I’m Brian Lam, And This Is How I Work

I’m Brian Lam, And This Is How I Work

“I recommend everyone either fix your job or quit it.” No one is better suited to dish out this wisdom than Brian Lam. In 2011, after running the show at our sister site Gizmodo for five years, Brian started The Wirecutter. It’s not a blog, and it’s not a news site — it’s simply a guide to the world’s best gadgets.

The Wirecutter publishes 10 or so posts each month, giving Brian time to do other stuff he’s passionate about (including surfing and writing about the ocean). If he wasn’t such a genuinely awesome human, I’d hate his guts out of sheer jealousy. Here’s what Brian had to say about workspaces, favourite gadgets, and more.

Location: Honolulu, HI, or San Francisco, CA.
Current gig: I run TheWirecutter.com and I sometimes write stories about ocean exploration. I’m starting a new Wirecutter-like site in a few weeks too.
Current mobile device: iPhone, iPad mini
Current computer: An ageing 2009 MacBook Pro. I’ll replace it this summer when the new Intel parts ship in the new MacBook Pros.
One word that best describes how you work: Flow

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

A Verizon 4G modem, 1Password, Mailbox for iOS, TextExpander and the custom WordPress theme we built to run Wirecutter off.

What’s your best time-saving trick?

I recommend everyone either fix your job or quit it. The best thing I ever did was get out of news. There is an undeniable truth that when you’re in a job, you have to do the job under certain terms and constraints and stresses that you have no way of avoiding. But no one said you have to keep jobs that drive you nuts. (Not that I didn’t love it — no other editor has even come close to lasting as long as I did there.)

I’ve only recently started managing my email better. I check it and answer it in bulk a few times a day. I also refuse 95 per cent of all scheduled meetings and calls and just have people try me. I also have an inbox-whatever philosophy. I star stuff for later, and I get to it when I get to it, and I mass archive stuff every few months. But I have zero expectation that my inbox will ever be anything but a giant mess. I think of it as a raging river you can’t really try to control.

What’s your workspace like?

I’m Brian Lam, And This Is How I Work

Pictured above: Brian’s workspace.

A Safco cheapo standing desk with an old 24-inch Dell monitor, with an Imprint standing mat. And a stool because it’s safer to take breaks from standing once in a while. I’m about 4.5m from a bunch of ocean gear (surfboards, fins, goggles, sunscreen, wetsuits, swim trunks, Speedos, drying rack, handplanes, beach totes) and less than 800m from the beach, so that when I need to take a break, I can be out the door and in the water within five minutes.

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?

Things, but I wish Things and Fantastical would join forces and figure out how to do natural language date/time settings, integrated with my calendar.

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

Sunglasses. Can’t ever have too may pairs in Hawaii. Some are cheapies to leave on the beach, with nicer pairs for walking around.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

I guess I’m the best at stopping work mid-flow and getting outside. Even if every instinct I have is screaming at me to keep working, I have no problem getting outside to go exercise. Did I mention I gained 16kg when I had a traditional desk-all-day job? The memory of my plump cheeks reminds me to put health first.

What do you listen to while you work?


Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

Introvert. I like nature better than I like people.

I’m Brian Lam, And This Is How I Work

Pictured above: Brian and his gear.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I sleep about 6-8 hours a night, going to bed pretty early. Ideally I surf in the morning and I work until lunch. I’m big on short naps to get through the low energy parts of the day, since I don’t really drink coffee.

Fill in the blank. I’d kill to see _______ answer these same questions.

Adam Savage or J.J. Abrams.

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

Advice is futile, by Edith Zimmerman from The Hairpin. I’m really bossy and I realised only lately that I have to just hold my tongue nearly all the time, because I drive a lot of loved ones up the wall trying to help out when I should just be supporting them more passively.

Anything else you want to add for readers?

Yeah. If you’re building or rebooting your career, take it step-by-step, and figure out where your old and new talents overlap. Focus on the big picture and focus hard on each step, because it’s too easy to get lost in a bunch of little meaningless tasks. Say no to things that are a waste of your time. All of this is probably obvious to half of you, but it’s worth repeating: Focus, ignore, one step at a time. Also, this is not advice. It’s just something that’s worked for me.

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.

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