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How We Work: Angus Kidman's Favourite Gear And Productivity Tricks

Every week, we share the shortcuts, workspaces and productivity tips of our favourite experts and internet personalities in our How I Work series. Throughout this week, we’re giving readers a glimpse into how we work. Lifehacker Australia Angus Kidman kicks off the series with his favourite tech, travel and time-saving techniques.

Location: Sydney (though I am hitting the road a lot for our World Of Servers project)

Current gig: Editor, Lifehacker Australia

One word that best describes how you work: Incessantly

Current mobile device: BlackBerry Torch, Samsung Galaxy S III

Current computer: Acer Aspire S7 Ultrabook

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Chrome, because I rely on its keyword bookmarks and general sync magic. Dropbox for keeping everything accessible. I find it remarkable that I survived most of my career without it. Office for spreadsheets and word processing; I don’t find the online alternatives anywhere near as effective or keyboard friendly. IrfanView for image editing and resizing, which is ridiculously powerful given its compact size. And Classic Shell, which I find a more effective app launcher than the built-in Windows options.

My current machine is an Acer Aspire S7 Ultrabook, which has replaced my finally-dead Toshiba Portege. I’m really enjoying it; it’s fast and light and purrs along running Windows 8. I wish the battery life were a little longer and the touch screen is something I just never use, but it’s a very impressive piece of kit.

What’s your workspace setup like?

I like to keep my office desk neat. The tech pod at Allure HQ falls into three camps: people whose desks are always tidy (myself and Lifehacker colleague Chris); people whose desks always resemble a rubbish dump (publisher Danny and Kotaku editor Mark); and one person who alternates between those two states (Gizmodo editor Luke). This experience has taught me that it’s not possible to nag others into keeping their desks tidy, and it doesn’t matter if the work gets done. But I’m happier with a tidy desk with nothing much on it apart from a few neatly-labelled magazine holders and a powerboard, so that’s how I roll.

My actual requirements to get my job done are very minimal: a notebook PC and a mobile will do for most things. Because I write so often on the road, I’ve never developed the habit of working with multiple monitors.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

Keyboard shortcuts. The more you know, the faster you can work. I have a quite elaborate system of keyword bookmarks set up in Chrome, and a core set of macros which I use in Word for text processing, both of which make me much more efficient. The specific technologies aren’t important (I could do this just as easily using Firefox and AutoHotKey), but the principle absolutely is. The more I can do with a keyboard, the better.

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?

Rather scandalously for a Lifehacker editor, I don’t use a dedicated to-do list manager, relying instead on a series of documents stored in my Dropbox. There’s a huge spreadsheet listing every story we’ve published or planned to publish, and a long spark list of story ideas that haven’t been assigned yet. Those two documents drive most of my day-to-day editing and writing tasks. In the office, I’ll often scrawl a to-do list of urgent non-writing tasks on paper, just for the satisfaction of crossing them off as I go. I also use a paper hardcover notebook for sketching out ideas and lists when I can’t use devices (mostly planes taking off and landing). Sometimes these ideas move to the digital lists; sometimes they don’t. I like planning — I work out everything I’m going to eat in advance each week, and my calendar usually runs 12 months ahead — but I’ve never become reliant on a single app to handle it all.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

My Kindle. Not only does it let me take dozens of books on the road, I’ve also used it for editing the manuscripts of my still-in-progress novels, and for making presentations (handy for keeping notes and scripts on). A very close second would be my 4G hotspot, which ensures I have connectivity on trains and in (domestic) hotel rooms.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?

I write at faster speeds than anyone I know apart from my brother, but I’m not sure that counts as an everyday skill even in this email-centric age. So perhaps I’ll say walking. As a non-driver, I’ll happily walk distances many people much fitter than me balk at.

What do you listen to while you work?

In the office, we have a shared Spotify playlist, to which I have contributed more than my share of trashy 80′s and modern pop. It’s healthy to be exposed to other people’s musical tastes this way. If I know I need to write a large chunk of text and I have control of the nearest set of speakers, I’ll generally throw on Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love or Kirsty MacColl’s Tropical Brainstorm.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I’m very much a morning person. On work days I usually rise at 0430, which means I want to be in bed by 2200 at the latest. I sleep easily, and I have the knack of being able to wake at 0130, think “great, I have another three hours of sleep” and then drop off. I even sleep OK in economy plane seats, which is helpful given how often I end up sitting in them.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

Absolutely an introvert. I’ve been cripplingly shy my entire life, and it frequently astonishes me that I fell into a career which requires me to ask questions of total strangers on a regular basis. I have to summon up courage to make phone calls, even to close friends. This has been the case as long as I can remember. I wish it wasn’t so and it doesn’t make me happy, but it seems to be a fundamental part of my personality.

Is there anyone you’d kill to see answer these same questions?

I’ve already mentioned Kate Bush. Julie Morgenstern was a big influence on my organising strategy, so she’d be an excellent choice. I’d also like to see some of my favourite comedians (Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle) answer these questions. (As the editor, I guess I should try and make that happen!)

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Write shorter sentences. They’re more effective than rambling.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers?

Lifehacker readers already know a lot about me, since so much of my life is used as a test drive around here (check out Mastercheap Raw, No Luggage At All or Takeaway Torture Test for examples). So I’ll just suggest that everyone keep reading Lifehacker to find interesting stuff.


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