After more than a decade as editor-in-chief at Wired magazine, Chris Anderson is making some big changes. Earlier this month, Chris announced that he's stepping down to focus on his robotics manufacturing startup, 3D Robotics.
While manning the helm at Wired, Chris authored three books that turned him into a leading voice across schools of economics, technology and DIY design: The Long Tail, Free and Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. (He also lead the magazine in nearly doubling its readership, racked up too many awards to count, and landed on the Time 100.)
In Makers, Chris champions open source design, low cost material and 3D printing as drivers of manufacturing's next generation — all things his company uses as its foundation. We chatted with Chris about his seriously awesome workshop, the best advice he's ever received, and the apps and gadgets that keep him running (like a machine).
Name: Chris Anderson Occupation: Incoming CEO, 3D Robotics; Exiting Editor in Chief, Wired Location: Berkeley, CA Current computer: An old beater Dell laptop, covered in stickers and scratches Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy S II I work: Obsessively
What apps/software/tools can't you live without?
I live nearly 100 per cent in the Google universe: Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, Chrome, Code, Groups, G+, Reader, Android, etc. The only big exceptions are Skype for team calls (although I'm starting to switch to Google Hangouts more and more) and Keynote on the iPad for presentations, which is the only software I use that actually makes me happy. I don't think it's possible to make an ugly presentation in Keynote (God knows I've tried).
What's your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
I've got a Samsung Chromebook next to the bed, and when I wake up I try to clear out the overnight email before I get up. I know I've got a deadline (I need to take the kids to school) so that forces some pretty efficient and telegraphic responses. I pretty much type as fast as I can for half an hour — it gets the brain going and primes me for the day.
When I've got to get some writing done, I turn on my Strict Pomodoro plug-in in Chrome. It shuts off all internet distractions, such as email, for 20 minutes, then sounds a bell and lets me back at them for 5 minutes. I can spend a whole day like this: 20-5, 20-5... When I really need to concentrate, it's the only thing that works for me.
The only automation I've ever had success with is delegation: great assistants, deputies, project managers, etc. Division of labour is mankind's greatest invention!
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
Sadly, plain old Sticky Notes in Windows. Fugly, but it works for me.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without?
What's your workspace like?
These days, I'm in-between offices, so for typing work it's a coffee shop with laptop. Or, more commonly, an airport and laptop. In my new 3D Robotics North office, I'm going to try a standing desk.
For "making" work, my home workshop is my pride and joy. It's part of a new level we added to the house, but due to seismic issues and a relatively massive foundation (we live a few blocks from the Hayward Fault), it's a pretty small room that I've had to be creative in laying out. It's got a built-in workbench with power outlets top and bottom every foot, lots of drawers, and a wheeled stainless steel worktable. There are robots of every kind on deeply inset shelves and hanging on the walls.
The main workstation is for electronics, and the Weller soldering iron gets used every day. My electronic measurement tools, such as the oscilloscope and logic analyser, are USB devices, so they usually hide away in a drawer. Lots of little storage racks have tons of electronic components, all neatly (and uncharacteristically) ordered and labelled. You won't get far in electronics without an organisation system of some sort!
For non-electronics work, the go-to machines include a second-generation MakerBot Thing-a-matic 3D printer, a Hitachi benchtop bandsaw, and a Dremel workstation. The hot glue gun gets a lot of work, as does a full complement of Xacto knives, saws, and other tools. We've got a desktop CNC machine coming, but it will probably live in the garage.
Pictured above: Chris's workbench.
What do you listen to while you work?
If I really have to write, I'll take one album and just put it on repeat for days at a time. I wrote most of The Long Tail to Ladytron's Witching Hour.
What's your sleep routine like?
Sleep is a problem for me. I'm a really active dreamer and they tend to wake me up throughout the night. So when I'm at home, I try to stick to this routine:
- Bed by 11pm
- No email for an hour before bed
- 3mg of Melatonin
- No more than two glasses of wine, and not after 10.
I've got a Zeo sleep monitor on my bedside table. I don't wear it often enough, but when I do it shows that I get very little deep sleep (usually just 10-12 per cent). Part of my decision to focus on just one job, rather than the 2-3 I've been trying to maintain for the past few years, is to cut down on the stress and distractions that are causing me such interrupted sleep.
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? What's your secret?
I am the lightbulb king. Whatever the latest, most energy-saving lightbulb technology with the brightest, warmest light might be, I am ON IT. After a few false starts (OK, a lot), we're now in full LED migration mode. My wife mutters a bit about how ugly they are, but our electric bills are thanking us.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
"Success is not a destination. It's the trail you leave behind you."
Anything else you want to add for readers/fans?
My #1 productivity secret: Don't watch TV. Ever.
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.