Our annual How We Work roundup, where Lifehacker staffers and contributors share their favourite tips and tools for better productivity, continues. Today: weekend writer Dave Greenbaum.
Location: Lawrence, KS (Rock Chalk)
Current Gig: Owner/Technician at DoctorDave Computer Repair, weekend writer at Lifehacker
One word that best describes how you work: Always
Current mobile device: iPhone 5s protected in an obnoxiously large case. People say “It’s so big”.
Current computer: At my desk: Macbook Pro 13″, Mid 2012, Macbook Pro Core 2 Duo (runs Windows 7); Mobile: Macbook Pro Mid 2009, Asus Chromebook; On the elliptical: Sony Vaio (Windows 8.1) ; Kitchen: Lenovo Touchscreen (Windows 8.1). A lot of other computers throughout the house and a collection of old Macs in my basement dating back to the Mac Plus and PCs going back to DOS 5.0. After all, what if we find a new tip for Windows for Workgroups?
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
I have a lot of Google-based accounts, so Mailplane lets me check them all at once. For my work at Lifehacker, Pocket tracks all my articles. As I read, I can email articles directly to Pocket and tag them for Lifehacker. If I don’t write about them immediately, I can send them directly to Evernote. Evernote keeps my Pocket tags, so I can easily track my article ideas when I’m stuck.
With all my computers and tablets, I keep all my stuff in sync with Dropbox and use either Parallels Access or Chrome Remote Desktop to get to it all remotely. Dropbox keeps my 1Password in sync so I never worry about remembering my logins. Backblaze and Crashplan keep me backed up in case one of my hard drives go belly up.
The one tool I couldn’t live without is my Matias Tactile Pro keyboard. It’s an old-school clickety-clack mechanical keyboard. I always missed my big Apple Extended Keyboard and this is the closest thing to it. Over five years later, the keys haven’t worn off.
What’s your workspace setup like?
My primary workspace is my home office, but that’s usually only at the beginning and the end of the day. I’m mobile most of the time, and I constantly change out my mobile devices. That way I’m not too comfortable with any one device. One week I’ll pick an Android tablet, another the iPad, and then I’ll use the Chromebook. It just depends on my mood.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
I’m a big believer in contexts for your work and workstation popcorn. I have one place I write my pitches each week: the library. I won’t leave there until I get them done. I do all my RSS feeds on the elliptical with my SurfShelf. I return phone calls in the car with my car’s integrated Bluetooth audio. I don’t have to think about what I’m doing. I know if I’m at a particular place I know exactly what I need to work on. I give myself rewards at each location. Once I respond to my emails, I can get a cup of coffee. Each location has a typical task and associated reward. My soundtrack, my browser and even my clothes are synced with what I want to get done at that location. I’ll change shirts and footwear to help cue me into what I have to do. I don’t follow the rules all the time, but they serve as motivators and reminders.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
My trusted system is Apple’s Reminders. I tried all sorts of systems but I keep coming back to it. Location-based reminders along with IFTTT integration keep me organised. I spend lots of time in the car during my day job, so Siri lets me get an idea out of my head and on my list quickly. iCloud syncs this to all my Apple devices and the Web and I have a few Android apps I use to see the reminders on my Android devices.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
Without a doubt my slow cooker. I’m the cook in the house and you can pretty much cook anything in a slow cooker. My spouse and I don’t have a regular schedule. If one of us is late for dinner: no worries. There’s still a hot meal waiting for us. This doesn’t count as a gadget really, but my Wusthof Santuko knife. It’s the only knife I use in the kitchen. If you have one good knife, you’d be amazed at how much easier and enjoyable cooking is.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
Problem-solving. I don’t always have the answers, but I know the right questions to ask to get to the answer. It may be the right search engine query, but sometimes it’s just finding an expert. I’m the person everyone goes to for advice, so I’ve heard it all. The secret isn’t knowing the answer. You can’t know every answer. You just need to know who (or what) to ask.
What do you listen to while you work?
As I said earlier, I believe in contexts. The type of work I’m doing has its own type of music. Workouts require dubstep. Writing and editing needs electronic ambient music without words. Paperwork, accounting and finance need international music. I use Spotify, SoundCloud and Youtube to stream music.
What are you currently reading?
In the car, I have Audible streamed from my iPhone. Some people say that’s not reading, but I’m currently listening to Clash of Kings (Game of Thrones). At home, I’m reading Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, The Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Neither. I’m a shy ambivert. I enjoy people and love the energy of being around others, but I’m deathly afraid of going up to a stranger in a social setting. Speaking in front of thousands of people or national TV, no problem. Going up to a stranger at a business networking event, I hide. People think I’m introverted because I avoid social settings, but that’s only if I don’t know people. Twice in my life I sat next to a personal hero and I was too scared to introduce myself.
What’s your sleep routine like?
Completely messed up. Always has and always will be. I just accept it as part of my ADHD. My main computer monitor shuts off at 10:08pm every night, timed with a Belkin WeMote. I can turn it on again, but it’s a minor hassle. I then try to meditate for 10 minutes with headspace. I’ll set an alarm via my Lark. Always 6:38am. It syncs with my iPad, so I can only turn off the alarm by getting up and walking into my office. I tried a Jawbone and Fitbit to wake me up in the morning, but it’s too easy to turn them off. If I can’t sleep, I use either Pzziz or iSleepEasy app along with my Sleepphones.
I have one weird habit. When I have trouble sleeping, I sleep on the floor rather than a bed. It’s a quirk I developed in childhood. Some people say it’s that I feel more safe on the floor. Others have told me it’s about magnetic fields. When I’m stressed or annoyed, I always want to sleep on the floor. I have a traditional Japanese style futon I sleep on. For travel, I’ll have a silk sleep sack. I think hotels should give me a discount since housekeeping doesn’t need to make the beds or change the sheets when I travel.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
David Allen, without question. Getting Things Done was one of the most powerful books in my life. Since then I’m in the Inbox Zero Fan club. Another influential book for me was Never Eat Alone so I’d like to know how Keith Ferrazzi gets it all done. Even though he’s no longer with us, I wonder what apps Dale Carnegie would use today. I’ll add the Doctor, but he’s a fictional character. Still I’d love to see how he’d answer.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Never upgrade your TV. That was the advice my first boss out of college gave me. I had a tiny TV from my dorm room. It was 7″ and got the job done. I was in my office and get my first paycheque and was excited to buy a real TV. He asked why, and I told him I had the money now. He reminded me that there will always be a bigger TV. That TV got me through four years of college and still worked. He said don’t give up my college lifestyle just because I was making money. He was talking about lifestyle inflation, but the TV was the perfect way of expressing it. I never buy the “newest” thing, because my old thing worked just fine. Sure new stuff is fun, but avoiding lifestyle inflation kept me out of debt my entire life.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers/fans?
Embrace randomness. I view the universe like the Borg. It’s a collective entity that, if you let it, will consume you. It adds your biological and technology distinctiveness to serve it. In Star Trek: The Next Generation Best of Both Worlds, when fighting the Borg, Commander Shelby advised:
Data, fluctuate phaser resonance frequencies. Random settings. Keep them changing. Don’t give them time to adapt.
That’s not much different from Einstein’s quote of
No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
Do random things. You’ll get way too bored in life and the collective will consume you. You can’t possibly know you have a skill until you try. This isn’t just about trying “one scary thing.” It’s about trying one new thing. Whatever you do, don’t fully adapt to life. You’ll miss all the fun and you’ll become a mindless done consuming others’ biological and technological distinctiveness.