1PM. When working out from home I like to have fun with Ring Fit Adventure on Nintendo Switch.

I like to split my work day in two parts, specially the days where I have a lot of calls. If I have lunch at home I’ll catch up on Youtube channels while I eat.

To make things simple, I have ready to eat diet meals delivered once a month that I just need to stick in the microwave. Not the most delicious food, but it saves time and headspace of thinking about what to cook, or order in.

When I have time I sneak in a 20 minute nap.

2 – 3PM: Catch up

Since I spent most of the morning on calls I probably wasn’t able to catch up on was going on. I spend this time reading through P2‘s of my team’s output, and also other projects I’m keeping an eye on, as well as any other company wide relevant updates. I also scan through Slack throughout the day.

3 – 4PM: Design critique

I meet with a few members of my team that are working on a specific product focus, and go over the projects we are working on. We use this time to provide feedback, and to create alignment between different projects or overlapping aspects of our products.

4 – 5PM: Interview

I’m part of the design hiring team at Automattic, so usually I’ll have one or more interviews scheduled in the available time in my calendar. I will have prepared the interview before hand, learning about the candidate’s background, going over the project they would like to discuss during the chat, and checking the notes that were provided by the colleague the evaluated the application and portfolio.

We conduct the interviews in written form via Slack, which can be a bit uncommon for most people, but we like to conduct the hiring process close to how we work on the day to day. It also allows us to gage how the candidate can communicate in written form, something that is crucial for working in an async environment.

5 – 6PM: Wrap up

At the end of my work day I’ll probably spend a bit more time on Slack going over and contributing to conversations, answering any pings, going over P2’s again replying with comments. I also do a review of what I was able to accomplish, and clean up my to-do list for the next day. I use a combo of Todoist to capture my tasks, and then I schedule them into my calendar using the Google Calendar integration.

6 – 8PM: Wind down

Since I start at 8AM on Tuesdays, and because it’s a call-heavy day, by 6PM my brain is mush. On other days I can stop between 5 and 7PM depending on how much pending work and energy I have. I usually don’t work past 7PM unless it’s really necessary. Sometimes I finish early if I’m feeling accomplished or if the energy to continue working in not there.

If not going out to meet family or friends for after work drinks or dinner, I like to wind down by playing some video games, doing some chores around the house, go outside to get some air, or just fall flat on the couch and get trapped in endless scrolling until dinner time (this happens a lot).

8 – 12AM: Dinner and relax

If staying at home I’ll order-in 90% of the time. I’ve been doing very little cooking over the last year or so.

Sometimes I’ll pop-in to Slack if I was waiting for a response from a colleague in a different timezone. I try to avoid doing this, but it’s necessary to keep things moving at times. I don’t have Slack notifications on my phone to avoid being pinged and getting trapped in a conversation when I’m not working.

Since COVID I’ve mostly stopped watching news on TV, so after dinner I’ll watch something on streaming until it’s time to go to bed. If I still have energy I’ll try to do some fiction reading in bed.

Illustration credit: absurd.design