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I'm Phil Libin, CEO Of Evernote, And This Is How I Work

Since kicking off the How I Work series last year, nothing has been praised by our interviewees as many times as Evernote. The free, cross-platform app does just about anything you could want to stay productive. Naturally, we had to find out what Phil Libin, the man behind Evernote, uses to stay organised.

Name: Phil Libin
Occupation: CEO, Evernote
Current mobile device: Oh so many. I guess the iPhone 5 is what I consider my “personal” phone and the new iPad is my tablet of choice.
Current computer: I just got the new iMac at home. So well designed, right down to the crazy box it arrives in. Main laptop is a Macbook of some kind.

One word that best describes how you work: Honorificabilitudinitatibus. OK, I admit, I was just looking for a really long word, but it means “the state of being able to achieve honours”, which is actually a pretty good description of what it’s like to work with the amazing team at Evernote. My second choice was Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. That’s German for “cattle marking and beef labelling supervision duties delegation law”, and it’s also not too far off the mark.

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

Well, there’s Evernote, naturally. Seems a bit déclassé to tout your own product, but we make it to be indispensable for us, and by “us” I mean “me.”

Of course I can’t imagine life without the fundamental tools of humanity: Google, Wikipedia, GPS, Fire, The Wheel. That’s the real magic of the human brain; how quickly it rewires itself around a fundamental new tool as soon as you really grok it. Think about it: at some point in your life you didn’t understand the concept of “hammer”, and then you understood it and the whole world changed in front of your eyes. Now, when you look at the world, you do it with the understanding that hammers exist. Same thing for the inclined plane. Same thing for Skype. One day you’re worrying about how you’ll pay for that call and the next day you just know that you can talk to anyone at any time. That’s what we aspire to build at Evernote. Something fundamentally tool.

Uber is kind of becoming that way for me these days. I’ve decided that the future of the internet in cars is that somebody else drives while I sit in the back seat and do whatever I want. Can’t wait for the self-driving car.

Also can’t wait for smart glasses. All my life I’ve been looking at things with glasses that aren’t projecting useful stuff into my eyeballs. Like a sucker. It’s high time that stopped.

What’s your workspace like?

The Evernote office is all open seating. My desk is the messiest. We don’t have any desk phones, but lots of conference rooms if you want to talk to someone.

Pictured above: Phil’s desk.

My home office setup is finally pretty sweet, after many months of seemingly endless work. I’ve got a little room to myself with a wallpaper that’s a giant map of London. I tried to get a map of The Shire, but London was the closest thing they had. It still has place names like ‘Battersea Fields,’ ‘Westham Abbey Marsh’ and ‘Barking Reach’, which I find relaxing for some reason. I painted the door to my home office dark green and put in outdoor-style hardware like locks, a knocker and a mail slot. This way, when I go to work at home, I kind of feel like I’m actually going somewhere. I admit that this is pretty stupid. I’ve also got a little outdoor deck where I can sit with my laptop and a dram of scotch and catch up on email while looking out over some nice hills and water.

What do you listen to while you work?

When I’m at the office, I like to keep a high level of situational awareness about what other people are doing around me so I don’t listen to anything else. When I’m working at home, I play The Hobbit dwarves humming “Misty Mountain Cold” over and over and over again on my Sonos speakers until my wife tells me that I have a serious problem.

What’s your best life hack?

My best life hack is actually the opposite of a shortcut and certainly doesn’t save any time. It’s pretty awesome, though, and makes me much happier and more productive in the long run: I don’t work on aeroplanes. I sleep, I play Minecraft, I read (non-work stuff), I watch movies, I daydream. I don’t work. It’s great. Makes me look forward to that 13 hour flight to Japan! I work at every other time, though. Sure, I lose some productivity on aeroplanes, but getting rid of all the pre-flight dread more than makes up for it.

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?

You know, I don’t actually have one. I use Evernote, which isn’t particularly great for to-dos yet. Yet.

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

You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I’m a big fan of all the quantified self stuff: the Jawbone Up, Fitbit, iHealth, Nike Fuel, etc. Big fan of Sonos as well. I wouldn’t necessarily die without it, but I would be less happy at home.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I’m an introvert. Definitely. I don’t think I’ve ever started up a conversation with a person I didn’t know in my entire life. Well, one time I did say “hi” to an attractive girl while walking in a park in Boston, but we’ve been married for 16 years now, so I never have to do that again.

Pictured above: Phil on the roof of the Evernote office.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I actually sleep really well; it’s sort of my core competency; I can fall asleep anywhere, at any time, on command. My brain doesn’t understand time zones and I don’t get jet lag. This is my super power. I go to sleep at random times and wake up at random times, but I probably get about eight hours of sleep on average. I know how incredibly lucky this makes me.

What’s everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

I’m good at combining other people’s good ideas. That’s the main gist of being a CEO, I think.

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

First, I’m going to tell you the best advice I’ve ever given: a friend of mine was sad that he didn’t have a girlfriend, so I told him, “You know how when you first walk into your house, the first thing you see is that bookcase by the door?”

And he said “uh huh”.

And I said “And how, on that bookcase you have your boxed set of all the old Star Trek movies on VHS?”

And he said “yeah”.

And I said “And how, since you have them lined up in chronological order, the art on the spines of the tapes comes together to form a picture of the USS Enterprise?”

And he said “right”.

“Mix up those tapes.”

He was married a year later.

Best advice I ever got was: Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right B, A, Start.

Is there anything else you would like to add for readers/fans?

I think it’s important to have an identity mug. That’s a coffee cup that you always carry around the office so that it becomes associated with you. It shouldn’t be too crazy. You have to think really hard about this before you come up with the perfect mug that represents you. Now here’s the trick: as soon as you find one, buy a bunch of them and hide all but one. That way, if you misplace it, you’ve got several backups. It’d be a shame to spend eighteen months building up an identity mug only to lose it and have to start from scratch. Classic amateur mistake, that.

Also, I want to know how to make Evernote better! Email me and let me know.

We’ve asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we’ll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.