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Balancing the Grind with Darshan Gajara, Product Designer & Maker

Darshan Gajara is a Senior Product Designer at Berlin-based startup, GraphCMS, and the founder of Product Disrupt, his side project to help people learn product design.

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

I’m a Product Designer driven by a passion for making human-centeredproducts that solve a problem for the user and bring in business value bycollaborating with different stakeholders.

I’ve learned design from the internet and through deliberate practice and strongly believe in giving back to the community. That’s the reason why I started Product Disrupt – my side-project to help others learn product design.

I’ve got 7 years of experience working with companies of all sizes. I’ve also worked as an independent consultant for about 3 years.

During this time, I had the opportunity to work with clients and brands in different domains in countries like India, the US, UK, UAE, Canada & Australia.

It helped me understand the business of creativity and consistently improve in delivering end-to-end product solutions.

A couple of months ago I joined GraphCMS in Berlin as their first product designer. The opportunity is quite exciting as I’m getting to build the design culture in the company, set up the design process and also work on our design system.

We’re an early-stage startup and seeing good growth in recent times. It’s an exciting time to be at GraphCMS.

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

My workday could look very different depending upon what I’m working on that day. But a few things always remain the same.

Since our company is completely remote with an office here in Berlin, I can work both from home and from the office. So I like to mix it up.

When I go to the office, my day starts with the Berlin Briefing podcast on my way to the office. I listen to this podcast every weekday to keep up with what’s happening in the city.

I take a tram to the office with 25-30 minutes of commute. So I can finish the podcast episode and also check Twitter and other messages on my phone.

After I reach the office around 10 am, I make myself a coffee and catch up with Slack, Linear and Figma comments. We’ve our daily standup at 11:30 am, before that, I would make a list of things that I need to work on during that day.

I go out for lunch with my teammates around 12:30 at noon. Fortunately, our office is located in central Berlin so we’ve plenty of food options to pick from.

The afternoon is when I get the bulk of my work done. Yeah, it’s a little different for me, I’m the most productive after lunch until the evening.

I leave the office by 7 pm, get home, eat some snacks and go for a run. I listen to podcasts while running and I recently got myself a JBL wireless earphones, which has made the running experience even more enjoyable.

I drink a smoothie or eat something light after the run. Then I take a shower and work on my side-projects. I’m usually to bed by 12:30 in the night.

This routine works really well when I’m working from the office while things are a bit unstructured while working from home.

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

Our company is completely remote with people from 5 different continents. And we’ve adapted the asynchronous way of working, which I find to be very effective and helps us move fast.

What I love about working at GraphCMS is that we don’t have a lot of meetings every day. Apart from the daily standup which is scheduled in our overlap time, we only have a couple of other team and company-wide meetings on a weekly and bi-weekly basis respectively.

The majority of our communication happens in writing and is visible to everyone inside the company.  Of course, we can do other ad-hoc meetings or calls if required, but it doesn’t happen that often.

At GraphCMS, every individual is empowered to take ownership of their work and they can do it in their own way of working. It’s flexible and it’s fun.

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

That’s a tough one. Let me put it this way. Work-life balance for me is the ability to produce my best work while enjoying my life.

I’m equally passionate about the job and my side-projects. I’m a happy person when I get to do both. Obviously, the side-project being the ‘side’ project would only take a fraction of my time.

Besides work, I love to travel, take pictures and tell stories. Having a remote job with an asynchronous way of working is perfect for me.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

A lot has changed in the past 12 months. I moved to Berlin from Mumbai. I transitioned into a full-time role from being a consultant. A fucking pandemic hit us. So yeah, a lot has changed and therefore my habits and rountine as well.

It’s difficult to answer this question through a lens of 12-months, instead I can tell you what my current focus is.

I’m currently focused on creating my best work at the job and looking to grow the product disrupt newsletter along with writing a book about cracking a product design interview. So my habits and routine is structured around it.

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

Sure, here are some of my favorites:

Books

Podcasts:

  • Yo! Podcast by Rob Hope
  • Indie Hackers by Courtland Allen
  • Creative Class by Paul Jarvis & Kaleigh Moore

Newsletters:

  • The Sunday Dispatched by Paul Jarvis
  • Dense Discovery by Kai Brach
  • James Clear’s Newsletter
  • Divinations by Nathan Baschez

I’ve created an extensive list of these resources on Product Disrupt. So feel free to check that out.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

Some of the apps that I love using:

Work: Slack, Figma, Linear

Personal: Twitter, Google Maps, Notion, G Suite, Dropbox Paper

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

This has to be Pablo Stanley. The man is a serial creator. He designs, illustrates, writes, talks, builds, does almost everything with such consistency. I want to know how he manages all of this at once. Or maybe he has found a way to make clones of himself?

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

Don’t give up when things are difficult. Live through it and stay consistent. Talent can only give us a head start but it’s the consistency that helps us grow and puts us ahead of the others. I’ve abided by this learning since the time I started working (8 years ago) and have reaped the rewards of it. I don’t see why this won’t work for you.

I also got made a typography poster of this quote which is now available as a digital print. You could get it from Gumroad. And use the code ‘balance’ to get 20% off.

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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.