10 Habits of Successful UX Professionals

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit” ­ — Aristotle

There has been a lot of talk recently about the power of habits and how they can help shape the quality of our daily life and make us more successful. I recently spoke with UXswitch about the habits UXers should practice in order to maximize your productivity, effectiveness, and overall success.

1. The Power of Pomodoros

In this digital age, it is very difficult to stay focused with attention-hungry app notifications, emails and phone calls. Distraction, multitasking or switching between tasks can cost up to 40% loss in productivity, according to Dr. Susan Weinschenck, Behavioral Scientist at the University of Wisconsin. We need to train ourselves to manage our concentration effectively to actually accomplish things during the day.

One method is to use the Pomodoro Technique. This relies on breaking your work down into short, timed intervals called “Pomodoros”. These are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines or busy inboxes. The time period of focus can vary depending on how you work better, but it is usually is either 25 or 50 minutes of concentrated work, rewarded with a 5 to ­10 minute break.

2. Wood from the Trees

When working on a project especially for a long period of time, you and your team get very close to it. It’s difficult to see the wood from the trees so to speak. It’s a good idea to take a step back from the project and seek a fresh perspective from other people. Think of it as a quick sanity check to challenge your current thinking. Small insights might lead you to stretch your boundaries and see things differently. Therefore, ask people unconnected with the project with they think, even non designers like the people in accounts or reception.

3. Lean on me

Working on challenging projects is a designer’s passion for sure. However, it can take some time to see the fruits of your work appear on the market and in the hands of users. Products are sometimes released after years of design work. In order to gain some gratification why not help someone else to achieve a random task. Help lay out a conference room for a meeting. Lift a new water bottle into the drinking fountain. Helping real people in real situations makes us feel good. We directly impact the day of others and build relationships in the workspace. UXers are some of the most empathetic people in business, let’s behave as such.

4. Just do it

10 minutes spent testing is more valuable than 10 minutes spent reading about why testing is important.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time to challenge thinking, discover insights, talk with people, to brainstorm and ask why. However, there is a case to just get things down on paper and for taking action. Just do it (thanks Nike).

You immediately get to visualize your thinking, helping to identify the existing gaps in your knowledge and point out what you might need more research on. It’s satisfying to begin to make progress.

5. Heeeeeeeelp

Ok I get it, we are the experts in our industry and it might be unsettling to admit that you don’t know something, especially to your boss or manager. Being honest and admitting that something might be more difficult than you can currently handle or that you need to talk to another expert will initiate meaningful discussions around the appropriate approach or solution. Remember, we are aiming to do the best for the clients and end users, this is rarely achieved by doing it all by ourselves.

Failing to ask for help will result in a very stressful situation as well as risking the quality of the deliverable or your organisation’s reputation. Transformative work usually comes out of a process that involves team effort not just individual talent.

6. Anticipate and adapt

Change is not an exception to the rule, it is the rule. Successful UX professionals anticipate change and adapt their thinking and methodologies to the circumstances they have in front of them. Change might come out of a revised deadline, a product pivot, a new research insight and so on. UXers should not be afraid to switch gears and work under the new circumstances.

The number of books, seminars and workshops around Lean UX has exploded the last year. Lean UX is all about flexibility and dealing with change. Every UXer should be aware of the methodologies advised therein.

7. Have a KitKat

Taking a break is often overlooked when we are working so passionately towards a deadline. However you should know when to turn off the computer and recharge the batteries in order to avoid exhaustion. If you use the Pomodoro Technique mentioned on habit #1 you will be able to manage that effectively during the day and not feel drained towards the end of it. The goal is to stay focused and productive, not to just be busy.

Daily breaks are essential to keep our routine and life balance in order. It is important to take extended days of vacation after a focused sprint of work in order to re­charge. Taking a long weekend every now and then to enjoy friends, family or even alone will go along way to giving you the necessary motivation and energy boost to continue enjoying your work. Take a sick day if you need it.

8. Specialize

Consider specializing in one area where you are strong then expand your skillset by learning a new discipline.

If you were to remember only one thing from this article, this would be it. UX professionals are empathetic people that have a natural inclination to design experiences people can connect to. However our profession has so many broad skill requirements that inevitably you will need to focus on the one that you are great at.

The key is to master one skill but identify one more that you are interested in, one that ideally connects with that primary skill. So for example, if you are great at organizing and structuring information, then information architecture is your key skill. Depending on what your secondary interests are, you could tap into the world of content strategy for example. Or how about visual design? Ask yourself, am I more into the holistic communication side of things or am I more engaged with the specificity of how the design creates an aesthetically pleasing interface? Whatever that is, take it one step at a time and grow that second skill.

This method will help you expand your competencies over time and add to your UX toolbox. Even if you don’t actually practice that skill commercially, you will be better able to communicate with other design professionals.

9. Reflect

It is important to take 10 minutes of your day and just write down what you accomplished. Our lives are fast paced and it is often difficult to remember things as time goes by and especially what we learned. By engaging ourselves to think through the day that has just gone by, our strategies for solving a problem become clear and it’s easier to evaluate their effectiveness. It might be difficult at first to get into the habit of it but like all of the other habits mentioned above, it’ll make you a better designer in the end.

10. Read, Read, Read

Finally, read as much as you can. This might seem like an obvious statement but reading is one of the best ways that you continue to evolve your own skills. It’s a good idea to keep learning about new topics that will make a true difference in your professional development.

There are plenty of UX blogs out there and excellent books on design to keep you engaged. Why not start by picking up a book and reading a chapter each day depending on how much time you can commit? Don’t let the plethora of material out there overwhelm you, you just need to take it one article or book at a time.

The path of going from a novice UXer to master is a professional journey that relies on taking everything one step at a time. Through daily improvement and refinement, successful UXers move onward in facing their next challenge and advance in their careers.

This article was first published on UXswitch on March, 2016.

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