Our annual How We Work roundup, where Lifehacker staffers and contributors share their favourite tips and tools for better productivity, continues. Today: writer Herbert Lui.
Location: Toronto, Ontario Current Gig: When not writing for Lifehacker, I spend most of my time running a marketing agency called Wonder Shuttle. I also interview musicians at Prologue. One word that best describes how you work: Freely Current mobile device: iPhone 4 (Seriously) Current computer: 2013 13" MacBook Pro Retina
What apps/software/tools can't you live without? Why?
I shudder to think of life without Google Drive, Google Calendar and Gmail.
I keep track of everything I read or watch — articles, speeches, movies, interviews, podcasts — in Evernote (with this tagging system). I use Pocket to organise all the articles or videos I haven't had a chance to read or watch yet.
What's your workspace setup like?
I like to rotate throughout the week between three places. The first place is Whole Foods where I'll grab a yerba mate tea-based energy drink (I'm pretty caffeine-sensitive) and write for a couple of hours. I know this sounds weird, realistically I'd be at the local library if it had more consistent Wi-Fi.
Naturally, I'll also work at home. If I'm focused on reading or reviewing notes, I like to be near my bookshelf for reference.
The third is at a co-working space in downtown Toronto. This is probably the most lively of the places, I really like it. Each week I'll spend two or three days here.
What's your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
My favourite life hacks are all centred on focus. I single-task and focus on getting all similar work done on the same day, so I don't waste any time context switching. I move through the week with themed days, where some days will be dedicated to writing and others will be focused on research, clients, or administrative tasks.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
I'm pretty primitive. I end each evening by writing tomorrow's top five tasks on an index card. It takes two minutes and it makes a huge difference. I keep track of upcoming tasks and deadlines on Google Calendar.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?
As much as possible, I work in 50 minute blocks and take 10 minute breaks. I use my kitchen timer to keep track.
I never leave the house without a pair of headphones. I'm not particularly picky, my friend gave me a pair of Sennheiser headphones that I've grown rather fond of. I have a spare pair of in-ears in my bag at all times.
I always have a physical book, or print magazine, and a pencil on me.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
I connect ideas decently, whether creative or practical. I consume a lot of different media from different people — I watch interviews and read biographies. I learn where other people's ideas come from, what their paths were like, and the such. My agency work exposes me to many different types of people and companies firsthand. I'll take different pieces of ideas from different fields and cross-pollinate them. Sometimes it works out, and other times it's Frankenstein.
Also, I'm pretty persistent. When I was pitching my first Lifehacker guest post, I must have followed up at least four or five times in that thread before it saw the light of day.
What do you listen to while you work?
When I'm working, I'll either cycle through a playlist or listen to a single song on repeat. I mostly listen to hip-hop (recently: Kanye West, Travis Scott, Ryan Leslie, Drake, Young Jeezy, Childish Gambino, The Weeknd) or French house (Chromeo, Daft Punk, Kavinsky) when I write. I prefer silence when I read.
Sometimes, when I'm thinking of ideas, I'll listen to the Joe Rogan podcast.
What are you currently reading?
I'm currently reading Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Ethan Zuckerman's Rewire. I love print magazines, and recently bought Hypebeast (#08, The Perspective Issue) and Jocks&Nerds' Winter 2014/15.
Some photos of my books because I'm scared I might have bored you with too much text.
I'm running out of space, and I've started transitioning some books into storage. Still in the process of deciding.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I lean more to the introverted side.
What's your sleep routine like?
I do my best work on at least seven hours of sleep. I work best at extremes — these days, I'm more of a night owl. I'll start writing around 10PM at night and work till maybe 1AM. I'll edit after I wake up and get my head together. When I had a day job, I used to be a really early-riser. I would wake up at 5AM to get some client work done before leaving the house for work.
I use an iOS alarm clock called Wake (disclaimer: Tiny Hearts is one of my clients). A few years ago, I cut snooze out of my life by listening to an entire song before getting out of bed. I'll enjoy the song for a few minutes, and by the end of it I'll be awake enough to start the day.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
The first that comes to mind is when architect Winy Maas said "Be yourself, enormously. Be different. Be strong. And try to beat the former generation." Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson's Kenyon College convocation speech really resonates with me, particularly: "To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble." (Watterson inspired this article.)
Musician Ryan Leslie's advice is a healthy reminder: "When you find your passion, the best is always demanded of you, not by the expectations of others, but by the bidding of your heart."
I used to ask other people this question and now I can see why it drove them nuts.