With Quarterly Co, Zach Frechette has captured three things people love: physical mail, surprise and nostalgia. The service, launched in 2011, sends subscribers a curated package of "awesome things" every three months (dates vary, so deliveries are always somewhat of a surprise). Zach is also the editorial director of Very Short List, a free daily email that focuses on one topic (think: food, tech, culture) each weekday.
We wanted to find out how Zach does it all, so we stole a few minutes to chat about life hacks, to-do lists and so much more.
Name: Zach Frechette
Location: Los Angeles, California
Current mobile device: iPhone 5
Current computer: MacBook Pro Retina 15"
I work: Variously
What apps/software/tools can't you live without?
We swear by the latest version of Basecamp for our project management needs. They took everything they'd learned in the eight years of running the first version and used that knowledge to build the second version form the ground up. It was a gutsy move — the first version was pretty great already — and it paid off. It's like what Google tried to do with Wave and email, except this actually works. More people should build software this way.
I'm a notorious procrastinator (which, as we all know, just means I'm a perfectionist), but I recently installed RescueTime. Just knowing that someone is constantly watching what I'm doing — even if that person is me — has been a boon to my productivity.
After reading Mat Honan's account of getting hacked and having his digital life erased, I doubled down on security and my backup solutions. I've fallen hard for 1Password. I back up locally to a TimeCapsule, and over the web to CrashPlan. I store or access as much as I can in the cloud — documents and other files in Dropbox and Google Drive, music through Rdio — photos through…I'm actually still looking for a good iPhoto alternative. Suggestions welcome. An added benefit is that setting up a new computer has never been easier, or working on a machine that isn't my own has never felt more familiar.
I have a growing collection of Filson bags that I use for work and travel. They are stylish, indestructible, and get better with age.
I make one perfect cup of coffee every day using an AeroPress. Its ease of use to deliciousness ratio is unmatched in the coffee world.
I tend to get my best work done in the evening, and Flux gradually adjusts the colour of my computer display in sync with the sunset so I'm not staring at an oppressively bright screen when the ambient light is no longer provided by the sun.
Twist is a handy little app that lets people you're meeting know when you'll arrive based on GPS, and allows them to track your progress in real time. It might sound trivial, but in a city like LA where you're constantly in your car, it eliminates every single "I'm on my way" text message exchange.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without?
Bose noise cancelling headphones. My favourite parlour trick is to put them on someone I'm flying with, power them up, and watch their mind explode as they realise they've been travelling like a Neanderthal for decades.
I also collect watches — the mechanical variety — which are some of my most prized possessions.
What's your workspace like?
I deemphasise personalisation and sentimentality in my workspaces, but put a premium on comfort. As long as I'm in a comfy chair I can get work done, and in fact I prefer to work in different spaces as often as I can — my desk one day, the conference table another, a reclining chair at home the next.
What do you listen to while you work?
The way my brain is wired I get too distracted if I listen to anything with words, or even anything too familiar. For that reason I tend to favour silence, but you may catch me wearing headphones with no sound issuing from them in a ploy to avoid interruption from those around me (and/or eavesdrop on them). Outside of work I'm a podcast gourmand.
What's your best time-saving trick/life hack?
Ever since I came across this image (right) a few years ago, I've tried to let it guide my work philosophy.
I'll admit to doing a pretty bad job overall, but I have managed to work a couple of these practices into my professional life. Most significantly, I gave up instant messaging when I started Quarterly last year. Whatever I've lost in low touch interaction I've more than made up for in distraction free work.
Another big change I made was turning off push notifications for email on my phone. It was the best decision I made all year (it helps that my go-to mobile email app, the now-defunct Sparrow, doesn't support push). Being constantly available and responding to emails immediately is a neat trick, but in my experience it's a poor substitute for (or at least indicator of) actual productivity. If you know me well enough to have my phone number and are comfortable enough to call or text me when I'm not otherwise available, you've earned the right to interrupt me. Otherwise, the time I spend away from my computer is time that needn't be riddled with a constant stream of notifications promoting a false sense of urgency. It's made that time more valuable.
Last but not least, if you don't know the keyboard command for reopening a browser tab you just accidentally closed, Control-Shift-T is about to change your life in a serious way.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
I work with what I will generously call a constellation of to-do list managers.Workflowy I use for longterm planning and a 30,000 ft. view of everything in my life.TeuxDeux I use for tasks on a day-to-day level.Last Time is a recent addition I use to remember tasks that don't need to be scheduled but that I would like remember to do before too long; things like cutting my hair or washing my car. And lately, I've been using Apple's own Reminders app as a way to jot down to-do items when I'm on the go using Siri.
What's your sleep routine like?
I prioritise sleep over almost everything else in my life. Getting enough of it is the single biggest influence on my productivity and happiness, which is why I treat my bed and bedroom like the temple it is. I'm generally in bed before midnight and aim to stay there for 8 hours, and avoid doing non-bed activities (watching TV, using a computer) so that my body understands that when I'm there, the purpose is sleep.
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? What's your secret?
I can load a car trunk or pack a suitcase with more inch-per-inch spatial efficiency than anyone on the planet. I'm sorry, this cannot be taught.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Perfect is the enemy of good. Also, don't write emails when you're angry.
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.