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Balancing the Grind with Khoi Vinh, Senior Director of Product Design at Adobe

Khoi Vinh is the Senior Director of Product Design at Adobe and blogger at Subtraction.com.

Prior to Adobe, Khoi was the co-founder and CEO of Mixel, Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior.

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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 designer. I’ve been doing some form of design for more than two decades.

I started out in branding and graphic design, then transitioned into digital work on the web, moved from working at studios and agencies into designing digital products and apps and services. My career largely follows the arc of the Internet, basically.

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

One of the things that’s so enjoyable about my job is that every day is different.

Sometimes I’m working with the designers on my team. Sometimes I’m doing strategy for the business. Sometimes I’m out in front of customers and at conferences. And sometimes I’m in the studio recording Wireframe, the documentary podcast about design that I host.

Of course lately every day is pretty much the same; since the pandemic started I’m just sitting at my desk at home on video calls, just like everyone else.

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

Before COVID-19, Adobe had a really nice balance of physical spaces and remote working.

The offices are all terrific for collaboration, with plenty of communal areas that make for chance encounters with colleagues who can help you think about problems in new ways or open new doors.

I really do like the physical spaces. But we also have locations all over the world as well as remote workers too, so we were pretty well set up for everyone working from home when that happened.

That’s not to say that it didn’t take some adjustment for everyone to acclimate to the whole company working from home, but by and large it wasn’t a traumatic change.

Whether we’re working on site or remotely though, I think the most important thing that makes it all come together is the fact that Adobe really believes in a healthy work-life balance and creating an environment that’s conducive to creative contributions from everyone.

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

I have three young kids and so my wife and I have tons of work to do to support them in everything they need. It’s very important to me to do my fair share of that obviously.

But I also just really enjoy the time that I get to spend with my family, so it’s always a priority for me. At the same time I’m very grateful to have a job that I enjoy passionately and so I work really hard to live up to that good fortune.

To make these two imperatives work together, I try to be very organized and thoughtful about how I’m spending my time, so that I’m not idling away hours and hours watching nonsense on TV when I could either be doing something constructive for my job or something meaningful with my wife and kids.

I guess the short answer is that it’s all about understanding how you want to spend the time that you have.

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?

I’m an inveterate to-do list maker. (My tool of choice is Todoist; any to-do manager will do, but I’ve found Todoist is the most flexible and useful.)

Everything that occurs to me that I need to do at some point gets captured as a task, and I look at my list dozens of times each day, each time with the intent of crossing off another item. It’s really allowed me to be productive with my time.

6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I’m a huge fan of the biographer Robert Caro, who wrote a monumental biography of New York City’s Robert Moses and is in the middle of writing an epic, multi-volume examination of the life and work of Lyndon Johnson.

If you want to understand how people get things done, I mean really get things done, these books are incredibly instructive. They’re also beautifully, richly written and, despite their long forays into the minutiae of government and politics, they make for incredibly compelling reading.

They’re page-turners, basically, and in a way that no work-life balance book could ever hope to be.

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

I just try to have a real human interaction with someone, anyone, that I work with or that I love or care for. Ideally it’s with my family, at a minimum.

But I also just want the people I work with or my friends or even acquaintances to at some point in the day be able to connect with me as a real human being, setting aside all of the trappings of work or money or society.

It could just be a tiny little joke or a brutally candid aside or whatever. If I don’t connect with someone each day, the day is wasted.

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

Every week I read the work of cartoonist Ruben Bolling, who writes and draws a savagely funny weekly strip called Tom the Dancing Bug. I just want to try to understand in some tiny way how he manages to deliver such amazing, insightful, cutting satire every single week without fail.

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

People focus a lot on trying to calibrate the balance between work and life, like it’s some kind of magic formula to be discovered and repeated. But if you ask me the real secret, the real mystery, really, is how to become a whole person—and a good one. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

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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.