I first connected with Jamie Todd Rubin last year while researching Evernote Ambassadors. (Jamie is Evernote’s paperless living ambassador, meaning he’s passionate about using Evernote and other programs to live digitally and clutter-free.) He’s also a prolific science fiction writer, blogger, software developer and dad. I caught up with Jamie to find out his tips for writing every day, going paperless and so much more.
Location: Falls Church, Virginia
Current Gig: Software developer, science fiction writer and Evernote Ambassador for Paperless Living
Current mobile device: iPhone 5
Current computer:27-inch iMac in my home office; Samsung Google Chromebook dual-booted with Linux
One work that best describes how you work: Incrementally
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
I do all of my writing in Goggle Docs. I love its simplicity and its extensibility. I’ve written some Google app scripts (available on GitHub) that automatically track my writing each day, capturing word counts on a spreadsheet, identifying streaks and records, and sending what I write each day (including differences from the previous day) to Evernote. In this way, I can tell you exactly what I wrote (or deleted, or changed) on any given day.
I use a Fujitsu Scansnap s1300i for scanning any paper that I get into Evernote. I’ve been using that scanner for well over a year and I love. I’ve never had a problem with it and it does three things that I think all scanners should do: (1) it has a sheet feeder to allow you to easily scan a multipage document; (2) it does simultaneous duplex scanning (it scans both sides of a page at the same time); (3) it has a button that allows me to scan directly to Evernote.
And speaking of Evernote, I take Evernote’s slogan, “remember everything” literally. I use Evernote as my paperless filing cabinet, but also part of my automation engine. Since everything in Evernote has a date associated with it, it also acts as a kind of timeline of events in my life, making for a kind of automated journal. This has become a great reference source for me.
Given my schedule, I couldn’t get by without Buffer to manage my social media, scheduling Tweets, and buffering things that I find when I’m reading online to share with others. I love the Paper app by FiftyThree, and I use it constantly to sketch out storyboards for applications I am developing, or for diagrams that I use in blog posts. I like the rough feel of the diagrams, and it is much faster for me to produce them through Paper than, say, through Visio. I use the Bamboo Solo stylus with my iPad when working with Paper and it works brilliantly.
I’m constantly wearing my FitBit Flex. I’m a data hound and I like looking at the data to see my activity throughout the day. I also like the friendly competition with my friends to see who is at the top of the step list each week. It keeps me walking every day.
I use LastPass to manage my passwords and to help ensure that I have complex, unique password for every service that I use. It took me a weekend to get it all setup, but it has saved me a ton of time in the long run, to say nothing of increasing my online security. I’m a big believer in not just backing up data, but being able to easily restore data when needed. I use CrashPlan to backup all of the home computers. It works brilliantly, backups everything, and makes restores (on the few occasions I’ve needed them) a piece of cake.
What’s your workspace like?
I’ve recently moved my workspace from our large living room into an extra bedroom. I liked the living room because it was large and bright, but it had no privacy when I needed to focus. When my two-year old daughter decided she didn’t want her own room, and moved into her big brother’s room, an extra room became available so I moved my office up there.
I have a small corner desk in my new workspace with enough room for my iMac on one side and my Chromebook or my day-job laptop on the other side. Probably the best feature of the new workspace is that I have a door that I can close when I really need to focus. Also, by moving my office to the extra room, we gained a living room, which was a nice bonus.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut?
My best time-saving shortcut is to multitask my daily exercise and reading. I try to walk about 11-12km/day. I do this by taking a short walk at 10am, walking for my entire lunch hour, and another short walk at 3pm. The rest comes from moving from here to there throughout the day. But those three daily walks are where I get in my exercise and while I’m walking, I am always listening to audio books. This allows me to kill two birds with one stone.
And I will walk in almost any weather. It’s such a regular feature of my day that on days I can’t do it for one reason or another, I just don’t feel right. The walking probably amounts to two hours/day, which also guarantees me at least two hours of audio book listening every day.
My second best time-saving shortcut is to try to automate anything that I have to do more than once. I use text files for a lot of things, and that helps with automation. I use tools like TextExpander to avoid typing in the same thing again and again. And I do all kinds of little coding automations — like automatically adding action items in meeting notes to my to-do list so that I don’t have to type them in twice — that save little bits of time here and there that really add up.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
I’ve tried lots of to-do list managers over the years, but the one I like the best, and the one I find most useful is Gina Tripani’s todo.txt. Plain text files are incredibly versatile. They are cross-platform compatible, which is important for me since I work in Mac OS, UNIX, iOS, Chrome OS and Windows. And plain text files are easy to use in automation. Plus, I just like their simplicity, and todo.txt’s simple command line interface plus its mobile app make it really easy to use.
Beside your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
I’d say my Fujitsu scanner. As Evernote’s Ambassador for Paperless Living, I’m a big proponent of going paperless, but also recognise that while I may be going paperless, the rest of the world still uses paper. Having the scanner allows me to quickly digitise any paper I get in a day, so that it’s accessible to me from anywhere, and my office isn’t cluttered with paper.
A close runner up is probably my FitBit Flex. Just trying to meet my physical activity goals each day helps to keep me healthy, in what is otherwise a very sedentary occupation. Plus, I am a data hound, and I like using data to improve myself. There is plenty of data that the Flex generates that I’ve found useful.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I don’t know that I am better at any one thing, but I am big believe in the value of personal analytics and the quantified self movement. Over the years, I’ve automated the collection of a lot of data about me, that I can look at, interpret and find areas for improvement.
One example is writing. Fiction writing is my avocation and my time for it is fairly limited, given a full-time day job, my blogging, my Evernote activities and my family. I used to think I needed to block out a set amount of time each day — one hour, two hours — where I could focus on writing. It never worked out and I wrote very little. Almost exactly a year ago, I started a different approach. I decided to write in whatever spare minutes I could find in the day, but that I would write every day. I created some Google app scripts to track my writing. Then, I just wrote. And it worked!
I’ve written every day for the last 219 days, and I’ve only missed two days in the last 365! What I learned from the data was that I could write 500 words in 20 minutes. I usually have 20 minutes in a day to write, often after getting my kids ready for bed. The words add up. In a year since I started this, I’ve written over 310,000 words. And since every day of writing is practice, I think I’m getting better. My sales of nonfiction and short fiction have been increasing in the last year. (Of course, this could also be due to the increased output.) But I think learning from the data played a vital role in teaching me that I didn’t need long periods of time to write; that in my current circumstances, writing a little bit every day works much better.
What do you listen to while you work?
If I’m at the day job, writing code, I often listen to Sirius XM 70s on 7 or ’80s on 8, depending on my mood. When I’m writing fiction, I prefer silence.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading George Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. It was timely, too, since we just took our kids to Mount Vernon, which isn’t far from our home. It made for a nice intersection of reading history and seeing it. I try to mix fiction and nonfiction reading. I write a regular book review column for one of the science fiction magazines and so I probably read a dozen books a year for that column. But my interests are wide and varied and the pendulum swings back and forth between fiction and nonfiction. Of course, being a data hound, I have a list of everything I have read since 1996. The list is up to 561 books.
Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?
I used to think I was shy, but I’ve never had a problem speaking in public, and as I have done more and more panels at science fiction conventions, and seminars on Evernote and paperless, I think I feel like I’m balanced somewhere between the two.
What’s your sleep routine like?
As parents of a four-year old and two-year old, I think we are already feeling old compared to some of our friends. The kids are usually in bed by 9pm, and I’m not up much longer than that, usually 10pm at the latest. However, the kids are usually up by 6am and that schedule doesn’t really change on weekends. According to my FitBit Flex, I’ve averaged just over seven hours of sleep for the last year or so.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these questions.
John Scalzi, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King. All writers, but then, I’m a writer and I’ve always been interested in how other writers work.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
For writing, you can’t beat Stephen King’s advice in On Writing. If you want to be a writer, you have to do two things: write a lot and read a lot.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers?
When I attend science fiction conventions, I try to get on the “new writer” panels because, although I’ve been publishing stories for seven years now, I still feel like a new writer. One of the things I am very upfront about on these panels is that, so long as you love what you are doing, you shouldn’t give up, despite the rejection slips. It took me 14 years of writing stories, submitting stories, and collecting hundreds of rejections slips before I made my first sale. Practice and persistence pay off.
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.