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Whether it’s a diary, a task app or a paper to-do list, we all design our days in one way or another. But what if we paid as much attention to this challenge as a designer does to creating a new device or app?

Aside from the exciting innovations and beautiful things they create, the way that designers think is inspirational in itself. And while we can’t all be designers, design thinking is something we can all emulate in our work.

Here are three things we’ve learnt from Marko Ahtisaari, Nokia’s EVP of design, about how designers think and how you can start designing your own day.

1. Observe closely

Marko and his team put a big emphasis on the importance of watching people and how they use their smartphones. What follows naturally from paying close attention to something is smart questions: why do people spend so much time staring at their screens, even when they’re with close colleagues or friends? Do they want to? Would they benefit from apps that demanded less attention?

We tend to dive straight into our days, following the same routine and taking for granted that it is a good one. It sometimes pays to closely observe how we work, and question whether it’s the best way: why do we book back-to-back meetings – would it be better to start meetings fifteen minutes later to let us rest before giving the next one our full attention? When is our energy high and when does it usually dip? Why is everyone on their phone during a meeting? Should we put them away or should we talk about what we are doing when we take our attention away from the meeting for a few minutes?

2. Create the right conditions

We often design our day with our diary and a to-do list, to try and fit as much in as possible. If we need to think strategically, be creative or collaborate with others, then we’re looking for moments of magic.

You can’t schedule moments of insight or creative inspiration, but as Marko says, you can create the enabling conditions to make an innovation.

You don’t know where or from whom innovation will emerge, but you do know that people need to have the space and resources to explore, think and discuss.

It’s the same with all our working days, whatever our job. We can create the right conditions for good thinking, collaborating with colleagues and performing at our best. For example, we can schedule in time for reading, or time for our teams to share ideas and learn from each other.

3. Build prototypes

Any designer will tell you that the best way to test an idea is to build a prototype. Marko and his team certainly do that – as soon as there is an idea about how to build something differently, someone is trying to mock it up as a model, and as the process moves on they become working prototypes.

An idea isn’t enough, it is seeing the idea working in the real world that lets you know if it works or not – we have to be prepared to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t.

IDEO’s founder, Tim Brown,  posted on LinkedIn the suggestion to “think of today as a prototype” – which is a really helpful notion.

When we think about designing our days we can sometimes be disappointed when we don’t get it right: a perfect to-do list or calendar system doesn’t necessarily lead to a perfect day.

As the saying goes, “life happens” and then the best ordered diary and to-do list can fall by the wayside as we rush to deal with unexpected issues.

Think of each day as a prototype, however, and such disruptions are things we can learn from. We see how it works, we learn and we build a slightly better version tomorrow. We iterate, as designers and developers say.

So today or tomorrow, try something different. Instead of firing up your email, calendar or grimly writing out a list of tasks, begin by spending a few minutes with the question: how can I design my day?

This is part of Nokia’s Smarter Everyday programme, which aims to inspire you with fresh approaches to productivity, collaboration and technology adoption, and the latest ideas from business leaders and innovators on creativity, leadership and management. To download our latest ebook on designing your day, visit, and to find out more about Nokia for business visit