Creating digital products requires a special combination of postures and disciplines. It’s a team sport where each individual often works in isolation for set periods of time. This means that we have to be extra intentional about the way we approach our work. We need ways to stay engaged and refreshed for the sake of our teams and clients.
One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation. -- Arthur Ashe, Grand Slam tennis champion
There are scores of lists that compare product management software, outline the essential features of coding pipelines, or rank hardware that promises to make our remote working experiences just a little bit smoother.
All of that is well and good, but it’s only half of the equation. This is a short list of physical tools about doing the work behind the work; it’s the work that makes the work, work.
Five essential pieces for our toolkits as product experts
All of these tools are helpful for seeing more than one linear path to success in our work. As we apply ourselves in the field of product, we’re taking on a challenge that is both exhilarating and exhausting; sometimes these extremes occur within moments of one another!
This seems cliché but one of the best ways to clear our minds is to move our bodies. The mental and physical benefits of exercise can help improve our mood and reduce anxiety, providing stimulation that aids problem solving. All this and staying healthy, too?
It’s also helpful to put ourselves into new surroundings that may yield fresh perspectives. When we make time to take a break from mental work, especially if we can share that break time with someone else outside of our work, it completely revitalizes our minds and bodies for the tasks at hand.
Testing devices from previous generations often collect in drawers so that we can use the newest folding glossy goodness. This is a shame, because we focus on the new instead of the now.
What does that feature do when it has to run at half power, half bandwidth, or with half the visual real estate? Do we know our target audience’s context as well as we think? This is a practice that will improve both our work and our empathy towards others.
I’m a huge fan of the Apple Pencil and use my iPad every single day, but there is something incredibly helpful about the kinetic and tactile feedback when using a pen or pencil on real paper.
Think of notes like temporary bridges between working sessions. Writing something down forces us to slow down and helps our brains work out problems. Whether it's leaving a note for ourselves the next morning or before we take a lunch break, our work is improved when we express thoughts, list questions, vent frustrations, and then walk away.
Eliminating distractions and focusing on one task for a set period of time forces us to have a complete thought instead of chaining together disconnected moments. Working on one thing at a time may seem strange, even limiting, especially when we claim that we can multitask effectively.
Studies around attention and “switching costs” show that we only cut efficiency and raise risks when we take on more than one complex task at the same time. We can all tell when we’re reviewing work that was done without some singular focus; that ought to make us want to do better!
Bottles of water
More than half of our body is made up of water and needs to be constantly refilled or we’ll literally start to dry up. That process happens externally through our limbs and internally within our brain; drinking water is directly related to problem solving.
Drinking lots of water also ensures that we will take lots of breaks for walks, talks, or otherwise. Even the best countdown timer can’t beat the internal clock that says this working session is over--which is a pretty handy side effect.
Customers won't care about any particular technology unless it solves a particular problem in a superior way. -- Peter Thiel, “Zero to One”
Building digital products can be a stressful job, and it’s important to recognize that those pressures often come from sources beyond our control. When we build things for other humans, we give them permission to rank our work against other solutions, often in the form of public reviews or feedback tools that translate to new tickets for us to tackle.
Making time for the work behind our work prepares us for these unknown unknowns. Remember: building great products is a team sport, so the tools that we use change the way we interact with one another, as well! We owe it to our teams, and ourselves, to ensure that we are using the right tools for the job ahead.