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Instagram’s Head of Design likes paper to-do lists, and draws to clear his mind

Ian Spalter, the man who keeps you scrolling through your Instagram feed, takes our career questionnaire.

Instagram’s Head of Design likes paper to-do lists, and draws to clear his mind
[Illustration: Luke Walker]

Fast Company: What’s your best habit, and what’s your worst one?

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Ian Spalter: My best habit is that I start Monday mornings by putting pen to paper and writing a to-do list—a brain dump of work and home stuff I need to get done. I do this before opening my laptop or reviewing any notifications on my phone. I flag the three most important things that need to happen and get a lot of satisfaction from crossing them off.

My worst habit is that I self-censor. I tend to think too carefully, even when I’m setting goals. I try to have some mechanism in place for self-reflection—like journaling—so that I can better reflect on my past mind-sets when I’m looking ahead.

FC: When I’m creatively stuck, I…

IS: Walk, then do the simplest version of the task. Write nonsense, sketch random patterns—anything to start a flow.

FC: What book do you recommend to everyone?

IS: Parable of the Sower, a dystopian science-fiction novel by Octavia E. Butler. She wrote about a world suffering from climate change and wealth inequality. She was a prophet.

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FC: What was your career fork in the road?

IS: Moving my family from New York to California to take a role at YouTube in 2013. Being at the heart of Silicon Valley, you have the opportunity to work on massive platforms that are used by millions of people all over the world.

FC: What’s your work uniform or wardrobe staple?

IS: Black T-shirts from Banana Republic. The quality has been consistent for years. I also love jeans from 3×1 in New York.

FC: What’s always in your bag or pocket?

IS: A Pilot Fineliner. I buy them in bulk because I find them satisfying to write or sketch with.

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FC: What’s your favorite object in your office?

IS: My Heath mug. I drink a lot of tea. Heath ceramics are designed well and made with care.

FC: What’s your favorite form of exercise?

IS: I’ve been practicing Muay Thai boxing for around 10 years.

FC: What’s your favorite podcast?

IS: 99% Invisible, which is about design and architecture, because my kids and I love it. I also enjoyed listening to Tax Season with Taxstone—I appreciated his perspective and his evolution from rapper to podcaster.

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FC: What’s your “get pumped” song?

IS: “Win” by Jay Rock.

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