Funny guy Chris Hardwick reviews gadgets, writes for Wired, does stand-up, acts in TV and movies, writes comedy songs, blogs, Twitters, and makes it all work. Here's how he does it.
Hardwick provides a pretty acerbic breakdown of his career and pursuits at his web home, Nerdist, which happens to be one of the most apt site names around. Hardwick moves effortlessly between extolling the virtues of handsets and hardware on G4, making a chorus out of dozens of Pi's decimal digits with Mike Phirman as Hard 'n Phirm, appearing in flicks like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and most of Rob Zombie's oeuvre, and writing on all manner of topics for Wired including, yes, productivity books.
Oh, and if you're around the age of Lifehacker's US editors, Hardwick totally owns your bored teenage subconscious. While attending UCLA to study philosophy, math, and science, he almost inadvertently auditioned for, and landed, the hosting spot for Singled Out (and, before that, Trashed).
We'd heard Hardwick was a pretty productive fellow, so we asked, and he agreed, to chat over the phone recently. Here's the slightly edited transcript:
Lifehacker: Just a glance at your About page would tell someone that you've got a whole lot of jobs running at once. How'd you end up with that kind of career spread?
Chris Hardwick: It all stems back to a link on Lifehacker, actually, I must have seen years ago. It was basically a message that, if you're looking to freelance, just get as many gigs going as you can, and you can make it work. It was something so simple, but I'd never really thought that my work in the entertainment business could be like freelance work, but it is, it really can be. It's about getting as many side projects as possible, keeping as many balls in the air as you can, and what you're doing, basically, is diversifying your portfolio, with the same kinds of rewards. One falls through, and you still have another one to work on. I don't know how it happened, exactly, but I've been lucky enough to amass a full-time career out of a series of independent projects.
Lifehacker: How do you keep all those jobs, outlets, creative projects, and personal projects scheduled and organised?
Chris Hardwick: It depends on what's the most important or pressing thing at the moment. I've got a Wired deadline for May 13, for instance, so right now, I probably won't be working on it first thing, but something else.
... The thing I've discovered is, it's a cumulative thing, taking on new jobs and arranging them, and you really can see how it all fits together. G4 is once or twice a week, if I'm doing a voice for (Back at the) Barnyard, that's Monday afternoon, and if I've got writing to do, I can do that on the weekend. You start off thinking there isn't enough time, but I think energy is really the most limited resource. As busy as I used to be, when I started really looking at my time, I realised, "Oh, no, actually. I waste shitloads of time." Seriously, like, looking-up-facts-on-squirrels-wasted time. If you really want to start getting a better hold on your schedule, you have to know what your schedule is and where your energy comes, realistically.
If you'd told me seven years ago, "Here's seven jobs, go!" I would've melted. But you get more comfortable as you go along ... I'm actually working on a book about time management for freelancers. One of the ideas is that, when you look at your freelance career, it's really like a mall. And if you look at a mall, it's a self-contained system that has a flow and logic to it. You'll probably have one or two really bigger jobs, those are like your anchor stores.
Lifehacker: The Sears and Best Buys of your freelancing?
Chris Hardwick: Right, but you don't want to shop entirely at huge department stores. It's the smaller, specialty shops, the things you like to do, that edify your creative drive, and they vary in size, but you can find a sort nice balance to what you're exposed to. The other important thing, too, see if your jobs complement each other nicely, like a mall would want. Do you have two jobs you can keep working in the air, and more long-term jobs that only require a bit of coddling now and again? Those jobs, the creative work you get to put yourself into whenever you've got the drive, those are truly important. And then there are the jobs you're just doing for money, that have little value to the rest of your life.
Lifehacker: The Sbarros of the Freelance Mall.
Chris Hardwick: The Lady Foot Lockers, the Hot Topics, if you will.
Chris Hardwick's Mac desktop, proving he's no messy ironist.
What software apps, gadgets, and productivity techniques help you manage your life?
Chris Hardwick: You'll see on my iPhone front page (Note: pictured at left) that it's mainly Evernote, OmniFocus, and 1Password that keeps everything together. I don't use Evernote for to-do lists or anything like that, though—I use it for stand-up, for writing. Stand-up isn't something I just sit down and start writing—it's ideas you come up with in the shower, while you're driving, waiting in line. So I write it there, and then when I get back to my real computers, it's right there. OmniFocus you guys have covered, I'm sure, and 1Password just keeps me from having to remember every single web site login.
... For me, it's all about having an iPhone version to hook up to, because it helps me consolidate and keep things simple. I have two desktop computers, a laptop, and an iPhone, but I don't really need to be using all of them all the time.
Lifehacker: You're very connected in the realms of Twitter, blogging, and other web media. I'd imagine it would be easy to spend an entire day re-tweeting, replying, cruising through links, that sort of thing. How do you portion out your "Go and explore" time versus your "Sit down and work, damn it" time?
Chris Hardwick: I really don't have time "to Twitter," it's not something that should grab your day. That's a big misconception, actually, about the whole service. You don't go out of your way to tweet, you just post when you've got something. Hopefully, not while you're driving. It complements your life more than takes over your life ...
There's this time delay with blogging. You put something up, maybe someone eventually sees it, and it might get linked around if you're lucky. With Twitter, it's basically text messaging, and it moves really fast ... Twitter is a guy you can always elbow in the side and say, "Hey, look, a guy in a clown suit just threw up!" And I don't have 400-800 words to say about that, I just wanted to say that one thing. So, I got hooked real hard.
Lifehacker: So you see it as a net positive more than a time sink?
Chris Hardwick: I say this to death, but Twitter is really a hyper-distilled version of how the internet should work. Short bursts of relatively useful information. There might be people who fall in love with it temporarily because it's a flavour of the month, but ultimately, it's a simple, useful tool. Twitter is doing one thing and doing it really, really well ... Short of getting 200,000 phone numbers and texting people, I can't think of another tool that takes its place.
Lifehacker: You do gadget reviews for G4. What are you looking for in a gadget? How do you get into that independent frame of mind, get beyond the Oh-Gee-Neat response?
Chris Hardwick: I think it's just like anything. When you see so many gadgets come through, you end up like a movie reviewer. You stop looking at them all as shiny moving pictures, and start looking for the Matrix code behind them. When you're talking about phones, there's only so much that a smart phone will really do well. If you have a handset, I'm not necessarily going to review the OS, like it's the iPhone or Android. We sort of have a 3-point inspection method that determines if the gadget does what it's supposed to do. Using some sort of an unspoken Venn diagram, we take the shadiest part of that and that will end up being the review. It's actually more thought-out than that sounded (laughs). As far as the Oh-Gee factor, it's easy to lose that when your phone drops five calls in one day here (in Los Angeles).
Lifehacker: That's a valid point—so much of phone reviewing these days is about email or the apps or whatever, and the fact that you'll be making calls and holding it to your head every day is kind of one sentence.
Chris Hardwick: There are phone operating systems that are absolutely clunky and not worth it to browse or email or whatever on them. That doesn't mean everything has to get compared to the iPhone, though, as even some things on that phone are just aggravating.
Lifehacker: You've mentioned that, at least for a little while, you'd thought about being a professional bowler, like your dad. What else did you imagine you'd be doing for a living? I can't imagine everything you're doing now.
Chris Hardwick: I always knew I wanted to go into entertianment. I loved stand-up comedy. I had every Steve Martin record, and I mean that in the actual vinyl sense, folks. No downloads or that kind of thing ...
Stand-up, at the core of it, is still my favourite thing. Other jobs, that I enjoy doing, kind of help that along, though I'm lucky to have everything I do. You kind of know from an early age if you have that constant need for attention (laughs). Up to age 13, I'd thought, "Yeah, maybe I'll be a professional bowler," but really it was almost pre-determined.
Lifehacker: What's the most challenging of all the things you do? I have to assume stand-up. Every comedian who makes it big always says stand-up is their true love.
Chris Hardwick: Well, it's certainly the most tiring. I've got a flight to Indianapolis at 6:30 in the morning tomorrow, so I'll leave my house at 4:30, connect to Indianapolis, and then I'll have a couple hours to hang out before I do a show. The same thing happens when I'm playing with Hard & Phirm—we'll do a show in Florida, and after a day of flying, we'll get to the venue just in time for sound check, then go right into it. It's hugely time-consuming, but if you love it and want to do it, you just have to do it.
Oh, also, I have to mention Rob Corddry in this interview, because he mentioned me in his.
Lifehacker: It's funny how Lifehacker will become the world's number one repository of comedians obsessed with productivity tactics. We will truly corner that market.
Chris Hardwick: When you hang around a lot of comedians long enough, you realise there's a certain gene, in every comedian. It's why we get hyper-analytical about things, and it expresses itself differently. Sometimes it comes through in alcohol, drugs, sports car crashes, and hotel room trashing, but sometimes it's something like productivity and time management scheduling. I'd love to see someone do that study. Malcolm Gladwell should be writing that book, the mental traits that connect comedians.
Lifehacker: I'd guess his publisher wouldn't be very happy to see that proposal, given the shelf rank his last two books had on much broader topics.
Chris Hardwick: It wouldn't sell as many copies, true. But it'd be really fascinating, I'm pretty sure.