Julie Larson-Green has built her career around product development and user interface design. The Microsoft engineering leader has more than two decades of experience working on products such as Office and Windows — software used by hundreds of millions of people in their daily lives.
Today, she’s chief experience officer inside Microsoft’s Applications and Services Group, leading the Office Experience Organization. The team’s mission is to make it simpler for people to access information and get things done across a variety of devices and services.
So how does Larson-Green manage her own busy work and life? We caught up with her for the revival of Working Geek, which is returning as a regular weekly feature on GeekWire starting today. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Julie Larson-Green, Chief Experience Officer, Microsoft
Current Location: Redmond, Wash.
Computers: At the office: Surface Pro 4, Surface Hub and my mobile phones. At home: A couple Windows laptop PCs, one high/end Windows gaming PC, a Surface Book, my Surface Pro 4, Macbook Pro, iPad, two Android tablets and two Xbox Ones.
Mobile devices: Several! I use all kinds of different devices to understand how our Office products work across platforms and to check out new technologies and experiences.
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools:
For work, Office 365 is my favorite productivity service (yes, I know I’m biased). I use Word often and Outlook for email and calendar. I use Skype to keep in touch with our teams in India and China. I also save everything to OneDrive. I really appreciate having everything in the cloud so I can access it on all of my devices. This way I can focus on the task at hand, not which particular device I need to use to get things done.
I am a huge mobile app user and use lots of different ones every day. I use messaging apps like Skype, WhatsApp, Kik, SnapChat and others. And of course, Uber, Airbnb and a useful app our team made called Microsoft Translator when I’m traveling. For entertainment, I use Spotify, Pandora, Hulu, Netflix and Kindle. I like simple photo apps like Ava or Microsoft Selfie, and shopping apps like PS Dept, ShopBop, Net-a-Porter, Everlane and Amazon. I also use apps to control things in my home like my Xfinity TV service or Nuvo music.
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you?
My workspace is wherever my phone and I happen to be. I spend a lot of my time in my conference room, and when in my office, I prefer to use a comfy sofa for conversations. My desk is usually empty, unless I have some mail.
Workspace, for me, is a loose term. Sometimes it is me in my office, and sometimes it is at the kitchen table or on the sofa at home. Work doesn’t end when you leave the office, and life doesn’t stop when you arrive at work.
Advice for managing everyday work and life?
I often get asked, “How do you do it ALL?” I’m not sure that it’s ever possible to do everything you expect of yourself or what others expect of you. However, I do think you can create your own definition of “all” by deciding what is important to you and prioritizing it. There are always many different inputs telling us what we should and shouldn’t do but I’ve always believed you need to define what balance is for yourself. Figure out what really matters and works for you.
There are things that invigorate me and things that drain me. I focus on making sure I maintain a healthy mix of each on any given day. I also always try to carve out time to refresh and reset, even when things are really busy and I need to be ‘on.’ Scheduling small bits of downtime means I am not always just reacting to problems, but also have time to think and focus on solutions.
Best time-saving trick?
I have a couple of tricks, depending on what I am doing. For emails, I sort by person and topic to help me address the high priority mails.
If I’m working on a plan or important memo, I often find I am much more efficient if I take a break and go chat with someone about what I am doing. It gives me the chance to talk through my thought process and I can return to the task at hand with a clearer mind.
My ultimate time-saving trick is procrastination. Nothing fuels me like a rapidly approaching deadline! I reduce the amount of energy and time I spend on evaluating options, assessing alternatives and quickly get into decision-making mode.
A key part of my job is finding ways to make our products more efficient so we can focus on our tasks and not the tools. This isn’t about doing more; it’s about getting the smaller stuff out of the way so I can focus on what matters most. To that end, I am always looking for productivity improvements that can be integrated into products, such as a way to quickly pull up information about people I’m about to meet or simple ways to do basic tasks without unlocking my phone or computer.
Favorite social network for business/work? How do you use it?
I might be in the minority, but when it comes to interacting on social media, I keep work and personal channels separate. From a professional standpoint, I enjoy posting on Twitter and LinkedIn to share what I am thinking about at work, like an interesting article or an announcement I am really excited about. Like many other parents I know, I prefer having my family adventures stay private.
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox?
I’m not sharing that number and getting myself in trouble! I make an effort to end each day with no major outstanding issue hanging over my head, which means high priority questions have been answered or delegated.
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week?
Creating software and services is a social endeavor. It is really all about connecting with people, working through issues and creating cool stuff. So I average between 8 to 12 meetings a day. Some are one-on-one meetings and some are group meetings. This is a busy week with a lot going on, so I have 50 meetings on my calendar!
How do you run meetings?
I think it is important to bring in people with different viewpoints so you get fresh ideas. I tend to start working meetings with the problem statement that we need to discuss and ensure everyone has a chance to share their thoughts and approach to address the issue. I also leave time for the conversation to go on a tangent. These are often the conversations that lead to big breakthroughs because everyone is contributing from a different angle.
Everyday work uniform?
Usually it’s jeans, a sweater and heels. I am very inspired by fashion and love channeling my creativity into that aspect of my life—it’s an important way I get to express who I am. It’s an interesting question in some ways. “A work uniform” is the way I used to think about how I dressed. I wanted to fit in with my team, so I would dress very similar to everyone else. The “tech uniform” of jeans, t-shirt and sneakers is usually what people expect to see. Over time I realized self-expression and showing up as who I truly am is an important part of being successful. Everyone should be their unique self.
How do you make time for family?
For me, it is all about being focused on work when I am at work and home when I am at home. I will check email and read the news when my kids are still asleep in the morning or my husband is out. All other times, my family knows my focus is on them. For example, when we go out to dinner or a movie, I don’t take my phone with me. Everyone else has a phone in case one of our friends or someone in the family needs to talk with me. This way I can truly disconnect from work and be present with them.
I believe that to build tech that is going to help people in their real life, you have to actually have one. I lead by example and encourage my team to get out of the office and live their life—it helps everyone show up better at work.
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug?
My favorite stress-busting tactic is to make a list of everything I need to accomplish and focus on knocking a few things out at a time. I also always try to keep a good perspective on things and ask myself, is this going to matter in a day, a week or a year? I think that is an easy way to bring into focus what is important and what needs the most attention.
I also find exercising a great way to unplug. Even if it is just a walk for thirty minutes in the middle of the day, it helps clear my head and can bring a new sense of clarity to the problems at hand. I used to make jewelry a lot and it was a great way to let my mind go—anything that helps me be present and focused is a great way to unwind.
What are you listening to?
At this very minute I am listening to Artic Monkeys! Music is a big part of our family life and we take our kids to all kinds of concerts and festivals. Seattle is a great music town.
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters?
I usually catch up on my news feeds over a cup of coffee as part of my wake-up routine in the morning. Some go to’s include WSJ, Fast Company, Cosmo, Refinery29 – and GeekWire of course!
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)?
I usually have a light reading mystery or two and a couple of books for learning. Right now it’s one of the latest Janet Evanovich mysteries I read with my daughter, Tricky Twenty-Two and in honor of his passing, I am re-reading Swimming Across: A Memoir by Andy Grove.
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns?
I am a night owl through and through. However, my sleep patterns really depend on what’s happening in my world. For example, if it’s been a long week I might go to bed at 10 p.m., sleep in till 7:30 a.m. and get to the office around 8:30 a.m. Other days, I’m up super late, working and possibly binge watching the latest episodes of Silicon Valley, Scandal or Homeland and up by 6:15 a.m. I do know that to be at my best, I need at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
Where do you get your best ideas?
Everywhere. Every time I use a product or interact with something, I think about how that experience could have been better. It is through these small every day interactions that the big “ah-ha” moments happen.
I also get inspiration from other people. Watching another person lead a meeting or give a talk is a great way to learn. And of course I get inspiration from my team. I try to assemble a diverse team and create a culture that breeds creativity, an environment where everyone can work the way they work best and bring great ideas to the table.
Writer and journalist Madeline Vuong contributed to this feature.