How We Work: Elly Hart's Favourite Gear And Productivity Tips

Every week, we share the shortcuts, workspaces and productivity tips of our favourite experts and internet personalities in our How I Work series. Throughout this week, we're giving readers a glimpse into how we work. Today, night editor Elly Hart shares the lessons she has learned since moving overseas.

Location: Vancouver, Canada (but home is Sydney, Australia) Current gig: Night Editor (Technology), Allure Media One word that best describes how you work: Intensely Current mobile device: Motorola RAZR XT910 (rooted Android 4.0.4) Current computer: 20-inch iMac, 15-inch MacBook Pro

What apps/software/tools can't you live without?

I recently started using regex to speed up repetitive HTML editing tasks. I'm still learning how to use them efficiently (the RegExr tool is handy), but I'm already saving so much time on basic find-and-replace functions. I first used regex with popular text editor BBEdit before switching to the more polished Coda 2. Both apps have room for improvement, and both cost more money than I'm used to paying for software these days, but the boost in productivity is totally worth it. BBEdit has the superior search-and-replace tool, but Coda 2 syncs with iCloud and lets me access saved shortcuts across my two computers. Try them both if you're looking for a solid code editor.

I use Dropbox more than I use Google Drive or Box. But that's only because it came into my life long before the others did. I really should make time to set up the others properly too.

Hide My Ass takes care of my very specific VPN needs. It costs $80 a year for a 12-month subscription, but it comes with a location spoofer that enables me to access Australian-only content. If only it didn't slow the entire internet down with it.

What's your workspace setup like?

In a constant state of disorganisation. My office takes up the entire second bedroom, and the unspoken rule is that all my gadgets and piles must remain in there. I use the mirrored wardrobe as a whiteboard, an exercise ball as a chair, and my office chair as a clothes horse. The exercise ball is especially good if you are easily distracted — balancing on it supposedly engages the part of the brain that is responsible for making you fidget. I currently have two desks: one is a standing desk from UpDesk that I will be reviewing soon, the other is a VIKA AMON tabletop with VIKA ADILS legs from IKEA ($69 + tax in Canada, $99 in Australia).

Despite having a room all to myself, I prefer to sit at the dining table and do my work on my boyfriend's MacBook Pro. I get a better view of the mountains, there is more natural light, and I have direct line of sight to the TV. The bedrooms in our apartment don't have ceiling lights (apparently it's a Canadian thing), and the lone table lamp I have in the office just isn't cutting it. I really have to do something about that.

We regularly talk about the perks of telecommuting and how to get more of it, but the transition to working from home full-time has not been easy. I'm constantly on my own, and my boyfriend is the only person I see most days. I'm usually fine with being alone, but not being able to feed off the energy of other people has impacted my mood more than anything else. It's a problem that is perhaps exacerbated by being in a new country.

It bothered me enough that I started looking for opportunities to take my work outside and away from the apartment. Vancouver has plenty of hot desking opportunities within walking distance from where I live downtown. These establishments let you rent a desk in pleasant office spaces with internet access, printing services, boardrooms and the company of other people. But it's not cheap. The absolute minimum I would be paying is $5 per hour. If I was there eight hours a day, five days a week, that's $800 a month I'm not putting towards my credit card debt.

The best option so far is the Starbucks located one block away. It's close to home, there is plenty of room, and I can connect to the Wi-Fi hotspot my ISP has set up at the supermarket across the road. Any data I use while connected to it comes off the same 200GB pool of data I use at home. And I don't have to worry about logins, getting booted off after an hour or not being able to access certain websites. As soon as I need to use the bathroom, I just pack up my stuff and go home.

What's your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

Learn how to properly store and mark food items. Not only do you waste less food and save time, you also eliminate the stress of cleaning up what-the-hell-did-that-used-to-be later on. For example, there is a reason why you shouldn't store apples with veggies in the fridge. I want to make a big chart that I can stick up somewhere for quick reference.

You don't have to wash your hair every day! I washed it daily when it was short, but now it takes too long to dry and drips all over the place. According to my hairdresser (and my girlfriends), daily washing damages your hair and your scalp has to work overtime to replace the oils you strip out with shampoo. Apparently, you can even "train" your hair so that you only have to wash it once every two weeks. I'm not sure I'm willing to go that far; I like my hair squeaky clean.

What's your favourite to-do list manager?

I have a to-do list of to-do lists. I look at dozens of task management apps every day while compiling our daily App Deals. If an app doesn't impress me within the first 60 seconds, it gets deleted. I like Any.DO's iOS app, but its Chrome extension is unacceptably slow and needs a redesign. I'm also experimenting with WorkFlowy, Moped (in conjunction with IFTTT), Taskable and Easilydo. I also have a pen and paper notebook lying around somewhere...

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

My iPod Touch has basically replaced my Android phone for everything except phone calls. I tether it to get internet access wirelessly from my phone, but my ISP offers Wi-Fi hotspots around the city, so I often find that I don't even need to do that.

When I switch from one computer to another throughout the day, my old Logitech VX Nano mouse goes with me. It's a pain in the arse to move the mouse back and forth, especially since the tiny USB receiver is hard to get between your fingers. I'm nowhere near as fast or accurate on trackpads, so I've given up on those altogether. It feels like the VX Nano is going to cark it any day now, so I'm trying to decide on a replacement ASAP. Which would you choose between the Performance Mouse M950 and the Anywhere Mouse M905?

I want to try those tinted computer glasses and a humidifier to ease the stress on my dry, astigmatic eyes. I also want to try SAD light or blue light therapy, but I'm a little bit sceptical. Do they really work?

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?

I'm very good at making piles and knowing what's in each one. It sounds dumb, but it's the only way I know how to remember where anything is. That FedEx invoice? It's at the bottom of the pile of papers next to the modem. That thing I was supposed to mail? It's in the box over there. When the piles start getting unruly, I throw out the crap and make smaller, neater piles out of what's left.

It takes a lot for me to get angry about something, which is a good thing when your job is to be on the internet. The more chaotic the environment, the more productive I am (maybe I'm imagining that). I also work better with strict deadlines.

What do you listen to while you work?

I usually start the day with Umano (iOS/Android), which gets voice actors to read you popular/interesting news items. I use AirPlay to stream it to the Apple TV so that we can hear it while we eat breakfast and get ready for the day. While I'm working, I usually alternate between the local radio, Australian radio, the TV and streaming music from Songza. I would rather not read in my spare time (I have to do that all day at work), so this is my way of keeping up to date on current events.

What's your sleep routine like?

Predictable. I take a warm bath most evenings to wind down. The heating in our apartment saps moisture out of the already dry air, so the humidity from the bath doubles as temporary relief for my skin and eyes. I'm usually out within seconds of my head hitting the pillow, and I sleep right through the night. Anything less than eight hours is out of the ordinary.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I was the world's biggest extrovert as a kid, but I seem to get more introverted with age. I don't get into conversations with strangers as much these days, although I love to be in the company of friends. Sometimes I just want everyone to go away, because being around other people requires so much energy. But the idea of being alone for more than a day makes me feel needy and insecure.

Is there anyone you'd kill to see answer these same questions?

My dad. He amazes me with his unwavering self discipline and insane organisation skills. It also amazes me that I seemed to have inherited none of these qualities. I want to know what happened.

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

Stop trying to be superorganised. Just be well enough organised to achieve your goals and reach your dreams.

Is there anything else you'd like to add that might be interesting to readers/fans?

The above advice comes from the book Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder by Dr Edward Hallowell and Dr John Ratey. I read it last year when I finally decided to do something about my ADHD, but I think this advice could be helpful to lots of people whether they have ADHD or not.

Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Find what it is you're good at, set your goals and dreams around those strengths, and then work towards them — in that order. Stop pouring your energy into "fixing" your weaknesses. Focus on being the best at what you do well.


    Why do you prefer using your ipod touch? why don't you just have an iphone rather than two devices?

      Good question. I guess at the time I felt that I didn't need to buy an iPhone because I already had the Motorola RAZR. I just wanted access to iOS in the cheapest way possible. It is annoying having to carry two gadgets around, but I'll live with it for now.

    You guys need to get your hands onto a good CMS so you can focus more on the content and less on the code.

      It's not so bad. Our IT guys are amazing at accommodating our requests and we've come a long way in the last four years. I'm just particular about how I choose to edit text. I need colours and big font sizes to focus.

    Elly has magic powers. True story.

      Someone's likes someone.

      Elly is all kinds of awesome! :) Never met her in the flesh, but still class her as one of my top friends!

    Wow, this was excellent. I enjoyed this one more than the others. So many things I need to check out, like that voice actor reading news thing, that book, and that code program. Do you know of any free alternatives for coding? I use online apps but would like an actual program.

      Eclipse is pretty good as well, especially for Java. I don't know how notepad++ works, but Eclipse will spot coding errors (not logic errors though obviously) for you, missing brackets etc. It'll even suggest methods and variables when you start referring to the class, which is pretty handy when working with lots of class files.

      What online apps do you use? I would love to know.

      I think Sublime Text 2 is free... or it says you have to pay after a certain time but it doesn't stop you from using it. Text Wrangler is also a solid option. It's the little brother to BBEdit.

        Some web apps I use are Tinkerbin and JSbin. It helps if there's a real-time preview because I'm still pretty new to all this coding stuff.

      Sublime Text 2 is incredible. It's free (with infrequent nag) and is as simple or powerful as you'd like.

    Very interesting article. Very u flattering picture

    *unflattering picture
    Very stupid comment poster

    Thanks Elly. Not only were there some things to check out in your article, there were also some interesting insights to moving overseas and working remotely (at home).

    I personally find I'm much more productive when working from home (it becomes more about having uninterrupted catch up time) but I don't think I could do it all the time even if it was a possibility with my job. With the time difference do you communicate with your colleagues via voice/video services?

    Incidentally, go the Performance 950 - most comfortable mouse I've used to date.

      We usually Skype or chat over Google+ as needed. Our hours only overlap in the morning in Australia or afternoon my time, so we often don't get to talk at all (except over chat, which we do every day).

      Performance 950 it is!

        Thanks. Was curious as to how those interactions helped with you in adjusting to working in relative isolation for a chunk of the day - especially when you talked about thriving off the energy of your colleagues. I have heard of companies trialling off-site work for roles that are traditionally necessary in an office environment (call centre is a prime example) so I'm interested in the practicality and psychology of it.

        Eek. Pressure of making a recommendation. =)
        Let us know how you go with the 950 - hope it suits you.

        (It's my work mouse and the only reason I don't have another for home is that I upgraded from the 950 to G700 for gaming).

    Organisation by piles FTW! It's a time, or sometimes time and basic high level category (work vs personal vs it's a thing that's not paperwork) and/or item size, based filing system.

    If your native "sort" is temporal, because it's easier for you to remember a thing's time/history than where it fits in some (often more arbitrary) classification system, then don't let a category-sort person make you feel inferior. You're not. They just can't do what you do, so the idea that it could be efficient for someone else often "doesn't compute" to them.

    barb -- sorting by piles since the 1960's, and even currently enjoying a reputation at work for being well-organised because no matter what it LOOKS like, I can usually put my hands on things VERY quickly because I've had so many decades of practice at using this system and it's the one that makes intuitive sense to me.

      Thanks barb. I struggled with my piles for so long -- it was only until the end of last year that I really tried to embrace it and turn it into something useful. If only I could find a way to make my piles look neater!

    There's a bit of debate on the subject, but AFAIK physiotherapist friends I've spoken to have said they wouldn't recommend exercise balls to be used as an office chair.

    How do you find it?

    I'm considering something like the Swopper.

      Interesting, but there is no way I would pay $700 for a stool. I would rather have my $20 exercise ball.

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