Day in the Life: Depth on your Personas


Why do it?

If you’re like most people, you’re questioning (or being questioned) about whether Day in the Life is worth doing. Isn’t it just something ‘creative’ types do for their own mysterious purposes? To bill their clients more?  

Here’s my best answer. How many products or promotion do you use or see where you really feel like they get you? Does the product fit like a glove? Does the promotion speak to your innermost thoughts and feelings? It’s rare. When it does happen, you probably pay attention, you probably fall in love with that product and want to keep using it.

If you buy that, even a little bit, the second part of my answer is that on top of even a relatively tactical project, the investment is small. Let’s say you have a 3 month project that’s going to improve the project in some way. If you’re in the US or W. Europe, you’re probably spending something like this:

1 Project Lead
3 Engineers
.5 Designers
@ 120k/annum
+30% Loading, SG&A


Doing Day in the Life for 2 personas will probably take you around 8 hours, so you’ll spend something like this:

8 Hours
@ 120k/annum
+30% Loading, SG&A

Are the improved personas likely to deliver insights and focus that make the project .003% better? You only have to be mildly bought into the idea to make it worthwhile.

How do you do it?

The purpose of this is to enhance an existing persona. Thethe Personas Tutorial describes the details of developing personas. Below is an example for ‘Sven the Salespersonas’, our subject here:

Sven-The-Salesperson-Persona-SizedPersona: Sven the Salesperson

For Sven, sales is a job. That means a couple of things.

First, you don’t need a PhD to do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard to do well. He likes that it has clear success criteria: if you sell things, you’re doing well; if not, the opposite is true. He doesn’t like those that criticize his work but aren’t held to the same standard of accountability.

Second, sales is just part of his career arc. It’s a good place to show that he knows how to help move a business forward. He’d like to use his experience and track record to either move into a senior management role or start his own thing.

Sven’s on the road *a lot*. And in meetings a ton. Sometimes he feels like the people he works with at corporate just don’t know what it’s like to not be in a cubicle or conference room 95% of the time. No, sorry, he cannot confirm a meeting time 4 days in advance. He has to be on-call for his customers, or management will be all over him because he wasn’t on top of the account and they slipped their quarterly number.

Also, if he spends the time to put the required updates into a system with the scant time he has available, he doesn’t think it’s fair that he has to read through those in a scheduled meeting that eats at his time with customers (or, worse, family).


He knows that deal implementations get held up downstream, but doesn’t have time to really dig into why. He suspects that it’s just the burden of people who only get paid if they sell to push and pull the salaried types along to get deals done.


Competitors that have good tools and support book deals and those that don’t make it too hard for the customer lose deals.


Sales doesn’t get the respect it merits. Everyone he deals with outside of sales doesn’t get what it’s like to have doors slammed in your face, to wonder every night what your quarterly bonus (aka how he pays his mortgage) is going to look like.

Most bureaucracy, and this definitely includes CRM, is a pitiful waste of time. Produce or go home.


Right now, Sven only puts deals into Salesforce when he needs to move them to formal proposal, since that’s the only way proposals get generated. Generally, the deal description and qualification are patchy.

Adding Day in the Life to a Persona

To enhance a persona with Day in the Life, there are three major steps:

  1. Draft Day in the Life Questions
  2. Acquire Photos
  3. Edit & Scrub per Research Protocol

A quick word on this last item: Even in this age of social media and hyper exposure, not everyone wants their likeness used in any old way or place. Make sure you have a research protocol that you’ve validated with your research board or legal counsel. Supplemental note for UVA students in GBUS 8632: You’ll need to complete the CITI training and follow the class’ protocol established with the UVA Institutional Research Board.  

Draft Day in the Life Questions

Your first question should be a screener to make sure you’ve got a subject relevant to your personas. These are short, factual questions about key activities your persona does.

For example, the persona in the examples that follows is ‘Sven the Salesperson’. This was for a project related to the Enterprise Software Playbook. Sven is a sales/account executive that uses to organize and automate parts of his work. The screener I used for this persona was:

‘How many of your leads did you update in Salesforce last week?’

This screener based on the fact that for the project we wanted salespeople who were using Salesforce (and not as managers, hence the ‘your’ modifier on leads).

Next, you’ll have questions about their actual day. You may have the time and opportunity to shadow your subjects, but I’m not assuming that. What I mostly do is interview the subject about their day (with lots of specifics) and then send them a list of photos I’d like them to take from their phone. With a little encouragement, most subjects will get back to you with a set of usable photos. That said, some of your photo suggestions may be inopportune, uncomfortable, or just not make sense to the subject. In terms of what you suggest, I’d shoot for roughly 1.5x the number of shots you need for a good Day in the Life board.

As you may have read in the personas tutorial, your first goal is the humanize your persona and but your second goal is then to operationalize the persona is your specific area. You’ll notice general questions below and then some that are specific to the person at hand.


What time do you usually wake up? What usually wakes you?

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Why?

What do you have for breakfast? With who?

Any other morning rituals before you settle into work?

What’s the first thing you do when you start the workday?

What’s a typical work morning like? Tell me about last Tuesday?

What do you do for lunch? What do you eat?

Any other afternoon rituals?

What are your guilty pleasures during the workday?

What’s a typical work afternoon like? Tell me about last Tuesday?

What time do you typically knock off from work?

What do you do after work/before dinner?

What do you typically do for dinner? With who?

Do you work after hours? On what? Why? For how long?

What do you do to unwind after dinner but before bed?

Do you have a bedtime ritual?

What time do you usually go to bed?

What do you carry around with you during the day?

If you had 3 hours where you weren’t obliged to do anything at all, what would you do?

Make sure you take detailed notes- you’ll need them. If you can’t do that, you might consider recording the session (with the subject’s permission).

Acquire Photos

One I have my notes, I write them up in a readable format for the subject and include ideas for snapshots they could take [usually in brackets]. I try to send this as soon as possible after the interview- I think it helps with the follow up because it makes the whole thing feel more timely.

Appendix A has an example of the follow-up email I send to one of the subjects for ‘Sven the Salesperson’.

Edit and Scrub per Research Protocol

Within around a week, the subject got back to me with a set of photos. A few photos I then synthesized: a set of text messages, for example. This is fine as long as you can preserve the underlying fidelity of their experience.

In the protocol I was using, I removed personally identifying info: heads, notes, postal labels on magazines, etc. I sent the images back to him to approve (also part of my particular protocol). And that’s the Day in the Life you see below.

A Day in the Life- Sven the Salesperson

6:30 AM: Waking Up & Getting Ready for Work

Sven likes to go to bed on the early side, but nothing stops customers from scheduling meetings late at night for first thing the next morning- so the first thing he did was check his calendar to see if there are any new early morning meetings. After that, he had a cup of coffee with his particular recipe of butter, coconut sugar, yerba mate, and a locally roasted coffee.


7:00 AM: Having breakfast and warming up for the day

There weren’t any early meetings, so after sorting out a few quick emails, Sven fixed himself a breakfast of eggs, avocado, and bacon then spent 15-20 minutes stretching and doing yoga before his meetings started.


8:00 AM: Starting calls with customers and internal collaborators

Sven’s big account is gearing up for a big deployment of his company’s product and he has multiple calls with the customer and his internal teams to keep things on the rails.


12:00 PM: Taking a break for exercise and a light lunch

A light afternoon made room for some time on his road bike and a light lunch before doing some work at his desk. Particularly with a flight and travel the following day, Sven wanted to make time (90 minutes) for a workout.


2:30 PM: Getting Ready for Customer In-Person Customer Presentations and Meetings 

Sven’s flying half-way across the country for customer meetings where he’ll help the customer team he’s working with get buy-in for their project from the rest of the company. As a follow-up to their call earlier that day, he owes them a few slides on his company’s technology.


4:30 PM: Some fun and exercise after work

Having finished a little earlier than he thought, he hits up his son for a quick game of squash.


8:00 PM: Dinner and a drink

After squash Sven throws together some homemade pizza for himself and his son, complemented by a glass of wine.


9:30 PM: A little diversion of Hulu (and another drink)

Winding down for the day, Sven takes in some American ninja warrior and a nightcap of bourbon, getting to sleep relatively early (for him) because he has a flight first thing the next morning.


5:00 AM: Hitting the Road

First thing the next morning, Steve his headed to the airport for customer meetings. Having gotten a reasonable amount of sleep the night before, he has the energy for some work on the plane, so he’s not up all night after spending the rest of the day at the customer site on other follow-up’s.


Appendix A- Example Follow-Up Email for Day in the Life Photos

Hi [name omitted],

Thanks again for your time today. I’ve included some of my notes below and in [brackets] I made notes on photos that might be usable for the Day in the Life board.

Please just take the photos you’re comfortable with and send me what you can. In some cases, I was pretty specific with my suggestions. That’s just to try to make this easier- please freely substitute anything that you think makes sense.

[details on how the photos will be used; omitted]

Please let me know if you have any questions at all and thanks again so much for your help.




* Wake up at 7- look at email on phone in bed. Anything urgent or pressing on email or calendar?

[you holding phone in bed; that one’s a little tricky since you’ll need a secondary shooter; I can fake one here if it’s not convenient]

* At the residential gym doing stretches- yoga, calisthenics (this is 7AM-8AM)

[some selfie of stretching; maybe just sitting stretch fingers to toes w/ photo of that; not the most inventive stretch but it’s familiar]

[and/or photo of the gym you use]

* Sometimes play squash w/ one of kids- this might be before work or after

[Photo of you playing squash if you happen to do that around then; or I can find one of a squash court; main thing is to get one where I can crop to remove everyone’s head]

[Or I may fake a text about this]

* For breakfast, always French press coffee; sometimes eggs and bacon as well

* coffee is paleo w/ melted butter and coconut sugar

* grass fed cream

[a photo with one hand in it of you making this; maybe pouring the cream with the French press next to the cup; something like that]

[photo of eggs and bacon cooking]

* Start up computer and sit down to work around 9AM

[photo of you at desk including computer]

* At desk assessing what came in overnight; schedule OK? rearrange? Doing this by around 9AM

[photo of calendar and email on desktop; I can synthesize this if it’s hard to get one w/out identifying anything specific, which it probably is]

* Customer calls and work items kick in right away

[Photo of you talking on the phone; a selfie is probably good to remove face]

* Daily company hangout at 11AM. We use video on a Google Hangouts and I talk about pressing matters; customer matters, etc.

[I can fake this one]

* 12-1: some kind of decompression. Go outside; if lucky a bike ride.

[anything around this is good; even just a photo of one foot on your bike; your feet in cycling shoes w/ the bike in the background]

* Don’t always have lunch- usually don’t have if had breakfast

* scrambled eggs and bacon; or protein smoothie

[photo of your hand on a protein smoothie, blender and ingredients in the background]

* Customer calls or working on sales tools, proposals

[photo of you working on a Powerpoint; I can readily fake that if it’s a pain]

* A lot of internal calls about what’s going on w/ the accounts; qualifying deals

[photo of you on the phone reading off something, reading notes back to your audience on the phone]

* Guilty pleasure

* text w/ kids

[I can fake this]

* News: fox news; slate; tech news- gigom & light reading; google newsreader; peruse on phone; sometimes pull up on computer

[screen shot of what you’re reading on phone; otherwise don’t worry about it; I can fake]

* lay out in the sun; tan

[selfie of you lying outside w/ computer talking on phone]

* (or squash here)

* What doing for dinner? Make plans? Often use OpenTable. Usually eat at home after workout, but sometimes go out.

[photo of your dinner table, plate]

[for going out- shot of Open Table or restaurant web page]

* After dinner, watch TV: The Following; Dances w/ the Stars; America’s Got Talent (Howard Stern- likes him)

[selfie on couch watching TV having a bourbon (with a subtle but tasteful amount of OJ]

* bed around 10

* nice glass of bourbon or wine

* tablespoon of bourbon

[maybe bourbon on bedside table? or if that’s not realistic no biggie; if you just hit the pillow and sleep maybe just a photo of your alarm clock in the dark at around 10]

* doesn’t fall asleep on couch- goes to bed then


* talking on phone in the car?

* checking calendar on plane- I can check that but is it realistic?

* does anything else stand out as something you experience in your sales role while traveling?