Every week, we share the shortcuts, workspaces and productivity tips of our favourite experts and internet personalities. This week, we’ve been turning the tables and giving you guys a look at how we work. Today, it’s my turn.
Location: Huntsville, Alabama
Current gig: Writer for Lifehacker
Current computer: A Windows 8 desktop gaming PC I built myself. I also have an HP laptop for when I need to get away from my office and a self-built server running Windows Home Server that pulls duty for backups for all the computers in the house, file storage, media streaming, and so on.
Current mobile device: iPhone 5c (green)
I work: Hackerifically
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
My working habits changed pretty dramatically when I started working for Lifehacker. Before that, I was a desktop app kind of guy. Since my previous work revolved around all things Microsoft, I was a heavy Office user. I lived in Outlook and used it to organise everything.
I’ve now transitioned almost entirely to web-based tools and storage. I’m all about having as many things online as possible. I can sit down at any computer and have my whole workspace. It also reduces the configuration I need to do if I reinstall Windows. Tools like Ninite and Steam help a lot with that, too.
I’m using Gmail and Google Docs, though I do keep Office around because there are some things Docs still just can’t do.
Since I do a lot of browsing, reading and writing for work, my favourite tools sit in that workflow. After Google Reader went away, I moved on to Feedly. It isn’t perfect, but I like it well enough. It helps me get through the dozens and dozens of sites that I keep up with every day. For long reads (or when I just want to get away from my computer), I send things to Pocket.
For note-taking, I use several tools. I’m sure I could consolidate, but each one feels like it serves a purpose. I keep a simple steno pad and pencil by my desk for jotting down ideas. It’s the fastest way for me to do it without interrupting whatever else I’m working on. That pad is for quick brainstorming, reminders, tasks, whatever. Sometimes, I move those things to better places later. When I’m mobile, I use Drafts for iOS. I absolutely adore that app because it lets me get ideas down quickly and then worry later about what to do with them. It’s the same functionality my steno pad offers.
I use Evernote for long-term storage and Google Keep for quick post-it-style notes. I also use scrthpd when I just need a quick place to paste something or play with some text. I think of those three as my long-, medium-, and short-term note system.
What’s your workspace like?
I build my own computers, so that’s what’s peeking out from under the desk. It’s a custom-built Windows 8 PC. In addition to the two monitors, I sometimes keep my laptop on the desk, too. When it’s there, I use Synergy so that I can control it with my regular keyboard and mouse.
The keyboard is a Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro that they don’t make any more. The mouse is a Logitech MX518. And if you tune in for this article next year, they’ll both still be sitting right there. Perfect is perfect.
The desk is a cheap thing I picked up at a sale more than a decade ago. I love it. The central section is wide enough for two monitors and deep enough to stash things behind them. The keyboard tray is super-sturdy, big enough for that huge keyboard and a gaming mouse pad, and fully adjustable. A single control lets me change the height and tilt. I angled the tray this way for the picture, but I usually work with it tilted slightly away from me. For ergonomics and whatnot.
What’s your best time-saving trick?
Saying no is my best time-saving trick. If I had to pick a second one, it would be making sure you know the value of the people around you. It’s tempting to pigeon-hole people by their roles. This colleague is the one in charge of that thing. My best friend is a carpenter. But when you do that, it’s easy to overlook the other skills and experiences those people bring to the table.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
My super big paper desktop calendar is gone. I recently replaced it with a weekly/monthly appointment book. Exciting, right? It gives me more space for detailing deadlines and appointments while freeing up a lot of space on my desk. Also, I was sick of the dirty paw prints my cat was always leaving on the other one.
I’ve tried just about every electronic to-do manager around. And I really tried to make them work. But I finally came to the realisation that paper works best for me. I can write new things wherever I want, check things off, circle things, draw big looping arrows, and colour things in with my pencils. And for those with a keen eye, yes that is a legend of codes and colours on the bottom right. What can I say?
Finally making the decision to give up on digital to-do lists was liberating, but whatever method you use, my advice is to quit looking for the perfect solution. Pick something and make a habit out of using it. Oh, wait. Maybe that’s my best time-saving trick.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?
My Kindle Paperwhite. I’m an avid reader and have been since I was a kid. It took me a while to convince myself to go the ereader route. I love books and I always will. Most of the rooms in my house are lined with them. But I finally made the switch a couple of years ago and love it. It’s easy to carry around, nicer for reading in bed after my wife goes to sleep, and if I spot a book I want I can start reading it in seconds.
What do you listen to while you work?
It depends on the kind of work. When I’m reading, researching and writing I don’t listen to anything. I’m a pretty active listener, so if there’s music playing I just end up listening to it instead of working. When I’m doing other types of work, like messing around in my garage, I listen to music or maybe some background television. For music, I mostly use MediaMonkey and Spotify. As for what I listen to, it’s just whatever I feel like at the moment. I like pretty much every genre from pretty much any time period. So on any given day you might find me listening to Mozart, Dylan, The Clash, Daft Punk, Flight of the Conchords or any of a thousand others.
What are you currently reading?
Everything I can get my hands on. I’m a compulsive reader. I read all day for work, so lots and lots of articles, blogs, and so on. For fun, I usually have one fiction and one non-fiction book going.
Right now, I’m reading Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining that follows the story of Danny Torrence after he grows up. It’s good. If you like King, go ahead and get it. I’m also reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, a history of the whaleship Essex that inspired Moby Dick.
If you want, you’re welcome to friend me on Goodreads. I’m always looking for new recommendations.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I’m an introvert. I like people and I’m not shy, but I really value my time alone. It’s where I charge my batteries. I’ve taken tests like the Myers-Briggs and they usually score me somewhere in the middle on the introversion/extroversion scale. But I self-identify as an introvert.
What’s your sleep schedule like?
I am very much a night owl. Left to my own devices, I would probably keep a near-vampiric schedule. But work and family prevent that and it’s probably a good thing. The great benefit of working from home, though, is that I don’t have to get up super early because I don’t have to get ready and my commute is just a flight of stairs.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _______ answer these questions.
Let’s see. Last time I answered John Cleese and Alton Brown. Popular choices among Lifehacker staff and readers, to be sure. Cleese has wonderful ideas about the business of creativity and Alton Brown is pretty much the patron saint of life hackers. You know what? I’m sticking to my guns. Let’s get these people on Lifehacker!
What are some of your favourite Lifehacker posts?
I’ve been working at Lifehacker for about a year and a half, but I’ve been reading and commenting since right after Gina first started the site. I’ve read a lot of good articles, so I’m not sure how to pick my favourites. But off the top of my head, here are some that stand out:
- 10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Becoming a Parent: There are a few reasons this is one of my favourites. First off, it’s just a great post; Melanie really killed it. It was also the first of our “Things I Wish I Had Known” posts and those have been great. And its popularity proved to us that some of the new areas we wanted to explore (like parenting) were viable.
- Google Wave First Look: I loved watching the entire rise and fall of Google Wave right here on Lifehacker.
Is there anything you want to add?
Just thanks for reading.