In a world of preachy self-help texts and websites, Gretchen Rubin’s best-selling book The Happiness Project (and blog of the same name) is just the opposite. Practical and honest, Gretchen’s writing on the pursuit of happiness has sparked nothing short of a movement. (We’vefeaturedtonsofherideasonLifehacker.) Now, Gretchen is turning her attention to how we make and break habits in a forthcoming book called Before and After. We caught up with the always-inspiring author to find out what she’s reading, using and listening to.
Location: New York City
Current gig: I’m working on my next book, which will be called Before and After. It’s all about the making and breaking of habits — my current obsession.
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: I still use ye olde Microsoft on my desktop and laptop.
One word that best describes how you work: Happily
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Doesn’t have to be tech.
For paper, I rely on my Filofax calendar, which I love, and a little notebook I carry with me everywhere, to take notes as they occur to me. My laptop is like my teddy bear, I never leave it behind. I love my phone — I have a Jawbone UP band so I use that app all the time, as well as the wristband. Also I love HopStop, a crucial app for New York City. I’m writing my current book using Scrivener software, which I find very helpful.
What’s your workspace like?
When I’m doing the hard work of original writing, I go to the New York Society Library, a beautiful 250-year-old library that’s just a block from my house. I love sitting in the stacks to work. When I’m there, I don’t connect to the internet, so it’s much easier for me to concentrate. Plus the quiet and the presence of all those books helps ignite my creativity (plus I love checking out books).
When I want to engage on social media or use the internet, I work from my home office, in front of my three monitors (how I love having three monitors! Highly recommend it). My office is very pleasant, but so small that there’s just room for a desk, a chair, and a filing cabinet. Right now, I’m preoccupied with trying to figure out if I can fit a treadmill desk in it. I desperately want a treadmill desk.
Pictured above: Gretchen at work on her laptop.
What’s your best time-saving trick?
I recently adopted the habit of dropping greetings and farewells from emails. When I was emailing with someone I didn’t know, I clung to the “Dear X” and the “warmly, Gretchen” format and more formal language of letters. But I finally realised that the etiquette of email has now changed enough to permit much greater informality — and brevity. It sounds like such a small thing, but it saves me a considerable amount of effort and time.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
Pen and paper.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?
My [Jawbone] UP band. I use it to track my exercise, food intake, and sleep. It’s really helped me improve my habits.
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
I’m great at staying on top of mail. I love to throw away junk mail, and I’m never late paying bills.
What do you listen to while you work?
I like silence. I feel like a killjoy admitting this, but I don’t really get much enjoyment from music! I don’t like to work with music, or the sound of an air conditioner, and certainly not talk radio. I think it overloads my circuits. Weirdly, I can work well in a coffee shop or any place that’s bustling with people. That kind of noise doesn’t distract me and is very pleasant.
What are you currently reading?
I’m re-reading Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. Such a masterpiece.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
I’m a bit of both. The expert on introversion herself, Susan Cain — author of the brilliant book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking — told me that she thought I was an ambivert. I think that’s right. I get energy from engaging with others, and I enjoy large social gatherings, for instance, but I also love to spend most of my days alone with my own thoughts.
Pictured above: Gretchen on stage at WDC 2013.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I’m a sleep zealot and work hard to get at least seven hours each night. I set my iPhone to wake me up at 6:00 (I use “crickets” as my alarm sound), but I usually wake up on my own just before it goes off.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _______ answer these same questions.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I got a promotion and was talking to my boss about the fact that I was worried about doing a good job. She looked at me sternly and said “Be polite and be fair, and you’ll be fine.” I think of that often. Politeness and fairness covers most situations.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Here’s the Secret of Adulthood that took me a long time to learn: Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.
We’ve asked 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? [contact text=”Let us know”].