It’s easy for an average day to feel like a series of mismanaged events. The alarm goes off early, the train runs late, and when we finally make it to the office, constant emails and meetings can obscure the work we need to focus on. How can we organize our time to create a balance between communication and efficiency? How can we design our days to get the most out of them? 

The Bold Italic tackled these questions last Thursday at our tech panel titled Life Hacking: Technology and Practical Design For Everyday. The event gathered three distinguished design experts — as well as a room full of designers and creators — to consider how we can use lessons from the design process to improve our lives. And we had great banh mi sandwiches!

But don’t feel too un-designed if you missed it. We’ve recapped some of the best points here. 

The discussion was moderated by Emi Kolawole, Editor in Residence at Stanford University’s Sitting on the panel were Billy Sorrentino, Creative Director at Wired, Francis Pedraza, CEO of the social media app Everest, and Jen Panasik, Portfolio Director at IDEO. The yummy Vietnamese sandwiches came from Bicycle Banh Mi, and a complimentary drink ticket was provided to everyone by our sponsor Huge. The event was co-hosted by our partner General Assembly, and held in conjunction with SF Design Week

The night started with an hour of after-work drinks and networking upstairs, and Kolawale called the panel together on the main floor of Public Works around 7 p.m. Her first question was: “What has been the best tip around designing your life?” 

Panasik said to take things one step at a time, and to learn to compartmentalize what you need to do. Consider limiting the amount of notifications you receive on your phone when you’re working on an important project, for example. Pedraza said he thinks of design in philosophical terms, and borrows lessons from sources as diverse as the movie Inception and the noted philosopher King Solomon. “The beginning of wisdom is to seek wisdom,” he said. 

This prompted a good-natured laugh from Sorrentino, who said he wasn’t sure how to follow Pedraza without any deep philosophy prepared. He said at Wired they try to use principles from design to tell stories however their readers want them. That could be in a beautifully-printed magazine, on a mobile phone or tablet, or in any number of ways in the future.  

With the discussion’s emphasis on everyday life, the subject of mobile phones came up a few times. Panasik said she tries to solve daily issues that arise for people when designing for mobile. She pointed out that the moderator was on stage with both a smartphone and a notebook. That represented a design failure, Panasik said – an area where technology hadn’t caught up with what we need. That’s something proper design could help to resolve, by making it easier to take notes on a phone. How we communicate while we’re in the car is another area where she said design could improve the mobile experience.  

Kolawale opened the floor for questions toward the end. Most were about finding specific strategies to use time efficiently. One audience member who asked for help said their office was “having meetings to talk about the next meeting.”

Suggestions from the panel included being more strict about office hours, clear about when people are working together versus when they need to focus, and using specific objects for specific purposes. Sorrentino said he only reads on his Kindle, and only sends emails from his iPad. Pedraza encouraged the audience to become their own consultants, and noted that, “Warren Buffett keeps his schedule clear — no meetings.”

It was an enthusiastic crowd, and the questions lasted right up until the end, when Kolawale brought the discussion to a close. But she said that for her, the evening wasn’t quite over. After hearing from the expert panel, she planned to “balance my books, read about French literature, and pick up a copy of Wired magazine.” 

Now that’s what we call life hacking.  

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