Our annual How We Work roundup, where Lifehacker staffers and contributors share their favourite tips and tools for better productivity, concludes with US Lifehacker editor-in-chief Whitson Gordon.
Location: San Diego, California
Current Gig: Chief grammar tyrant of Lifehacker
One word that best describes how you work: TooManyTabs
Current mobile device: Moto X — the original and best
Custom-built, water-cooled Windows desktop, MacBook Air running Windows
I’ve been at Lifehacker for an awfully long time now, so I’ve answered these questions on many, many occasions. Instead of repeating myself, I’m going to try to focus my answers on what’s changed over the past year, and the new stuff I’ve learned or started using. Check out past years for more.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
I finally switched to Chrome. I hate it. But I hate Firefox slightly more, so I guess I’m using Chrome for now.
Over the past year — in addition to my staples like Evernote and Wunderlist — I’ve started using TeamViewer a lot, for managing all the computers throughout my house (without getting off the couch). I’ve also finally made the jump to Crashplan as my main backup solution. I back up both to my NAS and to Crashplan’s servers. I split a subscription with my brother-in-law, so we each pay the same amount as we would for one computer, but can back up 10 computers between the two of us. This allows me to back up every single computer I own, including the “less important” ones like my home theatre PC. Now if anything ever goes wrong, I will have a backup to restore from, which’ll be nice.
What’s your workspace setup like?
In a word: excessive. But I haven’t added that much to it this year. I did get some new Dell IPS monitors (they’re amazing), with a 1920×1200 resolution for that little bit of extra vertical real estate. I also got an Audioengine D1 to replace my crappy-broke-within-a-month FiiO amp. Everything else is pretty much the same as last year.
To be honest, most of my workspace setup is just for fun — big speakers, pretty monitors, flashy lights…but I think there are two important “life hacks” that have gone into its creation:
- Ergonomics: I’m really big on making sure everything is in the right space for maximum comfort. I spend my entire workday here, and then a few hours after work playing video games or working on fun projects. It better be comfortable. The chair, the DIY monitor stand, the mouse and keyboard setup…everything has been meticulously planned for ergonomics.
- Cost: I’m hardly the best deal hunter in the world, but I am proud of how ridiculous my workspace is in relation to its cost. Never buy anything full price. I bought the speakers used for more than half off, bought the Audioengine D1 refurbished, and bought my new monitors with nothing but Amazon credit card points. Also: Sell the crap you aren’t using. You’ll be amazed at the money you can get, even for stuff that’s flat-out broken. (Not to mention you’ll reduce clutter!)
What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
I talked about meal planning apps last year, and that’s still one of my favourite life hacks that I’ve ever implemented. This year, I’ve implemented two other, more subtle tricks that have really changed the tone of my day:
- Three Tasks You Should Do Every Day to Stay Happy and Productive: Every day, do something that you must do, something that you should do, and something that you want to do. The “must do” stuff is my day-to-day work — the editing, meetings, and other stuff I have to get done by deadline. The “should do” stuff is stuff that has no deadline, but needs to get done sometime — like hiring that new writer, or some other household task that’s been sitting undone. For me, the “want to do” is writing. I love my job, but I do a lot less writing than I used to, which can make it a bit less fun some days. Even if I’m swamped with editorial stuff, I try to make time for myself to write — even if it’s just one or two posts a week. I find that I’m a lot happier, more fulfilled, and have more fun when I do so.
- Use Afternoon Rituals to Disconnect After Work: I work from home, and I spend a lot of my free time in front of the same computer that I work from — which makes it hard to “go home” at the end of the day. I’ve lately gotten much better at creating little rituals to signify context changes in my day. When I’m done with work, I close Twitter, Slack and Pidgin, and sometimes even turn off my phone’s notification sounds. I’ll pour myself a small glass of Trader Joe’s sparkling limeade, sit back down, and play some video games or work on personal projects. It’s silly, but that little glass of limeade is my ritual that signifies the end of the workday, and that it’s time relax and get away from work a bit. It’s really nice, and something to look forward to at the end of the day.
These are far from the only Lifehacker-y tricks I use every day, but there two of the biggest that stand out to me from the past year.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
I run my entire life through Wunderlist and Google Calendar. And by that, I mean that my fiancee runs my entire life through our shared Wunderlists and Google Calendars.
Most of the time, though, I don’t use Wunderlist for the regular day-to-day stuff. Since becoming editor-in-chief, I find that my day is a lot less structured. A lot of my work is reactionary — editing people’s drafts, answering emails, waiting for people to respond to my emails, and so on. As such, I find that my daily “to do list” exists mostly in the form of unread emails and open tabs. That’s usually a big no-no in productivity circles, but it works for me (as long as I remember to get to the “should do” and “want to do” tasks — not just the “must do” tasks). Sometimes, you just have to get things done, even if your method goes against conventional wisdom.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
OK, it isn’t really a “gadget”, but I’m in love with my Klean Kanteen insulated water bottle. This thing is magical. I can take it to the beach — where it gets too hot to actually touch the bottle — and the water inside is still ice cold. And I have strong feelings about my water staying cold. So I take it with me everywhere I go.
I hate working anywhere that isn’t my home office, so I also have a meticulously organised bag as well, for my weeks in the New York office or trips home to see the family.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I’m weirdly good at making wacky-but-accurate analogies. I don’t know why. But it’s my gift.
What do you listen to while you work?
I’ve also become obsessed with electronic remixes to current pop songs.
What are you currently reading?
I just started really getting into books again. On days when I’m feeling good, I’ll dig into some life-improving nonfiction book, and I have quite a few on my list thanks to Lifehacker’s new book review series. Next up is either The Obstacle Is the Way or The Millionaire Next Door.
If I’ve had a particularly stressful day, I’ll escape into some comic books or maybe a fantasy novel. I just started Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn and I’m really looking forward to it.
What has changed over the years since you started and what do you do differently?
There are a lot of things I’ve learned in the past few years. I’ve stopped working so many 11-hour days, and try to make sure I quit at an appropriate time. I say “yes” to experimentation a bit more often, which I think has really improved the site — even if sometimes those experiments don’t end up being very popular. And I’m trying to become more assertive and ambitious at work.
I think the biggest change I’ve made recently, though, has been with money. I’ve gotten better at budgeting my money (thanks to reading this awesome book). I’m nowhere near Mr. Money Mustache levels of frugality yet, and probably never will be — I’m still a bit of a technophile, after all — but it’s amazing what a few small changes can do to your savings account over time.
Of course, I still have a lot of stuff to work on, too. I still suck at dealing with internet commenters, and I’m still a bit of a perfectionist on stuff that doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, no matter how much you hack life, you will never be perfect. Don’t let all the productivity porn get to you. As long as you’re always improving, you have something to be proud of.