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Balancing the Grind with Alex Muench, Product Designer at Doist

Alex Muench is a Product Designer at Doist, the fully remote company behind productivity apps like Todoist and Twist, where he’s working remotely from Germany.

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

Hi, I’m Alex Muench, product designer at Doist. I’m working remotely from Germany. We are a fully-remote global company and create tools that promote a calmer, more balanced, more fulfilling way to work and live: Todoist, a task manager, and Twist, an asynchronous team communication app. My background is in graphic and communication design and I transitioned from classic editorial design to digital, web and finally product design.

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

Usually I wake up at 7:30am, get ready, take my vitamins, and make a cup of coffee. If I’m up to it, I like reading a book, newspaper, watching a video, listen, to a podcast, scroll through Twitter, or reply to some messages. I have a small time frame set before work where I can do anything that I find interesting or inspiring.

I start work at 8 or 9am in my home office, open Todoist and Twist, and go through my plans for the day and team conversations. As a designer, my areas of work can vary a lot. Most of the time, I work on one feature for a whole month inside a small internal team related to our apps. I’m also active in joining product discussions, helping other designers with feedback on their designs, writing design documentations, testing our apps and new features, or coming up with new ideas to solve problems.

During the day, I try to take regular breaks and eat lunch or brunch at 12pm. Sometimes I skip breakfast if I’m not hungry. Coffee and a glass of water are always by my side. I also have Spotify playing in my headphones. One of my favorite playlists is Electro Pop.

At 6pm I finish my day and do some other activities like watching a movie, reading an article or book, going for a walk, sketching on my iPad, or something completely different.

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

Yes! Our team has worked completely remotely since the beginning. So, this isn’t anything new for me. We’re a team of 75 full-time team members representing 35 nationalities residing in 30 countries, and 61 cities. I’ve been working this way for the majority of my career. I’m very adjusted to this style of living. I enjoy the freedom we get, but it also requires a lot of discipline to stop and transition your mind away from thinking about work. I have a few basic routines and everyday is almost the same, although I try to mix things up here and there and try to travel and work from different places like New York City.

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

To me, work-life balance means working with focus, clear goals and motivation but also knowing when to stop. Don’t until you are burnt out or work around the clock. I think if you are efficient, communicate well, and deliver reliably, you can find more time to relax. 

I have strict rules set for myself, for example finishing my work day at around 6pm, no matter what seems to be urgent. It’s easy to continue sitting in front of your screen and forgetting the time around you. My Apple Watch is also a great motivator for myself to close my exercise, stand, and move rings.

One other routine I have established is planning my week before it starts in Todoist. I try to have only one high task for the day and a few smaller ones I can check off to feel a sense of accomplishment. You need to respect your limits and not overload yourself. Without focus, you can quickly get overwhelmed. Throughout the day, I check Todoist regularly to stay organized and on top of everything.

I work on a 15 inch MacBook. The screen is big enough to get design work done, but not too big to open too many apps that could potentially distract me. A minimalist desk setup also helps me stay on track. I can’t stand it if there are too many objects lying around. I need a clean, clutter-free, and minimal desk.

If you’re well-suited for it and create healthy boundaries, working remotely can provide freedom, flexibility, and work-life balance. You can better integrate work hours into your life. 

After work I try to spend time away from screens, so I prefer listening to audiobooks mostly. The last one read was Talking to Strangers.

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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?

  • Setting strict work times and goals for myself to achieve throughout the week that are optimistic but also realistic.
  • Constantly building a network and socializing with designers on Twitter. It’s an amazing place to share thoughts and connect with people and the community. It’s helped me get jobs, meet people in various cities, and connect with genuine people that have the same interests.
  • Staying true to myself. Whenever I share or say something, I aim to be genuine. Many people try to sell you a version of themselves that they think sells. I don’t think this works well. If you are vulnerable and share your struggles, as well as your successes, people can connect to you much better.
  • Taking regular breaks. Just standing up, drinking a glass of water, wandering around, taking a deep breath can work wonders. Whenever I’m thinking about a design solution I’m walking around somewhere. I think best this way.
  • Getting enough sleep. I know this is a privilege, but I don’t have an alarm clock set in the morning. I have a routine to get ready for work but If I start at 8 or sometimes at 9.30 it doesn’t make a big difference. If I feel ready and at my best, I start.
  • Going swimming. It’s just so freeing and you move your whole body.

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

I like various kinds of genres of books. Many are design related but also about self-development, habits, thinking, motivation, psychology, and so on. 

A few of my favorite books:

Newsletters:

  • Positivity Blog – Personal development advice
  • Tiny Spells Daily motivational self care thoughts
  • Dense Discovery – Many interesting things to discover like apps, books, creative inspiration, thought provoking reads etc.

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

Trying to be present and eliminating distractions as much as possible. I like to have a tidy bed, workplace, and apartment that keeps my mind at ease.

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

Probably Tim Cook. I would love to know how he leads Apple, one of the largest and most inventive companies in the world. I’m curious about how he maintains a high-level overview of such a big organization and how he handles the pressure of creating innovative products on such an enormous scale.

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

Take more breaks. Let your mind wander from time to time. Seek the silence and listen to your body. I wish more companies would show more trust towards their teammates and allow people to work remotely more often. Break up your tasks and plan your week if you can. Most importantly, if you can, find meaningful work that matters to you.

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.