InterviewMay 3rd, 2024

FocusTime: Joël van Bodegraven and the power of weekly planning to set the agenda

Designer at Miro, design mentor and father. Learn how Joël gets most out of his week with a powerful morning routine, and takes charge of meetings to set direction.

Rick Pastoor

Before we could even launch into our own questions, Joël van Bodegraven started sharing his morning routine – a bit of alone time, outside – to set himself up for a busy day. So we instantly knew he’s the right person for FocusTime. Let’s take a close look at what makes his weeks tick.

Joël is a senior product designer at Miro. He’s also a father of one with a second kid on its way. At the virtual white boarding company he’s involved in a long list of projects. In addition to his full time job, Joël always runs a few side projects, like the launching his own protein brand called UPP, as well as serving as a Dribble design mentor. A busy guy who is balancing creative work and meetings across multiple teams. We got the chance to ask him all about about his calendar and how he manages to get all of this done.

Hey Joël! That’s quite a full plate there. Can you take us through your average day?

“I’m an early riser. Usually I’m woken up by the signing of my daughter at about 6am, which is a great way to start the day. I’m taking a cold shower right after getting out of bed. This sounds absolutely terrible but it’s FANTASTIC. After that we’ll have a light breakfast together and after that I’m getting outside: either to drop off my daughter at daycare by bike, or by taking a walk my myself. I’m intentionally trying not to think about work then, but instead trying to turn inwards: how am I feeling? What am I thankful for? What do I see around me? This time really sets me up for a focused day. Anyone with kids will know that this does not always work out like I had in mind. That’s perfectly fine, but at the very least I have this time blocked off for myself in my calendar.”

Okay, and then what happens after this morning routine?

“I’m either heading over to my home desk or go to the Miro office and I’ll launch into a bunch of standups, to get visibility on what the different teams I’m involved with are doing. I have about four of them happening at roughly the same time, so I’m rotating which I’ll attend.”

(Calendar image)

“The rest of my day is usually filled with meetings.” We’re indeed spotting quite a lot of things in his calendar – a bunch of one-on-ones and several product design reviews. “I get a lot of value out of those meetings, actually. Miro is – obviously – a huge ambassador for hybrid collaboration: capturing ideas async as well as spending time discussing them together, either in the office and remote. As a Senior Product Designer I’m supporting multiple teams that all work like that, and those meetings are crucial for us to sync, to share ideas, insights and concepts.

Those meetings leave gaps, and in those slots I’m tackling with my work as an individual contributor. When that time arrives I’m sitting down and I’ll get to work, working backwards from my weekly goals.”

Now we’re intrigued. Weekly goals? How do you approach that?

“My week starts with a weekly planning, on Monday from about 8.45 to 10. This is absolutely crucial for me. I’ll take that time to think about what I absolutely want to get done in the week. I believe work is like professional sports, and having clear goals is absolutely necessary to do it well. And having a personal goal also helps a ton to feel good, to feel you achieved something. In my planning session I’ll look back at last week for a bit of reflection, and I’m also looking at the different dashboards we have to have data influence what I’m working on. Miro is very OKR and data driven, so the data heavily impacts our sprints. I’ll also consult our roadmap and input of other stakeholders. I’m a paper guy, and all of this is in my Moleskine. I’ll turn the key things into goals as a weekly checklist.

Each morning I’m using my notebook to have a list of things to do that day, and I’m also using that physical notebook during all of my meetings. During my time at TravelBird, Joris Zaalberg, who was my Head of Design, taught me the importance of making physical notes. He deeply ingrained this habit in me, and it's something that I continue to do to this day. I find that there's something about writing things down with pen and paper that helps to solidify my thoughts and keep me organized. I've also found that this practice is especially helpful when it comes to meetings. Jotting down key points and takeaways from a meeting not only helps me to remember what was discussed, but it also serves as a reference point for future discussions.

In fact, I'm such a believer in the power of physical notes that I make it a point to share this habit with any designer I work with. I believe that it's a simple yet effective way to boost productivity and stay on top of things. And also: it’s much better than staring at the backs of all those Macbooks in meetings.”

(Picture of notebook – can you give an example of what this looks like in the beginning vs end of the week? Can be a fake copy)

It seems there’s quite a lot you’re involved with. What do you think you do differently? Any insights for others?

“One thing I consistently do, next to my weekly planning session, is taking initiative in scheduling meetings. This sounds simple, but notice how often people say ‘we should talk about X’ or ‘let’s continue later’ without actually taking action. I’ve made it a habit to try to always be the first to put it on the books. The best thing is, if you create the meeting, you can also set the agenda.

Since those meetings are very valuable for me I’m flexible moving them around in my week, but I lightly try to batch them together on one or two days.”

Anything you’d like to plug or share?

“I’m launching a Vegan protein brand named UPP.store very soon! If you’re into sports and want to improve your performance – check it out.”

Key takeaways from Joël:

  • Block off time for a morning routine that helps you kickstart your day, by spending time outside and directing your thinking inwards: how are you feeling? What are you grateful for?
  • Make time for a weekly planning session, where you define your top goals based on input from others and data
  • Figure out a way to make consistent meeting notes – try a physical notebook!
  • Experiment with scheduling meetings pro-actively so you're "in charge", and make sure you also create and distribute the agenda for it