Designers / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Ana Ferreira, Head of Design at Doist

Ana Ferreira is the Head of Design at Doist, where she oversees all design projects across the apps – Twist and Todoist – to marketing communications and illustration.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

As a kid, I was always drawing. This translated into following Arts in high-school, which led me to study Graphic Design in university. This introduced me to web design, which drove me to a Master’s degree in Usability in the Web.

During these years, I met inspiring people and discovered my passion – creating applications to help people reach their goals and live a more balanced and fulfilled life.

This brought me to Doist in 2013 when they were looking to hire their first designer. Seven years later, I’m still at Doist where I’m the Head of Design. I oversee all design projects, from our applications – Twist and Todoist – to marketing communication and illustration, which means providing lots of feedback, and helping move discussions and projects forward.

In the past year, I’ve taken steps to stop working on big design projects so that I can focus on being a manager, helping the team grow and trying to remove any blocks they might encounter. I couldn’t be more proud of the work we do.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

All my days start the same way, getting up at around 7:30/8:00, showering, and getting dressed. Without this step, I’m still in sleep mode wanting silence, but afterwards I’m ready for my day!
Recently the rest of my routine changed –– I would guess this is the case for everyone.

Nowadays, we are advised to stay at home, so I replaced my morning walk to the coffee shop (or my twelve minutes walking commute to the office) with a morning routine of journaling while having my morning coffee in my living room. 

Then I move to my home office, and I’m ready for my workday.

I don’t have a particular time to start working. It usually happens between 9:00 and 10:00. Around 12:30/13:00, I take a 45-minute break to prepare and eat my lunch, after which I go back to my office to work.

My workday is very free-form as it depends on the tasks I need to do and the meetings I may have. But there are some constants: 

  • I check my email once a day, usually in the morning. We almost never use email at Doist, so it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to clean up.
  • All our internal communication happens asynchronously on Twist (our communication app), so I only check it a couple of times a day, and my objective is to reach inbox zero once a day. If I already achieve it in the morning, I may postpone non-urgent messages to the next day.
  • I try to have at least three to four hours of focused and undisturbed time per day, usually in periods of at least one hour.
  • I keep small/low impact tasks for periods where I know I only have a couple of minutes; this helps me keep the most important tasks for my deep-work hours.

Ending my workday is difficult, especially nowadays that I don’t have events or appointments happening outside my house. I’ve started scheduling a 30 minutes workout around 6 PM  or 7 PM to end my day.

Having this on my calendar helps me disconnect and shift my focus to something else. Sometimes I still go into Twist before preparing dinner to see if there is something urgent from co-workers in the US, but that never lasts more than 15 to 30 minutes.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine? 

Doist is an entirely remote company, with 70+ employees working across 30 countries, so all work can (and is) done remotely. With the exception of some meetings, everyone is encouraged to organize their day the way that works best for them.

For me, remote work allows me the freedom to start my day when I’m ready, and it doesn’t force me to stay in front of my computer, pretending to work when I’m not productive. Instead, I can take a break, have a coffee, read something, and that helps me reset my mind and my productivity.

And finally, remote work allows me to have deep-work hours every day, where I won’t be disturbed. It forces me to be disciplined in the way I organize my time and tackle my to-do list.

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4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I think work-life balance was my biggest challenge with remote work. I always have my laptop with me, and cool projects to work on, so it was hard to learn how to disconnect. I only learned how to do it after tendinitis and carpal tunnel limited the number of hours I could work, which happened about four years ago. 

Today I close all my tabs and applications before ending my workday; this way, if I need to use my laptop at nights or weekends, reaching for the work applications will require a decision. 

I also disabled badges on work applications, and all notifications except Twist DMs during work hours. All notifications are disabled at night and during weekends.

I believe setting boundaries for myself was essential. My most important boundaries are that I don’t work on weekends and I don’t work nights.

And as with anything else, I may choose to break them, but that will be an intentional action.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

  • Learning when it’s time to focus and be productive, and when it’s time to disconnect and enjoy life. 
  • Recognizing when you are having a bad day and knowing what actions you can take to improve it. 
  • Not following everyone else, but instead trying to find your own way. 
  • Always be learning.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I will recommend one of each:

  • Ruined by Design, by Mike Monteiro, because it’s time for designers (and everyone else in the tech industry) to consider the repercussions of our work.
  • Design Life, by Charli Prangley and Femke van Schoonhoven, because we need more women sharing their knowledge.
  • James Clear newsletter, because I like the 3-2-1 format, and how actionable some of the tips are.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Having my morning coffee in a relaxed environment without being in a rush.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

I don’t think there is one particular person, but I love to read how other designers and managers organize their lives and work.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Say “no” more often. Every time you say “yes”, you are saying “no” to something else, so be intentional on what you say “yes” to.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.