How We Work 2014: Elly Hart’s Favourite Gear And Productivity Tricks

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 today: Lifehacker Australia’s night editor Elly Hart.

Location: Vancouver, Canada (but my heart is back home in Sydney, Australia)
Current Gig: Night Editor (Technology), Allure Media
One word that best describes how you work: Hectic
Current mobile device: Nexus 4
Current computer: MacBook Pro

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

I really try not to let myself invest too much in any one app or tool. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before they shut down or get bought out. Google Reader, Sparrow, Wantworthy, Image Spark and Brizzly are a just a few that are now defunct or in the process of shutting down. And then there are all the apps that stop working properly because the developers have lost interest and moved onto something else. In any case, very few are so reliable or so amazing that I feel my life would suck without them. As soon as one goes out of business, there are others just like it waiting to take its place. There are also many times when I’ve dropped an app in favour of something newer and shinier, although not necessarily better for me. There is no sense of loyalty whatsoever.

My rule is that if I’m willing to pay for it, it means it has something that none of the free alternatives can give me. I pay for Coda 2 because it offers the best combination of features (regex, cloud sync and text expansion) in an interface that doesn’t hurt my eyes. I pay for YNAB because it teaches me how to budget in a way that makes sense to me. I pay for Photoshop because I’m too lazy to fumble around with something I’m not familiar with. I don’t use all of Google’s services, but I would pay subscription-style for Chrome, Gmail, Calendar, Search and Maps. Nobody else offers those services with that level of integration and convenience. Not even Microsoft. Picture (right): YNAB

What’s your workspace setup like?

It’s clean but untidy. I spray and wipe around and under all the clutter. Inevitably, the whole house ends up being my workspace, so I have half-finished books on the bedside table, half-finished DIY projects scattered all over the living room, and there are gadgets and papers spread out on every single desk. The crazy thing about all of this is that I have a spacious office upstairs with plenty of storage and shelves. I just can’t seem to keep all my shit contained in there.

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

Make a cleaning schedule and stick to it. If you do a little bit each day, you’ll always have a clean house and avoid having your weekends sucked up by a big list of chores. I have a list of daily tasks, weekly tasks, monthly tasks and seasonal tasks. For example, I have a bucket with cleaning supplies, an empty bucket for picking up items, and a powerful handheld vacuum cleaner. I start at one end of the house and work my way through each room, wiping down surfaces, spot vacuuming and trying to make sure everything is put back in its place. The key is to it short and sweet. Even if I’m on a roll and want to start cleaning everything, I put myself on a 10-minute timer. This is definitely easier said than done — I use my 10-minute rule to justify not organising my workspace, so it’s in a constant state of chaos. But at least the chaos is clean!

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?

I like the way Google Keep balances features with accessibility. Quick access from my computer and phone is what makes it my go-to app for synced notes and checklists. All it needs is a dedicated iOS app.

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

My current obsession with DIY projects means I’m geeking out over all kinds of power tools. There’s a hardware store just down the road that rents out equipment, so I’ve been trying out all kinds of stuff. I’ve determined that I need my own rotary tool, a table saw, a soldering iron and an orbital sander if I want to do everything on my DIY list.

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

I’m a fast learner, especially when it comes to physical activities. I love the adrenaline rush that comes with being impulsive and trying new things on a whim. The downside to this is that I can lose interest in it just as quickly, which means I’m rarely able to master any one thing. I learned to ski last year, and now I want to try snowboarding, even though I still need to improve my skiing technique. I made a pull-out drawer for one of the kitchen cabinets (using instructions from Family Handyman), but I’m not as interested in making the other two. I’ve signed up for parkour, aerial hoop and pole-dancing lessons, but I probably won’t commit to any one of them. Variety is definitely the spice of my life.

What do you listen to while you work?

If I need to concentrate, I need silence. Otherwise, I switch between Songza, the radio and the TV (usually tuned to the news or HGTV).

What are you currently reading?

Out of all the books I’ve started reading recently, one has really opened my eyes. It’s called Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship by Stan Tatkin, Psyd. I highly recommend it if you’re in a romantic relationship or pursuing one.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

Can I say extroverted introvert? I’m not as outgoing as I used to be or would like to be, but I consider myself to be an expressive person. Maybe even a little too expressive.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I’ve made it a priority to go to bed earlier and at roughly the same time each night, and I’m encouraging my partner to do the same. It’s hard when he’s working 12-hour days though. I’m usually dead to the world within five minutes of my head hitting the pillow. Quality sleep is so incredibly important, and there’s no way now that I would pull all-nighters for anything.

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

This time, I’d love to see my mum answer these questions. I’m starting to realise just how much our early caregivers influence our ways of thinking, why we do the things we do and how we deal with life’s curveballs. If I know what makes my mum tick, I feel I would have a better understanding of why I am the way I am.

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

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
— Reinhold Niebuhr

This is the short version of the well-known serenity prayer used by 12-step programs. When I’m having a tough day, this is the only thing that puts things into perspective for me.

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

Everybody deals with counterproductive habits to some extent, but they can become debilitating for some people. I feel like I’m constantly fighting against procrastination, impulsivity and the exhausting mind game that goes with it. For years, I’ve minimised the problem as laziness and weakness of character, which only perpetuated the self-defeating thought patterns and the stress-avoidance-guilt cycle.

Desperation led me to look in places I didn’t want to look and ask uncomfortable questions about my past. I’m now trying to identify my triggers and how they contribute to the underlying anxiety that drives my unwanted behaviour. As fun and gratifying as it might be, don’t fall into the trap of trying this trick or that hack — they are temporary coping mechanisms that distract you away from the real issue.

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