How We Work: Mark Serrels' Favourite Gear And Productivity Tricks

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, Kotaku Australia editor Mark Serrels shares his productivity tricks and tips.

Location: Sydney, Australia Current gig: Editor, Kotaku Australia One word that best describes how you work: Porridge. Current mobile device: iPhone 4S, which is beat up, scratched and a bit rubbish Current computer: At work I use the shabbiest desktop imaginable. At home I use a 15-inch MacBook Pro.

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

I think of myself as a writer. If I had to write in chalk on a pavement I would do it! I don’t really feel that reliant on specific software or technology. The bizarre thing is ridiculously pretentious stuff like how a keyboard feels on my fingertips is often more important to me than the technology behind that keyboard. I’ve always been a bit weird like that. I usually just find a way to manage with what I’ve been given.

There are a couple of things I need, obviously. Some sort of software for writing, of course, but I’m not particular about what. I usually use Microsoft Word, which is really embarrassing. I use Google Reader, that almost goes without saying. I use Google Drive if I’m working on something substantial, but that’s mainly for convenience; for switching between computers at work and at home, or if I’m working on public transport.

I’ve recently been using my Nexus 7 a lot for work purposes recently, which is weird. I never really felt like a tablet was essential for my work life until I owned one. I typically use it as a second screen almost, just to quickly check Google Reader, or to check email on the run. I’m sure this kind of thing is elementary to the Lifehacker readership but it represented a real breakthrough for me.

What's your workspace setup like?

Hahahaha. [pauses for breath]


Oh Christ on a bike, where do I start? Angus Kidman, Lifehacker Editor is constantly having a go at me for the state of my workspace and rightly so. It’s a goddamn disgrace and we all know it.

I’m writing this at home, so I’m picturing my desk in my mind’s eye. There is:

- an unwashed bowl with a tiny bit of porridge left in it. - an obscene amount of terrible games that I will never play or move or throw out, or do anything useful with. - Post-it notes everywhere, with nothing particularly useful written on them. - probably about three empty cans of Coke Zero.

I’m a slob.

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

Well I’m currently paying someone to transcribe a particularly long interview I had, so there’s that!

I’d say most of my time saving techniques are just actual motor skills I’ve developed by repetition — using keyboard shortcuts quickly, typing quickly, having routines with what tabs I open, etc. I’m very minimalist with the tech I use and I tend to try and master simple things. I don’t experiment much, which is a real weakness of mine I think. Generally it takes someone like Angus hassling me for weeks before I actually try a new piece of tech or software. Despite the fact I write about video games and technology I am a bit of Luddite.

To be honest, I’m the last person who should be answering this questionnaire.

What's your favourite to-do list manager?

I use my Outlook Calendar, if I use it at all. I tend to use this for things I’m procrastinating. I’ll schedule an hour to do the thing I’m dreading and when it pops up on my email or on my tablet I feel far more compelled to actually sit down and do it.

This is something I did frequently when I first got my Nexus 7, and it actually felt quite fulfilling to be organised in that way, but it’s fell by the wayside a bit.

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

Just my tablet. I don’t even carry handheld consoles anymore, despite owning all of them.

I’ve found myself using my tablet in strange ways.

For example, when I’m editing something I’m being careful about, or I’m passionate about, I like to re-read it in different contexts, on different devices, in different fonts even! Just to get a feel for the voice and how it reads. The strange thing about reading your own work is that you often need to find unique ways to dissociate yourself from it in order to read objectively.

So I do all these strange things like print it out on paper, change the fonts, etc etc. My new thing is reading from my tablet using Google Drive.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?

The only thing I’m really good at, I like to think, is the actual writing of things. And by that I mean the sentences, the rhythm, making word spiky and inventive. That sort of work is really important to me and I always feel that aspect of writing goes under appreciated.

I’m always trying to imagine a sentence that’s never been written before. That sounds kooky as hell, but I get genuinely excited by interesting sentences. I’m constantly trying to write them. At Kotaku so much of what you write is on auto-pilot — news, regulars — which I find frustrating. When I get time to actually write something that I feel is important; that’s where I feel properly challenged and that’s what I think I’m good at. How can I communicate this specific information in a way that will surprise people and make them feel like they’ve read something original and fresh? That’s the question I always ask myself. That’s the most important and rewarding aspect of my work, and that’s what I think I’m good at.

What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing. I love music, but not while I’m working. I tolerate our office Spotify playlist. If it gets too much I’ll listen to actual white noise. For real.

What's your sleep routine like?

I have a two month old. My sleep pattern is whatever I can get! I tend to go to sleep at 10.30-11pm and wake up at 5.45am. Nightmare.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

When we think of introverts and extroverts we tend to define them in terms of how ‘out there’ the person is in social interactions. But a far more interesting definition is this: introverts find themselves drained by social interactions, extroverts are energised by them. I tend to talk and communicate in social situations but I genuinely get drained by it. I always need a lot of space by myself to recover from it.

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

I’m a big fan of climbing so I’d like to see Chris Sharma answer these questions. For the last 10 years he’s been the strongest climber in the world. He is an interesting human being. Or Alex Honnold, who you might know as the truly fucking insane man who climbs up to 3000 feet high without a rope. I think he would make for an interesting subject.

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

I like this line from Catch Me If You Can: “an honest man has nothing to fear.” I think it came from Robert G. Ingersoll, an American political leader, a civil war veteran who was known as ‘The Great Agnostic’.

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

Exercise is important. Exercise makes you feel happy and balanced. Find an activity you love and become motivated by it. Just over a year ago I started indoor climbing and it legitimately changed my life. I lost weight, I became fitter and stronger. I feel like a better, happier person because of climbing.


    My coworker listens to tranquil, unexciting, breathy-singer-songwriter-with-daisies-in-her-hair music and it does my head in.

    Puts me to sleep.

    Oh Serrels, we love your porridgey ways.

    never change

    As I was reading this I got to the 'really good at' paragraph and thought - wow this guy tries to write so that the reader gets something extra out of the experience. Someone who doesn't just write a piece with attention to accuracy, spelling, grammar and punctuation. Someone who wants to invigorate the mind of the reader with interesting constructions and enlightened word usage. Even the 'making word spiky' was allowed to slip by.

    Then I got to that third last paragraph. There it is, the eff word. The effin' eff word. Is that really the best effin' adjective that could have been used!? I'm totally sick (with a k on the end, meaning nauseous, feel like vomiting etc.) of hearing or seeing the eff word in such popular usage; blogs, prose, lyrics, TV, shopping centres, supermarkets...

    We're blessed with this wonderful gift of the rich and expressive English language and the best we can come up with is the eff word.

    I just overheard the Thunderbirds theme music on a TV ad. Bet they wouldn't use the eff word.

      Agreed. I think people who use it in their writing are lazy and inept. Language can be so rich and fulfilling, but instead too many 'writers' fall back on such a generic, albeit emphatic, descriptor. It might be colloquial, but that just means it's trite and conformist. It's not edgy like people think it is. I consider people who take the time to find and inject their prose with any of the thousands of alternative adjectives out there to be much more interesting than people who try to shock their way into being a 'cool' writer by overuse of such a tired and overused expletive.

      I think it's just because he's half-Scottish. And a lot of Scottish people like to swear. It's just part of their lexicon, like 'the' and 'and'.

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