Writer, actor, podcaster, husband and parent, stand up comic, personified PC. Is there anything John Hodgman can’t do? We’ve been dying to know how the moustachioed nerd hero manages it all, so we stole a few minutes from his insane schedule to find out. Turns out he’s got more than a few tricks up his sleeve.
Location: New York, NY
Current gig: I am a writer and performer and occasional Deranged Millionaire on The Daily Show with John Stewart
Current mobile devices: iPhone 5; iPad 2
Current computer: MacBook Air
One word that best describes how you work: Lying down
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
For a very long time my process was simple: I would think of things to say or do in the shower, and then forget them. Then I would remember them while walking around and write them by hand in a Moleskine notebook. Then I would transcribe that notebook to an MS word file, and then forget all about that file until forced by terrible circumstance to actually compose a script, a sketch, a book, etc. Occasionally I would draft using Apple mail, as it was a quick and dirty way to make sure my dumb thoughts were backed up and available to the cloud.
But since I’ve been performing more and more live comedy, I’ve been using Google Drive to replace all of the above, except the showers. Having the work available across all devices and the cloud all the time not only makes it easier for me to print out notes for shows in expensive hotel business centres around the world, it also reduces my excuses for not writing. I do not use Google mail, though.
Other critical apps these days are, of course, Scrabble, and Uber. Having a driver who will not fight with you or kick you out of the car when you say you are going to Brooklyn is worth every extra cent, and I will never forget the day I left my Countrypie Pizza cap in the Uber car and the driver returned it to my HOME the next day.
What’s your workspace like?
As per above, I do not stand up. I lie down. While I’ve written in bed occasionally since college, I would always feel guilty about it and try to keep to the desk. But now that I am 42 I do not care anymore what humans think, so I pulled out the sofa bed in my home office and now do everything there. It’s the most productive I’ve been in years, and it makes the nap transitions incredibly smooth.
(PS: I have a treadmill bed.)
What’s your best time-saving trick?
I have tried for years to build some kind of regular daily schedule in my life, but it is impossible. In September, for example, I spent a week writing for and appearing on The Daily Show, recorded four episodes of my Judge John Hodgman podcast, spent three days on the road, and four days on the Caribbean Sea doing comedy shows. I also write my Judge John Hodgman columnette every week for the New York Times Magazine and working on some personal writing, and I’m also growing my already ridiculous mustache out to extra-ridiculous proportions to act in a period drama this week. My wife and I also have two human children and a sickly cat.
So every day is different, and every day is a sort of surprising panic of tasks, and I honestly wouldn’t want it to be any different. But, out of anxious and sudden necessity more than design, I developed a few tricks that help me keep it in order.
10AM — 2PM is set aside for writing. No meetings, phone calls, email, or other business may be conducted. This not only clears the decks for creative work during the day, it also makes me feel extremely guilty when I am not writing during those hours — a motivating force.
I long ago gave up trying to sort my email into folders or even bother deleting the junk. I let it all decadently roll to the bottom of my inbox like a Twitter stream. I have 22,153 emails in my inbox, and I don’t care what you think about it. This is very liberating.
Whether from a fan or a colleague, I reply to long emails with short answers, and I don’t reply at all to requests for favours that are not within my power nor my schedule to perform.
I stop work at 6PM (unless I’m performing) and I do not think about work again until the next day when I lie down in my work bed.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
I enjoy the Apple Reminders app very much. I would have forgotten to do this unless it had hounded me over and over.
Above: John’s 2012 TED talk (via YouTube).
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?
A Kershaw “Chive” knife designed by Ken Onion. Alton Brown gave me one of these years ago when I was writing for Men’s Journal. It is a very clever little knife that snaps open and is good for opening packages, but is better for opening and closing compulsively when I do sit at my desk to pay bills or write by hand.
Long ago when we were young, I used to write by hand on yellow legal pads ALL THE TIME, and I still reach for them today, like a phantom limb. I do not know why I gave them up. They still make them, I’m pretty sure. I think I will get one.
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
I would make eggs all day long if I could. Scrambled. Omelettes. Over easy. Poached. I can do them all. Like Ken Shopsin, author of the essential book Eat Me, I find it to be incredibly meditative work: each egg is different, its cooking times and consistency subject to 1,000 microvariables of freshness, water content, etc. Every correctly cooked egg is a triumph rescued from certain calamity. And you can make them into sausage, egg, and cheese sandwiches, which are very good.
What are you currently reading?
I had to put Neal Stephenson’s magnificent Cryptonomicon aside for a bit to read Low Life by Luc Sante. It’s the definitive history of crime and carousing in New York at the turn of the last century, and I need to read it for the mustache acting I’ll be doing later this week. I am also continuing to work my way through Matt Fraction’s incredible run on Hawkeye.
What do you listen to while you work?
I typically roll WNYC all day long. It is my favourite white noise and always gives me something interesting to tune into during one of my many, many procrastinatory staring-into-space breaks.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Maybe both is a great answer. I love holing up by myself, and being on stage is in many ways the best way to be alone. But then I feel such tremendous excitement when I get to go into the Daily Show and collaborate and play with the super-genii there. Plus, they have coffee and office snacks — one of life’s great pleasures.
What’s your sleep routine like?
Because I am a parent I cannot sleep well at night because that is when my reptile brain goes on high intruder alert, and I equally cannot sleep in. So typically I toss around between midnight and 7AM and then take a mid-morning nap-of-the-just.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.
John Roderick of The Long Winters.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Adam Savage told me he stopped eating lunch, and so I gave it a try, and now I feel like I can see around corners.
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.