It's nearly impossible to describe Baratunde Thurston with a few quick sentences. Formerly the Director of Digital for The Onion, Baratunde is an author, advisor, comedian and political activist. His first book, How To Be Black, is a critically acclaimed bestseller, and his newest project, Cultivated Wit, aims to help companies reach audiences through humour. We previously spoke to Baratunde about how he uses tech, and today he's here to share his productivity tricks, from the apps he can't live without to the tunes that keep him inspired.
Name: Baratunde Thurston Occupation: Writer, comedian; Founder, Cultivated Wit Location: Brooklyn, New York Current computer: 11-inch MacBook Air (1.8GHz, 4GB RAM, 250GB HD) Current phone: iPhone 4s + Mophie I work: Inspiredly
What apps/software/tools can't you live without?
Google. It's how I know things. I'm also particularly addicted to Google Docs and Google Voice.
Evernote: It's where I store my ideas and all the things Google tells me.
TalkTo: It's an iPhone app that let's me text back and forth with any business that has a phone number. They have people in between who act as a sort of concierge. It's great for research and reservations.
Instapaper: It's where I spend all the free time the above tools create for me.
Dropbox: Files should sync by default. Everything should be available from everywhere. How did we live before this simple truth?
Sonos: In addition to streaming music through it, I program it to blast me awake in the morning with a Pandora dubstep station. The music is never the same, so my body can't as easily integrate it into a dream, and I position the speakers such that I have to get out of bed to turn it off.
If This Then That: It's like having a slave, but without any ethical overhead.
Earth Class Mail. All my physical mail goes here, and they scan the outside. From there I can recycle, remail or scan the insides. It turns snail mail into email but with the added feature that you can shred items remotely. All email apps should come with a shred feature just to make me feel like I'm doing something more substantive.
Pictured right: Baratunde's iPhone. Background image from Sleigh Bells concert at SXSW Interactive 2012.
What's your workspace setup like?
I'm working on my new company, Cultivated Wit, out of betaworks in the Meatpacking District of NYC. There I've got a chair, desk, monitor, and a few dozen smart entrepreneurs and developers with whom to swap ideas about taking over the world.
Pictured right: Launch party for Cultivated Wit at Lolita Bar in NYC. Free business cards!
What do you listen to while you work?
The music changes, but Rdio is my preferred service. I like music with a beat and some motivation in it. For example, I wrote most of How To Be Black while listening to Childish Gambino on a perpetual loop. I avoid chronically depressing artists while working; people like Bon Iver who make you want to have new painful experiences just so you can wallow in them. That doesn't generally help me get things done.
Got a favourite playlist?
I don't use the playlist feature heavily, but my recently added list is indicative of my latest obsessions.
What's your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
Given how public I am, how much a travel, and the number of projects in which I'm involved, I had reached a crisis point with managing my calendar. I tried Tungle for a while but found that the best app was a human being. I hired someone to be my "Chief of Staff" to help me with my calendar, communications, and managing opportunities.
She organises all the inbound requests I get (interviews, performances, meetings, writing gigs), does a pre-assessment, and delivers a twice-weekly decision digest to me and my team. Before her, I was much more haphazard in my life management, taking a last-in-first-out approach or dealing with matters as they occurred to my brain. Now I can see things in one place, am less likely to overcommit, and find that fewer things of value fall through the cracks.
Also, I don't answer my phone. This saves hours per week. Hours.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without?
Toothbrush. I'd be pretty disgusting and unpresentable without it.
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Packing. I travel pretty much every week by plane or train. I can load up for a four-day trip in 10 minutes if necessary.
Pictured right: How To Be Black on the reception counter at Twitter's office in San Francisco. Baratunde: "They had watermelon water in the fridge. I couldn't resist."
What are your packing tricks?
I keep an Evernote with my default packing list. I used to keep the list in my head, but I kept forgetting one thing or another on every trip, and that won't do. I travel with a Victorinox backpack (which I use every day to get around NYC) and a roller suitcase. That case generally stays open on the floor of my living room since I'm often off at a moment's notice. I use two zippered compartments I got from REI to hold underwear/socks and pants/shirts in another. I roll them, camper style and zip it tightly.
I usually travel with a few button up shirts and one blazer. I keep the shirts in an Eagle Creek Pack-It Folder, and my suitcase can hold the blazer on a hanger inside a folding flap. My backpack is always packed with my gadgets, toiletries, and two copies of How To Be Black (always be closing!). I can pack and be out the door in 10 minutes or less. Carry-ons only. Checking bags is for suckers.
Any other interesting tidbits you'd like to share with readers?
I like surfing.
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.