Every week, we share the shortcuts, workspaces and productivity tips of our favourite experts and internet personalities. This week, however, we’re talking about how we work, and today, it’s my turn. Here’s my favourite gear, apps, tricks, and tools to stay productive when I’m on, and to have fun when I’m off.
The last time we did this I was rocking iOS and Android, Windows and OS X, switching on the fly. Nothing’s changed there, and most of my hardware is still the same, so definitely check out last year’s for even more detail. I’ll try to talk about what’s changed between then and now.
Location: Washington, DC
Current Gig: Writer for Lifehacker
Current computer: Ganymede, my 15″ MacBook Pro (2010), Deneb, my custom-built Windows PC (Win 7), and when I’m really bored, Europa, my 15″ MacBook Pro (2008) running Ubuntu.
Current mobile device: Moto X (running Android 4.4 Kit Kat). Also in the drawer: an iPad 3 (iOS 7), a Motorola Droid Bionic, an OG Motorola Droid, and a rooted Nook Simple Touch.
I work: Passionately
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Much like last year, I don’t think I could get too much done if I didn’t have access to Google Docs and Drive, and Sparrow (Postbox on my Windows machine) to keep my multiple Gmail accounts under control. Things have changed a bit though: I now use Asana to keep track of my article ideas and pet projects. I also use Wunderlist to keep track of my regular to-dos (more about that later). Since so much of what we do involves reading the news and staying on top of the rest of the web, Feedly is my feedreader of choice, both on the desktop, on Android, and on my iPad (where I actually prefer to read the news.)
I’m still using Dashlane to manage my passwords and logins, and I still love it, but it’s been harder to recommend to people because the pricing structure has changed and the desktop client has become really heavy and memory intensive. It might be time to look back at Lastpass, which just got a huge — and much needed — overhaul. We’ll see what I’m using next year!
I upgraded from the Droid Bionic I was using this time last year to a Moto X (yeah, there are lot of Moto X fans here at Lifehacker) and I’m in the crowd that’s perfectly happy saying it’s the best phone I’ve ever used. I struggled for weeks between it and an HTC One (and I still might get a used One just to play with and test apps on) and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Just wish I could find some good-looking cases for it. Touchless controls means I can set alarms, send notes to myself, and do unit and currency conversions all without taking my fingers off my computer’s keyboard, then glance over to see alerts and alarms.
What’s your workspace setup like?
By and large my workspace hasn’t changed since this time last year, shown above. It’s a touch cleaner than I normally keep my desk — I usually have a few toys and puzzles on my desk to fiddle with while I’m thinking. I’m still proud of my lamp-plus-camera mount: It pulls double duty as a light source and a webcam stand — my Logitech HD C920 is mounted there using a Joby Gorillapod, so when I do Google Hangouts or Skype calls the camera is close to my face instead of on top of my monitor.
Beyond that, the hardware is largely the same as it was (you can check out the full parts list and specs from a couple of years back) but I have made a few changes. On the Mac, I put my Griffin Elevator Stand off to the side for a little bit while I try on a Roost Ergonomic Stand, which I have every intention to write about in the very near future. On the Windows side, there a few changes from what you’ll see above — I’ve been rotating mechanical keyboards as I look for the one that I think will really fit me perfectly. I haven’t settled on one just yet, but I’ve been rocking the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate for a while. I also swapped the wireless Razer Mamba I was using before for a Logitech G700s which I’ve liked a lot, short battery life aside.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
I really can’t understate the benefits of front-loading your day, and front-loading your week. “Eat the live frog first”, as it were — I used to put off the most difficult parts of my day until the end, and found myself stressed out all day long, since I was working in the morning on lighter tasks, then suddenly at the end of the day, when people were leaving and winding down, I found myself with a lot of work to do. It’s even worse because I’m usually the early person on the Lifehacker team.
The best thing I did for myself in the past year was to move my most difficult, stressful, and challenging work to earlier in the day. It’s been a challenge, because I’m not a morning person by any means. However, by pushing through it and making use of the morning, I have the whole day to edit and improve the work I did, and the sooner I finish my work the sooner I can relax or move on to brainstorming and being creative, instead of having an upside-down day. If you’re in a position where you can do the same, I highly recommend it.
One thing I mentioned last year that still saves me a lot of time on any given day is to chill out and relax — to think about the amount of energy you would put into unproductive discussions and conversations versus productive, interesting and intelligent ones. Time is precious — sometimes I catch myself ready to waste time arguing with someone only to realise I really don’t care that much, and I’d rather spend that time on my work, or talking to someone who really has a question or a great point to share. Seek out the conversations and individuals that inspire, challenge, and thrill you — leave behind the ones that don’t, won’t, or just can’t. I really can’t understate how precious and valuable your time is. Don’t waste it on anything that doesn’t enrich you.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
So last year I was an Astrid enthusiast. Well, we all know what happened to Astrid. I was also using Wunderkit as my personal “idea bank”, but Wunderkit is gone now too. Sadly, the curse of me using services destined to shut down seems to be alive and well. Since then, I’ve moved to using Asana as my idea bank, with different boards for article ideas and Hive Five ideas, among other topics. I’m not using Asana for my to-dos though (yet, anyway) — I waffled between Any.DO and Wunderlist after Astrid shut down and eventually settled on Wunderlist, mostly because I think it handles recurring to-dos more elegantly.
Still, Wunderlist hasn’t been without issues, and I’m still on the lookout for the perfect to-do app for me. I’ve been toying with moving everything over to Google Keep, which I use from time to time and still think is incredibly underrated.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
Aside from my computer and my beloved new Moto X, and of course, my iPad — the device I actually spend a remarkable amount of time working from (it’s ideal for reading the news, checking and approving comments, seeing how our posts are doing on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, and keeping on top of my email), I have a lot of love for my Bodum Tea Press when I’m ready to brew a pot, and my InginuiTEA when I just want a cup or so. I mentioned them both in my post about personal rituals. They’re both money well spent, especially if you love tea — and I love tea almost as much as I love coffee.
Last year I mentioned my trusty Xbox 360 and my Sony NEX-5N, and I still love them both, although I’m looking for a better way to streamline getting my photos off of my NEX and up to Flickr and Dropbox. The Xbox 360 is still the core of my home theatre experience, even though I’ve been meaning to build a new HTPC.
Oh, and I really can’t understate how awesome it is to have an external battery pack with me wherever I go. I love my 18000mAh Limefuel battery pack.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I don’t know if I’d say I’m better at it than anyone else, but I’ve really honed my BS sensors in recent years. I’ve seen more than a few crowdfunded projects and other big new products that tech blogs around the web are crowing about but I purposefully passed them over either because they didn’t fit my needs, or because I really had big reservations about them. It’s a necessary skill, but I try not to highlight things I don’t find genuinely interesting or useful.
Beyond that, I’m a pretty mean cook, and I’m still more than a bit of a clean freak. I try to keep the kitchen spotless, keep my workspace in order, and keep my computer sorted, inboxes clean and empty, and just about everything I touch in good, clean order. I still think I could use the help of a professional organiser from time to time though — just to help me see opportunities and chances to organise I can’t always detect.
What do you listen to while you work?
I used to listen to Pandora almost every day, and while I still do around the holidays (the Electronic Holidays station is amazing, whatever the season), I’ve been spending a lot of time over at Whyd (you can check out my profile here) and at Upbeat, where I’ve been lucky enough to hear a lot of great new music. Upbeat is from the folks behind Noon Pacific, another service I absolutely love. I also love This Is My Jam, which we’ve also mentioned (you can check out my profile here.)
Beyond music sites and streaming services, I also have a lot of love for Freefall Radio, a weekly podcast by the ever-talented David Bassin. Between all of these, I’m never without new and awesome music to listen to. When I’m on deadline and writing my longer feature articles for Lifehacker, you can usually trust that I’m listening to an episode of Freefall, that week’s Noon Pacific playlist, or catching up on what people are posting at TIMJ.
When music isn’t in order, a little silence usually is, but I shouldn’t hide the fact that I’m a podcast fiend. I subscribe to over 25 podcasts in iTunes, and keep up with most of them. I find a lot of great tools and segments from a lot of my favourite tech podcasts on the TWiT and Revision3 networks, and a lot of article inspiration from the great folks over there too.
What are you currently reading?
As much as I wish I had more time for fiction, I just don’t. When I do read, I’m usually reading long-form articles that trickle into my RSS feeds, so I wind up picking up a lot of various and interesting pieces from all over the web. I get a lot of my news from Hacker News (although they’re not a perfect source by any means) and over at Digg. I have, however, been nose-down into more than a few cookbooks lately, partially because they’re great inspiration for cooking posts here at Lifehacker, but also because I’m always about upping my own kitchen game. You can see some of my faves above.
Beyond that, I’ve actually spent a lot of time lately reading scientific papers and journals. I have to keep up with astrophysics research somehow (for those not in the know, I’m a recovering astrophysicist), and honestly the last thing I read for giggles was Stephen Hawking’s latest paper on the nature of information preservation and black holes. Give it a read — it’s only a few pages, and honestly leaves more questions than it answers, but it’s definitely interesting. If you’re really into physics, check out this groundbreaking paper on the observation of Dirac monopoles in a synthetic magnetic field. The implication of discovering magnetic monopoles anywhere in normal space would be huge — granted, this observation didn’t happen in any form of normal matter (indeed, the synthetic magnetic field required a Bose-Einstein condensate) but it’s still amazing to see mathematics spring to observable phenomenon.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I’m definitely a bit of both. I guess technically I’m an introvert, because I need solitude or time with a few trusted individuals to recharge my internal batteries. At the same time, I love time with others, being out with friends, and while it can be difficult to get me out of the house, once I’m out and having a good time, I don’t ever want to go home. Still, I think lately the internet has been putting way too much emphasis on making sure we find ways to label ourselves “introvert” and “extrovert,” instead of talking about how we can adapt to and create environments that are friendly to everyone.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I still have the early shift at Lifehacker, so I’m up around 6am so we can start posting bright and early, even though I’m by no means a morning person. As soon as I wake up, I’m instantly thinking about when I can go back to bed and get some more sleep. Still, it’s up and out of bed, to the coffee machine, and to the computer to make sure the first posts of the day go up well, no breaking news escapes our eye, and so on.
I try to get to bed around 11pm-ish the night before, just so I get a decent amount of sleep there. If I can sneak away during the day for a quick caffeine nap, I do, but just like I said last year, while I can definitely crank out the work earlier in the day, I tend to feel more creative later in the afternoon and evening, so I try to make sure I have time to brainstorm or work on my personal projects then.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
Last year I said I wanted to see how Maya Angelou or Nikki Giovanni works, or NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, since they were all role models for me as a child. I’ll tack LeVar Burton onto that list as well this year. I’ve been following his career since I was a kid, and he continues to inspire me to do great things.
Like Whitson, I’ll also bemoan the fact that Alton Brown hasn’t been free enough to do one of these, especially considering we’re all such huge fans, but he’s doing a massively successful stage show right now. I’d love for Xeni Jardin to share her insight with us, especially since if there’s anyone who reminds me on a daily basis how important time is and how precious every moment is, it’s her.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Doesn’t have to be work or productivity-related.
Speaking of Xeni, I’m going to copy/paste from last year because all of it is still the best advice I’ve ever received:
Back in 2006, I was struggling with living a kind of double life. On the one hand, I was working in tech and going to grad school, trying to decide if I wanted to work in an office with enterprise technology for a living. On the other hand, I was already writing on my own, and really wanted to turn that into a career. I reached out to Xeni Jardin, founding partner and co-editor of Boing Boing (still one of my favourite sites), on a whim for advice as a fledgling writer looking for tips from someone more experienced. She replied:
Find untold stories, things that fascinate you, and do your best to tell them honestly. There’s so little truth in the world these days, any small morsel of it is a precious thing that will be appreciated, and find a grateful audience.
Don’t look for “big” stories, just look for ones that matter to you. The more you work at it, the better your work will be, and the more people will see it.
I’m still working on it, but every day I appreciate her words. I’d also share a quote from the 8th century father of Zen, Shitou Xiqian: “The vast sky is not hindered by the floating clouds.” Something else I try to remember, especially in this line of work.”
What are some of your favourite Lifehacker posts?
We’ve posted some awesome stuff over the years, and it’s still hard for me to believe I’ve been writing here at Lifehacker for as long as I have (especially considering I’ve been a reader for much much longer), but here are a couple that I still happily keep bookmarked:
- How I Built The Media Center Of My Dreams
- Automate Your Finances to Spend Less Time Managing Your Accounts
- How to Deal with Internet Meanies, How to Stop Caring about Trolls and Get On with Your Life and, How To Be A Model Internet Citizen
- How Sitting All Day is Damaging Your Body and How You Can Counteract It and The Office Worker’s Schedule for Healthy Living Behind a Desk
That’s a long list, but I know I’m missing some of my favourites, especially from back in the day. You’d be hard pressed to find an old post from way back when that I haven’t commented on.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The goal of being productive is to spend less time doing the things you have to do so you can spend more time doing the things you want to do, whatever those things may be.
To that end, life is too short to be embarrassed or ashamed of your passions. I have a lot of embarrassing hobbies, but as long as you own them, take joy in them, and make them your own, there’s no better way to spend your time and money. Live your passions and fearlessly embrace who you really are. Don’t hide or shy away from anyone.