How We Work 2014: Angus Kidman’s Favourite Gear And Productivity Tricks

How We Work 2014: Angus Kidman’s Favourite Gear And Productivity Tricks

Once again it’s time for our annual How We Work roundup, where Lifehacker staffers and contributors share their favourite gear, software and life hacks for getting things done more efficiently. Up first: Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman.

A lot of my basic answers are the same as when we did this last year, so you might want to check out that post when you’re done with this one. Given that some tools pop up year after year, someone asked me in the comments on that post if I was afraid of change. I don’t think so. I’ll happily switch tools when a better option comes along, but I’m not going to spend time altering functioning systems purely for the sake of changing them. I have better things to do.

Location: Sydney (and/or unspecified airport lounges) Current Gig: Editor, Lifehacker Australia One word that best describes how you work: Decisively Current computer: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon running Windows 8.1; Surface RT; Acer Chromebook C7 Current mobile device: BlackBerry Q10 phone/Google Nexus 7 tablet

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

The five apps that truly drive my productivity are Chrome (for browsing and webapps, including managing Lifehacker’s content), Word (for writing), Excel (for planning), Dropbox (for keeping all my files backed up and accessible) and IrfanView (for image editing). Having to work on a device that doesn’t have “the magic five” makes me tetchy and less effective — and that’s why my laptop remains the most important device in my arsenal.

I shifted to the X1 after its predecessor developed battery issues. It’s a fine machine, and I’d forgotten how much faster I worked with a trackpoint in the middle of the keyboard — as a keyboard shortcut junkie, not ever having to take my hands away from the keyboard is awesome. Conversely, I only remember that it has a touchscreen if I go to flick a speck of dust from the screen and become annoyed by stuff moving around. Touchscreens on laptops (or desktops) just don’t make sense yet from a productivity standpoint for me.

I picked up a Surface RT when they were on sale for $99 at Tech Ed last year. It’s become my computer of choice if I know I’ll need a lot of battery life. I often take it to conferences and it was invaluable during my recent Extreme Computing experiment.

Because it’s a Microsoft device, it has Word and Excel, but because it runs Windows RT, it doesn’t have Chrome or Irfanview. Internet Explorer is a markedly inferior browser, chiefly because it doesn’t sync my history and has zero support for keyword bookmarks. It’s tolerable, but nothing more.

Before I acquired the Surface, I used a Chromebook as my backup/extra battery machine. That gave me Chrome, which made browser-based tasks much easier, but left me stuck with Google Docs and Sheets, which just don’t have the range of features I need. Offline mode has also been less than perfect in my experience.

Both the Surface and the Chromebook only support Dropbox via the browser, so you have to pull down individual files as you want them — not much use on a plane! All of which is a long way of saying: I have yet to find the perfect machine, but I’m working on it. If the X1 could give me eight hours of battery, it would take the crown.

What’s your workspace setup like?

The big change over the past year has been the shift to a standing desk in the office. I’m still using that (as is my colleague Chris) and I can’t imagine ever going back to sitting all day. My original desk is now largely a storage area, the place where I eat lunch and the (slightly odd) location for my desk phone. It also has a Belkin dock for recharging devices during the day.

Most of the remaining goodness is concealed in drawers or in storage boxes under the desk. I’m the go-to dude in our offices for spare stationery, hardware, obscure USB cables and packing materials. I also have a surprising amount of food; everything for sale near our CBD offices is super-expensive, and I’d rather spend my money elsewhere. Using the standing desk has made me aware that this area probably needs a revamp, and I sense a trip to IKEA in the near future.

At home, assembling this post has made me realise my actual home office needs massive rationalisation and changing, even though I hardly ever use it. I suspect I’ll be writing about this in the near future.

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

Learn the keyboard shortcuts on the devices you use regularly. I bang on about this all the time, but it makes such a massive difference. Mice have their place, but that place is not switching between apps, opening files or selecting text in a word processor. All of those things can be done faster and better with a keyboard. Don’t settle for drag-and-drop when you could drop the dragging altogether.

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?

The honest answer is: Excel, Dropbox and pen and paper. I use Excel for our main editorial calendar, which keeps writing tasks tied to specific days and times. If I need to make specific lists, they will be created as Word documents and saved into Dropbox.

I spend enough time on planes that using pen and paper has become a crucial to-do strategy as well. Working out plans and ideas is a great way to fill in time when no electronic devices are allowed. I guess I’ll be reviewing that strategy if we see those rules change in Australia this year.

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

Last year I picked the Kindle, and it still tops the charts in 2014. I use my Kindle an awful lot, both for leisure reading and for proofing — shifting longer work to a different kind of screen makes all the difference. I tested out the Kindle Fire when it was released in Australia last year, but I still prefer the original device: the battery life is much better and I can read before bed without ruining my sleep cycle, as it isn’t backlit. The fact it syncs to other devices is also helpful, but in reality I can’t tell you the last time I took a trip and didn’t pack the Kindle anyway.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?

I’m never in the slightest bit bothered about going to the movies or to the theatre on my own. Not that I don’t enjoy going with other people, but I don’t refuse good opportunities when they come up (which often happens when I’m on the road solo for work). That also makes it easier to get into things last-minute: there’s often a single seat available where you’d struggle to find two near each other.

What do you listen to while you work?

The short answer: my colleagues. We have an office-wide Spotify system at Allure, but the volume on that is generally low and I don’t really pay attention to it. Several of my colleagues spend the day with headphones on, but for me one of the main benefits of being in an office is hearing what else is going on. Equally, a couple of decades of writing experience mean I can tune all that out when I need to.

The main exception is if I’m working at home on longer-form stuff. Then the background is likely to be one of my stupidly extensive collection of pop music from the 1980s to the present. Fortunately, it’s all on a single hard drive now. (I use Spotify sometimes too, but it is still missing an awful lot of stuff I own on CD.)

What are you currently reading?

Embarrassing truth: mostly stuff by people with the surname Kidman. I’m determined to finally release the various novels I’ve written (both for challenges like NaNoWriMo and for the sheer pleasure of it) as ebooks this year, so I’ve been spending a lot of time proofing and revising those texts. Simultaneously, I’ve also been offering editing advice for my brother Alex Kidman‘s novel. Look for a flood of books by A Kidman later this year on your Kindle.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

Absolute introvert. The other reason it’s healthy for me to go into the office is that I could easily spend days doing my job and never talking to anyone otherwise. It’s taken me a good chunk of my adult life to accept this aspect of myself. It wouldn’t be healthy to give in to it completely, but I also don’t think it would be healthy to pretend that I’m suddenly going to become the life of the party. That only happens when wine is involved.

What’s your sleep routine like?

Well-established and reliable. I work best in the mornings, so I’m up by 0430 on weekdays and straight into it. That means that 2200 is a late night for me. My 2014 resolution was to leave work on time, rather than sticking around and suddenly realising the sun has gone down. So far so good, but it is only February!

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Wil Anderson podcasts lately, so I’m thinking he might be an interesting choice.

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

Experiences count more than objects. Just that.

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

Comments are a vital part of the Lifehacker community, but we want the comments to be helpful, not divisive. One of my goals for 2014 is to improve the standard of commenting, which means that I’d love readers to use the “report a comment” function (just click on the flag next to a comment) if you spot something abusive or unhelpful. We do our best to weed those out, but unsuitable comments do slip through.

The bottom line? It’s great when you can add your own experience on a topic; it’s OK to disagree if you explain why; and it’s fine if you point out factual errors — we’re not perfect and those do happen. It’s not OK to mindlessly insult fellow commenters or Lifehacker team members, or to proclaim something is rubbish without justifying it. Those comments will be deleted as soon as we spot them.


  • Thoroughly enjoyed this read for a Monday morning, hopefully setting my productivity up for the day and week. Will have to look into how excel could be used for task planning as I am working with some writers at the moment whom need some organisation and managed to meet deadlines.
    In regards to commenting I will certainly be more aware a of reporting potentially bad comments, but thankfully on LH they are few, but I have always wondered if I should be pointing out the errors (other than non factual which you guys take on on-board well from other commentors) i.e. spelling and grammar as they sometimes detract from the points being made.

    • On a Mind Your Language post, it goes with the territory. On other posts, it can be done gently if it really does undermine the point being made. But erring on the side of kindness is always nice.

    • There is absolutely no reason to point out grammatical errors in a forum like this. Only a pretentious twit would make someone feel their point was irrelevant because of grammar. Something which has thankfully diminished, recently but still pops it’s ugly head up now and then. People who force their personal Grammatical bias on others, are saying more about their own ego than they are about the grammar errors of others.

  • Sounds like a Surface Pro 2 would be a perfect device for you based on what you’ve said.

    I also use a Q10/Nexus 7 combo – great minds!

    • Still not quite persuaded the Surface Pro 2 solves the battery life issue, but yes, it could well be contender.

  • This was really interesting – especially the part about using excel as a task manager. I’ve tried at least a dozen todo/task/gtd/etc solutions, but nothing has ever ‘stuck’ as well as just an open excel tab. Maybe with some highlighting if you wanna get fancy.

  • Excel…?

    Seriously, though, these “How I work…” articles are my favourite LH posts. No matter who, there’s always something interesting in, well… how they work. Thanks, and keep posting articles like this.

  • I think you’ve got the wrong idea about comments. Readers have no ability to ‘vote’ on the quality of articles – and some really are average.
    Deleting comments that are divisive is pretty lame – sure no swearing or spam – but if someone says an article is junk because that’s their opinion, then I think you should have the courage to leave it.
    Otherwise it’s all a love fest and will just be lame. Comments will be helpful if you lower the post rate and stop reposting old articles too frequently.
    My suggestion: add the ability to vote up or down posts and an ability to turn your articles into wiki knowledge – ie sure repost the wiki – but let the knowledge grow organically in one article – not 5 articles over 2 years.

    • We already have the ability to vote comments up and down (that’s what the arrows under the comments are for). Our best measure of whether people find posts useful is whether people read them (which isn’t always the same as whether people comment on them). I don’t think Facebook Likes are hugely meaningful, and the idea of “voting” on posts falls into the same area.

      My position and our policy on your “all opinions are valid” idea: If someone says an article is junk, they need to provide evidence. An opinion without evidence isn’t worth anything. I don’t have a problem with people pointing out factual errors or explaining why they disagree (and I said that in the post). I have a problem with people who say “this article is rubbish, you guys suck” and provide no evidence. All that proves is that the commenter can’t be bothered justifying their opinion or has made up their mind without reading the article. (That happens quite a lot.)

      We don’t repost old posts. We update posts on topics of interest sometimes, because they’re still of interest. But the vast majority — 99 per cent or more — of what we post every week is brand-new content. So your criticism seems to me to be based on a faulty premise.

  • One of my favourite places on the ‘net is a forum where The One Rule is: Be Civil and Respectful. The mods are great at keeping it that way without being Draconian and it’s the main reason it IS one of my favourite places. It’s a difficult — but rewarding — balance to achieve. What Angus says about all opinions are valid is an extension of The One Rule. The forum deals with short fiction and we used to get a lot of comments that amounted to “meh” which is not helpful. It’s OK if a story doesn’t do it for you but I’d rather know WHY it didn’t than be dismissed out of hand.

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