First, the basics. A clear flat surface, smooth and clean. A chair, not so comfortable that one falls asleep, but suitable for sitting 3-4 hours straight. A notepad, pen, pencil. Some toys or gadgets to fiddle with.
Then, the brains. A computer, at least one monitor, generally a mouse. A keyboard. Power cables and the like.
The uniform, if not done already: perhaps slacks and a blouse, perhaps a suit and tie, perhaps jeans and a particular hoodie. Comfortable shoes. These signal the brain that it's time to work.
A hot mug of tea. Maybe a sweater or a blanket.
An alarm set for a half hour before "quitting time" because you are not your job.
These are the tools.
Then the preparation. Review the inbox. Review the other inbox. Review the Slack board. Address issues, answer questions, put out fires as necessary.
Review the calendar. Is lunch planned or are we dining on M&Ms and bananas from the pantry again? Adjust if needed.
Check social media accounts, but not too long. Work is for work, so that at the end of the day one can go the fuck home.
Unable to move past this point? Procrastination is often born of anxiety or fear, which are not the feelings to leave in charge. Poke at them, or push past.
These are the ways we clear the mental decks, so we're ready to roll up our sleeves.
Then, the discovery. What is expected, by whom, and when? What is the big goal? What is today's goal? What's to be done right now?
Launch the project files.
Inventory the state of the knowledge. What is known? What is unknown? How can it be gathered, and when? Make a plan. Execute what can be done immediately.
If it takes less than 30 seconds to do it, just do it.
Are there blockers, impediments, giant holes in the research? Tools missing? Clear the blockers and plug the holes as best as can be.
This by itself may be a day's work or more. There's no fault to that.
It takes far longer to prep a room for painting than it takes to roll out the paint. The results of prepping speak for themselves.
If we still can't start at this point, if something's preventing us from moving forward, there's something undone we must finish.
Sometimes, that thing has nothing to do with our work. Sometimes it can't be fixed. A sick parent, an unpayable bill, an argument. We will do our best to push past.
Sometimes, that thing is the environment. A relationship, a disagreement on approach, a budget issue. Find clarity, or at least temporary agreement. Remove friction.
Sometimes, it is research left undone. Find answers, or clarify which set of assumptions we pull out of the drawer today. Document it.
Sometimes it's just the wrong project and we know it is going to fail and we can smell the failure, but we're being paid to do it. Find a way to learn from it.
Do the things that must be done to do the things that must be done.
Then, the work.
Always roll out new ideas in a W, going over the areas that have been touched before, then reaching out to where you expect to be, then reaching out a bit further. It ensures even coverage of the first approach.
If something isn't working, stop doing it.
If it is working, keep going until spotting trouble, then reassess.
It is ok to pause for a few minutes every half hour. Step back and look. Step away.
One must come up for air occasionally.
A pause may be the brain's way of saying, "something's missing" or "this isn't working". Be self-aware enough to look for that.
(It could also be the brain's way of saying "M&Ms were not a suitable lunch." Find some protein.)
When the alarm goes off, find a stopping point and stop.
Yes you can stop in the middle of that complicated flow chart if you leave an arrow that says "LEFT OFF HERE" pointing appropriately. Stop already.
Clean up the research. Communicate findings. Share the results.
Clean up the in-boxes, the Slack boards, the calendar.
Rinse the tea mug. Fold the sweater. Push in the chair.
Change out of the uniform.
Put away the tools.
Be your most authentic you, until the next working day. Then be the Designer you once again.